Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Sri Lanka: The Beach and Sea Turtles

We made our way to the south-west coast of Sri Lanka, where we stayed at Beruwala Beach.  The famous Bentota Beach is just a short stroll down the sand.  Our hotel was a very interesting place.  There were two main groups of people staying there: young, hot Russians who wore almost nothing and smoked by the pool most of the day, and conservative Muslim families, whose clusters of wives sat by the pool in their Burkas, watching their children swim while their (few in number) husbands rubbed oil on their hairy chests and stroked their gleaming mustaches.  
The beach was great.  The water stayed nice and shallow for ages, and the sand was soft.  Best of all, there were no big crowds!

While we were at the coast, we visited a sea turtle hatchery.  This hatchery in particular had been completely devastated in the 2004 tsunami, and had to rebuilt from the ground up.  They pay local fisherman to bring them whatever turtle eggs they find while on the beach.  They then carefully hatch the eggs, raising the young turtles until they are ready to be released back onto the beach.

Here, we examine the turtle eggs.    
And then, we got to hold the baby turtles.

Then, we got to hold some adult turtles who were in the sanctuary because they were born blind. 
(H. ended up being the photographer for most of the hatchery because holding the turtles made him slightly anxious.  He needs a few lessons with the camera.)

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Sri Lanka: ELEPHANTS!!!

We spent the morning at the Pinnewala Elephant Orphanage, a rescue center for Sri Lankan elephants.  In some ways, it was a little sad to see such beautiful animals in captivity, but at least here they are safe and being cared for.  

The morning started as the elephants strolled down the lane for breakfast.   

I usually hate pictures of myself where I'm make stupid faces, but I kind of love this one.  I'm more excited than the kids are.    

H and N discover that you can play hockey with elephant poo "pucks."  As one does, naturally.

 The babies were so sweet and fuzzy.  Just like all babies, they certainly made a mess of themselves. 

Danny fed this lovely old lady pineapple, bananas and watermelon.  She had impeccable manners.

These teenagers, however, did not.  Sheesh.

Such a wise face.

The elephants then headed out for their late morning bath in the river.  We all had to hum the elephant parade song from the Jungle Book.

We followed behind the elephants to the river, but tried to stay at a safe, and clean, distance.  
We then enjoyed a cold beverage, and piled into the car, headed for the coast.  We were ready for some beach time.  Post to follow...

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Sri Lanka: Sigiriya

This day started with another long drive to one of the most famous ancient sites in Sri Lanka: Sigiriya or Lion's Rock.  This was definitely a site that we could imagine showing up an Indiana Jones movie. We had heard great things about the site but were also nervous about some stories that talked of dizzying heights, attacking wasps, and aggressive guides.  In the end the only problem was the heat and a few panic attacks from H when we got to the cliffs. 
H and N posing in front of one of the moats.  Their were two moats surrounding the complex that were filled with crocodiles to frustrate any invasion attempts.

The approach to the main site had a few stairways and lots of paths around gardens.  Nothing really to prepare you for the climb ahead.

We were starting to get close enough here to see what we were getting ourselves into.  

It was amazing to see the network of pools and streams that probably provided a lot more life when the area was inhabited.

The rocky areas below had been developed as well so we had fun exploring sites like this, some with cave paintings.

A lot of the giant boulders had stairs and climbing grooves carved on their faces.  H was still feeling confident and excited about the climb at this point.  It didn't last.

A sign of possible trouble ahead.  We stayed quiet.  Very quiet.

At this point the pathway started integrating itself right into the rocks and moved up steeply.

Before we know it we were in a caged spiral staircase moving straight up the cliff face.

This looks like a nice safe spot but without the stairs attached to the cliff and a wall to protect this area we could only imagine the bravery required by the artists to paint this wall on the side of the cliff.

Navigating down from the cliff paintings and back to the trail to the summit.

There was a nice area halfway about before the final climb.  There was once a full lion here and the stairways led directly into his mouth. 

After making it to the top H did not want to let go of anything solid.  He was actually quite shaken by the climb and it took some careful convincing to get him back down.  However, the girls loved the view from the top, and most of us agree that it was well worth the effort.
The top of the rock is covered with the remains of the palace and temples.  After the challenging climb, there was a quiet, meditative quality to the sky, the breeze and the panoramic views. 

The descent back to the lion's paws.

A couple of friends along the way.

It was quite a relief to get back down to steep stairs without a cliff on one side.  You can clearly see the two differing personalities of these kids.  N is feeling proud and carefree.  H is clinging to the rail for dear life, anxious to make it down.

By the end of the day we were glad to not see any more of these.

The natural result of a long day of climbing and exploring under the sun.  A well deserved nap after a challenging and amazing adventure!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Sri Lanka Part I

The last few weeks can be summarized pretty much by the routine of get up, go to school, homework/errands, watch Doctor Who, go to bed and then start over again.  We did have a wonderful break in October with a trip to Sri Lanka that we've been waiting to report.  I hope we can remember the details.

Our trip started with a quick flight to to Madurai and then to Colombo.  Our scheduled pick up didn't show but it worked out well as we ended up finding another service to provide a driver for the whole trip.  We piled in the car and headed to our Hotel Elephant Bay in Pinnawala just in time to see the bats flying over the nearby river at dusk.

Our first day started with breakfast along the river where the Elephants came out to bathe.  We then hopped in the car for a drive further into the hill country to Sri Lanka's ancient capital of Kandy.  We had a nice stop at the botanical gardens along the way where N became the expedition leader.

The highlight of Kandy was the Temple of the Tooth, a Buddhist temple that holds a relic of one of the Buddha's teeth.   M was a little frustrated at the attention she received by wearing shorts and having to buy a sarong before entering the temple.  We purchased some beautiful lotus blossoms and the kids placed them around the many spots of worship throughout the temple complex.

We finished the day with a viewing of some traditional dances which built well to a climax from the cobra-monkey dance battle, to fire eaters, and finally some fire walking.  Really, they do that.  But probably just for us tourists.
The view from our hotel balcony.  As we ate breakfast the elephants marched out for morning baths of the water and dirt variety. 

We were surprised at just how adept the elephants were at piling dirt into large piles on their backs.

N and H found a nice place to watch the elephants.

A roadside stop for the very green view on the way to Kandy.
One of our favorite stops in the botanical gardens was the orchid house.

N was the proud navigator for the botanical gardens.

Funny thing is, I think we went straight here.  Right into the forest.

Sleeping fruit bats

We didn't feel too comfortable taking a lot of pictures in the Temple of the Tooth.  We never found the tooth.

A stupa near the main temple site.  We always like the ones that seem to get a little less care and attention.

In front of the Temple of the Tooth

She was so mad. SO mad.

Lotus flowers for sale outside the temple complex.

Fire walkers in Kandy.