Archive for February, 2008


Getting Ready and Travel Sights

February 29, 2008

Helen – It’s a Leap Year!  And we are getting ready for another trip; we are going to Uda Walawe National Park for an elephant safari.  The park was opening again after being closed for over two months because of security.  There were two bombings in another national park.  We are only going to spend an overnight and probably be gone about 24 hours so you would think “not much to do”.

 We did not walk this morning because our guests left at 11pm and by the time we cleaned up the kitchen, we were ready for bed.  Good thing I had that long walk with my students.  I cooked lunch which was a mixture of cuisines…they gave me some leaves with stalks which they grow behind the PE building and I cooked these with garlic.  Then I cooked yellow dal (yellow lentils) which I added to the greens with some coconut milk and served it over rice.  It was really quite good and Tom said it was “a do again.”  Then I had to clean the kitchen (both outside and inside) so that the ants wouldn’t have a party while we were gone.  Counters had to be washed, all food put away in the refrigerator, floors swept.  It’s funny what you get used to like the gecko’s climbing the walls and ants everywhere (in the kitchen, the bathrooms, all the rooms).  You can’t leave anything out.  I hate the tiny, tiny ants in the kitchen that get into all food and when you try to clean them up they just continue to climb up your arms.  You can hardly see them but you can feel them!!

After throwing our clean up bags and a few other things into the back packs and stopping at the office to update the blog (and leave the computer locked in the office!) we were off.  The park is about 90 Km (54 m) away and it took about 3 hours travel time going 40-50 kph (25 mph) when possible and it felt like we were flying with the curving roads, construction, and general traffic as we mentioned before.  The first picture Tom took was of a boat that had been moved inland by the tsunami being finally returned to the water.


The second was an old man in a wagon pulled by a bull cow.  


In the first town, he took a picture of a man carrying a bed from a support over his shoulder.  It was flexible and rocked as he walked right down the middle of the street.  


We were hoping to reach our destination by 5:30 or before dark.  Roads are not marked too well for passing, but the general rule is not to pass a policeman on a motorcycle.  I guess Tom forgot this rule, as he passed two motorcycles (the lead having two policemen) going around a curve.  Of course, they pulled him over and in their limited English told him it was dangerous to pass on a curve.  One of them was ready to give him a ticket, but the other kept scolding Tom and stressing his point, and Tom was agreeing with him.  The driver finally called the other officer and they left.  Close call!!!

When we were getting close to our destination, I began reading the directions from the Lonely Planet travel book.  We had made a reservation for the night at the Walawa Safari Village Hotel.  The book only recommended two hotels and we found the first one which was supposed to be 8 km from the park entrance.  According to the book, our hotel was 10km from the entrance but we were on a different road.  We stopped at a police station to ask for directions and they sent us back the way we came saying we missed it.  We think they are wrong but turn around and stop at the first hotel to ask directions.  Looked like the jeep drivers were drunk and they kept asking us if we wanted rooms there…so we said “thank you” and left.  Now we tried to call our hotel and no one answered.  We were going back to the closest town rereading the directions and trying to make sense of them as we kept calling the hotel.  Finally, the hotel answers and tells us to turn around and to continue pass the police station, the other hotel and then make a left turn when we see the big sign.  Ok, he was close, we had to make a right turn, but we were there before dark and dinner was to be served in an hour.  This was a really elegant place.  It had five bungalows with 5 rooms each. Each room had its own front little sitting area separated by a gate and fence; 5 rooms (including ours) were air conditioned, large bathroom and clean linens and towels.  This was heaven after Ratnapura!!!  The bungalows were separated by stone walkways and lovely bushes and forest trees.  The reception area had great maps and info about the parks and the dining room was clean and lovely.  We were the ONLY guests on the first night before the opening of the park.  The cuisine was Chinese with corn egg drop soup; fried rice; and three main courses, fish (they say fis), vegetable, and chicken.  They were all delicious but the chicken was hot!!  Refreshing pineapple for dessert and we were off to bed by 8:45 having to be in the jeep at 6:15am. 


Batiks and Guest Dinner

February 28, 2008

Tom – no instructor class this morning, so Helen and I went to Matara. 


We went to the post office to mail our India visa forms to Colombo.  This is the second time we have had to fill out visa forms because the Fulbright office gave us old ones the first time around.  We then went to a well known batik shop, the bank, got gas, and then went to Cargills Food City for staples and to get items for dinner.  Kanthi and Darme are coming this evening for dinner; Kanthi (Chair of the Physics Department and the Sport Advisory Council) has been my main contact/helper in Matara.  She has been terrific!  I will be giving her a Cross pen and pencil set and a copy of my Biomechanics of Sport book to thank her for all her help.

Helen – He talks like it was an easy task finding the post office!!  Looking on the old map of Matara hanging by the front door, he determined it was close to the police office.  Been there, done that, so we knew where that was.  Didn’t see it the first time around the loop, and the second time I saw several people putting something into two yellow bins (looked like postal boxes) with national flags flying on either side.  I conclude this must be the post office…Wrong…it was the temple!!!  Tom walks past me waving the large envelop that must be mailed today.  Walks down the block to a post office but they can’t help him, they don’t do rush mail.  He goes to a private postal service near Food City, nope, can’t help us either.  Once again he returns to the car with “the envelope” and directions to go to the main post office by the bus terminal, which we finally find…Hurrah!!  Mailed at last.

The Batik shop was located in a private home.  An elderly woman answered the door and speaks very good English.  Welcomes us into her home and unlocks a door to a showroom.  Her husband, the designer, comes now to show us his work.  His designs are very good and if I lived here would have bought several picture hangings for the walls and other goods for the tables, etc.  He had some wonderful pictures of the Kandy Perahera in several color combinations that were awesome.  However, they wouldn’t go with our home décor so I bought two 18” x 18” fish batiks because I couldn’t resist.  He also had greeting cards with photographs of his works attached to the front of the card which he sold for $1.50.  Looking through them we noticed that several of the cards were actually small batiks so we bought several of these which are suitable for framing.

Shopping can always be disheartening…never know if they will have what you want especially since they had it the last time you were there.  With dinner guests coming for Eggplant Moussaka  (Kanthi is vegetarian) I also wanted to make a salad…NO LETTUCE,  NO YOGURT (only sweet yogurt and curd which is more like sour cream).  It cost $4 for a 28 oz can of peaches for a dessert I was hoping to make.  I was getting a little upset but we had to hurry home for lunch.  I didn’t have time to disinfect, cut, cook the eggplant, tomatoes, onions, chick peas and put the moussaka together before we left to teach our afternoon classes.

 Class was alright, Kanthi couldn’t attend because she was taking her house helper to the hospital for cataract surgery the next morning.  Here it is not an outpatient procedure.  The other two instructors from the PE department did not come…I think I wore them out the last class; that left the two students.  We did 3 miles for time and then walked 1 more to cool down while I lectured to them about diets and fats.  I really like these students, I wish they understood English better because I am never sure how much they are really grasping of what I am saying.

 Preparing dinner was not a pleasant experience.  I was tired from the walking class and stepped into a quick shower and then started.  Thank heavens I had the moussaka put together and in the 9×12 pan ready for the oven…it would take at least another hour for baking.  I go to make the dessert and discover that I need that 9×12 pan (it’s the only pan I have that can go into the oven).  I used it for a cookie sheet upside down because I was making peach shortcakes.  Took the moussaka out of the pan and put it into the wok on low heat on the stove, used the 9×12, then when I finished the shortcakes, returned the moussaka to the 9×12.  Didn’t have any cinnamon or cornstarch so just did the best I could. 


Giant Lizard!

February 27, 2008

Tom – two of my PE instructors had to go to Colombo tomorrow so we had class today instead.  My instructor classes have been running about 3 hours and we meet 3 days/week.  I meet with my student fitness class for 2 hours 2 days/week.  I also meet privately with at least two instructors per week.  In addition to this workload, I have redesigned their weight room, developed an Exercise Chart (Excel spreadsheet) for their Health/Fitness class, and marked out a two kilometer walking/running course on campus.  This workload is actually heavier than my workload at Wittenberg! 

I worked in my office during the afternoon and when I got home went into the yard and was surprised to find a four foot lizard.  This was the biggest one I have seen so far – it was dark with some yellow circles and eyes that appeared to glow – I ran in the house and got my camera.  The picture is not great because he was moving but you can get a sense of how big he was!  We learned later that it was a water monitor who had come to our pond to each the frogs and fish!  It has a razor sharp tail that is used as a weapon.


The mosquitoes and bugs were really bad tonight so Helen and I went to bed early just to get under the mosquito net!  As mentioned earlier, these bites can last up to a week.  Neither our insect repellent nor the anti-itch cream seems to be very effective.      

Helen:  Wednesday is usually a day we have off together so we get to do something.  Tom said I will take a snack for lunch and see you later so we can go into town…he got home after 6:00.  He puts in a lot of time.  One of his main projects that day was also to finish up the blog after the school work.  I really didn’t mind because while we were in Colombo, someone gave me a John Grisham book “The Rainmaker” a good thriller which kept me busy all day since it was cloudy and a good reading day. 

Tom entered the house yelling don’t open the door just look out the window into the yard, there is a monster lizard by the pond.  He runs and gets his camera and just gets back to the yard to get a quick picture as the lizard swaggers up the hill by the outdoor grill/patio and into the neighbor’s yard.  From the back his tail swished back and forth very much like an alligator’s – spooky!!!  I would say he was at least 4-5 feet long.


University of Ruhuna and Mexican Night

February 26, 2008

Tom – I took pictures at the University of Ruhuna today and have also added some others that were taken during my instructor and student classes.  This is a view after entering the main gate.



Views looking back toward main gate and Indian Ocean



University Buddha


 Athletic (Cricket) Field


Gymnasium and Physical Education Offices






Classroom (locker room) for presentations to Physical Education faculty


Instructing students in weight room


I bought a clock to use for timing on the walking/jogging course we made on university roads


Helen – We had to postpone Mexican night from last night till tonight.  As of yesterday, Luke, from the hotel still hadn’t gotten his list of ingredients: cilantro (coriander leaves), avocados, tortillas (they have an Indian frozen flat bread or a thicker flat bread that they use), ground beef, cheddar cheese (Kraft processed is the closest thing), sour cream (buffalo curd, and not bad).  I made the refried black beans (OK, they were red cow beans, close!!) on Monday and was waiting to add the cilantro, this morning I made the brownies and was going to use Rachael’s (Irish, owns a two room guest house and also does massage) oven.  I had to walk through two yards, up a hill, through a gate and a laundry line of clothes to get to her house just to tell her to warm the oven and that I would be back in about 15 minutes with the brownies.  Walked back to assemble them and then walked back to bake them.  I had to sit there for 25 minutes till they were done, so we had a nice chat.  She is sort of dating a Sri Lankan guy (married) who is also coming to the dinner.  “Babasan” a Japanese fellow will be there as well.  He is here for three months; it is winter in Japan and he teaches swimming to the very young and the old folks.  His English isn’t very good but he is a really nice guy.  His main purpose here is to surf and eat.  He surfs at least twice a day and you wouldn’t believe the food he puts away!! 

I talked to Luke again about his shopping list and to tell him I have to go to school from 2-6:30; dinner is planned for 8:30 and our menu includes beef tacos (we bought the shells and seasoning mix at the PX), black beans/tomato salsa, refried black bean dip, cheese-mushroom-beans-chicken, added quesadillas, chicken enchiladas, plus the toppings.  I got home from work, quickly showered and went over to get the rest of the ingredients to start.  Nicole, Luke’s wife and Rachael were supposed to help with the preparations since they don’t cook!!  Rachael is lying on the couch, she has had a rough day as has Nicole but they will be over shortly to help.  I return and start chopping onions and mushrooms when Rachael comes with frozen ground beef and chicken!!!  There is no microwave oven here!!!   She said Nicole forgot to defrost it.  So I cut it into thin slices and had her watch it over the stove as it defrosted…this is going to be a long night!  The tortillas are thicker but should taste good, so we decide to forgo the enchiladas and double up on the quesadillas (life is easier already!).  Nicole comes over and says no avocados, no cilantro, sorry!!   She started to chop tomatoes but when I gave her the lettuce, she just looked at me and asked how do I chop this…by the time I showed her I had finished it.  She said you make it look so easy!! 

We were going to eat at the hotel since we didn’t have enough room here and they set a lovely table.  We had more than enough food and they seemed to enjoy everything.  We divided the leftovers and went home stuffed!!  Poor Luke couldn’t eat with us because the chef for his hotel had a fish bone in his hand and had to go to the hospital so he had to cook dinner for his guests and then clean the kitchen; he was just finishing as we were leaving…I did give him his brownie in the kitchen for extra energy!!  They don’t really plan ahead so working with them can be a challenge but they are really nice people and I am glad that they are close by!!!  Luke was also planting bushes by his fence for extra privacy.  I don’t think it is going to work because he had soaked the branches (freshly cut) in water for a few hours and now stuck them into the ground and said he was going to water.  The soil is very hard and he didn’t loosen it at all.  I mentioned that maybe he should loosen the soil, soak the branches until they begin to root a little, and perhaps use a little cow manure in the soil.  He said he did it this way before and it should work.  I asked what happened to the shrubs before and he said they died!!  Oh well, maybe he knows something I don’t!!

I wasn’t too anxious to see the walking class today because Kanthi had told Tom that no one showed last Thursday.  While we were away, I had lesson plans and charts for them to fill out after their walks.  Kanthi couldn’t be there on Tuesday and Vini (the PE instructor) was supposed to take that lesson and then Kanthi would do it on Thursday. When I got there and asked Vini what happened on Tuesday, she replied that she had a meeting.  The students said they had come and no one was there so they didn’t bother coming on Thursday either.  Vini has no sense of responsibility and feels insecure.  She doesn’t pay much attention when I am lecturing either.  But she is quick to tell us that she was  a national 400m runner and walker champion when she was 17, even showed us the newspaper clippings.  Now she is 49 and living in the past!!

We had to walk 2.5 miles (they were supposed to walk 2.5 and 3.0 last week) and so now we are behind schedule.  I only have about 3 more lessons with them and don’t know if we will be able to get to 4 miles…sad thing is that I am sure that they will all stop when I go, so it is difficult to see that I will make a difference for them.



February 25, 2008

Tom – We saw the coconut lady this morning on our beach walk – this time I was able to get a picture of her with the bag of coconuts on her head. 


Later on the walk, I was able to get some pictures of a serious cricket practice – they had the official wickets and bats! 


As I was preparing to leave for the office two Sri Lankan gypsies were coming up from the beach.  Each had a bag over his shoulder and one had a little monkey (Otto) on a leash.  I took the fellow who had the monkey down to Helen who was cleaning the driveway.  She was reluctant but did give the little guy a banana. 


I asked what was in the bags – he said snakes!  Ok, let’s see them.  He took a basket out of his bag and put it on the ground.  He then proceeded to take off the top of the basket and play his flute.  Sure enough, a cobra came up out of the basket! 


His partner then took a python out of his bag.  Helen wanted no part of the snakes and kept a good distance away.  I had to get the tourist pose with the python.



Beautiful Marissa and Beach Cricket

February 24, 2008

Tom – We went to mass at St Mary’s (loved their singing but couldn’t understand anything!) continued to the open market where we bought limp lettuce, limes, eggplants, tomatoes, onions, papaya, and bananas, then shopped Cargills for staples (e.g. milk, juice, yogurt, etc.). 


After lunch we decided to try our new masks and snorkels.  We went to the pretty bay by the lighthouse in Dondra and were able to see a few fish but the coral was almost entirely dead.  So, we decided to go west of town and try the little beach at Marissa.  This was our first time here and we found it to be a scenic laid-back, low end (in terms of cost) tourist beach.  It was too rough to snorkel but we enjoyed a cool drink at one of the beach front restaurants and the walk on the beach.  The sand was fine and clean – like our beach should be

Returning home, we boogie boarded in our surf.  The waves were really big and we had several great rides.  The waves washed us up onto the beach and filled our pants with sand!!  We watched a game of Cricket played by university students on the beach and then devoured an excellent spaghetti dinner that Helen prepared from the ingredients I purchased at the embassy food mart.  Our first spaghetti dinner in over two months – even had garlic bread!




Catch-Up Day, Beach Scenes

February 23, 2008

Tom – Today was a catch-up day.  We did our daily early morning 2.5 mile walk on the beach, breakfast on the patio with ocean view, Helen cleaning clothes, and me getting caught up on the diary and photos.  Tsunami remnant – today you see it, tomorrow probably not. 


Note his shadow


Villager picking fruit


Beach flowers



Our local village



Antiques, Tsunami Damage and Chanting

February 22, 2008

Tom – Left Colombo at 6am to minimize road hazards.  We stopped at about four Antique shops in the area of Balapitiya.  Helen has been considering buying some items (e.g. spice chest, rice chest, cabinet, babies cradle, etc.) and filling a small container to ship home.  Preliminary estimates on shipping costs appear to be prohibitive.  I took some pictures of tsunami damage as we drove down the coast.  It has been a little over three years since that event but the destruction is still evident in many areas.




A local fisherman gave us a brief summary of the tsunami


We had planned to stay one night at a hotel in Hikkaduwa and SCUBA dive/snorkel in the Marine NP.  However, the dive instructors at the Poseidon Diving Station told us that storms had stirred up the sea and visibility was very poor.  So, we canceled our reservation and started driving back to Matara.  Just south of Galle, we stopped for lunch at the Sri Gemunu Beach Resort in Unawatuna.  We shared meals of grilled tuna and calamari while sitting at a table under palm trees right at the edge of a short rocky beach next to a small bay where the stilt fisherman fish.  It was beautiful!

Entering Matara


When we arrived “home” we found Kenji cleaning the pond in the rain.  It seems he spent far more time raking and burning leaves and cleaning the pond than we had anticipated.  Though he did an excellent job wadding in and cleaning the pond we didn’t direct him to do so because we feel it is the owner’s (Mr. VJ) responsibility and he has not been very cooperative.  Anyway, Kenji had good intentions so I gave him an extra 1000 rupees (total of 3000 rupees or about $28) for his 6 days work.  Now Kenji was still not happy because his other employer (Hiki) had cut his salary in half because he was also working for us.  Our understanding was that he would work full time for Hiki and would work at our house when finished there.  He asked for a three way meeting at the Reggae Bar that evening to discuss the matter.  I expressed my view at that time and Kenji felt satisfied with compensation from us but I don’t know what he was able to work out with Hiki.

Kanthi had invited us to a Buddhist service at the university in the evening.  It started at 9pm.  We arrived about 9:30 and heard the sermon being broadcast on loud speakers all across campus.  We parked the car below the large Buddha statue; which is at the center of campus between the library and administration building, and hiked up the hill (lined with coconut oil lamps) under Buddhist banners.  Students outside a large auditorium encouraged us to enter.  So we took off our shoes, entered and sat on the concrete floor (no seats in the room).  There were about 300 students and 20 faculty/staff in attendance.  The front of the room had a sort of hut that had been constructed with coconut leaves and there were 8-10 monks inside.  The eldest was doing the sermon which continued for another half hour.  At about 10pm other monks started chanting prayers and the audience responded.  This was followed by the entrance of 4 drummers and a horn player (like a snake charmer sound) who responded to the chants with the playing of their instruments.  This was followed by more chants and increasing audience participation.  We were told that the chanting would continue until 9am the following morning.  We arrived back home at about 11pm – long day!      


$131 Car Repair!

February 21, 2008

Tom – We went to the Fulbright office after breakfast to fill out our visa forms for India and get caught up on email.  As it turned out we also had to have pictures taken for the small format size photos that were required.  Why two of the same photo had to be pasted right next to each other on the same form I will never know.  We had just received our passports back after receiving residence permits and now had to turn them in again.

Had lunch at the US Embassy (prepared by a local restaurant so no REAL American food), did a little food shopping at the embassy mart and then headed back to the guest house.  After a brief rest we went to the House of Fashions for masks and snorkels and some clothes for Helen and then picked up the rental car.  They had fixed the dents, replaced the broken glass, repainted the entire bottom of the car including the bumpers and cleaned it!  All of that cost me $131!  I then braved the rush hour traffic to drive to Arpico where I bought a Sri Lankan Cricket shirt ($7.50).

In the evening Ruki treated us to take-out Chinese to thank us for the Scotch I had bought for her and the blouse Helen had bought for her at the House of Fashions.


They Said – “Don’t Go to Pettah”

February 20, 2008

Helen – This morning Irene made hot oatmeal for us (someone had given it to Ruki because it is difficult to find here) because she thought we would enjoy it…we did, even though it was hot!!

Then we were off to tour parts of the city that we had not seen before.  Since the car was being repaired, we took a Tuk-Tuk and asked the driver to take us to the Grand Mosque. 


The driver said he knew where it was but he took us to the Red Mosque.  It is 100 years old and under quite a bit of reconstruction.  We were not allowed to go inside and there wasn’t much to see outside.  But the caretaker there could speak English and told us about the Mosque.


Then Tom asked him about the Grand Mosque and he said this wasn’t it and we had to walk to it.  It was really, really hot and we were in the busiest trade center (Pettah) part of town (not the safest we were told) but we decided to walk so we could get the real flavor and smell of this part of the city.  This is the most diverse part of town with Muslims, Catholics, Dutch Reformists, Buddhists, Hindus, etc. living and working side by side.  Tom took pictures of each house of worship. 

Dutch Reformists







The streets were divided by wares such as: clothes, accessories, fabrics, gold, pans, etc.  I bought some sea shells for 500 rupees.


That evening we dressed up and took a taxi to the Mt Lavinia Hotel to have drinks on the terrace and watch the sunset.  There are always complications but we made it with a few minutes to spare and had our drinks in our hands as the sun went down.  This is one of the grandest hotels right on the beach.  The terrace was set around the pool and because it was a Poya Day (Holy Day), no alcohol could be served.  The iced cafes were delicious but would prove to keep us awake that night!!  After the sun set we toured the hotel.  The grand ballroom was breath taking with its extra-huge cut glass chandelier from a very high ceiling.  The tables were all in white double long cloths and the chairs in white covers with large bows in the back.  Doors on one side opened to a terrace overlooking the ocean and could bring in cool breezes.  We went to the shopping gallery and looked inside a jewelry shop.  Gold is at a high even here and I don’t particularly like the 22 karat gold color.  Rings are made in 18 karat because it is stronger.  We looked at the blue sapphires and their color is truly dark and rich.  One ring was priced at about $1000 but he said since we were Americans we could have it for $350!!!  Something is amiss here!!



We had dinner reservations there under the pavilion overlooking the ocean.  They have a different buffet theme each day of the week but we were not interested in that night’s choice of East Asia (Chinese, Mongolian, and Sri Lankan) foods so ordered Australian Beef Tenderloin, French fries, and salad from the menu.  This is the first beef we have had since we arrived here in January and we enjoyed every bite!!!  We weren’t tired (coffee!) when we returned home, so I knitted and watched some TV (don’t have TV in Matara) while Tom worked on the computer.

It was a sleepless night, hot and sticky even with the fan.  I finally had to take a simply sleep around 3am only to be awaken at 6:30.  In the bathroom I noticed that the right side of my chest was especially sticky and thought “OH NO!! but the answer was “OH YES!!” my prosthesis had sprung a leak.  Well, a long story short, called Ann to see if she could send my spare from home and it wasn’t possible.  After some investigation, she said I needed a special medical permit and it would cost about $250 to send by DHL.  So I guess I will try to find one here and if not, keep wrapping it in saran wrap as long as possible!