#2 Sri Lanka, January 18, 2008

Dear Everybody,

Negombo is a beach town, chock-a-block with hotels and guesthouses on the beach area with a normal town next to it. There is an old Dutch fort and clock tower and miles of beach. They, too, suffered from the tsunami, although not as bad as the towns on the south of the island—this faces west. When I walked to where the fishing boats had just come in and were unloading their fish, I observed that the boats all looked very new—probably an aftermath of the tsunami.




Another curiosity was a ‘dummy’ (kind of like a scarecrow) mounted on two construction sites, a practice I had observed in south India, also—maybe their version of OSHA?


And chalk designs were drawn on the ground and steps in front of a Hindu temple, again as in south India. (Remember Marlys and Jim, and Jean?)

Since most of the restaurants were closed for breakfast Sunday morning, I ate a Halal breakfast on the street which consisted of dough packets containing egg, beef, and veggies, along with chai (tea with milk and sugar). This was Moghul food and very tasty.

I must be losing my touch. One evening a tuk tuk driver started to tell me about some show but I cut him off with a “no thanks.” I learned the next day that the ‘show’ was a parade from a Buddhist temple with 38 caparisoned elephants, Kandy dancers, fire walkers, etc. How could I have missed this colossal event? The next day I did go to see the temple where the parade originated and saw about six of the elephants that hadn’t yet been trucked off somewhere. At that temple I also had a show and tell about an herb garden and Ayurvedic medicine. I bought some citronella balm that is supposed to take the itch out of mosquito bites.

Monday I took two buses on down the coast to Aluthgama. The hotel was actually on a fresh water lake right next to the ocean. Marilyn, if it weren’t for the palm trees and tropical plants all around the lakeshore, it could have been Fishtrap—the sounds of the jet skis and outboard motors pulling water skiers as well as the blue water were the same.

I hired a tuk tuk to take me to yet another Buddhist temple—this one established in the 12th century—and on to the Brief Garden and house of Bevis Bawa, the brother of renowned architect Geoffrey Bawa (whom I had never heard of—anyone??) It was way out in the boonies.








It seems that he spent his whole life until he died at 84 developing this garden. The house was beautiful with lots of antique Dutch furniture (Bawa was Dutch, Sri Lankan, and French) and served also as quite an art gallery. Vivian Leigh and Lawrence Olivier stayed there in ’53 while filming “The Elephant Walk.” There was a framed autographed picture of them.





Another outing was to visit two sea turtle hatcheries. Sri Lanka has five species of sea turtle—green, olive redley, hawkbill, leatherback and loggerhead. The females come ashore and lay their eggs (as many as 700) and then abandon them. In 48 days the hatchlings head for the sea but only 1 per cent of them make it as birds and other predators gobble them up. A further challenge to the sea turtle population is that the eggs are gathered by people and sold in the markets to eat. The hatcheries pay a slightly better price for them and bury them in hatchery sand where little turtles emerge 48 days later. They are kept in tanks for three days and released at night upping the survival rate to 50 percent.

There’s a strong element of conservation in these operations but it’s also a way for these people to make a living. There is a $2 entrance charge and I bought tee shirts for the grandkids. Well, it couldn’t hurt!

The hotel provided a boat shuttle to cross the lake where I scuttled up the opposite shore, across a tiny strip of land, and then down to the ocean beach. The water was nearly bathtub warm, coming up from the equator, I suppose. Swimming was limited but it was fun to jump in the waves.

Unfortunately the civil war is becoming more active again. A bomb exploded last Wednesday killing 30-some people and one went off this Wednesday morning killing 26 more. These bombs happened at Buttala, which is about 100 miles away from where I am. There was a Norwegian-brokered peace agreement from 2002 but the violence continued on and off until the government declared it void a couple of weeks ago. So all the money is being spent on the military—sounds like home!

Yesterday I got a bus to Ambalangoda—talk about slow. It was only about 12 miles but it took an hour with all the stops; it was pleasant to observe the people (no other tourists on board) and the countryside. It cost 24 cents.

I’m enjoying my stay here in Ambalangoda so much as the guesthouse that I chose is an old colonial-style house with six rented rooms. There is a big dining room where I’m sharing two meals a day with the family and two other (German) tourists. One visiting relative invited me to go to the mask museum and workshop almost next door, which was interesting and authentic; I shall probably buy one and have it sent home, they’re lovely. I’ll try bargaining tomorrow.

I really needed this contact, as there are few backpackers in Sri Lanka and no hostels—just guesthouses and hotels. Unfortunately in Aluthgama I chose one that was slightly upscale—enough to isolate, anyway. No backpackers there (who are always friendly) but foursomes of German and British tourists who aren’t used to mixing like the backpackers do. So interacting with this family is lots of fun.

Two of the relatives that are visiting, Ira and Nalla, are women near my age and speak English very well. Last evening they invited me to attend a Literary Festival in nearby Galle since Nalla’s daughter, Manuka, had authored a book and was part of a foursome that read/acted excerpts from her book, “Monsoons and Potholes.” It was very funny although I had trouble catching it all because of the accent, but I bought the book and she signed it for me. Vikram Seth (“A Suitable Boy”) is one of the authors lecturing at the festival although I didn’t see him last night. Nalla and her husband, Dalit, have visited Minnesota in connection with some Montessori schools there—Nalla teaches in a Montessori school in Colombo. Ira had visited the US also; they both have relatives in LA. Ira has invited me to stay with her in Colombo, which I may do when I go back for a big Buddhist festival on Feb. 21st.

Don’t worry about the bombings; I’m sure I’ll be fine.


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