Train, beach, temple,beach and train…

October 15, 2009 at 5:25 pm | Posted in Food, Friends, Health, Life, Love, Travel | 1 Comment
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A month or so ago VSO lifted the security restrictions for travel to the east and with in a few hours txt messages were flying around the vols suggesting a train trip. So a few days later 7 of us are at Fort station awaiting the arrival of the overnight to Trincomalee( or Trinco as its known here)check  it out on

Trinco has been celebrated  since antiquity allegedly for its  superlative  deep water harbour one of the finest in Asia. Sadly with the onset of civil war in 1983 the town became and remains a flashpoint for ethnic tensions, due to a population evenly divided between Tamil, Muslim, and Sinhalese communities. Its position made it the island’ s collecting point for the war displaced persons. This stretched the resources and infrastructure to breaking point, parts of the town burnt to the ground during the communal riots. Following the ceasefire thousands upon thousands   of Sri Lankans flocked from Colombo and the south some for the first time others for the first time in twenty years.

Since the conflict ended in May of this year there have been security restrictions on travelling, so like us vols once this was lifted again the Sri Lankan s made their way there  again in droves. Need less to say the train was busy but that was all part of the experience. We had booked tickets which meant we got a seat, which was cool, but  nothing like the London to Edinburgh night train by any means. Knowing this I was prepared for the journey, once we were going 20 mins or so I opened the bar! Sat back and looked out in to the night! Our travelling companions were a young family with a sleeping 2 year old, a SL chap working for a charity which funded him based in Leeds ( small world again)lots of older SL men, who were very interested in my  unlabelled plastic bottles of fluid that the other vols would come and partake of from theirseats. As the journey progressed it became apparent that we were in the wrong carriage and we would need to leave the train at a specific stop and join the front carriages or we would end up in Batticoloa( which is a place Id never been to but was not the destination I wanted )why didn’t we just walk through the carriages umm not that easy when people are sleeping in the aisles, it was packed to the gunnels! We dismounted an hour or so later some of the group got seats and 3 of us sat on the floor near the open door which was great in the absence of air conditioning!


We arrived weary about 6am jumped in a 3 wheeler to see vol C who was to be our host , we said hellos and crashed out for a couple of hours before heading to Uppuveli beach. The aches and pains of the journey were soon forgotten at the sight of the Indian Ocean …it was beautiful, the beach of fine white sand was were we stayed for the whole day and into the evening. Sunday found us venturing to the Hindu temple which was swamped by visitors, there  was a great atmosphere! Next we travelled to Nilaveli the second of Trincos popular beaches, described by the prolific novelist and journalist Carl Muller as “peach perfect, picture post card resort, with its sugar sand beach ,a creaming sea of dreamy blue, and a lagoon like a sculptured topaz” and I’d have to agree with him!


As those of you who have holidayed with me know  I’m no beach babe ,however living here being so lucky to be able to visit  and see so many beautiful beaches… I’m getting in to it! A good time was had by all catching up with Vols ,chilling out in  such magnificent settings watching the fishermen with their catch, the families who spent hours in the water, left little time to explore the town .So when we left the next morn we  promised to return.



Which was nearly sooner than I had hoped when we again pulled in to a junction stop I hopped of to use the loo with N, on returning to the platform we saw the train slowly pull away with our mates frantically waving us to make a run for it, have you seen how high those old trains are and it was gathering speed. I cant remember what was going thro my head, a jumble of oh no, bugger, no purse, no ID, this is not happening ,what to do …??? the guards were shouting ‘Madam half an hour,’ the people on the train were laughing, I breathlessly  replied I had to get on , not get a train in half an hour arggh! What he was trying to say was the train is not leaving it is just changing engines and will be back in half an hour! Oh,  ahh, Ok I see,  (Sarah stops running! ) N and I returned to the platform to the amusement of the awaiting passengers. The train did return in less then 10 mins our friends were also bemused ,as they had no idea  what was going on…hilarious!

The rest of the return journey was uneventful, apart from an hour before arriving in Colombo the carriage lights went off ! murder in the dark any one ??was that your hand being shrieked every so often! The countryside slipped by our open windows ,we played cards, ate the short eats,( street food brought on to the train in baskets by men, better than  any BR or Virgin train trolley food  and v v cheap!) we played scrabble, ate biscuits and fruit, had a snooze, listened to ipods, it was a long but a lovely journey, one I would not have missed and look forward to doing again before I leave!


Oh didn’t we have a lovely day the day we went to…Kalutara?

March 10, 2009 at 5:58 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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On Sunday 1st of March along with the other 3 volunteers at Angoda (plus 2 of their friends from Holland) we were invited to the home of AA (a senior social worker collegue). She lives in Kalutara about 40 km south of Colombo. Kalutara was one of the northern most points along the coast to be hit by the tsunami, the hotels have been patched up and the effects of the tidal wave are visible in the ruined houses and fishing villages on approach to the town. We travelled by van the journey taking about a 1 1/2 hrs (AA uses public transport daily leaving her home at 5.30am to get to Angoda for 8am!)
On our arrival we were immediately fed in true SL style banana, fish cutlet and freshly made milk toffee (condensed milk, vanilla and sugar) delicious. Following our elevenses, we boarded the van with AA as our guide to go to Gangatilaka Vihara. A huge white dagoba I had admired on my previous travels down the Galle Road. Built in 1960’s on the site of a Portuguese fort it is unusual as it is the only one in the world that is entirely hollow. Once inside the cavernously echoing chamber you get a fantastic view of the Kalu Ganga estuary, the coast line beach, Railway Bridge and the surrounding environs inland. These were once famous for spice trading, now more famous for the islands source of finest mangosteens (looks like a purple tomato, with a hard shell like skin that softens when ripe, the delicate flesh within tastes a little like grape with a citrus tang!)The walls of the interior are covered by a sequence of murals depicting various scenes from Buddha’s life…my he had an interesting time let me tell you! (Perhaps another time hey?)On existing we crossed the road to the other temple buildings where we observed the usual lighting of incense sticks and the offering of flowers to the many Buddha shrines, it was after mid day the sun was hot so was the sand underfoot(footwear removed in the temple area)so we moved around pretty sharpish I’ll tell you! AA blessed us all by rubbing hot oil on our foreheads, as we watched the locals tying prayers to the bo tree or pouring water into the channels to water the bo tree roots.
We hot footed it( literally) to the van to return to AA’s for our lunch which was laid out for us by her son and daughter. Again masses of food, 2 different rice’s, 8 or 9 curries on offer for the guests, who have to eat before the hosts. We did all eat the dessert fruit and ice cream together, or was that because I was on my second helping?
After a short rest we again boarded our van and headed for the beach (deserted) for a paddle (warm water) before going on to AA’s business venture a rehabilitation home. This project is a house for up to 10 residents( currently only 2) set up as a halfway home AA will work here herself when she retires next year, since she became a widow 5 years ago she used some family land to build the house, the gardens need some work. She had invited us as she is proud of her achievements which are fantastic, but also for our ideas of how to support the future developments, the discussions of course aided by chocolate cake and tea! After an hour or so in this retreat, we dropped AA off at home and wend our way back up the coast road passing the temple with its roadside donation boxes, fed by motorists who stop to say a prayer and offer a few coins for a safe journey… when you’ve seen the state of the road you’d understand why!
A good day was had by all…

My trip to Bangkok…

November 28, 2008 at 12:35 pm | Posted in Food, Friends, Health, Life, Travel | 2 Comments
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You won’t be surprised to know I had a fantastic 5 day break in Bangkok, Thailand’s capital city.

I chose the airport shuffle service which provided me with my first glimpse of the city,  sights I had not seen for a bit, the  horizon full of  high rise buildings, motorways lanes full of  traffic , having left my volunteer sack cloth at the airport, I was on holiday, I had to switch to tourist mode… hoorah!

If I had any doubt about this it was forgotten as I entered the front doors of the Shangri – La Hotel ( which was to provide my board and lodgings, courtesy of my sis Rosie who was to be there on business for a week, how lucky am I?

Awaiting her arrival, I took a stroll around the riverside location, taking in the sights and sounds of the street traders, traffic, and the folk who were about. After a short while I began to wonder had I gone deaf or had some one thrown a Harry Potter invisibility cloak over me, no one was staring, no questions about where I was going ,and despite the volume of traffic there was no constant honking… ahh ha I was back in the developed world, it felt a little strange. However sipping a G&T whilst catching up with Rosie and all her news, she having just returned from a 10day Trek in Bhutan, I felt I was coping quite well, I looked forward to a soak in a hot bubble bath…

Being a regular visitor to Bangkok Rosie knew her way around and had no problem locating a little eatery she had tried on her last trip. ‘Harmonique’   was a former Chinese residence located off the Silom Road, down a little side street entering through a round door, which opened into a really sweet court yard with marble topped sewing machine tables. Quite a cosy place, which served Thai and Chinese dishes…delicious, I can recommend the Thai fish cakes and the vegetable green curry washed down with a glass of shanghi beer, cheers!

Saturday we spent doing the sights which Rosie hadn’t done much of before, so armed with my Berlitz pocket guide and her with the LUXE city guide darhlings, we were sorted. Sadly due to the death of the presidents sister or was it the kings sister (oops short term memory loss) the Grand Palace was closed for the official state mourning. The Thai people lined the streets wearing black to pay their respects, the whole thing was recorded, I‘d caught a glimpse of it as I flicked through the TV channels in the gym earlier (burning off a few calories to make room for the breakfast).

We took a boat up the Chao Phraya River clicking away at the many temples on the riverside in order to visit Wat Pho, Bangkok’s oldest temple which contains the longest reclining Buddha in Thailand. It was indeed magnificent sight to view as with all temples I loved the atmosphere that prevails infused with incense; heads bowed in prayer and murmured chants.

Bangkok has over 300 Buddhist monasteries (wat in Thai), each consisting of a walled compound containing several buildings constructed in the traditional Thai style, with steep swooping rooflines and colourful interior murals. If you have any doubt about this don’t hesitate to ask me to show you my photos sometime I’ve a couple of hundred to chose from!

It was lovely to wander about through the streets and markets as well as hoping on and off the river boat that sped up and down the river. We ventured to the Patpong area as the markets stalls were setting up for the evening an area more re known for its go-go bars, massage parlours and sex shows. Sadly I can not elaborate on these as we had a date with a couple of Rosie’s colleagues. I did manage to barter successfully for a couple of watches as requested by my Land lord and his wife. (They were overjoyed with the fake Rolex and Gucci, it took it a bit of persuading for them to accept them as gifts, but I got there in the end)

Sunday was a leisurely breakfast   then a stroll to the silversmiths, Rosie was on a mission and little boutiques where I could not resist purchasing a pair of hand made earrings you know what I’m like about my danglies!

The temperature was warm, not humid (no hanky required) with a gentle breeze made it very pleasant having a mooch about. A trip on the sky train (an elevated railway) which crosses the city took us to Siam Square, an expensive shopping area festooned with Christmas decorations and fraught shoppers. That afternoon I had a Thai massage my first, an experience I would love to repeat again, I enjoyed it. The masseuse does not use oil but a series of strokes, and stretches utilizing her knuckles, fore arms, and feet, to apply pressure it was incredible.  I thought I’d ache the next day but no problem.

Monday Rosie was working so I booked my self on a’ Kanchanaburi trip’ (approx 200km out of the city) which included a visit to the Bridge over the River Kwai, a train trip on the death railway route, a visit to the World War II cemetery and the JEATH Museum (JEATH=Japan, England, America/Australia, Thailand and Holland the 6 countries that were embroiled at Kanchanaburi during WW II) which was informative in its presentation and very moving indeed.

The afternoon was spent at   ‘Wat Pa Bua Yannasamparnno Forest Monastery’ Tiger Temple Here I was able to get up close (but not too personal) with the big cats. I admit to being a bit nervous, as I stood in line, listening to the volunteers at the monastery state that the tigers were not sedated, and then proceed to show their scarred legs! All was well with lots of photographic evidence!The cubs were so cute ..ahh and me a dog lover!

 I met Bandu and Lalaniabey a couple who hailed from Sri Lanka, they seemed impressed with my Sinhala, and interested to hear about my work with VSO, they promised to keep in touch which was nice. They had been to SL for a wedding and were on their return journey home, small world?

The Khoa San Road the in famous area of the city for backpackers was were I headed on Tuesday, I had a good old mooch along the street vendors selling brightly coloured sarongs, silks, copies of designer goods amidst the smell of phat thai (Thai style fried noodles) I found myself bartering for items (silk cushion covers at one stage) then having a reality check, did I really need this stuff…? Err me thinks no… The bartering was good fun tho’. I had a spot of lunch at one of the many bars /an internet cafe that line the streets and was asked to take a picture by 2 women who it turns out were Irish they were cousins and both worked for the NHS …how big is this planet?

Well there you have it my short hop to Bangkok, thankfully no great drama to report.  It was great both interesting and relaxing just what I needed, a catch up with Rosie ,a little bit o’ luxury and pampering (oh yeah I had a manicure and pedicure before I left for the airport)

5 days in the city was plenty for this ‘country gal at heart’, I’d found myself missing the palm trees… more soon.

Another week goes by …Barbie moves to the jungle

April 15, 2008 at 10:40 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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 Tuesday 15/04/08.

I must be enjoying myself as time is certainly flying by. Having survived the lightening storms (which seemed to have eased now) and another week of language training I am typing this from my new abode …the pink house! –  More of that later.

Last week saw Lynn Riza and Sarah 2(now called podi Sarah- small Sarah) venture to Raheems the tailor (he was recommended by another volunteer) where you can imagine much hilarity ensued as we chose fabrics looked at patterns complimented each other or not on choices, being measured and having to do our own in side leg as we were all wearing skirts!!! (Oh suits you sir!) Raheem assumed I was mother of the brood! I did correct him, he said that due to my hair colour people would assume I was the eldest (which is true)or mother ,he did redeem him self by saying  “ I had youth in my heart”…ahh flattery left him with a orders from all of us for trousers  (shalwar) and long shirt tops (kameez) should be ready for collection this week.

Tuesday was fun our first bus trip and as the rough guide informed me, regular use of this form of transportation is to taken you can forget your gym membership … standing on a crowded bus you use muscle s you never knew you had, even seated  as the seats are narrow. We explored the areas where Podi Sarah and Jesse will be living and working. Practised our language (sinhala chuTTak pulawan = I speak a tiny bit of Sinhala) to purchase limes –(for the Vodka) and a cooking spoon for James birthday on Wednesday. I also did my first text in sinalen to the language tutor Ianthe.

Wednesday saw us all dressed in our work attire (not casual wear), as we would be meeting representatives from our organisations, they were attending a briefing session to prepare for having a volunteer. I found this quite daunting as the 2 nurses’ who attended from Mulleriyawa (pronounced mull- aarea –waa) had as much English as I Sinhala!!! Instant thoughts of how the ???? am I going to do this, so smiling a lot and giving it my best shot we were able to make some small talk. After lunch I was introduced to a senior social worker very proactive in discharge at Angoda (the main hospital) who is fluent in English. She has worked with VSO vols before was very kind and I felt adopted by her, I have arranged to meet her on Wed 16th when I start.

Lynn had met with her partners and over a quick drink before dining out for James birthday, realised she had felt the same. We rationalised our anxieties, reassured each other about skills and abilities and agreed to stop fretting as we headed of to the Cinnamon Grand ( described as Colombo’s most appealing luxury option. Well it was a special occasion James was 31,we headed for the Cheers bar for a beer and English fodder – I had fish and chips it was delicious! James wanted to dance so we retired to the lounge bar to be entertained by Aubrey and his band Heat, entertained by his very poor James Brown and Shaggy impressions. James got to dance; we laughed a lot just what the doctor ordered!

Thursday was the VSO Project Launch- Supporting and Developing Rights Based Mental Health Services in Sri Lanka. Here I met Dr Jayan Mendis Director of Mental health services Angoda, he is the driving force behind the developments and changes in Mental health. He was keen to meet me and was very kind in his welcome  – the New Year would have dawned when I started he felt this was a good sign…  how much more reassurance do I need! Once the pleasantries were over and the spicy fish pasties and veg rolls munched we headed off with other vols of 12- 18 months experience for a beer to hear tales of their experiences and travels around the island, we ended up in Clancy’s Irish bar dancing to Reggae till 1 am…

Friday morning language classes were a little quiet – we got our come up pence as we spent the afternoon shopping for household goods in Apico one shop for all like a big Tesco. Packed with people buying in for the New Year festivities us VSO vols debated about toilet brushes, sheets, saucepans and cockroach sprays! Not an activity I will wish to repeat too soon.

Saturday saw us on the buses again heading to Angoda to meet Helen a vol social worker, who kindly arranged for us to have a look around the Hospital. I was very surprised at what I saw. Large open spaces, wards clean and tidy, patients up and about, garden space and evidence of activities taking place. A lot of money has been spent recently it even has a mother and baby unit, although all very basic they have come along way. Helen reminded me that Mulleriwaya (Mully) was not as developed but that was the reason for my placement. Dr Mendis had recently taken over administration for Mully and had made in roads with change, plans were in place to obtain community housing to support the discharge of the patients incarcerated there…ECT I think = Exciting challenging times for me!

Helen kindly invited us back to hers fro a welcomed glass of arrack and ginger beer  (lashing and lashings of ginger beer! just like the famous five by Enid Blyton I think not) Her placement is until Nov – so I can see myself calling on her experiences both professionally and personally of living in Sri Lankan. She will be a tri shaw ride away she saw my CV before I arrived and is keen to sample my cooking …she will have to wait a bit until I’m settled before the soup is on the menu though if she wants to pop in for an arrack I’ve told her the door will be open.

Sunday 13th saw us girls making the most of the Bank Holiday and headed for

Colombo to see a couple of temples the streets and roads were deserted as the locals were preparing for the new year 2551 which was to arrive at 6.29pm that evening. We visited 2 Buddhist temples Seema Malaka and Gangaramaya. Both different one modern on a platform on a lake the second a hotch potch of Buddhist arts and architecture from Sri Lanka, with a Bo tree in the court yard draped with prayer flags. The museum holds a collection of vintage British cars amongst old printing presses from London and Edinburgh. We had to remove our shoes, no problem but the marble flooring was so hot – it burnt our feet as we did  “ahh grasshopper” impressions on to the sparse matting. We returned via the Holiday Inn to check out the pool access for non residents – 200 rupees( Rs) which is duly noted compared to that of the aforementioned Cinnamon Grand at 800Rs we were informed later the Holiday Inn is the best bet as CG has very chlorinated water.

Returning to the Guesthouse I made poor attempts at home work then packing before listening to the New Year arrive with the gang in the garden. Lots of fire works just loud bangs though no visual display.

Monday dawned the bags were packed. We arrived at the office to find a New Year Breakfast awaited us put on by the office staff. It is a traditional thing to do.wish some one had told me I would not have had breakfast but I managed to sample a little of every thing it would have been rude not too!

That afternoon I was taken to my new abode I had seen it from the outside on Saturday and admired the setting, the house was surrounded by palm trees and had orchids growing in the garden and was newly painted in PINK. Opening the gate at the bottom of the stairs leading to my rooms I realised that it was pink there too and the bedroom and the kitchen and the balcony ….how lovely. As you know I like my pastel shades especially pink but it was a bit of a shocker luckily Lynn came with me so we laughed a lot! I am sure as she text me later- at the moment it is a pink house soon I will make it a home. Once I’d done some immediate cleaning I showered and made a drink before retiring to my bed which by the way has pink sheets and a pink mosquito net!

More from Barbie’s house soon!







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