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Monday, February 27, 2006


... and now for something completely different - a Beakerlude!

'The Kandy Konnection'

'Sir Alec Guinness'


'The Real Slim Chedi'

'Mr. Miyagi'

... same Beaker-time, same Beaker-channel!

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Old Age Regular Non-Ninja Turtles

A three hour bumpy bus ride in cargo class with our luggage and what must have been most of the local village part-way through a Guinness Book of Records 'People In A Bus' challenge and we had arrived in Tangalle.

Tangalle is a small town situated by the sea that suffered a great deal of damage when the tsunami struck. There are signs hanging, draped and slung over many of the local fixtures thanking the international community for their assistance with the redevelopment of the area.

With only a couple of days to go until we moved on to Thailand the main objective here was to build sand castles and watch the local fishermen trawl for dinner ... and Ninja Turtles!

Just a short Tuk-Tuk ride away is a small and reasonably isolated beach where giant turtles come to lay their eggs. As luck would have it, we had arrived in Tangalle with a full moon - the perfect time to spy on Leonardo and his buddies.

Racing through our dinners to finish up on time to take part in the local Tuk-Tuk demolition derby across town, it was with a sense of dread that I noticed a familiar bubbling in my tummy. Was that bloody Devilled Chicken back for even more revenge?! "I'll be a vegetarian I promise!" - but it was no good, another night of toil and trouble ...

But the good news is that Myra managed to dodge kittens, dogs and even a cow in the Tuk-Tuk derby to get you all some photos of the tortles - so click on the link!

Jack Vs The Space Mutants

The year is 1969 and NASA launches the last of America's deep space hippy communes. In a freak mishap Kataragama 3 and its pilot Captain Jack are blown out of their trajectory into an orbit which freezes his life support systems and returns to Earth 37 years later.

Well, not quite, but after hopping out of a public sardine tin we found ourselves at Jack's Place in Kataragama; a funky little donation based 'hostel' complete with a hippy village out back. The whole place is littered with groovy little multi-coloured glass bottles hanging from trees, walls, gutters - pretty much everything!

The village is based around 'mud and wattle' huts, with each religion being allocated its own little space. The Hindu one is the funkiest at moment and even has a 'meditation' bunker carved out beneath the main chilling room. Candle holders are cut into the walls and the candles within throw long flickering shadows dancing from wall to wall.

After a tour of the village Dave and the rest of the collective stayed up half the night cooking Sri Lankan 'hoppers', basically chubby pancakes, for us all to munch down. Very tasty and after a wee bit of nattering we all hit the Sauna for a couple of hours.

Five a.m. and it was out of the sauna and into the flying van as we hurtled down the road in a hippy period Land Rover. Yala National Park was our destination and with our elephant guns cocked and ready we were looking forward to some big game hunting.

Unfortunately the park wardens weren't so inclined and so we settled for a funky little tour around with the chance to see elephants, leopards, wild boars, crocodiles and even the rare and menacing Jungle Chicken!

We all had a good morning bouncing around in the back of the jeep as the driver ignored all requests to stop and look at the various animals and concentrated on reliving his Rally Dakar days. The only time the handbrake was applied was to point out the ferocious Jungle Chicken - a indigenous bird that in all respects is identical to a regular chicken save for the 'Jungle' moniker (and maybe some slight colour differences)!

A communal lunch, some lazing and the bags were packed and with the theme tune to the 'Littlest Hobo' drifting softly through my brain we set off down the road for Tangalle.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Fear and Leeching in Las Ella

With enough tea leaves to open our own factory stuffed into our backpacks we boarded the train for Ella. A surprisingly empty train allowed for plenty of door dangling shenanigans as we wound our way slowly uphill through tea plantations and waterfall filled jungle landscapes.

A few moments later and we found ourselves in the local 'Curd and Honey' shop to taste the legendary sludge that we'd heard so much about in Dalhousie. It wasn't long until the Village People approached our table. Or at least on ex-member of the Village People. With a handlebar moustache like that he had to be. Dave, who's real name was Dee, runs a hippy commune style village called Jack's Place. The name comes from the lead character in his science fiction novel which has taken up residence at the editor's house! More on that in "Episode 10 : Jack Vs The Space Mutants!".

We awoke the next morning to the sound of 'Frere Jacque' drifting by our window as the local ice-cream man rolled on down the pavement. A few kilometres rambling later and we were being lead by the three Muskehounds up a hill trying to find a small cave hidden on the mountain side. The dogs spent the entire hike running into the undergrowth and snarling at random things - Jungle Chickens I imagine (more on these guys in the next exciting blog-isode!).

With the cave in the bag we thought we'd try and get to the top of Ella Rock. This was a little trickier than we'd first imagined and involved much Voodoo Kung Fu to navigate our way through the mine fields of local 'guides' that blocked the way to the top. A half an hour of intense tuck and rolling and Metal Gear Solidesque weaving in and out amongst the tea plants and we were within reach of the summit!

The skies were darkening and a grey mist was rising from the forest floor - the sensible thing to do would have been the shoulder our daypacks and brave the mine fields once more. So naturally we pressed on.

Five minutes of rambling through dense foliage and the heavens opened. Five minutes more and 'Cats and Dogs' were replaced by leeches and even more leeches as the treetops showered us in not-so-friendly little slinkies!

After more than a little Blair Witching through the misty tea plantations we made it back to our accommodation with about 7 of the beasties each! A little soap and water removes the critters with a bit of persuasion. By this time they had guzzled down enough blood to be used as movie squibs!

Squishing the little slinkies with the leg of a chair sent blood splattering all over the floor (our blood too!). It's amazing how tough they are - 15 or 16 hits with the chair leg and they still manage to crawl away! They leave nasty little bites too that bleed for an hour or two after they've been removed! Grrr ...

Friday, February 17, 2006

The 39 + 4961 Steps

A look to the left, a step to the right, hands on our holsters, fingers itching ... where was Vladimir? But with no shotgun wielding Turkish workers obviously skulking about we jumped into the landlord's taxi (a Hi-Ace van). The three amigos were heading for the railway station and after more or less haggling our way out of the Taxi fare we boarded the train for Adam's Peak.

A surprisingly long bus journey later and we were in the 'Tackiest Place in Sri Lanka' (TM)! All of your usual favourites were available from many of the leading local stockists; inflatable Buddhas, glow in-the-dark Shivas - you bring it, they bling it!

After a little bit of wandering we found 'The Green House', a nice little hostel complete with garden terraces for dining. For around 5 Euro each we managed to get afternoon tea, dinner, pre-climb snack, a mammoth post-climb breakfast and a bed!

Several munching sessions later and we were ready to leave the hostel for the journey to the top. In order to be there for sunrise it's recommended that you give yourself 3 or 4 hours to climb the 5000 steps to the summit. With this in mind we closed our door at 2:30 a.m. and stepped out into the cool night air.

But Satan and his Devilled Chicken had other ideas and things didn't remain cool in my tummy for very long. It seemed that although everything had worked out nicely for Mr. Seagal, for me, it was going to be a very different story ...

Forty five minutes and several vows of vegetarianism later and the time had come to reach for the Immodium Instants (thanks mum!). Two tablets, some water and my trusty tea-cosy hat in hand and I was finally running away from the loo and towards the mountain to catch up with Myra and Mattieu.

As it turned out, the recommended time was rather generous and we summitted at 5:00 a.m., a good hour and a half before sunrise. After an initial ramble around the temple at the top we bedded down to wait for dawn.

Surprisingly my trusty board shorts and silk weight t-shirt didn't prove to be as warm as I might have liked for the wait - Mr. Patagonia strikes back yet again!

As the hour passed the sky slowly changed from a deep blue-black to a gorgeous yellowly red colour and a strange ghostly pyramid began to form in the sky behind us. Within minutes the faint shape darkened to a very distinctive grey and remained suspended in the air for the next half an hour or there abouts.

But with our toes slowly turning black, due to the icy stone paving of the summit temple, we decided to head back down for some well deserved breakie. Five thousand knee jarring, ligament tearing steps later we collapsed into one of the garden terraces and munched our way through the fancy array of Sri Lankan dishes that had been laid out before us.

Chicken Runs

With a tear in our eyes we watched Bob drive off into the sunset heading for that great yellow bus in the distance. With the Frink-a-hedron wrapped up we decided to try make our way to Adam's Peak. This is one of Sri Lanka's most striking natural features not to mention one of its most celebrated places of pilgrimage - a miniature Matterhorn which stands head and shoulders above the surrounding hills.

Unfortunately, though, as our train pulled into Hatton, the local railway station, we were greeted by a throng of people all trying to make their way up to Dalhousie, the village at the base of the mountain. With things looking pretty grim and feeling a little unsure of what to do we bumped into a pair of British blokes who had just returned from the village and told us that it was a waste of time to attempt the mountain this weekend due to National Day falling on the Saturday. So we hopped back onto the train and decided to head for Nuwara Eliya instead.

On the way there we met Mattieu 'Dr. Richard Kimble' Latteux, a fugitive wanted by a collection of Parisien Turkish workers. He's been on the run since the day Vladimir and his cronies burst in his employer's office brandishing shotguns and demanding their money! So seeming to be a rather reputable type of character we hooked up with him for the next couple of days.

Pedro Tea Factory was our first stop in Nuwara Eliya. A funky little tea factory located in the hills around the village, decorated in a quaint 1950s British warehouse style. The only thing missing was a Bedford van parked in the yard. The great thing about Pedro though, is that for 50 Rupees (40 cent) you can take a complete tour of the factory and see how tea changes from a leaf to a teabag! They even throw in a tasty cup of factory made tea at the end of the tour!

It was a real treat as they switch on all the machinery as the tour brings you around the factory. Some of the units are over 60 years old and are still going strong. It's always great to see old machines churning away as you can usually see exactly how they work!

Back to our guest house and time for some food. Having been a little cautious up to now about eating meat and being very much a veggie I reckoned it was time to sample some local delights. So I ordered one Devilled Chicken meal. Hubble, bubble, toil and trouble and Satan himself was boiling up a broth of evil in my stomach!

A fast retreat to our room, the first with a TV, and it was just me and Steven Seagal for a quietish night in. For Seagal it was 'Marked For Death', for me, I won't even tell you what was left marked ...

Friday, February 10, 2006

The Cultural Frink-A-Hedron

After managing to pick up a time-share job as a Tuk-Tuk driver with a bloke called Djadwara, Myra and I both knew it was time to leave Kandyland and get lost in the Cultural Triangle.

The Cultural Triangle is basically a Frink-a-hedron, or triangular, shaped area above Kandy which encloses the majority of early Sri Lankan historical items of interest. These include two ancient capital cities, Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa, the magnificent Drambulla temple caves and the towering rock palace of Sigiriya.

To manage to visit all of these places in a reasonable amount of time we needed an unlicenced loose cannon of a driver willing to overtake anything that moved on or off the road. Luckily we found "Bob" a man who's last job finished with a game of chicken with a bus - he lost!

After spending an hour or two deciding on which side of the road to drive on Bob skidded into Drambulla. Drambulla is home to a massive cavern that has been artificially separated into five large temple caves.

The trick is to visit the caves in reverse order as they gradually increase in degrees of magnificence, culminating with the fantastic cave number two. To do so involves a rather toasty walk of fire across what must have been hot coals to reach the far end of the complex! (Hats and shoes have to be removed in all temples.)

Drambulla is truly stunning with the internal dimensions of some of the caves reaching a staggering 10 metres tall with a floor space of over 25 x 50 metres! Each chamber is intricately decorated with murals and frescos not to mention many, many amazing statues. Not to be missed!

Also worth a mention is quite simply the best Tuk-Tuk we have yet seen - The Rasta Mobile! In the car park of the temple we saw a Tuk-Tuk painted head to toe in rasta colours with a Jamaican flag on the front. The driver then moseyed over and it could have been Bob himself - dreads, rasta hat, the lot!

After rummaging out a fresh pair of boxers we had landed (yes landed!) in Sigiriya. Sigiriya is a medieval citadel that rises over 200 metres sheer from the surrounding plains. Around the base of the rock citadel lie a collection of gardens. These include the complex water and boulder gardens which give a good insight into the sophistication of ancient Sinhalese irrigation techniques.

But enough of horticulture and onto scaling the rock itself!

Shoes - Check.
Gear - Check.
Rope - Check.
Permission - Nope.

So over to the stairs instead and up the 1200 steps to the top of the citadel. As you clamber up the rusty and rather rickety stairway to the top you can see the original 'holds' that were etched into the rockface itself. All I can say is hats off to the brave climbers who lead the way to the top as the whole route is seriously exposed from start to finish with substantial falls!

Two thirds of the way up the is a large plateau which once played host to an enormous lion statue with the final staircase to the summit embedded within it. Today all the remains of this beast is its paws and a 'modern' rather dodgy cast iron set of steps leading to the citadel ruins.

The view from the top is breath-taking, offering a 360 degree panoramic Kodak Colour Moment. If you ramble around the top for a few moments you'll come across the palace pool and with a bit of luck you'll spot a single lonely tortle swimming about.

After bedding down for the evening we awoke to the noise of Bob revving the engine and attaching a spoiler and alloys that he had kept hidden until now. With the seat-belt securely fastened we were once again hurtling along towards Polonnuwara.

A short time later we found ourselves in the historical museum starring down at a fantastic miniature model of the entire site. The ruins occupy a rather large and impressive space and represent the culmination of generations of development until war and chaos lead to their abandonment in the late 12th century.

You can find every type of ancient Sri Lankan historical building here from stupas and dagabas to lodges and pools. Particularly funky is the Lotus Pool which consists of a set of concentric lotus flower shaped rings gradually deepening to form a bathing pool.

Back to the car to find Bob siphling off some petrol from a nearby Tuk-Tuk. Well maybe not, but he moved off pretty quickly none-the-less! Dinner, snoozing and a breakfast and we were on our way to Anuradhapura. The ruins here are from an older period of Sri Lankan history, around about the 5th century, and are noticeably less intact and well preserved.

We spent the afternoon wandering around the various temples and dagabas. The highlight for today was probably seeing a Buddhist monk being attacked by twenty odd monkeys for a bowl of coconut pieces! Finally the truth behind the old saying of not getting much work done with a monkey on your back makes sense!

Friday, February 03, 2006

Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Tooth

Not a single mine cart in sight so it was back on foot for us down the train tracks to the heart of Kandy and the Temple of the Tooth. The temple holds a sacred tooth said to belong to the Buddha himself that was rescued from the ashes after his cremation. As the years passed the tooth relic became a symbol of Sri Lankan sovereignity and was always housed by the Sinhalese kings.

After two security checks (the temple was bombed by the Tamil Tigers in 1998 causing significant damage) we were allowed to enter the temple grounds and watch the cermony. This, in part, consists of traditional drumming which reverbrates around the whole structure creating an atmospheric mystical trance-like mood.

Unfortunately the tooth itself is no longer on continuous display (not since the 1920s) and only makes a brief appearance for a couple of weeks once every decade or so. Never-the-less there's plenty to keep you occupied with a large museum, spacious gardens and wonderful temple designs.

After this we paid a visit to the "Big Buddha House" (no Davina McCall lurking in the shadows). This is a rather funky 88 feet high Buddha statue complex that lies on a hillside overlooking the entire city. There's a winding staircase that leads about halfway up the statue to a small viewing perch. An excellent spot to get a good feeling for the layout of Kandy!

The final dish on the menu for today was a trip to the local cultural arts building which puts on a traditional dancing show every night. Some impressive dancing and acrobatics and even some fire walking thrown in for good measure (no sword swallowing though!).

Dumb and Dumbo

Can Nephelumps really fly if they flap their ears hard enough? That's what Myra and I decided to go and find out! We caught what looked like a train but was actually a roller-coaster in disguise complete with kids (and me) screaming their lungs out as we passed through various tunnels on our way to a place called 'Pinnewala'.

Pinnewala is home to around 60 elephants and a small army of mice to keep them in check. There are two highlights to the day at the Pinnewala Elephant Orphanage - Feeding Time and Bath Time.

Feeding time takes place in a smallish enclosure with only four elephants and a couple of handlers to feed them with large milk bottles. I reckon that I might try persuade a few of them to make up a travelling 'boat team' for any world wide drinking competitions that we stumble across as they can really guzzle the gargle.

After feeding and some apparently well needed elephant loo breaks it was time for a quick ramble around the park. Just a small distance away the other 50 odd nephelumps are to be found roaming freely about. It's really amazing to be able to wander right up to them and touch the little baby elephants. Be careful though as they seem to hunt like Veloci-Raptors and before you know it you're completely surrounded (and still no sign of Mr. Goldblum)!

One elephant who definitely deserves a mention is Sama. This poor guy had the lower part of one of his front legs removed by a landmine. It's really tough to watch him limp from one place to another, especially as his back is becoming increasingly contorted as he has adapted to his injury.

Bath Time! Before you know it all 60 odd elephants are stampeding towards the river behind you! This was the best part of the day as the nephelumps spend the next 2 hours or so splashing about in the river water. I threw peanuts and super-soaked them, I even tried stealing their last Rolo - but nada.

So although it seems that nephelumps can neither fly, be used as portable fire-hoses nor shoot peanuts from their trunks they're still well funky and definitely worth visiting!

(Myra has a wee photo gallery exhibition on her page so don't forget to drop in for some nice shots!)