Travel: has its ups and downs

Receiving the invitation to Jordan’s baby shower at the end of January started me thinking!

Why not surprise Jordan by arriving for her baby shower?

Rob and Jordan live in New York but the baby shower was to be in Lodi, north California.

I checked…… I could get a points flight. Done – booked.

Flight day arrived ( Lisa and John were in on the secret and ready to meet me in San Francisco)

Arriving at the airport nice and early I tried to check in. No!

Qantas had no record of my ESTA. ( Despite having seen it was valid until March)

So no check in!

I had to apply for a new ESTA and rebook on a flight the next day. Only problem. It was out of Sydney.

Long story short. I flew to Sydney and onto a 6pm flight. Luckily I still was able to get a whole row of seats to myself ( thank you Pat)

Jordan’s dad picked me up at and we drove to Lodi. It’s a small place about two hours east of San Fran. In a wine region.

Passing through Stockton we collected crabs for dinner and headed home to surprise Jordan.

The reaction was amazing. I walked into the house. Jordan was on the phone with Rob( who was back in NY) and screamed and started sobbing! I think it was a joyful sob!

Rob was just as surprised – but with out the sobbing. Then asked why I hadn’t told him, as he would have come across from NY!

We had a big, happy, family night with crab, salad and lovely local wine. From Ann ( Jordan’s grandma down to Poppy aged 2 ) it was a fun night. My jet lag was non existent. When surrounded by happiness it’s hard to be jet lagged.

But finally into bed

Our last day in Sri Lanka: Aywbowan.

Aywbowan is a greeting in Sri Lanka. It means a long life to you. Such a beautiful way to greet someone with hands joined together in prayer style.

A later start this morning. A smaller group. Holiday is almost over.

Our usual lovely breakfast was followed by a walk through the streets to our favourite coffee shop.

Then it was time to go. Our clever bus driver managed back down the narrow road to load the bags. And away we went.

The highway was clear, so we were hoping for a good fast trip. The group who left yesterday at around 3 pm took about 4.5hr to do 90 km. They were headed for Nagombo , north of Colombo where the airport is, but had to detour into Colombo to drop off Marcelle. They got caught up with the election traffic.

The elections are causing a lot of interest. No alcohol was served anywhere today because of the elections.

To pass the time on the bus we had a Q&A with Hema, our guide. He is such a gentleman and so knowledgeable about Sri Lanka. It was funny the questions asked. Everything from ‘Why is Buddhist robe colour orange ‘ to ‘what countries have you been to be ? ‘ to wages (for doctors 120,000 rupees teachers, 60,000 rupees) per annum!

Then we invited him to ask us questions. Hema was great fun and we enjoyed him so much.

We made good time on a very good highway. Lots of green on the way.

Then we hit the outskirts of Colombo. Past the Geoffrey Bawa designed Parliament House

Through busy streets.

Then on to the airport just north of Colombo. Carmel , our fearless tour organiser and Peter are off to the Maldives for a few days.

We waved goodbye after many hugs. We’ll miss them. Who will be our leader now? There are only 10 of us left and Pam and John leave later tonight.

We arrived at our hotel the rather grandly named Grandeeza which we immediately called The White House – for obvious reasons.

We were now officially starving so raced to the cafe nearby for a snack. It was 4pm and a long time since breakfast. No bus picnic today.

We were longing for a swim in the pool. The hotel had been described as having a big pool right by the beach.

How disappointing to find the pool closed as someone vomited in it and it had to be cleaned! And there is water our the front but no beach in front of the hotel (it is 6 km away!). Then it rained. Not the last evening we planned.

We discovered the hotel empty except for us! So we made our own fun in the big room Kath and Mark were given.

We played lots of games involving music from movies, tv and musicals! And drank some gin ( just to empty the bottles) I think we went downhill with out Carmel.

So our last night with just 8 was fun but quiet.

Tomorrow the airport.

Cooking up a Storm in Galle

Our usual delicious breakfast on the terrace. How will I cope when I get home?

Following breakfast we walked around the quiet streets of Galle Fort. It’s really suffering from a lack of tourists due to the bomb attacks in Colombo earlier in the year. It’s such a shame. They rely on tourists here. Please come back tourists!

By now it was super steamy and we were heading to the markets. Into tuk tuks and out into the traffic.

The markets weren’t that big but it was still hard to decide what we wanted.

We thought the hotel would send a guide with us but it was really us and a tuk tuk driver ! We decided to get vegetables we liked – all types. Little cauliflowers, eggplant, snake beans, pumpkins, okra, and assorted other greens.

 

Into the spice shop.

Back into our tuk tuk for a visit to the outdoor fish markets near the waterfront. We wished we knew what we were doing!

We thought of consulting with the fish stall cat……..

But in the end made a decision and bought fresh looking prawns and tuna.

Back into the tuk tuks to give our produce to chef Poorna and get ready for our cooking class.

It was great fun.

Chef was great – teaching us knife skills and explaining each step as we cooked up each vegetable into what ended up as a beautiful feast.

We stirred and watched and in the end found it wasn’t too difficult!

The tuna looked and tasted amazing. Chef cut it in strips and seasoned each side with Pepper, salt and lime pressing it in and standing for a minute before lightly pan frying it.

We sat and ate the food for lunch – voting on our favourites. I loved the eggplant curry and the snake bean salad.

Then it was time to say goodbye. To Helen & Mike heading off to Italy, Kay and Trevor to India.

And Marcelle back to Colombo.

That left 12 of us to explore Galle town and stop for a beautiful passionfruit Mojito at Tequila Mockingbird – a rather fun play on words!

Our last dinner in Galle was a celebration of marriages! It was our 44th wedding anniversary so everyone was asked to tell how they met and became engaged!

A special day near Galle : The Foundation of Goodness

Travelling in a country so different to mine, makes one realise how fortunate we are.

Sri Lanka has suffered so much over the years and the devastation of the 2004 Tsunami left the people of this beautiful country with even less than they had before.

My friend Carmel, who has organised this trip for us, came to this area about 8 years running. She brought students from the  childcare training company, Charlton Brown, where she worked.

They volunteered at the Foundation of Goodness which started up after the tsunami hit.

It’s based in Seenigama in the Hikkaduwa area. It started in a villa donated by a man called Kushil Gunasekera, who is now Chairman of the board.

After a beautiful breakfast on the terrace we headed for the bus for the drive up the coast.

It was Rob’s birthday, so we had organised a little surprise on the bus.

A petite cake and a card!

We arrived at the turn off and walked the 500 metres down the road.

It was hot!

Carmel was greeted by her old friends from over 8 visits and I was already tearing up as you could see the effect the place has on so many lives.

We were officially welcomed and Ludmila talked about the Foundation and how it impacts on the lives of people in surrounding villages.

Kushil now does fundraising and seems to be successful, as all the donors are honoured on the boards displayed in the entrance. It’s impressive.

This is Kushil.

They have many programs on offer to empower the people into education towards a better life. All the programs are offered free.

We visited the preschool, which Carmel and her students supported, and of course were charmed by the gorgeous little children. They put on a little dance show and made us a flower which acted as a fan, as it was now very hot and steamy.

They sang to Rob for his birthday which moved us to tears.

We joined them for a rousing version of the Hokey Pokey with everyone giving it their best!

Such a wonderful experience.

We moved on to the computer classes offered free to 16-35 years olds, who after completing the course move onto employment, often in tourism.

Ludmila was keen to show us everything but we were SO hot. We saw the Library, and the shop, with it’s hand made products from the sewing classes.

We visited the medical centre where people come for free consultations and the dental surgery, where the doctor and dentists are volunteers.

I was chatting to the dental nurse, as my daughter in law is also a dental nurse. The uniform here is slightly more formal.

Into the mini bus and down to the sports centre. They are very proud of the sports achievements. Sports stars from all over the world visit here and donate time and money.

Several of the students have gone on to careers in world teams.

There’s a swimming pool, an oval, a gym

Such a wonderful place. By now , more than hot and sweaty, we were keen to wave goodbye and head for a cooler spot.

We drove to a nearby restaurant right by the sea. A beer and lunch later we felt revived and headed back to Galle.

After a short rest we broke up the group. Some went on the history walk with Hema. Some went shopping. Carmel, Jill, Pam and myself went to the Geoffrey Bawa designed Jetwing Hotel. What a place.

The staircase tells a story.

Meeting a delightful young staff member really helped us have a great look at this amazing hotel. She took us around and explained about the design and showed us a room and a suite. Beautiful.

Simple, understated architecture producing beautiful comfortable spaces.

As we sat sharing a bottle of Rose on the terrace, we felt we’d made the right decision about our afternoon. Our guide was so much fun and the place was magnificent.

We returned to meet everyone for dinner at a lovely hotel in the old fort.

Another lovely day.

Heading for Galle: Along the Tsunami coast

The day was warm as we walked to breakfast past the lagoon with the crocodiles. I check them out every time I pass by!

Our last morning in the wild!

Leopard lady Marcelle, our Australian /Sri Lankan, arrived back from her third safari absolutely jubilant. She had finally spotted a leopard. Her guide was the same we had the day before and was determined she would see it. And she did.

We set off along the dusty road back to the main road to Yala where we were to pick up Hema our guide. He has to find his own accommodation in town.

“Good morning ladies and gentlemen” he started “I’ve missed you”. And we’d missed him. He is a gentleman himself.

The drive today is quite different to the days in the hilly areas around Kandy and Ella. It’s very lush and green lots if palm trees and rice paddy fields.

The trip was a little slow as we started to see the effect of the coming elections on Saturday, as we passed through the bigger towns.

A comfort stop by a beach was welcome. The coffee was good and the beach lovely. This place was devastated by the tsunami in 2004. It’s hard to imagine the wall of water that hit the area crushing everything in the it’s path.

A little further on at Dickwella we stopped at a centre for lace making. This is a regional craft. This centre, supported by Marcelle our Australian – Sri Lankan , has women who were previously living on the streets and has taught them this dying craft. The woman now do lace making on site.

It’s fascinating to watch.

The ladies in our group were more than happy to support the centre by buying some of the lovely products. I bought a toy (each for Oliver and our next Bub) and a nightie and wrap.

On we went along the coast. It looks so calm and lovely. The devastation has past. The buildings are reappearing – some right on the beach which was against regulations. But as usual money talks and the building rise.

We came to the first of the political rallies. The maroon-capped people trying to win the election on Saturday. They must be sponsored by the party. There were hundreds assembled and buses lined up as far as we could see.

It made our progress to Galle very slow.

We decided not to stop for lunch. Once again we enjoyed a bus picnic.

It was interesting to look out the window at the sea, the people, the traffic, the colours, and food stalls selling everything – including big fish stalls.

The stick fishermen made us stop. It’s an method of fishing not really practised now but it makes a good photo.

Carmel paid for the photos.

Eventually we made it to Galle. Though the traffic of the Green Party rally.

Our new hotel The Heritage Galle is charming. Open verandahs , flowering plants, wonderful plantation chairs, lovely rooms with a huge bed. Another feature we love a big long bench for all suitcases.

Having worked up a thirst we walked past multiple jewellery shops towards the ramparts of this old fort town.

Climbing the stairs of the Ramparts Hotel we were greeted by beautiful views and a stunning red sunset.

A few drinks later we walked to a very nice restaurant with a charming Serbian man as our host. He was very modern in appearance with short pants and no socks and glasses which a John describes as ‘square peg, round hole’

On Safari in Yala

A 5.30 start for our safari. We gathered for tea in the dark and then down to the lagoon where our safari trucks were waiting.

All aboard the trucks and off we went

The early morning light was beautiful. Serene and soft.

Down the main drive of Cinnamon Wild and along the dusty red road to the National Parks ticket office : that’s when we noticed the number of other safari trucks!

A herd of trucks? A flock of trucks? More a convoy.

First thing we spied was the peacock. Gorgeous turquoise fan tail. We loved it. But I must say, by the end of the day it was ……. get out of the way bird we have bigger things to see! Poor thing.

We were searching for the elusive leopard. Would we see it?

We saw deer, warthogs, buffalo, birds, and the amazing elephant. But no leopard.

We even saw several crocodiles. But no leopard.

We stopped at the beach which was where the tsunami hit. There is a memorial there outlining what happened. It’s hard to believe the devastation it caused. 47 lives were lost just near where we were. Strangely, no animals died. They sensed it and had moved away.

It’s sad to see where it happened. We stood on the beach and remembered.

Then it was back into the truck and off again. The search was reaching a climax. We only had an hour of our safari left.

Unfortunately we returned happy with our adventure but felt we needed more – so 6 of us decided to go on the afternoon safari. Yesterday they saw the leopard in the afternoon. Would we?

We were dusty and tired but after a swim were ready for the Christmas cake adventure. The chefs were around the pool using 30kg of fruit to make an elephant shape. Why ?

It’s something they do every year with guests. They make the shape of an elephant out of fruit and nuts. Add the alcohol then get the guests to don plastic gloves and mix it. They put it away for 1 month then bake several large cakes for Christmas.

It was so much fun!

I had an hour to rest and prepare for safari number 2!

At 2.30 the keen leopard hunters: Carmel, Peter, Marcelle, Jill, Steve and myself headed out again!

Our driver took to the challenge with a keenness we admired. He was determined. So for 4 hours we searched.

We lurked in dusty roads. We hid behind trees! We waited.

Then we saw not a leopard but a charging male elephant.

There was a truck a hundred metres ahead of us. They must have had food on board. The elephant came out of the bush and bumped up against the truck he poked his trunk and tusk into the truck!

We backed up. The man in the checked shirt nearly burst out of the back of the truck.

He had another go. The truck rocked. Would it tip over? Fortunately not.

He headed back into the bush.

Such excitement!

We continued our search when our driver got a call. There was one nearby. We raced there. There were other trucks ahead of us. The leopard was in a tree. We waited for our turn to draw level, when he left the tree and disappeared into the bush. Such disappointment.

We searched for another hour but no luck! We did see a mother elephant and her baby.

And a jackal.

We headed back to our resort.

In time to shower off the dust and dress for dinner.

The girls certainly polish up well!

We shared our story of the search for the leopard over drink – which we had to have in a cabin, as the resort wasn’t serving alcohol due to it being poya – full moon.

We found the rules for elephants at the resort.

Read it!

The last two lines are hysterical.

The Long & Winding Road to Yala

I woke to mist and low clouds. This place is amazing.

By the time we had a leisurely breakfast the sun was out , the cloud had lifted and it was beautiful.

Onto the bus for a long trip towards the south coast.

We’re headed for Yala National Park one of the largest parks in Sri Lanka. It is home to the leopard.

The main road down had suffered some landslides in the rain so we had to take a more minor road.

Our driver is a legend! He drove under hard conditions with buses and trucks, cars and tuks all forced to fight for right of way. Lots of backing up to let someone pass.

The advantage of the back road was that the scenery and local life was right up close. We passed done rubber plantations and amazing bee hives high up in trees.

We also passed some amazing waterfalls. After the heavy rain last night they were falling at full pelt.

The second one was higher and more spectacular and even a local monkey looked impressed.

Continuing on the driver looked for a suitable place to stop for our Remembrance Day service. This day at 11am on the 11th Nov Australians stop to remember those who have fought and lost their lives in conflict.

We found the perfect spot. A grove of yellow cassias trees. All green and gold , the Australian colours. Steve led the Remembrance with the poem ‘In Flanders Fields’. Very poignant.

The road continued and Jill started her Name that Tune game. She had lots of songs on her phone. But just the first few bars. They were all 70’s songs and we had to name them. We took awhile to warm up but were soon ‘in the groove’ and singing and naming those tunes! Kath was a bit of a star.

Nature called and we had to have a toilet stop in the next town. All our driver could find was a small supermarket which had one loo at the back.

It took that long for us all to go! So whilst waiting we bought some goodies for a bus lunch. We didn’t want to stop and waste time. So everyone went round and chose something for our bus picnic. There was all manner of junk food! Chips, chocolate, biscuits and cheese ( not so bad!) but the best was the big bag of cones and two tubs of ice cream. Chocolate and vanilla. Rob and Pam set up shop on the bus and Jill was the Uber of ice cream!

What a treat. We were told not to eat the cone so we could have seconds!

The fun and games continued until we turned off for Cinnamon Wild at Yala.

It’s set back from the beach but has a lagoon complete with crocodiles.

Driving into the resort we passed monkeys, warthogs, water buffalo and watched out for elephants.

The resort buildings are beautiful.

Our jungle cabin is lovely.

We are warned not to walk to, or from, the cabin after dark. Exciting.

We enjoyed a quick swim before drinks and dinner. The buffet was just great. So many choices.

We are off on safari tomorrow so an early night. Four of us girls walked back with a staff member who scanned the bush for animals. Then said ‘do you want up see the lagoon!’ We walked to the lagoon and he shone the torch around and we saw two crocodiles! Only about 100 metres from us.

A quick walk back to the cabins for an early night before our 5 am start tomorrow.

98 acres of Heaven in Ella

We are very happy staying in our comfortable Cabin in the tree plantation.

The view is constantly changing. Right at this moment it’s rainy and misty looking towards the peak we climbed this morning.

It’s beautiful.

We started our day at 7am meeting at the spa hut.

We walked out past the zipline then started our climb. Stairs. Lots of stairs. My knee is getting a work out.

Up we went. Not too far, but it caused some heavy breathing. We did it early as cloud will come over later. And it did as you can see by the photo above.

The view was spectacular.

Coming back down we passed climbers of all nationalities. The young and fit were powering up. The Germans seriously climbing and the Australians chatting to everyone.

Straight to breakfast on the cafe deck. All very lovely. Fresh papaya sliced for me. Topped with lime – delicious.

A one egg omelette was perfect.

Following breakfast another walk. This time travelling in the bus for a short way – passing several coffee shops along the way!

We came to a side road going down,down, down.

Which means up, up, up later.

We finished on the train tracks where we just had to stop for a photo. Lying down in the tracks. It was like having a hot stone massage.

Getting up was another matter!

The bridge or viaduct was built in 1921 is a feat of engineering. It’s built of stone, bricks and concrete.

It is a great example of British colonial architecture but built by a Ceylonese builder along with the British.

It’s attractive and still functions. There are 3 trains a day but not due for an hour after we were comfortably lying on the tracks.

Flanked by thick jungle and tea plantations it is a little difficult to get to. There are several routes down of various degrees of difficulty. I think the path we took was a little longer but was roughly paved with lots of steps where some of them are muddy and very steep.

It was worth the climb down and then out of nowhere, coming up we found tuk tuks to help us on the last climb!

I’m now having coffee on my balcony waiting for my 2pm massage.

Hopping into life in Sri Lanka

I was looking forward to breakfast this morning.

Yesterday we had a late high tea, complete with bubbles, so we skipped dinner. I woke up hungry !

You may have heard me mention egg hoppers , once or twice so far in this blog. I love them.

They are a light rice type pancake cooked in a bowl shaped pan and when half cooked an egg is broken into it.

After my paw paw topped with curds and treacle I headed for the hopper station.

A lovely smiling lady greeted me again this morning. I complimented her on the hopper and said I needed her to move to Brisbane to make me an egg hopper each day. She said I could buy a pan and recipe to take home and she could teach me.

So the next minute I’m behind the stove learning how to make a hopper.

Season the pan!

Rub with a mix of butter and egg yolk

Heat the pan. Spoon in the rice pancake mix. Then swirl it around.

Heat with the lid down.

Wait until the edges are browning. Crack the egg in.

Lid on. Wait

Use the spatula to loosen around edges and slide onto a plate.

It was such a fun lesson with this lovely lady.

From here it was onto the bus to the lake nearby. It’s a man made lake and gives an area for recreation- little boats, jet ski, fishing , walking but I doubt anyone swims there. It’s a little brown.

Back to the bus I was sitting up the back swaying as we went round corners.

Helen and I started writing limericks. We set a challenge to everyone to have one ready to read at drinks tonight.

It was definitely heads down to work on our limerick. Which was a blessing as the narrow road was dangerous to watch. Trucks overtaking trucks or buses overtaking tuk tuks. Not for the feint hearted.

The landscape was covered with terraces and everywhere there were vegetables growing and tea plantations. The soil is rich and the labour plentiful.

By now the constantly winding road was making me – and others, feel a little sick. We stopped for a break before heading into Ella.

This was a little surprise. It felt like a young people place. Lots of bars and coffee shops dotted along the narrow road.

Arriving at our accommodation we climbed up a stone staircase to be met by golf buggies to drive us to reception-an open air hut.

The cold tea and the little welcome sash was a fun way to greet us at this very special place. There are 28 cabins set among the tea bush plantings of a working farm. The workers walk past our cabins at breaks and at the end of the day.

Our rooms are large, rustic but so well planned the walls are made of tea boxes, there’s a huge bed with a net over it, a spacious stone bathroom and views towards cloud covered mountains.

The mist rolled as we had a late lunch then drinks in one of the rooms.

We’re doing well emptying the gin bottles. But there are 17 of us!

We read our limericks. They were great!

Here’s a sample:

There was a great gal called Carmel

Who thought it wouldn’t be harmful

To go for a trip

with old friends with some zip

Now she’s shaking her head, poor Carmel. ‘

Dinner was up in the main restaurant and was quite a performance with each dish delivered with a cloche which were ceremonially removed.

Tomorrow we are climb up Little Adams peak. Not the big Adam walk which is longer, harder and more of a pilgrimage.

Legend has it:

Adam’s Peak is a 2,243 m (7,359 ft) tall conical mountain located in central Sri Lanka. It is well known for the Sri Pada, i.e., “sacred footprint”, a 1.8 m (5 ft 11 in) rock formation near the summit, which in Buddhist tradition is held to be the footprint of Buddha , in Hi du tradition that of Shiva and in some Islamic and Christian tradition that of Adam or that of St. Thomas.

So we are not attempting the pilgrimage . We’ll do the shorter climb then back up by walking to the 9 arches railway bridge.

So to sleep in our very luxurious cabin on the tea plantation.

A Garden Walk

I opted out of the trek this morning. My poor knee wasn’t feeling great.

So the team left very early and I went for a more sedate walk through the hotel gardens and the Victoria Park gardens nearby.

Follow my trail.

Past the fountain to the children’s playground

Good morning to hotel staff and past the sculptured hedges.

Reading each of the little signs along the way.

To the one under our top floor corner room.

I followed the track down out of the hotel to the Victoria Park gardens which at 7.30 only had workers in there. It was a quiet oasis.

The children’s garden

Then out and around the town before heading back to the hotel, spotting Mike and John other non trekkers.

Breakfast was wonderful. I shared it with Mark, who also didn’t walk due to an ankle injury.

I’m now waiting for the walkers to return. I know I’ll be sorry when they tell me about their adventures.