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Published: February 25th 2016
Everyone /travels for Chinese New Years
It is a tradition to return to your family home on New Years. This results in the largest migration of people ever. Even knowing this, we weren't prepared for the long lines in the Taipei airport.
Our Sri Lanka Adventure over the Chinese New Year 2016
The Chinese people are expected to travel back to their homes over the Chinese New Year. This is the largest migration of people at any one time, and it makes for interesting travel. Flights must be booked at least 6 months ahead of time, train tickets sell out and hotels are full.
Sri Lanka, prior to 1972 known as Ceylon, lies just off the Southeast coast of India. According to Wikipedia, it has a documented history spanning 3,000 years, with evidence of pre-historic human settlements dating back to at least 125,000 years. Its geographic location and deep harbours made it of great strategic importance from the time of the ancient Silk Road through to World War ll. It lies only 18 miles from India and is about double the size of Vancouver Island and is home about 23 million people. It has often been described as a tropical paradise. The vegetation of the coastal belt is lush and dramatic, and the mountainous areas of the interior are spectacular. Pleasant sea breezes temper the coast's tropical climate through most of the year while the hills and mountains in the island's
Colombo, Sri Lanka
First order of business, access cash at the ATM. Second, get a SIM card.
In Asian airports Cell providers sell SIM cards to arrivals.
center are cool at night.
On Friday, February 5, Linda headed off to school for the day. She made most of the caretakers very happy with red envelopes and gold foil candy money. Maurice cleaned, did laundry and generally emptied the fridge of items that wouldn't keep for 9 days. We gifted Caroline and Chen. We then headed over to Chris and Annie's for supper and visited with David and Margaret. Later we cabbed to the HSR, relaxed and read once on the train. It was cold and raining in Taipei. Once in the hotel it was freezing!
At 4AM next morning, an earthquake woke Maurice and we later discovered that it was a magnitude 6.4 quake, centered 10km below Tainan and caused the collapse of 2 buildings.
After breakfast, we joined the pandemonium at the Taipei airport. There were lines and lines of people patiently walking slowly towards the security gate. A young airport worker got us checked in and then we joined the line. We finally had to 'jump the line' because we were in danger of missing our flight! Tawanese people are truly the kindest people in the world, as there were no objections.
Hotel Sunset Beach
The international airport is actually about 30K from Colombo and closer to Negombo, a beach city north of the capital, Colombo. We booked the first night close to the airport in Negombo.
E-gate allowed us to skip more horrific lines and we made it to our gate with 3 minutes to spare. Whew! We transferred in Shanghai /Pudong and boarded China Eastern for the 7 hour 15 minute flight to Columbo, Sri Lanka.
Humid, warm air greeted us as we disembarked and made our way through immigration. This was the first time we've seen washers, vacuums and other household items for sale along with the regular booze and cigarettes at duty free. We withdrew cash from the ATM, got a phone SIM card and shared a cab with a local fellow to Hotel Sunset Beach. We checked in, grabbed a beer and went to bed. The temperature was about 32C with a light breeze blowing off the Indian Ocean.
Next morning, we walked the beach, Skyped home, wallowed in the pool for awhile, then prepared for our bus trip to Hikkaduwa, a popular beach town about 150 Kilometers south. First, we tuk-tukked to the bus station and then climbed directly on a bus going to Colombo. It was only about 35 kilometers into Colombo however we arrived 1.5 hours later, hot and sweaty, after many, many stops. We followed directions
From our first story patio we see the crystal clear ocean. What a view!
given to us, walking through markets, to the intercity bus terminal. What a commotion....finally one of the bus boys came and got us (we didn't know how or why he found us) and took us to the Hikkaduwa Express bus, which had AC, thank you very much! This time, we only stopped a few times. However, because of the bizarre traffic, it took us 2.5 hours to travel the 101 kilometers.
We arrived to Hikkaduwa around 4PM, and walked along the street for awhile as Maurice refused to pay 250 rupees ($2.50CAD) for a tuk tuk. That was fine since Linda was looking for a restaurant that served plate sized crab. We found one and had a shrimp cocktail, crab with fries and forgotten salad, 3 beer and a water which cost us all of $25 CAD. Our chef called a tuk tuk to take us to Gura Cabana which was right on the beach just past the Cinnamon Garden Hotel. It was amazing, quaint, rustic and very secluded! Our hosts brought us tea which we enjoyed on the deck overlooking the ocean. The sound of the waves crashing on the beach lulled us to sleep that night.
We overlooked the ocean as we enjoyed breakfast. By 7AM it was heating up!
Monday morning, our hosts carried a table onto the sand just in front of our deck and fed us a delicious authentic Sri Lankan breakfast. We spent the day exploring the beach, reading and resting. It was hot, about +36C, and very humid which we loved because of the cool winter we were experiencing in Kaohsiung. In the late afternoon, we went into Hikkaduwa, found a small restaurant and dined on fresh fish. Delicious! We walked back the 3 kilometers to our humble abode, and spent a quiet evening resting, reading and relaxing.
We commissioned a tour company to drive and guide us through the sights of Sri Lanka for 5 days. On Tuesday morning, Lulu and Leah, a couple of teachers at KAS were flying in to Colombo and were being met at the airport by our guide. The plan was for the girls to meet us in Hikkaduwa and continue sightseeing more of Sri Lanka. While waiting for them to arrive, we watched as the local fisherman set a 2.5 kilometer long net in the ocean. Then the tourists joined in as they hauled it back into shore by hand. It was very interesting to watch! Unfortunately,
Sri Lanka's Beach
Sri Lanka is an island about twice the size as Taiwan or Vancouver Island. The beach is our view today.
the catch was minimal, and everyone was disappointed.
KT finally arrived with the girls around 10:30 AM, much later than we had anticipated. Also, his English was quite limited and communication was difficult. Our plan was to take in the Jeep Safari at 3PM in the Yala National Park. KT had to drive aggressively in order for us to make it in time. Linda couldn't even watch the road as it was too scary.
Watch this video to get an idea: https://youtu.be/e4k0NsdehvY
Traffic is horrendous in Sri Lanka, good pavement but the road is shared among pedestrians, cows, bicycles, tuk-tuks, cars, vans, trucks and lots of buses. Google Maps underestimated the driving time, and that was an issue for the whole trip. Instead of 2 hours to go a 100K, it was more like 4.5 hours.
We arrived in Tissamahara near the Yala National Park at 3PM, and jumped onto the back of the waiting Jeep and that had comfortable leather seats. We headed to the park gates and drove around the park for 3 hours. We saw: peacocks, crocodiles, warthogs, black faced monkeys, elephants, water buffalo, iguana, toucans, green budgie birds, egrets, jackal, pelicans and
The Hotel clerk suggested we take a bus to Hikkaduwa: 1.5 hours to Colombo with no AC, transfer bus stations and buses to Hikkaduwa and 2.5 hours later, with AC, we were dropped on the street. We needed a tuk tuk to find our beach cabana.
many other types of birds. Someone claimed to have spotted a leopard, but we didn't see it. We were told that up to 600 jeeps entered the park daily. The animals seemed unconcerned with the jeeps so we were able to see a lot. We drove back into Tissamahara for supper and then checked into the Magampura Hotel. Very nice! We headed straight to the pool to cool off and get rid of some dust.
Wednesday morning we were greeted after our breakfast buffet by our driver KT and our new guide, Jimmy. Jimmy was a gunner in the Sri Lankan civil war. Tamil, Muslim, Singhala Hindu fought over Sri Lanka for 26 years before peace was achieved in May of 2009.
We left Tissamahara (Tissa) at 9AM and drove through Ella to Rawana Falls. We hiked up to the base of the falls, and then bought corn, coconuts and some really hairy lychee type fruit from the local vendors. We got back in the van and drove until 1:30PM. We got to Bandarawel where we stopped for lunch and a bathroom break. Then back into the van and we drove through some amazing scenery, but to where?
The traffic is unbelievable. People, cows. bicycles, tuk-tuks, vans, buses and trucks share the road and passing is an experience with dangerous.
So we spent most of the day in the van driving through lush green fertile plains, hills and valleys, and even a few mountains. We arrived in Nuwara Eliya in late afternoon, just in time for tea at the Mackwoods Tea Estate. Formerly owned by the British, it is now owned by Sri Lankan government. We learned about the tea bushes and how they manually harvest the top 2-3 leaves including the bud 4 times a month. Tea is Sri Lanka's #1 export and there was mountain side after mountain side of tea. The bushes are trimmed every 5 years. Bushes can live 45-50 years. The tea is semi dried, fermented, chopped and processed into various types of tea for sale. We checked into the Tea Bush Hotel and welcomed a cup of tea and biscuits. After settling in we met with Jimmy and TK and discussed our plan for the following day.
Next morning, Jimmy and TK took us to the train at Nuwara Eliya. Riding the slow moving local trains was one of the "must do" things when in Sri Lanka. The train meandered along, and the country provided stunning scenery. We were able to get second
In Hikkaduwa, Finally!
We needed to use a tuk tuk as our beach cabana was too far and difficult to find.
class tickets and after a half hour, were able to find available seats. We watched the locals singing and dancing in the aisle. We bought food from vendors selling lentil fired puffs, samosas, peanuts, oranges, water, coffee and more. We rolled through country that varied from pine forests, to tea covered hill sides, to colorful towns and neatly divided plots of vegetation. We visited, dozed and enjoyed the ride for 3.5 hours. Jimmy and KT then drove us into Kandy to a Gem store, where they explained the 16 types of stones they mine in Sri Lanka. Their rustic methods of mining had us amazed. It was a good tour and we learned lots. Then we spent a short hour at the Royal Botanical Gardens. (Next time we'll spend the whole day and bring a picnic lunch.) We drove back through Kandy to the Temple of the Tooth. The walk up was grand. The ornate grounds and temple cost a 1000 rupees ($10) to enter and view. We saw the tooth encasement, we think, and after bowing 3 times, left our lotus flower gift. The temple was attacked by the Tamils during the war so it was heavily guarded.
Hidden beneath the palm trees was our rustic cabana complete with deck overlooking the ocean. What an awesome find!
We left Kandy about 5PM and were caught in slow moving rush hour traffic. It was horrific! We got to a great little hotel restaurant that served beer, chicken fried rice and devilled chicken. Oh, speaking about beer, there are no 7/11's in Sri Lanka, there are few convenience stores, liquor is only sold in certain stores and only a few restaurants serve alcohol. It was late when we finally arrived at JCs Village, where we would spend the next 2 nights.
On Friday, Maurice had had a rough night with cramps and pain that took him out walking 3 times, so he decided to spend the day at the hotel and rest.
After breakfast, the girls with guides went to the Regent Spice Garden in Matale for a tour of various types of spices grown in Sri Lanka. Then they were given a head, neck and back massage by 3 very capable men. We then headed to Sigiriya and climbed Lion's Rock. This was a unique landscaped city created in the 5th century AD by King Kashyapa. It embraces a 200 meter rock out crop and its natural driven architecture composed of the buildings, pathways, terraces, ponds,
We are tucked away from the world in our exclusive hide away. In the morning we were served breakfast beside the ocean by 2 lovely young ladies.
paintings and sculptures. There are more than 1000 verses and poems written by visitors to Sigiriya, from the 7-14th century, on the mirrored wall. We walked down from the rock with legs shaking.
We were taken by tuk tuk to a traditional village where we saw rice paddies in mid season, watched a local making natural mud bricks, (about 400 daily), then walked back to the outdoor kitchen where we watched 3 local women cook us lunch (rice, rotti, fish, okra, pepper tasting veggie, oil cake, coconut gumbo, cucumber onion salad). We helped by shaving the coconut and watched while the women made rotti (out of coconut, spices and oil). Delicious! We ate with our hands from a red clay plate with a banana leaf on the bottom. After lunch we were given a palm leaf folding demo. Jimmy told us women can do everything, men do only one thing. We agreed. We boarded a local type ferry with wooden benches around the edges and a palm leaf roof for shade). We were paddled around the lake and through the lotus/lily flowers. The paddlers made us necklaces made out of the flowers. On the other side of the lake
Right Outside Our Cabana
After a terrific breakfast we walked and worked on our tan. Sunscreen was applied first as it wouldn't take long to be a red lobster.
we disembarked and got on a bullock cart which took us back to where we had started the tour.
Back into the van and we headed to the Dambulla Cricket Stadium. Jimmy got us in, even though we weren't supposed to. We were able to climb to the top of the top of the stadium and got a view of the whole cricket pitch. Cricket is the Sri Lankan national sport. From the stadium we got dropped off downtown. We wandered and visited a few shops, bought some snacks and beer. We wandered back to the van and went back to JC's Village for a swim and beer. Supper was biriyani rice with chicken, DELICIOUS! Maurice's pain was easing up by 10:30 and he was able to sleep.
On Saturday, our last day in Sri Lanka, we once again piled into the van and were off to visit the Temple Caves of Dambulla. We took our shoes off and walked to the top of the hill where the caves were. We saw the ornate statues, the decorated ceilings and the many rooms full of the buddhas in various positions. We were to see the world's largest Buddha in
We caught up on 'our world' right there on the beach at our cabana over Bailey's and coffee.
the Dharma Chaka posture. We entered through the Golden Temple and visited the museum. They had a great explanation of the elephants used in parades, and the decorations they wore. At the end the crowds of people were all sweating and milling around. We treated ourselves to a mango juice and coconuts. Then we boarded the van and headed to Columbo, 147 K away. We hoped to get there in 6 hours. We ran into a lot of road construction and as we headed to Colombo the traffic increased. Jimmy told us road workers made about 1400 ($14) rupees a day.
We stopped for lunch at a Sri Lankan buffet, along the road and feasted on a spicy, delicious buffet! The tuna was done well, chicken spicy and tough, the salad yummy and oops every now and then quite spicy. The 2 veggie dishes were great and the rice was a great base. Several people arrived to eat....all of them with their hands. I liked the wash up sinks with soap provided. I used my 1 Sri Lankan word of 'stoody' thank you and we left.
Back in the van we travelled to Negombo, arriving at 3PM. Our
Bringing in a 2.5km Fishnet
The locals demonstrate and ask the crowds to participate in bringing in the 2.5km long net. This is a 2-3 hour procedure.
drivers dropped us off by the beach and told us to meet them at 5PM. We walked the beach amid the locals who were doing fun family activities. We made our way to the streets and found a Valentine craft fair, did a little shopping and had a beer before meeting the boys at 5PM and heading to the airport. We tipped our driver (TK) and our(Jimmy) generously because those Sri Lankan boys worked hard and got us to lots of places.
There were long lines in the airport causing harsh words to be exchanged between some Brits and the Chinese as they kept jumping lines in an attempt to get through check in quicker. We headed to our gate just as they were boarding. Instead of having security before immigration, here they had it at each gate, and we found that much more efficient as there were no lines at all.
Our flight left 8 minutes early, we ate supper and then slept solidly before arriving in Shanghai an hour early. We transferred for our flight into Taipei, made our way to the High Speed Rail and were back in our apartment by 3:30 Sunday afternoon. That
Not Many Fish
After 2 hours there was little to show for the effort put into net fishing. Not even enough fish for 10 people was caught. So many little fish died.
gave us time to pick up groceries and rest up for Monday morning and school once again.
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