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.


Our hostess was getting ready breakfast for us - walking back and forth between the kitchen and the dining room with a tray in hand. Soon, the guys would be up and about as well. 

My brother's idea of breakfast in Sri Lanka is to begin the morning with durian. He's weird :-)

We had one left of the lot we bought outside of Kandy so he went to town dissecting it and eating all the fruit.  He ate the entire durian.  While he was polishing off the last morsels of durian from his fruit, we sipped on tea....served in some very fancy chinaware.
  
After we finished up with tea, it was time to hit the road.  Bags and people into the van and down the road we went.  Our route took us in the direction opposite to town so we didn't get to see the stretch of Ella that we had driven through last night.  Instead, we got views of the tropical highlands.














 A short drive later and we had arrived at a place called Rawana waterfall.  The roadside vendors were beginning to open up their shops. 




 






One guy was working on cooking his stock of boiled corn for the day.  Amazing how corn is such a universal food!











 The place reminded a lot of Cheeyapara Waterfalls which we stopped at on my roadtrip to Munnar, India.


Next stop was a roadside restaurant for breakfast. I have to admit, after our last breakfast of Sri Lankan pastries, it was nice to have a hearty meal of string hoppers and curry.

Today, our road trip would eventually take us to the beach so at some point, we'll be driving out of the highlands.  Too bad we have to leave the cool weather behind.

By mid morning, we were back to driving through small villages and past paddy fields.  We soon entered a stretch of road that is known to be frequented by wild elephants.  The thought of seeing more elephants definitely perked me up and I started to peer out the window looking for them.

This same stretch of road was also dotted with fruit vendors so there were quite a few obligatory stops to pick up fruit including my absolute favorite one - custard apple!  Chandana got a bag's worth and I was soon in my own little world breaking open the fruit and devouring the sweet flesh.  Had I known it was going to be this tasty, I would have asked him to buy a second bag.  Yes, I can easily be unashamedly greedy!

I was too busy eating and there were too many fruit stalls for me to notice the two elephants standing on the other side of the street.


We got out the van and crossed the street to take a closer look at the two creatures who were standing on the other side of some wires which we figured were electrified.  Both were females but one was obviously a juvenile.  Although the elephants were supposedly wild, they were definitely accustomed to humans who have obviously been feeding them.

The moment they saw us coming towards them, they started to walk towards us.  


While we were checking the elephants, Chami had gone to one fruit stands to buy some bananas.  He soon reappeared with the fruit in a basket.

He handed a small bunch to one of the elephants who gently took the bananas, lifted to its mouth and devoured the entire lot in one gulp.  We probably could have harvested an entire tree's worth of bananas and not filled the belly of this gentle giant!
  
  



As we continued our road trip, we stopped a couple more times to look at the elephants.  Had to do it because once we leave Sri Lanka,  I don't when our next opportunity will come.

Somewhere along the way, Chandana bought a small bag of woodapples.  It is the start of the season and this part of Sri Lanka is the place to get this unique fruit.  The woodapple is about the size of a baseball.  It has a woody shell and the fruit on the inside is very mushy and dark brown, almost black in color.  To me, it's another stinky fruit like the durian - definitely an acquired taste.  Sri Lankans are crazy about woodapple juice so we stopped at a juice bar.  Chandana had them whip up a couple of glasses for us.  The girls started by cracking open the woodapple - similar to how you would open up a coconut.















The flesh was scooped out and placed into a blender.  To the flesh, the girl added sugar and vanilla ice cream.  Traditionally, they would add coconut milk but she didn't have any so vanilla ice cream was substituted.  The concoction was then whizzed for quite a few seconds so it got frothy.

I took a sip but I have to admit, it was my second time trying woodapple juice.  I didn't like it the first time around and this second time did not change my mind.  Not my cup of juice.


On the other hand, avocado juice - I would die for another glass of the stuff in Sri Lanka!!  Here, they sell avocados and if I lived here, I would buy the entire truckload.  The secret to making avocado juice taste so yummy is to add coconut milk to it.  Simply to die for!

One thing about our road trips....they've been very unscripted so we have no idea where we're going because half the time, we end up on detours to check out something that interests us.  The other thing is that half the time, a description gets lost in translation.  So, when Chandana asked us if we were interested in going to a place where we could bathe in hot water, I had no idea what he was trying to tell us.  He said that the waters had healing properties.  We both thought he was talking about some hot springs.   It's about 95 degrees with humidity levels to match so the thought of plunging into hot water did not really appeal to me but what the heck, we were up for exploring so we agreed to go.





We pulled into a parking lot, in front of some food stalls and followed the guys down a path that led to a ticket counter.

 






Chandana bought tickets for all four of us and we continued to walk further, through a garden. I could hear the sound of laughter in the distance.


The path ended in a small plaza that had a some concrete pools in the center of it.  People were standing around the pools and using plastic buckets to splash over themselves.  Hmmm....this is a bit odd.  I thought bath would mean dunking into the water not tossing water over the head.


Looking at the people, I only noticed one other woman and she was fully clothed and completely soaked.  I decided to sit this one out....I don't want anyone gawking at me.

Apparently, the water comes from different sources and is naturally heated.  What's interesting is that each of the pools holds water of different temperatures  - all war, but some hotter than others.

I think my brother was a bit dubious about it but eventually he decided to join Chami and Chandana.  While our Sri Lankan travel mates stripped down to their skivvies, my brother decided to stay more modest so he just took his t-shirt off.


It didn't take long for the guys to start pouring water over themselves.  Later, my brother told me that they started with the hottest water first and as they made their way, counter clockwise, to the other pools, the water got progressively cooler.



Once the guys were done and they were bathing for quite some time, we backtracked to the van.  It finally all made sense when I saw the stone plaque with the name of the place.  It was a thermal spa....Sri Lankan style! :-)

My brother needed to dry off and change out of his wet shorts and of course, what is a road stop without a food break.  The guys headed into one of the food stalls for a bite while I satisfied myself with more of the delectable custard apple that Chandana had bought earlier.  So, so good!

 Not the everyone hadn't already eaten enough but it was lunch time.  Another roadside restaurant....this one was pretty cute and it was right alongside a small river where the villagers catch fish.  Lunch was served the usual buffet style and there was fried fish on the menu.  Very fresh and very delicious.

Our road trip was not over yet.  Next stop was the town of Kataragama which is, like Kandy, known for its perahera.  In previous year's the two perahearas were staggered so people (and elephants) could go to one and then the other. But this year was unusual - both peraheras occurred on exactly the same days so no chance for another procession of blinged out elephants for us.

Chami pulled into a parking lot that was ringed on three sides by vendor stalls.


Baskets and baskets of fruits, all neatly presented, were for a sale at pretty much every stall.

Some of the baskets were carefully composed, including plastic garlands and incense sticks - looking very much like gift baskets.  And that's what they turned out to be.  These stalls specialized in fruits that would be left behind as offerings in temples.  The fruit basket offerings are all part of the pooja activities that were taking place in Katagarama.  I didn't know if it was a separate pooja festival or it was related to the perahera.  I think it was a separate festival because most of the stands looked like they were temporary set ups.


No festival would be complete if there weren't places where you could spend money on stuff that you don't need but for whatever reason, must have.  Especially true for kids and what parent would deny spending a few rupees on a plastic ball to keep the little ones happy?  They sure pack a lot of stuff into a very small space!

We window shopped as we walked along.  No need for any of the stuff though I did wonder whether or not we should pick up a fruit basket. Chami is a devout Buddhist so I would have taken his lead but he didn't buy anything so I passed it all by as well.













From the lot where all the vendors were, we walked across a bridge that spanned a river.  Something happened when we did that.  The usually clean Sri Lankan grounds were littered with trash - most likely from the crowds that had gathered for the perahera festivities.

There was a small group of people wading in the water.  Looked like locals bathing and laundering.

On the other side of the bridge was this tree....trunk tacked up with license plates.  Chandana said that this was done for luck.   A wishing tree!

Our path ended in an oval shaped city square that was occupied by Buddhist and Hindu temples and even a mosque.  All the religious buildings in one area!  I can imagine how packed this place can be.....no wonders the vendors were located nearby.


We walked around one side of the square.  Most the of the Buddhist and Hindu temples are a fusion of the two religions so there are elements of each religion in the temple.

We stepped inside this brightly colored yellow one so Chami could pray.




 












We continued walking down one side of the square but not entering into any of the buildings.

Not really worth if you don't understand any of the religious significance of anything you see.  It's hard enough to fully grasp one religion but when you have the fusion of two, it's even harder!






















By now, it was late afternoon and we really had to get going to arrive into Matara before it got late.  For the next hour and half, we just drove.....passing through villages and towns and the ubiquitous paddy field.  I loved the bright green color of the rice plants.


It was close to 7pm when we reached the town of Matara but we still weren't ready to head off to the hotel quite yet.

Chami pulled off the road and we got out to get a quick taste of the beach before moving on.  If this is an example of the what we're in for, beach wise, I'm going to be very, very happy.  Pristine beach with no one around.....what more could you ask for?  Even in the fading light of day, it looked like paradise!


Chandana told us that today was Chami's birthday.  Happy Birthday, Chami!  He was turning the ripe old age of 28.  Chami wanted to take us all out to celebrate by buying us cake at one of his favorites bakeries in town.  It didn't seem right that he should be buying the cake so I told Chandana that in the US, the custom is for your family and/or friends to be treating you so we would be treating Chami.....not the other way around....though I have to say, I was really touched by Chami's gesture.




It was nearly dark by the time we pulled into the parking lot at Perera and Sons, which is a well known Sri Lankan chain.  The place is definitely very popular.  The guys and I picked up a piece of cake and drink each.  Total tab came to all of 385 rupees - not even $3.






Though the place was fairly crowded, we managed to find a table to sit down at.  No rush when it comes to enjoying a nice dessert.  I have to say the cake was pretty good and as you know, I am a baker so I know when it's good.


It was dark by the time we pulled into the Hotel Royal Sea Wind....we would be spending the next two nights here.  The hotel was located, across a narrow lane, from Polhena Beach which is a located on the outskirts of Matara.  We quickly went to check out the beach but all we saw were rocks.  Apparently, the beach is a few meters away.  Chandana did reassure us that there is indeed a beach here.

As we got our bags out of the car, Chandana told us that he would be going home to have dinner with his wife and kids.  Turns out, he only lives a few kilometers away.  He pointed out a restaurant where we could have our dinner later; Chami would be joining us.  We bid Chandana a good night.

At 7:30p, we meet up with Chami for dinner.  We rejected the first place he took us to and ended up going to the restaurant that Chandana had recommended.  We got a table on the outdoor patio, sitting right along the water's edge.  As we were waiting for our food to be delivered, we could see a snorkler, with a light, checking out the rocks below us.  We were curious about what he was doing but we couldn't figure it out so we made a note to ask Chandana tomorrow.

It was an all seafood dinner and again, they had prawns on the menu and again, they were teeny, weeny.  These are shrimp.....not prawns.  So disappointed. Argh!!!  Where are those famous, ginormous Sri Lankan prawns.  I will find them before this trip is over!!

After inner, it was the usual routine of shower and laundry. The plan is to spend the morning at the beach to just swim and relax.  Ahhhh.....I can already feel the sand between my toes!

Good night from Polhena Beach!

Yes, we're equipped to do laundry! :-)