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Sunday, 19 February 2017

Temples, Tea & Elephants

18:29
Our trip on the catamaran was succeeded the day after by visits to several different Buddhist temples in and around Polonnaruwa, which was the 2nd capital city of Sri Lanka and a World Heritage site. 


In addition to some pesky and hungry monkeys that by now we were more than used to, these chaps were wandering around. Now the picture does not do their size justice, they were HUGE and we genuinely felt like we were in Jurassic Park for a moment. 

In-between flocking to the tourist sites, our guide stopped off every so often to pick up his everyday essentials. He stopped off at this stall to buy some fruit to take home to his family, but gave us a chance to try the mangoes. They were definitely not the juiciest mangoes of the honeymoon though... (oh behave).

Another trip offered, that wasn't originally included in our tour (are you noticing a theme yet?) was a little tea-stop at a tea plantation/factory. Being told that the tour was free I reluctantly spoke on behalf of me and my wife and agreed to give it a whirl. [Mrs. Worldwide; 'I tried to get us out of it by saying I had been to one in Malaysia but you just sat there panicking going "oh go on then" so quite frankly you had it coming.']

 Having been shown round for approximately 10-15 minutes I thought it only fair to buy some tea in the gift shop. Thirty pounds later (!!!) and I had enough tea to make brews for a lifetime. Our tea lady then showed us round a random museum that had typewriters from England from it and told me to take pictures of random pieces of metal from Leicester. (This album is available on request for any interested parties.) She then somehow managed to separate me from my wife and told me to give her a tip ("Like tour, give tip") just in case I was under any impression we were leaving her empty handed. 

Here is me, mid rip-off. If blogs had sound, you'd hear my wife tutting in the background. To make matters worse I asked if the tea I was buying was in bags. "Yes Sir, it's in bags". Once back in the UK, I opened the tea and it was all loose tea leaves... NOT IN BAGS. So now I'm the ponce who serves brews with a strainer...

 Next up, and possibly the highlight of our trip, was our visit to the Elephant Orphanage in Pinnawala. We started by visiting this motley crew at the river. The elephants are taken to the river in small groups throughout the day to wash and play before the whole group excursion later in the afternoon. We had a beautiful lunch watching them play and my wife was just pleased not to have the biggest ears in the photograph.


 After lunch, we walked over to the main site of the orphanage and stopped for a short browse at some harems. However, what I didn't realise was that we were aiming for feeding time... and it was quickly ending while I was engaged in a bartering battle worthy of the souks. Cue strop from Mrs Worldwide; 'you're making me walk fast in thirty four degree heat because you had to haggle for some **** harems and now we're going to miss the exact thing we flew all the way here for'. She was not happy... But I have some beautiful harems purchased for a bargain price so swings and roundabouts eh?

 She soon cheered up when we entered the orphanage though.  We were lucky enough to see some babies being fed with the world's biggest bottles. The guide explained that these babies were not born in the orphanage otherwise they would be fed by their mothers, but rather they had been rescued from the wild after their mothers had been killed. It's tragic that in today's day and age we still have such little respect for our wildlife, but places like this do invaluable work to protect them. You could really tell the elephants were treated with respect and were happy. Many of the elephants go on to live long happy lives at the orphanage that they would otherwise may have not had.

 At around 4pm, the group all make their way to the river for an evening dip. The troupe all parade through the orphanage, make light work of crossing the road and meander through tiny streets to get there, led by one guide who is desperately trying to get over enthusiastic tourists out of the way.

And just like that, our Sri Lankan experience was over when we were dropped off at the Ramada in Colombo. The hotel had a spectacular array of Christmas decor, including this fabulous Christmas cone bouquet which took my wife's fancy. Easily pleased...

We spent our last evening sipping cocktails under the Sri Lankan sun. Oh wait, no. There was a torrential thunderstorm and we were stuck outside under a parasol as we had ordered shisha which we weren't allowed to take indoors. However, being sat there in the rain, with our cocktails and shisha feeling like we were the only two people for miles was one of the best memories of the honeymoon. 

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Cows, Coconuts and Catamarans

19:10
Following our early morning climb up Lion's Rock, Kurrupu our tour guide asked us if we wanted a taste of "traditional Sri Lanka". Kurrupu did this throughout our tour and managed to persuade us to buy loose tea leaves, get massaged in the woods, buy rubies and purchase a variety of spicy oils. I'm a sucker for any type of "experience" or for buying anything abroad and must be a dream for any tour guides looking to earn some commission. Unlike the massage in the woods which resulted in Mrs 'I don't like being touched' having a minor breakdown when, shock horror, the masseuse touched her, being bitten to death by mosquitoes and avoiding our good 'pal' Terry, the traditional Sri Lankan experience was one of the trip's highlights.

The first part of our "traditional" Sri Lankan afternoon included being carted through some woods for 20 minutes power assisted by a couple of cows. We're smiling in the following photos however, my undercarriage was most definitely numb when we got off. Also, cows are not the fastest of animals and we probably could have walked quicker. But hey ho, who was I to take this traditional way of travelling away from our Cow Captain.



When we agreed to the tour we were told there would be a catamaran trip included as well. As we disembarked from our cow cart I had a sneaking suspicion there wasn't going to be your typical catamaran boat. Instead we were greeted by two canoes with three planks of wood connecting them. An eco-friendly catamaran powered by oars, if you will. 

We took in lovely views on the catamaran including a wealth of wildlife, stunning views of Lion's Rock and of course, me.

Our tour guide then started whipping lilies and their pads out of the lake and began crafting something with skills that wouldn't be out of place on Blue Peter. Here's one he made earlier...

His best creation were these his and her's newlywed hats. 

Once we arrived on shore, we were taken to a small village. We were prompted to climb the designated tree house; a spot where the villagers go when elephants are close by and they are at risk of destroying the smaller dwellings. Safe to say, Victoria would have been trampled by the elephant in the time it took her to climb to the top. In fact she didn't make it much further than this... Ever the supportive husband, I just stood and laughed. 

Across the way we spotted the chief taking it easy in a small hut. Having a coconut poured for him with a smile on his face it appeared that he was living the laid back life with nothing but his blue sarong on.

I was a big hit with the ladies when I said that I do the cooking and cleaning at home and was quickly put to work grating the inside of a coconut to make roti's and sambal. The local ladies were not impressed with Victoria not looking after her man and could be heard talking about her, whilst casting the most impressive side eye I've ever seen.

Judging by that face she was more impressed with my coconut skills than she was Victoria. 




This lady showed us how to make the simple yet spicy sambal. She pounded chilli, lime, salt, coconut and onion to make a salsa style paste which was then used as a topping for the rotis.



I couldn't get enough of the food and ended up eating three rotis, leaving none for the chief. Perhaps this was why he asked to bring his gun into our photo we had with him... Our tour guide told him having a gun in the photo wouldn't be needed and instead he produced a warm smile.

Luckily to get back to our car we didn't need to hope aboard the cow mobile and instead we had a brief tuk tuk ride instead. Victoria wished to drive, but maybe they sensed her impressive accident history and complete lack of a no-claims bonus and she was quickly evicted. We were demoted to the back seat and had a cosy ride back, much to the relief of my delicate undercarriage.


If anybody is after a random, comical and perhaps augmented view of Sri Lankan life then this may be the tour for you!

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Sigiriya

19:25
My wife absolutely adores it when I incorporate a hike into our adventures abroad. Just look at her face, beaming with overwhelming joy at the start of the ascent.


To be fair her apprehension was well warranted due to the fact we didn't have the most appropriate footwear and the mountain we were climbing was peaking above the clouds.

Views on the way up showed the true extent of Sri Lanka's lush green land. I didn't take many photos on the ascent due to heavy panting/sweating/clambering up the rock, sandwiched in between large groups of tourists.


Our tour guide gave us a brief history whilst we had pit stops during the climb. The rock was claimed by King Kasyapa for a new capital around the 5th century. He built his palace on the top of the rock but decided that about halfway up he would build a gateway in the form of a pretty large lion (hence the name Lion's Rock - Sigiriya). All that's left of the lion now are it's paws and part of it's body. It is now part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.



Not only did you have to focus on climbing the steps as they became smaller and slipperier, you had to focus on keeping quiet to avoid the unwanted attention of some nasty wasps. I did not want to end up like the stick man on the signpost.

Once we got to the top we got caught up in a bit of a rain storm. We were grateful for the cooling shower however we waited for the sun to pop back out again before getting photos at the top! 





Saturday, 7 January 2017

Sri Lanka

17:50
Before reaching the paradise islands of the Maldives for our 'proper' honeymoon, we decided to take a 4 day pit stop in Sri Lanka to soak up some culture and eat large quantities of dhal. After a delayed flight (screw you Emirates), we arrived 6 hours late and missed the majority of the first day of our tour, Rather than exploring Colombo, we met our driver Kuruppu and began the long drive to Kandy. 

After a good night's sleep in a gorgeous hotel high up in the mountains, and a large buffet breakfast the morning after, we cracked on with a very busy few days. Our first stop was the Buddhist Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic. Shoulders covered and shoes off, we explored the rich history and architecture of this beautiful temple.








It didn't take long for Victoria to find (read: instruct Kuruppu to take us to) a jewel shop, where she was in her element, and I sat quietly drinking mint tea praying for the credit card. Happy wife, happy life so they say...

We then went on to the Royal Botanical Gardens where we saw some pretty flowers, bamboo taller and thicker than you could ever imagine and were bitten to within an inch of our lives. We were also lucky enough to see some of the resident baby turtles catching the rays by the lake.

Sticking with the garden theme, after lunch we then went to a spice garden and were taught about every spice/oil/cream they made from the plants... Got diabetes? Drink some tea. Got eczema? Drink some tea. Got a problem 'down there'? Dunk it in some tea. 

The honeymoon took an awkward turn when Victoria sat by and watched me be graciously manhandled by a Sri Lankan man with very strong hands, whilst she was being offered a wealth of creams to help her with her lady moustache...

Having soothed my weary muscles, we then trekked up a very large, gold and dazzling Buddha. Attempting to channel my inner Attenborough, I tried to snap the native monkeys but had to make a hasty departure when they decided to have a family brawl. 

There were a variety of caves at the top with numerous Buddha statues and intricate ceiling paintings from centuries ago.


There were also some slightly calmer monkeys at the top. They spent their time either fighting each other or lovingly grooming each other. 

Back at the hotel, I then went hard at the buffet. Food consisted mainly of different types of dhals/curries of varying heats. Or, if you were feeling a little less exotic, chips and onion rings were also available. 


The dessert plate became a regular feature of the trip, with us each taking turns to go and select some treats from the extensive buffet. Regular features were warm chocolate brownies, carrot cake and cheesecake. Delicious. But don't worry, we had plenty of anti-diabetes tea!

I then thrashed my new wife at a game of giant chess to end the evening. Not even a piña colada could lift her losing streak.