Nilaveli, Uppuveli, Kandy and Colombo Friday 2 – Thursday 29 September 2011
When we're out and about in "the vehicle" a lot of people show an interest in us and what we're doing and come over the say hi, and one such was Nigel who we met in Colombo and who is the proprietor of the very lovely Pigeon Island Resort near the equally lovely Nilaveli beach on SL's east coast. Nigel is Colombo based and has a business partner Patrick who runs the hotel for him, and Patrick made us very welcome and invited us to camp in their roomy driver's area just across the road, which came with its own shower/toilet block and an extra open air shower.
It's a real smart move on a resort's part to have a decent drivers' area, and provide them with good food/conditions as drivers are the ones who bring in the visitors quite often and they can veto places which don't look after them! There was also a really cute puppy in training to be a guard dog there -who we got very fond of. We really like having a camp dog.
This whole area is very beautiful - lovely beaches and sea which isn't too rough so perfect for bathing. It was until a few years ago a war zone with many of the resorts army occupied (and the lookout posts still in situ) so it's never really reached its potential as a tourist destination, though recently more and more people are heading east. The resort are also trying to promote wedding packages - wedding on the beach with dancers drumming you down and all the trimmings - and we saw the first one they'd handled a Norwegian couple when we were there. It all looked lovely so we're sure they'll be many more.
It was a bit surreal that first evening sitting in the very gorgeous surroundings having a drink -the night before we'd been up in an army occupied fishing village without a restaurant to its name - it's very varied our trip! The breakfasts were very good and we really enjoyed the egg hoppers -a superb SL breakfast with a poached egg at the bottom of a crispy sort of pancake -expertly cooked before your eyes in a special pan. Andrew has promised to track down a pan and learn to make them -we'll see!
We enjoyed a couple of days at the resort relaxing, sunbathing and doing some website updating. Full of Dutch antiques (mainly from Jaffna apparently) it was a gorgeous spot highly recommended for a luxury break have a look at their sitewww.pigeonislandresort.com
As we headed off we stopped for a couple of nights in Uppuvelli just to the south. This was where we stayed a year ago when we came without the car, and we had one night's stop over here on the way up to Jaffna. Positioned right on the beach these little shacks were cheap, cheerful and very popular. You could eat fresh seafood on the sands and just roll into the sea in the morning! I actually preferred the vibe here to Nilaveli though there're no real luxury resorts here if that's your thing. We camped for free in the car park and again made friends with a really cute terrier who loved sleeping under the car, when she wasn't being tied up as punishment for chasing the cows up the beach!
As a side trip we also visited the Commonwealth War cemetery just out of Trincomalee (Trinco). We met the caretaker who was the son of the original one who met Princess Anne when the cemetery was officially opened in the late 1970s -he proudly showed us the photo. There were over 600 people buried here, a real mixture of nationalities (and so many so young..18 and 19 years!) it was very moving and immaculately maintained like others we've seen on our trip -the most memorable being at Kanchanaburi (bridge on the river Kwai) in Thailand.
We just passed through the edges of Trinco to get our water tank filled and remember the beautiful looking deer which are everywhere and which had surprised us a year before. They look too chocolate box perfect to be quite real!
So we left the beach (stopping on the way for a last king coconut- drunk straight form the shell) and headed westwards.
On the way we pulled over once to see an ancient 10th century monastery, now a heritage site and once to sample the local produce.
A very lush green area we drove past was obviously the place to get your buffalo curd and coconut honey, a local delicacy. We pulled over for 2 bowls -absolutely beautiful!
Our next destination was up into the hills and more particularly back to Kandy The main reason was to get our vehicle inspection at the AA -Automobile Association -there. So we turned up once more at the Hotel Topaz where we again parked up at our fave spot under the trees. It was actually a real welcome relief to be in the cool -great for sleeping, even if the wet season is (almost) upon us. As I said we were passing through Kandy -at the time on the way to Arugam bay - just to get the AA certificate. As mentioned before under the terms of the Carnet - or passport for the car - the car must remain registered in Australia. As the car is old (27 years and counting) before we register it we have to get it inspected. Where possible it's best to do this at the AA if one exists as previously (in Thailand) we had real dramas getting the RTA to accept an "unfamiliar" format of inspection report.
So, we'd asked back in Colombo and were told it was fine to get a report there but that we could also get one in Kandy or Galle. Not so …the officials in Kandy looked very blankly at us and sent us on to Colombo. After much wastage of time they agreed to report back to Colombo who could actually prepare the report and fax it through to us copying the format of the one we'd had done in Kolkata a year ago. Finally success…only then the RTA told us they needed the original and would not accept a fax even if it was on AA paper!! Bloody bureaucrats! So we decided to take a detour to Colombo before Arugam Bay and get a few jobs on the ever going "to do list" ticked off, i.e.) extension of SL visas, applying for Indian visas, and organizing all our Carnet documentation so we have our new one ready before we cross back to India.
So -whilst we were only in Kandy for this reason once we arrived we realized the 2ndtest between SL and the Aussies was starting, so we decided to stay and see a match. We were very lucky to meet John MacPhail a retired UK diplomat currently living in Colombo who was up for the cricket. Weirdly enough John's wife was Carolyn the very helpful lady we had met working at the Aussie embassy! Small world. Anyway John very kindly gifted us several tickets and off we went to see my first ever test match! Pallekelle International Stadium isn't the easiest place to get to being 15km east of Kandy -it took us a while to find as there were no signs -but it was a lovely setting with the distant hills as a back drop.
Have to confess I'm not really a big cricket fan -always seems to be a lot of waiting around and not much happening - but cricket is such a big deal here that I thought it would be a bit of an insight into local culture-and of course the Aussies were playing! Also we met a man from Lancashire who had flown over especially to see Shaun Marsh make his debut playing Australia in a test match being a big family friend of the Marshs. Geoff Marsh (Shaun's dad) had Vice Captained Australia so hearing about it all from a source close to the horse's mouth as it were made us feel more involved. I was really pleased when Shaun made his century (scored 100) -see I'm even getting the lingo!
Seriously I'd had enough by the end but it was good fun, though probably not the right time of year to play cricket in Kandy as rain just kept on stopping play. This meant that teams of guys (a great many of them) had to coordinate dragging the various tarps together like a big jigsaw puzzle. It always seemed like the second these were pulled off the rain would re-start and we'd be back to square one!
We sat near a crowd of diehard flag waving Aussies and their company as well as that of the nearby drumming Sri Lankans and Percy made it all easier to cope with the rain! Percy is an old SL guy known to all the fans, officials and players alike and is a real full on fan who follows his team around - we saw him later in Colombo - apparently he is paid to be at all the matches and gee -up /entertain the crowd. Nice old guy!
The match finished a bit soggily being more or less rained out at the end but the Aussies won and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves, perhaps the nearby bars helped that, they were doing a roaring trade amongst the Aussies- the Sri Lankan fans seldom drank! Mind you we did hit a Poya day - celebrating the full moon and thus Buddha's enlightenment - these happen once a month here and are officially dry!
We got talking to a few of the flag wavers and found out their tour was organized by an Aussie guy called Luke Gilligan aka Sparrow. Luke a real cricket fan has organized his tours for "Flaggers" for over 17 years -seewww.wavingtheflag.comHe originally saw that the majority of organized cricket tours under the Australian Cricket Board or ACB were very high end -staying at 5 star hotels and priced accordingly - so he undertook to organize lower cost tours- using the power of numbers ("what discount can you do if we take 30 rooms?") and passing it on.
His flaggers are always in the stands rather than in the a/c luxury boxes. He sometimes makes money but aims just to cover the costs of his own trip, and follows the Aussies wherever they go to play. He really looks after novice travellers undertaking to pick each and every one up from the airport and looking after them all the way. You'd think this was great but apparently the ACB are very anti and even tried to sue him at one stage - presumably as they're not making any kick back on it. Very unsporting!
Apparently the players really like Luke and his flaggers - I imagine it's good to see those flags waving from the terraces all around the world as you go out to bat in the serious heat. We'd highly recommend his tours to cricket fans of all ages who're keen to follow the Aussies overseas.
On the way back to the hotel we saw another Hindu festival or the tail end of one - some dancers including kids dressed up as Hanuman the monkey god- and one or 2 flying piercers like in Jaffna -interesting to see it elsewhere though on nowhere near the same scale!
So we drove through the rain back to Colombo and more particularly to the Mount Lavinia Hotel -still our favourite spot for its ambience and the best breakfasts ever! The Manager Mr. Thakshila was very welcoming and we settled back at our usual spot in the corner of the car park with no problems.
We spent a couple of days in and around Colombo doing a few jobs, i.e.) picking up our AA report (and getting a badge -we collect these in every AA office we visit) paying for and organizing our car rego and new carnet. This time of year is very hard for us financially as it's our "anniversary" on the road so all our documentation and insurances have to be renewed -very expensive!
Talking of anniversaries it's actually ours again - 11 years since we met - so we headed off for a Japanese meal. This is a big treat for us as we're big sushi fans back in Oz but it's too pricey on the road. We'd noticed weeks ago in an ad that the Ceylon Continental had a new sushi bar -so we turned up there but it'd shut down for some reason -very disappointing! We were on a definite sushi hunt nothing else would do -and eventually (after asking a lot and driving round a while) we struck gold at the very nice Nihonbashi restaurant at Galle Face Terrace. Sashimi and sushi and a bottle of white wine -very good- no doubt have to do us for another year!
So -we went to Toyota for a minor maintenance job, then to immigration to extend our SL visas another month and finally to the Indian visa centre. We were a bit worried re: this latter as the official word on the Indian embassy in SL's website was that you had to be resident -as opposed to on a tourist visa - to apply here. We'd actually got an email confirming that we could which we took to the commission to plead that, in addition we be allowed 6 month more than the usual 3. This worked so thankfully we were given 6 month double entry visas though these are usually unheard of! In fact we were given 2! They had a system where you had to fill in your application form on-line. Once this was done any mistakes were unchangeable and you had to start from scratch. I did both our forms and made a mistake with a date and had to redo them and so when they gave our visas they granted one for the first application, immediately cancelled then it, gave us a new one-thus wasting a precious page of our passports!!! Still on the whole we shouldn't complain! The Indian high commissions need to update their websites to make it clear where you can/can't now get Indian visas as it seems to be a very changeable feast.
We also had some fun in Colombo seeing the end of the cricket and witnessing the Aussies being awarded their trophy. We sat this time in the air conditioned comfort of the Singhalese Sports Club (courtesy of John) which was very nice-but somehow lacked the atmosphere of the stalls. It was very hot here though -way hotter than Kandy -and I had picked up a bit of a lurgy so felt better in the ac.
Near the cricket -in the very salubrious Cinnamon gardens area- is Colombo's Independence Memorial Hall built to commemorate (obviously!) SL or Ceylon as it was gaining independence in 1948. It was a striking building with some intricate carving work set in lovely park land with a statue of the country's first president looking on.
John, Carolynn and their son James also very kindly invited us over for dinner and a night of luxury at their lovely house. Thanks guys for a lovely evening - no photograph evidence sadly -we were all too busy raiding John's wine cellar!
Next day whilst waiting to go and pick up our Indian visas we took a stroll up Galle Face Green as ever a really atmospheric spot alive with school kids, kite flyers, families, young lovers and tourists. We also ventured into the posh Galle Face Hotel where we'd not been yet this trip for a pot of tea. Standards remain as high as ever!
We had got our visas by 6pm and finally went to leave Colombo and were heading north to Negombo where we were going to stay with our friend Tim again.
Then -we ran into Eddie. As mentioned before in these pages we met Eddie 2 months ago at the McLaren's Group sports day and we had meant to ring him in Colombo but never got round to it. Our car being just a bit distinctive (!!) Eddie recognized us and pulled us over and asked us to come back the next night for the Bus pub crawl -which leaves from the Galle Face Hotel and takes place once a month. He was in a hurry so we agreed and drove on to Negombo. Thinking it through we had no idea where we could park whilst in central Colombo as we didn't want to drive back after drinking.
We rang and asked Eddie if he could square it for us to park at the Taj Samundra a very posh hotel (part of the Taj group) where he lives whilst working in SL. He does one month on one off for an oil exploratory company.
He rang to say it was all sorted and next day we headed to where we thought we were camping in the Taj grounds. However we had been very much upgraded ….Eddie had treated us to a night in an ocean view room in the Taj!! What a treat, we had an amazing night, a dip in their pool and a view of the ocean from our balcony.
We even treated ourselves to the house speciality at the steak restaurant and had an Australian steak flamed in front of us! Thanks so much Eddie we really really appreciate it. People's kindnesses to us on our travels never cease to amaze. Have a look at the hotel on their site www.tajhotels.com
The pub crawl was quite an experience! In a double decker bus we were whizzed around 7 pubs with food, alcohol and live music available in all of them. A huge night! There was a real eclectic mix of people, lots of English people working here mainly in the garment industry, and diverse holiday makers - it was great fun and a really different experience for us as sampling the nightlife isn't really something we do much on our travels.
Next day, feeling a bit the worse for wear we headed with Eddie and some friends to the nearby Cinnamon Grand Hotel and it's basement bar Cheers where they serve a full on English Sunday roast dinner. Just what we needed! Again thanks so much Eddie for treating us like this. We really appreciate it.
As I write this on Thursday 29 September we're very comfortably ensconced back at Tim's luxury pad in Negombo. I'm updating the website and Andrew's doing some "car maintenance stuff" (an issue with the suspension courtesy of the Jaffna roads) and we're enjoying hanging out with Tim and relaxing a bit before we head off in a day or so to the hills of Ella first and then onto the surf of Arugam bay again.