Monthly Archives: February 2012
I never thought I would see a blue whale outside of the Smithsonian museum. In fact, I thought they were almost extinct. On January 23, 2012 I saw four pairs of them. Blue Whales were not even on my bucket list. When we started doing research on Sri Lanka we found out that about ten years ago, fisherman,and people living on a cliff overlooking the southern tip of Sri Lanka started reporting seeing amazingly large “fish”. Soon, scientists showed up and the “‘fish” turned out to be actually mamals. The world’s largest animals, the Blue Whale.
Saying they are big is like saying celestial mechanics is slightly difficult.
Our travel agent, (www.srilanka.com ask for Johann) set this excursion up for us. We were supposed to go out in a big trimaran that held maybe thirty people. When we got to the dock early in the morning, there were only 7 people. Truthfully or not we were told that the big trimaran had mechanical problems and we were put in a little panga with a 40hp engine. I did not care, I just wanted to see the Blue Whales.
We headed due south, into the Indian Ocean for over an hour.
But then we saw one of the big boats change direction and stoke the coals. Our capatin wasted no time. Our little panga was much more maneuverable and faster than the big boats, which it turns out is desirable when you are hunting the Blue Whales!
These giants stay submerged for 30 to 40 minutes. When they come up for air, they do it rather dramatically. They first exhaust water through their blow holes.
So when they do appear, the boats out hunting for them start moving towards them. But they do not stay up very long at all, maybe three minutes. Our little boat served us well, and we were able to get close enough for a couple of decent photos.
Scientists have somehow determined that a Blue Whale can put half of its brain asleep at a time (hmmm) so that it can continue to move and remember to surface for air as it needs to. Interesting facts for my readers!
Sri Lanka should be on any world travelers destination list. For many reasons. I saved this post for last because seeing Blue Whales up close and personal is pretty amazing, and something I know I will never forget.
Thanks for reading. Share this with others please. Now go ready Moby Dick.
- The blue whale – how I met the largest animal that has ever existed | Not Exactly Rocket Science (blogs.discovermagazine.com)
Have you ever seen an albino turtle? Betcha haven’t. We saw two today in totally different and amazing Sri Lanka.
But before I treat you to that vision I’ll fill you in our total day. It was a long fun filled one, so this post will be a bit longer than my last few.
In the morning we visited a mask museum/factory/store. Made from balsa wood and painted with natural colors these traditional masks are still used today to warrant off the spirits of poor health or bring good luck. I bought a couple for future use.
From here we went on a “river safari”. I am going to cheat here and give you some pictures from two different “river safaris” we went on. Sri Lanka has many large rivers, and they all cut through dense jungle, so a visitor gets to see many birds and creatures.
We went a ways up river from the ocean into a very large lake. A boy and his monkey came out to greet us and pick up a dollar for getting his picture taken.
We went to a buddhist temple in the midle of the lake and actually saw a Bohdi tree.
Another spot in this lake is called Cinnamon Island, for obvious reasons. I read somewhere that Sri Lanka produces something like 90% of the world’s cinnamon.
We moved on and found a guy in a Sri Lankan cayuco who rowed up to us. I thought he had something to sell, but he just wanted to share his piece of nature with us…
OK OK already, the albino turtle is coming up!
The only reason seeing an albino turtle was not on my bucket list is because I did not know they existed! Our guide stopped at the Kosgoda Turtle Center to show us the operation there. This is one of four such projects in Sri Lanka. Because they are all located at the beach, they were all wiped out in the tsunami, but have come back, mostly with volunteer labor. If your thing is turtles, you can volunteer there for as long as you like.
Turtle eggs, here and worldwide, are poached by the locals to eat. This practice is the main reason for the drop in turtle population in the world. Turtles have always had to deal with predators, but human overpopulation has made the situation even worse. These projects purchase turtle eggs from the locals for more than they can sell them to restaurants. Then they incubate them.
And now for the great finale!
That’s all for today dear readers. Thanks for being here, tell a friend, make a comment, or go to Sri Lanka to work with turtles!
My next post…up close and personal with BLUE WHALES!
On boxing Day in 2004, I think we all remember the incredible destruction caused by a tsunami all over SE Asia. Sri Lanka certainly did not escape the carnage.
The country has come back from the destruction. When you remember they have also had a civil war in the last decade, it is very impressive to see the recovery. Not to say a casual ride along the coast is bare of examples of destroyed buildings. You can still see shells of concrete buildings, but they are the exception.
We were in transit when I saw this sign.
The museum was started by a Danish expat and survives on contributions. It is very moving and impressive. You walk around in this old house in a very somber mood.
We walked out of this museum, after making a decent donation, in quite a somber mood. I think that was the intent.
Thanks for reading. Share this with a friend. Next time you see a natural disaster on TV, be glad it wasn’t in your neck of the woods and try to contribute a few bucks to the recovery, please.
Next post, ALBINO AND BABY TURTLES!
Everyone who travels around this coconut runs into hawkers. They try to sell you everything from bongs to plastic models of the Taj Mahal. Many just will not leave a person alone. They follow you down the street putting tubes of tiger balm or fake Rolex watches in your hand. They all know two words in English “good price”. Some know how to say “me poor, need money for family.” 99% of the time they are selling some POS I have no desire to own. I try to say “no” nicely. The second time I say it a bit louder. The third time I usually stop, look them in the eye and kindly but firmly say “I do want that POS.” I do not use the acronym when I do. In the Themal , the tourist district of Kathmandu, I walk down the street with my head down mumbling “no,no,no,no, no, no, no” even during the short periods of time I am not being offered anything. In my youth (when I wish I had visited Kathmandu) I might have been interested in one of the hundreds of offers for hash, but since then I have seen the movie Midnight Express. Enough said. However, in Sri Lanka my wife and I found the coolest “hawkers” EVER.
We were leaving the “hill country” of Sri Lanka, the tea growing region. They were typical third world mountain roads. The normal way of driving in Sri Lanka would land a person in jail in the USA. There are 2, 3, and 4 wheeled vehicles here besides the trucks. The only convention that keeps traffic flowing is that that the two wheelers (motorcycles) and the three wheelers either stay to the right (oops, make that left, this Is a former British colony) or quickly move to the left when honked at so we in the sedans can pass them. But the roads are so narrow that you must pass in the oncoming lane and hope there is nothing bigger than a two or three wheeler coming the other way around the next bend. Those stay to the left leaving the center of the road for oncoming traffic. What I have not mentioned are the busses. I am not even sure I can discuss them and keep this a family accessible blog. I will leave that alone.
About half way down the mountain we stopped at a beautiful waterfall called Ella Ravana. Ella means waterfall and Ravana is the Hindu word for the monkey god. AT least tis is what our driver told me. Wikipedia says different, but like his story better. The waterfall area is run over with monkeys, tourists and hawkers.
The hawkers here sell coins and rocks. Say what? Yup coins and rocks. First the rocks.
The mountains here are full of many different types of stones in a rainbow of colors. From clear crystals to Dodger blue crystals.
While I picked some stones, another hawker tried to sell my wife a bag with one hundred US quarters. She protested that she did not live in the USA and we and no need for quarters. He asked where we lived. She told him the UAE and he promptly returned with a bag with a hundred one Dirham coins. Of course to say we were perplexed is a bit of an understatement. She asked what was up. He told her that banks here do not accept coins, only paper money. (Sri Lanka has no coins) So she laughed and gave him a 100 Dirham note in exchange. That is about US$27.
All this time I was choosing a handful of pretty rocks. I got asked by a few hawkers “my little girl collects coins, do you have any coins from your country you can give me for her?”
We finally figured it out. Visitors from other countries gladly give a few quarters, Dirhams, Drachmas or Pesos to the hawker ” for his little girl” and when they get a hundred they exchange them for paper money and head for the currency exchange. What a cool way to make a few bucks!
After another hour of the combination roller coaster ride and narrow misses we finally reached the flat lands.
I asked our driver, Farzan, “in your language how do yo say lunch?
He told me that “cavall” meant food and that “dama” meant mid day and you say the two together to say mid day meal.
When he did not take the hint right away, I asked how do you say “now”. The word is ding. So I turned to him and. Said “cavall dama ding.” I remembered that for the rest of the trip.
So we moved on.
My next few posts will be from Sri Lanka’s fabulous beaches. One post will be about the “Boxing day Tsunami” that devastated the area. another about seeing albino turtles and the last from Sri Lanka will be about getting up close and personal with BLUE WHALES from a panga. So keep reading! Thanks for coming along to the Ella Ravana falls with us, and consider yourself lucky you did not have to be in the car!
The real name for this is the Sacred Temple of the Tooth Relic. However our itinerary simply said Temple of Tooth, so I’m going with that.
This a beautiful temple.
The temple was attacked by the Tamil Tigers during the civil war, but the damage was minimal and has been repaired.
The tooth is a tooth of Buddha. I was expecting a little glass box with a tooth inside of it. Sort of like the mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh, only smaller,people would wander past and take a glance.
Boy was I wrong. Three times a day a service happens with drummers and dancers.
The history of this tooth goes all the way back to the funeral pyre of Buddha where the tooth was snatched from the fire, then years later smuggled into Sri Lanka in the hair of a princess. Possession of the tooth was tantamount to ruling power. So, when the Portuguese came to Sri Lanka they stole it away. But wait! They only stole a replica say the devotees. Some say that the tooth here is only a replica and the real tooth is hidden away in a secure and secret location.
But here is where I was disappointed. Three times a day a heavily guarded room is open for what they call pujas, which consist of offerings (mostly flowers) and prayers. Then the long line of devotees slowly pass by a doorway to the room where the tooth is.
So where is the tooth? you ask. As it turns out there are six more of these Stupa shaped solid gold, jewel encrusted containers, each smaller than the other inside this one. Only once a year are they removed so you can actually see the tooth. It must be a madhouse.
That is it for Temple of Tooth. Next post will be a visit to a wonderful waterfall,with the very best hawkers I have ever run across!
Thanks for reading and share this with friends.
The history of this garden goes back to 1371 when a king with a name too long to type kept court here in Peradeniya. In 1780 it was officially made the royal garden. The kings had residences called vihares and dagobas. When the Brits came here, they destroyed them. But the gardens survived, and over time British administrators, probably with garden club type wives, started developing the garden. They brought plants and trees from other tropical regions, and they have all survived and prospered here.
Many of the garden managers wrote books about the flora of Sri Lanka, others wrote handbooks on tropical planting and others helped contribute to the knowledge of medicinal plants. So, this has been a work station for botanists for years, and today is a terrific place to take a long walk,so we did.
We actually made one other stop this day. We went to a spice and healing herb shop. We were shepherded around by a guide trained in ayurvedic medicine (google it). He pointed out all sorts of things that could help a couple of old white folk. He also pointed out a cream that removes hair from where you do not want it. He was so convincing that we ended up spending over US$400. On WHAT? you ask. Well, everything from vanilla extract to a carved out piece of wood that when left full of water overnight and drank in the morning lowers your blood sugar. No change in diet or exercise needed. I’LL TAKE TWO!
That’s it for today. My next post I will take you to, THE TEMPLE OF TOOTH!
Thanks for reading, tell a friend, share me on the cyber coconut.
Admit it. It is tough to visualize an elephant orphanage. Visions of elephants in shorts like Oliver Twist asking “please sir may I have another” were short lived in my great expectations, however they were not replaced with anything very clear.
Originally set up by the government to care for abandoned or orphaned elephants it has now turned into a major tourist attraction and seems to be the economic cornerstone of a small village outside of Kandy named Pinnewala.
It has its critics. The critics are concerned that it has turned into a breeding ground as much as an orphanage, something Oliver Twist never had to concern himself with I am sure. For me, the more pachyderms the merrier. The mahouts(elephant handlers) take really good care of them and they are fed all they can eat without having to ask for another. Other than that they seem to roam free on a large sanctuary.
Twice a day the “orphans” and their parents (whatever) are lead through town to the local river to bath, something elephants love to do.
So thats it for the Pinnewala Elephant Orphanage. In keeping with my pledge to do more and shorter posts. I will wait a day to tell yu about the Royal Botanical Gardens, and then the top attraction in Kandy…THE TEMPLE OF TOOTH!
Please pass this along. Make a comment and you get an elephant poop Christmas card! Thank you for reading.
We always enjoy a good walk through a nice botanical garden. The one in Kandy was stunningly beautiful. I thought this picture would be a nice way to start this post even though, as usual, I am ahead of myself.
Our trip to Kandy, pronounced KhanDEE started at dawn at the Colombo Fort Station. Among the many things the British left behind as their empire collapsed (besides driving n the wrong side of the road and roundabouts) is rail systems. They built them to move goods to market of course. Now days, they do that, they move the locals into the towns to work, and they move travelers and tourists about the country. Personally, I love trains. At a nice slow but quick pace you get to see the countryside away from the cars and trucks on the highways.
The Kandy express was just what the travel doctor ordered. In a few hours we climbed from sea level to Kandy, which is the start of the hill country of Sri Lanka. It sits a mere 500m above sea level, but the difference in climate and flora is very extreme. Kandy sits at 6.8 degrees north latitude (or so says the GPS app on my IPAD) so we are definitely in the tropics and it showed.
The communities we passed by are mostly concrete block buildings with corrugated tin roofs, and banana trees in the yard. I think I have seen this before…hmmm.
Because it was an early morning express we made only one stop. The rest of the small stations we whizzed past had people staring at us. The trains going the other direction, into Colombo, were full of people heading to town to work. I do not know if it was because they were full, or because it was cooler,or if it is just cool, but every car on every train had men hanging on, half in, half out of the car. I found myself wondering how many people fall off on any given year. I got up to have a smoke and decided I would try standing in the doorway. I did, for a coupe of seconds, hopped back in and had a second smoke to calm my nerves.
I began to notice something different from our train trip in India. In India, all along the track, there was litter, disgusting amounts of litter. Not so in Sri Lanka. This cleanliness was apparent for our entire trip.
I also began to see another interesting Sri Lanka custom. When the people erect a Buddha in their town, almost always they encase him in a glass box. I never figured out why. Probably because they have two monsoon seasons each year. I do not know if they air condition the box, but pity poor Buddha if they dont.
We pulled into Kandy right on time and were met by our driver Farzan from www.srilanka.com who had gotten up even earlier than we did to drive there and meet us.
He took us to our hotel where we prepared for a wonderful day in Kandyland. I mistakenly crashed a wedding reception, but things got straightened out.
We were in Kandy on an auspicious day for weddings (according to the astrologers) so we saw a few.
The rest of our stay in Kandy was really nice, and I will cover it in my next post. Teaser: we went to an elephant orphanage, a healing herb garden, and The Royal Botanical Garden.
I have been told by many people to keep my posts short, and try to post something every day. Well, I can do the first thing easy enough. So, thanks for reading, share this around the cyber coconut, and don’t be afraid to tell me what you think with a comment.