#4 Sri Lanka, Feb. 1, 2008

Dear Everybody,

On my last day in Galle I had lunch at the Amangalla Hotel, built in 1684, but rehabbed to a lovely Victorian patina. Everything was an historical experience. All over Fort Galle one sees the letters VOC, which stand for Dutch words meaning Dutch East India Company—it really wasn’t the Dutch government that imposed its will on this country but this private enterprise. The same was true in India at first—it was the British East Indian Tea Company—I’m sure in both cases they had government backing.

On my morning walk I came upon about 60 policepersons (including eight women in skirt uniforms) doing their morning drill. Five feral dogs lay in front of the unit laconically looking on as the officer shouted commands that caused lots of rifle snapping. Twenty minutes later when I came around again they were still at it, but now the dogs were running in and out of the ranks, kind of destroying the dignity of the occasion.

I took yet another bus along the coast to Koggala and chose a random guesthouse, where I had a lunch of five kinds of curry. Later I tuk-tuked a couple of miles to the ocean to see the stilt fishermen. There are poles anchored in the seabed on which fishermen sit, catching sardines. This is quite a popular image of Sri Lanka. Once I learned where it was, I walked there (40 minutes) the next night to take some sunset photos. Unfortunately the situation turned kind of nasty with a drunk/drugged fisherman aggressively hitting me up for money. The Lonely Planet said one needed to pay them for photographing them, which I had done, but this man crossed the line and I skedaddled earlier than I intended. So it goes. I hopped a bus back to my turnoff.

In addition to the stilt fishermen, a spice garden, a folk museum, and a spectacular temple were the rewards for coming to this out of the way place. On a walk to Koggala Lake I photoed a beautiful blue bird sitting on a post. The good news was it sat very still allowing me three good shots; the bad news was that the post was on the perimeter of an air force base with no photography allowed, which was made clear by two airmen rushing over to, well, make that clear!

Finally on Monday I took three buses to head inland to Deniyaya, with me standing, hanging on for dear life right in front of the open back door. I could see myself being lurched out, but I wasn’t. Two more FULL buses got me to Deniyaya where I got a nice room in the comfy Sinharaja Rest guesthouse.

The town of Deniyaya is really untouristed. There were only two eating-places in the whole town; one was a bakery and one a Halal Muslim place, but the guesthouse served good food.I went on an all day walk through the Sinharaja National Forest with a guide and a young man from London who is posted to the British consulate in Afghanistan.We saw some wildlife, birds, various plants/trees and topped it off with a swim in a pool under a waterfall.








I’ve had to change my (roughed out) itinerary. I had planned to visit Uda Walawa National Park to see bigger animals including 500 wild elephants (although confined to the Park) but learned it was closed due to terrorism. So I set out for Ratnapura yesterday which was the most lovely bus ride—up, up through many tea plantations with English names—Caltonhill, Haynes, Lauderdale Tea Plantations—then up some more to pine forests. The air was fresh and cool and the flowers on the mountainside right next to me were astounding—huge blue Morning Glories, pink Antherium, Red Hibiscus, bougainvilla, and many other red, orange and gold kinds. The asphalt road was only one lane wide so meeting other buses or trucks required stopping, sometimes backing up to find a slightly wider patch where we could scrape buy with an inch or two between us. The driver had to blow his loud horn at all the blind turns (lots of them) to warn oncoming traffic. The first three hours were magical—the gorgeous mountains, the tea bushes being picked, the flowers, the pleasant people on the bus—but I will admit my enthusiasm waned after that when we were lower and hotter. In five hours, I was here—Ratnapura.

I learned a couple of interesting things—first about tea. They plant a certain small kind of tree in amongst the tea bushes for shade, but also for nitrogen fixing. They keep the trees pruned to give just the right amount of shade. Then I asked why some of the rice paddies had sticks stuck in amongst the rice—it turns out that those are roosts for owls who will come and feast on the rats and mice that ruin the rice crop. Isn’t that a nice ecological thing? However, today I saw people spraying the tea bushes—is it fertilizer or pesticide? Either way, it doesn’t sound good for tealeaves. So it goes.

Ratnapura majors in gems. They mine them all around here, and even the National Museum person had a pocketful that he wanted to sell me. “Look, Madame, only 500 Rupees!” Of course I was taken to a Gem Museum and Shop by a tuk tuk driver—well, I wanted to see one, anyway. But I didn’t buy any, so then we went on to a lovely Buddhist temple where I got blessed with the smear on the forehead, but it wasn’t red—maybe that’s Hindu. It was yellowish.

Tomorrow I shall bus to Kandy, Sri Lanka’s second city and the site of the most recent Kingdom here (12th C, I think).


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