Saturday, May 24, 2008

Belated Travel Update

O.k. I realize I used to complain about how little I had to do, but now I'm so busy it is ridiculous. We were short listed for this grant that I wrote a concept paper for back in February and now Barbara and I are working with three Italians and a plethora of Sewalanka staff trying to get a full proposal written. Problem is that I had to write the concept paper by myself and thus there were a lot of holes in the project (since I just made it up). Anyway, long story short, as soon as I returned from my travels around the island I was sucked into this and haven't had a chance to breath. Last weekend was a four-day holiday and we had to work. When I say "we" there I mean Barbara and myself. We have basically had to rewrite everything the Italians wrote and our plethora of Sewalanka staff have fallen away one by one until only two remain and they aren't all that around anymore (though at least they are still answering their phones).

Anyway, I owe you guys stories from the road, but I just don't have time. So I'm recycling (ha, that is the subject of our proposal -- clearly can't think of anything else) my e-mails that I wrote while on the road. Sorry for the repeat, hopefully the addition of photos will make it worth it.

We started out with a day in Colombo, mostly so Rachel could rest (long flight from Egypt). She got to have high tea at the Galle Face Hotel (very lovely banquet there, good value also). She also got to witness the state-of-the-art hospital facilities as one of my coworkers was in Apollo Hospital with Dengue (he is much better now).
Then off to the elephant orphanage. We hired a car, so we are avoiding bus bombs and making this trip a little bit more luxurious then we usually travel. The orphanage is a good and bad thing. The elephants are well cared for and seem somewhat happy, but there is a bit of a show for the tourists that isn't exactly a good thing. They chain up the babies away from their mom to bottle feed them -- of course, I'd prefer the mom feed them, but this way the scantily clad tourists from overseas can pay ridiculous tips to give a baby a bottle. Never mind they just paid ten dollars to get in and the local price is fifty cents (I got in for free! Long story). Then onto Kandy to see the Temple of the Tooth. This is where they have Buddha's tooth enshrined. You can't actually see the tooth, but you can see where they keep it and look at paintings that explain how the tooth has traveled all over the island (and back to India where the Portuguese say they burned it, but the Sri Lankans say that was a fake tooth). The tooth in the paintings is a giant canine. Buddha was a much bigger man than I ever expected (or a saber tooth tiger). Residents get into the temple free, so Amitha (just with us for the Kandy portion of our trip) and I showed are visas and were told o.k. For some reason no one ever questioned Rachel, the one who wasn't actually a resident. Anyway, random people without i.d.'s bugged us the entire time we were inside the temple and when we came out they refused to give us our shoes. At this point we were thoroughly irritated as we had actually showed our id's before entering. Finally we showed them again, gained our shoes (the guy actually asked for a tip -- note to shoe guys: you hold someone's shoes hostage you will not get a tip) and left. They never asked to see Rachel's i.d. Then my resident visa magic ran out. Dambulla, Sigiriya and Polonnuruwa all refused to give residents discounts. I've been told I can take the tickets back to the Tourism Board office and get a rebate. I'll have to try that. The Dambulla caves are definitely worth a visit if you are coming to Sri Lanka. We started at the far end and worked our way up to the most impressive. More than 150 Buddha statues are there including a few reclining Buddhas. The walls are all painted in frescoes of Buddhas and other gods. The next day we climbed Sigiriya. Again, very interesting and then you get to the top and it is a bit of a let down. The best parts are all below. There are these amazing frescoes that are still very intact. I think we read they are more than 2000 years old. Then there is the lion paw staircase. Apparently you used to walk through a lion's mouth, but that part is gone. When you get to the top there is a beautiful view and a lot of nice cooling wind, but not much to see in the ruins. The top was the disco apparently.
Polonnuruwa was really great. Acres and acres of ruins with various Buddhas and a few Hindu shrines. If you go take socks -- by mid-day the sun heats up the sand and you have to take your shoes off to go into the Buddhist temples (which are ruins, so they have to roofs). The rest will be posted soon!

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