Sri Lanka – Our First 10 Days
We are back in Colombo after 10 days exploring the island of Sri Lanka. We have been traveling with our friend and his family by van, so we have covered a lot more ground than we would have by bike. In the past week and a half, we have already:
2. Seen the Pope.
Pope Francis was greeted by the school children at bottom right, who were being drilled on the phrase “Papa Francisco, we looooove you!” Pope Francis apparently converted the Pope-mobile to be open to the people – it used to be fully encased in bullet-proof glass.
Full disclosure: as a person who hates crowds, I sat in the car and read a book. But I did see his helicopter go overhead!
3. Visited the Glenloch Tea Factory to see how tea is made.
From left: Our guide, holding up a fresh tea sprig to explain how tea is picked and sorted (the youngest leaves for “silver tips” and green tea, the older leaves for black tea); one of the tea factory workers emptying tea that has already been cut into a bin for drying; a sorting machine that ensures all pieces of tea are cut evenly.
Glenloch Tea Factory was established over a century ago, and it seems like the technology hasn’t changed drastically over the years.
4. Woken up with sore legs after climbing to the top of the amazing Sigiriya Rock.
Sigiriya – which means “lion rock” – is located near the town of Dambulla, in Sri Lanka’s “cultural triangle.” According to the ancient Sri Lankan chronicle the Culavamsa, King Kasyapa built a palace on top of this rock in the fifth century, which was abandoned after his death and later used as a monastery. The King seems like quite a character. He siezed the throne and buried his father alive, then slit his own throat when his men abandoned him during an elephant battle with his brother. There are amazing views from the top, and frescoes of naked ladies on the way up.
Also, according to wikipedia, “It is one of the best preserved examples of ancient urban planning.”
5. Hiked to the End of the World.
World’s End is a sheer precipice with a 870 m (2,854 ft) drop.
Full disclosure again: I didn’t go on this hike. I had a cold so I stayed in bed and slept all day. But Dmitry says that it was very scary to stand at the edge of a cliff and look into a cloud, much creepier than actually being able to see the valley below.
6. Eaten a ton of amazing food.
Sri Saiee Bavaan in Jaffna – we had breakfast there two days in a row (part of our second breakfast is at bottom left). Vegetarian Hotels are amazing. You choose a starch: crepe-like dosas, doughnut-like vada, noodles, or a rice and coconut roll called pitthu, and a gentleman comes around to spoon out as much vegetable curry and cocnul sambol as you like from a silver bucket. It is very filling. Yes, that is a cow outside the restaurant. They walk around and beg bread in the mornings, waiting patiently outside until someone comes to give them a treat.
Top right is the Yarl Hotel in Colombo. The food is served on banana leaves, and yes, that is a plateful of chili crab in the center of the table. Everyone here eats with their hands, even for meals like rice, which I do not find conducive to eating with hands. You use your right hand to mix the food together and get a good flavor and consistency, then try to gracefully pop a bite into your mouth without spilling rice all over the table. Needless to say, I am glad that handwashing stations are prominent restaurant features.
7. Hung out with our Sri Lankan friend’s relatives and climbed a tree planted by his father in the yard of the family home.
We visited Prathap’s parents home village of Puloly when we were in Jaffna. The tree-climbing was probably assisted by the several large bottles of Carlsberg Special Brew (8.8% ABV) that we had consumed at the previous stop.
8. Drunk a good amount of Arrack.
Arrack is the local hard liquor of choice. And it is choice. Similar to whiskey, but with a sweetness almost like rum, we have quickly developed a taste for it. It is made from the fermented sap of coconut flowers. DCSL Old Arrack is the bomb.
9. Seen tons of cyclists in Jaffna on classic old bikes.
Jaffna is at the very north end of Sri Lanka and was hit very hard by the Sri Lankan civil war. During the war, gasoline supplies were frequently interrupted – leaving bicycles as the main form of transport. Even though the civil war is over and Jaffna no longer faces shortages, the cycling culture remains.
We were pretty sad that we had left our bikes behind in Colombo and didn’t get to cycle around this amazing city ourselves.
10. Taken part in a Thai Pongal celebration.
Thai Pongal is the Hindu harvest celebration. At sunrise, families (and businesses) set up a big pot of rice in the yard, inside a drawing made of rice paste. When the pot boils over everyone cries “Pongal, pongal” – which means, “It’s boiling!” We took a walk around Jaffna just after sunrise and saw many of these celebrations taking place, from the humblest fruit stand to the giant cineplex, everyone had a pot set up and was happy to have pictures taken (or to take pictures of and with us). Once the rice is boiled, sweet ingredients are added and it is shared with family and friends. The taste is something like brown rice and molasses.
Later that day, we went to the Nallur Kandaswamy Hindu Temple in Jaffna. The temple was full of families celebrating Pongal, wearing new clothes, and giving “puja” or prayers to the gods. One particularly fun to watch ritual is pictured at bottom right: coconuts are touched to the head, lit on fire, then broken against a rock. According to what we read online, this is because the outer fibers of the coconut represent the vices of man, which must be broken to reach the white inner fruit/ spiritual purity and bliss.
11. Started a new Tumblr to celebrate tuk-tuk wisdom.
Tuk tuks are three-wheeled motorcycle taxis, and they are everywhere in Sri Lanka. For whatever reason, they are frequently decorated with pithy sayings in English.
12. Visited the northernmost point of Sri Lanka, just 40 miles from the coast of India.
The sign behind us marks the northernmost part of the country, 432 kilometers (268 miles) from the southernmost part of the country. It’s a pretty small island, turns out.In this picture, we were the northernmost people in Sri Lanka. And not just because of my blindingly pale skin.
We have another 2 weeks here, most of which we plan to spend cycling on the Eastern coast of the island. We are in Colombo for now, seeing our friends off tonight and applying for Indian visas on Monday.