Archive for February, 2008

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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.

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A local fisherman gave us a brief summary of the tsunami

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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

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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!      

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$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.

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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. 

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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.

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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

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Catholic

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Hindu

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

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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!!

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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!

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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.