How to give Sri Lanka its due given that we have been rather lackadaisical travelers to this storied land. Two days hanging out, one big around-the-country day and two more days hanging out. Too much hanging out—should have planned this better. We could have done the three-day trip to the famous sites but by now money is a consideration and our hotel here is all paid.
Steven’s talking to his girlfriend Ashley via Skype. Talking about getting started with a retirement plan. Who is this kid? And where was he 50-60 years ago to advise me that I should be starting mine?
You know about the first two days here. Time at the Temple and lunch at the Hilton. Then came the 14-hour trip which was very grueling but so very worthwhile according to Steven. I agree actually…but instead of the two hikes I had the perfect international experience of a novel written by a Scot about a crime in Paris while drinking Sri Lankan Three Coins beer.
The day went like this. Leave hotel at 7am with a driver we liked very much, just the right amount of talkative, a decent knowledge of Sri Lankan history (for a 23-year-old), and some political opinions about government in general. Apparently the President is turning into something of a “Big Man” in Asia. Just had the constitution altered to allow him to have his fifth or so term in office and fills government posts with relatives. Ah, yes…the Big Man syndrome is all over isn’t it? Next it’ll be Canada. Just kidding.
There is voting it seems but as we Americans know that’s not a panacea for the ills of the Corpocracy. Sri Lankan Pres is still riding the coattails of ending the war between the Sinhalese and the Tamils (Tamil Tigers) in 2009. And apparently has spent the time since doing little but accumulating power. Although the economy is booming we are told so he must be doing something? According to Wikipedia about 70% of the people are Buddhist (the Sinhalese), and about 13% Hindu (Tamils) and 10% Muslim. Since the war between the Sinhalese and the Tamils was pretty brutal on both sides, there goes any theory that Buddhists are all about peace and acceptance. The only little shred of respect for a major religion/philosophy to which I have clung is gone.
Back to the day trip day: Long drive through picturesque countryside which looks and sounds just like a place 3° from the equator should look and sound. Huge palms, banana trees, lush green fields, misty mountains, multitudes of shacks selling fruits and sundries, beautiful brown people and traffic jams with enough blaring horns to drown out any vestige of animal/bird sounds or even human discourse.
So while I was drinking Three Coins Steven was exploring.
Steven Klotzback reporting from the field. Our excursion out into the heart of Sri Lanka consisted of a Buddhist temple carved into the side of a hill, a 200 meter high ancient stone fortress, and a drive grueling enough to make us question our decision to leave the comfort of our hotel. We embarked on this journey at 7 in the morning with a three to four hour drive out to Dambulla. This first site was where we found the Buddhists cave temple, and my first experience being caught out in the open during the random downpours that I have frequently observed from the safety of our hotel room. After walking up about 250 steps and becoming thoroughly soaked, the guide and I reached the cave temple. The temple contained 5 different caves, varying in age, with an assortment of Buddhist statues in each. The exterior of the caves looked as if buildings were just constructed along the rocky wall of the hill, but upon entering each one a huge cavern carved into the hill side was revealed. The main difference between each cave was in the time at which they were made. The guide and I waited for the rain to settle down before heading back to the car for a quick lunch and then straight to Sigiriya.
Sigiriya is a massive rock fortress with some very modern functions considering it was built 477 AD. The trip to the top of the fortress started off with an 800 meter walk through the various gardens, swimming pools, and irrigation systems located at the ground level of the fortress. There were a total of 5 swimming pools before we made it to the first flight of steps, 4 of which were made primarily for the 500 women that the King kept around as “wives”. There were many places containing frescos of various nude women all around the walk up to the top of the fortress. Most of these sites were weathered away, with only one actual spot with paintings still intact. The final ascent to the top of the rock had an area with giant lion paws. Before erosion occurred, this was the spot with a giant lion head with the staircase going up through its throat. On top of Sigiriya was yet another swimming pool as well as areas to hold the drinking water funneled from the lake below by a windmill system. Throughout the whole complex was a natural air conditioning system that would trickle water slowly down to meeting areas to keep those inside cool. Overall the fortress was an amazing sight to behold and will stand out as one of the most unique things I have seen on this trip.
We got back to our hotel around 9pm, exhausted and sticky and stiff but very happy.
Yesterday: We spent a pleasant couple of hours at an attractive little shopping place called Barefoot. A series of shops focusing on textiles and good quality souvenirs plus a bookstore with a fine assortment of books (fiction, narrative non-fiction, biography, history, coffee table) about Sri Lanka and by Sri Lankan writers. So of course…. But I also purchased a colorful and well-made bag to carry my extras…. Lunch of falafels, quiche. A lovely excursion but it did leave a bit too much of the day for life on-line in the comfort of our air-conditioned room. We are getting increasingly lazy as the trip winds down. With which, fortunately, Steven and I seem equally comfortable.
TODAY: Maybe back to Barefoot for lunch and some the wildly colorful table linens—on the off-chance I go through another fall spurt of inviting friends over to eat. Probably not. But sometime I might. (Went back for lunch which wasn’t as good as yesterday but I did get date/lime chutney–sounds luscious doesn’t it?)
Then over to the Old Dutch Hospital area which is the pretty and historic part of town (where they also have another bookstore—now that I have a new bag…) and maybe one final small meal at the Hilton so Steven can finish up this trip with his new favorite food—Kothu Rotti. (We didn’t do this, maybe this evening when the sun goes down. We are tired).
Hey Steve and Scott… memories… Baskin Robbins and Pralines and Cream on paydays. Steven and I had some last night. Tastes the same these 30 years later!
We leave for the airport at 2am tomorrow morning so this is the sign-out post for Sri Lanka. Back to you from the Abu Dhabi Airport or Kuwait.