Published: April 4th 2009March 16th 2009
at first light...
So this morning we got up at 6am as we were headed for Sigiriya Rock Fortress. This involves climbing up a lot of steps (reports vary, some say 750, others say 1200) and so Seelan decided it would be a good idea to be there when the gates open at 7 - the idea being we'd get the climb out of the way before it got too hot.
It was pleasant driving through villages before 7 and seeing schoolkids all up and on their way to school - all in their smart white and blue uniforms.
I'd been dreading the rock climb - I'm unfit and I knew it would be tough. It was as hard as I expected. It's a 200m climb but steps all the way up - slopes I can cope with, but steps? It's a fantastic place, though. The final slog to the top starts at the "lion's paw". This was once a full lion carved out of the rock, but only the paws remain. The staircase (by now quite rickety and with rusty iron railings) is narrow and steep, and there aren't as many opportunities to stop and catch your breath as there are
Paintings of damsels halfway up the rock
likely to be people behind you waiting to get up. I started off (actually wanting to stay at the bottom while Roy and Seelan went up but knowing I'd hugely regret it if I did) slowly and all of a sudden I found I had some - unwanted - help. My very own Sri Lankan version of Sherpa Tensing. This guy was one of the "locals" who hang around trying to pass themselves off as guides and make money. He gripped my arm and was "helping" me up the staircase. Red rag to a bull - I HATE being helped when I'm struggling with something. I like to do things in my own good time... even Roy is discouraged from helping me on tricky terrain with a gentle "GET OFF ME"! So this guy took my water bottle and carried it for me whilst "helping" me up the steps. Picking on the weak, obviously! I'd seen two of them practically carry up an Italian pensioner....
I wasn't happy. Especially when I reached the end of each flight of stairs that he'd promised was the "last one" only to see another one in front of me. Finally I got to
the top. Wow - what views. Incredible. I was pretty hot and sweaty and also covered in rust from the railings. Seelan walked us around the top and showed us how the fortress up there would have been laid out. Sherpa Tensing stood behind him, repeating key words and pointing. By now it was about 9am.
We came down really fast - and having told Seelan earlier to warn Sherpa Tensing that we had no cash on us so not to expect a tip - we caved in and borrowed some rupees from Seelan to tip him. He practically frogmarched us to the car to get it. He was trying to negotiate an amount with me on the way down but I declined and told him he'd need to speak to my husband. We got back to the hotel too late for breakfast but we'd warned them last night that we would be and so they'd agreed to serve us late. We only wanted the bread and fruit. However, breakfast was delayed even more as there was a wedding going on in the grounds and all the staff were out watching it. They urged us to join them. Apparently
At Lion's paw
About to make the final ascent. Check out that staircase behind us.
it is the first wedding they've ever done at Vil Uyana. It seemed really nice - a British couple, I think - and we caught the closing 10 minutes of the ceremony.
After breakfast we took a plunge in the plunge pool - how useful that was for cooling down - and then went round to the main pool for a swim and relax. We chatted to our neighbours for a while and then headed back to our room to get ready for the afternoon excursion - to Dambulla cave temple. Had an embarrassing incident in Dambulla when my bank card would not work in the ATM. We had to borrow another 7000 rupees from Seelan as he was taking us for an ayuverdic massage later that day! He didn't seem to mind. I said I had another card and would pay him back tomorrow.
Dambulla cave temples were interesting - unfortunately my photographs from inside don't do them justice, especially the 38ft reclining Buddha. We're starting to learn more about Buddhism as we visit these sites - with lots of help and insight from Seelan, who really is a terrific guide.
After the caves we headed
View from Rock
You can see for miles...
in the direction of Habarana to the Massage place. It was what I'd call the "no frills" spa experience. It was the first of several little "side trips" that Seelan offered to us on our tour - most of them were good fun! We were told to strip and shower and given teeny little cloth sarongs to "wear". For a girl my size it was a struggle to hide my modesty :D
The shower walls were covered in mildew and the massage table was padded with plastic but no hole for the head or towels to lie on. None of this "cover up one leg while the other is being massaged" malarkey! The masseuse was a little Sri Lankan woman with hands like sandpaper. Our method of communicating how the massage was going was for me to shout "Ow" and her to reply "Little, little, Madam?". Yes, little, little. Most of it was excellent, it was just in certain places (upper arms and calves) that she was too rough for my sensitive body!
After the massage I was told to sit in the sauna. I didn't really want to, I prefer steam heat to sauna, but seemingly the
Looking from top of Fortress over to the Knuckles mountains
steam box was full. I was told to wait in the sauna. A couple of French women were in there and I listened to them chatting and laughing at how hard the massage was. They'd been in the next room to me and I'd also heard them giggling in there, too - especially during the parts when the massage was replaced with a slapping technique. They tried to talk to me and were surprised that I didn't speak French. I felt ashamed. Then Roy came in to join us, and a French guy. It was getting cosy in there so I went out to get some water and enquire as to when I could be steamed. I waited outside, and eventually was led to the steam box.
This was a coffin like contraption where you lie on a rack, in a box, and then the lid is closed over you, leaving your head poking out. I was ok with this until they put a towel over my head to steam my face, at which point I started to freak out a bit when I realised I couldn't move my hands or arms. I asked the masseuse to take the
towel off my face and I stayed in the box a little while longer. Then I came out, was given a sachet of shampoo and told to shower again. I washed my hair as best I could but with a tiny sachet and luke warm water, I was convinced that most of the oil that had been rubbed on and into my head was still there. Roy loved it here - but he does like a good firm massage. When we came out of the spa it was dark. Must have been 8pm before we got back to Vil Uyana. Took a quick shower to get rid of the remaining oil and then to dinner.
Prawn and smoked salmon salad
Lentil and potato cream soup with fried garlic chips
Rose Water Sorbet
Jan - Chicken and beef kebab, rosti, veg / tropical fruit platter
Roy - Red Mullet, rice, veg, cuttlefish, sauce /chocolate cream and fruit tartlet.
Coffee. Bottle of white.
The bride and groom are eating outside by the pool this evening. A new couple have arrived (the hotel is nowhere near full so you notice new people in the dining room) and are eating off
No excuses for showing another view. Plus you can see some of the Fortress ruins here. Imagine getting all those bricks up this rock?
the a la carte menu and drinking (massively expensive) champagne. They're asking their waiter where is the best place to see elephants and are afforded a visit by the manager. We label them: "pretentious". In fact we call them "migration seekers" which is an "in joke" for Roy and I dating back to our Honeymoon in Selous. There was a guy there would would bleat on and on in a loud, posh accent all night, and one evening was demanding to know "how far North the migration has got now". You had to be there.
There are more photos below