Sunday, August 5, 2012

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.


We barely walked 100 feet and we were at the beach. Not sure why Chandana felt we had to be escorted here. I think my brother and I could have found our way.....really, we could have :-)

Polhena Beach is a beach for local Sri Lankans - it's really not a place that caters to large groups of tourists. As we stepped foot on the sand, there were barely a handful of people around and my brother and I were definitely the only non-Sri Lankans around.


Chandana had told us that what makes Polhena so popular with the locals is that there is a long coral reef located about 200 meters off shore. In addition to making this the perfect spot to snorkel, the reef also breaks the waves from coming in any closer to shore. So, the waters between the reef and the shore are relatively shallow and calm - like a giant swimming pool.

The sand here is not quite soft white powder but it's not rocky either.

We found ourselves a shady space to drop our towels down under. After a few minutes of staring out into the inviting water, we decided it was time to strip down and get in.



The water was cold....okay, it wasn't cold but you know what I mean. At first, it took a few minutes to sink into the water any higher than my thighs and then a few more minutes before I could drop down til the water hit waist high. It seemed like an eternity before I could drop down to where the water would just clear my chin. After that, I thought I was in heaven. The water was cool and crystal clear. The sand beneath my feet was still a bit coarse but not too bad.



Off to one side of the water I could see poles sticking out. I recognized them immediately. These were the stilts that the famed stilt fisherman sit on to catch fish. I was so excited to see the stilts because I had wanted to come see the fisherman but had no idea how we would go about doing that. I had read that in the more popular tourist hotspots, some men will essentially climb out to the stilts and fish - essentially putting on a show for tourists. 




 I didn't want that but I feared that was what I was going to have to settle for so you can imagine how excited I was to see these stilts. I made a mental note to tell Chandana that I wanted to come back to see the fishermen in action. Of course, I have no idea if there will even be any fishermen here but I was not going to leave Sri Lanka without finding out!!

 







Chami had told us that Chandana would meet us at about 10am. His English is not all that good so I had no idea where we would be meeting Chandana. That mystery got solved quickly when Chandana showed up on the beach with his wife Nerusha (sp?), his twin 8 year old daughters and his adorable 2 year old son.



They had come with breakfast for us! What a nice surprise! We started with glasses of fresh mango juice- served in glass flutes! The main meal was typical Sri Lankan - milk rice (which is rice cooked with coconut milk) served with a side of dried anchovies fried with chili. If you are from anywhere in Southeast Asia, it will immediately remind you of nasi lemak. Only difference is that it's not cooked in a banana leaf and the rice is a short grain rice versus the long grain that is more typical of Southeast Asian cuisine. I have to admit, I was not hungry but the sight of something that looked and tasted like nasi lemak was just too hard to resist! I had TWO LARGE helpings!

After breakfast, everyone headed back into the water. One thing I realized here is that Sri Lankan women don't swim. About as much as they will do is wade into the water and they will do this fully clothed. This is still a very modest and conservative society. I saw a pair of mothers, dressed in skirts and blouses that were completely soaked through because they had not just waded into the water but they had completely dunked themselves in it! Still no bathing suit. I must have looked like a creature from another planet dressed in my swimsuit, which is considered to be modest by western standards.

Chandana's kids were having an absolute blast. They're a bit shy towards my brother and I and I would fully expect that given that we don't look anything like anyone they've ever seen before. Hopefully,they'll warm up to us. Chandana's wife is really sweet but since she doesn't speak English our interaction is a bit limited. Even so, there were times we shared a smile or a laugh.

Family portrait.  Not the best picture but I think it's a really cute one of the family.

After about an hour or so, we decided that we had enough so everyone got out of the water. Chandana had moved our stuff to the van so we quickly went over to where it was parked and grabbed our towels.

Our morning was not yet over but we wanted to quickly shower off before continuing on.  While Chandana, his family and Chami got dried off themselves and packed up the van, my brother and I quickly darted back to our room and cleaned up.





Our next destination was to another Perera and Sons shop.  Though we had eaten, Chandana's family hadn't so this was a nice treat for them, especially the kids.












I couldn't eat another bite or even a sip though everyone else had a nibble with water and tea to wash it all down with.









It was his daughters' birthday and on the way, Chandana let them pick out a cake.  It was the first time that the girls had ever had a birthday cake so you can imagine just how excited they were.  You could see the joy in their faces!





Back in the van, we headed down the road towards Chandana's house. Along the way, we stopped on the roadside to have a glimpse at the cultivated land that is common in this area.









 

Water buffaloes are the beast of  burden and we briefly stopped to talk with a rice farmer getting ready to work in the field.








We then drove to a patch of land that Chandana told us was his vegetable patch.  Long beans were ready for the picking so we all lent a hand and plucked whatever ones looked like they were ready for cooking.  They would be part of lunch later on.



Though Chandana makes his living outside the village, it was obvious that being here is what makes him the happiest.  I think if he could have made a living being a farmer, he would have.



Next stop was Chandana's house.  He had told us it was a very modest place in a small village.  I had no idea what to expect.  Indeed, it is an extremely modest home nestled in the heart of a very quiet village.  From what I could tell, it was  small concrete block home.  There were two small bedrooms, a small dining room and a small living room.  There was barely any furniture in either the dining or living rooms - it was very spartan.  There was a TV in the living room but it was sitting on the floor, unplugged.  Chandana is not keen on them watching television.  He also has an internet connection in the living room and that's for him to use for business, when he's there.  I wonder if the kids sneak on to it when he's not around....though I didn't see any electronic devices lying around anywhere. There was a very small outdoor kitchen in the back.  In this small house, live Chandana, his wife, his three kids and his mother in-law.  Surprisingly, it didn't seemed cramped for them.
 
His mother in-law greeted us at the door.  She graciously motioned for us to enter in the house and so we took our shoes off and headed in. She was curious about my brother and I and Chandana answered all her questions.  She is just about the sweetest and cutest older woman I had ever met.  I just wanted to bundle her up and take her home with me!

Chandana wanted to say hello to one of his neighbors and so we tagged along.  Here, we are basically in the heart of lush tropical jungle so everywhere you looked, you could see banana trees and coconut palms.

We entered the garden of a small house and a man emerged from inside.  It was Chandana's neighbor.  The two men chatted as you would if you hadn't seen someone in a while. It was obvious that the two men knew each other well and liked each other.

One thing about living in a small village is that everyone knows each other and here, they are very generous.....including plucking and cutting into coconuts for two complete strangers to enjoy!  Earlier in our trip, we had mentioned to Chandana that we had never eaten breadfruit before so perhaps by not so much coincidence, his neighbor had fruit to spare.  Soon, it was time to say goodbye to his neighbor and we left with breadfruit in hand.

Back at Chandana's house, he passed the breadfruit on to his wife and then we got back in the van.  While his wife and mother in-law whipped up lunch, Chandana wanted to take us around to several places in his village including a visit to the temple.





The temple complex was pretty quiet though we did come across a monk.  Nothing much to see so we didn't hang around for long.








After the temple, we were headed to see the Snake Man.  Uh.....I vaguely recalled Chandana mentioning seeing a snake man and perhaps I had said we would go but I don't remember.  In any event, I'm not all that keen on snakes.  Not that they scare me but I prefer furry and cute four legged creatures to anything reptilian.  Warm blooded better than cold blooded.

We pulled into the driveway of a small house.  Though the front door was open, it didn't seem like anyone was home.  A few minutes later, a woman appeared at the door.  Chandana spoke with her and found out that the Snake Man was not there but would be back shortly.  Darn :-)

We strolled out the garden as we waited and it wasn't long before a man appeared.  He seemed very happy to see us.  I had no idea what we were in store for.





Adjacent to the house was another building.  We followed Chandana and the Snake Man to the building and Snake Man unlocked the double wooden doors.  On the inside were several large wooden boxes.  I think I know what they hold.





We stepped inside and lining the walls were photos that told the story of Snake Man's life as well as that of his father's.  Apparently, both men have a love of snakes that has led them to be local experts in treating snake bites.  In a place where snake attacks are common, Snake Man is a very valuable resource.  Basically, any villager who gets bitten comes to him for treatment.  Snake Man is carrying on his father's skills and knowledge.




Of course, our visit was more than just looking at photos on a wall.  We had to see the snakes and I could tell that Snake Man was more than excited to be able to show us his collection.













First to brought out.....none other than the venomous cobra.  Snake Man handled him with care and caution and we stood a VERY safe distance away.


























A prod with the handling pole and the cobra raised its head, ready to attack.










After that opening act, Snake Man brought out a succession of both venomous and non-venomous snakes.  We could tell the difference because he repeatedly kept trying to hand us the non-venomous ones to hold.  My brother and I kept saying "No", shaking our heads and backing up as he walked towards us with the slinky creatures.  Okay, I admit it, I take back that part about not being scared - we're wusses.



























Just so we didn't think that all he had was snakes, out came the tarantula.  Although I've seen tarantulas countless times before, I'm stil amazed by their size.











Mr. Tarantula was followed by a venomous brown snake of some sort.  Snake Man wanted to give us a close look  but we just backed up a safe distance.  I think every time we took a step back, it tickled him pink and it made him want to torture us just a wee bit more.  I have to say I probably would have done the same thing had I been in his shoes :-)










Next came, my horoscope sign - the scorpion.  This guy was big!













Last but not least, was the pièce de résistance - a python that was sleeping every so quietly in its a cage.  We told Snake Man he didn't have to rustle the creature awake but of course, that would defeat the purpose of us seeing representative snakes in the area.  Snake man reached in and pulled the snake out.





Snake Man wanted us to have a python necklace, repeatedly offering to drape the creature around our necks.  No takers in my brother and I but Chami was up for it so with a bit of help, the snake was draped around his neck.


 








 Chami was glad to pose for the photo :-)













It was all over after the python was removed from Chami's neck.  If you ask me, he looked relieved to have it gone as well. We piled back into the van for the short ride back to Chandana's house.





As I got out of the van, I could smell the scrumptious odors of our lunch being cooked.  We headed towards the back of the house - I was curious to peek into the kitchen and lend a hand.  Enclosed behind a structure made of plywood was the kitchen.






There was a small sink, outside the kitchen, for washing up.







 





A few feet away was a fire pit which presumably serves as an additional heat source for cooking.







By the time I got to the kitchen, Chandana was already standing behind the two burner cook top helping to cook up a dish.  Amazing to see how small the kitchen and utensils are to cook the daily meals for a family of six....let alone lunch for nine!


By now, I was really beginning to salivate - it all smelled so good!  A table had been set out in the living room and one by the one, dishes were brought out from the kitchen.  Everything looked as delicious as it smelled.


There was a large plate of steamed red rice, a bowl of breadfruit (which I was dying to try), the long beans we had picked a few hours ago, another veggie dish and two small plates of tuna steaks.

The breadfruit.

The veggie dish - can't remember what veggie it was.

The tuna steak, topped with tomato and onion.











Chandana's family didn't eat with us but he and Chami did.  Neither my brother nor I are shy about eating so we dug right in!  I have to say that I didn't try the tuna because the veggies were so delicious.  I had no idea what they were sauced with but every bite was a perfect complement to the red rice.  I was dying to try the breadfruit and after the first bite, both my brother and I came to the same conculusion - it tastes just like potato....perhaps a little more flavorful.  Overall, it was a very simple meal but a VERY taste satisfying meal.  I could eat like this every day and be very happy.....and very fat :-)









After lunch, we helped clear the table and move the dishes to the sink.  I was getting ready to start washing them when Chandana insisted that we leave them ....presuming for his wife and mother in-law to do later.  I'm so used to washing up after myself but I had to remind myself that I was a guest in their home and so I stopped what I was doing and just helped to do the general clean up.

So excited to be putting his shoes on :-)
Somehow, my brother got intrigued by the coconut scraper and Chandana decided he had to show us how to use it.  My brother went to pick up an old coconut off the ground and Chandana used the back of a knife to crack it open.  He then demonstrated how the meat is scraped off and then have his wife show us how she turned the scraped meat into coconut milk.  Nothing we haven't seen before but two things I did learn was 1) one half shelf of water per half shell of scraped meat and 2) use a blending to mix the water and meat.  Then, you can just use your hands to squeeze out the milk though it might be easier to use a cheesecloth....especially if you're making a large batch of milk.  My mom has one of these scrapers.  I'm going to ask her for it when I get back.

With all the non-stop eating, we really needed some exercise to burn off the calories.  Chandana asked us if we wanted to go for a walk to see the village and of course we did.  Chami and the kids joined us.

We just started walking down the dirt lane.  It was good to walk.  As usual, I lagged behind everyone else so I could take photos.
 
Small houses lined the lanes but it was not a crowded neighborhood.  Very peaceful and quiet.

The girls had brought along small plastic bags and were collecting flowers.


My brother and Chandana were off in their own world, stopping and checking anything that piqued their interest.  The girls were running around picking flowers and Chandana's ever so cute son was hanging on the Chami's hand.  It was nice scene.

We even stopped on the occasional neighbor - to chat, to pick fruits from their trees.  It was a very relaxing stroll.   Here are a few photos that we took along the way.

Picking breadfruit.

With breadfruit fruit in his hand....ready to ask Chandana what it is.
The only vehicles we encountered were motorcycles.

Nothing but the sound of birds and the laughter of children.

Chami, tree climber extraordinaire!

A great place for an after meal stroll.
The guys were always checking something out.























Along the way, we came across a lot of very unusual fruit.
A yellow mangosteen.
Looks like a mamey sapote but we have no idea what it is.


Green rambutan.  It looked unripe but it was perfectly ripe and sweet!
Gambooge (Garcinia cambogia) also commonly known as Malabar Tamarind

A variety of custard apple we had never seen before.
It was a long and relaxing walk but before we knew it, we were back at Chandana's house.  There, a special treat was waiting for the two girls - their birthday cake!

We awkwardly mumbled out a tune of Happy Birthday to them.  They were beaming with excitement at being able to have some cake.  Taking the knife together, they cut into the cake.  With Dad assisting, they dished out pieces of cake to everyone.  It was a special moment for them and truly memorable experience for us!







After we finished eating, I asked if I could take a photo of the family and they kindly obliged. They didn't plan it but they all matched :-)  They are such a sweet family and I felt very privileged to have been invited into their home and to spend time with them.


After we polished off our cake, it was time for us to leave.  We had to get going to see the stilt fishermen - Chandana had promised we would make it back to Polhena Beach but sunset and it was getting late.  The entire, minus mother in-law, was coming along.  Chandana's kids are remarkably well behaved and so it took little effort for them to get ready to go.

Spending time in Chandana's village was an unexpected surprise for us and I loved every minute of being in his house and strolling through his village.  It was a brief view into rural life in Sri Lanka.  Living is basic and simple here but everyone we came across seemed very happy.  Although they lack a lot of the material things that folks in the US would not ever be able to conceive of living without, there's something to be said about having a less stressful lifestyle.  Having spent time in his village, I can see exactly why Chandana likes to return to this place after days of being on the road and being a guide.