The ups and downs of life in SL continue…

February 15, 2009 at 2:08 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Last Sat morning at 6.15am I got the first of 5 buses that would eventually get me to my destination of Dalhousie some 10hours later for less than 200Rs/=The reason for this journey was 2 fold ,firstly it was a get together of vols for Lynn’s birthday, secondly to Climb Adams Peak (Sri Pada check out the website on http://sripada.org/)

Travelling with the large group was good fun, catching up, sharing food, snacks (yeap my favourite part of any trip!)Listening to music, a chorus of “ging gang goo lie”( well the SL ‘s song sounded like it) and marvelling at the wonderful scenery making the journey not seem that long at all.
Adams Peak is situated at the south western edge of the hill country; it is one of Sri Lankans most striking features and one of its most celebrated places of pilgrimage- according to my guide book a miniature ‘Matterhorn’. It was indeed an impressive sight to behold (at 2243m it is SL’s 5th highest peak) as we weaved our way through the tea plantations and surrounding hills.
Arriving at Dalhousie we checked in at the River View Wathsala Inn, a beautiful spot with views of the river, hills and the Peak looming in the distance as the sun began to set.
We agreed to eat and get a few hours rest /sleep before making the ascent to arrive at the top to watch the sunset. I think I’d mentioned to folk that I was no novice at this having successfully climbed Kilimanjaro in 2001… Did I tell you???
Anyway we set off about 1am the temperature was very pleasant, although the locals were obviously were feeling the cold as they donned hats, jackets ,scarf’s and towels around their shoulders ( never got to the reason why?). As it was a poya weekend, we anticipated it to be busy with others making their annual pilgrimage we expected the ascent to take 4 or so hours including time to stop for tea at one the stalls lining the steps (approx 4900) en route to the top.
It was indeed very busy, we’d made good way after 2 hours stopping for tea everyone was feeling ok no serious aches at this stage. There was a great atmosphere amongst the pilgrims, old and young groups of families and friends the age varying from months old (being breast fed as mum walked up) to late 80’s.Lots of stalls selling food , drink,plastic flowers ,hats, scarf’s etc ;It felt like a festival of sorts, without the music and the mud of course!
Sadly after another couple of hours of very slow ascent of the steps (suiting my knees) we came to a complete standstill for over ½ an hour (a real people jam, no movement either way!)We were 2/3rds of the way up the lights from the top twinkling down at us. We were told the top was completely blocked with early arrivals waiting for the sun to rise in 2 hours time. What to do??
A group decision to head down was made as at this rate we would not make it to the top for sunrise. So a little disappointed we started to make our descent, but I did managed (in my typical brown owl style) to rally the troops to raise a chorus of ging gang goo lie with much hilarity from a group of SL lads if front of us! Stopping for tea again we met Brenda an 80 yr SL guide who at 6 in the morning had great pleasure in entertaining us by telling us that she had managed the peak 72 times, she had the press cuttings and photos from grateful tourists to prove it, we left promising to return and go with her the next time!
After a bit of brekky we again retired for a few hours rest, we had a walk around the local area we were a bit stiff. It was just fab to out and not perspiring. We meandered through the tea plantations, photographing lakes and waterfalls; it was lovely, confirming my love and preference for the countryside over the beach, vowing to visit the area again very soon.
With our disappointment at not reaching the summit behind us, it was after all Lynn’s birthday weekend we returned to the hotel for birthday cake and the party started! Hoorah!

Forget the rupees…keep an eye on the pounds!

August 7, 2008 at 11:59 am | Posted in Food, Friends, Health, Life, Love, Travel | 1 Comment
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Last week found me experiencing  5 star treatment in two ways;  first VSO held its annual Conference entitled “Safe & Sound” at the Mahaweli Reach (see www.mahaweli.com ) in Kandy. From the title you gather that the focus was on the new security policy and continued development /networking/communication between the programme office staff and vols. Being part of the planning team and self named“Flow Manager” (time keeper ,generally  “chivving”  things along ) over the two days, I am pleased to say, it was indeed an informative and interactive event which was a great success, with work to follow up on as well…

There is of course a price for success, mine being the expansion of the waist line I fear! For the buffet style food (three times a day) was delicious despite daily attempts to resist the sweet table (in the absence of a cheese board), when attempting to walk past a fellow vol would whisper in my ear “go on we are volunteers working in a developing country …you never know when you will get tiramisu again … how could I resist. It was lovely to have a choice of western foods baked beans, cauliflower cheese, chips and the amazing salads ummm! Oh yeah and one or 3 beers in the evenings!

Secondly on return I thought ,double the sit ups, and  I’ll feel ok in a couple of days( I did use the gym on 1 out 3 mornings!) I was however greeted by my landlady Mrs S who invited me to join her on a visit to her family home in Kosagama (45min by car east of Himbutana) for a Dana celebration . A quick trip to collect my washing, a shower  and 2 hours later I was back on the road (having spent 4hrs already on my return from Kandy)

Well it was absolutely wonderful ,they own ( the family) lots of land on which they have a rubber plantation, this was the family inheritance shared between Mrs S, her 2 sisters and 2 brothers, 3 of which live less the 2 minutes walk from each other. They were incredibly welcoming and kind I was shown the most generous Sri Lankan hospitality, the majority of which focused on EATING!!!

I am pleased to report  that after meeting  some of the family, partaking of tea and SL cookies with bananas in two houses ( just like visiting my grandmas in the west of Ireland years ago every house you visited you were fed)a walk up the hill to the rubber tree nursery was suggested. Well the questions started and major concerns voiced…

 “You tired no?” … no, a walk would be lovely

“You can walk no?”… Yes it has been known

 “What about leeches? “… What about them?

 “It is steep no? “… Steep? – You heard of Kilimanjaro?

Furtive looks were swapped between the adults as I was being encouraged outside by 9 year old identical twins girls A pair of wellingtons found (6 sizes to big) I was allowed to go up the hill. Our guide was a family cousin, a man of 65 plus years with the thinnest legs I’ve ever seen he carried a huge scythe (the leeches must be big un’s I thought) and was bare footed. The twins wore flip flops as they chased after their cousins 2 boys’ age 12 and 9. Mrs S, declined stating she was too fat “I never climb” Mr S donned an old Stetson type hat, accompanied by his sister in law in a straw bonnet we looked a motley crew! (No photos sorry I’d un packed me camera and not re packed it)

It was noticeably cooler as we made our way through the plantation, the “hill” was more of a gentle incline nothing too strenuous very pleasant the views were wonderful. The cousin chatted away in SL with the sister (principle of the local school) translating for me. I was informed there had been some heavy rains recently which were making it difficult to collect the sap. It is a profitable business, the majority of the rubber stays in SL for tyre manufacture with some exported.

As we approached the ridge the kids were busy pointing out the small herd of goats that belonged to the people who had acquired some of the government land to try to make a living. Their accommodation was making shift and basic with one family living and sleeping in the same space. They came out to look at the “walking party” and offered us water from the stream, much appreciated. At the top we stood to admire the view, miles of forest stretched around me, a mix of pines and palms. I was informed on a clear day the infamous Adams Peak could be seen from here, – now that would be a climb and it’s on my list of “to do’s in SL”. The kids and I were keen to continue but the olds decided I’d be better coming back to do more another day. We had walked for about an hour; they were concerned about the light, so we wandered back the same path. The footwear had served its purpose, I reassured the welcome party, who were informed I would partake in a coconut drink. Mr S proudly told them I had drunk Tempali (king coconut) from his garden, therefore I was offered green coconut, it was refreshing and not as bitter as the king coconut. When finished drinking, the coconut was split open and I ate the white flesh within, delicious !

The women fussed over me arranging which bathroom I would use, as they all had different facilities, all indoors, they wanted me to use the most modern of the 3, as I have adapted to SL ways any of the 3 were fine by me, but being a guest I accepted their offer and went and had my “body wash” as they called it.

The hospitality continued by being invited to join the chaps for a beer while and of course sample the snacks on offer, some sambol and a root veg similar to a potato with a nutty taste…(again ever thankful to the inventor of the loose fitting draw sting trousers.) I did my best to speak in singalish (or singasarah) acknowledging the fact I was in the company of a fairly senior member of the SL police force, a tour guide (he’d also worked in Paris in the film industry) a senior engineer trying to obtain work in the Emirates, Mr S, and the thin legged cousin, who proceeded to sing to me! I then was asked to go inside to eat, nice I thought eat with the women and kids …wrong I was sat at the head of a laden table, there must have been 14 dishes of various curries and sambols and ONE plate, I was to eat alone watched by the women some of the kids and the men when passing thro to the fridge. It is a tradition in rural areas, to watch your guest eat, I found it a little un nerving but hey never been known to refuse I got stuck in…well you have to don’t you, it would have been rude not to…the trick is to take a little of everything, as if you don’t go for seconds you can offend, luckily I recalled this from my training. This was indeed 5 star home cooking, this was some of the food prepared for the priests (monks ) who would attend the house the next day to pray for the parents as it was the anniversary of their deaths the Dana, which is also an alms giving ceremony.

The priests arrived before mid day, they said prayers all the family, friends and villagers sit on the floor and join in, the senior priest speaks wise words, and he kindly acknowledged and prayed for me apparently! The food was brought in and presented to the 4 priests who then get out the bowls from their bags, are served, we all left the room, then they were presented with new fans and robes by the family. That was it; they were away by ¼ to 1.  Not a bad day’s work in my book!

Then guess what, yep it was time for us to eat, (it less than 5 hours since I had eaten breakfast, and 2 hours since pre ceremony snacks!)Oh well when in Rome…

Like I say it was a 5 star couple of days from the hotel to the countryside… I know I gained a few pounds, but  also I gained an awareness of rural SL family life and traditions therein.  I have been invited back,  and am looking forward to that… now where did I leave that skipping rope!

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