Thursday, February 26, 2004

Colombo, Sri Lanka--Day 27

Last night I woke up in the middle of the night quite sick. I’m not sure with what, but like in Guatemala, I won’t go into details. It wasn’t as bad as before though and after a while I felt ok and went back to bed.

I woke up to go to Kandy and felt much better. So I got dressed and got my things and headed downstairs to meet up with Ruberu. He was there, as he said, and we were off to Kandy. Ruberu promised to take me through on a little tour on our way to Kandy, showing me the sights. Again, this sounded just fine to me.

Now driving in Sri Lanka is much different than in the States, being more similar to India. Lots of cars, lots of pedestrian traffic, animal traffic (this time with elephants!) and of course, LOTS of honking. It didn’t take me long to figure out when and where to honk. You honk when you are approaching another car to pass it (apparently to let them know that you are coming and want to pass), then you can choose to hold down your horn WHILE you pass to let them know that you are passing, and then honk at any other traffic that might have gotten in your way. Since cars are not that far apart, this basically means that you are honking all of the time.

It was pretty harrowing, but since I was with Ruberu and in a safe car (a Nissan Sunny- basically a Sri Lankan Sentra--which is my car!) and so there were only a few times when I was actually worried in which I would just close my eyes until the honking (and subsequent braking or speeding up) ended.

On our way we passed several cool things. As the road wound around, we would pass different stalls and small towns selling all sorts of Sri Lankan goods. We passed a porcupine breeder whom you paid a little bit of money to get pictures of the porcupines (which I had never actually seen before), pineapple and coconut stores, cashew nut stalls and various other things. Sri Lanka is absolutely gorgeous and green. They produce a ton of tea (Ceylon Tea, for example--Sri Lanka used to be called Ceylon, btw) and already I was really enjoying myself.

Ruberu lets me know that we can stop off at the elephant orphanage on our way and see baby elephants who roam around the orphanage, their feeding time and watch them bathe. Where else can you go walking around with wild elephants like that? Sounded like a good stop to me. These elephants live there until they get big enough to become “working” elephants, which you would actually see on the roads carrying things and in the fields! We first stopped to get some breakfast at a pretty touristy orientated tea place and then made it to the Pinnewala Elephant Orphanage a little too late to see the feedings, but we did get to see the elephants tromp on down to the river to take a bath.

It was so amazing. There must have been fifty or so elephants all marching down to the water to take their bath (the first of two each day) and along with numerous other tourists and Sri Lankan school children, I watched in awe and snapped pictures away with my camera! So cool! Some of the elephants even decided to lay down to be washed, more like taking a bath than being splashed with water.

After all the excitement, Ruberu and I headed back to the car (after watching a snake charmer woo his snakes for a small fee) and started off again towards Kandy. But first Ruberu thought that I should get a good elephant ride in before we left. I wasn’t too sure that I actually needed to ride one but then figured what the heck, when am I going to be riding elephants again?? So we headed to another elephant place where there were several working elephants that you could pay to ride. Fifteen dollars later, I had bought myself a 15 minute ride on an elephant.

I am instructed to stand on this high step and wait for my elephant to come up. There are two people in front of me who get on their respective elephants, and then mine comes up. But my poor elephant must have been the oldest one in the bunch. Its skin was so saggy and its ears were so droopy that I felt that for sure the elephant was going to collapse right then and there with me on it.

I could already see it: “Sarah Louise Galbraith, 1980-2004. Squashed by an elephant.”

But I got on and for the next 15 minutes (hardly, it was more like 10) I was paraded around on top of the elephant with a guide (who told the elephant when to go and when to stop) as well as another man who was excitedly snapping away on my camera taking pictures of me on top. I must have at least 10 pictures of me sitting on the elephant all in different places on the ride. I had to admit, it was kind of fun and a very strange feeling to feel the elephant’s shoulder blades move from side to side as it walked. An elephant also has very rough and hairy skin.

When my 15 minutes of fame were up, I got off the elephant at the same high step as before and was shown the elephant museum that they had, which was basically a room filled with elephant skulls and a big poster displaying one of their elephants who had “starred” in over 200 movies, including “Tarzan.” Ooooh.

After my ride, Ruberu and I were off again, not to Kandy, but to see some spice gardens. Sri Lanka exports a lot of spices and oils and things and so they have numerous gardens set up where tourists can go and actually see the plants that spices come from. I was immediately greeted by my own personal tour guide (I’ve had a lot of those- I need to make friends!) and was taken along a small path lined with different plants, including the banana plant, pepper, cinnamon, and a few others. It was pretty interesting and I feel like I learned a couple of things or so about spices that I didn’t know before. I was offered some hot cocoa with banana flavoring which was extremely tasty as well as some special spicy tea, which I could of course buy at the gift shop! J

After my little tour my guide directed me over to a small gazebo area and proceeded to show me all sorts of different balms, lotions and oils that I could mix together and heal all of my ailments. I was also given quite a nice back rub, which was insisted upon me even though I at first declined.

Feeling a little greasy but pleasantly less stiff I was then brought into the gift shop and shown where I could pick up all of the things that I had been seen. I found a few things that I liked and soon thereafter Ruberu and I were off again, this time headed to Kandy.

We made it through all of the traffic in Kandy and drove up to the top of a big hill to eat lunch. The restaurant at the top was again very tourist orientated and had a wonderful picturesque view down onto Kandy. Ruberu didn’t eat with me (“They will charge me the full expensive rate like you”) and so I don’t really know where he ate for lunch but I sat and read my guidebook while I ate some pineapple and rice. After lunch we went back down into Kandy and headed to our day’s original destination.

In Kandy is the Sri Dalada Maligawa, also known as the Temple of the Tooth. In this Buddhist temple is said to be one of Buddha’s teeth, which was taken from his ashes (post cremation) and is reportedly in a golden case in the shrine. Whether or not the tooth is actually there, I don’t know, but nonetheless it is one of the most sacred and special temples in Sri Lanka, and throughout Asia I believe.

Ruberu dropped me off at the entrance and waited for me while I went in, warning me that I did not need to have someone show me around the temple and that I could do it on me own. I followed his advice and spent the next hour or so touring around the Temple and seeing where the tooth is kept. Also on display at the Temple is a stuffed elephant who was declared a national treasure before he died. Very interesting, but also kind of creepy at the same time.

After visiting the Temple we headed back out of town to the Botanical Gardens near Kandy. They were beautiful and I got to spend about a half and hour walking around before it was time for us to head back towards Colombo. However, I had another idea. I really wanted to see the Ancient Cities of Sigiriya and Dambulla, which, according to my guidebook, shouldn’t be missed. I talked to Ruberu about the idea of going back to Colombo for the night and then back to the Cities and he wouldn’t have it. It would be a waste of time, he says, to drive ALL the way back there and then ALL the way back again. We will get a hotel in Kandy, he says, and I will stay in a different guesthouse for the night, and then tomorrow we go to Sigiriya and Dambulla. I debated this with him for a while (couldn’t he just drop me off? He didn’t have to stay, was he sure?) and again he told me that not only was I like a daughter to him, but he really couldn’t just leave me at Kandy since I was now his responsibility and if anything happened to me, it would cost him his job.


Well when he put it that way, I felt good about having him along but also bad that he would have to stay overnight somewhere. But he really didn’t seem to mind at all and was more than happy to accommodate my change of plans, and agreed that I needed to see things, when are you going to be in Sri Lanka again he says. Good point!

So before we head back into Kandy (Which wasn’t that far from the Botanical Gardens but with all of the traffic it was) we first stopped at another gem shop because he wanted me to watch a video on how they actually mine the gems. I thought he had realized that I wasn’t interested in buying any gems, but I went along with it anyway (could I really refuse? Not really). So we found ourselves at another gem place where I was put in a room to watch a video on Sri Lankan gem mining which was actually REALLY interesting. They dig these HUGE holes in the ground and fortify them with rubber tree logs and just keep digging and digging until they find some gem bearing soil, all done by candle light. I was impressed and watching the video alone made me want to buy at least something from them for all of the work that goes into it.

When the video was done I was brought into a room where I could see the gems being cut and polished and then into the display room. I was shown very exquisite earrings and jewelry, all of course I clearly would need. It didn’t matter that I was wearing dirty clothes and hadn’t showered this morning--diamonds go with anything.

Well again I had to apologize profusely and say that I didn’t want anything. I don’t know why I was always left feeling so bad and very guilty about not buying anything (I think that is how they go about it though!) and I suggested that I take one of their cards and call them if I decided to change my mind. That was my ticket out of there and out came a business card with all the necessary contact info along with a big smile.

So Ruberu and I headed back into Kandy to make it to the “elephant show” (as Ruberu kept saying) which was to start at 5:45. Never mind that it ended up starting at 6 pm and didn’t have ANY elephants in it at all, we made it to the Cultural Center in time for me to see some awesome (yet very touristy) Kandyan dancing, drumming and fire walking and eating, despite all of the heavy traffic due to a political speech going on in the center of Kandy. I was impressed and enjoyed the hour long show, feeling that it was even more worth it that we stayed in Kandy just to see that since it gave me a good idea of what Sri Lankan dance and music was like.

After the show Ruberu took me back to a nice hotel that was actually right across the street from the Temple of the Tooth and they had a room available for a whopping $33 US dollars. I got the room and Ruberu made me promise that I wasn’t going to leave the vicinity of the hotel and that he would be back at 8 am in the morning to get me. Fair enough, I said, and I got my room key and headed upstairs to find my room with one of the bell boys.

My room was absolutely HUGE. I not only had two beds, but a walk in closet and a huge bathroom. It was ridiculous, all for only $33 dollars. I couldn’t believe it. (For all of you from Mac, it was about 3x the size of Anna M.’s room at the C.H.). Anyways it was pretty nice and I got some dinner at the hotel restaurant before going to bed. At the restaurant I unfortunately had to order a plate of spaghetti instead of some of the nice looking Sri Lankan food they had available. My stomach was still upset and the idea of eating more curry didn’t seem like a good idea. I couldn’t explain this though to the French people next to me who looked at me in disbelief as they dined on their Sri Lankan pudding for dessert.

Oh well.

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.