Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Mumbai, India--Colombo, Sri Lanka--Days 25/26

Its been another long day(s). I got up this morning and decided that my best bet for the day would be to stick to the hotel. Now I know, I know I should really be out and about exploring every minute (which I do think that I’ve been doing) however after yesterday I felt like I just needed to chill out for the day.

Because Mumbai is such a gigantic city, I would have most likely had a repeat of yesterday’s adventures and since I made it to all of the touristy spots yesterday, I decided to save myself the frustration. Time was needed just to get some work done with organizing the photos and taking the afternoon to just read by the pool. Even though I have only had two days in India, I am defiantly sure that I would like to return in the future, on my own time and pace, and to some of the smaller places rather than the large city. I felt the same way with Sao Paulo, Brazil which is such a huge place where its hard to anything because there is so much, yet so little going on. I don’t’ really know how to explain it better than that.

So I spent a good deal of time working on the computer and then sitting by the pool reading about Indian culture and religions. Really interesting stuff. I also spent a lot of time watching the workers who were subsequently watching a very risqué (and if you ask me, inappropriate considering the Indian culture) wearing nothing but a string-thong bikini and what appeared to be her bra. I don’t know, I didn’t really look although there were several men who were working on building a hotel right next to ours who would take their breaks (as it seemed) to watch her with an overhead view. Needless to say, she didn’t seem to mind.

What happened between dinner and going to the airport is rather boring. A lot of me sitting watching some TV before I was to check out of the hotel at midnight. My place to Sri Lanka was leaving at the ungodly hour of 3:50 am so I had to check out late at my hotel. I did spend sometime downstairs listening to the live jazz band playing in the lobby and then headed back up to my hotel room for the rest of the time.

Around midnight I checked out of the hotel (after being asked to fill out my like 5th survey--every time I ate anything I would be asked to fill out a survey about how the service was and upon checking out I was asked to fill out yet another one about my checkout service). Anyways, I made it to the airport just fine in a hotel car and in to the airport.

Standing in line for Sri Lankan airlines was also uneventful and I then bought some postcards and filled them out while I was waiting to check in. I originally inquired to the post office desk as to how much it would be to send postcards abroad and the man told me back something and I tried to give him 100 R (all I had) and then get the stamps, but he wouldn’t let me. This was confusing, I just wanted to get some stamps please. He tells me to come back after I have finished writing my postcards (fair enough) and I have to remind him that he has my 100 R bill. Ohhhh yeah, he says, handing it back to me and smiling.

Very suspicious.

So I am convinced that the post office men want to get more money out of my postcards than usual so after filling them out I try to ask other employees at the airport how much it costs to send postcards abroad. They all refer me to the post office, of course. Sighing, I returned to the post office and paid whatever it was they wanted me to so that they would stamp my postcards with a big rubber stamp. I asked them to please do it right then but they shooed me away and said that they would do it. I hope so!

I was really surprised at how many people were at the airport, as there were all sorts of flights that were leaving at extreme hours in the day. I sat down on a cushioned chair amidst a huge row of them next to a nice English lady named Carol who had just spent 10 days or so traveling on a lecture tour in India. She was really nice and we chatted until I was alerted by an airport employee that my plane was boarding. So I headed off to my plane and after numerous bag searches, x-rays, more searches and questionable looks later, I was on the plane (don’t worry, they did this to everyone). I quickly moved to a window seat when it became apparent that there weren’t going to be many people on the flight and we took off.

The flight was fine- I dozed for most of it and we were served some sort of breakfast/lunch concoction around 4:30, of course the perfect time to be eating such things. When I awoke again it was about 15 minutes before we were about to land (the flights is about 2 hours) and I looked outside to see the most brilliant sunrise that I’ve seen- with big bold stripes of red, orange, yellow, green and blue--just like a big rainbow--climbing up the sky. It was absolutely magnificent, it really was. The sky gradually began to lighten and we began our decent but it was really cool because all of the clouds had turned this neat purple color so we were dipping among purple and then the sea was below us which was black so we were sort of stuck in this purple and black nothingness for a while.

We finally approached land and I was able to tell even from the plane what they mean about Sri Lanka having nice beaches! Arriving into Sri Lanka I was greeted by a long line for immigration. Well, it wasn’t THAT long, but it took a long time and I was standing behind two British girls about my age. I finally made it through and was just about the last person to pick up my luggage. Not only because my immigration line took so long but because I was standing near the wrong baggage claim--the one from Saudi Arabia. Hmm, no wonder I didn’t recognize any of these people from my flight. Thankfully my bag was coasting along quite nicely on the luggage conveyor belt and I got it and met my driver and taxi just inside the entrance to the airport.

My driver went off to get the taxi while I stood and waited on the curbside for him to come. HE finally did (after quite a while) and we were off to the city center. It took a while to get there but we finally made it. There was a lot of traffic of people walking to work (it was about 7:45 am or so) plus car traffic as well.

I got to the hotel just fine and checked in (under Mr. Galbraith, not Ms.) and headed up to my room for a “nap” which turned into not getting up until 1:30 in the afternoon. I was so exhausted from traveling all night and even when I woke up I felt really sick. But I decided that I had to get up and go check out the hippo situation at the zoo to see what circumstances I would be working under this time around!

So I got dressed and headed downstairs to get a taxi. I got one from the hotel service and was taken by quite a nice taxi driver named Ruberu to the zoo. I asked him if he would come in with me and help me out with the hippos, basically finding where they were and what their names are. Sure, sure he says and we are off. We head to the Dehiwala area of Colombo where the zoo is and park our taxi. Ruberu takes off this hat and fancy cuffs on his uniform and we head into the zoo.

Compared to the Mumbai Zoo, The National Zoological Gardens here were nice. Even though the animals weren’t in the best of living situations, it still seemed better than what I saw in Mumbai. Maybe it was because I was with a nice driver and that I wasn’t surrounded by potential pick pockets right off the bat.

Anyways, after a little bit of asking around, we find the hippos. There are four of them, Sally, Sandy, Soda and Jully (pronounced “Julie”), with Sally and Sandy being little babies. They were VERY cute and I got some great pictures of them showing me their teeth and swimming about…that is after they became active. The bigger hippos were swimming about just fine, but the two babies were sleeping peacefully. I told Ruberu that we could just wait a bit for them to swim around and then I could get some pictures of them out of the water. I was looking through my camera and couldn’t see Ruberu to my side picking up rocks. I also couldn’t stop him in time when I realized that he was throwing rocks at the smaller hippos. Now it wasn’t like he was pelting them with huge rocks, I really should say that he picked up some pebbles and tossed them onto their backs to wake them up. Luckily he only threw a few and so I didn’t have time to intervene to make him stop. This “method” kind of worked, but it seemed to make them more annoyed than eager to swim around (understandable, of course).

You could actually get REALLY close to them and at one point I could have reached out and petted them if I wanted to. Didn’t seem quite like a good idea to me so I didn’t, but I was happy to get the pictures, as well as the names of the hippos right off the bat. With Ruberu there, all I had to do was take notes as he talked with the zookeeper for me. It was great, I had my own personal translator, much like in Mumbai.

After all of this we were off, heading back to the hotel. But first Ruberu wanted to show me the gem factory in Colombo, where they sell gems wholesale. Hmm, the likelihood of me buying lots of gems was rare, but I went along with it since he was so helpful at the zoo getting the names of the hippos. So in we went and I was shown several huge cases with all sorts of gems and rings, bracelets, earrings, etc. all with very beautiful, but also expensive, stones from Sri Lanka. I was impressed but not convinced and so we headed back to the hotel.

Ruberu wanted to know what my plans were for the following days. Now that I got the pictures of the hippos on the first day, I had three days to travel around Sri Lanka and around Colombo. Ruberu suggested that I spend a day exploring Kandy, which is another city that is sort of a day trip from Colombo and that sounded good to me. He says that he has a daughter my age, and that “I am like a daughter to him” and that he will take care of me, no problem. So Ruberu left me and promised to pick me back up at 7 am tomorrow for our trip out to Kandy. Sounded good to me! After all of this I got some dinner at one of the seven restaurants at my hotel (they even had a dance club and a karaoke bar) and then it was back to my hotel room to get some more sleep!

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.