Sri Lanka - 3 to 8 April 2012

Middle East
April 2nd 2012
Published: April 11th 2012EDIT THIS ENTRY

We had not really made a decision on whether to continue this blog but it is a really good way of keeping a record for ourselves as well as keeping our family and friends informed of what we are up to........... so have decided to give it another go and hope you enjoy reading of our travels and please email us back sometimes........

So the Silvernomads are on the road again after a break meeting up with family and friends throughout the UK and a long stay in Lymington, looking after our friends house whilst they travelled around New Zealand - thanks Bob & Elaine. Thanks also to all of you who put us up whilst we are still ‘homeless’ - we are most grateful and enjoyed spending time with you all. For those of you we did not get to see we hope to catch up next time we are home. We had two lovely Christmases one with Kerry and Cliff in Winchester (thanks Cliff for the ‘Strictly Night’) and one with Sharon, Geoff and Maisie in Dubai, where we helped them settle into their new home - a convenient ‘hub’ now for our future travels!

We spent a delightful couple of weeks in Lanzarote visiting friends, Jim and Sue who we had met in Oz and must say what an amazing country it is (Jim still waiting for the photo of the Houbara Bustard). If you ever visit Lanzarote be sure to look at César Manrique’s house, built into the volcanic lava from the 18th century volcanic eruptions. The rooms on the lower floor are situated within volcanic ‘bubbles’, a truly imaginative and amazing home which was also his studio. Manrique lobbied to encourage the sympathetic development of tourism in the 1960’s and his influence can now be seen all over the island in many ways as well as the lack of high rise hotels and everything in keeping with the use of traditional colours of white walls and green/blue/brown painted windows and doors. Whilst there we even managed to walk around (not up) one of the volcanoes a truly unique and stunning landscape of millions of tons of volcanic rock, it was like walking through the bed of a old fireplace.

We returned to the UK for just three days and were surprised to have some good warm spring weather before flying back to Dubai. We really enjoyed our second visit to Dubai and it was sad to leave the family again so quickly. Our granddaughter Maisie went to bed in tears really worried that we might catch something in Africa (although we are not heading that way yet!!!). We are in fact heading for Sri Lanka where we are going to tour around the island for a month starting in the South.

Sri Lanka is a teardrop shaped country just off the southern coast of the Indian Subcontinent in South Asia. Known until 1972 as Ceylon it is an island surrounded by the Indian Ocean, the Gulf of Mannar and the Palk Strait. Less than 31 miles from India at its closest, Sri Lanka is just 270 miles long and 140 miles across at its widest so we are hoping to see most of the island during our month’s stay.

We arrived after a three and half hour flight (its really handy having family now living in Dubai) as it was only a short hop. Our driver/guide called Jaywa (shortened version as we cannot pronounce his name) met us at the airport and welcomed us to his country before proceeding to drive through the chaotic streets on the outskirts of Colombo heading south towards Hikkaduwa our first stop.

What an atmospheric place Sri Lanka is - extremely hot though being only 500 miles from the equator and with a tropical climate which hits you as soon as you leave the plane. We then had a hectic four hour journey by car from the airport to our first hotel which was lovely - right on a beautiful coral beach. The driving here is very manic much worse than Dubai!!!!! With much tooting of the horn, that seems to be ‘the norm’, the roads are jammed packed with lorries, cars, buses, taxis, tuk tuks, cycles as well as dogs, goats and cows all competing for some space on the small ‘main’ road!

On our first day we visited the Kosgoda Sea Turtle Conservation Project where you can see several species of turtles, especially the endangered hawksbill. On 26 December 2004, Sri Lanka as well as Indian Ocean countries were hit by a tsunami caused by a sub-sea earthquake registering 9.2 on the Richter scale. Kosgoda, a fishing community on the coast, was devastated by a six meter wave which surged some 1.5km inland. Many died in the disaster, homes and property were destroyed and many displaced as well as some 200 Hawksbill turtles which had been in care at the site. There were fears that the destruction of the sea turtle nesting grounds would have a permanent effect on turtle populations but the project is now up and running and taking care of the local population of turtles once again. Our driver had a narrow escape that year as his client wanted to stay in Kandy in the hills the day the tsunami hit or he would have been in the area, so he was blessed with good fortune on that day as well as the tourist. He also told us about a friend of his who was in the area with a tour guide and when the sea retreated the guide was amazed and went to see what was happening but his friend decided to head inland, he survived but the guide did not - a story repeated over and over. There is still much damage around this area with just the concrete base of houses remaining that will probably never be rebuilt and many memorials to all those who died - very sad. Painted signs saying 'land and house' for sale were everywhere. Whilst writing this we were sat in the hotel bar overlooking the ocean which looked so tranquil now it was hard to imagine the devastation that happened here in 2004.

We also cruised down a massive natural lake and saw several species of birds including Eagles and Kingfishers as well as several large Monitor Lizards swimming and cheeky little Black Monkeys hanging from the trees. We stopped on one of the many islands that ‘dot’ the lake and met a family who showed us how they harvested cinnamon which was fascinating to watch, such a quick process - to the ‘expert’ that is. We cruised around the lake stopping to visit a small temple on another island where just one Buddhist monk lived alone. Later we visited a local moonstone mine in the middle of the vegetation where we met three miners who were working in a very small tunnel beneath us deep down a narrow shaft. Whilst we were there we helped them bring up a bucket of stones to find a couple of the rarer 'blue moonstones' - they were quite small though! Sri Lanka is famous for its precious gems and moonstones (Princess Diana’s sapphire engagement ring came from here). Moonstones belong in the semi-precious category though but are an important component of the gem business in Sri Lanka. The moonstone is grey and feels cool and smooth to the touch when polished and has a glow like that of the moon. The finest are bluish in colour like the ones we saw in their raw state - but you could still see the blue in the strong sunlight. On the way back to the hotel we stopped at the Mask Museum in the town of Ambalangoda, the home of devil dancing, mask and puppet carving traditions that have been passed down from one generation to the next. Traditional masks are still produced in soft kaduru wood because of its lightness, vegetables dyes are used to add colour to the masks. All masks are hand carved and the majority of the masks depict demon faces as they were used for dance dramas as well as rituals to expel evil demons which they believed caused diseases. We saw a series of masks on one wall with each one depicting a different disease. It was a highly entertaining and informative visit and we saw the whole process of mask making from scratch. The museum educated schoolchildren about the various forms of masks and their significance in Sri Lankan lives and whilst we were there we were surrounded by lots of local schoolchildren all taking great delight in their outing.

We had a couple of rest days in Hikkaduwa before we moved North, so we chilled at the hotel and on Paul’s birthday we decided to snorkel out to the reef and immediately we spotted two giant green turtles, we were so lucky to see them on our very visit snorkel - a nice birthday present for Paul.......didn’t have the camera though........

The grounds of the hotel was also home to several tiny striped chipmunks who were very cute but probably a menace to the hotel as they darted around the sun beds and ‘dipped’ into any available food or drinks they could find........tomorrow we travel to Negombo via Colombo before heading to Anuradhapura - see you there......

Additional photos below
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10th April 2012

Great to hear from you
I am so pleased you have decided to carry on with your blog, it is lovely to hear about all the lovely places you are visiting and we can at least dream of visiting some of them! Sheila, we are wishing you a very happy birthday - we will be in Bournemouth with Sally and the kids and as we don't have the internet there these birthday greetings are coming a little early this year. Have a great day. I think when you eventually finish all your travelling we will have to enter you into the odd quiz or two as you will have a very good knowledge of the world! Eggheads watch out! All the best, Pete and Chris
10th April 2012

Your Travels
Hi Guys Lovely to hear from you and read the blog keep it up. Glad you are still enjoying your travels. Two Christmases how lucky are you great to be able to spend time with Maisie. Happy birthday to you both I know Paul yours has gone and not sure when you celebrate yours Sheila. Take care xxx
17th April 2012

Could not open page in Gran Canaria but no problem here. Enjoyed reading about south Sri Lanka and REALLY envious of your brahmini kite picture. Seems to be lots of interesting places to visit there, must add to our list. Gran C was interesting in its ugliness! Away from the coast the scenery is stunning with pretty villages but the roads require strong nerves and more courage than I have to live there for any length of time.. It is warmer and less windy than Lanzarote, lots of small birds and the old part of Las Palmas is well worth a visit for the colonial archictecture and museums. Apart from that, the tourist areas were horrific to our eyes, 20 storey hotels chiselled into the cliffs wherever a beach existed and in many places even without a beach! At least we can cross it off the, \"where to live\" list. Hope the north of Sri Lanka is interesting, have fun. X S & J

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