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Matara, Batiks and Fish Dinner

March 2, 2008

Tom – Started the day with our standard 2.5 mile beach walk, breakfast on the front patio watching the ocean and then went to the largest temple in Matara.  It is the Weherahena Temple with a six story Buddha built sometime after 1900.  In the 1960’s a six story building (really, decorated walkways) was built around the statue. 

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There are also many decorated corridors (tunnels) cut through the rock underground – hiding places for the monks during the Portuguese occupation.  Our guide (paid by donation) stated that there were over 20,000 individual paintings decorating the various passageways, primarily scenes from the lives of the Buddha.  

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Another interesting fact is that the original Bodhi Tree (tree under which Buddha achieved enlightenment) is on the border between India and Nepal.  A cutting from that tree was brought to Sri Lanka in the third century BC and planted in Anuradhapura when the Sri Lankan king was converted to Buddhism.  The tree in the Weherahena Temple yard is a cutting from this tree. Today it is very large and has a great branch system spread above ground yet the root system is very small and the tunnels are built around this root system.  They consider this to be a miracle.  Buddha was also known to have 32 body parts which were different from the normal person.  Several of these include the long looped earlobes, the circle of hair on his forehead between the eyebrows, lotus flower imprints on the palms and soles of his feet, and three folds in the neck.

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Afterwards we went downtown to tour the Star Fort that was constructed by the Dutch in 1763 (before the U.S. revolution!).  It is quite small and in the process of being restored (tsunami hit here) but there is not much to see beyond the entrance, drawbridge, small courtyard and a few artifacts. 

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The next stop was Jez Look Batiks run by a Muslim woman (also the artist).  We were shown the process of batik making and then her showroom.  She had many interesting pieces and we will likely go back before we leave Matara.

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We bought some essentials from Cargills Food City, four fish from the fish store next to the river (he gutted them for us), three pottery pieces along the road, and then headed home for lunch. 

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After lunch we tried snorkeling at a small local beach just west of Matara called Polhena.  We were the only whites there and Helen really stuck out because she was the only woman with a bathing suit.  The local women who do go in the water here go in fully clothed.  Do you remember the song “Teeny Weeny Yellow Pokka Dot Bikini?”  Well, that’s what it was like.

 A man named Nishantha from Blue Corals Dive, Eat, Sleep approached us and asked if we would like a guide for our snorkeling, he would provide the fins (we already had some cheap masks and snorkels) and guide service for 500 rupees (about $5).  We said sure!  The coral close to shore was all dead so we had to swim out to the breakers.  The light wasn’t good because it was cloudy but we did get to see some live coral as well as numerous fish, sea cucumbers, sea urchins, etc.  Helen didn’t like her mask/snorkel, being some distance from shore and touching the coral – so we headed back after half an hour. 

Our guide described how he was snorkeling with two German women when the tsunami hit.  All survived including his family but his house was destroyed, a common story here.  Everywhere we stop near shore people come out of the woodwork asking for money because they lost x, y and z to the tsunami.  It is depressing, especially when mothers tell their children to run and ask as soon as they see we are foreigners.

After returning home, Helen built a fire pit with bricks in our yard and lit some coconut shells she had gotten from a neighbor to grill our fish for dinner.  I must admit I was skeptical about the process and results but both turned out great.  We each ate a fish and the other two were de-boned and put away for a meal tomorrow.

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Helen – Never say die!!!  I have wanted to grill fish since we arrived in Matara and there was always something in the way.  No charcoal, no grill; I had dreams of digging a hole on the beach and using whatever available wood was there to fill a fire pit…that really wasn’t practical!  Luke, the hotel owner, said use the bricks out in the road and make a pit.  Then use coconut shells, the inner hard shells, for the fuel.  It should take about 20 minutes to get the coals you will need.  Took lots longer because I couldn’t get the fire started…the shells are really hard.  So I reorganized the shells with paper, leaves, and fibers from palm leaves plus two pieces of charred wood from a past fire and presto I got it to catch and then it was just a matter of time.  Tom watched the fire and grilled the fish while I fried the potatoes and made a salad…mmmmm, it was really yummy!!!

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