Although there were outliers I would estimate the average was 40 years and going up. There were also a lot of mature women traveling with a friend or alone. The most striking was the number of midlife crisis guys who clearly would have been suit wearing executives back home but had shaken off the shackles of cooperate life in favour of flip-flops, a sarong, and a man bag. But they wore them with awkwardness perhaps realising it was a look that Beckham pulled off in the 80's and/or many reasons mainly his youth and athletic physic allowed him to “culturally appropriate” with style. The landscape of the street was also curious. It reminded me of those open fronted bars which line sea resort promenades but there’s no sea only a mirror of the same type of bars and restaurants on the opposite side of the road. You never needed to wonder if you were missing anything as everything was on this short little street. The traffic was bedlam with rows of tuk tuks parked facing the curb on either side of the road. Buses and delivery trucks at will would stop in the middle of the road to drop passengers of make their deliveries which obviously created huge bottle necks going in and out of the town. More interestingly no one seemed to mind and just accepted it as part of the normal progression through this town as did we.
We made our way through the town at the far end of which was a steeply winding road heading up the mountains. Our destination was Ella Hide View and so up, up, up the side of the road we went until about three quarters of the way up the mountain we happened upon "The View Ella". This like most hotels on the mountain were on very steeply declining narrow roads just about wide enough for a tuk tuk. Our driver pulled in at the side of the road and told us we would have to make our own way down. My back packing days are over and I am now sporting a giant suitcase with wheels weighing 25 kg. Dragging that case was not an option in this terrain and the van driver was not being particularly helpful by asking us to get out of the van and walk. I pointed out to him that he wouldn’t be getting paid until we got to the hotel as that was what the agreement was. Seeing the logic of my argument he stopped telling us to get out of the van and stood outside talking with some road worker while I phoned the hotel. The hotel seemed a little confused which surprised me because the receptionists english was very good. We eventually established that they had a room for us and they agreed to send a tuk tuk to pick us up at the cross road. After a short wait a tuk tuk came up the hill from he town but went to take the turn towards the hotel. I started running towards him waving frantically to get his attention. Fair play to the man he stopped on the turn and I did my best to explain that he was sent by the hotel to pick us up. The poor man didn't have any english so I asked our van driver to explain the situation. All misunderstandings aside Róisín and the bags were loaded into the tuk tuk to make the journey down the little track with me following on foot behind. I paid our driver with no tip and sent him on his.
I made my way down the little track at the bottom of which were a gang of workers repairing a bridge. They politely move equipment and themselves to let me pass and all offered a friendly salute while clearly looking bewildered as to why this middle age foreigner was strolling alone in what was a path through a jungle. I rounded a bend into a small car park below the hotel. My hackles being raised to see a few cars parked there, so our driver could have driven down if had wanted to do so. I now had to face the final part of the track which was almost vertical to reach the hotel at the top. Half way up my lungs were in my month and I was glowing like a lighthouse. There were a group of young people coming down the hill so rather than reveal I was about to keel over I took the opportunity to strike up a conversation based on the lovely little yellow mini parked below. They had a look of young trendys about them so it was possible the car was theirs even if not it was a good opener. To my surprise two of the group stopped while the others continued on their way and what I thought would be a hi bye conversation turned into a 20 minute chat. They were so friendly. The young man had some English but he called his girlfriend back as she had excellent english. It turned out they were from Russia holidaying in Sri lanka for a few weeks. This was the last day of the trip. They gave me loads of tips telling me where they had been shared the holiday pictures with me. Told me of a villa they had hired on the coast with a pool and a private beach and if that were not enough luxury the villa came with a chef. They were heading into town and asked me to join them in their apartment on their return. I was genuinely floored by how friendly they were and agreed I would call later. We waved our goodbyes and I hauled my way the final few meters (feet) to the mountain of steps which curled toward the reception. My god but my heart got one hell fa work out and I was impressed that the walk didn't kill me clearly not as unfit as I thought myself to be! I fell in the door of the reception and sat to catch my breath as I was incapable of speech. I was offered and given a refreshing drink which I consumed in the blink of an eye. The staff were incredibly kind and after giving me time to recover we set to finding our booking.
Tuk tuk ride to our Accommodation
They seemed to have no record of our booking so I took out my phone to show them the confirmation and details at which point the receptionist informed me that they were "The View Ella" and not as my booking showed "The Hide Ella" which was further up the mountain. They were still very eager to give us accommodation but the correct place had been booked and paid for. So with embarrassed apologies from me and above and beyond courtesy from them they ordered two tuk tuks from the town to come and collect us and bring us to the correct location. They had porters help us down the steps with the luggage and Roisin and I shared one vehicle and the bags went in the other. Off we went again over the bridge and back onto the winding road. Up and up we went until we came to another tiny side road which was just the width of the vehicle and if I mentioned the last road was steep this was a vertical decent with a twenty foot drop on the side. I prayed we wouldn’t meet another vehicle on this path because there was no way I was going to sit there while the driver attempted to reverse. That said it wasn’t possible to get out of the tuk tuk without getting on the roof and climbing down over the bonnet. I kept my eyes closed and just prayed. We get to the bottom and the driver swings the vehicle around to land us at the top of a very steep stairway. He was laughing at my terror and more so when he saw the look of horror on my face at seeing the stairs. All the buildings seemed to be cut into the edge of the mountain and all squashed together and on top of each other. Oh the horror looking down those 63 steps covered from light because of the other buildings on either side I was tempted to run but that would mean having to face the tiny road again. So nothing for it but to keep going. The tuk tuk driver had already thrown my 25 kg bag onto his shoulder and skipped down the steps like a mountain goat. I on the other hand took cautious steps over this block built stair, terrified that if I fell I would die breaking every bone as I rolled and bounced to the bottom. I very much doubted there would be any helicopter rescues here. I made my way slowly down with the intention of never coming back up those stairs until it was time to go, Róisín would just have to bring provisions to the room. We checked in and we were brought through the breakfast room through a series of corridors and stairways to be shown into our room which would be home for the next few days. Oh my, what a room! We entered at the back of the balcony with our room sporting french doors which lead directly to the bedroom and bathroom behind. It was lovely and had all the mod cons for a very comfortable stay. After the porter had left we made our way up the steps (only 3), passed the table and chairs and then swing to survey the view and what a view! We were perched over high over the valley and although there were many properties sharing this mountain they were concealed from view by the lush green and thick rain forest. The sun would raise between the mountains at 5:30 every morning filling the valley with a warm orange glow. At night it was possible to see the lights from the cartridges of train as it chugged and winded its way through the valley below. Every so often on it's slow progress through the valley it would send out a whistle exactly, I imagined, as it has done for more than one hundred years. Perhaps it was worth the hardship to get here. Next week folks and hope all is good in your part of the globe.
View from our accommodation of Ella
This non-research of mine has lead us in some really interesting places such as this one. After checking out all the highways and by ways and always within minutes of the hotel we eventually happen upon the correct junction to lead us there. The hotel has an open veranda style restaurant overlooking the pool and the lake immediately beyond. We are shown to our room which is huge. We enter through our private veranda and double patio doors which face onto the lake. On the back wall of this vast room is the vast bed (well it's big). So if modesty and discretion are not your thing you can leave your curtains open at night to wake to a view of the lake and sunrise in the morning. Five in the morning sunrises that interrupt a good sleep are really not on my bucket list. Now strolling home from a summer gathering where the raising sun tells you its time to go home is a totally different mater and would usually merit a cup of tea on arrival to accompany with the dawn chorus; that cannot be beaten. This is a stunning location and we had booked to stay for a few days which I anticipate wont be too much of a trial. The hotel isn’t very busy and of the people staying they are mainly families.
Viewing the bats by the lake
There is a pier that runs out into the lake a short distance but it wasn’t in very good repair. Some of the planks were clearly rotten but I ventured out on them anyway with some advice from an Indian family staying at the hotel that I met along the way. The father was a barrister from Delhi and of his two sons one was studying law while the other was planning a career in IT when he finished high school in a year's time. The father was so proud of his sons and who could blame him. They were all so relaxed and enjoyed each others' company it was such a lovely thing to see. I wondered if these boys had gone through that rebellious stage where your parents know nothing or was it ahead of them yet, or perhaps in their culture those lines are never crossed. Either way these were not questions I asked as we all enjoyed the joy of the moment. As we made our way onto the pier they told me which planks were safe to walk on and which were not, judging by the different depth of colour along the boards. The board walk was quite high allowing for the passage of great big buffalo who enjoyed wallowing in the mud at the end of their days work. The worst that could happen is if the pier broke and then being covered in mud and possibly needing assistance to get out, "ah sure wouldn’t it be a bit a Craic". It was worth walking on the sketchy planks just to watch the giant bats fly inland in the evening. Those bats looked like winged foxes and were of a similar size. As the sun descended hundreds of the flying beasts would sweep in low over the hotel. If they stepped up in front of me in vampire form I wouldn’t have been surprised. I found it hard to believe these fruit bats only ate fruit. It was dark by the time we had finished watching the spectacle of the bats and impossible to see the way back but the Indian family waited for me and guided me every step while lighting my way with their mobile phones. I never cease to be amazed by the little courtesies given by strangers. Its not a bad world out there given half a chance.
Buffalo relaxing in the water
Safari in the National Park
The main attraction of this area are the Safaris in Yala national park. The early Safari requires you to get up at 4 am which I really did not fancy. The idea of bouncing around in the back of a jeep in the dark catching intermittent glimpses of startled animals' eyes peering out from the dark didn't appeal to me at all. So we booked our trip for midday which is the hottest time of the day in this part of the globe but it is a covered vehicle with open sides so feels pleasantly cool. The seating area of these jeeps is about 8 feet off the ground so wild animals would have to be pretty determined if they want to attack us. The creatures would need a ladder to get into our transport so wasn’t expecting any near death experiences we have all become so familiar with on YouTube. Our lovely guide picked us up from our hotel as arranged. Many of the tour operators offer that service which saves messing around with pickup locations. He was great craic and we found we got along very well as he seemed to get the Irish sense of humour. So what’s the Irish sense of humour? Guide; “No hanging out of the jeep trying to pet the tigers.” Irish guest (in an incredulous voice); “Excuse me! I signed up for a near death experience, what am I supposed to do with the steak in my bag?”. The correct response from the tour operator is to laugh any other response means they just don’t get it and you are required to tell them you are joking. Some guides I might have to jibe them four or five times until they get to the point where they laugh rather than ask if I’m joking. I usually take pity on them and follow my witty remark with an “I’m joking” at least until they have adjusted to the theme. I can never let a good line go. I have been known to interrupt a conversation in the most inappropriate times rather than let a good laugh go, but I always apologise.
We drive for about 30 minutes before arriving at the entrance to the national park. The drive did bring us through the town which turns out not to be too far from the hotel and has a number of shops there including a bakery, God but I'd kill for an Éclair. The country side is very lush and green which is surprising considering the heat (about 30 degrees celsius). Channels run by the roadside and are as broad as canals. Just like the canals at home on a scourging hot day where people take to swimming in them, here its swimming, washing, and playing in them. As we pass through the town secondary school children are heading home for lunch and in their excitement at seeing tourists again they all wave and smile at us and of course we return the gesture. Tourism is a big part of the economy in Asia. The past two years with the absence of tourists has borne a heavy toll on these countries economies. We always get a generous welcome wherever we go in this region.
Not the first time I have been mistaken for Russian, cant see it myself, open to suggestions and insights in the comment section, nothing rude! The park is huge and you can travel from open plains to thick jungles. Each area brings it's own surprising inhabitants. There were the beautiful families of elephants which we stopped and took time to admire elephants. The sambur deer which are prehistoric in size, dwarfing any deer species I have ever seen and making our Phoenix park deer look miniscule. Buffalo wallowed in deep mud pools so that only their heads were visible. The king of the lizard world, the land monitor, making his way around this landscape and in so doing scares the monkeys into the trees where they screech their warning to the other creatures. Wild hogs which for their stumpy size are brave enough to charge the jeep into moving on. The huge crocodiles moving silently and pre-emptively through the water to catch its inattentive prey. A leopard prowling through the low shrubbery in view of the flashy peacocks. We make our way over many tracks. Occasionally we would cross the path of other tours just like ours but mostly it was just Róisín, myself, and the guide. All of a sudden the jungle opens to reveal a beautiful white sandy beach and the crashing waves of the sea. It was as if we had come across an abandoned fishing village. There were a few one roomed cottages just back from the beach and within the tree line. Outside these cottages were fishing nets blowing in the wind but not a soul to be seen. Our guide told us that these cottages were used by the fishermen to store their equipment when not in use. The final part of this trip took us to Elephant rock a fitting finish to our day. As we headed back to the hotel I saw a man by the side of the road helping himself to a bunch of bananas growing in the park leading me to think that perhaps bananas are the blackberries of this part of the world. I have yet to find the answer to that question.
On the matter of the tailor. As I mentioned in the previous article I didn't get time to look at the items before I paid for them. How could I not trust her she was just so friendly. So off we travelled to our next location, looking forward to try on everything when I got there. On arrival I opened the bag to reveal my prizes. Of the three blouses, only one was made of the material I picked the others were made of a man made material and not the cotton I requested. Linen shorts and trousers were not awful other than the white material was sewn with black thread. But the best of all was the length of fabrics she had given me. I still have no ides what she thought I would do with that.
Our safari guide organised our driver for the trip to Ella the following day. After our breakfast we checked out of Tara Watergate with a thank you and a goodbye to the lovely staff. To our surprise the manager had organised a packed snack box for our journey. The box of cake and fruit was a great addition to our journey and an unexpected kindness.
The journey took us 40 minutes and was twice the price of the 3 hour drive from the airport. So I call that "swings and roundabouts". Perhaps it would have been cheaper if they had let me pay for the curtain damages.
Weligama and Mirissa
This leg of the journey was going to be rest and relaxation. We had been on the go constantly so decided to take a few days to catch our breath and this was the ideal spot. From the bedroom you can see the sun set on the horizon. I used to spend my evening watching the sun go down while bobbing up and down in the waves. Never too old to splash about in the water, forgotten what fun it was to just mess about, no skill required. Should add that this beautiful white sandy beach was pretty much ours so no point in showing off my sychronised swimming strokes. The location was perfect with just a few guests staying in the hotel. I noticed that there were a number of young people staying there. They would spend their days sitting in the garden overlooking the beach. Maybe go for a little swim before lunch and then at about 6 pm they would disappear. I eventually figured out that many of these travellers were remote working. When it was 6 pm in Sri Lanka the work day was just starting back in England, where most of them seemed to be from, I couldn’t help but admire them and envy their fortune. The perfect way to explore asia is with a reasonable european income. The euro or dollar go a long way here and cash is King!
Sunset in Weligama
Finding a Tailor
Our hotel lay just feet from the beach but it is approximately an 8 minute drive from the town centre. So if we wished to explore we needed to hire a tuk tuk and this always entailed a vastly shifting price point. We booked a taxi through the Grab app which cost 180 Sri Lankan rupees in an air-conditioned car with windows and doors. When we went to make the return journey we were asked for 300 rupees from a windowless, doorless vehicle with as much finesse as a ride-on lawnmower. I really put my haggling skills to work and mostly got the price point I wanted. We needed to go to the town to get some laundry done. In our travels we had discovered that the hotels charge by the item which can very quickly run to big numbers. But the laundries will charge by the kilo usually around 2 to 3 dollars for a wash, dry and fold. So, we have taken to organising our laundry whenever we plan to stay in one place for more than 3 days. A quick google search brought us to a little side alley off the main street in Mirissa. The reviews had been mostly good with only one complaint that the clothes hadn’t been washed but rather kicked around the shop aggressively (you could see the foot prints in the pictures he posted). This appeared to be the worst transgression. Perhaps the big USA underwear brought out the dark side of the worker being asked to wash them, we shall never know. There were only one or two complaints of clothes going missing. So off we went hoping for the best, honestly if they had asked I might have paid them to loose some of my wardrobe, it really was starting to look sad. Realising how much I wanted to upgrade my wardrobe I decided to check out local tailors. I had been told by everyone that tailoring was so cheap. So again I did the google search for tailors and found a few. After sifting through the many reviews I decided on one who had over 200 reviews and only 1 bad review. It was really bad but I decided that it was possibly just some disgruntled shopper who could get the price down to Primark levels. We moved from the laundry and made our way down a number of side streets. We were heading deeper and deeper into suburbia and people were starting to stare which led me to believe we were lost and lost we were! We flagged down a tuk tuk which brought us up and down every by-way but still could not find the tailor. At this point we decided to call and see if we could get direction to the shop but the shop had closed pre-covid. The lady who answered told us she was working from home so we handed the phone to our driver and he brought us to the location. From the street we could see a neglected garden and what looked from the outside as an abandoned building. The taxi driver told us to go in and that we were at the destination but I honestly thought we were going to be mugged. I negotiated with the driver to wait which he was happy to do. I had every intention of running out the house if anything seemed amiss. The madness was thinking of going into a house where things might be amiss! The house was very dark and had a cluster of cats, some on the floor and others on every available seat. The entrance porch had bolts of material from floor to ceiling, so I started to feel a little more confident that we may be in the right place. I was invited to sit down on the couch occupied by the cats which were not asked to move. I obliged rather than cause offense to any cat lovers but hugged close to the arm of the chair. Trying my best not to draw attention to my nervousness around cats. ‘Cat’ I can do but gangs of them pushes the boundaries of tolerance. Thankfully, after establishing what I was looking for I was asked to stand to be measured and no one ever moved as quick as me in that moment. Measurements taken I was then asked to pick out the material I wanted from the large selection on the porch. We were leaving in three days and I was assured that everything would be ready. I returned to the hotel glad to be shut of the cats.
Róisín always seemed to find those out of the way places which required a mile walk in the dark, my nerves would be fried by the time we got there. But in fairness the food was always exceptional and a beer or two would always take the edge off the return journey. Transport would always quote 300 rupees and I would always say “Ah Lads, will you get real. I want local prices not tourists prices”. They would drop to 200 but I would do a Maggi on it and say the lady’s not for moving. Róisín used to get really embarrassed and we became a bit of a double act, me being bad cop and Róisín good cop. I think they used to take pity on her as she would always end up calling me back saying they had changed their minds and were now willing to take 100 rupees.
Whale Watching in Mirissa
One of the great adventures of this trip was the early morning whale watching trip we booked. We were required to be up at 5:30 am so as to be at the pier for 6 am. These early morning trips really kill me it makes a great day out feel like work but I reassure myself that I can sleep on the boat. I have become a dab hand at sleeping upright, between cars, buses, and ferries nothing daunts me. We arrive at the pier to find there are hundreds going out. This is one of the big tourist attractions in the area and I am assured the crowds are small compared to pre-Covid days. This is also another one of those locations where each man helps his neighbour so that not all boats go out on the same days. There isn’t that dog eat dog competition that is so familiar with everyone vying for the same few tourists. They take turns so that everyone has a few shackles to take home at the end of each week. In this instance its fair to say crisis has brought out the best in these people. We are hammered onto the boat, no social distancing here. Only about 6 of the 20 or so boats docked here will go out today. When we are all packed in off we head on the high seas chasing the illusive whales. We are bouncing around n the waves for about 2 hours before we see some dolphins. The dolphins start to chase the boat and weave over and back in front of us. This is enough for me, dolphins are such fun creatures just don’t get that feeling from whales. There’s a Russian guy just in front of me and he starts making noises like I dolphin. He’s leaning out over the side of the boat making those whop whop and click click noises I believe he believed the dolphins understood him. Six hours we floated around and not a whale to be seen anywhere. The captain gave us a choice of either heading back to port or we could head up the coastline to enjoy the views as a compensation for the no show whales. Amazingly, everyone with the exception of an American couple voted to head back to port. The American couple were ignored as everyone on the boat could see the added value being offered in a jaunt up the coast and back. Personally I don’t care it has been a beautiful morning looking at the scenery and taking in that beautiful sea air. I have travelled enough in Asia to say at this point in my trip that everything is an ‘ish’ time and I like it. Constant time keeping really wears you down. I appreciate that time schedules for work are a particular matter but we are on holidays, I do believe we have to be that bit more flexible. But clearly the Americans are always on the clock and of those I have met there are few exceptions. Just in case anyone is wondering they had no pressing engagements that precluded them from the extended boat trip at no extra charge. So off we went up the coast with our happy Russian friends, our scowling Americans and of course the Irish contingent of the “I’m easy, no bother” brigade. Suddenly, there is a buzz of excitement spreading through the crew and the captain sends a guy to climb up a flag pole to survey the horizon. Jack Sparrow would have envied the moves of this guy as he shielded his eyes from the sun while holding onto the pole with ankles and one hand. He points out into the ocean indicating that there was a Whale there. Now, we are talking one whale and what he is describing is a change in the texture of the water which indicated that a whale was under the water rather than visibly on top. He also knows that we have no chance of even seeing a glimpse of this creature if we are focused on the specific location. By now there are around 10 boats loaded with upwards of 100 passengers. The passengers on the boat all move toward one side of the boat to get a better view (if any) of the elusive whale when the captain starts roaring for everyone to sit down fearing the boat might capsize. Thankfully everyone followed the instruction, returned to the seats where they stood in anticipation of the majestic whale. It was a whale but not your blue orca or basking or even a great white. The little fellow we and all the other boats were chasing was a sperm whale, one of the smaller varieties of whale in the ocean and honestly not much bigger than a dolphin. But contract complete, I as well as many others on the boat saw the tail end of the whale so we could now return to shore and back to the hotel for some R&R.
Dolphins in Mirissa
Final Day in Mirissa
My dressmaker contacted me the day following my visit. They were wondering if I had a pair of trousers I particularly liked and they would copy the design. They even offered to come to the hotel and collect the pants which I felt was above and beyond but happy that I didn't have to haggle another fare to town which was by now beyond a joke. We were leaving the next day so I needed and received reassurance that the clothing would be ready by the time of our departure and that they would deliver them to our hotel before our departure. They arrived not long after and took the trousers with promises to return prior to checkout the next day. That sorted, Róisín and I headed out for the evening with a detour by the laundry on our way. The laundry seemed a bit chaotic. It didn't add confidence that we looked through the contents of everyone’s washing to find our own. We nearly left one bag behind as it was only by chance that I spotted a familiar pattern in another bag on the way out of the shop. The reviews did say they lose stuff so figured we had headed that demon off. Dinner complete. Tuck tuk haggled. And we returned to our hotel to pack our belongs for the journey to Tissamaharama the next day. It was easy packing as most of our clothes were packed, ironed and folded from the laundry.
My tailor returned as promised just before we were leaving. I had intended to try everything on but our taxi was waiting and we just didn't have the time. Besides she was a lovely lady I couldn’t see her cheating me. Paid the lady and thanked everyone for looking after us, hotel staff included and off we went to our next destination.
I tried another card but again the same problem. I was fit to cry. I am a total coffee addict and was counting on a good hit of caffeine before our flight. There was absolutely nothing to do but put everything back and go on our way as there were no ATM machines after security check-in. The staff had said their machines that could only cover local cards not international so we were stuck, it would be at least four hours until we reached Sri Lanka. While sitting at one of the café tables trying o figure out what could be the problem with the cards a staff member approached us, I was sure they were going to ask us to leave. The girls and the guy (all students age and part time I guessed) in the coffee shop took pity on us and arrived over with the items we had intended to purchase, all of them. I just could not believe their kindness and I have to emphasize that the eldest member of staff here was about 20 years old. I gratefully accepted the coffee for myself and the bottle of water for Róisín but tried to insist they take the other items back but they refused saying they would cover the cost between them. There comes a point where it is best and necessary to acknowledge and appreciate a kindness when done and that is just what we did. Besides a re-enactment of "Father Ted" and the cup of tea “go on, go on, go on" I just couldn’t face without the coffee. So to the staff in terminal 3 coffee near gate 4 my daughter and I are and were amazed by your kindness. I did have one unopened box of the lovely chocolates left which I rooted out of my bag to offer as a thank you. So all told India was beautiful and where our first encounter with the country was not a positive one most interactions thereafter were wonderful. We board the plane for Sri Lanka where the contents of the plane and ourselves are sprayed with something from a similar container that I would use to spray the garden. I figured it was a need to know and if I wanted to go to Sri Lanka I didn't need to know. Thank God or covid for the masks; or are they both manmade!
Sunset at Galle Fort
Arriving at Galle Fort
We flew into Colombo and had a driver organised to take us from the Airport to our hotel in Galle Fort, a two and a half hour journey away. The property in Galle Fort was receiving great reviews and although not within the parameters of 4 star, it was flagged as spotlessly clean by previous guests. Every thing else you can work with or around but if a place is dirty you sunk. Sometimes you can just be lucky with your plans. The guest house was called Sirene Galle Fort and it was beautiful. A real old world style. The room was small for the netted four poster bed with mosquito netting. Mosquito nets are not just a romantic aesthetic as they are in Europe. In these parts they are functional too, they save you from being the main course for the hungry little beasties. The hotel was a small family run establishment with every review mentioning the breakfast. It was one hell of a breakfast prepared by the grandmother of the house with love. Honestly you felt like a member of the family or at least a much welcomed relative the way this lady looked after us. We had platters of fruit. My first introduction to dosa, a rice flour pancake with a fried egg and a noodle type roll with a sweet paste filling, and an array of jams and spreads, wow an excellent start to the day and all delivered with the kindly countenance of the grandmother.
Breakfast in Sri Lanka
Galle Fort Food
Directly across the street was a Buddhist temple. The street was not more than 3 meters wide (10 feet). So, every morning as we sat on the veranda having our breakfast we watched the monks meditating for the betterment of the world, very comforting even if not of the same belief system. We spent the day just wandering the fort city along its battlements that towered towards the sea. The raised headland and 16th century battlements of the fort saved the old city from the worst of the destruction during the 2004 Tsunami. This was not the case with the low lying modern city which was all but washed away and 4000 of the city inhabitants died. This tragic event is still fresh in the minds of most people here but I have to honestly say it was far in the back of my mind until I saw the location. How quickly we forget things that don’t directly affect us. The buildings and streets in the fort are pretty much as they have been since the Portuguese’ arrived and established themselves here back in 1505. Jack Sparrow wouldn’t look out of place here. Well, less out of place here than in that court room defending his character against his ex. In this court of public opinion all I can say is “Mrs Ex, hard to come back from what you did in the bed, forget about the antics in the lift or the apartment”. Dirty, dirty, dirty. Need to wipe that from my mind so moving on.
As we strolled around the city we managed to find a fantastic restaurant specializing in fish dishes. I know a port town what a surprise but on advice from google we entered the establishment and promptly set to ordering the house specials. Now for those who know me well I’m not really a fish eater. Personally I believe it comes from the fact that my father was from a coastal village and fish was a staple in their household either that or his mother was a dreadful cook. Let us take it that my grand mother was not a dreadful cook but that the abundance and frequency of fish at mealtime meant it was under valued. At a guess I think this analogy is closer to the truth. I do remember in my childhood summers that steak was the dish offered to visitors when they arrived. My, my, what would I not do for a taste of wild salmon now? Okay, back to my restaurant story. So I peruse the menu and to my horror realise there is only fish on the menu so fish I must have. I have no intention of having it out with the chef if for any reason I don’t like it so I make a deal with Róisín to consume it if I cant. I decide on the Red Snapper and I am escorted to a glass fronted display fridge with every sort of fish laid out on a bed of crushed ice. I wouldn’t know a good Red Snapper from a bad one and so deferred to the chef for his professional opinion. I watched him pick out the chunkiest of the Red fish from the fridge, placed it on a plate and closing the lid took my offering to the kitchen. While we were waiting there was a power cut and candles in bottles were brought. The kitchen cooked with gas so cooking was still on schedule. One thing that struck me about Galle Fort was the numbers of visiting Russians. It's not like I spend a lot of my time wondering where Russians go on holiday. But I realised for the first time their absence from the Costas, the Cliffs of Moher, Temple Bar, the typical Euro/US zones where at some point I have met every nationality but no cannot say I have met any visiting Russians. So while we are waiting four stunning looking Russian women come into the place and ask if food is being served. The restaurant is getting very busy now with large family groups being turned away and yet these four beautiful women show up and they have the undivided attention of the waiters. Do I need to say it. Feck! I will surprise, surprise. Well these women went to the chilled cabinet like they owned a fish stall in Moscow. They took each fish out and turned it over, punched it, slapped it and then left it to the side before going at the next one. Believe me when I tell you they could have taught the lovely Nigela a thing or two about handling a fish. I was getting mad just looking at them. I mean there’s a power cut and unless there is such an object as a gas fridge these women were doing their best to ensure what was left would spoil and yet the waiters smiled and fawned over these beauties. Well I laughed out loud as the beauties left the building and the fish remained spread out around the counter. More power to ye ladies and that’s only because the fish you mauled was not mine. Lads, just keep it professional and you wont be made fools of, is that too much to ask? Well to end the story of the Red Snapper he arrived just as the power was restored and I ate every bit of him except the eyes which kept looking at me accusingly. So I think I have established that the food in Sri Lanka at this point has not disappointed.
Red Snapper in Galle Fort
Day Out in Galle Fort
So on to our tour and a walk through the Old city with the lovely Uzman, a part time guide we came across on Airbnb. When he is not guiding people around his native city he is practising law. He is an absolute gentleman. He brought us through the streets to the Court buildings, old entrance, along the battlements, pointing out all the interesting features along the way. Galle Fort is an UNESCO heritage site and as such the owners of the properties have obligations towards maintenance. Many of the properties in the old city are being bought up by large hotel groups which in turn is forcing the indigence population out. I have no issue with the capitalist system of profit first but I do have a problem with local people being forced out of their homes because they do not have the type of funds to make repairs to these properties to a heritage standard level. There are funds available but as is often the case they are not there for the little people. Uzman and his family are the 8th generation to live in their historical Dutch house. As part of his tour we had the privilege of being invited to his home and chatting with the matriarch of the family. She sat in the courtyard at the centre of the house. Part of the building is in urgent need of repair but the resources are just not there to cover it. Now, I appreciate that many would say that if they cant afford to do repairs they should move. Personally I think repairs to the level of heritage site integrity should be funded by government at the very least through an interest free loans scheme. Accepting that house has been in the same family for generations. They have cared and maintained it through many decades so that it is still standing to be in a position to be labelled UNESCO. Do the state not have some obligation to maintain such building without the eviction of the residence. I am confident that this property has been maintained with contemporary materials available as needed and at reasonable cost. Not the case with heritage materials. But sadly this is mostly a moot point with Sri Lanka being on the verge of failed state status. I was there in early January and there was a tension in the air. As we drove from the airport I at first thought that Sri Lanka was booming. The highway we were on was brand new and massive, far in excess of the volume of traffic I could see traveling on it. Our driver told me that the Chinese owned the new toll roads in his country. So every time a Sri Lankan drove on this road that was another rupee for China. I live in a country where the state sold off a lot of the silver and it took a lot of time and money to get bits of it back, M50 toll, shell oil and tax. I live in a country where we are still paying interest on state borrowing used to pay unsecured shareholders in the rest of Europe. I live in a country where our economy is booming but our public services are stressed. I will end this rant and this episode with a heart felt sorrow for the people of Sri Lanka. President Mahinda Rajapaksa, when the people are banging on your door telling you its time to go history tells us its best to go before your pushed. Oh and what really would be original is leaving the silver and not filling your pockets as you go.
I have mentioned before that there aren’t many chalkies around these parts and from this vantage point we quickly grasped that we were the main attraction. Everyone who went on that escalator stared at use for the full duration of the journey. I don’t believe that anyone meant to be rude moreover perhaps they thought we weren’t real, more of a ‘dice man’ installation. After a while it was a little uncomfortable sipping coffee with this ever changing audience studying us in the Starbucks fish bowl so we moved on. While strolling around the shops I happened upon a section in a department store which was selling suitcases. Now for those who don’t remember how this started as a student gap year with all the trimmings, hostels, rucksacks, sleeping bags (for the love of God what made me think I could travel that type of budget when I didn't have too!). The last vestige of the student backpack trip was my rucksack and today I was retiring it for a lovely giant suit case with wheels.
Next effort was to actually look for the items we had set out to buy. Now at 58 years I don’t believe I am very old but I do know I’m not young. I don t believe I am morbidly obese but I do know I’m not skinny. I am not small but neither am I particularly tall. I believe I am the average Irish Mammy and all I am looking for is a simple pair of knickers. After looking in many lingerie shops in this very sophisticated shopping mall and only being offered teenie weenie utterly cosmetic pants of no practical use whatsoever, I finally fell upon M&S, such a relief. Well I was relived until I saw what was on offer. Honestly, I was in shock at what was on offer. I don’t know what their target market is but they don’t reside in India. I have seen no expats and if I had they would have had to have been on the vastly rotund sizing to fit what was available. In India, women, at least those I have seen, are mostly small in stature and even if wide in girth these offerings by M&S would house a small family. So I’m stuck between itsy bitsy and a hammock suffice to say I ain’t no itsy bitsy teenie weenie anything and beggars can't be choosers. I was happy with my giant suit case on wheels to carry my giant knickers. Now, I think that’s enough about my very comfortable knickers.
Munnar Tea Plantation
We left our hotel at 6am on a Sunday morning to make the four hour journey to Kerala - ‘Gods own country’ although I don’t know who names it such, I can understand how it came about when you see the beauty of the place. The sun was just raising as we left the city. There were many people up and busy on this very early Sunday morning. On the outskirts of the city I noticed a group of young boys getting ready for soccer practices. It was 6:30 am and these young boys were already on the pitch. 10 am sports practice in Ireland GAA on a Saturday morning used to make me feel heroic, feeling a little inadequate looking at these guys who must have been up at 5:30 am. The driver tells me that soccer has become very popular in recent years and if they don’t turn up these boys are off the team. Many families see soccer as their way out of subsistence and anyone can make it big through soccer despite the caste system as the game is about skill and nothing more. I remember the beautician I met in Goa had said the same about her son and his soccer skills and I really hoped they were right. The cynic in me said money always matters for the equipment you can buy, the training you can buy, even for the slave money can be for disappointment but I kept that thinking to myself and hoped I was wrong. We drove on through the country and passed through a few towns.
In the square of one small town we passed I noticed there were upwards of 100 young men well dressed but casual. It was now around 8am. These men look just like your average student with laptop in their backpacks slung over their shoulders. I asked the driver what was going on and he told me the guys were waiting to be hired. I was shocked. Perhaps my shock was more to do with my naïveté assuming that education protected people from these types of demeaning hiring fair practices but not here. I am back again to realising how lucky we are to live in a location where hiring and firing is not solely the remit of the bosses. Although the zero hour contracts introduced to help Economy’s during the crash shows just how easily gains can be taken away. We passed through that town heading for the mountains when the driver suggested stopping for a bite to eat. I live in mortal fear of Delhi belly and will go without food rather than risk that particular travel experience. We stop in at a road side cafe the driver directs us upstairs and he goes downstairs to join the other drivers. Its a Sunday morning and just like home the cafe is busy with people having their breakfast. We are given the menu and pick the thing least likely to cause damage. Its very clean but I suppose there is no avoiding flies in this type of heat so a few hoover around. I’m having buttered toast and bottled water. Róisín has acquired a taste for Chai tea so she orders that along with toast for her breakfast. Toast arrives already buttered, WHY!? Because of the heat in the places where I have tried butter it tends to be rancid so I have gave up trying. I discreetly try to hide the toast in some napkins and hide it in my bag with the intention of feeding it to the monkeys if we pass any. We get back into the car and the stink of butter wafting from the bag is really off putting. Our driver asks if we enjoyed breakfast and I lie and say it was great. It really was a good place but I am not taking any chances when it comes to food. Up the mountains we go and we pass many colonies of monkeys but there is no discreet way of getting rid of the toast so we are stuck with the stink. Up into the mountains we go and eventually we arrive at the town of Munnar where we meet our guide before heading out into the tea plantation. Our driver drove us up to the walkway through the plantation. Our guide was in his early 20s and this was a part time job for him to help pay his way through college. He was studying law but would have preferred to study medicine however the fees were way out of his family's reach. Everyone who can afford 3rd level here seems to do either Law or medicine. Third level is out of the grasp of ordinary citizens. He was a very nice guy and knew the history of the plantation as his family had lived in the area for generations. He seemed to be running a bit of a temperature as he was sweating profusely and naturally being Irish I was too polite to ask and just hoped he was on the beer the night before. Him being hung over had a better outcome for us than him having covid as we were due to fly to Sri Lanka the following evening. The plantations were truly beautiful and could be seen stretching for miles over every mountain top and up to the edge of the national park and wild life reserve. The climate in these parts is very comfortable it was very easy to see why the English colonised it. We walked around the grounds for about an hour. Our guide explained that the plantations are now owned by the Tata organisation and that the workers were paid less than average wage but they got homes with the job and medical care also. The managers did appear to have lovely homes with well kept gardens and the field workers homes were bunched together with little I could see to commend them. I did ask our guide what happened to the workers when they retire but he didn't have an answer.
We went to the tea plantation museum. Here we got lose up to the equipment used in the harvesting and processing of tea. First we sat in a small cinema and were shown a film of the history of tea and how it came to be in this location. Apparently back in the age dot this English guy came traveling in the region and on discovering the area was perfect for growing tea he approached the local Maharaja and offered him peanuts for the land. The peanuts were accepted as the Maharaja did not believe the land had any value, so he pretty much gave it away. I’m adlibbing a little but not a lot. I’m surprised that this film is clearly depicting the Maharaja as a fool and the English guy as the smart man and this is being played to an audience of Indian people with the exception of Róisín and Myself. It went on to tell us of the great works the English owners did for the people and how they were the very first to think of land conservation. They had créches for the children where the older women would mind the children while the younger women worked the fields. I did start to think that perhaps I was being a little too hard on the colonialists after all they seemed to be introducing supports for women workers. They were also, I was informed by the movie, the first to consider conservation and habitat protection back in the 1900's. Well now I am truly feeling ashamed of myself for judging these English emigrants so harshly by assuming they only came to get what they can at the expense of the local population. They also had education programmes for the children of the workers so lots of good works being done. These interlopers generated enough wealth that they were able to build a hydro electric power station here and for themselves. Can you imagine how much tea had to be sold for that little trinket. When we left the movie the first room I pass through is the trophy room with floor to ceiling of animal heads and walls of photos of trophy hunters standing over every type of animal. The cynic in me suggested that when you have enough money to build your own power station you don’t need more tea but perhaps you need to conserve some land for you shooting gallery hobby. We continue on through the different rooms depicting a life and time that no longer exists but I get the distinct impression was much admired. The good works are being stripped away one by one. Education was for the managers children not for everyone. Heavens forbid that education would be given to the tea pickers they might realise they were getting a raw deal. The last straw falls when in the final room we are shown the money the plantation owners paid their workers. In addition to their hydro electric power station they also had their own mint. Yes they paid their workers in coin tat had no value outside of the plantation...need I say more. The final part of this tour brought us into the processing rooms. Here we learned how tea is processed and quality assigned to each blend. So first cut is white tea and this is the best and most expensive. Its made from the first 3 shoots of the new season and its dried quickly to maintain colour and flavour. The more processing the leaf gets the more its quality diminishes. The guy who came up with the tea bag must have made millions for the Tea companies. Before tea bags this stuff was swept off the floor or brushed out of the drying machines as dust. Yes we who drink so many gallons of tea are actually drinking the worst of the tea production. We end our visit to the plantation with serious reconsideration of the convenience of tea bags.
Processing Tea Leaves
Machinery made in Ireland from the Munnar Tea Plantation
Chocolate Factory and Boat Ride
Heading back to the city we stop off at a chocolate factory which made real chocolate. I hadn’t realised there was any other kind but apparently there is a compound chocolate which replaces cocoa butter with a cheaper fat. Yuck, just thinking about that is off putting. So saw a full demonstration from cocoa bean to finished wrapped sweet and had little tasters of different samples along the way. I am baffled how anyone discovered this bitter little bean, if left to rot for two weeks, then drying it, roasting it, grinding it would deliver the most wonderful irresistible product! We bought a few samples then realised we were flying the next day so of course we had to eat it to reduce bag weight. Final part of this very busy day brought us to a beautiful park with a beautiful lake. Our driver dropped us at the entrance where we made our way down for a boat trip around a lake. Our driver thought to suggest a speed boat but we were happy to wait for the public ferry, no pleasure in tearing around a lake at break neck speed. I decide a bathroom trip was called for before the boat arrived so off I went in search of the loos. I think perhaps most Europeans have a fear of being confronted with a squat toilet, that hole in the floor that we have no clue how to approach. Well in our park visit I was confronted by such a dilemma and it would be a further 3 hours before we got back to our hotel. Luckily there were two mature Indian ladies just ahead of me and here is the trick, you pull the legs of your pants above your knees before you proceed to pull anything down. I hasten to add the toilets weren’t an open plan affair just that the ladies were pulling their trouser legs down from their knees when I arrived. So for all you adventurers out there I hope that was a helpful bit of observation. We are nearing the end of our Indian leg of the journey. We needed to get a covid PCR test for the flight to Sri Lanka and asked our driver if he knew of any place near us. He not only brought us to a test centre but he also waited 40 minutes for us and returned us to our hotel. Now tell me any European taxi drivers extending that courtesy to anyone out there?
Boat Trip in Munnar
Hi, I'm Olive and I am the writer of this blog. I am traveling the world with my 22 year old daughter, Róisín, who has just graduated University. I wanted to document this journey because it is unusual for a woman of 58 years old to go on adventure that most students do on a gap year. I will try to share my insights into this epic journey with you along the way and maybe inspire more people my age to go on these crazy adventures too.