Sri Lanka 4 and beyond

Words you never want to have to say about a long-awaited vacation: I survived! With 4 days to go, I am finally relaxing at the beach (Unawatuna and Hikkaduwa).

Unawatuna Beach

Unawatuna Beach

The Indian Ocean is a marvel: just as clear and aqua as you see in travel brochures. After a week and a half of too much driving and not enough sleep, I was able to spread a towel on untouched sand and listen to the sound of waves hitting the shore. Ahhhh, now that’s more like it. In the distance I could hear the sound of drums, part of a wedding celebration happening at the Sanmira hotel.

I’m writing this at the Thapraban Beach House, where I’m enjoying incredible views (and a strong wifi signal!) with my meal. Afterwards I’ll take a leisurely walk to the main street, checking out the shops along the way. Who knows, I may need to purchase those last few touristy gewgaws. Then I’ll take my life into my hands and flag down a tuktuk for a ride back to the hotel. Until my next post, wishing you all a very Happy Valentines Day!

Sri Lanka day 3

I’ve got oodles of details on my travels this past week on the land which has many ways to part foreigners from their money as it does giant Buddha statues! I’ve also got photos you’re sure to enjoy. Stay tuned…

Sri Lanka day 2

When did “tips” stop meaning “to insure prompt service” and come to mean “if we so much as look at you, we will ask for a tip”?

I will reserve judgement until I’ve been here longer than a day but I quickly learned that Sri Lankans don’t do much out of the kindness of their heart. Want someone to take your photo? Pay up. Need to take your shoes off at a temple site? It will cost you. Someone hands you a flower to put on an alter? Or a candle to light? Yup, more money. Sure it’s only a little here and there but it adds up! Maybe I’ve just been spoiled by Taiwan and their excellent customer service and (mostly) no tipping policy.

Today started with a trip to the Pinnawalla Elephant Orphanage. At breakfast I could see elephants downriver and after paying 2000 rupees to get into Pinnawalla, I was surprised at how many elephant orphans they care for. I do rather have an issue with using animals as a means of income: their poo is turned into paper (ok, good recycling) but then I guess that’s the whole of any zoo. I didn’t like seeing any of the animals chained up but I did enjoy the 10am elephant parade down to the river.

The Pinnawalla orphans

The Pinnawalla orphans

Next was the poo paper tour. Some clever person found a way to make money off of elephant dung. Yup, you guessed it, they make paper from the fiber. Next up: a fortune teller who told me I am generous and will live to 96. I think he told me his minimum tip was 500 rupees…sigh. Are you getting the idea? (Some amazing photos to follow once I figure out how to access them from my iPad, which has been remarkably easy to carry.)

Pucker up, buttercup

Pucker up, buttercup

Sri Lanka day 1

Am using the wifi in the lobby of the Palm Garden Village Hotel to write this. I arrived without incident yesterday and things were off to a promising start. My luggage indeed was transferred from China Air to Srilankan Air, my driver/guide was waiting for me with water and sandwiches prepared by his wife – thoughtful. And then came the Pinnawalla Elephant Hotel (and I use the word lightly). After a long day of travel, I had to schlepp my bags up literally 6 flights of stairs to a room with no lights, a sheet for a blanket, and a bathroom that was just plain scary. I figured out how to use a newly-purchased adaptor to recharge my cell phone and turned the AC off. I fell asleep to the sound of the Maoya river and woke up early to meet my guide at breakfast (read white toast, marmalade, and scrambled eggs that were…I forgot them already). I found out later that they had no place for my guide to sleep. Then came my first lesson about Sri Lanka: it’s ALL about money. I’ll go into more detail later, but suffice it to say, not the best first impression for a country that needs all the good press it can get.

Maoya River

Maoya River

My tattoo evolution

30+ years ago, I lost a bet and, while stationed in Denver, CO, I had a small tattoo inked on my back: a butterfly. (I think I paid 35.00 for it) Over the years, I almost forgot about it (except when I was swimming and someone would tell me that I had a bug on my back). In Tacoma, decades later, I had it re-colorized. (65.00) Then, I began to wonder: is one enough? How many tattoos are too much? In New Orleans, I had a small black rose tattoo’d on my thigh. (~120.00 and it hurt like a ….well it hurt). No, I wasn’t drinking and yes, I would recommend getting a large tattoo to begin with! In 2005, I was in NYC with a friend and my youngest daughter for my birthday. As a present, they chipped in to purchase a “tramp stamp” tattoo for me: my star sign (200.00). Then, about 2 years ago, I realized that my original tattoo had “melted” and no longer looked recognizable. So….I decided to have it covered up. Next came a larger aqua chrysathemum which I just love! (200.00) Then…in July, my kidney donor died (of a heart attack, with my kidney still working). In memory, I had a Taiwanese artist create a red rose memorial to add to the flower already on my back. And finally, last December, Mom died suddenly. In her memory I had a lovely little hummingbird and heart added to my growing body art collection. See what you think of it….

IMG-20130203-WA0001

“The hummingbird symbolizes many different concepts. Because of its speed, the hummingbird is known as a messenger and stopper of time. It is also a symbol of love, joy, and beauty. The hummingbird is also able to fly backwards, teaching us that we can look back on our past.”

Year of the Snake

It’s nearly Chinese New Year, that time of year when Taiwanese from all over the world return to their island home to celebrate the most important traditional holiday with their families. The decoration vendors are springing up all over the roadsides and alleys, their booths displaying bright red and gold items of every size and shape. CNY is supposed to mark the end of Winter but this year we’ve really had a super mild season. The sun’s been out for a couple of weeks now, with temperatures ranging from 16 to 23 degrees celsius. Last winter I had no cold-weather clothing and boy, was it cold! This year, I was prepared (hats, scarves, gloves, coats) so yeah, of course we have warm weather!

For the foreigners (and most everyone) CNY means a vacation – 9 days this year (Feb. 8 – 17), by government decree! And, it means food – lots of it – and money and gifts. The atmosphere is festive: my building lobby is all decorated up with red lanterns, lights, and golden snake images, and each floor still has its Christmas decorations out. Our annual Spring party will be held the week after CNY and folks are excited to see what sort of prizes (and cash) they could win.

I’ll be heading to Sri Lanka for 2 weeks to tour the island and learn to cook some Sri Lankan foods. I have my own personal guide/chauffeur: http://www.toursinsrilankabathiya.com/tour1.htm. The weather there is supposed to be HOT (34 degrees C); I’m hoping to come back with, at the very least, a tan and some amazing photos. I also want to shop for gems (spinel, sapphire, and zircon), batik cloth, and spices! My Asian adventure continues…Xin nian kuai le!

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As for me, I will take the road less travelled…