14 March - Kandy

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13 March - To Kandy
14 March - Kandy
15 March - To Haputale
16 March - To Tissa
17 March - Yala NP
18 March - To Galle

0730 – overlooking Kandy

The morning is cool and wonderful. I awoke at the sounds of birds coming from the open window and had to go outside. Now that I am, none of them sit still long enough for me to see them. The exceptions are the big black crow, which fly slowly, and and Indian Myna sitting across the road in a tree at just my height. His voice is an odd combination of cheeps, whistles, croaks, and throaty ululations. As I take a picture, he flies away.

Three schoolgirls run down the steps in their stark white dresses. Their hair is neatly braided and tied with red ribbons.

Workers come out of an unfinished building by the school, spit off the edge of the hill, and disperse to do their work.

Tiny birds swoop between the guest houses on this hill, showing flashes of beautiful color. One sits in a tree with big yellow flowers and calls to me.

It’s so green and colorful here! For every house, there are two or three trees. Across the valley is a hill that is completely uninhabited, just green forest. Potted plants line the balcony where I’m sitting, and cascade over the sills next door.

The sun peeks over the hill, warming my back.

A chipmunk-like squirrel crosses the power lines, stopping in the middle to peer down at the ground. What does he see? I wonder. And what does he think he can do about what he sees?

The beginning of breakfast comes – four white teacups and a fluted white teapot, identical to what Mom and Dad had last night. Chris is still in bed, but my parents have come out to greet the morning and chat with a French couple staying here, Nico and Stephanie.

0900

Lovely breakfast, on the balcony with Nico and Stephanie. Large breakfast, as I should have guessed from dinner last night. Fruit pieces, eggs, tea, and toast. We were serenaded by birds, trucks, and the yelling of schoolgirls at the nearby school. Two large-billed, blue-backed, white-chested kingfishers are still sitting in the tree across the way. The camera is next to me and I am ready with the lense for anything new and beautiful. I’ve yet to snag a picture of a butterfly, though. They’re flitting around everywhere, yellow and pale blue and white and brown.

1120

Figuring out what we’re doing – what a mess! With only five more days, and three large traveling days… and not knowing what we want to do and what we CAN do. The map’s out on the table, Lonely Planet is bookmarked and annotated and giving us our money’s worth, and the phone’s out ready to call for help and advice.

Dad of course needs to have everything planned out perfectly. He can’t get excited about something until he knows it won’t get knocked off the to-do list. Mom and I prefer to let one day come at a time, and get excited even about things we know we can’t do. But given enough time to ourselves, we can do anything.

And we have! Despite special and linear mind-puzzles, map puzzles, and flipping rapidly through pages, it seems to have all slid into place. Even Dad agrees! And I suppose it does feel good to have a schedule… but it’s still somewhat open-ended, allowing for different travel times and modes, how exhausted we are after each day, local information, and fresh eyes.

And it’s not even noon yet! Time to explore Kandy.

1720 – Young Men’s Buddhist Association, Kandy

The auditorium is half-full of tourists from all over the world. Hawkers walk among the chairs selling cold drinks and cashew nuts. As we sip our sodas, the sound of drums come from behind the red-cloth-draped stage. Under one side I can see bell-clad ankles and feet. We’re about to see the famous Kandyan dancing – and we have front row seats.

After finally deciding this morning what to do in the long term, we headed down the hill to see this place. We headed down the hill to see this town. We walked halfway around the man-made lake, reveling in the cool shade, scenery, and the stunning amount of birds. White egrets, cormorants, and grey herons all flew over the water or sunned at its edges. Ducks sat by the shore, in pairs or small groups. Mynas and crows screamed raucously over the street noises. And, in seven trees over the road, there were hundreds of hundreds of bats. Bats, bats, bats! Okay, they’re not birds, but us photographers went mad anyway. I love my big lens. J

And to top it off, in a tree on the other side of the lake was a pelican. Yes, in a tree. Crazy.

The lights are dimming. It’s time to watch the dancing, but there’s still so much of the day to describe!

2020 – Paiva’s Restaurant, Kandy

The area around the lake is cool and shady, with lots of little benches off the walk. It was very popular with the young schoolgirls and a parent. Very cute. But we basically saw schoolkids all day long. Do they all have different breaks?

The Temple of the Tooth, which sports Buddha’s tooth from when it was snatched from his funeral pyre, is a main attraction of Kandy. You can’t actually see the tooth, though, and it has been suggested that:

  1. the tooth was stolen by the Portuguese and destroyed, or
  2. it’s actually kept secure elsewhere

Anyway, we didn’t go in. Chris and Dad couldn’t have gotten in with shorts on. And Chris was dying for lunch (as is normal). So we went to lunch.

A case of ‘when will I learn??’ Spicy spicy spicy curry. Only 80 rupees, though, so I didn’t feel too bad about leaving some of it. And the fresh lime juice and watalappan for dessert certainly put out the fire.

Now, since we had nixed the Temple, we walked to the bus station. Not really a station, but a large collection of buses and taxis under the clock tower.

We were bound for the botanic gardens, just out of town. We were directed to the right bus by a helpful passerby. The bus seemed to be just leaving- the driver was rocking it back and forth as if waiting for traffic. So we leapt on, only to realize we weren’t yet leaving. Either we had a fidgety driver or he knew how to get fares – people leapt on board up until the last moment. The bus was jam-packed when we pulled out of the station. I was glad we had gotten seats.

Half an hour later, I was even more glad. We hit a traffic jam five blocks out of the station. Bumper to bumper – minus the motorbikes, tuk-tuks and yahoos who decided to take advantage of our mass and immobility.

Fifty feet in five minutes. How long to get there at this speed? Some people got off. A gap opened in traffic – we went for it, only to be cut off by a tuk-tuk. The sun on my lap, and my full stomach, made me sleepy. I was right behind the driver, and there fore had plenty of leg room. I stretched out, put my head back, and snored.

Later, Dad and Chris said it was all due to one intersection. Well, that and the Sri Lankan way of driving. Every man for himself, get ahead no matter what, and ignore anyone who is behind your immediate line of sight. Perfect recipe for a jam-up. After we were through it, accelerators went to the floor and we rocketed along that road.

But I daresay that was the cheapest ride money-for-time than anywhere else in the world. It took us an hour to get to the gardens. It cost 4.5 cents each. What’s funny is, on the way back it was much quicker but they charged us twice that. I guess it makes sense… in an abstract way.

The gardens, in contrast to that hectic trip, were calm and cool and soothing. We walked down a lane of double-palm trees (massive coconuts), and another of pines. We strolled around a lake, and saw giant bamboo which can grow a foot a day. Bats wheeled overhead, giving the impression of Brissie River at dusk. We walked halfway across a funky old suspension bridge. Chris climbed The Perfect Climbing Tree. We walked beneath the shady branches of a 100-year-old banyon tree.

And I took pictures. There weren’t many flowers, at least not really exotic ones, but Chris had the A710 and could photo those. Mom and I were on a bird hunt. Perversely, most of the birds we saw were either shy or in shadow. Or weren’t birds, as referring to the awesome bat pictures I got. But one, a red-waddled lapwing, was the ideal model. She stood in the middle of a field, and didn’t move as we approached except to turn her head. Beautiful black-and-white markings and a red bill and red around the eye. When we got too close, she sat down. It was then that I could see an egg peeking out from under her. Her mate stood at the edge of the field, watching. We told an approaching bird-watching tour group about her and they stopped to set up their fair distance away. I’m just glad they weren’t yahoos or idiots – or had a dog.

2200 – in bed

I’m so tired, and so is my hand, but there’s so much to catch up on!

As we were leaving the botanic gardens, a giant group of schoolkids was coming in. Field trip? It seemed very late in the day for that. But we snapped some pictures – they’re so cute all in uniform, even the older ones – and went out to hail a bus.

Luckily most buses going that way went to Kandy. Or maybe we were lucky, because one came along not a minute after we got out. But I think we were charged double because that was the full fare, rather than just the fare to where we were going.

I’m falling asleep, but I need to write about the dancing. It was awesome. Colorful, energetic. Loud. Beautiful. The drummers were so enthusiastic, so into it. I can’t imagine how callused their hands must be. None of them showed enormous arm muscles, though. In fact, one drummer was an old skinny guy with no teeth, and he did very well. I certainly couldn’t do it.

And the dancers… lordee. The women were beautiful and danced well – I can’t quite say ‘gracefully’ because that’s not their style, actually. It’s fast, and jerky, and different from anything I’ve ever seen. And the men were even more energetic. Leaping up and down, spinning in place. Back handsprings, front handsprings. Jumping handstands. Standing backflips.

Oh yes, did I mention they might as well have been wearing skirts? Impressive.

The fire show was interesting, though we’ve basically seen it before. There was also pretty much a solid wall of people between me and them. But what I could see was pretty cool.

We met some other yachties there. Their boat is in Galle; we saw it before we left. Nice couple off Wind Dancer. Ellen and George. They’re sailing to Cochin in a week or so, drat them. But we may see them down the way towards Africa.

One local guy caught us on our way out. “I’m from the hotel,” he said, though we never figured out if this was the same hotel we were from. Lonely Planet says this is a frequent tactic on the street. But he told us about the market, and that the king was at the temple. And to eat dinner after 8pm because then it would be fresh and not simply reheated. We thanked him but he didn’t go away. I’ve noticed this about Sri Lankans. They love giving advice, or asking what you’re doing, or wanting to help you somehow, or talking at you and talking at you and talking at you until you just want to scream leave me ALONE!!!

We did eventually get to the market. Bought some tea and vanilla. Who knows if we got ripped off. Our ‘hotel’ guy showed up again, making sure we were doing OK. “God bless you,” he said. “See you tomorrow at the hotel.” I will be pleasantly surprised if we do, but somehow I doubt we will.

Our dinner at Paiva’s Restaurant was good, and plainly just cooked (judged by the time it took to arrive). But not spicy, thank goodness, and oh-so-tasty.

We walked back to the guest house. Longish walk but I needed it, to walk off that meal. And then a shower. Chris managed to forget the A710 camera at the restaurant so Mom tuk-tuked back to fetch it – it was still there, thank goodness.

So here we are. I’m exhausted. We get up early tomorrow, though one could say I woke up early today. Earlier, though – we leave at 8am to drive south. We’re heading into hills higher than here. Yay! It all sounds so exciting. Now I shall dream of it. Good night.

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