Switching blades…

…not switchblades, that’s a different thing.

International épée in Doha

International épée in Doha

“I think you will be a better épée fencer than you were sabre fencer.”

[Olympia Fencing Centre]

The different weapons and target areas [Olympia Fencing Centre]

My coach in Doha has said this a few times now in recent weeks. The first time he said it, I was hit by a mixture of emotions. There was the pleasure in the compliment, a rare thing among fencing coaches, a kind of latent regret that I was leaving my ‘favourite’ weapon behind, and finally a concern that if I had fenced épée to begin with, I might have progressed to the level I so desperately wanted to reach when I was younger.

The more I thought about it, however, the more I realised that while me now might have the “potential to one day be a decent épéeist,” (as I said, compliments are hard earned) my younger self would have been (and on the few occasions I was forced to try, was) a terrible terrible terrible epee fencer.

I guess, at this stage, I should look at the various differences between the two blades (and ignore foil completely because I know absolutely nothing about it).

The various weapons come with distinct rules and techniques but also very definite mentalities that make someone suited to it or otherwise.

Sabre - it is the slashy one...

Sabre – it is the slashy one…

Sabre – my original choice – is the fastest weapon with a target area of anything above the waist. It is slashy (technical term) as well as pokey (also a technical term) although the point is rarely used. It is so quick that instead of three sections of three minutes during a fight to 15 with a one minute break after each bit, you just stop for a minute after someone reaches eight points as it would be unusual for a fight to last more than three minutes anyway.

Because of its speed, you pretty much have to decide what you are doing between hits and then just go for it. If you mess up the next few seconds are run on instinct until one or other of you lands a hit. You have to adapt quickly and there isn’t a lot of thinking time.

This last bit is why sabre was good for me as a teenager and into my early 20s. One of the reasons I crapped out of competitions is that I had a tendency to over-think everything to the point where I was basically a ball of stress with a sword.

At the same time my concentration span was such that my brain would wander off in search of entertainment elsewhere after (at most) half an hour of thinking about the same thing. It is why I would regularly get y ass kicked playing chess, even if I had been ahead for the first half hour, my mind would give up and I would do stupid stuff and get slain for it.

So the need to think fast in sustained bursts and the fact that there was little room to think the rest of the time, made sabre the perfect weapon.

In épée, I discovered, being impatient to attack, or dropping concentration, is rapidly punished by a far more focussed opponent.

IMG_9991Epee, by the way, is the slowest of the weapons. It is exclusively pokey and the target area is anywhere on the body. When I first made the switch I was pretty awful and getting my ass handed to me by people who had been fencing a matter of months.

Muscle memory meant that successful parries were followed by cut cheek (not a hit), when I got tired my blade drifted into a sabre en guarde position (very bad times), I forgot to think  about my legs which were suddenly target area and my distance was all out of whack (which it had always been, but in épée I had no idea how to compensate.)

It was awful and added in to that was the fact that I was still too impatient. If someone didn’t attack for a few seconds I got bored and lunged in, not planning, not thinking, just going, and would be effortlessly hit for my trouble. My concentration would drop after ten seconds and suddenly the box would be beeping merrily, reminding me I just got beaten yet again.

I got more and more frustrated. I couldn’t use fencing as I had previously before the stress took over, as a way to relax, because when I relaxed my muscles were hard wired to do the wrong thing. It seemed to me then that the best thing would just be to stop, jack in the sport that I can’t really remember not doing and start something new.

Then, however, came to a new realisation. No one expected anything of me in this club. I wasn’t going to be expected to compete, or do well or be outstanding. I could just have fun fencing for the first time in possibly a decade.

With this turning point I started to relax. As I got used to everything and started to improve on the basics (one clue was when Christophe stopped having to yell “use your point” every few minutes) I started getting lessons again and slowly, slowly, I am starting to feel like maybe, one day, I could possibly be a half decent epee fencer.

Learning to be patient on the piste, to think while I am fencing, not to be distracted by the yells and gamesmanship, all that is still some way away, but I feel like it is reachable.

A fair while ago, while I was dealing with moving jobs, enforced unemployment, and a figurative landslide of paper work, I blogged about how I had rediscovered fencing at exactly the right time and how I had hated it by the time I quit in the UK.

Something I hadn’t considered before, but that my very wise coach suggested might be the case, was that switching blades was one of the reasons fencing became enjoyable again.

It is like a new sport without any of the baggage left over from the sabre years.

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The unusual wisdom…

…of fencing coaches

Other than my first coaches, those wonderful men who were generally too busy trying to stop 12-year-olds smacking each other with swords to focus on much else, I honestly believe that fencing coaches say some of the most insightful things you are ever likely to hear.

More often than not, the profound nature of these statement is not immediately apparent, and you are left with the unshakeable feeling that they have misunderstood something of great value.

My very first teachers notwithstanding, I have had three coaches who, in their own unique ways, have shaped me as a fencer and as a person.

Laszlo:

With the exception of my dad, I think Laszlo has had a bigger impact on my life than any other man.

Student 5 nations in (possibly) Dublin in (possibly) 2006.

Student 5 nations in (possibly) Dublin in (possibly) 2006.

Not in a Mr Miyagi, student/master zen-type way, but through the very practical fact that my decision of where to go to university was based almost exclusively on the fact that he was there.

So the four years that I consider to be the most formative time of my life, the years in which I decided who I wanted to be, and that made me who I currently am (the two things are not the same right now) where all experienced because Laszlo exists.

He was a constant presence, a more essential part of my university career than any lecturer.

Patient when I was struggling, over-joyed by my successes, deeply sympathetic when I was injured.

Generous with his time. Committed to his students young and old, no matter what their level.

A kind soul and the kind of man you would never want to disappoint.

I once worked out that I had more contact hours with Laszlo per month than any professor in my department. Which explains a lot.

I will always, in my heart, be part of Laszlo’s Fencing.

He taught me to love fencing and respect opponents. To be a good loser and a good winner and to learn from other fencers as well as him.

I think that every single one of his students learnt something from Laszlo that made them a better person. I certainly did.

And he did all this with a wonderful turn of phrase that often leaves his students baffled, but somehow happy.

Some of the more memorable Laszlo-isms are:

1) (On meeting me for the first time when I was about 15 and excessively gangly having just grown several inches) “You have no idea how tall you are, but neither do your opponents, and you have longer to find out.”

2) “You must be prepared, like hedgehog.”

3)  (After I managed not to get injured during a training camp) “I am pleased you did not break, maybe next time you will work more?”

4) (Directed at the then British number one) “You used to move like old woman. Now, sometimes, you begin to look like fencer.”

5) “Your arm is like a sewing machine, stop it.”

6) (Directed at a consistently brilliant fencer) “Chris, you have the timing of an orangutan.”

7) “There is not enough room in your head for you to let other people inside.”

8 ) “Even when you are being slow, you must be fast.”

9) “You must work at everything.”

10) “Keep leg straight, like chicken.” (Thanks to Andy for reminding me of this one.)

James:

“Terrifying” was my first impression of James. Ex-Olympian, ex-army, stacked as all hell, and not afraid to yell.

He also taught me how to let go of what happened on the piste once you stepped off it, how to stay focussed, and how not to let the noise other people made distract me.

As the only native English speaker in this post, James’ wisdom does not have the ‘lost

Commonwealths - 2006 NIR vs Eng (possibly) (I'm not pictured as I'm taking the picture)

Commonwealths – 2006 NIR vs Eng (possibly) (I’m not pictured as I’m taking the picture)

in translation’ charm of the other two, which is coupled by the fact that he was always very direct with praise, criticism, and all his other opinions.

If Laszlo taught me to train hard and be dedicated, James taught me not to moan and just get on with it.

1) “Pain is weakness leaving the body.”

2) “Tell that to someone who gives a damn. That ain’t me, by the way.”

3) “If you can talk, you can fence.”

4) (After a particularly brutal lesson)

“You need to make sure you get back for your parries.”

Me (standing very upright, breathing very steadily) “Ah-huh.”

“You need to really use your length when you lunge.”

“Ah-huh.”

“You need… to vomit don’t you?”

“Ah-huh.”

“Leave.”

5) “You don’t need a jacket for the lesson, if you do it right you won’t get hit.”

6) (In a text message, sent on a hot day, having not seen or spoke to him for several months) “If you’re thirsty, it’s too late. Stay hydrated.”

7) “She’s not as good as you, she just doesn’t know it. Remind her by winning.”

8 ) “Just do things better than the other person. It’s easy.”

9) “Stop whining, get fencing.”

Christophe:

Whether he knows it or not, Christophe has pretty much kept me sane for the past few months.

A spell of unemployment, followed by being thrown into a shift pattern that risked turning me into a hermit with insomnia, training with Christophe as often as possible is keeping me happy, healthy, and focussed.

He is (slowly) teaching me the principles and techniques behind an entirely new weapon, and to think in the long term about what I want to achieve four and five matches down the line.

More than that, he is re-teaching me the joy of fencing that I somehow lost along the way.

He also has a turn of phrase so similar to Laszlo’s (right down to the animal similes) that I am convinced they are in some form of clandestine coaches club. Although there is a little bit of James thrown in for good measure:

1) “We need to make you a plan, like an octopus.”

2) “I don’t want slow, fast. I want fast, very fast.”

3) “Don’t go as I finish stopping, it needs to be as I start stopping.”

4) “I can tell from your fencing that you are very bad at maths.”

5) “See? It is better when you just don’t think.”

6) “Sometimes I think you might be a good épée fencer. Possibly.”

7) “What is wrong with you? If you do that again I’m going to hit you.”

8 ) “Allez! You’re not tired. Your mind is lying to you.”

9) “Your brain has to connect everything, but let them all do different things.”

CIMG2133

Taking the piste…

…and other fencing-related (s)word play.

See what I did there? Yeah, I hate myself a little too.

Four months in (yes, four) to my work visa saga and still no progress from *company name redacted due to wanting to keep my admittedly tenuous grasp on employment*.

People I rant at/cry on/mooch food off have started saying that they are impressed how together and positive I seem in the face of frustration and incompetence.

Would that it were thus. I fluctuate wildly between sunny and positive to woe-ist-me self pity (don’t worry, I’m aware that’s intensely irritating and I restrict talking about it to people who are obliged to love me forever.)

A while ago I wrote a piece about the ups and downs of unemployment, prompting friends and family to express concern that I was becoming depressed. I’m not, by the way, I’m just moody, but this in turn prompted me to look at how I was living while my fate rests in a pad of ink and the incomprehensible rubber lines of an Arabic stamp.

I needed something that was going to motivate me, but also something that I couldn’t just put off if I was feeling lazy (like writing, or putting on clothes) and so I turned to something that used to be an incredibly important part of my life, but that for various reasons I turned my back on about 5 years ago.

Fencing.

I started fencing when I was about 12 and did fairly well on the UK youth circuit, coming away from a few championships with medals and representing my county a couple of times.

I enjoyed it, not worrying about the fact that it ate into all my weekends, and I enjoyed the time spent with my dad on the way to competitions

It stepped up at university, but that is also where cracks began to show. I will be the first to admit that I never really did as well as I thought I could.

This was partly due to a tendency to fall off/into/under stuff and the reciprocal arrangement of stuff falling on/into me, resulting in various injuries.

Mostly, though, it was due to the fact that I would get stressed out at competitions, fence badly, get upset I was fencing badly, and fence worse.

I let other people get to me, and royally crapped out of the 2006 Commonwealths because of that.

Somewhere along the way it stopped being fun, which made everything worse.

So when I smashed my back up I was almost relieved that I couldn’t do it anymore. By the time I was fully recovered I lived in a city with no competitive fencing club or halfway decent coach and after a few token efforts of travelling back to my home city to train, I stopped and focussed on work.

Coming to Doha felt like a fresh start, in a new club, where no-one expected anything of me (largely because they all fence épée which, as a sabre girl, still confuses the hell out of me.)

The few times I went before the whole car-to-ribs incident (again with the colliding with stuff) were fun and I started to remember how fencing made me relax, helped me switch of every part off my brain that wasn’t to do with where my feet should be and what my blade should be doing.

So now, with healed ribs and time on my hands, I have massively stepped up my training. The generosity is astounding. I am allowed to train with the women’s national team (not the men’s – let’s not get crazy, this is still the Gulf), and my coach makes time for one-on-one lessons which have finally passed beyond the phase of ‘use the point’ and ‘why did you just do that?’

It is an expense that, given my current state, might not seem wise to many, but it is keeping me sane, it is getting me up in the morning, it is giving me specific places to be at specific times, which when I do eventually start work will prove essential in my readjusting to a life of shifts and deadlines.

Mostly though, it is making me happy and keeping me motivated. The feeling of triumph when you finally land that hit you have been attempting all evening, the sense of accomplishment when you beat someone for the first time after studying them for weeks. The weird pride when the coach says you’re doing better and might “one day become an okay fencer” (it turns out all coaches speak like this.)

I’m pleased I have rediscovered a love of something that has been both a positive and negative force  in my life.

And I am thankful that discovery came at the time I needed it the most.

Commonwealths - 2006 NIR vs Eng (possibly) (I'm not pictured as I'm taking the picture)

Commonwealths – 2006 NIR vs Eng (possibly) (I’m not pictured as I’m taking the picture)

All these things…

…that I’ve done.

This post is about more than my long overdue confession that I actually like The Killers (go ahead, take away any cool kid points you erroneously gave me in the past, I’m tired of living a lie…)

Anyway, that aside, I decided it was high time I wrote about Qatar again, what with it being where I live and all.

There is a backing track to most conversations you have with new acquaintances in Doha.

It goes like this: “Doha is so boooring. There’s just nothing to do.”

It’s an easy conversation starter. It is also a pretty safe bet as far as opinions go – all the cool kids hate on Doha.

The speaker is usually standing in a five-star hotel, wafting around an over-priced drink. Or dressed as a pirate/ninja/fairy tale character in the large kitchen of a relative stranger’s home surrounded by coolers full of alcohol.

We’ve all heard it. Most of us have said it, including me.

In fact, given my current lethargic state I am probably more guilty than most of tarring Qatar with the ‘boring’ brush.

But here’s the thing. It isn’t. It isn’t boring. It isn’t dull.

Granted, it isn’t a city of culture either. You can’t wander around and marvel at the history as revealed to you by enthralling architecture through the ages. Up until the 1940s the place had a population of about 12,000 and everyone lived in tents so it doesn’t exactly lend itself to having a wealth of shared culture and learning.

What it does have, though, is a lot of people who are trying, trying, trying every day to make it great. From house parties that transform homes into jungles, circuses, beaches, to plays and events and stand-up comedy. Everyone brings something to this supposedly boring city.

And what we mean when we say it is boring is that we can’t do the same things we could at home. But we’re not at home and we all knew that when we hopped on board a plane and prepared for an 8/14/two-day flight. (Time zones confuse me. I think Australia might be in 2025 already?)

So what, in the past 18 sun-drenched months have I done in Doha. I asked myself this yesterday as I was lying by the pool reading. Well, there’s that for a start.

But there are so many other things as well.

1) Witnessed international sporting events

Spain vs Uruguay at Khalifa stadium.

Spain vs Uruguay at Khalifa stadium.

The top female tennis players of our time were here last month, battling it out until Serena Williams got beaten. Golfers rocked up to the Qatar Masters and Chris Wood eagled the 18th to win. Spain played Uruguay in Khalifa stadium and if you forget the queuing, lack of food, and pubescent squealing behind us, when else am I going to see a bunch of Spanish first team players running around in shorts?

2) Been to gigs I would never think twice about

I miss live music, I really, really do. But, (The Killers aside, shut up) I’ve always had specific taste in music. Not limited, I’m generally speaking quite eclectic, but the UK would never have seen me at Calvin Harris one month, and The Commitments the next.

I also got to see Wynton Marsalis live, which was pretty f-ing epic.

3) Desert camping, dune bashing, and general fun in the sun

Dune-bashing on one of my first weekends in Doha.

Dune-bashing on one of my first weekends in Doha.

In January I was making use of the best Christmas present a girl could get and using my beach cricket by the inland sea. It was about 27 degrees and glorious.

In December it was still warm enough to go to the desert and lie out under the stars for a meteor shower.

Don’t get me wrong, for four months of the year when the temperatures start to rocket all I want to do is sit in a bath of ice, whimpering quietly, but when the weather is good it is oh so good.

The desert itself clears my mind every time I go and it, alone, is enough to let me forget that I live in a city under construction.

Kayaking in Al Khor's mangroves. There were flamingoes, and lots of clay.

Kayaking in Al Khor’s mangroves. There were flamingoes, and lots of clay.

Beyond the desert and out of Doha to Al Khor, we discovered kayaking through the mangroves, an island of flamingoes, and general wonderfulness was available on our doorstep.

4) Made friends with Egypt, Palestine, Lebanon, France, Canada, India, America, Sweden, Pakistan, Australia, the list goes on

This is probably one of my favourite things about Doha.

As I’ve said before, the people make the city, and the people are from all over the world. So I’ve hosted iftar during Ramadan, debated cricketing glory (or the lack thereof) with people who will happily brand me the token imperialist in order to win an argument (cries of ‘give me back my indigo’ are not uncommon during these discussions,) learnt that Americans are not, in fact, idiots, and that the French genuinely believe Brits eat jelly with most meals. (No, I have no idea where this came from either – maybe Asterix?)

5) Seen Kevin Spacey play Richard III

I mean… just… gah. Words fail me.

There are more things than the list above, two events in particular spring to mind and then jump up and down on a little trampoline vying for attention, but my total lack of self-editing ability means I will have to save them for another post.

And so, despite everything; the visa debacle, the constant construction noise that has pounded its way through my life and into my dreams, the dust, that time I got hit by a land cruiser, the rampant weirdness, I just don’t hate Doha.

(Detract cool kid points as necessary.)

One last thing:

I don't like cricket, I love it.

I don’t like cricket, I love it.

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.