Sri Lanka 2nd day - Negombo to Sigiriya - Mon 9 Jan 2017

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January 9th 2017
Published: March 1st 2017
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We woke up to an amazing view of the beach and the blue, blue lagoon on which Negombo is situated. To adopt a phrase used by the housekeeper to a friend of ours, I communed with my G-d overlooking the golden beaches and the sea. We met up with Caroline and went down to breakfast. The fruit tasted so fresh as if it had just been picked off the tree. Then there was breakfast - a choice buffet of a full English breakfast, on a separate section a buffet of continental breakfast, on the third counter the traditional vegan Sri Lankan breakfast of string hoppers and curry.

After a few cups of coffee and a Sri Lankan breakfast it was onto the van for our drive to Sigiriya. We had to start the holiday with our typical near disaster. At the airport Don had purchased a Sri Lankan SIM card which he put into his phone. However as we were packing up ready to start our holiday he found that he had "lost" his own SIM card. When I suggested that it could be with his passport he got cross as he had already looked there. Not well enough I am pleased to say.

Some things to point out - in Sri Lanka they drive on the left. The drivers seem insane but politely insane. At least when they are going to overtake they always signal and toot their horns. The roads are narrow and not very well paved. There are a gazillion tuk-tuk drivers weaving in and out of the traffic. The minimum age for all drivers is 18 but the government raised the age for tuk-tuk drivers to 25 and is now thinking of raising it again to 35. This is because kids leave school to acquire a tuk-tuk as they think that they can earn loads of money. The tuk-tuks and the cars and cycles and the pedestrians all share the same piece of road. We saw many adults riding motor bikes and scooters wearing helmets (compulsory) but carrying babies and young children all without helmets. The bicycles and scooters are laden with goods that must have weighed more than a passenger or two. It is a no wonder that there are about 6-7000 deaths from road accidents every year. Fortunately we soon discovered that Basil was not only a knowledgeable guide but an excellent driver.

As he drove, Basil began telling us a bit about the country. The population is 20-22 million. There are four main religious groups - Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim and Christian. In every town you can see a giant statue of the Buddha and a temple as well as the very ornate Hindu temples and in some towns a mosque or two. In addition there are churches scattered around. In the north of the country is where most of the Tamils live. Tamils are originally from India and many do not hold Sri Lankan citizenship.

In the tsunami of 2004 over 46,000 people died. Many of them were Muslims as the Muslim towns were on the east coast. The government rehoused them inland and they have not moved back to their old quarters. This means that the four religions often live in one town mostly in harmony. But sometimes there are differences. Our tour organiser Jagath’s company lost a busload of ten clients and a guide in the tsunami.

For 2500 years the history of the country was written in Sanskrit. In the third century BCE Buddhism was introduced from Bejaya in northern India.

Before 543 BCE the island of Ceylon was recorded in Indian and Greek literature. It was regarded as a mythical place with non-human beings living there. But in 543 BCE Prince Vijaya was banished from India to Ceylon and he became the first king. He called the land Thambapanni which means the colours of copper and bronze as when he and his followers landed their hands and feet were covered in the red dust of the land. He became the first Sinhalese king. It is claimed that he landed on the island on the day of Buddha’s death.

Sinhalese comes from two words - sinha = blood and lese = lion. The legend goes that a lion captured a princess and they lived together. They had two children and the lion kept them in a cage. The princess asked the lion if she could take the children to see the king , and he agreed. The lion came too and the prince killed his father. There are a multitude of legends and historical facts that we learnt from Basil.

As we drove along we passed many tile factories. These are not large factories as we might know them but what we would call cottage industries. The work is undertaken in buildings situated at the edge of the roadside. The tile business grew from the quantities of natural earth which contained the key ingredients. Eventually much of this material was quarried out and today few tiles are made from the natural substance.

The most common trees are coconut trees. From these come not only the coconut fruit but the coconut shells which are used for making a fibre which is very strong and can be used to make ropes and the husks are burnt in home fires for warmth. We passed many coconut plantations, pineapple plantations and of course rice fields. There are also rubber plantations.

Then there are the birds - the egrets (the white egret being a cattle egret, and the little egrets) and of course the native animals. Thousands and thousands of dogs roam the streets and when they feel tired they just lay in the road to sleep or sunbathe. And the cows walk freely down the streets. Many families own a cow to provide milk. Any surplus milk is sold to supplement the family income.

We paused this first long drive for a loo stop at Kurunegala which is in the north western province. It is built on a lake and in the background on the hills was a huge Buddha statue. The hills are part of the central mountain range and this particular range is known as the Knuckles as the peaks are shaped like knuckles. There are a total of 8 rocks surrounding the town, the biggest of which is called Ethagata or the Elephant Hill (Tusker), as it is shaped like an elephant. Kurunegala was an ancient royal capital for 50 years from the end of the 13th Century to the start of the 14th century, now it is just the capital city of the north western province. Most of the lakes throughout the country are artificial reservoirs for which the Sri Lankans can thank those kings from the bygone ages who had the foresight over a 1000 years ago to realise that water was so important to the country. The main industries in the town are coconut plantations and rubber estates.

Caroline, in her infinite wisdom decided that she would look at the water’s edge but instead of returning the way she had gone down, she climbed up a wall in which bricks were falling out. Fortunately she escaped with a grazed arm and one flip-flop (mine) lost. The flip-flop was recovered, the arm bled for a minute or two and all was well again.

Back on the van we drove past lots and lots of children dressed in white. This is the universal school uniform (not very practical). The uniforms were sparkling but that was not surprising as the new school year had just started! It was interesting to see that the girls wore white skirts and shirts with a tie. The tie depicted the school. The boys wore white long trousers and white shirts and no ties! If a boy was wearing blue shorts it showed that he is in primary school (ie under 11 years of age).

We drove past many coconut estates. Processing the copra (the “meat” of the coconut) is one of the most dangerous jobs as the coconuts are fed into the machines by hand. The shells are soaked in water and then combed in machines which have large nails as combs.

We then arrived at our hotel, Lake Lodge in Kandalama near Dambulla and Sigiriya. When Don booked this vacation he was offered a menu of prices and each price list had its own hotels. The price list we chose had boutique hotels as the main hotels. Lake Lodge is made up of about 12 rooms surrounding a swimming pool. Each room was divided into a bedroom, dressing room and huge bathroom. Our room had an attached space for a second bed. The beds were covered by mosquito nets. We soon realised the importance of sleeping under the 'tent' formed by the mosquito net.

Because of our dietary requirements (vegan) we were introduced to the chef who prepared our meals separately from the other guests. We were staying here for three nights. The hotel was situated quite a way from the town so it was easier to eat at the hotel.

Before dinner we started our “Boggle” word game competition. Caroline quickly jumped into the lead.

After dinner Caroline introduced the game 'Concept' she had brought. This is somewhat like Charades except instead of motions, we put tokens onto a board indicating ideas that should lead to discovering the word or phrase. Don and I did not really understand how to manipulate the ideas on the board, nor how to understand what Caroline was indicating. She patiently took us through it but we remained somewhat unsure.

By now we were all very tired so we had an early night.



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