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.

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.

On the road to Kandy

Yoga at 6.30 is always a good idea in a foreign place. It wakes you up and gives you the chance to have a good stretch.

Yesterday afternoon I swam about a kilometre in the beautiful pool which got rid of some soreness from the climb up Sigiriya yesterday.

The grounds of the hotel were lovely and quiet as I walked to the padi museum for yoga. Staff we’re sweeping and raking to make the grounds look even more pristine than they are already.

Turns out the teacher was my lovely massage therapist from yesterday.

Pam, Kathy, Jill and myself lined up on our pink mats and bent and stretched ourselves into a sweat. It felt good.

Then off to pack up before breakfast. I’ll miss this lovely hotel as we leave this morning for Kandy. On the map it doesn’t look far but will take some time. The roads are narrow and slow and we have two stops planned.

I love looking at the jungle so close to the road and the houses perched in amongst the trees.

The first stop is at the Regent 6 Herb and Spice Farm. An absolutely hysterical guy took us around the garden telling us about the plants and what they could do for us. Apparently they can cure everything. We were given a bit of a massage and it was fun to see everyone getting into the spirit of it. I did buy some massage oil for my sore swollen knee and some sandlewood oil for my face. Let’s hope it works!

Funny experience but if you go you shouldn’t feel pressured to buy. It is overpriced!

We moved onto the Matale Heritage Centre just outside of Matale. It’s a craft centre that draws on the traditions of the area and produces beautiful batik and embroidery.

We had to leave the bus on the roadside and get tuk tuks up to the centre. It’s in a jungle with trees full of monkeys!

We arrived for lunch which local woman had prepared for us. Really lovely local Sri Lankan dishes – mostly vegetable.

There were beautiful batik table clothes and napkins and the walls of the house were painted in rich colours and patterns.

The ladies who prepared the beautiful lunch explained each dish – all very traditional.

After lunch we went to watch the ladies painting the batik.

The work involved de-starching the cloth to setting out the design, waxing, dying, and removal of the wax for a second colour by boiling off the wax, repeating this process several times over…..’

We saw the house of the batik artist who is quite famous here. She had worked with Geoffrey Bawa. Her name is Ena de Silva and she died in 2015 though her designs are still being recreated. The ladies were working on a commission for a big hotel in Galle. The designs are beautiful.

Read about Ena here. She is like the Sri Lankan version of Australia’s Margaret Olley.

http://www.sundaytimes.lk/110724/Plus/plus_01.html

It’s wonderful to know the traditional crafts of this country are still being created.

This lady took us to the little shop and we bought a few things including a beautiful hand stitched elephants for my grandchildren.

We moved on to Kandy about 40 km distance away but it was slow going. We arrived at our hotel Radh at around 5pm. It’s new and about a block back from the lake and the Temple of the Tooth.

We had our own Melbourne Cup sweep so watched the race on the hotel’s large screen. It was rather fitting that our driver and our security guard won second and third place. They won a nice amount of money and were thrilled.

We walked to the lovely old Queens Hotel and sat by the pool for a drink, paid for by our first place cup winner John.

We finished the night with a lovely light dinner – after our feast at lunch it was all that was needed.

On the road to Sigiriya

An early morning swim set me up for the day. It was quiet by the pool as the waves crashed against the the rocks below.

Breakfast on the terrace was relaxed and fun with our group coming together to plan the day ahead. Eating egg hopper with curry and dahl certainly lines the stomach.

We even had breakfast entertainment provided. A man in uniform had a slingshot and was shooting stones at the local crows. Quite a sight !

The bus with our guide Hema arrived on time at 9.45 and we headed off. Today we head to Sigiriya Rock. The ancient rock is probably the most visited site in Sri Lanka and tomorrow some of us are climbing. It has something like 12,000 to climb to reach the top where there are the remains of the palace.

The bus trip was slow, the roads fairly narrow with the usual style of driving. Cars overtaking & lots of beeping feature. We passed paddi fields, business selling all manner of things, tuk tuks not yo mention trucks! We had a short stop to buy bags of local cashews. So tasty.

We reached Karunegala and Pinnawala Elephant refuge just before the daily wash began. We had time to see the elephants where they roam, before heading down to the river to watch the elephants enjoy a little freedom.

It is a refuge for elephants injured or orphaned. It started in 1982. There are varying reports that say it’s not humane to keep the elephants like this and that they are never released back into the wild. Yes, we did see some chained. They are apparently the males who can be hard to control. But the elephants we saw in the river seemed to be really enjoying their time playing and lying in the shallows.

We had lunch on a terrace overlooking the river while the elephants were relaxed and playing. It was beautiful to watch.

It will be interesting to compare with seeing elephants in their own environment in the national park in Yala when we get there.

We continued on after lunch for the final drive past Dambula to the hotel Aliya. The bus bar opened and rum & coke and G& Ts were served. There was a little singing and the boys down the back were relaxed and having fun. We arrived at Aliya. A truely beautiful place. Our welcome was warm and our welcome drink cold and yummy. The hotel has rooms set along pebbles paths, surrounded by trees which in time should grow and disguise the resort from above.

Our room is big and comfortable with lovely leaf designs on the bed. ‘Welcome’ it said and we did feel very welcome.

Dinner was a buffet. Full of tasty curries it was hard to know where to start. But we all finished with curds and treacle a local favourite.

Tomorrow we climb Sigiriya. I hope my knee holds up. Only about 1,000 stairs.

Cave Temple and Bawa

Breakfast hoppers are becoming a favourite with the whole group. If only the lady who makes them lived in Brisbane. She makes about 200 a day! And they are delicious.

After breakfast I wandered around the hotel taking photos. It’s a beautiful design with so many attractive features. Not a Geoffrey Bawa design but so lovely and in tune with the environment.

Into the bus and away we drove through lush countryside almost jungle like right to the road.

Arriving at the gates to the temple we were told the temples in the caves were once overgrown with jungle.

We climbed the hill to the entrance removed our shoes and tackled the hot cobble stones into the temple. Time for a group photo. The boys had to cover their legs with sarongs and the ladies their legs if wear shorts above the knee and shoulders if not wearing sleeves. We made a great looking group.

There was a series of caves, each with a reclining Buddha and a series of other Buddhas.

After visiting southern India early this year I was taken back to the temples we visited. This was different. Small caves where the Buddhas were carved from rock in the caves. The ceilings were painted and the Buddha reclining on a pillow of stone that looked like a fabric tapestry. Only it was painted stone. It was extraordinary.

We headed into Dambulla to visit the fruit and vegetable market. It is a wholesale market and distribution centre with every kind of vegetable you could imagine. Most grown locally.

There was the same kind of wheeling and dealing you would expect from any wholesale market place.

From the market we headed out to the Geoffrey Bawa designed Kandalama Hotel. It has won the ‘green’ award for design for many years. It blends into the jungle environment seamlessly.

There are huge areas with minimalist designed furniture and the hotel backs into the cliff behind looking out to the reservoir in front.

Lunch on the verandah was more western style and the beef was cold.

A traditionally dressed man took us on a tour it’s beautiful but expensive. I don’t think occupancy is very high so it must be struggling to run at a profit.

The pool areas were beautiful. One has the natural rock in the pool and tiles designed to compliment it. Stunning.

Following lunch we had 45 min drive back to our hotel and some swam in the pool while some had naps before we came together for drinks on the terrace near the pool.

Our third night in the dining area had some opting for the a la carte menu over the buffet.

Kathie and I had collected everyone’s list of favourite songs. I typed them up and has them printed.

We leave here in the morning and somewhere along the way we’ll have a competition to nominate who chose which songs ? Could be tricky.

I got to type the 17 lists of 5 songs and there are a few repeat.

Yoga at 6.30 tomorrow so off to sleep in the beautiful flower decorated bed.

Climbing Sigiriya

Today we are going to conquer Sigiriya, the ancient rock we can see from our hotel.

We left at 6.30 to avoid the heat and the crowds and breakfast was provided in a beautiful white bag with the hotel’s signature elephant on the front.

Hema did his best with a sound system that sounds like an echo chamber. Between his lovely Sri Lankan accent, the echo microphone and his waving it around, we really couldn’t understand every word. Mike was heard saying I need a translator or I’ll be hiding his microphone.

Our guide, Hema led us into the park. It costs $US30 to climb. We walked in and saw the gardens and the water gardens.

Then the climb began. We were told 1200 steps but Hema said more like 800.

The history of the rock and it’s cave shelters date back nearly 5,500 years ago. There is evidence of human settlements from 9-10th centuries and use by Buddhist monks. Then there was the construction of the palace by King Kasyapa

After a long introduction we started the climb. Fortunately we stopped regularly which made it easier.

At one point we climbed a spiral staircase to view the mirror wall of art and script / ancient graffiti.

Reaching the top was wonderful. The view, the remains of the palace, the water system, the throne – and it was hard to imagine getting everything to the top of this strange beautiful place.

Coming down was almost harder than going up. Fortunately, Kathy kindly offered her shoulder as a crutch to help as I stepped down the steep stairs. We all made it and felt so pleased with ourselves.

Back to the hotel for refreshing swims and a wonderful relaxing massage.

Massage is different in every place you go. This wa nothing like the Hamam in Turkey. No bubbles! No cold shower at the end.

It wasn’t like India with the oil dripping off. This was gentle but quite good for my poor knee.

Drinks on the terrace had started by the time I’d finished my massage so I joined them in my dressing gown!

Mike is the bar tender and he has everything organised – the gin flowed.

This set us up for dinner. Once again a lovely buffet.

Colombo

Our late night after a long day of travel didn’t slow us down.

After a good sleep at the Galle Face Hotel we met for breakfast in time to enjoy the beautiful offerings before our walking tour commenced.

Breakfast in India, and now here in Sri Lanka, is a treat. Very different to an American, British, European or Australian Breakfast. I love the fact different countries offer their own twist on breakfast.

Here we had egg hoppers – a rice pancake with an egg in the middle. You can add dahl curry and coconut sambal. Delicious. Then there are curries, fruit, curd, breads, freshly prepared omelette. And delicious fruit drinks.

Following breakfast we left with guide Jude on our walking tour. The architecture here is lovely. Much of the Colonial style has deteriorated but buildings are gradually being restored.

It’s so sad to think of the bombings earlier this year. This city is a lovely place. It’s clean and trying hard to to win tourists back.

We covered some distance around the port (being rebuilt by the Chinese – they have their fingers all over this place).

The markets were another eye-opener. In an abandoned building almost entirely run by men selling the most amazing looking varieties of vegetables. Apparently tropical aubergines are good for smokers. They use many plants for health purposes. Ayurvedic medicines are as popular here as in India.

I’m hoping for a good Ayurveda massage.

Tired and thirsty after 3.5 hours’ walking, some of the group headed to the Ministry of Crab. A very stylish restaurant in the restored Old Dutch Hospital shopping precinct.

We had crab – some pepper, chilli, crab salad, a prawn curry and a cold, cold beer. Delicious.

Back to the hotel in a tuk-tuk for a refreshing swim and a visit to the hotel’s museum which houses a car owned by Prince Phillip!

We finished the afternoon with a visit to Geoffrey Bawa’s house at 11, 33rd lane. It’s a quiet spot and demonstrates the famous Sri Lankan architects style. It’s minimalist, invites the outside in and the inside out. It’s natural and is all in black and white. It was a haven.

The man Laki, who I had corresponded with was a little upset that we arrived late! Our tuk-tuks were late so we arrived after the start time of the movie. https://geoffreybawa.com/number-11

It’s a beautiful place and won us over with it simple approach to design.

Leaving the house we walked for about 10 minutes to the Gallery Cafe – another Bawa design. It’s a beautiful space to enjoy a drink or dinner in a courtyard setting. Again it is inside / outside with black and white dominating.

Tonight dinner is at the hotel. A seafood buffet included in our room rate. I thought it might be a bit ordinary but it was wonderful. So much beautiful seafood cooked on a grill to order.

The hotel is right by the water and it was lovely sitting on the wide verandahs with the fans above gently turning enjoying the company of our fellow travellers.

Henry Moore Sculpture Garden.

Belonging to ADFAS Brisbane is a great way to discover new ideas, artists, sculptures – things of a Fine Arts and Decorative Arts nature.

https://www.adfas.org.au/societies/queensland/brisbane/

At a lecture a few years ago I found out about two sculptors I had heard of, but hadn’t seen their work – apart from in books.

Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth.

Being near the Moore house and garden was an opportunity not to be missed. I’m so glad we went.

http://www.henry-moore.org/visit/henry-moore-studios-gardens

It’s about an hour from Cambridge and and hour and half from London in a little village called Much Hadham.

We wound around country lanes, past churches and houses like out of a tv series. In fact it is close to Grandchester – which is a tv series.

We pulled up at the gallery and garden with the house ‘Hoglands’ next door.

We spent the next few hours wandering around the large garden and sheep fields with its massive sculptures.

They are scattered around the green fields – the furthest about a 15 minute walk.

There are also several studios and a barn which houses some massive tapestries done by local master weavers to Henry Moore’s sketches and colour design. They are beautiful and something I hadn’t seen before.

In an adjacent studio there was an exhibition of his drawings over a long period of his life. Again wonderful. In the years during the second war he was commissioned to do some drawings reflecting the life of people in London. He chose to do a series in the bomb shelters.

The tour of the house, in its original state, as left by his daughter after Henry died and three years later his wife Irina died.

This is where we found out about the man. He seems to be not only talented but also very warm and kind.

The studio with the marquettes is fascinating. It’s full of models of the sculptures. Henry would prepare them and with the help of other sculptors they would be built to scale.

If you get the chance to visit this wonderful part of the world don’t miss Henry Moore House and garden.

Cambridge and College life

Leaving the island was difficult. It’s so beautiful and we had such a ‘jolly time’ as the Famous Five would say!

Cambridge and the punts beckoned, so after lunch at the pub we packed up and headed off.

Arriving in the afternoon around 4 it was still very warm, so after checking into our accommodation – Newnham College –  we headed off.

Accomodation in Cambridge is quite expensive and we had a car to park so this College, just over the river from the town, was perfect.

Steve did some study here a while ago and remembered the layout. So we started walking and opted to jump on a punt for a close-up view of the Colleges that line the river.

They are beautiful. Our guide and pole master, Charity, was very good at storytelling and brought alive some of the history behind the establishment of these famous Colleges.

Kings College, Trinity and St Johns are big, imposing and rivals!

We glided along – sometimes ducking the poles of the punters who thought they could ‘do it themselves’ and obviously couldn’t!

After river excitement it was beer and Pimms time. Very traditional to have a Pimms before, after or during punting.

Dinner in a pub on the river then a walk back to our College. It would be great to be a student here for awhile.

The next morning we bought tickets to view the Kings College Chapel – a must. It’s huge. Hardly a Chapel and has an interesting history to go with it.

Read about it here.

http://www.kings.cam.ac.uk/kings-college-chapel

From here we went up the Wren Library in Trinity College. It’s a must for Library lovers. It opened in 1695 and is still a working library.

https://www.trin.cam.ac.uk/library/wren-library/

They have a wonderful collection including a hand written copy of Winnie the Pooh! But no photos allowed.

I loved the little brass motifs all along the footpaths.

Then it was off to the countryside to visit the Henry Moore Sculpture Garden.

I’ll have to blog about that separately. It’s that wonderful.