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The Coolest Hawkers I Have Ever Met, Sri Lanka

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.

Along side the road out of Kandy. Sri Lanka has many beautiful waterfalls. The Ella Ravana falls were very special.

Many monkeys hang around hoping for a handout. They should learn to say "Monkey poor, need a peanut".

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.

He suggested we stop here for lunch but I was not THAT hungry. I DID wonder what a "short eat" was.

So we moved on.

We went past this neat lttle temple, and found a roadside dive attacheed to a house and had the most authentic meal of the entire trip. Really spicy, and I got introduced to ginger beer. Hmm MM

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!

Temple of Tooth. Kandy, Sri Lanka,

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 is the main attraction in Kandy, especially in July/August when a procession led by thousands of Kandyan dancers lead over a hundred highly decorated Elephants through the town. This draws tens of thousands of devotees and goes on for 10 days.

The temple was attacked by the Tamil Tigers  during the civil war, but the damage was  minimal and has been repaired.

Of course you must remove your shoes before you enter the temple. At the door is what is called a moon stone. This is a traditional and significant item to stand on for a quick pause before you enter the temple.

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.

Loud, raucous and colorful!

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.

However, judging from the number of devotees that show up, wait in line and make offerings, I think that the people of Kandy believe this is the true incisor. Sri Lankan Buddhists believe they must make at least on pilgrimage to this temple in their lives.

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.

This is what they come to see and worship. This is not my photo. I did not get close enough and the lighting was weird, and there were a lotof people jousting for position. This is about 6 feet tall.

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.

Royal Botanic Garden, Sri Lanka

The Royal Botanic garden, located in Paradeniya, just outside of Kandy is a magnificent garden and  must see if you find yourself in this part of Sri Lanka.

The entrance to the garden. Altogether this is 147 acres of spectacular plants and trees. There is also a huge orchid greenhouse.

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.

In the center of the garden there is what is called the Great Lawn. In the middle of this lawn is a giant Java Willow or java Fig. This beautiful tree shades 2,500 sq.m of land and is a popular place for pick-nicking and wooing.

The great lawn is surrounded by many great trees. This is a type of pine. The garden club name might be "twisty-spinney tree". I'm sorry I do not know the real name.

My wife standing in front of an avenue of Royal Palms. That is what they are really called.

My wife standing in front of a "gumball" tree. Whatever the latinized name is, I read that they are from another island, and that they grow this shape naturally.

Some of the trees planted here many many years ago have grown quite large. This one is called "the biggy wiggy tree". Notice the full size human standing in front of it.

I will end with this shot because this is truly "The other side of the coconut" tree. It is quite rare. AND it is androgynous. The coconuts have a weird shape and are quite big.

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!

Mary Ann dropping US$400 in the medicinal herbs and spices store!

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.

Kandy, Sri Lanka. Elephant Orphanage

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.

One elephant they care for is this old guy who survived being shot by a poacher. He still has a bullet in his hide, he still has his tusks, but he is blind. he was very mellow and seemed to enjoy being petted while I aplogized for the cruelty of mankind.

Twice a day the elephants march down main street to the river to bathe. They know they own the place, and they just mosey along.

There are a lot of very young elephants in the herd. They tend to stay together like kids everywhere.

An ancillary industry has grown in Pinnewalla.

Turning elephant poop into paper is actaully an easy process because of the high fiber content of the poop. The elephants eat a lot of bamboo. We were impressed enough to purchase next years Christmas cards. So if you want a Christmas card made of elephant poop, leave me a comment!

And of course you can have lunch while watching the elephants play in the river! By the way, the Lion brand beer is pretty damn good and does not taste like elephant piss.

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.

Kandy, Sri Lanka. As Sweet as it Sounds.

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.

Decor on the outside of our train car.

They had a server who sold some really excellent curries and wonderful tea.

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 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 bride at the wedding I crashed. "But there is sooo much food here, can

"Sure mister have some food"

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.

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