Cricket, tea…

…mountains, and beaches.

I have just realised that I have unconsciously adopted the Oxford comma into my writing style. Damn it.

Anyway, the encroaching Americanisms aside, I think it is high time I wrote up my jaunt to Sri Lanka, which happened way back in September.

Followers of the old blog might recall my double post chronicling (wait, one ‘l’ or two? Who knows anymore…) a trip to Jordan with a good friend from university. (I am actually planning to re-post that and other entries on to this site when I find the time and inclination.)

A large part of that trip involved a pervy driver moving his rear view mirror around to keep my friend in his sights at all times. This was not only deeply creepy, but also flies in the face of all reasonable safe driving practices.

As Uzi, my companion for this trip, is less blonde and considerably more male, we didn’t attract the same type of attention, although from our first stop the concept of people of opposite genders who weren’t a couple travelling together seemed to cause a surprising degree of confusion. Requests for two beds were met with confused look and, in one case, a plaintive cry of “but whyyyyy” aimed at a rather bemused Uzi.

Our visit to Sri Lanka was planned around the Twenty20 World Cup matches (that’s cricket, for all my friends from over the pond) so we were somewhat limited regarding the distances we could move from Colombo and Kandy, where the majority of the England and Pakistan games were being played.

Kandy Stadium at sunset - a pretty great way to watch the cricket

Kandy Stadium at sunset – a pretty great way to watch the cricket.

The first few days also didn’t really go according to plan due to me getting gastric flu just before our departure, resulting in various horrible experiences that created a close friendship out of what had originally been a trip planned on a mutual love of cricket and the knowledge that we wouldn’t kill each other after two weeks of being together every waking minute. (Every disgusting cloud has a silver lining, I guess.)

Once we got moving, however, I fell in love with Sri Lanka almost immediately.

You will all be relived to know I am not going to go into detail about the cricket, (summary: England were terrible in the midst of the KP debacle and having a good, but young captain and Pakistan lost to India. I switched loyalties as soon as England were eliminated and sported a Sri Lanka shirt for the rest of the trip, I saw the Aussie team warming down in the pool next to where we were having dinner and can’t remember most of the meal,) instead I am going to focus on the bits in between the games and the being violently sick.

First off, a shout out to our driver/tour guide/saviour Tyronne who is one of the greatest people I have ever met while travelling around. (If anyone is heading to Sri Lanka hit me up for his contact details.)

A contact of a contact, we pretty much thought we would only use him for the airport pick up and the long journeys between cities that would take too long by train. In the end he became an indispensable source of wisdom, information, and advice and he helped us out nearly every day of our trip, from ringing people to find us a room in a fully-booked city to letting us leave all our bags in his van so we weren’t weighed down while room hunting or sightseeing.

The road between Colombo and Kandy offers stunning views, the greenery was breathtaking, (this might be due to the fact that we were both coming from a steel and glass city in the middle of a sandpit – I have been known to bounce up and down in my plane seat on the first aerial view of England’s patchwork fields on my trips home) but after taking that road several times, sometimes overnight straight from a late-night game to be in the next city in time for an early afternoon one the next day, the long journey would have been considerably less fun if not for Tyronne’s stream of information about Sri Lanka, stories about the aftermath of the war, and the glimpse he gave us into the religious and social make-up of the country he so obviously loves.

With four major religions, disparate societies, and topography that spans beaches, mountains, tea plantations, and major cities, it is safe to say I would happily settle in Sri Lanka and never get bored of the place.

As this happened some time ago, the actual order we did things in has escaped me, but Uzi and I managed to see a plethora of places that did not involve cricket stadiums.

The botanical gardens in Kandy were a treat, coming as we were from the flora-deprived Doha, and we spent a happy few hours wandering, writing, and snapping away. Uzi also noticed with great joy that it was cheaper for him to get into tourist attractions than it was for me with my unmistakable English-ness obviously acting as some kind of faulty signal of wealth.

I didn’t really begrudge the cost though, it was still fairly cheap and anything to help Sri Lanka’s economy and efforts towards eco-tourism is fine with me.

Also, it looked like this:

A couple taking a stroll through the Botanical Gardens - Kandy. I loved their umbrella

A couple taking a stroll through the Botanical Gardens – Kandy. I loved their umbrella.

On another visit (or possibly the same one, I just can’t be sure) to Kandy we went to the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, a Buddhist temple that houses a tooth of the Buddha himself, although I was mainly interested in the monkeys that scamper about in the garden.

Flowers offered in prayer at the Temple of the Scared Relic of the Broken Tooth

Flowers left in prayer at the temple.

On the Buddhist flag, blue represents loving peace, kindness, and universal compassion; yellow is the middle path - avoiding extremes; red shows the blessings of practice - achievement, wisdom, virtue, fortune, and dignity; white represents the purity of Dharma; finally, orange represents the wisdom of the Buddha's teachings.

The Buddhist flag at the temple.

Guides in the temple have to be fully accredited so we could not use Tyronne for this part of the journey. The guy we ended up with certainly knew his stuff, but was far too keen to hammer through the tour and direct where we went. Both Uzi and I take a far more wandering-about-and-looking-at-stuff approach to everything and at one point had to tell him to chill out and let us sit and contemplate stuff for a bit.

On the Buddhist flag, blue represents loving peace, kindness, and universal compassion; yellow is the middle path – avoiding extremes; red shows the blessings of practice – achievement, wisdom, virtue, fortune, and dignity; white represents the purity of Dharma; finally, orange represents the wisdom of the Buddha’s teachings.

I pretty much just annoyed Uzi until he let me go and play with the orphaned elephants

I pretty much just annoyed Uzi until he let me go and play with the orphaned elephants.

Fairly early-on in the trip I managed to annoy Uzi into going to the elephant orphanage on the road between Colombo and Kandy. Some of these organisations have received some criticism for not preparing the animals for re-release and for making profit from tourists, but strives are being made to address these issues and a lot of the money raised now goes to conservation and preservation

Needless to say, my nieces and nephew all got an elephant poo notebook...

Needless to say, my nieces and nephew all got an elephant poo notebook…

of the country’s wildlife. My particular favourite way of making money were the slightly over-priced but utterly brilliant products made from elephant poo.

This guy is a mahoot - they take the orphaned elephants for food and a bath in the river every day.

This guy is a mahoot – they take the orphaned elephants for food and a bath in the river every day.

I have already mentioned the diverse topography of the country, and this goes hand in hand with a mix of weather – sometimes all of them in the same day. Fortunately, because we were there for cricket, the monsoon season was not on our side of the country, but we were hit with pretty much everything else.

On one of the down times between games, we headed up into the mountains and Nuwara Eliya. Nicknamed ‘little England,’ the tiny town is like an Agatha Christie novel in the middle of a mountain range. Rose-lined gardens, cottages, hotels decked out in 1940s and 50s style furnishings, I honestly wouldn’t have been surprised to see Poirot fastidiously making his way across one of the immaculate lawns.

Uzi on our walk round the lake in Nuwara Eliya, or Sri Lanka's 'little England.'

Uzi on our walk round the lake in Nuwara Eliya, or Sri Lanka’s ‘little England.’

Our mountain adventure had two main components. One was a hike through Horton Plains National Park at 5am to see a drop dubbed ‘World’s End.’ The freezing temperatures at the start of the walk meant that Uzi and I were both wearing more layers than we had for several months, much to the amusement of Tyronne who informed me English people normally didn’t feel it as badly as me. Apparently being in Doha has made me incredibly nesh.

So. Much. Tea. Tea pickers, usually women, a paid by the weight they manage to pick each day.

So. Much. Tea.

We also took time out on the drive up to stop off at a tea plantation/factory/museum to learn about the tea-making process. The pickers, usually women, are paid by how much weight they manage to pick each day, with a minimum requirement. While it can be dangerous sometimes, with snake bites and other injuries, plantations like Mackwoods also provide education centres etc for the families. The tea is dried out and goes through a whole bunch of processes (technical I know) and is then bagged up and shipped out.

The tea is dried out and goes through a whole bunch of processes (technical I know) and is then bagged up and shipped out.

Bagged up tea, ready for shipping.

From the bone-level cold of the mountains to the warmth of Galle, Galle Fort and Unawatuna, the beach where we stayed in an amazing guest house called The Kingfisher (as recommended by Tryonne.)

With the beach came some much-needed warmth and relaxation. As we were not there in tourist season there was not the pressure from shop owners to come in and buy their stuff that you might expect. I really enjoyed the attitude of ‘I have awesome stuff, you can buy it or not, it is still awesome.’

In Galle Fort we also found Vintage Posters & Postcards, owned by some friends of friends that stocks (unsurprisingly) vintage posters and postcards of films made in Sri Lanka, as well as adverts for Ceylon’s new railway, tea, and (to my delight an immediate purchase) a poster advertising the first test match between England and Sri Lanka.

Unawatuna also boasted the best prawn and mango curry I have ever eaten. Seriously, I would fly back just for that.

Sunset at a restaurant near Unawatuna beach.

Sunset at a restaurant near Unawatuna beach.

One of the last games we went to, along with Tyronne as a final thank you, was Sri Lanka vs England. A lot happened in that game, incluing me being used as a sign post for everyone else on the embankment (the Sinhalese for “I’m near the tall English girl, come find me” was apparently thrown about a fair bit near where I was standing,) but mainly what happened was that, ignoring a few idiots, all the Sri Lankans on the embankment with us were friendly and funny and perfectly happy to rib and be ribbed by two random tourists. Also, I might be on quite a lot of Sri Lankan’s Facebook pages looking confused as to why people are taking my picture.

A final word, which is kind of about cricket and kind of not. When we booked our

We gave these boys some tickets to the England vs Afghanistan game - 50 cents for a whole lot of happy!

We gave these boys some tickets to the England vs Afghanistan game – 50 cents for a whole lot of happy!

tickets for the games, Uzi and I were both confused by how cheap the seats were. When we arrived we realised it was so the locals, adults and children alike could afford to go and watch the games from the embankments. This is a great example of the over-all impression I got of Sri Lankans; that they care and they think about the people that matter and live and work there. The T20 CWC was for them, we just turned up.

Your typical Colombo street scene, right next to where we picked up all our tickets.

Your typical Colombo street scene, right next to where we picked up all our tickets.

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