Saturday, February 28, 2004

Colombo, Sri Lanka--Day 29

Riiiing, riiiing, riiing. I roll over and look at the clock. Its 9 in the morning, who could this be? I pick up the phone. Its Ruberu. Hello! I have come to work today, do you need to go anywhere?? I smile and tell Ruberu that no, I don’t need any rides today thank you and hang up, falling back asleep. Riiing riiing riiiing. I roll over again and now its 10 o’clock. Again it is Ruberu. Miss it says here that you want to have a tour of Colombo today (it does??) do you still want to go?? No thank you, I say, and tell Ruberu that I do need to get to the airport tonight and so we arrange for him to take me at 11 o’clock pm. After the second phone call I decide that it is time to get up and do some work. I spend the morning transferring and labeling photos, deciding that I should stick around the Colombo area today instead of venturing off like the previous days.

After working for a while I went downstairs and had lunch at the buffet restaurant and then decided to walk down to a handicraft store to pick up some Sri Lankan crafts. The store was only 2 short blocks from my hotel so there was no need to get a taxi. So I set off, but turn in the wrong direction at first. Instead of turning right back around, I decided that I could actually walk around my hotel to the other side and get through that way, so I kept walking.

Several rickshaws passed offering me rides but I refused. I turned around a corner and heard a familiar honking sound and turned to see what it was.

Its Ruberu. Again.

Hello Miss! He says, I saw you walking and I was coming back to the hotel and so I thought I would come see where you are going since you are walking away from the hotel. Smiling, I walk up to him and tell him where I need to go. I will take you, he says and so I agree. He takes me around the corner and drops me off at the store and I tell him that there is no need to wait since it really was not far from the hotel.

So I spend about an hour perusing the shop and make it back to my hotel with my huge bag that needs to be sent back to the United States. So I get some other things from my room and head back out to get a taxi to the DHL which is a courier service to the States. Ruberu wasn’t around at this time so I had to get another taxi driver to take me (much to his disappointment later---why didn’t you call me Miss??) I spend about an hour at the DHL trying to send my things back to the States, unfortunately not being able to send all of it since some of the receipts were back in my hotel room and the man was very wary of sending things through Sri Lankan customs without the receipts.

After all of this I head back to the hotel and go back to the pool again. Its about the same time as yesterday (around 4:30) so there is just a few hours to swim and enjoy the nice weather. I then head back to my room and get changed then head to the Sri Lankan restaurant for dinner but am unfortunately turned away due to my lack of reservation (it is a Saturday night!) and go back to the buffet restaurant from lunch and have dinner there.

My flight leaves at 2:50am and so now I am spending my time writing in my blog and packing things up, waiting for it to be 11 o’clock so that Ruberu can take me to the airport!

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, February 27, 2004

Kandy, Sri Lanka--Day 28

There’s something about waking up to a phone call in the morning. As I rolled over and grabbed in the direction of where the horrible noise was coming from, all I could think of was who is calling ME? Only Ruberu…

And it is Ruberu. He’s at the hotel and hour early and shouldn’t we get on our way? Yes, I tell him as I sit up looking at the clock. Its 7am which means that he is an hour early. Ok that’s fine I say as I get up and get dressed, finding that I can hardly see anything due to the fact that I still had my contacts in from the night before.

We first set off to Dambulla in which there are these beautiful temple caves, and really not all that much else. Ruberu dropped me off and said he would meet me back in the parking lot when I was done visiting the caves. Out at the entrance to the caves was a HUGE golden Buddha (supposedly the biggest sitting Buddha in the world…who knows if that is true!) as well as an overpriced Buddhist Museum which I decided to skip. So up I went on sort of a hike up to the top of these hills here the cave temples were. After leaving my shoes at the shoe minder’s outside f the temple, I was able to walk through the five caves at my own pace (I was firm with the “guides” outside that I didn’t need any help). IN the caves were numerous figures of Buddha, either sitting, standing and even reclining. In one of the sacred caves there was even a leak in the roof in which the water is collected constantly (even if there is a drought) and used for religious ceremonies. Pretty neat. There were also a lot of monkeys around, which would follow you in hopes that you had food to give them. Um, hellooo, like I am going to give food to rabies-on-feet. Apparently this didn’t seem to be an issue for several tourists around me so the monkeys got their fair share of bananas and bread anyway.

After Dambulla we headed to Sigiriya, which is this AMAZING rock fortress atop of this HUGE rock, which was built over 1500 years ago. Again Ruberu dropped me off and I was to meet up with him in the parking lot when I was done. When you first walk into the site, you come across the amazing terraced water gardens that were just spectacular in themselves. After a long walk towards the huge rock, you finally came to some steps going in and out of various boulders and rocks as you made your way closer to the huge rock, on which the fortress lies at the top. I could see the lines of people walking along various paths on the rock but I couldn’t see how on earth you got to the top.

After climbing up a huge flight of stairs, I stopped to get a better view (and to catch my breath) and it was just awesome looking down onto the gardens. I then made my way up a modern spiral staircase into a room with several 5th Century (I think it was the 5th C…) paintings of women adorned with gold and jewels and not much else. Basically they were 5th C pinups that had been painted on the walls and were still in beautiful condition. After viewing these I went back down below and there was the Mirror Wall, in which writings about the women were scrawled back in the day (basically 5th C graffiti). It was really neat.

I then made it across a very narrow and nail-biting walk to the main entrance way to the fortress along these rock cliffs (not recommended for those with fear of heights that is for sure!). I found myself at the base of the fortress, which was about halfway up the huge rock. At the base are lion’s paws and the original stairs that led up to the top. Apparently back in the day there used to be an ENTIRE lion on the side of the cliffs and you would start by walking through the paws and end up coming out through its mouth at the top. Unbelievable!

I climbed up to the top following the masses of school children, Asian tourists and a surprisingly large number of Sri Lankan tourists and after a long climb (all the while trying NOT to look down!) I made it to the top. The heat was overbearing and I was exhausted, and had no water to drink but the view made up for it all. It was amazing. This wasn’t just a fortress, it must have been a palace and you could see the ruins of the rooms and there even was a massive SWIMMING POOL at the top which was is still filled with water. There is also a throne crafted out of the rock for the King. It was amazing, and well worth the trip.

After exploring the fortress I made it back down to the base, and then back down to the gardens at the bottom. Looking back up it was hard to believe that all of that was actually up there! I tried to head back towards the parking lot in a different direction but was scared off by some horrible looking monkeys who got into that I’m-going-to-bite-you crouching position so I ran away (literally) and then found the parking lot and Ruberu who was excited to see what I thought of it, picking up a bottle of water from a vendor on my way back to the car.

It was time to make the long car ride back to Colombo, which was long but still very interesting. I spent most of the ride back convincing myself (and un-convincing myself) that I have Malaria since I got a mosquito bite on my elbow. J Honestly, I kept thinking about it and then would remind myself that I was sick from something that I ate, not because of my mosquito bite but to my horror my guide book says that you can have Malaria and not even feel that bad. Great.

We stopped at a lunch buffet on the way back to get something to eat and I sat eating a nice lunch of curries and rice (thanks to my stomach which was feeling much better) and then we made it back to Colombo around 4:30. Ruberu was to have the day off tomorrow (they work in 24 hours shifts!) so I wouldn’t be seeing him again. I thanked him for everything and went straight up to my room to get my swim suit and to go jump in the pool.

The pool was great and the rest of the daytime hours, which wasn’t much, I spent sitting by the pool. For dinner the restaurant has seven restaurants, and I wanted to try some good Sri Lankan food. However I saw a Japanese restaurant and went to peek in and see what the had to offer and before I knew it I was seated and drinking fruit juice! Ugh. So I had some Japanese food for dinner (which was actually really good) and THEN headed over to the Sri Lankan restaurant and ate dessert there outside under the stars which was much better than in the Japanese restaurant, where a cheesy Japanese soap opera was playing on the TV.

Completely full, I headed over to the Karaoke Bar just to see what it was like (turned out to be nothing more than a small room with several sketchy looking men in it) and then I opted to go back to my room instead of hanging out with those fellows and get some sleep.

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.

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.

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.

In Sri Lanka

After another long day, I have made it to Sri Lanka and have already caught up with Sandy, Sally, Jully, and Soda, the hippos at the National Botanical Gardens, Dehiwala in Sri Lanka. Will update blog tomorrow and I hope that you've enjoyed reading about South Africa and India! :)

Monday, February 23, 2004

Mumbai, India--Day 24

Nothing on my trip so far really prepared me for what happened to me today. It all started off in the usual fashion, having breakfast at the hotel before catching a cab to the zoo. I was even up early enough and felt ok, which was good considering my lack of sleep yesterday and the time differences. At breakfast I met these two sisters from California who were about oh, 55 years old each and who were going to go on a tour of Northern India in a few days and were spending some time in Mumbai. They were impressed with me being on my own and doing what I was doing.

After breakfast, I asked for a taxi at the reservation desk and the woman working asked whether or not I wanted a cab with air conditioning. Hmm, let me think for about, oh, five seconds on that one. I chose air conditioning and headed outside to meet my taxi. My taxi came, although at the time there were several outside so I couldn’t really tell which one was mine, and after a moment’s discussion with about ten hotel employees and examining my map, it was decided that they all knew where the zoo was and that the driver would take me. Prefect, I thought, we’re on our way.

But that is when my experience on this trip all changed... My driver immediately very intent on giving me not only a ride to the zoo, but a tour of the city. Within three minutes of me hopping into the taxi he had I said no thanks, I just need to go to the zoo about one hundred times. He didn’t like this answer. But I will give you a good price to see the city, he tells me. No thank you, I say, and again, this is not good enough. For the next, oh say, 45 minutes, the driver was really insistent on me taking a city tour with him and this conversation was repeated over and over again. What, you need only to be at the zoo for an hour, he says. Um, no, its my job, I say, I need to be there longer...I don’t know how long I will need. He, again, does not like this and for the rest of the trip to the zoo he tells me over, and Over and OVER again how I need to pay for him to take me on a tour after the zoo and that he will take me, not cheat me of my money, and take good care of me, etc. etc.

At this point I was annoyed. Really annoyed. All this guy clearly wanted to do was to make money off of me and by that point all I wanted him to do was just to drop me off at the zoo. I exchanged a few words with him expressing my mood and how I did NOT want to go on a city tour, and that yes, I was here for work, and that involves me going to the Zoo for more than an hour, thank you very much. This kept him off of my case for a while, and he was silent the rest of the way there although he would throw in a little thing here and there about how I was not going to be safe or get back home safely, etc. etc.

Meanwhile of course we are zig zagging and honking our way through traffic. And when I talk about traffic, I’m not talking in those I’m-in-Los-Angeles-and-gee-look-at-this-long-line-of-cars type of traffic. I’m talking about car traffic, pedestrian traffic, ox-cart traffic. All types of traffic. People were darting in and out of cars, some selling things, some just asking for money, cars, taxis and auto rickshaws (which are basically scooters/motorcycles with one seat in the front and two in the back for passengers, all covered with a roof). There are people everywhere and every street that I would look down would have hundreds of people, young and old all surrounded by extreme poverty. Never have I seen anything like this, anything this bad, and I have been to several poverty stricken countries. It was horrible (it IS horrible I should say) and really quite unimaginable.

We finally pull up to the zoo and by this time I have calmed myself down, and I decide that my taxi driver is my only friend at this point and the only person that I know in this area. So I ask (although not too politely) would he wait for me and I will come back in a few hours? He asks me how much am I going to pay him to wait for me. Umm, uhhh…He interrupts me before I can even think. $1000 Rupees to wait for you and then take you back to the hotel he says. Fine, I say and he pulls the car over to park in the adjacent parking lot. Then he gets out with me and says that he is coming with me to the zoo to be my guide, he says clearly annoyed. Fine, I say back equally annoyed. It wasn’t until later on that I realized just how important this (him coming with me) would be.

He snaps at me to give the parking attendant money for the parking and then makes sure that he keeps the ticket for parking “in case you lose it.” Fine, I say back and we lock up the car and go to the entrance to the zoo.

There was a young man about my age sort of looming around us at this point, giving me that I-want-to-steal-your-money type of look, that although I am lucky to say that I don’t know very well, I could definitely recognize. The driver, whose name is Anil, heads up to the ticket booth and asks for two tickets and for a camera ticket for me. The man working at the zoo gave me back my change and I said thank you and took the money before I could even look at it since the suspicious young man/potential thief was standing very close to me. The driver looks at me and then looks back at the ticket man and says something to him and the ticket man hands over another 10 Rupee bill.

Walking away from the counter, Anil says to me, see, I would not cheat you like the ticket man, as he hands me back my 10 Rupee bill that the ticket man “forgot” to give back to me.

Oh man.

So we head towards the hippos, although Anil is convinced that I want to see the alligators. I try to explain to him, no, just the hippos and he is very confused. Why not the alligators? At this point the young man (remember, the potential thief…I’ll call him P.T.) decides to play tour guide and show us where the hippos are. Umm, this is good, I think to myself. Here I am in the middle of this sketchy place with two seemingly very sketchy men with my nice camera and all I want to do is take pictures of the hippos and leave. Like right now.

Luckily there were signs that I found that pointed in the direction of the hippos. Phew. We found the hippos and luckily there was a sign in English that said “HIPPOPOTAMUS AMPHIBIUS” and so I knew that I was taking pictures of the right ones! Now we had a slight problem. Not only were the hippos in the water, but they were not in anyway sticking out of it besides a little bit of their backs and they were so far away from where we were standing that you could barely even see them to get a good picture.

P.T. was standing next to us so saying all sorts of things that I obviously couldn’t understand and then Anil said that we needed to go right now and look at the other animals that were near the hippos (aka “we need to move away from this sketchy guy cause he wants to rob you.”) Great. So we move up to look at these black swans and move away from P.T. so we try to play it cool and not look like we just moved away from this guy. Now we are even farther away from the hippos.

Anil was frustrated that I didn’t want to see any other animals. Let’s walk around, he says. No thanks, I say, I have to watch the hippos. He says that they are not coming out of the water, let’s go look around. NO THANK YOU, I say, I HAVE to watch the HIPPOS. P.T. at this point was getting annoyed with us sitting far away from him. He had followed us through the entire zoo and I’m sure that Anil told to leave us alone, but he never did. He finally was fed up and left, going back towards the entrance away from the hippos, but kept looking back at me and waving his hands and saying things and then turning around again, only to walk about two feet more and to do it all over again until he was out of sight.

Finally (again with the frustration), I ask that we find somebody who works at the zoo who can help us. When I meant “help us” all I really meant was that he could help me figure out the names of the hippos and we could wait for the hippos to be active. But for Anil this meant finding someone to help us get the hippos out of the water.

So we find a man nearby who apparently works there (how he could tell was by his tan shirt but how else who knows) and starts talking with the man. The talk back and forth and finally the zoo worker leaves. Um, I say to Anil, where is he going?? And Anil says, he wants to you to pay 400 R to have him feed them and that is cheating! We will not be cheated and we will not pay him that much.

At this point I did not really care if we were “being cheated” according to Anil’s terms. I wanted to just take the pictures and go, as now a crowd of people were gathering around us and I was getting all sorts of stares. I never in my life have actually been stared at by over twenty-five people all at once, and really its not that great of a feeling. I tell Anil that the REASON that I have here is to take pictures of hippos and I don’t really care at this point if he is cheating me just because I am a foreigner. Let’s just feed the hippos…ok?

So Anil goes after the zookeeper (who is now quite far away) and calls him back to us, and tells him (at least I think he does) and about five minutes later there appears another zookeeper (again with the tan shirt but nothing else showing that he works there) on a broken down bicycle. He puts the bike down and goes off to the left passed the hippos (there are four in all- two in one sort of dirt area with a pond, and two in another right next to it) and then disappears behind a wall. He then reappears in the left side hippos’ pen holding with him a large bundle of green grassy food/plants and starts shouting Heeeeeeppoh, heeeeeeeppoh (Hippo hippo), and throws the green food down near where they were sleeping in the water.

Luckily the two hippos stirred and to my amazement both got out of the water to eat. YAY! There was a big hippo and a smaller baby and they were really, really cute and it was much better that they were both out of the water, and so quickly I might add. It was a relief.

I got out my camera (glancing both ways first) and snapped away. SNAP SNAP SNAP. I got my pictures and was ready for the next hippo feeding in the pen to the right. REALLY? Says Anil, you don’t want anymore pictures of them? From this angle, or this angle, he says pointing to the hippos. I got plenty of nice photos from different angles, so I told Anil no, this is great, let’s move on.

So the zookeeper heads into the second pen. This time he gets out a long stick from behind a wall hear the hippos and starts poking one of the hippos in the water (again with the shouting Heeeeppoh, HEEEEEPPOH) I think to wake them up. Oh, I felt really bad for the hippos who were obviously enjoying a nice sleep. Hopefully they would enjoy eating too! There was nothing at this point that I could do to stop the zookeeper from poking the stirring hippos so I just watched, along with the crowd of people who were just as interested in watching what I was doing as they were with the hippos. Finally he throws out another bundle of green hippo food and shuts the gate to the pen.

The hippos don’t do anything. I start panicking. The idea of staying at this zoo was really not appealing and all I wanted was for the hippos to move. Now all along this trip I have wanted the hippos to start moving so that I can get a variety of pictures, both in and out of the water, but this time I really meant it. C’mon hippos, pleeeeease move.

And they did. After a little bit of stirring around in the water, they both made a great effort to get out of the water and to eat the bundle of obviously delicious looking green stuff. Thank God.

Snap snap snap, I take the pictures and we are ready to go. Anil has questioned the zookeepers as to what the hippos names are (Pappu, Shaktir, Babu and Puppy, if you are interested) and we were finally on our way back out of the zoo. Anil again did not understand that I didn’t care to see any of the other animals, just the hippos. I really tried to explain to him my situation but it was impossible to make him understand what I was doing because he didn’t really think of my job as a job, just a hobby and that I was here to take a city tour of Mumbai. Ugh.

So I gave in. If it wasn’t for Anil I would still be standing at the zoo, watching the hippos and probably with less money and stuff in my bag than I came with, so I was grateful for him to come with me. More than grateful--I felt horrible about how I had come across before in our heated city tour debate before and so I said fine, let’s go on a city tour.

Anil was happy with this answer. We get back into the car (P.T. saw us again and came RIGHT up to my window and was looking at me the whole time we were in the parking lot while Anil decided that this was a good time to fill the air conditioner/radiator with water, and I was trying my hardest not to look at him) and finally we were off. We headed back into the sea of traffic and poverty and past many different sights that were printed on his photocopied map of the sights in Mumbai. We went past many different places, including Bombay University and Haji Ali’s Mosque, all of which I had no time to see what they were in my guidebook and every time Anil would say READY YOUR CAMERA, M’AM and the would say TAKE THE PICTURE. TAKE THE PICTURE NOW as we would pass these impressive looking sights. Ok ok, I would say as I would take the picture and then put my camera back into my very “hey-I’m-a-tourist” backpack.

Do you like saris he says. Do you like Indian art? Do you like rugs? I will find you rugs he says. Again I had a hard time telling him, no I don’t want any rugs (what am going to do with a rug right now?) and he says that he will take me to these. To the rug? What? Anyways, we end up parking the car at a shop that is near the Gateway to India, which is a prime tourist spot and colonial marker after King George V visited in 1911 (Thanks Lonely Planet). He points me to a shop and says for me to go in and buy rugs. Argh, again I say I don’t want any rugs and he insists and opens the door for me. I go in and am lead up the stairs past the rugs to the room with beautiful scarves. For the next 15 minutes I am persuaded by the man working at the shop that not only do I need one, but at least six. Hmm, I settle on a few and make my way back to Anil who is downstairs waiting for me (after refusing to buy a bed spread and seat cushions--the man was desperately trying to sell them to me even as the door closed behind me) and Anil and I walked over to the Gateway to India (where I got my pictures taken by Anil (and by several other onlookers…hmmm…) Right next to the Gateway is the Taj Mahal hotels (both the old and new ones as Anil points out to me) and Anil insists that I get my picture taken in front of them too and that I take pictures of them and then we went back to the car. Anil wanted to know if I wanted an ice cream and some leather goods (no thank you to both) and then what our plans was now?

I said let’s go back to the hotel. This wasn’t’ good enough for Anil. No no, he says, I will take you on more of a drive. Sigh.

So we drive around more of Mumbai, passing the beach and the park and several other beautiful buildings including the planetarium, all of which I “readied my camera for” and got some pictures, although I am not sure how they have turned out since we were driving so fast. I find out that Anil is married, has two children and lives with this parents in his house, and that his wife stays at home while he works. Anil wonders why I am not married and don’t have any children. All this talking and picture taking was definitely distracting Anil, and speaking of which, this is about the time in which the bus “came out of nowhere” and hit us. Not some much of a hit, per say, but more of a scccreeeeeaaaaaaccch across the side of us, which left this huge mark across Anil’s taxi. Oh man. Anil had tried to maneuver his taxi in between several cars into a space much too small and hence we hot hit.

Anil didn’t seemed to worried, just mad and got out and examined the “damage” although there was plenty of other damage to the car that it was honestly hard to tell the difference. He got back in and we were on our way again readying my camera and taking more pictures. Then Anil decides that he will take me to buy nice Indian art work (again I say no, let’s go back to the hotel) and before I know it we are at an Indian wholesaler for art work. I have to go in. We go in and its this tiny tiny room and is built with glass cabinet walls all filled with intricate carvings. I had to admit, I liked what I saw so I picked up a few things, drank some real Indian chai (not the Starbucks kind) with Anil and the man who worked at the store and about a half and hour later we were on our way.

Or so I thought. The road in which we were trying to go down was blocked by an ambulance. Anil gets out to check to see what is going on and comes back. I think someone died right there, he says to me. What?!?! Yes, somebody has died right over there in that shop. Oh man.

He walks back over to the scene of the crime, for lack of better terms, and I have a very hard time straining to see things while still in the taxi and past the crowd of people gathered. We sit there for about five or ten minutes or so and then the ambulance driver and paramedics came out of the shop with an empty stretcher (whether that was a good sign or not I don’t know) and Anil came back and we were on our way again…back to the hotel, right?

Wrong. Anil was taking me to buy saris. Um, ok, I guess I would like to see some, but….Ok, Anil says, here we are go into this store. He drops me off at the FANCIEST department store I have been in. There are six floors and I am greeted by a hostess who takes me up to the top, and then allows me to walk down the rest of the stairs on my own. The top floor is the expensive jewelry section (um, no thanks) and then down to the women’s sections, men’s, etc. etc. I find the saris (which are the traditional Indian garment worn by women, btw) and of course they are beautiful but over the top in price. (I also find out that one Indian symbol of good luck is the swastika and one shopkeeper couldn’t understand why three German women wouldn’t buy it). The man selling the saris and shawls actually told me (honest to God) the best, and only pick up line I’ve heard on this trip, “This shawl is beautiful, but it would look even more beautiful on you“ as he held it up to me. Oh really?

But Anil is very disappointed, if not mad, at me for not buying anything. Nothing?? I try to mumble something about them being too expensive. Wrong move. Anil decides that I need to be shown the less inexpensive stuff then. And we are off. This time we are bustling through small streets and through several market streets and he finally comes to a street filled with shops and stalls and pulls to the side. Go into that shop, he points and out I get. I go into the shop and am pleasantly surprised by their nice selection of attire and pick up a few things, although the shopkeeper is mad that I haven’t bought any Mumbai touristy shirts from him (sorry guys). I get back into the car with Anil and he drives me like 500 feet more and makes me get out again and go look at the sari shop. I go in and look at the saris. The problem was that even if I tried my hardest not to look interested in anything, I would have several shopkeepers coming up to me and wanting me to try things on. I made my way out of the sari shop and back to Anil. It was about quarter to six by this time and Anil had one last stop ready for me to buy bedspreads. Ack, I don’t want a bedspread right now (I don’t even have a bed!) and I was so flustered and tired that all I really really wanted to do was go back to the hotel. Please Anil, just take me BACK.

He said ok, it was my money to spend and his time to save (meaning I was paying him to take me places and all I wanted to do was to go back to the hotel) and proceeds to ask me how much am I going to pay him for the ride to the zoo and all of this? In the beginning of the trip he had quoted me 1300 R for the taxi rides, tour, and back to the hotel. Since he had paid the zookeepers 750 R to feed the hippos (the “cheated” price 400 R for each hippo feeding (about 10 dollars) which Anil got knocked down by 50 R), I then owed him 2100 R. I had paid him 400 when we first got to the zoo and 1000 while we were driving around (so that he “could have money in (his) pocket”) and so then technically I owed him 700 R. Then Anil starts going into this I didn’t charge you for this you know, and I really should have charged you such and such, and then tells me, Pay me what you want, but I want you to know that lessons are to be learned.

What’s that supposed to mean?

We stopped at where the shop was for the bedspreads and I told him again that I just wanted to go back to the hotel. He drops me off and I give him a nice tip, if I do say so myself, and Anil is clearly happy with me. He promises me that tomorrow he can take me to the Sari shop that is cheaper and nicer than the ones that I saw today, and that I should call him with the number on his card. I make it back to my room. I made it, I am now alone, I can just take it easy. I start to run a bath to relax when the door buzzer rings. Who could that be? Oh, its my laundry (thank goodness) and I shut the door behind the hotel man who has brought my underwear all folded neatly between tissue paper in a box. Not two minutes afterwards the buzzer rings again.

Its my fish.

No really, its my fish. In comes a man carrying a beta fish that he has delivered to my room and puts onto my desk, leaving before I could even ask what he was doing.

So now I have a friend named Fish. I’m not sure if Fish is impressed with his small bowl but its kind of funny having something else in the room with me. I finally got to my bath, got dressed, went downstairs for dinner (in which I ran into the California Sisters again who were horrified by my story about my day) and had a really nice dinner. I am now ready for bed and for a long, long sleep.

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.

In Mumbai (Bombay), India

Hello everyone...I am in Mumbai (Bombay) and have had just about the craziest, most stressful, frustrating and amazing day in my entire life....absolutely intense. I can't even being to describe it all and tell you, but it involved (and not in any particular order): having the taxi man bribe the zookeepers to feed the hippos to get them active (not my idea btw), being cheated by the zoo out of money for my entrance fee, having aibus hit your taxi while he is pointing out a sight to take pictures of, driving around Mumbia thorugh all of the vast poverty in 100 plus degree heat, arguing with your taxi driver who wants to take you around everywhere then being thankful that he did, and of course, hippo watching while just about everyone in the zoo was watching me.

I am heading out right now to buy one of those rewritable cds that my brother recommends so that I can write my blog and then transfer it via cd to the hotel computers where there is internet, so again, blogs will be posted. ..and I can tell you all more about this day...and South Africa of course!

Sunday, February 22, 2004

Johannesburg, South Africa--Hong Kong, China--Bangkok, Thailand--Mumbai (Bombay India)--Days 22/23

Today was a long, long day. Probably because I was up for almost 24 hours straight, traveling from Johannesburg, South Africa to Mumbai, India. I don’t even know where to begin because it is all not that interesting since it involved a 12 hour plane ride, 7 hours lay over in Hong Kong, 3 hour flight to Bangkok and another 3 hour flight to Mumbai. I got to the Johannesburg airport just fine- earlier in the morning I had walked back over to the shopping center to express mail the hippo pictures and afterwards I found an “African Market” nearby, which made me go back to the post office/shipping place and mail a few more things home. I got my taxi (the same driver from yesterday) and another guest at the hotel asked if he could come with us since he needed to go to. Sounded good to me, so the drive down to the airport I talked with this guy (named unknown) who was from Sydney (another Australian!) and who had just gone on a holiday in South Africa for 10 days and gets free flights because his friend works for Quantas. He was actually trying to get onto the flight that I was going to be on, but had to fly standby which was the only downfall of his free tickets.

We made it to the airport and I gave the taxi driver the rest of the money that I had in my wallet and found my way over to the ticket counter for Cathay Pacific. I checked in (and had to check my bag through to Mumbai) and went through to the waiting area for my flight. We had to board a bus to get onto the plane (which I thought was strange) and my Australian companion from the taxi ride came into line near me. He had gotten a seat on this flight. I was ahead of him in line and got on the bus and he came and sat down next to me and we chatted while we rode the bus to the tarmac and then boarded the plane via the stairs.

The flight was just great- I was handed a menu right from the start when I sat down as to what my dinner choices were and all throughout the flight we were offered water, candy and all sorts of other goodies like toiletry kits and socks and stuff. Pretty nice. The other problem was that my TV screen stopped working and so I had to move to the seat next to me to watch the TV (good thing there wasn’t anyone there). Since there were continuous movies throughout the entire flight, I was able to keep myself occupied. Reading wasn’t going to work since I was already really tired and so I stuck to watching TV and trying to sleep.

We made it to Hong Kong at 7:30 am and I had to wait until 2:35 pm for my flight to leave. Hmm. What to do. Again reading was hard since I was getting even more tired now, so I literally spent the entire time writing postcards (which took all of ten minutes) and wandering through the shops in the duty free areas. I did get a drink at Starbucks (again with the Starbucks, I know) and amused myself by playing with the different settings on my camera.

Finally we were ready to board. Again I was on Cathay Pacific and had a nice flight, although this time I wasn’t offered any choices for dinner, just told that I was going to have the fish. Both flights from Hong Kong and from Bangkok were like this. Just fish. I was on the same plane going to both places, so we just made a stop in Bangkok to pick up other passengers and drop others off. We were not allowed on the plane and when I went to the restroom to freshen up a bit, I came back to my seat and my backpack had been moved down from the overhead compartment. What the…so another passenger tells me that the air steward took it down. He finally comes back down the aisle and asks if the bag is mine and said that he would have taken the bag away if I hadn’t come back from the bathroom sooner because it “was probably somebody else’s that got off.” Phew, ok, why he would have done that I don’t know, but I was glad that I came back when I did.

The flight from Bangkok to Mumbai was again fine. I didn’t have a window seat which is annoying because I can’t see outside and I can’t stand landing without knowing when we are going to hit the ground. However I am liking having an isle seat because that means that I can get up as frequently as I want to.

We landed in Mumbai and the temperature was 30 degrees C (HOT!) and it was 8 pm. Immigration took ages and we stood in a looooong line for what seemed to be forever. Thankfully somebody turned on one of the fans that was on the wall because all of us were just about to cook in that hot room. I found my taxi driver and we went out to the car. Outside there were lots of little children begging and women coming up to me and the car asking for money, and I hung my head in shame for not giving them anything. Everything I read suggests that I donate money to various organizations rather than giving money to children, etc. as it reinforces begging. The taxi man brought me all of the two minutes that it takes to get from the airport to hotel. It was almost as if we just turned the corner and there we were. I was greeted by several hotel staff all of which were eager to help me and was informed that I was to check in at the upstairs desk (wherever that is!). I was taken upstairs and was pleasantly surprised to find a special check in and even more surprised to find out that I have a really nice room, and a really nice big bed with really soft pillows in which I am going to sleep for a long, hard time tonight. J

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.