Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Afternoon in Hikkaduwa



After we finished our tour of Galle, we continued on our trip towards Colombo. We would be spending night in the popular oceanside town of Hikkaduwa. Of course, by now it was mid morning and we weren't hungry but this has been as much a trip to taste local foods as much as it has been as sightseeing trip. I have to admit, tried a few things that I still don't know the name for.....including this strange looking fruit that Chandana said grows in the backwaters (i.e. swamps) in this part of the country. The water is brackish and you can taste the saltiness in the juice. It's definitely an acquired taste and I have to give credit to my brother for acquiring the taste. Me? I took a sip to see what it was like but that was enough for me.

Morning in Galle.


 I
t was an early rise this morning.  We had to pack our bags as we would be staying at another hotel tonight.  As always, we made it downstairs in plenty of time and waited out front for Chandana and Chami to arrive.  For some reason, the front porch was filled with flies. Luckily, it was a short wait as I was starting to lose my patience with having to swat away flies every few seconds.  So annoying.

Monday, August 6, 2012

A Lazy Day.


After our visit to the Mirissa fish market, we stopped at a local restaurant for breakfast. By now I had lost track of how many meals of string hoppers, lentil curry and fish curry we had had. Still tasty but I have admit, getting a bit tiresome. The one unusual thing about this morning's meal was the hard boiled egg. It had a white yolk - yes, a white yolk!











I had never seen anything like that before but according to Chandana, it has something to do with the salt water here. Hmmm....don't know about that. I've been to many beach towns and have never seen an egg with a white yolk. Taste wise, it was no different from the regular yellow yolk.




Mirissa Fish Market.


We woke up before the crack of dawn this morning. It was still dark when we made our way to the front entrance of the hotel at 5:30am. Chami sooned joined us to wait for Chandana to arrive with the van. We were headed for the fish market at Mirissa. 




Flash forward about half hour and we're stepping out of the van. Dozens of men....I think I was the only woman in sight, were milling about the area alongside the boat dock.








Sunday, August 5, 2012

Pooja Festival. Dondra.



When Chandana left us behind with the stilt fishermen, I thought he was taking his family home. Instead, they met back up with us at the hotel a short while later. Crammed into the last two rows of seats in the van were Chandana's wife, his three kids and his mother in-law and behind them, a bunch of his neighbors! I don't even know how many neighbors were back there. I felt bad that my brother and I had the entire first row to ourselves and I offered for his family to move up, especially his mother in-law, but they all wanted to be together.

Stilt Fishermen.


Earlier this morning, I had spotted the stilts, sticking out of the water at Polhena Beach and I made Chandana promise to bring us back tonight to see if the fishermen would be here. After all, they don't publish a schedule of fishing times so it would either be lucky and see fisherman or unlucky and just see poles.

Relaxing. Beach and Village.


Today, we spent the morning at the beach and the afternoon in the village.  It was a nice lazy which was good because the night would be packed with activity.

Our "doorman" at the hotel, a very handsome and friendly Dalmatian
When Chandana dropped us off last night, we had agreed to meet up with Chami at 8:30a this morning. The guy was keen and eager to get going because at 8:15a, he was knocking on our door to see if we were ready.

We were ready at 8:30a and headed out to the front of the hotel. Surprisingly, Chami was nowhere to be seen. I was guessing he had gone back to his room and lost track of time. No matter, we're not in rush.

Soon enough he appeared and we followed out to the road - which was pretty much just one lane.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Road trip to the beach.


I heard our house hostess rustling about outside our room. Once I'm awake, I'm awake so I quietly got out of bed, washed up and took a walk around the garden.  We're high up in the tropical highland and the air was crisp and cool.  We arrived in the dark last night so I had no idea what the landscape, around us, looked like.  We were in the middle of the jungle....literally.  There was lush, tropical vegetation all around us.

The house itself is a very simple structure.  The one unusual thing is that the roof actually stands above the house itself so there is a gap, under the eaves, to let air in. 

Inside, the house was immaculate - all the furniture was covered with slipcovers and the glossy marble floor was spotlessly clean.  It's obvious our hostess takes a lot effort to keep her house clean.  With it being so open to the outdoors, it must be quite a chore to just dust.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Burning off some calories. Horton Plains.

From Nuwara Eliya, we continued our way towards Horton Plains National Park. Earlier in our trip, Chandana had mentioned that if wanted to, he could arrange for us to climb up Adam's Peak which is located inside the park.  It would mean getting up at some ungodly hour, like 1am and hiking through the night to get to the top in time to see the sunrise. "No, thank you" was my reply. For a few minutes, my brother was interested and I didn't want to hold him back so I told him to go ahead. Either Chandana or Chami or both guys would go along with him so he should be okay and he had the proper shoes with him as well.

But, after more thought, he opted out as well so we're coming to Horton Plains just to hike some trails but not climb a peak. I was perfectly happy with that....I can burn off some calories without having to kill myself :-)

By late morning, we had left the tea plantations behind but the hills were still green and rolling and the weather still cool. I felt like I was back home on a cloudy spring day.




Ah....finally a bit of cool weather. Nuwara Eliya.


Yesterday's final destination was the hill station of Nuwara Eliya which is pronounced "New-rail-ia". Yes, I completely mispronounced it until Neil corrected me but you have to admit, it's not spelled anything like the way it's pronounced :-)

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Sacred Temple of the Tooth Relic.

Poor guy, he got tired of me asking him to pose and smile for photos.

Today we're leaving Kandy and we've yet to visit the Temple of the Tooth (formally known as the Sri Dalada Maligawa Temple). It's not only the temple that hosts the Esala Perahera but more importantly, it's where the Sacred Tooth Relic of the Lord Buddha is (supposedly) housed.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Esala Perahera. The 5th Randoli.


Oh, I was so excited for tonight to roll around. We spent the day sightseeing and it was fun and all but I couldn't wait to return to the viewing stand at the Queen's Hotel to see the final night time parade of the Esala Perahera. More performers! More elephants!

Where the natives live.



After our morning walk at Perediniya, Chandana asked if we would be interested in seeing how native i.e., aboriginal Sri Lankans live. We didn't have anything better to do so what the heck, we said, "Yes". I had absolutely no idea what we were in for but I'm always up for a bit of adventure. 

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Esala Perahera. The 4th Randoli.


Still pinching myself. I can't believe I actually got to see the Esala Perahera! What an amazing two nights!!

 Last night, Chandana took us to a viewing point high above Kandy.  With my naked eye, I could see the elephants parading by but it took a view through my zoom lens to really see well.  That was just a taste of what we would be seeing tonight and it got me so very excited!

Peredeniya Royal Botanic Gardens.


We spent this morning in a garden, in a Royal Botanic Garden known as Perediniya.  It is Sri Lanka's premier garden.

Located just a short drive from where we were staying, it was on our list of must-go-to places in Kandy.  Chandana got all four of us tickets and a map to guide us.  I left it up to Chandana and my brother to decide where to go - they are the real plant lovers so who better to read the map and figure out where the highlights are.

As they consulted the map, I looked around.  It was a very well manicured garden with lots of flowers in bloom.

Monday, July 30, 2012

I Love Elephants! Pinnewala.


A trip to see the elephants at the Pinnewala Elephant Orphanage was always in the plans but it wasn't suppose to happen until another day or so.
 
Our final destination for today was Kandy and we arrived in to the outskirts of town well ahead of schedule.  There was plenty of time to go to Pinnewala - we would be there to see the afternoon feeding and bathing activities. I was so excited to hear that bit of news from Chandana!  I love elephants and I've never seen one up close - at least not any close than a zoo enclosure would allow me to get. Plus, I've never more than a few elephants at a time. At Pinnewala, they have almost 90 of them!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

It's a lot of Buddhas! Dambulla.

From Sigiriya, it was a short ride to Dambulla and along the way, we took a break to enjoy some King Coconut juice. Though I still had water left in my bottle, it was nice to have a bit of the sweet coconut juice.

And the coconut is large - I can usually share with my brother although coconut is not on his list of favorite drinks.











Chami pulled into a small parking lot and we followed him to the temple. We had to walk alongside the main road for a bit. Though there was no sidewalk, I had no fear of being run over by cars - the drivers in Sri Lanka are well behaved i.e., they follow the rules of the road and stay in the lanes.  Even so, I was careful to not stray over to the road.

The bees are waiting! Sigiriya.


It was an early wake up call this morning. Last night, we had agreed with Chandana that we needed to be at Sigriya early as it would be at least two hour hike up and down and we wanted to avoid doing it in the heat of day. Knowing me, the slow poke, it would probably take more than two hours. :-(

Saturday, July 28, 2012

It's all about Polonnaruwa!


Our day this morning began with breakfast on the balcony. 



We had ordered breakfast to be served at 7:30a and the waiter pretty much appeared on the dot with the food. It was our first taste of the string hoppers that is typical of Sri Lanka. The hoppers were accompanied by coconut sambol otherwise known as pol sambol, a green curry sauce and curried tuna. I nibbled a bit on my brother's breakfast as there was more than enough to share. The waiter soon returned with a pot of tea. I'm really enjoying the tea in Sri Lanka - they know how to brew it the way I like it!

Friday, July 27, 2012

And we're off! Anuradhapura.

I was up before the alarm went off at 5:30a. I quickly got out of bed and got ready for the day. I was so keen to get going that I rustled my brother awake the second I was out of the bathroom :-) He grumbled about being woken up so far ahead of time. What?? We only have a half hour to get going and he's wanting to linger in bed. No time for that. He can sleep in the car :-) I pushed him to get going and we were ready a few minutes before 6a.

I opened the door and saw both Marcus and Chandana chatting. I was glad to see that Chandana had arrived on time.

Chandana introduced us to our driver, Chami. He piled our luggage into the back of the mini van. Yes, it's just the two of us and the two of them and we're traveling in a mini van. I thought to myself that seems like overkill but maybe that's how they tour here. My brother and I got into the back seat and we got underway. Finally! The road trip begins!

Chami turned down the main road, in the same direction that we had walked in yesterday. I didn't follow all the turns that he took but as we drove along, I quickly realized that what we thought was Negombo town center was actually the outskirts of town. Soon, we passed through Negombo. It was early morning and the commercial establishments were not yet opened. Even so, I could imagine how lively (i.e., congested) the place would be once the day got going.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

First day. Negombo.


I woke up at about 9:30a this morning to a series of loud thumping sound just outside our window.

I crawled out of bed and peeked out the window. There was a small crew of men working on the building across from the small courtyard. Later on, we would find out from Marcus that he was building an addition to his existing property that would eventually house his home and small office on the first floor and five hotel rooms on the second floor. When done, Angel Inn would grow from three rooms to twelve!

Sri Lanka at Last!

We finally arrived into Sri Lanka this morning - landing bright and early at 1:05am!

We cleared through immigration and customs with ease and our luggage arrived fairly quickly. I think we were off the plane and out the exit door in less than 20 minutes!

I had arranged for a driver to come and pick us up and as we exited the arrivals lounge, I immediately started to scan the crowd for someone holding up a placard with my name on it. It's also during this same time that worry sets in that no one is there waiting for me. Luckily though, there was. As always, we mutually greet each other with smiles of relief.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Not Off to a Good Start.


I'm writing this posting as my brother and I are sitting, well I'm sitting, he's laying down resting his eyelids, at departure gate 101 at SFO International Terminal. We're waiting for our 1:40a flight on EVA Airways for Taipei, enroute to Singapore.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Elephants!

Photo by bgag
It somehow seems fitting for me to close out the Research and Planning part of this blog with a post on elephants since their procession during the Esala Perahera was what inspired me to go on this trip in the first place.  Yes, I blame it all on the elephants :-)

In case you hadn't already figured it out, I love elephants.  There's something about these large, lumbering giants that really tugs at my heartstrings.  I always smile when I see images of them.  Like many people I've seen elephants in zoos but I've never seen one in the open, let alone in the wild.  In Yala National Park, we'll have a chance to see elephants roaming free.  I'm really excited about being able to see these creatures in their native habitat.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Hill station. Nuwara Eliya.

Nuwara Eliya is a mountain station located about 180 km south of Colombo.  Situated at an elevation of 1,868 meter (6,128 ft) of altitude, the weather will be nice and cool compared to the coastal cities. 

The highland landscape and weather in Nuwara Eliya is perfect for growing the tea bushes that yield the world's finest Orange Pekoe tea.  Of course, yours truly will be bringing back at least a bag or box of the good stuff.....add to my collection of teas from around the world :-)

Friday, July 13, 2012

The countdown begins!

I realize I haven't posted up anything for quite sometime partly because I was preoccupied with wrapping up my blog for my recent trip to India and partly because of other activities taking up my time.  The main purpose of the India trip was work related but of course, I managed to squeeze in some travel time afterwards.  Had a great time!

Even with the distractions, I did manage to spend some time focusing on this trip.  I've confirmed plans with the guide I've hired; I confirmed with my uncle in Singapore that we'll be spending time with him and I'm doing the final check of details with my brother.  The last bit is the most important and I'm impressed to have found out that he had already taken of everything he needed without reminders from me!  He's becoming a very seasoned traveler :-)

A couple weeks ago, I ordered Sri Lankan rupees from the credit union and it was delivered a week later so we have some money to get us going.   At today's exchange rate of 134 LKR to 1 USD, our money will go a long way!

This past week, I had my BlackBerry enabled for international roaming so we'll have a phone to use; my brother can leave his at home.

I also broke down and got a monopod for my camera so I can better stabilize my camera for photos.  Thanks to go my colleague, Vijay, for giving me some pointers on how to use the monopod and to take better night photos.  I'm going to need it for the shots of the Esala Perahera processions.

I still need to confirm with our hotel in Negombo, get my prescription for Lariam filled, pick up a few more of the items on my packing list, call my credit and debit card companies to let them know I'll be traveling and book my seat on SuperShuttle.  Otherwise, I'm ready to go!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Memories of India 2012.

 
Getting to go back to one of my favorite destinations, on company expense, was an unexpected gift. The moment I got the final word that I was going to India, the planning began but the trip activities turned out to be more "on the spur of the moment" than my usual trips.  I have to admit that it took me a bit to let go and just relax.  It also ended up being more a trip about nature than culture which was a nice change for me.  My only regret was that I missed out on one day in Mumbai which means I didn't get to go to Elephanta Island as I had hoped to.  Guess that means I have to go back :-)

The journey home.

Downtown Silver Spring, Maryland, USA.  Home!
I was awake well before 5:30a. I don't know why I bothered setting the alarm. Even if I hadn't awoken on my own, the church music blaring from loudspeakers starting at 5:30a, on the dot, would have jolted me awake.

I got out of bed, got ready for the day, shut the windows, made up the bed and headed downstairs with my luggage in hand. Regi was already awake and so was Smitha. It was too early for me to have breakfast, even a cup of tea so we chatted, not realizing that Vinod was already outside waiting for me.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Backwater cruise down the Neyyar River.


I had told Vinod to be back at the Leela Hotel at 1p but by 11:30a, I was ready to go so I went ahead and checked out. I had the receptionist call Vinod for me and as it turned out, he was already waiting for me somewhere nearby. Less than 10 minutes later, I saw him pulling up to the front door.

Lazy start.


Ahhh....I woke up this morning feeling more rested than I had in days even though my sleep was interrupted last night by the sound of a heavy rainstorm pelting down on the terrace outside my room. I think it was the super comfy bed and comforter that did me in :-)

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Thiruvananthapuram and Kovalam Beach.


I was awake well before 5:30a but there was no need to get up any earlier so I lingered in bed. The church, behind the house, started blaring out music at 5:30a on the dot. With the bedroom windows wide open, the sound of the music was especially loud - I felt like I as in the front row in a performance hall :-(

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Tea time. Munnar.


After we left the monastery, we drove towards Munnar. We wound our way up one hill and down the other. Soon, the hillsides were covered with tea plants. The way they had been planted created interesting patterns on the hillsides. Along the way, we passed women picking tea. Unlike the tea pickers in Darjeeling who have to pluck the tender leaves by hand, here they use a cutter - a box like contraption that has a blade at the bottom that essentially slices off the top layer of leaves. That explained why the tops of all the plants were so even.

The young monks of St. Alfonsa.


Last night I had set the alarm to go off at 7:30a but as it turned out, that was completely unnecessary because there was another sort of *alarm* that woke me up much earlier :-(

Yesterday, Smitha and Regi gave me a tour of their house. On the upper level is a large terrance that overlooks part of their back and side yards. Regi pointed out that just behind their yard was a Catholic church. Well, promptly at 5:30a this morning, there was some sort of a service taking place at the church and it was broadcast over loud speakers. Why do religious institutions feel the need to blast out over the neighborhood and wake everyone up and ungodly hours?

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

To Smitha's house I go!


I finally had a good night's sleep last night, waking up energized and refreshed. I started my day with a refreshing shower and packing. Checkout time is 11am so I had plenty of time to head downstairs for breakfast, which comes free with the room.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Kathakali.


The driver deposited me at the entrance to the Kerala Kathakali Centre - there was just a simple plastic banner to identify the place. Definitely not anything fancy here.

I followed the path which didn't seem like it would lead to a place of performing arts but this is India and I've learned to not to assume anything. The path ended in a very small courtyard. There, seated behind a wooden desk was a man selling tickets. I handed over 500 rupee and got 250 rupee in change back and a piece of paper explaining the play in English. Less than $5 for two hours of entertainment. A cheap deal. Just hope it's entertaining.

Oh no!


This morning I woke up at the crack of dawn. I was curious to see what the view, outside my window, looked like at this time of day so I threw open the curtains. The world was coming to life. The canal was filled with boats making their way towards Fort Kochi.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Cooking with Mai and Meera.


Mai and I decided to head back to the car around 3:40p to give us plenty of time to get to our cooking class. I gave our driver the directions which I got from the instructor, Meera.

"My house is located behind Fort Kochi Head Post Office at Quirose Street. House indentification (sp) Blue roof shade and aluminum siding gate. A small board isplaced on the boundary wall and also on the GateName - Flavour cooking class."

Kochi.



Last night, Mai and I decided we would take it easy today. That began with a leisurely breakfast around 9-ish. We headed back to the restaurant so Mai could get her last meal of masala dosai. Like so many others, she had gotten addicted to this typical south Indian breakfast food. We planned our day over our meal.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Let the vacation begin! Alleppey.



We wrapped up work yesterday so today formally began the vacation part of this trip for me!

One of our colleagues, Pete, left for home last night and another, Shri, headed to the airport this morning. I'm spending the day with two of my colleagues, Chris and Mai. Yesterday, one of our Indian colleagues, Sandeep had arranged for us to do a backwaters cruise so that's the game plan for today. It is monsoon season here so the skies are always a bit overcast but there was hint of sun as well. It looked like it would be a nice day to be on the water.