<![CDATA[Travels With My Daughter - Blog]]>Sun, 29 Jan 2023 19:09:19 +0000Weebly<![CDATA[Crazy Tuktuks, Beautiful Sunsets, and Leaving Negombo]]>Wed, 10 Aug 2022 15:23:55 GMThttp://golfers.ie/travelswithmydaughter/crazy-tuktuks-beautiful-sunsets-and-leaving-negombo
Onward to Negombo and our last pit stop in Sri Lanka. We planned this as a rest stop of five days before flying to Thailand. Our agenda was rest, restaurants, and beach sunsets. We had hired a lovely apartment with a small kitchen so that we could cook for ourselves for a change. I never thought I would miss the simplicity of just cooking simple food to our own taste and not having to compromise to other cultural cuisines but I did. Negombo is on the coast about thirty minutes drive to the airport. A nice seaside resort town. Our apartment was down a laneway just off the main street. When we arrived we were greeted by a large locked wooden gate and although we knocked repeatedly we could not get anyone’s attention. Our driver was very patient and waited while we called the owner.

After a few minutes the owner arrived and both he and the driver carried our bags up to the third floor. It was a great little apartment with a balcony that nestled in the boughs of a tree and overlooked the street. We ventured out on the first evening to get the lie of the land and find a place to eat. We made our way to the main street and after a short walk we came upon the bars and restaurants. A number of establishments had not reopened after covid, I guess they were unable to ride out the storm (no covid payments here). But there were still many places open and they served every cuisine you could want but all I wanted was a steak. We hadn’t realised that Sri Lanka was in such dire straits, economically until after we had left but you could feel a quiet desperation in the air. Everyone was desperate to get our money. Don’t get me wrong no one was trying to steal from us but there were so few tourist that everyone from tuk tuk drivers to restaurant owners were aggressively vying for our business. So we find ourselves in a very up beat restaurant with the type of food I was looking for, Róisín would eat anything and enjoyed new food experiences but not me. Our food had just been placed on the table in front of us when there was a power cut and we found ourselves in total darkness.

Luckily, this establishment had a generator, not common as you may remember from our visit to Fort Galle, candles were brought to the tables to cast light on our fare during that power cut. I had googled to see why there were so many outages and discovered that the country was zoned for power cuts at different times in the day or evening. This place was a bar restaurant and I could imagine it would have been queues at the door to get a seat then but now there was just a handful of tourists there. Róisín and I had taken a table upstairs by the balcony that over looked the floor below. Of the 20 or so tables only two were occupied. Róisín and I at one and a group of four French tourists sat at another. Below we could see an English couple and in a far corner a small group of Irish, the staff outnumbered the customers We finished our meal and strolled slowly back to our accommodation.

Early the next morning we located a shop nearby and bought a few supplies for the apartment, snacks and lunch we would eat in and venture out in the evenings for our dinner. I was very surprised by the price of just basics groceries, milk, bread, eggs were comparable to European prices it was working out more expensive to eat in rather than out and it was getting harder to haggle with tuk tuk drivers as the price of petrol was raising daily. Desperation hung in the air and everyone seemed hungry for our money just short of aggression. This part of our trip was in February 2022, just a month or so before the riots started. I had heard of hyper inflation but reading about it and seeing it play out really brings home its full impact. We felt like voyeurs in someone else’s tragedy and could only justify our presents to ourselves by knowing we were at the least bringing in much needed foreign currency. The people seemed positively defeated and hopeless. We didn't venture out much other than to stroll on the beach at sunset and find a nice place to dine each evening.

Sunset on Negombo Beach
On our final evening we did manage to find a very lively bar/restaurant. It was run by a very friendly English man who had relocated to Sri Lanka 20 years ago and set up his business. As a side line he also ran a dog rescue where most of his profits from the bar went at this time, he told us he had 49 dogs living in his home. On my travels through India and Sri Lanka dogs were very low down the pecking order, the vast majority being strays. You would see them on dumps or rummaging through bins only rarely did you see one attached to an owner. Besides being dirty they mostly seemed in good health but for those that became sick it was a whole other story. I wont describe the state of them because just remembering them is stomach turning but these were the dogs this man was helping and for that he has my admiration. He had only reopened that week and had pulled out all the stops. Pre-covid, I imagined, this bar would have had queues around the corner or perhaps even invitation only, it had everything. Live music, great food, very professional staff, and a wall of those pedicure fish. The fish tanks stood on the ground and ran in a semicircle just to the side of the bar. Low benches straddled the edge of the tanks so that patrons of the bar, if so inspired, could have their little drinky-winks while the tiny fish feasted. The benches could hold approximately 12 people very comfortably. I did try to give it a go but never got further than dipping my toes in the water before rapidly removing them, no fish came close. Roisin gave it a go as did others. It was so funny watching the fish swarming toward the new entrants to the fish tanks. Lords Restaurant Complex was the liveliest bar on this strip and like ourselves it seemed to have drawn every tourist in the district all eager to party and have fun. You entered from the street down a very long hallway before arriving at the club, it was utterly removed from the world outside and remenistant of clubs and bars you would encounter in any of the Spanish resorts or notorious Ibiza. This was the closest to holiday vibe I had encountered since leaving home. Easy atmosphere and friendly people and on that note big HELLO to Angela! A lovely English lady who we ended up chatting with for a time before Róisín and I called it a night and headed home.

Bar in Negombo

We had booked our accommodation for a day more than we needed as our flight wasn’t leaving until midnight. The owner of the apartments and now our driver picked us up at 8 pm that evening and deposited us at the airport in plenty of time to get our flight. Check in opened at 9 pm and we were about sixth in line. Unbelievably, we stood for the best part of an hour while those in front tried to argue the most bizarre items on to the plane. A woman who had about six small children and a 35 kg bag for each of them refused to accept that the children didn’t have the same baggage allowance as her adult ticket allowed. A man with a Buddha statute equal to the size of a 35 kg bag and a bag of his father's ashes stood his ground until the check-in staff gave in and let him pass. People with cardboard boxes held together with string lobbed them into check-in. After an hour it was our turn. We showed our phones with the PCR test and flight details to the attendant who asked us for a hard copy. It was unbelievable especially after the stuff I had just witnessed being let through. Moreover, this was Covid so no other airport was accepting paper copies of anything. No point in arguing we had to wander the airport looking for some way of printing our papers. The problem was we had no cash and no way of getting to an ATM which was on the other side of the security we had past through coming in. I was fit to cry. Róisín did manage to convince the bag wrapping people to print our papers and take a card payment but by the time that was done we were now at the back of the queu. It was eleven thirty by the time we got back to the check-in desk with the same mean faced sullen women who had sent us off two hours previously. She turns the papers over. Read every detail. Asked totally unnecessary questions which included where we were staying in Thailand. I was now really fed up and her supervisor sitting at the next counter was listening to our conversation. When she asked where we were staying, I told her it was none of her business as she could clearly see from the papers she had in her hand we had our thai visas. The supervisor instructed her to print the boarding passes and let us go. It was now 11.45 our flight was leaving in fifteen minutes, so we ran. When we got to the next floor, we had to pass through another security check I really thought this flight was going without us but with minutes to spare we arrive at our gate and board the plane. Sri Lanka I will see you again hopefully in better times. On to Phuket!

<![CDATA[A Look into Spectacular Ancient City Of Anuradhapura Sri Lanka]]>Thu, 07 Jul 2022 10:45:51 GMThttp://golfers.ie/travelswithmydaughter/a-look-into-spectacular-ancient-city-of-anuradhapura-sri-lanka
Leaving Sigiriya
We left our Sigiriya hotel at check out time to make the one and a half hour journey to Anuradhapura, a vast area of religious ruins and artefacts stretching over 35 miles. I will never understand Róisín’s fascination with old temples and monasteries, I can safely say they wouldn’t be on my bucket list. But there you go we are back to the hijacking of Róisín’s trip so I will do as I am told. We had organised our driver through a tuk tuk driver we had met the previous evening. He assured us that his boss had a beautiful car, air-conditioned and good price was agreed. It was a lovely car no doubt but I got the distinct impression that this was the bosses son and he was filling in because his father had another engagement but didn't want to lose the fare.

He seemed just about legal age to drive and for what ever reason the boss couldn’t be there this young lad was bent on making an impression and not with us but with his father/boss. We were just in the car when he started taking pictures of us. When asked he said he had been told to do so by his boss. I was feeling generous that day so didn't charge for the promo pictures, just hope my agent doesn’t find out! It was a pleasant enough drive and the time passed quickly. When we eventually arrived to our accommodation I was a little surprised to find it down an alleyway on a back street. It was as if a series of chalets, all in a row, were built in the back garden of someone's house. As we drove along we are looking into the rear of every other residence which at home would be dodgy but here it's what I have gotten used to as normal. The driver turns into the lane way of the house and the first little chalet of five has been assigned to Róisín and myself. This wasn’t five or four star that level of qualification didn't exist in this location. But I was happy to stay as it had the all important cleanliness badge which is the one thing I look for regardless of star rating. We waved our driver off and entered our little room and my god it was clean. The entire room was white. Brilliant, glaring, reflective, white. it was like something from a horror movie where the asylum is snowy, featureless white, and the patients shuffle around in slippers walking into and talking to walls. The ultra white bedroom led into the ultra white bathroom. I would swear that after each residency the owners just repaint the entire room. Anyway we are here for a few days and although the room gave me the heebie jeebies I really couldn’t complain that the place was too clean.

Anuradhapura Town
We organised a tour for the next morning to start at 8:30 pm. Anuradhapura is a town that sits in the middle of the ancient capital of Sri Lanka. Established in the 5th century BCE. That’s the history and you would seriously want to be an archeologist or aspire to be one for this trip as the site covers 35 square acres. So, having booked our guide for the next morning to do death by Sri Lankan ruins we decide it was best to go looking for some place to have dinner before it gets dark. As we walked the back allies my only thought was that we would have to return this way in the dark. At the top of the lane way, we saw a local clinic which always seemed to be packed and as we are still in PCR times I thought to myself ‘we are bound to get Covid passing this place a few times a day'. We found our way to the main road and another cut through a side alley brought us to a restaurant. Róisín always researched the eateries we went to as she knew how fussy I was and this place had exceptional reviews. Outdoor dining with entertainment supplied by swarms of mosquitos. We had no sooner sat down when they started to enjoy our ankles. We weren’t the only ones I could see other guests flapping at their legs to try to ward them off. Citronella candles were brought along but they had little impact on the hungry beggars. We are hardened travellers now so I go nowhere without lashings of mosquito repellent which both Róisín and I liberally apply. So our order is taken by a very jolly little Sri Lankan man who endlessly jokes at every opportunity. He takes our order and heads to the kitchen to place it. While waiting I notice a group of men going into enclosed glass rooms and out of the annoyance of the bugs. When our jolly waiter returned with our food I said “how come you never offered us the rooms over there” indicating where the men were comfortably sitting. He replied by saying “that’s where we keep the monkeys” with his jolly little head rattling on his shoulders. I didn't at first understand what he was saying and thought perhaps he was talking about monkeys. Róisín had a look of horror on her face and it was only then that I noticed the men in the glass house were black and the derogatory remark was directed towards them. I could have made a scene but the moment had passed. We eat our meal with my brain going into overdrive as to why this man thought we might think his remark was funny. When it came time to pay the bill, he arrived with the cheque. I did challenge him on his previous comment and told him I didn't find it in the least bit amusing. He apologised and said he was only joking to which I told him his joke was in very bad taste. They were very happy to take money from these men yet make very insulting remarks, safe to say we would not be returning. We returned to our little ultra white room down the now pitch dark alley. We put on the air-conditioning system and the floor was covered in tiny black specks which at first I thought was dust but turned out to be bugs. We plugged in the mosquito repellent and retired for the night. I have become so totally desensitised to creatures at this stage of our trip sleep came easy.
Two Monkeys at the ruins

Tour of the Ruins
We had a knock on the door at eight the next morning to say our tuk tuk had arrived. We grabbed our bags and headed out. The first stop was the museum to purchase the ticket we needed for our day of exploring. The museum itself was small with a few artefacts displayed explaining highlights of this major site. The ticket cost €35 which was very expensive for these parts of the world and this was only for a day pass. Believe me it was not possible to visit the entire site in one day but at these prices we were going to cover as much ground as possible. The tuk tuk was supposed to bring us to our guide but this guy seemed to be covering all the bases. He directed us to the ticket office. He walked us around the museum. He walked us around the grounds immediately outside the museum and pointed out items of interest. I asked when we were going to meet the guide but he just brushed the question off and said we were going to the temple. We hopped into his tuk tuk again and off we go to the museum. The guide we had booked and paid for then started to message Róisín wondering where we were as he had sent a tuk tuk to our lodgings and was told we had already left. We explained that we were on the way to the temple and that a driver had picked us up. I told the driver we were meeting our guide at the temple in ten minutes still not realising our error. The driver insisted we didn't need a guide as he knew the area and could preform the role of guide for us. I explained again that we had already paid for a guide and that the guide was waiting for us. Well he drove up and down roads at as slow a pace as he could manage without stalling the engine. I then realised that he was doing everything in his power to delay so that the guide we had arranged would get fed up and leave. He then brings us to a different temple and not the one we had arranged to meet our guide at. He kept saying “it's okay, you don’t need a guide I can show you”. He pulled into the car park of the temple and asked us to follow him. At this stage I had had enough and again explained that I had hired a guide. I had paid the guide and I wanted to be delivered to that guide. Still he would not listen up until I said I am not going to pay you. "I don’t care how much you show us you will not be paid stop the bloody tuk tuk and let us out!".
Róisín was still trying to mediate politely with the guy and was telling me to calm down. I got out of the tuk tuk and said to Róisín that I had no intention of paying for this hijack and if she wanted to continue she could go with him and again pointedly said to the driver “I will not pay you”. I think he assumed I was the one with the money so he let us go. My God but it was tough going. We now had no idea where we were and had to ask security for details so that we could get the correct guide to pick us up.

Stupa in Anuradhapura

Our original guide arrived a short while later and as part of his tour included bicycles we had no bicycles or transport of any description as we were so far from the meeting point. We started our tour from here and made our way to the temple. Shoes off, which I cant stand but had no choice. There was some big festival going on so although the temple was huge it was packed and we were obliged to queue on well trodden sand to make our way in. The most interesting thing about this temple was it's bodhi tree. This tree here in Anurahapura, Sri Lanka is said to be a cutting from the tree of enlightenment under which Buddha had his revelationary insights. It was planted in 288 BC and is the oldest living human planted tree. I am still skeptical of the story but I can't say I know what a two and a half thousand year old tree looks like. Its old and the long trailing branches are supported by golden posts and the tree is surrounded by a golden railing but who am I to argue if they say two and a half thousand years old so be it. Our authentic guide had organised a tuk tuk for us while we were in the temple so we now had transport to bring us to the other five million ruins in this vast vast vast archaeological site. Seriously how many stupa does one need to see in a life time. A stupa in a giant dome made of bricks. Its solid through and through. They are the size of a church but solid so you cant even shelter inside. Our guide told us that these shrines to Buddha were not a requirement of Buddhism but something people choose to do to prove their devotion but unnecessary. They looked like a great waste of energy to me and there were hundreds of them. We finished our day and we returned to our hotel. Our tuk tuk driver asked if we would hire him for the next day and he would show us some lesser known sites of the area. We had the driver drop us at a restaurant and with a price agreed about €15 for the day we waved our goodbyes with a see you tomorrow.

Bodhi tree held by Gold Posts

Mihintale Rock

We were collected at around 11:00 am for our journey up the mountains to visit the temple at the top. In the middle of the forest the tuk tuk driver parked the vehicle and pointed us towards the steps to start the ascent upwards. I have to say I found the going tough and was a little ashamed of myself to have given up just a few steps from the top. But as I have said I was not taking my shoes off for anyone. Little old ladies far more advanced in years than I were passing me on the way. Old men purple in the face with exertion also breezed on by but as the old saying goes pride comes before a fall I took my pride and myself to a nearby wall to admire the view and be entrained by the monkeys. On Róisín’s return we made our way back to our driver who brought us through the city and out into the countryside. I have to admit to being a little nervous as it was now getting onto dark and the sun was descending fast. Less traffic was passing us now as he drove along the edge of a lake and then turned down a side road. A little way down he stopped the vehicle and pointed us towards the purple moon raising between two mountains and reflecting off the lake. It was a relief to know that this had been his mission and a fabulous end to our day. All the photoshopping in the world could not have improved this vision and a beautiful conclusion to our Anuradhapura exploration. We would be heading to Negombo next where we rest up for a few days before leaving Sri Lanka.

<![CDATA[The Amazing Journey to Sigiriya Rock Sri Lanka]]>Thu, 23 Jun 2022 09:50:08 GMThttp://golfers.ie/travelswithmydaughter/the-amazing-journey-to-sigiriya-rock-sri-lanka
We were picked up by the hotel driver to be delivered to our next destination. Of the travels we have done in Sri Lanka this is bringing us further into the interior and its looking more rural and beautiful! Rainforest, jungle, the type of environment I have only seen in movies and usually depicted as hostile and uninviting. That has not been my experience. People live here, and the intricate paths and networks link villages and towns. There is no need for machetes to cut your way through the jungle growth. We drove along admiring the views. Just about twenty minutes out from our new hotel our driver asked if we would like to stop at the Dambulla temple which had a 160 meter tall gold Buddha.

He sits with his back to the mountain, surveying the countryside from the lotus position, legs knotted and palms resting with fingers posed in an abstract imitation of a lotus flower. That pose we have all come to know and admire but mostly can't do, gifted to only the most flexible among us. This Buddha is gold from his toenails to the last little snail on his head. Another revelation, what I have always thought to be tight little curls are actually snails. Here’s the story; At his birth it had been predicted that he would either become a great king or a great holy man. Naturally his father wanting to keep the family dynasty going decided that he would protect the child from any knowledge of everyday suffering, sickness, imperfection or inequality. The child grew up in this very cosseted world but at the age of 29 he decided his life was boring and meaningless. He left the palace late at night and against his fathers wishes to wonder out and see the world. He saw for the first time an old person, a sick person a dead person and a holy man all of which were revelations to him as he had never encountered these elements of life before. I agree its a stretch I assume his father had aged over the years so he either had a great plastic surgeon or he veiled himself all of the time. But lets be honest, here christians have and still believe stranger things so I will put my cynic back in the box. These were named the four sights of Buddha and the final one being the holy man was the most inspirational for him. So Buddha set about his search for understanding, I think, the human condition. So he abandoned his wife and young son...not very holy!

He became a holy man. I have to say, has there ever been a time when a woman could abandon her children and not have to hide herself away? Anyhow, he became a holy man and learned the way of a holy man. He learned yoga and meditation to the level of a teacher. He fasted to understand suffering but decided starving to death would be of no use to anyone. He became a bit of a philosopher and sat around thinking great thoughts. The final achievement was the elusive ‘Enlightenment’. He sat under a Bodhi tree to meditate. He did not move but people brought him food and drink just enough to stay alive while on his journey of enlightenment. This is where the creatures come into the story. During his fasting the heavens opened and for seven days a deluge of rain came down. A cobra came behind Buddha and opened up its fanned head leaning over Buddha to protect him from the rain. Next came the scorching sun, this time 108 snails crawled up onto Buddha’s head. Their bodies and their slimy trail protected Buddha’s head from the sun. The snails apparently had realised that as Buddha sat in the sun trying to achieve the ultimate enlightenment the heat would become a distraction. So selflessly they crawled up onto his head so his journey would not be interrupted. This brings about today's traditional image of Buddha with the 108 snails on his head. All the sails died for the cause of Buddha’s enlightenment. I have to say I do love this aspect of Buddhism where every creature has a place and respect. They don’t appear in stories as inferior to man but we all have a place and a value. I can hear you Veronica “she’s losing it, talking snails!” Ha ha, but I know you love me.

Giant Golden Buddha in Dambulla Temple

Róisín and I left the taxi to climb the hill to the Buddha. Well Róisín climbed the hill, I couldn’t bare the thought of taking off my shoes to go into this or any other temple. The ground tends to be very rough and my soft lazy feet can't take it so I walk like someone on hot coals. Not a good look and reminiscent of every soft colonist depicted in the ‘The Jewel in the Crown’ and other such populist dramas. Not an image I want to inhabit. So Róisín goes to the temple at the top of the hill while I find my way, with shoes on, to the restrooms. No rest here, it was grim. There must have been about a hundred cubicles and some with doors hanging off. Clearly, per Covid, this place drew a big crowd. Unfortunately for me there were no western toilets, only the now very familiar hole in the floor and a grubby bucket full of water and a jug standing beside it. I can only imaging what the bucket was for but I can tell you for certain that I had no intention of touching it. Luckily my training as a mother had trained me for every eventuality and I had wipes and tissues the full shabang to be self sufficient. The sinks were filthy so although etiquette may require hand washing after using such facilities I figured the sinks were likely to make my hands dirtier. Covid had equipped every traveller with alcohol gel so hygiene standards were maintained. No need to think twice about shaking my hand but I’m only speaking for myself, I'll leave that little nugget develop in the back of your mind. Once planted you’ll never pull that weed out, only messing with you...or am I!

This is a major tourist attraction and it still is an active temple. I don’t think I will ever get used to being allowed to wander around such sights while people are praying and allowed to take pictures as if observing aliens from another planet. I'm confident if tourists did that at home they would be told where to go with the addition of expletives even on those sacred hallowed grounds. I have asked many people if the locals mind when tourist take photos while they are praying and without exception I have been told they don’t mind at all. Personally I think they are just too polite to say "Eff off". Anyhow I don’t like it and I don’t do it.

Sigiriya Rock

Róisín and I return to the car and are promptly brought to our hotel. It's a beautiful hotel in a kind of post colonial style with verandas outside every door. The view from our room looks directly onto Sigiriya rock, another of Róisín’s bucket list items. I should say I don’t have a bucket list, I’m happy with all the little treasures that come my way, and but for Róisín I wouldn’t be here now and would have no understanding of what I was missing. There is an elephant that walks up and down the road all day giving rides to tourists. I half hope they will fall off as clearly the animal is miserable. A man with a hook shouts and prods the elephant along with paying customers on top. I have to wonder at how thick some people are. They clearly see this animal is not enjoying it's work but simply don’t care. As long as tourists keep paying, the elephant will have to plod up and down this road. Daily we see tribes of monkeys run along the electricity poles on the road and sometimes we can hear them on the roof of our bungalow. I love them, don’t want to pet them or get too close but I do love watching them. The plus side of taking this trip while Covid is still an issue is unhindered access to all major attractions. The down side is that businesses are desperate for tourists to return en masse. We are the only guests in this hotel yet they pull out all the stops and look after our every need.

Stairs leading to the top of Sigiriya

The only thing happening in this area was the big rock. It is the ruins of an ancient palace which sat on top of the rock. It stands 200 meters tall and has a 360 degree panoramic view out over the countryside. Its surrounded by old monasteries dating back to the 5th century BC and with gardens and temples included. Our hotel is just at the entrance path and here the tuk tuks wait to catch a fare. We didn't realise how long it would take to get to the rock so we refused all offers of a lift. We walked the dirt track for about half a mile before we came to the check point and the payment desk. It cost $25 each to get in which is a lot in these parts. After the entrance there was more walking but it was now through the old gardens. It wasn’t difficult to imagine what it was like in its heyday. Acres of raised beds and steps leading onto more raised beds before the ascent onto the rock. As we were about to go up I discovered once that decision was made there was no turning back. I very much doubted if I would be able to make it to the top and discovering that the return was on a different route I coward out letting Róisín go on her own. I found a shady spot under a tree to sit and wait.

After a bug fell from the tree and down the back of my shirt to bite me I decided perhaps it would be best to make the journey, anything was better than being eaten by bugs. I started up the steps taking breaks at each platform before venturing to the next flight of steps. I got about quarter of the way when the steps became like rope ladders clinging to the face of the rock. That was enough for me so I made a handy exit and was directed to a side series of steps by a guard. It was okay to start with but near the bottom there were two staircases with deep steps of unequal height and no hand rail. I thank the Gods that I didn't tip head over heels making that descent but happily on got to the bottom uninjured. There was a collection of stalls selling all kinds of souvenirs and trinkets. I declined all enticements and was left alone, quiet and quickly. There was an air of hopelessness about the place as if the people didn't have the energy to be refused by any more tourists. I made my way to the on site museum and text Róisín to meet me there, it was a joy to get out of the heat. She wasn’t long behind me which will give an indication as to how slowly I took those steps. She recounted with excitement how she nearly turned back when it came to the steps that were hammered into the side of the rock with no other support. She was on the verge of tears when she met another group of people who asked where her group was and admitting it was just her they gave her endless amounts of encouragement. She said at one point she imagined telling me that she wasn’t brave enough to do the floating steps and she imagined me saying “what an eejit to come so close and not finish it”. I would not have said that. Róisín has respected my fears of train tracks, caves to name a few, and she would always take the long way around just to address my issues. The miracle here is that she didn't cut ties weeks ago but instead patiently put up with my slow pace and any other foibles I hooked onto to hinder our progress. Thanks Róisín don’t think it went unnoticed but perhaps I didn't tell you often enough, love you darling and will never forget our time together, it's been magical.
The top of Sigiriya

We moved very slowly through the museum not wishing to complete it too soon and end up out in the belting sun. When we had seen our fill and security guards following our every move (I think they thought we might have been hovering so as to sneak any some antiquities) we quickly left the building and made our way out of the park. It started to pour rain and even sheltering under a tree did nothing to stop us getting drowned so we gave up on that and kept walking. We didn't care, well used to rain and would dry off quickly in this heat. Down the long path and out onto the road we went, everyone except the two Irish ladies were sheltering and were greeted with looks of astonishment as we strolled through the rain. It was really very cooling and we figured we could dry off at the hotel when we got there. We pass through the town having started our expedition at the opposite end. We had now done a full circle. We happened upon the field where the elephant was kept while not working and no one wanted to be on the elephant in the rain. She was on the banks of the river clearly having a grand old time sucking up the water with her trunk and flicking it either side and over the top. We stayed a while and chatted with her before moving on. We would be gone in the morning and would not see her again. But her plodding up and down on the road outside my hotel would be a lingering and not a pleasant memory.
Our Beautiful Elephant Friend playing with a Sponge
<![CDATA[The Amazing Blue Train to Kandy Sri Lanka]]>Sun, 12 Jun 2022 06:30:43 GMThttp://golfers.ie/travelswithmydaughter/the-amazing-blue-train-to-kandy-sri-lanka
We rose bright and early. Well actually...not bright, it was pitch black but the sun was raising over the mountains so the 5:30 am rise to catch a train had some benefits, still doubting the crowds we would have to fight off for a sit. I had arranged the tuk tuk the previous evening with the man who had dropped us back to our accommodation. We had agreed a fare and I promised him an additional 1000 LKR (approximately €3) if he got to the hotel on time. I knew the weight of those bags so I thought it only fair. Sure enough he was there at the door of the hotel (down the hundred steps) on the dot of 5:30 am. I was so impressed at how cheery he was at this hour in the morning and the smile never faltered even on seeing my giant bag.

Róisín hanging out the train door
He grabbed it by the handle and skipped up the steps. Róisín, the bags, and the driver were waiting patiently for me to arrive. Down the hill we went and arrived at the train station just in time to stand on the platform for an hour. The driver, still smiling, unloaded our bags and was shocked and genuinely delighted when I gave him the additional money as promised. We bought our tickets and made our way to the platform to stand and wait with the other 20 tourists who had also been told to beat rush for the 6:30 am train which didn't arrive until 7:30 am. Luckily two big, beautiful, young German lads saw that Róisín and I were struggling with the cases and hauled them up for us.

My only thought at that moment was their parents must be very proud and God I’m getting old. But yes a credit to your country and your parents. We blocked the passageway with the bags until other kind passengers show us where to store our luggage. Luckily, because of our 5:00 am start and the fact that there were no crowds we were able to find window seats. I made myself very comfortable and as the train pulled out of the station on this epic journey up over the tops of the mountains I looked out the window and promptly fell asleep. That apparently is the only picture Róisín took of me while by contrast she took pictures of herself hanging out of the train re-enacting every instagrammer to pass this way. I’m allowing this picture because I feel it has a Monty python vibe about it and the caption should read “Its nice but!”. I did periodically wake to see women in their beautiful sarees on the plantations picking tea.
Myself fast asleep on the scenic train journey

Yes it was beautiful, siren and all those other adjectives used to romanticise hard work, low pay and subsistence living but it was also timeless, set beside a picture from 1822 to 2022 and in Kodachrome they could not be told apart. The views from the top of this mountain range was spectacular. After 6 hours we arrived in Kandy, into the hustle and bustle of a major city. We hobbled towards the exit with the cumbersome suit cases. I bought that case in India where your driver would fight you to the ground to take your bags. Moreover, he would feel highly insulted if you refused to let him carry your bags as if implying you thought he might take off cross country with it. I’m in a different country now and this bag will not be lifted off the ground until I actually standing at the rear of the vehicle. We are approached by about 10 drivers all hungry for our business. I had checked the price and the location and I knew we were being overcharged and literally being taken for a ride longer than needed to justify the cost. But I was too tired and just wanted to get to the hotel. We chatted and exchanged pleasantries as we went. The driver asked if we intended to do any tours while in the city and of course I told him I was planning to do loads. Oh but he was delighted and as he dropped us to the hotel he gave us his card and insisted we call him later to confirm pickup for the following morning. Remember I was just chatting, I, at no point agreed he would be our driver. If he had quoted a fair price at the station then the business would have been his. He was very well paid for this little trip but in the memorable words of the famous orator George Bush jr “fool me once, mea culpa". He text later and was thanked and told that we were just going to make our own way around the city.
The Blue Train to Kandy crawling through tea plantations in the mountains
The Hotel Casamara was lovely but as was becoming very familiar on our travels it had very few guests and most facilities were not open. But the service was faultless and everyone did their best to ensure we had whatever we needed. The room was in need of a refresh but still it was lovely and comfortable with a small french balcony and a view onto the streets below. All was fine until it came time to sleep and I thought it best to shut the window to ease the sound of the traffic on the road below. It was at that point that I realised that the windows were closed but its too late now to go changing rooms. Róisín hates to complain but I knew I'd lose my reason if I had to listen to that for the next few days. So after breakfast the next morning I put in my request. “No problem mam, but you won;t have a view”. Not to say we didn't have a window we did have a big picture window which looked out over some rusting corrugated rooves and onto bare block walls on the buildings opposite. I thought to myself they could do with a course in block laying here and as was said to me by an english man, I refuse to say gentleman because he wasn’t, my country men made great navies and it wasn’t meant as a compliment but perhaps he had a point when I looked at this. To qualify, everywhere has ugly, rude people but thankfully I have met more great than crap on this journey and yes Angela Davis you are among the best! We stayed within the room, really it made for interesting viewing with the cats prowling the rooftop and the locals hanging out washing, authentic and that’s what we tourists claim to be looking for keep the bugs i'Il take the rest!
View from inside the train door

We went wandering around the streets and made our way to the temple which was just around the corner from our hotel. Kandy has a beautiful botanical garden that has to be seen to be believed, so having googled its location we went looking for a tuk tuk. I had checked the price on Grab (asian Uber app) so had a good idea of what I should be paying but rather than book on the app I always prefer to ask the closest driver to me. Our hunt began at the gates of the temple and as we clearly looked like tourists fresh off the boat and clueless, the first guy quotes a ridiculous price which was laughed at and declined. So we wandered down some side streets and put some distance between the temple and ourselves. I had noticed of late if in one of the taxi locations a price was quoted no other driver dared take the fare for less didn't matter how desperate they looked. So wandering a few streets away came upon a different taxi rank and being asked where we want to go, they also said what I was prepared to pay. The owner nodded agreement and called a young driver over to man the vehicle. He was lovely and very friendly and as we left the city on the journey to the gardens he pulls in at the side of the road to negotiate a tour. I took no offense at his actions but understood he was desperate for work. I declined all offers of tours and just asked if he would continue on his way to our destination. He told us of his wife and two children. About his mother who worked as a flower seller and just about every detail he could think of to keep conversation going. When we got to the gardens he said he would wait for us, but I disagreed and said I was more than happy for him to drive us back to the city at the same price he had brought us out but he didn't have to wait we would call him when we were done. He was really desperate for our fare, back to the point that he refused to take payment and insisted I would pay him on the return journey. I must have a very honest face because no amount of cajoling would make him take payment. He said he would visit with his mother while were inside which I told him was fine but I was not paying for the wait and that if he got the opportunity of a fare he should take it. We would call when done and would wait for his return. He was happy, the fare clearly meant a lot to him so I stopped arguing. Off we went into the most extraordinary garden I have ever been to in my life and I have been to many gardens. We only had two hours and truly had no idea how big this place was when we planned the afternoon as I could have happily spent the day there. The gardens stretched for miles and acres were separated into different sections. It was a gardener's paradise and all I could think of was how much my late mother-in-law would have loved every inch of this place. In my minds eye I could see Olive and Brendan strolling, laughing and joking and stopping every so often at the sight of some exotic plant that caught her eye. Quick look over her shoulder to see if anyone was about before picking a shoot like a great illusionist; now you see it and now you don’t. Like the Queen mother now with black leather handbag clutched under her arm as she routes about for her collection of plastic bags already prepared with damp tissue paper to preserve to cutting until she returned to her potting shed. That woman could grow anything and she was so generous with her knowledge. So I walked that garden with my mother-in-law, my father-in-law and my own lovely father and it was like having them back again if only for a little while. Ah what beautiful things memories are. My own mother isn't well and in her advanced years, sometimes her memory lapses forgetting my father is no longer with us. But I think what joy to have magic moments where even for a short time you can relive that the love of your life is still with you and your most crushing loss never happened. What utter bliss and if I get to that stage in my life please don’t feel compelled to tell me the truth. Allow me this joy if even for a short time. Please, please girls “tell me lies, tell me sweet little lies”. In my head I left them there smiling, chatting and admiring the location and thanked them for their visit, just in my head folks.

Day out to Kandy Botanical Gardens
We had to leave the Botanical garden as it was closing. But what a fabulous place! The young Buddhist monks strolling with their iPhone clearly having difficulty cutting ties with the material world. But who am I to critic as its not too long since young Irish men found the priesthood as their only way of accessing education. Perhaps they’ll find their path to life, what and wherever that may be. The avenue of crazy trees like something from a Salvador Dali painting and the fruit bats as big as flying foxes starting to take flight for the evening I thought it best to head for the exit. When we got out of the park we called our driver and had half expected him to be waiting for us as we hadn’t paid him for the outward trip but no he had faith we wouldn’t do a runner. We jump into his tuk tuk and off we headed back to the city. He had spent the afternoon with his mother telling her about the lovely Irish ladies he had met and asked if we could stop at her flower stall to say hello. I half wondered if his Mam has “Ah you fool of a boy. Why didn't you take the money when she offered it to you. You won't see those two again. They’ll be in the first tuk tuk at the gate, mark my words boy”. So way met a slightly embarrassed lady at her flower stall said our hellos and our goodbyes and off we went. This young man had a wife and a baby boy. He didn't own the tuk tuk but worked for the taxi rank. I have met many such young men on my travels and its tragic to think there is no way of moving forward or up the ladder, there is no ladder. When you have no assets there is no steep up. Where I will always try to get a WhatsApp number so that I can give direct recommendations to my Irish friends and family who at some point will travel here, the middle man always runs the show so more work same pay.

The driver dropped us to the hotel and I asked him to give me a price for a day's driving and to make a plan for tomorrow. He was over the moon and I was happy it took so little effort from me to make his day. He picked us up at 11 am to start the tour he had planned the next morning. First stop was the Ayurveda medicine garden.
Salvador Dali trees in the Botanical Gardens
Out of the city we went again in the trusting care of our driver. After about a twenty minute drive he pulls up at the side of the road and directs us to a small gateway and a series of steps running down the side of the hill. It suddenly dawns on me that we are not at what I expected to be a garden featuring medicinal plants although it had those. No money is made here only when you buy a product. So our driver leaves us and goes to sit under a lean-to with guides and other drivers and Roisín and I are handed over to our medicinal guide who walks us through the grounds stopping ever so often to point out a particular plant, tree, or flower So taking into account our age dynamic, Roisín in her twenties and me hitting sixty, I quickly realised our guide was gifted in the art of product placement. “So this plant here” he says “have you noticed how all the women have beautiful hair! Well the reason for that is that they wash their hair with shampoo made from this plant” Interesting I thought, so I have crap hair. “This plant here helps with weight loss”. So I’m fat. Jesus how much more can my confidence take? Well as it turns out it's limitless. When he hit on menopause I just burst out laughing and begged for mercy. To which he introduced me to fertility plants, so now he thinks I look ancient. I wasn’t feeling the best that morning and as the day was progressing I was starting to feel worst and needed to get back to the hotel in double quick time. I figure for what was ailing me any concoction here was likely to make it worse. We very quickly, after a bathroom visit, bought the lush hair shampoo and asked the driver to take us back to the hotel hoping I'd make it without any loss of dignity. Our poor driver was very confused and worried his choice of destination was the cause of the rapid retreat and having explained without actually explaining we arrived back at our hotel. The driver kept apologising and I did my best to assure him the change of plan was not caused by anything he had done. He seemed even more confused when I paid him the full amount as agreed and I do hope he pocketed the surplus and only gave the boss the cost of a twenty minute fare. Or is that dishonest! I'll let you be the judge of that, comments in the box! I returned to the hotel and did improve in an hour or so. It was our last night in Kandy so we ventured forth to explore the Kandy lake around the corner from the hotel and beside the temple of the tooth. Baffled as to how that temple got it's name I wonder do lots of dentists visit there? It was getting onto dark but the lake had a continuous path around its 19 hectres and it had plenty of joggers and walkers so I figured it was safe enough. Its around a two mile walk to get back to the star point. As I have said it was a lovely evening on a well light path until we reached about three quarters around when we come on some road works. The lights were gone and it was impossible to see obstacles on the road. We could see the temple so the homeward stretch was so close I couldn’t face turning back. The alternative path would send us up some dark alleyways and I was tired but I do try not to be stupid. There seemed to be a lot going on at the temple so I figured we would hover a while and hope someone else would find themselves at the same impasse. You send out a prayer and they do get answered. Along comes this gentleman carrying a briefcase and he is followed by a large group of young girls all carrying boxes and heading for the temple. They seemed in total awe of this man and he was no rock star but he had some real authority about him. I asked if he would mind if we walked with him and the girls seemed shocked that we even dared to speak with such a man. He did not answer but smiled and walked on not saying we couldn’t walk with them. The girls were whispering between each other and looking back over their shoulders every now and then. I guessed we must have broken some ritual or other but I hope they forgave us as ignorant tourists. We got back to the path and our saviors walked into the back entrance of the temple, not accessible to anyone other than monks so I guess he must have been someone. We got to the entrance of the temple and sat for a while watching everyone both men, women and children, all dressed in white and carrying offerings, enter and make their way down the long avenue. It was fascinating more so because I had not a clue as to what was going on but that only gives my head room to imagine. My imagination tells me we met a Guru, a man of worldly wisdom and a knowledge of the heavens and for a moment Róisín and I walked a path with him. Reality would be a let down because there’s no beating that. We return to our hotel and book a taxi for the next leg of our journey. Tune in next week!

<![CDATA[Lost and Miraculously Found in Ella Sri Lanka]]>Tue, 07 Jun 2022 04:36:08 GMThttp://golfers.ie/travelswithmydaughter/lost-and-miraculously-found-in-ella-sri-lanka
We spent our first day exploring the town of Ella and getting our bearings. It was a very lively town and seemed designed to fulfill the needs of fatigued middle-aged european travelers. I cant emphasise enough how weary and burnt out they all looked and donning the sarong made them look more awkward on the outside but perhaps they were comfortable on the inside. The closest comparison would be a women of any age who is wearing a skirt that she feels is too short and spends her entire time pulling at the hem of that skirt, doesn’t matter how good it looks she is just not feeling it. That’s enough about cultural appropriation let us move on.
We planned to climb to the top of Ella Rock and so on our second day we set to ticking this task off of Róisín's bucket list. We took a tuk tuk down to the town to search for a good breakfast to sustain us on our way. We had a long leisurely breakfast in Café Chill who claimed to sell western style breakfast and actually did! They even managed to serve really good coffee and a bacon roll to accompany the fruit platter and pancakes. Breakfasts in Sri Lanka are usually excellent except for the very weak tea and dreadful instant coffee. Having finished our breakfast our first task was to pre-book train tickets for the onward journey to Kandy the following days. So with that intention we made our way to the train station to pre-book our seats. We were advised by the ticket office that only 3rd class tickets could be pre-booked, telling us that 1st and 2nd class tickets could only be purchased on the morning of travel. A bit odd that 3rd class tickets have a convenience despite 2nd and 3rd class being more expensive but who are we to argue. I have come to realise that Ella residence just like to mess with tourists and think we are fair game and its all games. Ergo, we were told to be at the station for 6:00 am for a 6:30 ish train as it tended to be packed. That’s a 5:00 am rise and we all know how I relish them. On the up side we would get to see the sunrise before leaving this beautiful valley.
The Beginning of the Trail to Ella Rock

Armed with the necessary information for our departure the next day we walked back toward the town to start the ascent to Ella Rock which was a three and a half mile hike there and back and supposed to take just two hours. Róisín’s had thoroughly research the route and had downloaded the map. She had also learned that it is best not to listen to locals who’s main motivation is to send you astray so that they can rescue you for a fee. We had barely left the station when we were stopped by a very friendly guy sweeping the pavement outside a shop. He asked us where we were from and where we were going, the usual small talk. When I told him we were heading for the path to start the trek to Ella rock he told us we were going in the wrong direction and needed to head back to the station and start from there. The shop owner came out and although I have no idea what he said to the road sweeper he did appeared to be giving out to him. The shopkeeper told us to continue on the way we were going and pointed at the pathway which would bring us to the first leg of the journey and along the train tracks. We took his advice and Róisín’s map and continued on along the road. We followed a few other tourists up along the path and confirmed with them that we were going in the right direction and they concurred. I did realise the irony of asking travelers just like ourselves to confirm directions in this foreign land rather than ask a local. I don’t believe these misdirection’s were done with malice rather, I would say it was done with a sense of entrepreneurial endeavor. We followed up the path and came to a gap in the hedge through which we climbed to emerge onto the train track, not beside it but onto it. I don’t mind a bit of train spotting but I usually try to do that while not actually in the path of one. I wanted to turn back but Róisín gave me every argument not to, “We have traveled so far to do this” (from Ireland not the hotel), “You’ll regret it if you don’t” , “This is what people come to Ella to do”. She wore me down and I was aware that these were the type of statements I would have used when she was growing up to convince her and her sisters to venture where they did not want to go. Oh how the tables had turned.

So there I was stepping from sleeper to sleeper. I was terrified walking along that track as I was concerned a train might appear at any minute and we would be compelled to jump into the long undergrowth at either side of the track as there was no place else to go. My head was in overdrive wondering if there might be deadly snakes, spiders, or rats. Several times I said to Róisín I wanted to turn back, I was not very comfortable with track walking, fair to say I was scared witless. We meet a work crew on the track so I figured they would know before we did if a train was coming and they seemed happy enough working. We also met a couple heading in the same direction so I felt a bit more confident that we were heading the right way. There were quite a few tourists who had started early in the morning and were now heading back to town so we would usually confirm with them the route ahead. We were approached a few times along this track by the locals and they told us we were going the wrong way and that these helpful strangers would be delighted to show us the correct way. But we ignored all and carried on despite the regular interference. We came to very high bridge over a river. If a train did come along at this point there would be little choice but to jump from the bridge. I delved into the recesses of my mind and recalled from my childhood the cowboy and India movies showing the gang planning to rob the train always put their ear to the track to get an indication as to how far away the train was. I asked Róisín to implement the technique but she refused swearing I was making this up. I argued that it would be easier for her than me considering my advanced years. I pointed out that getting down wouldn’t be the problem it was the getting up that might prove challenging. No amount of argument would move her. So I had to hunker down myself which was very undignified for a woman of my age but there was no way I was risking getting caught midway on that bridge. As we stood figuring out our next move a local approached and again started with the small talk and handed me a stick to aid in the walk. I guessed he must have seen me doing the track listening thing and just assumed I was on my knees from weakness. He did ask me how old I was but it was only later that I made the connection between track listening and sticks. We chatted some more and he seemed to be stalling. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to offer something for the stick or ask for his assistance as our guide. Either way I didn't want to be fumbling with a wallet in this isolated location. After a few minutes we ran out of small talk. Before we went on our way he told us the train wasn’t due for an hour before disappearing down a side path back into the jungle. The bridge wasn’t very long so on a quick assessment we made a dash for it and got to the other side. We only had a short distance left to track walk before we came to a path to the left concealed discreetly in the bushes. If you didn't know what you were looking for you would easily walk by.

Trekking our way through the Jungle

What a relief to be off that track and I dreaded the thought of having to make a return journey. We went down the little track and came to a small bridge over a small waterfall. We could see people swimming further down river and despite my fears I didn't fail to see the beauty of it all. Took a little breather under a shady tree before following the path up through a tea plantation. It was really getting hot now but I figured I may as well keep moving forward rather than go back as the alternative was the track and I was happy to put that off for as long as possible. Up we went through the tea plantation and then the incline became steeper. I was glad of that stick. There was a little rest area a local had set up to refresh the weary traveler. It was no more than a lean-to but it was out of the sun selling fruit juice or water to the fish emerging from that barrel. There were a few traveler there taking advantage of the opportunity but after a hello and a wave we kept going. We were now in thick of the forest and the climb was getting more difficult. We come to the first plateau where we took a little breather. People who had passed us earlier were coming back down and when asked if the worst was over they would give a rye smile and say it will be worth it. I’m thinking well the worst is over, oh so wrong. Heading toward the next tree line I can see the ascent is nearly vertical. But as people are coming down I ask them how much further it is and all are very encouraging saying we were nearly at the top. With the aid of my stick and Róisín ahead offering me a hand to steady me on the deeper steps we make our very slow progress. I fix on a tree and say okay we are going to get to there, it might only be a few feet but slow and steady does it. As people are coming down they can see I’m struggling so they keep offering more encouragement. One group who had passed us on the assent stopped to assure me it wasn’t far and pointed to where it leveled out just a little above. They also assured us that there was a place to rest at the top with a little coffee shop and even toilets. I confessed my fear now was getting back down that mountain. But the young lady reassured me that there was a road at the top that lead off in the opposite direction but perhaps it might be possible to call a tuk tuk. Oh happy me I was tuk tuking off this mountain. If there is a road there is a tuk tuk. So the endgame was at hand so we pushed on through. Róisín is pulling me up over boulders. People going up and coming down are giving us encouragement and looks of concern. My legs are like jelly and the climb is proving more demanding. I said to Róisín “people are looking at you dragging your poor mother up the side of a mountain, literally dragging and saying to themselves what an evil kid you are!” to which she replied “No they are not, they think I’m helping you fulfill a lifetime dream of yours”. Oh my god so she knew what she was doing. “So I suppose that’s what your going to tell the authorities when they find my dead body, expired from exhaustion at the top. “Exactly” says she, the cheeky mare. We finally make it the last few feet motivated entirely by the thought that I would not be making the return trip on foot.

The View at Ella Rock
We came out of the clearing at the very top to a most spectacular view. Was it worth it? Well I’m not good with heights so this would never have been on any bucket list of mine. I am incapable of taking those insta pictures balancing on the edge of the abyss embracing the world so I sat way way back from the edge nearer the coffee shop than the precipice. Just watching Róisín was more than my nerves would take. I shall let the pictures speak for themselves. I was very impressed with myself and despite all my moaning and complaining I’m glad I did it and that is entirely down to Róisín. Having ticked Róisín’s bucket list we took in the view and a bit of a rest with a coffee like beverage. Before leaving we asked the attendant if we could get a tuk tuk down the mountain but they didn't seem to understand what we were saying. So forgetting the number of times I found myself lost in Donadea forest (just five minutes from my home) we bravely set forth. There had been a motorbike parked at the cafe so we figured the road must have some traffic. Admittedly the track we were following had ruts you would see left from agricultural machinery. But I stuffed those annoying thoughts way down because going down the mountain the way we had come would definitely have killed me. Off we went skipping our way like we were members of the 7 dwarfs, happy, dopey, and sleepy all would apply. We walked and walked and I honestly was getting worried but so was Róisín so I kept saying that of course we would bump into civilization, “It's a road for gods sake some one made it and some one uses it”. We walked for miles and it seemed the road was going in the opposite direction to the way we had arrived. We had no phone signal so we were totally on our own but worrying about that wasn't going to get us off this mountain. On and on we went through thick forest. But for the birds there was total silence. We came upon an old camp site leading me to believe that we were now deep in the wilderness. I was really starting to worry as we had about 3 hours of daylight and being up here at night was not on anyone’s bucket list. Plod plod plod, uphill, round ends and then like magic we found ourselves outside the entrance to a monastery. It was a Buddhist monastery and there were signs everywhere telling us that this was a silent order. Laugh of laughs there were also signs with mobile phones and big xs through them. I think the silent order being so isolated didn't realise that you need a signal for a mobile phone otherwise you only have a lump of plastic. So we are women and the monks are not allowed to talk to us even if they were not already a silent order. So we walked on but with confidence as we knew this road did eventually end somewhere. We walked on another mile and saw a sign in english saying to enter this space was illegal and carried a fine but that didn't apply to us as we had come from the other direction and only saw the sign as we were leaving. Honestly I would have paid the fine to get off the bloody mountain. We meet so merry wood cutters who were quite surprised seeing us coming from the direction of the monastery, clearly we were out of place and with a hello from me and a polite nod from them on they went. We didn't ask for directions I hear your brains saying but remember we cant trust locals even in these extreme circumstances. So on we bravely go and abject terror is now replaced with just nervousness so we can enjoy our surroundings. On the bright side we are discovering areas in Ella that few tourists had ever discovered except perhaps for the sarong donning, flip flop wearing, disillusioned westerners looking to join the monastery for a week or two then realising they cant live without their phones. Ah I’m being hard on the poor lads, sorry middle aged men who wish they were lads. We pass some ladies who have been to the school to collect their children all with the look of "what the fiddle sticks are they doing here?". Ever sociable it's hello and a nod and a smile from them in return.

Panoramic View of Ella Rock
Eureka! We see a village in the clearing well not a clearing more like a less tree populated area. Róisín has her google map working so we make our way toward the settlement and are making our way out the other side, when who should approach us but one of the householders. He was curious to know where we were going and we explained that we were heading back to Ella. So he asked if we wanted a tuk tuk and of course I said yes please. He called his friend who arrived in seconds and quoted an outrageous price. I think it was his son but in an instant I forgot our position and started to haggle. But the gentleman was not for moving and so in an instant we lost our tuk tuk. We continued up the path but the friendly neighbour told us we had taken the wrong path. So we thanked him and did a reverse, and yes Róisín objected but followed me any way. Down the path we went and god was it steep. Turned a corner where two dogs came at us but my screaming attracted the owner who called them off and dragged them inside. On we went to the end of the road which was clearly the end indicated by the wall and the river. Oh but now I’m mad and this rage fueled me. “Come on Róisín put a smile on that face don’t let him see it's getting to you”. We headed back up the hill past the crazy dogs which where now locked in their garden and past the pick in the garden who was looking out for us and laughing. I shouted up to him “Wow, thank you so much if you hadn’t misdirected us we never would have seen the beautiful river at the bottom. I'll be sure to write about it so other tourists will be able to find it. Open a coffee shop because this time next year this little road outside your house will be a highway for backpackers”. His face was like thunder. Laughing, waving and skipping we went. Clearly, he had contacted his neighbors who at some point stepped from their homes to watch us. Houses above us and below people were stepping out to see us. Perhaps this is what it was like for the first western explorers but there were plenty of chalkies around now so it wasn’t our complexions making the news. Children started to follow us I felt like the pied piper. Parents standing at doorways. Children following, smiling and laughing. “Róisín pretend we are having a ball of a time like this is the best happy accident we ever experienced”. We nodded and smiled at the children and kept a cheery step is the only way to describe it. Róisín couldn't understand where my energy came from, “you were dying a minute ago. I thought I'd have to carry you down the mountain” she said. I reply “Rage Róisín utter rage, I can't believe it myself but its worked wonders. I should really go back and thank the man. So stick a smile on it and up your step” I said. Róisín’s reply was “I’m exhausted I’m struggling”. Says I “you dragged me up a mountain let that achievement fuel you because I dammed if I am going to give that arsehole a win”. So on we went out of the village. The audience became bored and went back inside. Even the children stopped following us as we were a distance from their homes. At last we came to a road with tar and at that cross road was a Buddha shrine. “Róisín stop there we will rest here for a bit and for anyone watching we’re here for Buddha. It might make them feel bad and remind them that Buddha wouldn’t have done this to strangers”. We couldn’t wait long as it would be dark soon. Twists and turns again and our lovely road turned into a wooden bridge guarded by two bloody dogs. On the opposite side were two guys washing their tuk tuk and laughing at my terror. But nothing was going to stop me getting across that bridge. They continued washing their vehicle looking up occasionally and laughing. Enough, I found a stick and some stones and started pelting them at the dogs saying in the best Kildare farmer accent “get out of it, go on move” in a growling roar. I think I frightened the guys washing the tuk tuk because they immediately called the dogs in and never made eye contact after. I was glad I didn't have to use the stones on the dogs but was glad of the stick. I now have my hat tied on my head with a scarf to protect me from the sun I imagined I looked like some old English vicars wife going in search of converts. My stick was as tall as staff Saint Patrick would have been proud of and off I went striding up the hill with Róisín beside me. “Keep up dear, come along”. I was fully immersed in this roll. We were joined by a group of young lads about 12 or 14 years. I guessed the word was out and clearly we were out of place. The lads said hello and in my most congenial voice I said “How ye lads”. They started to laugh and asked where we were from and I told them Ireland which seemed to surprise and impress them in equal measure. “Do you know Connor MacGregor? Connor McGregor, sure he’s my neighbour I meet him regularly when he’s walking his dog. He live in my area. His partner is a lovely lady and they have the cutest little lad, he must be 3 now”. They whispered among themselves for a minute and finished with “have an nice day mam”. “You too lads nice meeting ye”. At the top of the road we found a real road. I mean with traffic not that it became any more substantial than the one we were leaving. Róisín says “How are you still going? My legs are numb”. “Rage Róisín, pure rage, I’m even surprised myself but I cant stand anyone getting the better of me but its like rocket fuel. That’s saying scary things about my personality. Do you think I should have that checked out? Ah! only messing with ye but for that guy we would still be lost in the jungle". So as we walked the busy road we hailed every tuk tuk that passed but most had passengers. But persistence is the name of the game and one stopped. “Ella town Sir”.

On arrival I replayed the closing scene from ‘A town called Alice’ for those who know that was the coolest loveliest beer I have ever had and for those who don’t, look it up its a classic. But for you young ones who will have difficulty getting over the coda chrome you will never know what you’ve missed. Next week my friends its the train to Ella. Love you all and let me know your thoughts!

Róisín as we try find our way back to civilisation