Back on The Road in Sri Lanka

Squid

I can’t believe it’s been over a year since I returned back from my adventures back to the daily grind of life.  It initially was difficult to come back and start working after not needing to pay attention to a calendar.  But you easily get back into the routine and can’t believe how the refreshed feeling easily gets replaced by the daily stresses.  Not surprisingly, it took me a while to save up and get back out there to travel.  Unfortunately, this next trip was just a short one, but a much needed one.   My friend and I headed to Sri Lanka to escape the cold dreariness of the UK during winter.  We decided to take in some culture, some wildlife, some hill country and some beaches.  Sri Lanka is known for having some beautiful beaches and while the popular ones are getting developed, you can find miles of coast that are untouched.  It was here, on one of these beaches, that we were able to take part in some fishing with locals as they went about their normal daily lives.

We found ourselves on the beach of Tangalle which was an interesting beach town.  Despite the fact that there were guesthouses lining the coast, more foreigners were to be found in the town than on the actual beach.  Maybe because it was a dumping beach, which I love, the people came to just relax but stayed out of the water.

Playing tug of war with the sea

Playing tug of war with the sea

On our first morning in Tangalle, on our way to explore the coast and grab some breakfast, we were called over to help by some fisherman.  Of course, these men call out to all the tourists who walk past them; and some continue walking while others help for a few minutes. My friend and I helped for 30 minutes.  These fisherman who were doing their days work, had cast a large net in the sea by boat and on the beach had 2 lines of men pulling a never ending line of fishing net.  For 30 minutes we kept on pulling on this net and pulling and pulling thinking that we’d never see the end.  On each side, one was man was the anchor for the net and the rest of the people pulled on the rope like we were playing tug of war with the sea.

The catch is in!

The catch is in!

When the actual net finally surfaced on the beach, we were more happy than the fisherman.  We may not have been benefiting from the catch but we were finally finished and about to see the fruits of our effort.  The net was substantive in size and within it was fish of all different varieties; mainly small little fishes, but there were squid, jelly fishes, tuna, and medium sized fish, but we didn’t have any large catches that day.

 

 

IMG_0876Once the net made it to the sand, we stood back and gave way to the fisherman to do their job.  They went about collecting and sorting fish.  Half of the catch would be sold, we were told, while the other half would be split amongst the men who had worked to take home.  It was interesting to see how they distributed the fish amongst themselves.  Everyone helped to collect the fish into one communal bag and then an elder handed out the fish equally to the fisherman.  While this was happening, some the guesthouse and restaurant owners started to congregate so that they could purchase some of the fresh catch.  This included our guesthouse owner.  One of the younger fisherman, took some time to show us the different fish in the net and decided to collect for us some squid.  He handed them off to our guesthouse owner.  That night we were able to eat the squid that we worked so hard to catch 🙂

Sharing the day's catch

Sharing the day’s catch

 

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Trekking in Nepal

Of course with visiting Nepal, one must do a trek.  With time restrictions, I opted to do a 6 day trek near the Annapurnas.  It may have been a shorter trek but it was a muscle wrenching trek in Nepal. Being afraid of the cold and not organized enough to do the Everest trek or the Annapurna circuit/base camp treks, I opted for the small loop which would give me wonderful views of the Annapurna mountain range. I departed end of the september,not  knowing that it was just the beginning of the high season.  I arrived only to find out that the monsoon was still in effect.  Nepali people are the most positive people out there…everyday they would look to the sky and say,”I think the monsoon will be over tomorrow”  Trekking in monsoon season means that the views of the mountains may be obscured.  Apparently, when there is no monsoon season, the sky is always blue without any clouds. Lucky me.I enjoyed the trekking, and fortunately, only small rains interrupted my trekking and usually just 30 minutes before my destination.   I have to say, that I let the monsoon ruin the whole experience.  I felt like I was constantly racing against the rain.  I am now an expert at cloud formation.  I would  be scanning the skies and when those grey clouds started looming, I just wanted to hurry up. No breaks, no food, just beat the rain.  Two reasons why the rain made for a bad experience:1) pretty obvious, the route became slippery. 2) not so obvious, leeches.  Stupidly, I chose my route because it went through the jungle. The night before we headed into the jungle, I asked my guide if there would be leeches tomorrow and his response was How did you know?  All my education on leeches is from the movie, Stand By Me which is not exactly correct. Leeches are not 1-2 inches long and they live outside of water.  So these leeches are narrower than worms and 1-2 cm long.  They hide under leaves.  and when it rains, they come out looking for flesh. Fortunately, I can say that I was leech free, but I did see one just chillin in the sun (which my guide poured salt over) and I saw one that was knocked off another guides leg (blood included).

Other than the rain and leeches, the views were amazing (when we saw mountains), the scenery was stunning with green mountains, rice fields, and rivers.  I was shown some interesting plant species along the way.  One particular one was a leaf that when engorged, if touched, explodes.  So I asked my guide what was the function of this?  He said it was protective. When birds came to eat the plant, the leaf would explode in their mouths and blow up their heads.  I believed everything my guide told me!

If I ever return to Nepal, I will spend more time and prepare myself to do the Everest Base Camp.

Enjoy some of the pictures here: https://skydrive.live.com/?sc=photos&cid=1db8a41159295e1e#cid=1DB8A41159295E1E&id=1DB8A41159295E1E%213161&sc=photos

Running Through India, By Any Means Necessary

When you go to India for 3 weeks and want to visit the north and the south and do as much as humanly possible, you don’t have the luxury of being selective with transport.  In India the best way to get around is by train travel.  The train network in India is extensive with lots of different trains running all over the country.  The great thing about riding the trains was meeting local people.  It was the one environment when you could actually speak with locals and not worry about them being a taxi or rickshaw driver.  My favourite lady that we met was one that couldn’t speak English.  Her smile on her face just showed her bemusement at me and my idiot ways, when I was wrapping my feet and legs up with a scarf because I was freezing on the train and not prepared to be cold.

We did a lot of sleeper trains which didn’t give that much excitement except for the night when the military came into our car and took up berths and then a screaming match ended up in front of me as two locals fought over a berth.  There were a couple of times when we took day trains which seemed to be a bit more interesting especially when we had the lowest class tickets to get on the train.

We had this train that we had to get on, but we were not able to get tickets for a higher class because they were booked out from 6 weeks prior.  So we were told to buy a general ticket and then when the ticket man comes, ask to if there is space in a better class and pay for the upgrade.  We entered the train and just went into any carriage.  It was relatively empty.  We sat there for an hour or so until the ticket man came and told us that we had second class tickets and we were in the wrong carriage.  He said at the next station, get off our car and go down to the last two carriages.  We weren’t sure how long the train would wait on the platform and these trains are very long.  So when it stopped, with our backpacks on, 5 of us ran down the platform trying to get to the back of the train.  The leader of the pack got down to the end and turned around and said “wrong carriage!” So we all turned around and started running back.  We passed a couple of carriages and said “too many people, too many people”  (Little did we realize that was where we were supposed to be.  General class is battery chicken class).  We jumped on in another empty car.  So we sat and chilled there for a couple of hours until we made a stop and the car just swelled with people who had assigned seating.  “Get up, get up!  These are our seats!”  So we had to move again.  We just started roaming the train in search of seats.  Then we found ourselves back exactly where we had started.  The ticketman recognized us and came back and said “I told you guys to move!”  He said that at the next stop this car was going to fill up and we would definitely have to move.  So we packed our bags again and continued to roam the train.  Finally, we found a friendlier ticketman who let us upgrade our tickets and gave us seats.  I really wish we could have filmed ourselves running down the track!

The next time this happened, I was with different people, but I knew how it worked.  So when the ticket man came along, he more than happy to upgrade us for more than double the cost of the ticket.  We knew the cost of the ticket because we had already purchased a ticket on another train that was 3 hours late.  So I started barking at him.  “Why does it cost that much?”  He quickly ran away.  An hour later, another ticket man came along.  We explained to him what we wanted to do, and again I said “We know the cost of the ticket, why is sleeper class that price?”  He signalled for me to lower my voice and then he ran off with his tail between his legs.  The ticket men are not very good at getting bribes off of people!

One method of transport that was completely new to me was the sleeper bus.  It sounded like a marvelous idea.  Having berths on a bus so you can lie down and sleep overnight.  However, I guess it would only work on smooth roads and if you actually maintain your vehicle and change your shocks.  Imagine lying in a very squished space with a driver driving like a maniac: taking curves quickly so that you end up against the glass and not slowing down enough to go over potholes and speed bumps.  Probably about 4 times during that night we were jolted awake as we went flying a foot of off the bed.  I swear I spent the whole night bracing each time I felt the driver slow down.  However, my friend said that I somehow managed to fall asleep for some of the ride.  Crazy!

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Being Equal Under a Golden Sun

 

Probably one of the most humbling experiences that I’ve ever had when traveling happened in Amritsar, a town in Punjab which is the most holy of holy town for Sikhs.  Amritsar has the Golden Temple, one of the most, if not the most, sacred temple for Sikhs.  We visited there and walked around in awe of the splendor of the temple.  Unfortunately, the holiness and spirituality of the temple was missed out on us as our knowledge of Sikhism was none existant.  At this temple, everyday they cook a pilgrimage lunch and everyone is welcome.  So we decided to go and have this lunch.  We were given our steel plates.  We went into this massive dining hall with rugs rolled out in rows.  Everyone has to sit down side by side cross-legged with the steel plate on the floor.  These men come along and slop some gruel on your plates and water in your cup.  You have to cup your hands together so that they can throw some chapatis in your hands.  Then you bend over your plate and eat the food as quickly as you can.  As quickly as we were shoveling the food down our throats, we were still the last to finish in our row and the workers were busy trying to wash the floor getting ready for the next round of people.   I had this 12 year old girl beside me with her family.  She kept tapping me on my knee and speaking  to me.  She wanted to know how old I was, where I was from, how long I had been in India etc.  All of this in a mixture of English and Hindi.  The experience was so special.  It was so humbling to be equal with everyone in the room.  Although some people were intrigued by our presence there, we felt so equal to everyone eating the same gruel as everybody else.

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