Ayubowan

Sri Lanka is a difficult place to get around, and the driving conditions are terrible. Drivers always have one hand on the horn and honk it constantly to alert dogs, cyclists, cows, elephants, and goats as well as other vehicles.

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I couldn’t imagine driving around this place; I know I said that about Abu Dhabi a few months ago, but I’m serious this time. Not only do they drive on the left but most of the roads are only two lanes (in its better areas it was reminiscent of driving down the Keys, but most of the time not really), although there are two new four-lane highways that connect a few of the cities (for the most part) with a third highway in the works. Many of the roads we took were very narrow and busy. Animals, people, houses, and open-front stores line either side of the road- right there- no sidewalk or curb.
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Luckily, a car and driver were included in our vacation package. Our driver, Chami, was very skilled and though I gasped and/or closed my eyes multiple times during our road trip (I was sure the car was gonna die while driving through some deep water at one point), he navigated the streets very skillfully. Even though the driving is insane, those behind the wheel share a common etiquette and navigate fairly seamlessly along the winding roads. We rode in a regular car, but many look like this:
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The tuk-tuk is mainly used as a taxi. It’s kind of like a covered motorcycle with a larger seat attached to the back, big enough for two people to ride in (or in Sri Lanka, several people, or people and dogs, or a carful of vegetables, or whatever needs to be transported) plus the driver up front. The side flaps can be lowered in the rain. Sri Lanka gets its fair share of rain and has the greenery to prove it.
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Chami was a cool guy and super-informative.
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He spoke very good English as many Sri Lankans do. Their official languages are Sinhala and Tamil (signs are in all three languages). The first word he taught us was “Ayubowan,” a hello/good-bye greeting that’s exchanged to wish people a long life. He said when someone directs the greeting toward you it’s insulting not to reply in the same manner. My language learning ended there but I at least used this word numerous times.
Chami suggested extra stops that weren’t on the original itinerary. Yes, he took us for a ride in more ways than one as we discovered he knew the people at each stop personally, so I’m sure he and the shop owners have a really good gig going with that setup. Still, as first-timers to Sri Lanka there were so many things to check out and he made sure we saw as much as possible during our short visit.
SIGIRIYA
We visited the UNESCO World Heritage site of Sigiriya, which is an enormous rock where King Kasyapa built his palace.
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There are frescoes inside:
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along with a gateway that was built in the shape of a huge lion.
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Word to the wise: if you let a man help you up any of the stairs at the beginning of the hike, he’ll follow you for the next 1200. Then you’ll tip him at the end and he’ll ask for even more rupees.
TEMPLE OF THE TOOTH
Another UNESCO Heritage Site, the Temple of the Tooth is a Buddhist temple that houses one of the Buddha’s teeth.
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People bring all kinds of offerings, mostly flowers:
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While we waited in line for forty minutes to walk past the tooth, we were able to listen to some interesting drumming that was taking place in the hall below. Unfortunately, I can’t share the video until I upload it to youtube. Trust me, I heard enough of it for all of us.
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TEA-MAKING
This shop and its equipment looked to be about 1,000 years old and only in place for demonstration purposes. None of the equipment was on unless the tour guide turned it on and no other tourists were in the shop. The guide showed us how tea leaves are processed and poured us a cup of tea at the end of the tour, so all was well.
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HERBAL/SPICE GARDEN
There were actually other people here. The guide showed us a number of trees and plants, served us tea and some concoction that tasted like cough syrup (it did not, however, eliminate the persistent cough I’ve had for three weeks) and offered a “free” back and foot massage at the end of the tour. Very earthy. Their lunch buffet (including a bottle of water) was $3/person, so that was a big score.
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PINNAWALA ELEPHANT ORPHANAGE
There were dozens of elephants, with most roaming free except for the few that were ill-behaved. They’re supposedly released back into the wild when it’s appropriate, but some stay in the orphanage forever due to injury or illness. The elephants walk back and forth between the holding pens, feeding area, and river several times each day. They lumber right down the middle of the road, past the shops and restaurants. For a very small fee, you can feed, bathe, or take photographs with them.
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MANGROVE SAFARI
Armed with half a Dramamine and my indispensible Psi-Bands (for motion sickness) I clumsily boarded a small boat that motored for 90-minutes through the mangroves. Fell in love with a monkey, held a baby crocodile, watched a cinnamon stick-making demonstration, and photographed a group of people who enjoyed having a pool of fish eat the dead skin off their feet. Again, I found myself slightly out of my comfort zone- aside from holding the monkey, which was second-nature. I wished I could’ve carried him around all day or adopted him altogether.
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BEACH
The beach was nice; we had been forewarned about the “beach boys” who follow everyone around in a lame attempt to get someone to commit to a massage or buy things from the shops that dot the shore. Although I tried to coax one of the dogs to walk with me on the beach, he wouldn’t. The beach boy, however, followed me relentlessly. As in other countries, these guys aren’t allowed to enter the resort, which is a good thing because they just don’t let up.

Indian Ocean

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HOTEL
The pool bar was entertaining, or rather, I was entertaining at the pool bar. I met a number of people and chatted up the bartender well past closing time. Must’ve been the Sri Lankan beer, which was cheap and almost double the size of a regular bottle. And I didn’t only have one.
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There’s more, but I promised myself I’d only hit the highlights. All in all, five days in Sri Lanka was a nice way to spend our National Day holiday. Planes were on time, people were friendly and accommodating, and everything was much less expensive than it is in the UAE. This city girl enjoyed a glimpse into a world that’s dominated by dogs, cows, goats, monkeys, bats, and more. The abundance of local fruit was a refreshing change of pace as well.
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It was back to the grind on Sunday, but ten days from today we have two weeks off for winter break. I’ll spend it here, showing Kate and Jenna around Abu Dhabi and Dubai… stay tuned as the adventure continues!

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3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Barb
    Dec 08, 2014 @ 20:02:54

    LOVE your stories and pics!! Super cute monkey, but what was that tiny thing in the other pic (a fish?).
    Keep pics and stories coming- Love them all! I’m looking forward to the thoughts and comments Kate and Jenna have about it all too!

    Like

    Reply

  2. Paul Gianneschi
    Dec 08, 2014 @ 20:44:43

    Awesome adventure you are having! I love reading your posts.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

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