Archive for February, 2008

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Poya Day – Perahera

February 19, 2008

Helen – Ruki was expecting us late Tuesday afternoon but we surprised her by arriving before 9am.  After the exchanged greetings we headed for the shower and took a nap so we would be ready for the Perahera that evening.

Tom – I took the car back to the rental agency to get repaired and then had them provide me a driver/car to go to the Fulbright office.  I said I didn’t want a loaner because I wouldn’t drive in Colombo anyway due to the parking problems.  Ramya said that the Fulbright Commission wanted me to give an “All Colombo” presentation related to nutrition and exercise physiology in their auditorium.  As usual they really don’t understand the complexity of these areas, so I’ll delimit the topic to one that is workable and interesting for the “sophisticated” audience she said I should expect.

Afterward I went to the bank to get cash to pay for Helen’s ticket to India, the next month rental car fee, our stay in Colombo and next month’s house rent.  I don’t like walking around with $2000 in my pocket but things here are best done on a cash basis.  My next stop was the US Embassy Food Mart where I bought items for our return to Matara.  I got back to Ruki’s had a late lunch and then rested for an hour before getting ready for the Navam Perahera at the Gangaramaya Temple in Colombo that is held during the February Poya Day (full moon) each year.  It is the second largest Poya Day festival in Sri Lanka.

Ruki had bought tickets for us ($60 donation to the temple) to sit in the first row on a stand with the dignitaries near the temple.  We were told we had to be there by 6:30pm to make sure we were in our seats by 7pm when the parade started.  Sherry, a Fulbright Ph.D. candidate from Arizona State accompanied us.  Sherry is doing her dissertation analyzing the book covers of 18th century Buddhist manuscripts.  After arriving by Tuk-Tuk we had to go through tight security (frisking, separate stall for women) before we could proceed to our seats.

Island temple in Beira Lake

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Before the start there were prayers and introductions over the loud speaker from the temple.  The American ambassador stated that Buddhism was the fastest growing religion in America!?  Shortly thereafter there was a large explosion and we could feel the shock wave from behind us – I still don’t know what it was, I’ll have to check the newspapers.  The parade started with about five men flicking large whips to chase away the evil spirits followed by Kandyan dancers leading a formal procession of reliquaries the final of which were carried on huge decorated elephants.  It would take a book to describe this parade; I took a series of videos and am hopeful they will turn out.  The following is the official description of the parade:

  • A Caparisoned Elephant (Tusker) bearing the Casket of Relics.
  • A beautiful illuminated Elegant Buddha Image
  • Participation of 500 members of the order of Monks
  • Kandyan Chieftains and Mohottalas
  • Caparisoned Elephants
  • Over 100 Kandyan and Low-country Dance Troupes (each troupe consists of 50 or more dancers)
  • Buddhist Flags, National Flags, Provincial Flags, Sun-bearers, other attractions (2000)
  • The Perahera will be illuminated with Copra Lanterns (500)   

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Gangaramaya Temple and the Peacock Dancers

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The parade made its way three times around Beira Lake and the front of the temple.  There was some excitement about one hour into the procession when an elephant got lose and people started running away in panic.  We started to move ourselves until we saw they got it under control.  I ran my battery down taking so many videos and we left about 9:30 when the procession was starting its third round of the lake.  We got up close to the procession on its second tour in front of the temple which was ablaze with lights.  The parade was still going strong but most people were leaving after they had seen one full procession and we left soon afterwards.  We took a Tuk-Tuk home and got there about 10:45.  We were tired but it was a great time.

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Cave Temple, Tea Plantations and a Gem of a Room

February 18, 2008

 Helen – After breakfast (cheese omelet and semi cooked bacon) at the hotel, we drove toward Ella.

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On the way we stopped at Dowa Temple which is another Buddhist Temple built into a rock.  It was quite quaint walking down the many stairs and as we got to the next level, a young monk dressed in a bright orange robe came forward to lead us the rest of the way to the temple.  Reaching the next level, he pointed to the sign which stated that no shoes were allowed beyond this point.  He was carrying a large heavy brass key which he used to unlock the temple door.  There was the usual main door with the three dimensional statues of elephants and gods projecting from the wall guarding the entrance.  Inside were two large reclining Buddha.  The temple had a river running along side of it and of course the huge Bo Tree nearby.  Tom took several good pictures here.

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 In Ella, we stopped to have tea at the Grand Ella Motel run by the Ceylon Hotels Corporation.  It had a breath taking view down Ella Gap from its terrace.  

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We then drove back to Bandarawela and on to Haputale.  We found the one lane road and drove through various tea estates to the huge Dambatenne tea plantation.  This was Sir Thomas Lipton’s original (1890) plantation.  “Lipton’s Seat” is located on a high ridge overlooking the plantation.  I thought we were going to see his bungalow (furnished living quarters) but it was just the highest point with wonderful views in four directions.  The drive was unbelievable; steep winding switchbacks on narrow asphalt and rock roads.  We prayed not to meet an on coming car!!  We had some awesome views into the gaps with lush tea bushes covering the mountain sides.  Finally got some up front and personal pictures of the tea pickers moving their thin long marker sticks as they quickly plucked the leaves.  They get paid about $3 a day based on the weight of their bags…they also get overtime to work on holidays.  We found one group of women sitting under a tree with prepared pots of food for their lunch break.  Most were happy to have their pictures taken and smiled.  The work is really hard, standing on steep inclines as they picked and throwing the leaves into the bags braced on their heads.  Can you imagine going home after a day at work to do your family chores as well??

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The plantation had its own living accommodations, school and temple

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Coming back down the mountain we met another large SUV coming up and there was no way we both could pass at the same time…much to our displeasure we had to go in reverse back uphill to an area where we could both pass. It was scary!!

We figured that we didn’t have to leave Haputale until 1:30 at the latest, so called Ylva and said that we were able to stop for a quick visit.  We really wanted to see the inside of a manager’s bungalow.  It was an old building, one level but quite spread out into several wings with lots of windows overlooking gardens (several acres with 5 gardeners to care for them) in all directions.  We sat on the terrace in old cane chairs with cold drinks as she explained that the managers were assigned a tea plantation for several years and then moved to another one.  Ken had been at this one 25 years ago when they met and married; then they moved to several other ones before returning to this one.  He plans to retire in another year or two so it seems that they have made a full circle.  Ylva has a daughter and granddaughter in Stockholm so she spends several months of each year in her apartment there to be with family.  They plan to retire here in Sri Lanka.

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After we finished our drinks, she took us on a tour of her gardens.  They were unbelievable and several gardens deep.  The way they were divided into different groups made it difficult to see through them.  When looking from the terrace, you thought they ended at one point, but when walking you went behind tall bushes/trees into another garden, and then a third one behind that.  No wonder she needed 5 gardeners!!

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Ratnapura – the Gem City – or so we thought!!!  Everyone has been telling us that this is the place to get gems.  This is where they are brought to be cut and polished after being mined in the nearby city of Balangoda.  I have been looking forward to shopping here so that I would know what I wanted to order from Ranjan in Colombo.  We decided to arrive today rather than tomorrow to be sure I would have enough time for that shopping and also to be closer to Colombo for the drive tomorrow.  It is about a 6 hr drive from Bandarawela to Colombo and Ratnapura is about half way. 

We planned to arrive about 5pm get a room at the Ratnapura Rest House and then go back into town to look around.   It took some maneuvering to find the rest house only to be told that they were full.  We asked for a recommendation for another inn and we also looked in our Lonely Planet guidebook.  We drove down the dirt road from the rest house and stopped at the first guest house.  People were eating at small plastic tables on a patio (?) and the room they showed us was not only pretty bad and smelly but off the reception area.  Tom asked him to show us another room and he took us upstairs to a small apartment unit.  It was also a NO GO.  We spent the next hour trying to find the next two choices from the guidebook.  According to Tom, the next one was worse than the last (could it be??) so we continued down the same road for another 3km but could not find the next choice.  We found ourselves on some very scary back roads with night falling.

Driving toward the main road we came across a pretty decent looking (exterior) guest house and decided to check it out.  It is beyond description.  Going up the stairs to the second floor we come to a small reception desk, then we go through curtains that are only half hanging into a lounge area which is dark with only a couple of chairs.  Off this area we open a door to a large room with light sockets hanging out of the stained walls, an iron bed with a cover on it, and a small TV (on which Tom is watching some Indian MTV and soaps) one chair, a table on one wall with another plastic chair.  I don’t want to drive any more so I say ok.  We bring up our suitcases and I go to check the sheets.  There are no sheets!!  The bed has a foam mattress with a cotton cover on it and two pillows with the stuffing coming out of one end.  I ask for sheets, he brings a new cover and two pillowcases but still no sheets.  He thinks I want clean bedding (which I do).  We are not on the same wavelength and I decide it is too hot to cover ourselves anyway and will not use the pillows (I am sitting on one as I type).  

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The table cloth is stained and we found a barrette under the bedcover when changing it.  The attached bathroom has a toilet, sink (with drain that empties onto the floor) and a shower head attached by rope to the ceiling that comes out into the room with no curtain or stall.  Since they only gave us one towel, we decide not to shower and will wait until Colombo and Ruki’s to get cleaned up.  

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Tom ordered some vegetable fried rice and cokes which they ordered in and then set up in the lounge area.  Food wasn’t bad but my coke fizzed out of the bottle when I unscrewed the cap and went all over the table cloth which I think was a baby sheet.  I think that I will sleep in my clothes on top of the cover with no pillow and pray for morning so we can leave.  But sleep didn’t come easily and we didn’t even use the netting because it was gross.  Finally, at 5:30am we decide that we are out of there and gather our things to go.  We can’t find the light for the lounge area which we must go through and agree that the main gate will likely be locked anyway.  As we stumble in the dark in the lounge, the young man who was sleeping on the couch wakes up and puts the light on for us and then goes outside to unlock the gate.  It was still dark when we left!  We left town without looking back or waiting for any gem stores to open.

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Horton Plains National Park

February 17, 2008

 Tom –  Saturday night we hired Richard, the bar tender from the Bandarawela Hotel, to serve as our guide to Horton Plains NP – he was at the front desk at 5:30am.  The hotel had packed us a boxed breakfast consisting of a four layer cheese/lettuce/tomato sandwich, banana, two slices of pineapple, piece of cake and a bottle of water.  It was dark when we started on the two hour drive across pot holed one lane windy roads going up and down through the tea plantations and forest.  We saw some sambar deer as we entered the park.  It was difficult driving and my rental car really took a beating.  I would have had trouble finding the park without our guide.

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I paid the entrance fee for the three of us and car ($40) and we started on the 9.5 km (6 mile) loop trail at 8am.  Horton Plains are situated on a high plateau (above 7,000 ft elevation) so we started (8am) with our Gore-Tex on but after the first hour we were down to our shorts and tops.  The weather was ideal for this time of year and we had a good view from what is called “World’s End,” a drop off of about 1000 feet to some villages below and then through a gap another drop of about 4400 feet to the low plains leading to the south tip of the island and the Indian Ocean.

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Continuing on the loop, we followed the trail through the undulating grass lands and forest (some of the trees grow here and no place else in the world) to Baker’s Falls.  The route to the bottom of the falls was closed but Richard insisted that we go around the barbed wire and descend down a steep gulley to the base of the falls.  It was well worth the effort!  It was now hot and the base of the falls proved to be an ideal spot to sit in the cool spray and watch the crystal clear water plunge about 40 feet and then cascade down a valley.  They say that you should finish the hike by 10am because the mist (clouds) usually rolls in and you can’t see anything.  However, we finished at 11am and it was mainly clear though clouds were moving up the gap.

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Here are a couple of photos from our drive back.  This was a paved part of our one lane road.

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We bought a papaya at the roadside stand.

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On the way back we stopped at Adisham Monastery just west of Haputale.  It was originally a castle built by Sir Thomas Lester Villiers for his tea plantation.  It is now a Benedictine Monastery and they charge you a small fee to see two rooms (of about 50) and flower gardens.  The “living room” gave Richard the spooks because it had a painting of Sir Thomas that looked at you no matter where you were in the room.  We were told later that the monks had sold much of the antique furniture and even used some for firewood. The monastery has beautiful gardens and it is noted for its fruit production, which it sells in a small store in one of the old carriage barns and at an outlet on the main road.  We bought a bottle of mixed fruit cordial and a jar of orange marmalade.  They are noted for their strawberry preserves but they looked too dark for us.

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We had bought a papaya on one of the back roads (also a pair of coconut spoons) and after we got back to the hotel and showered we had them cut it and give us some pieces of lime to squirt over it and ate it at a table on the manicured lawn in front of the hotel. 

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What a contrast from this tranquility to our walk of only a few blocks through downtown to St Anthony’s church for 5pm mass.  The walk took us through a major part of the city that was packed with people on the sidewalk (concrete slabs over a sewer) in front of the shops.  Street peddlers were everywhere as well and it was difficult making our way through the commotion to the church.   St Anthony’s was at the top of a narrow three story staircase and was rather plane and obviously poor.  There were about 35 (including 10 nuns) in attendance for this mass and several things caught our interest: there was no collection! no one took the host and wine to the altar as an offering, and they sang “I Will Never Find Another You” as a hymn.

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Buddha Locked the Keys in our Car

February 16, 2008

Helen – Getting ready for this trip has me on edge.  We need cold climate clothes for the mountain area where we are going to hike the Horton Plains, then clothes for three days in Colombo, plus another set of clothes for two days SCUBA and snorkeling.  That alone was driving me crazy but then Tom decided that he was going to pack up all his other personal things into a large suitcase and lock it up in his office at the university along with his printer and important books.  I didn’t want to do it and was agitated, so I went to the beach while he did his thing.  Afterwards, I felt badly about that and locked up things in the wardrobe closet and hid the key, the rest of the things I put in my large suitcase and hid it out of sight.  We are so paranoid about theft now that it is stifling.  We also got a young Japanese man (Kenji) to watch the house, rake the leaves and protect the sea turtle shell drying in the front yard while we are gone.  He seemed a bit skeptical about the shell and said what if I protect it 5 days and then someone steals it on the 6th???  What could I say??  We also gave the domino game to the Germans so they could play while we were away.

The next morning we were ready to go by 7:30, Tom stopped at the office to check his email and call the kids.  We were then on the road along the coast in the same direction (east) that we went the first weekend seeing the temples and the blowhole.  We were not going to stop until we reached the first new town, Tangalla.  Just before we got to the town we saw a hotel from the 1970’s built to represent a cruise ship.  We stopped to have a look and not only was it unique but the workers were in the rafters with their plastic bottles and sticks, banging and shouting, trying to coax the pigeons out.  It was pretty funny with the birds flying around and trying to roost in another section and then the man there yelling and banging to get them to fly outside.  The hotel had a lovely beach front, a pool, cabins with balconies, and spiral staircases.  You really got the feeling of being on a ship.

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Tangalla is a beach town with lots of small rental units and restaurants.  It was hit pretty hard by the tsunami but is recovering.  We stopped at one beach to gather different kinds of coral then went to a small restaurant for tea.  Tom’s famous words that morning were “if you see anything interesting, just tell me to stop!!”  Well, I mentioned the man on the bike with at least 100 baskets, he didn’t stop.  I mentioned another man on his bike with bananas piled high behind him, again he didn’t stop.  Then we saw a really large Buddha on the side of the road and again he passed it by.  I said, “I don’t know why I mention anything because you just continue driving.”  He gets a little upset saying, “How many Buddha pictures do you need?”  I counter and he turns back, gets out of the car, crosses the street to take the picture with me in it, and then returns to the car to discover that in his haste, he locked the keys inside!!  

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Of course we don’t have a second set of keys and are now standing outside the car in front of the Buddha amongst the crew that was working on the road.  They right away start to come over to see if any of their keys will open our door – of course not.  Then they start to gather different things to try to jimmy the lock on the driver’s side…nothing happens.  More men come with more tools: screw drivers, different size metal pokers, plastic cording, etc.  Nothing is working and more men come to the rescue…we are now to about 20!!  Trucks and cars stop along the way to help as well.  Buses drive by and the people in them just wag their heads and smile.  The crew is now working on both sides of the car and even trying to get into the trunk.  We decide that we are going to break the small window on the back passenger door and Tom picks up a big rock…they say NO!! and take it away from him.  They send a man on a motorcycle to bring someone from town who works on locks…he comes with a pair of pliers!!  HELLO!!!  By now we have some damage; they have pulled up the lower window molding on the driver’s side.  I guess the main problem, besides the keys being locked inside, is that the car has an auto- lock system.  Anyway, Tom finally breaks the window with a man’s large heavy knife (which he was using to pry the window molding from the little vent window).   We all cheer when the deed is done BUT we should have done it 1.5 hours ago.  Everyone goes back to work and we go on our way, wondering how we are going to fix the window for the rest of the trip.

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We stopped in several small towns and could not find any help.  We did find this fellow using an old foot powered sewing machine.

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In the first larger town we stopped at several car parts stores and their reply was that it could only be repaired in Colombo or Galle.  We couldn’t believe it!!  So the next plan was to get some plastic to cover the window.  After two more stops, a young man was able to get some heavy clear plastic, cut it to size, and glue it in place.  It really looked pretty good and very much like the glass.  In addition, it only cost 0.80 cents! 

We are on our way, two hours behind schedule and now will have to rush to reach our mountain destination before dark.  Even on the main highway (?) you can only travel about 30-35 mph and with the road construction we spent a lot of time waiting to get through certain areas.  Here is a picture of some water buffalo and birds along the road

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After we reached Wellawaya, we took A4 west moving up into the mountains past some beautiful scenery.  Here is a pic of a roadside temple.

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We stopped briefly at 500 ft Diyaluma Falls for some pictures. 

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Our final destination for the night was the busy market town of Bandarawela.  We had reservations for two nights at the Bandarawela Hotel which was a tea planters club built in 1893.  It was furnished as a hotel in the 1930s and hasn’t changed since!  There is a guard in jungle khakis with ranger hat at the entrance, male staff in peasant outfits and waiters in white jackets with brass buttons and long white shirts.  One of our waiters has been there for 30 years and asked where we were from.  After hearing America, he says I love country western music and my friends and I get together to sing on weekends and have a lot of fun.  I ask who are your favorite singers?  He replies, Hank Williams Jr. and Kenney Rodgers!!!  Which reminds me, back in Matara, we listen to the BBC radio station and they play real oldies (40’s and 50’s) which for them are relatively new, especially the songs they played for Valentine’s Day.

The setting of the hotel with the lovely gardens and old furnishings were well worth the stay but the food was awful, supposedly English fare that we did not enjoy eating, even the desserts! (one was blueberry cheesecake which had no cheese; it was more of a jello consistency with a rubbery blueberry glaze).  Another funny thing, the beds were short-sheeted.  The method they used to cover the blanket with the sheets left the blanket un-sheeted at your feet.  When we tried to rectify the problem we found that the sheets were too short for the bed size.  We were just fine without the blanket so got rid of everything but the sheet.  They think it gets cool at night and they offered hot water bottles to warm the beds, we smiled and said no thanks! 

The first evening we met a couple in the bar…Ken and Ylva…he was born in Sri Lanka but is of Irish/Scottish decent and is a general manager of a tea plantation in nearby Haputale.  He arranged a guide for us for the following morning for the Horton Plains hike and we made arrangements to visit them at their Bungalow before we left the area.  We went to bed early since we were leaving the hotel at 5:30am.  It was a clear cool night and the stars were beautiful. 

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Blood Pressure Lesson

February 15, 2008

Tom – I reviewed the theory and practice of taking blood pressure with my instructors this morning.  They got a big kick out of taking each others BP.  I then asked them if they wanted me to cover the biochemistry of energy metabolism.  To my surprise, they said yes!  This is not an easy subject and also not one where you can initially see a practical application to exercise and sport.  I find this the most enjoyable part of teaching the instructors – the entire class (OK only 5-6 in the class) is actually interested in the material and insights I have to offer!

One of the ceiling lights in my office was not working, I asked that they fix it – they solved the problem – they took out the entire light fixture!        

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Valentine’s Day and Turtle Shell

February 14, 2008

Helen –   HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY!  I got the temperature conversion for the oven (F to C formula) and decided to bake brownies.  This is a no brainer recipe at home and comes out perfect every time.  All the ingredients are slightly different here; the sugar courser, the eggs larger and better, the flour un-sifted, and the cocoa much richer.  Add that to the microwave size oven and all you can do is hope for the best!!  They took more than twice the time to bake, don’t know why, were denser and more chocolate rich but not bad for the effort.  I shared a few little squares with the Germans for their coffee break, another few squares for the hotel people and the rest for the instructors and students from my walking class.  Then I will explain how we will have to walk a little faster and a lot further for the extra calories!!

Today the electric bill was hand delivered by a person from the electric company, no envelop, no knock on the door.  He just walked through the gate and around the house to the back where I was to deliver it.  It was equivalent to about $78 for the month and we have been running the fans a lot.  The other day we found the water bill slipped under the front door…it was for $5.  A few hours later I heard a bike bell and a call from the driveway gate.  It was the mailman on his bike with a little saddlebag over the cross bar to carry the mail.  There was a letter for someone, of course not here and I think it was the wrong address though I could be wrong.  We have no road sign or house number and this was the reason we had such a difficult time finding it the first time.  Eventually, Kamala walked to the main road and stood waving at us as we drove by…we had already passed the road several times before!!!  We do now know our address!

It seems that the clouds darken and the skies begin to rumble about 4:30 daily now and I never know if we will be caught in the rain during our walk.  We made it today but by the time we got home there was a downpour.  Since we have to close up the house pretty tight when we are away, it was stifling on our return.  We opened all the windows and doors and had the two fans in the dining-living room going.  We sat in the living room in front of the doorway to get the best breeze as we snacked on cheese and crackers.  It was pretty cool looking out of the doorway at the storm and listening to the ocean roar.  Then we saw a bat fly under the roof overhang that extends the length of the house on the beach side.  Then he flew back again, several times…we thought he is larger than our bats back home!!  I looked back toward the driveway door and saw that stupid thing fly into the house and right into my dressing room.  We quickly ran over there and I made Tom go inside to open the double doors and window hoping that he would fly out.  We go sit by the other double door and wait…nothing!!  So Tom goes back into the room with a broom in hopes of chasing it out…it is hanging from the ceiling rafter. He swats at it and it moves higher.  Finally he gets it moving and MY HERO chases it out the doors. Now we have to close the other doors to keep it out because we saw it flying under the overhang AGAIN!

We decided not to go out for dinner with the weather being nasty, so had cold pasta salad and left over chicken instead.  By now the rain let up and I ran across the way to ask the Germans if they wanted to play dominoes.  Yes, we brought a new game with us and it caused not only a weight problem at the airports but a metal problem as well.  We played a few rounds when they came over and we told them about our bat episode.  They asked if it was very big, we answered yes and showed with our hands the size.  They replied, that is little, in the town square there are trees where they hang during the day and they are at least 18-24” long and when they fly they have a slow sweeping wing motion.  UGH!!  Once again the critters are getting to us.

Talking about critters, the other day leaving our office in the physics building, we saw a bunch (10) monkeys climbing up the medical building and jumping in and out of the trees.  They have the longest tails and little black faces.  There were adults and babies and I was calling Tom to hurry and see when the other people said that sometimes more than that come.

Also yesterday walking on the beach, we found a really big sea turtle shell.  The natives had already removed the turtle’s body and left the shell on the beach (lucky for us!).  They said sea turtle is a delicacy for them.  Further up the coast on the east side is a beach area known for the sea turtles.  We have the shell upside down in our yard (yep, smelly) hoping the crows will clean it out for us in the next few weeks before we leave.  Then comes the problem of getting it home!!

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Brooms are for Ladies

February 13, 2008

Helen – Today I raked leaves….there are three trees in our yard that have large leaves (size of our sycamore) and they are everywhere.  We were supposed to have someone clean the yard…but this has become a problem since the theft.  At least the cow poop wasn’t there and I didn’t have to work around that.  I almost fell into the pond trying to get those leaves out, my flip flop slipped on the muddy edge and I just caught myself on the wall but wrenched my shoulder.  Sometimes I am not a happy camper!

I didn’t know what to do with all the leaves and asked at the hotel…they said put them in bags and leave them at the end of your driveway; the garbage men will pick them up.  Where do you get these bags??  Walk down to the main road and ask for the empty 100 lb four/rice bags which hold a lot of leaves.  I did this (actually got across what I wanted!) and returned home with three bags for 45 cents.  I left them at the driveway and Thursday morning only one empty bag was there…guess someone else needed them more than I did.

In the afternoon, we went to Food City and Arpico where I exchanged a baking pan.  The first one I bought didn’t fit into my little oven.  I am determined to try to make brownies but I have to wait until tomorrow to get on the internet to convert C to F for the oven temperature.

Tom – On our beach walk this morning I took a picture of part of an Italian ship that was wrecked off the cost here a number of years ago.  Some days the hull is visible, other days the sea has filled it with sand.

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Little beach friend

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I spent 2.5 hours this morning marking out a 1 km course on the roads of the University of Ruhuna campus.  The two instructors who were assisting me were there ready to go (white enamel paint, paint brush) at 10am as planned.  However, Vini the female instructor who is always late had not come into the office yet and she was the only one who had a key to get the 100 meter measuring tape.  H.R. had to hire a Tuk-Tuk to go get her!  As a result we didn’t start until 10:30am.

I had also asked them to bring a broom to sweep (clean) the road before we applied the paint.  Well, brooms are the province of the cleaning ladies.  They are the ones who must use the brooms.  So, one had to accompany us to sweep the asphalt before painting our lines and numbers.  Then the other cleaning ladies came to get her for lunch at noon and she then, very reluctantly, gave up custody of her broom for the last half hour of our work.

I tried to make the course as flat as possible on a very hilly campus.  But when we got to the 900 meter mark the last 100 meters was up a steep hill!  We did mark the course to one kilometer at the top of the hill (entrance to the Botany building) but then also instituted a Plan B by going back to one of our turns and marking off an additional 50 meter toward the front gate of campus.  That way an individual could avoid the final hill by doing the round trip distance of 100 meters toward the front gate.

By the way, this is a secure? (I think it would be easy to bypass these guards) campus.  You must pass through a security gate/fence with guards to get onto the road into campus.  A few days ago they checked the bottom of my car with mirrors for bombs.

After shopping with Helen in the afternoon I went back into the office at 5pm to use the internet connection in my office.  When I finished my “must do” work, and also because the mosquitoes were eating me alive, I left the office at 7pm.  When I turned out my light – it was totally dark!  I could not see my hand in front of my face.  I had to feel my way down three walkways and two sets of stairs to get to the car which was barely visible in the parking lot – energy conservation!

Mosquitoes (and other insects) – these buggers are something else!  They are lighter and faster than the fat/slow mosquitoes in Ohio.  Kind of like a comparison of Sri Lankans to Ohioans.  You cannot tell when they are biting you unless you actually see them on your body!  When you do see them and go to smack them, nine times out of ten they can avoid your blow!  Helen and I have about 50 bites each just on our legs and they last for days!  We started taking our malaria pills again; we haven’t been taking them for a month because we were told they were not needed in this area. One of the main problems could be our fresh water pond.

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Walking Class and Dinner with Germans

February 12, 2008

Helen – Tom had his usual busy Tuesday with the instructor’s morning class.  He really enjoys them but can never finish a planned lesson because they always stray from topic, plus he has to go slower just for them to understand him.  I did laundry (remembered the drain hose this time!!), washed bathrooms, took a quick swim, showered and had lunch ready by 11:45 because we had to go back to school for our afternoon classes.  Tom’s athletic student weight training class is going well and he has an average attendance of 20 plus the two male instructors who are learning how to teach this course.  I was a little hesitant about my attendance and decided that if the students didn’t show this time I would cancel the course and do a theory session instead for the instructors.

Class begins at 4:15 and I waited until 4:30 then I left with the two instructors Kanthi and Vini (Gnana wasn’t feeling well) explaining that they didn’t need me to lead them in walking and I could give them the material in a lecture.  We began our trek and walked at a medium pace while I lectured the lesson for that day.  It didn’t seem practical to lecture in the gym and then walk.  After one lap around campus we get back to near the gym and were taking pulses when four students ran to meet us.  They get out of class at 4 and have to run back to the hostels (I think they mean dorms) to change their clothes.  They continued walking with us.  I was so glad that they came that I said I would continue the class as planned with the smaller number and I would also start the class at 4:30 to accommodate their schedules.  The first day I had 17, but many were business management majors and could not make the time/days the class was scheduled.  So for whatever other reasons, I am down to three instructors and four students, these girls were the fastest walkers (14-14:20 minute mile) in the class and are really interested.

A note here about the facility, I understand that Ruhuna University was built about 25 yrs. ago…about the time the new gym was constructed at Wittenberg.  Though the gym floor space is good consisting of one full basketball court, three badminton courts, and two volleyball courts, all superimposed on each other, it is dark and dreary.  I mentioned earlier that it was the only space big enough to accommodate the large number of students taking exams and therefore, athletic/gym classes have to be cancelled during these times.  The locker rooms are really awful.  The three sinks are dirty, leaky, and partially functioning.  The next area is the three toilet stalls with no paper and water hoses for cleaning yourself and wet floors.  I think the most surprising was the three private showers…I don’t know how this compares to the men’s side but I know that I won’t even wash my hands on the girls side.

It was nice knowing that we were going out for dinner, so we rushed home to shower and then walked over to the Reggae “Uprising” bar/restaurant.  We were joined by three Germans who are building a beachfront house near ours.  They bought the property 4 years ago and this is the final construction year, hoping to complete it by April.  The woman’s name is Hiki, her father is Otto, and they brought an electrician, Robert, from Germany for three months to wire the house.  They wanted to be sure that it was done correctly.  She owns a roofing company in Nuremberg and they close shop from January-March because of the weather.  She figures she can spend three months per year here and do the paperwork via the computer; her father meanwhile plans on staying here 6 months.  After our stealing incident, she told her workers that Robert was installing a surveillance system around her house (he isn’t) so that if anyone thought of breaking in they would be filmed and therefore apprehended!

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Dinner was very good even though the owner had a problem that day.  They delivered the concrete blocks for the second story addition to his home and he had to work on that.  He was running behind and when we arrived, Hiki was helping him with the final touches.  He is an interesting man.  We don’t know what happened to his wife, but he is raising his two daughters, one in high school and the other junior high, alone.  There was also an older woman there (mother/mother-in-law?).  He grilled fish for us and chicken for the Germans.  We also had a huge vegetable platter consisting of sweet potatoes, beets, carrots, cabbage, and green beans.  Then there was a green salad and an angel hair pasta salad.  We all drank beer and after one glass my eyes were drooping.  The Germans were laughing and telling tales of other nights spent at this bar, they come most every night because there is no other place to go and they enjoy the music.  One night there was a very large black scorpion on the table, we asked them several times how big and their hands estimated that it was the size of a dinner plate.  Another time there was a million leg crawler about nine inches long which is highly poisonous.  They took a video of a large lizard grabbing it and then swallowing it whole.  YEP, pretty gross!!

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Final Cow Saga and Paradise Lost?

February 11, 2008

Helen – I don’t know about you, but I am confused with my own diary…mainly because Tom has to edit it and then I never know where I left off (in fact, I had begun #8 with this paragraph and you know who edited).  This could be another reason why you get more than one copy of something (like  #7 since I wrote it once and then added to it, the first copy was sent out by me, the addition (about the cow) was sent to the blog…but because you know us so well…you know what to expect and I am sure you will bear with us.  I am also sure that Tom and I will eventually be able to work together before this trip is over and the blog should help tremendously. 

Did I mention that I have been trash picking at our curbside???  This is no small accomplishment because you wouldn’t believe what is at curbside after the dogs and other animals have gone through it.  However, I did manage to rescue some clay flower pots which I had to boil in hot water and Clorox to get them clean and now I use them for vegetable containers on my window sill.  I had them stacked outside the front door in the driveway and the care keeper moved them under some bushes…I guess he wasn’t too impressed with my find. 

Final cow saga (I hope). Sharon (friend from Oregon) said I should have titled the cow episode, “…and a cow jumped over Helen.”  I wish that I had thought of that!!  I have finally had it with the cows especially after the mama incident and the stacked poop in my garden area.  It seemed that I just could not get it across to anyone including the owner (whom we finally met this past weekend) that the cows could stay if someone would pick up daily and remove said product from our yard so we didn’t smell like a dairy.  So this morning, it was laundry day and the cows were pooping under my clothesline, I moved the cows over to the owner’s yard across the road where they are staying for a few days.  In fact, not only did I move the cows, but I also took over several buckets of poop – in case they wanted it for fertilizer.  I thought that was the end of it!!  That night the owner came over one more time before returning to Colombo to go over the ground keeping duties and security.  We talked about the cow incident one more time.  He said that Leela came over in the afternoon and removed the leaves and poop.  He  laughed about the cows and said; ” You know that they don’t belong to us.  A man up the road asked if they could graze in my yards because we had so much grass.  He is a poor man with three children and needs the milk.”  I’m thinking “oops!!”  But the cows were still in his yard this morning so I don’t feel like such a bad person after all.  Why didn’t someone think about the owner picking up the poop in exchange for the grazing??? 

Well, I guess that I got myself pretty worked up with the cows because when I loaded the washer, I forgot to attach the drain hose to the PVC pipe to empty outside and flooded that area!!  I was down at the beach cleaning up and Tom was in the office area working with the blog pictures. 

Paradise Lost?– I never would have believed that we could or would become disillusioned with our beach.  After several heavy rainfalls last week, we noticed lots of garbage (broken plastics, hospital refuse, shoes, tooth brushes just to mention a few) piled on the beach during our morning walk.  When we first arrived, we thought it was messy people (don’t we wish!) but no, it has to do with the current flow from the big river in the center of town close to the hospital and dump.  They dump into the river which empties into the ocean and then the current, especially during storms, brings it down to our beach.    Crocodiles love the hospital wastes; in fact there was a croc on our beach before we came.  He died several days later because of the salt water.   When we visited other beaches we did not find the trash that is on ours.  Also the sand has a black soot worked into it which we think is oil.  Yesterday morning we noticed yellow foam and big bubbles at one end of the beach.  Thinking it was also something disagreeable, I didn’t want to swim in that area; though today it moved in front of our house.  This morning I borrowed a wheelbarrow (really rough compared to ours) from a neighbor (with dreadlocks and owner of a small bar/restaurant next to the hotel) and cleaned our section of the beach.  Funny how all the men watched me with interest as I struggled up the hilly road but didn’t offer any assistance.  Tom took several photos of the garbage on the beach which is such a contrast to our previous photos.

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Tom said I was in a foul mood all day. When he came home for lunch I decided to return to the university with him in hopes of sending this diary out.  Wasn’t to be!!  It took me two hours to go through the email and about 3:30, when I began to write the diary on Microsoft Word (I learned not to write directly on email because when the power goes out I lose everything), I had the first three paragraphs done when the power went out for the first time.  Luckily, most of it was saved, so I retrieved it and continued saving as I wrote.  The power went out again at least three more time in a matter of a few minutes.  It takes quite some time to reboot the computer and get back to the document.  Finally, I was getting pretty upset and decided to send what I had to Tom’s email so I could work on it at home.  I could not even get to the point of copying the message before it crashed again.  After three more tries, I went over to his office which is in another building…angry and frustrated.  Kanthi, has an office next to Tom’s, heard me and came to my rescue.  She went back to the lab with me and copied the document on her flash stick and transferred it to Tom’s computer.  I was ready to go home.  Tom had a meeting with the landlord while I worked on the diary and then he took me out for dinner to a fast food place downtown where we can point to our three curry choices and rice.  Out total bill including a coke was less than $2.

Our granddaughter, Leva – Here is a picture added by our daughter Stacy from their Florida trip –

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Surf Fishing and Sand Crab

February 10, 2008

Helen – Tom went to his office and I was left on my own…the electricity went out right after breakfast and stayed off until about 5:30pm.  What to do??  I finished up the cross stitch work for “Seasons Greetings” and then cleaned shells which I collected last weekend and put them out to dry.  What will I do with them…who knows, but they keep me occupied!!  I cooked dinner on the two burner gas stove and thanked heaven we didn’t have an electric stove.

Villagers surf fishing

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Sand crab

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