The next morning I was due to move on but had time for another walk round. The intention was to move a little south, not far, about 15km, so that I was in a position to pick up my transport for the rest of the stay in the country. As I meandered around I quickly became aware the streets were quite empty. As it was a Sunday I gave little thought to it -
Then I noticed quite a few military and police type people hanging around –
I made my way to the main sea front and saw it was all blocked off. I was going to go for a walk down it but was stopped from doing so by the police –
Then it struck me. It was Independence Day. More and more people began to line the streets away from the main area and I began to hear musicians warming up in the distance. An easy conclusion to make was that there was going to be a procession. So I made my way to a vantage point –
The music got louder, more a cacophony than anything though, and then a 'float' came past. It made me laugh a little with the amount of exhaust smoke coming out the back –
The open topped Landy more than likely held some very important, but unidentifiable, people as it led the formation –
I'll let you look through the rest as they came past me. All I can say is that the UK influence must have been strong, plus, I never realised there were that many branches of the military and police. Each was led by musicians of one sort or another playing tunes that were unknown to me. You can enjoy the spectacle as I saw it and it took a good half an hour or so to finish –
To travel between Colombo and where I was going, a place called Mount Lavinia, I tried to use this Uber type app again. But because the streets were blocked off I was unable to get anyone to come to me. Outside the hotel though were some tuktuks who every time I'd gone outside had offered their services. I just grabbed one of those as I knew the driver would be able to extricate us somehow. I knew, from the information from the app, that the journey I was to undertake should cost around 500 rupees. But and as expected, the driver quoted me 800 rupees. I stuck to my guns and with bad grace he agreed. A little before we arrived the driver had to call for petrol but said he had no money. Ok, said I, I will give you 200 to get us there. No, he said, you give me now the 500 and more when we arrive. Oh dear, thought I. Nope. No way. You have a choice. I give you 500 now and no more or I give you 300 and I get out and get another tuktuks. He decided the 500 option was better.
We arrived at my new place and jumped out. He obviously was not happy and asked again for more money. I said that there was no way I was going to pay twice the going rate just because I was a tourist and for no other reason. He tutted a lot and I turned my back on him and walked away. It's not the money, it's the principle. He didn't have to agree to my price before we left and could have stuck out for more. If so, I'd have just found another tuktuk though. If he'd made no fuss I would have given him more without a thought, even another two or three hundred. But if you are annoying you only get the agreed price.
Some people love public transport. Getting taxis, trains, buses, tuktuks etc etc. For many, many reasons, one being the hassle every other time and the feeling you are being ripped off, I much prefer to do it myself. As you may have gathered. The overwhelming advice is for tourists in the country to get a car and a driver. Very few in proportion self-drive, and it is frowned on by so called country 'experts'. Fair enough, if you feel it is the best option to not drive yourself, then no problem. Your choice, I don't criticise. Get buses, trains, taxis or whatever. Certainly an interesting experience with stories to tell afterwards. But some, like myself, feel they have an option available that others wouldn't feel confident with or dismiss for valid reasons. I just choose to take that option.
Some observations...When Mark says he picked a vantage point to view the parade, you know he picked the absolutely best place there was - close enough to see the whites of their eyes and still a wide angle to get the whole scene without anyone in the way.
Although it looks like the entire cast from "Nutcracker" ballet has been included, the faces of the soldiers show 30 years of deadly civil war has left its mark.
Kilts and bearskin hats look a bit odd in the tropics, I note that the women's kilts did not reach the knee in some cases. Tut Tut.
Nothing like wearing excellent camouflage then topping it off with a red beret to show the enemy where to aim.
The various marching outfits are splendid and with all the colour and style show the merging of Asian and British influences.
It's a pity you missed the shot of the ladies passing you, Mark, and could only get the shot as they marched away,
Altogether a terrific collection that I will return to many times. Thanks
Travel! Set out and head for pastures new[br] Life tastes the richer when you’ve road worn feet.[br]Ibn Battuta[br]
With so many uniforms, I was thinking that they are very lucky to be in the part of the world where most of the textile industry is based. They look sharp for just a fraction of the price that the developed countries would pay for these accoutrements.
Interesting report. Everything seems much cleaner and more organized than I remember. We have never seen a line of buses and cars parked the way they are in one of your pics (# 114). We traveled the country in Feb. 2002 when it was still forbidden to go to the north, because of the Tamils Tigers and the Civil War. We should go back one day. I wonder if you saw the Mount Lavinia Hotel? We spent a few nights there at the end of our trip. A splendid hotel, one of the oldest colonial heritage hotels in the country. As you say, we hired a car with driver for our tour. Never would we haven driven ourselves in those days. And maybe not today.
The main railway line runs south of Colombo and hugs the coast. Often and usually it is only a road with or so away from the shore. This means to get to the beach area you will have to cross the railway line and usually a road. I dropped my bag at my accommodation and headed that way to see what is what. First I had to pass through the railway station to use the bridge over the tracks –
Up an over –
The excitement grew as I realised not one, but two trains were arriving and passing through. If you do use the trains for transport around, and they are cheap and regular, then this is what you can expect/experience -
Looking one way, and then the other. Reasonable enough. I'm hoping for better though as we go on, but this is the rough end of the beach. There is a headland where the Mount Lavinia Hotel is, seen in this next photo, and past there is where it is supposed to be better –
Dogs, hmmm, be prepared that there are a lot of them. Usually and invariably feral and often in poor condition and/or injured from the traffic. Only once did I feel I might be attacked by a group of three or four, but usually they just seem quite lazy and will tend to move away from you or not be bothered about you at all. Cats are very few that I saw, but dogs can be a pain if you are averse to them or are upset by their condition. I have heard of at least one person who has second thoughts about travelling the country because of them. Why so many? No idea –
Not unexpected was also the litter around. Not a lot can be done at times because it is often litter brought in by the tide rather than being dumped locally. The beaches not serviced by hotels or restaurants mostly had litter on them, that was dumped there by the sea. Obviously it had to have been dumped somewhere else by someone, but nevertheless –
A steady rest of the day was had as I mooched around the back roads and tracks and nothing much of note was seen, done or heard. I walked into town in the evening for a standard meal of veg curry and rice –
In the town, Mount Lavinia, is the National Zoological Gardens which was one of the places I had to make a mental note of to visit another time. I was chomping at the bit somewhat and understood I wouldn't be able to see everything everywhere I went. Plus there were a number of temples and the Sri Lankan Air Force Museum that would have to be done another time. During British rule, the second Governor of Ceylon, Sir Thomas Maitland, in 1806, bought land there to build a house. "He fell in love with Lovina Aponsuwa, a local mestiço (mix Portugese and Sri Lankan) dancer, and continued a romantic affair with her until he was recalled to England in 1811. The Governor’s mansion, which he named "Mount Lavinia House" is now the Mount Lavinia Hotel and the village that surrounded the building has subsequently developed into a bustling area, taking its name from the Governor's mistress, Lovina. Later, the area assumed the name of Mount Lavinia alluding to the factual story of a romance between the then British Governor Thomas Maitland (1805-1812) and a dancing girl called Lovina of the area." He even built a tunnel between his place and her place. The dirty old sod.
The next day I walked to the place I was going to rent my steed from. But not before having breakfast. That was a trial in itself. I was staying at a hostel that had a couple of dorms plus several normal rooms. It was quite busy and the occupants were all in their 20's and 30's. Unfortunately I stood out from all the males, not because of my age, but because I didn't have "man bun". Every male I saw had one. Plus a beard. I didn't have that either. Breakfast was on the roof terrace where there were several smaller tables and one long table, occupied by eight to ten people.
I left them alone and went to a small table, sat down and waited. No staff seemed to appear and I noticed a small room with someone local sitting in it. I approached and asked about coffee and breakfast. It was a small kitchen I saw. The man gestured to the rather grimy cooker and nearby being some dirty mugs and a bowl of instant coffee. It was a "help yourself" gesture. I declined and asked about breakfast. He leaned forward, half out of the door, and pointed to the large table, again with a help yourself type gesture. I turned and walked towards it, then saw what was on the table. Upon it was/were the makings of a breakfast for sure. Loaves of bread, butter, jam, fruit , big pots of yoghurt, curry, lentils and so on.
However, it seems the system there was for someone to put everything on the table and you helped yourself, cutting the bread, the fruit, dipping into the yoghurt pot etc etc. It looked like a particularly untidy lion had made a kill and started eating, was pushed off it by another group of lions who then dived in to the mess, but were also pushed off the table by a group of hyenas who decided to have a Roman type orgy on it, eating and shagging until the food was all mixed together, squashed and contaminated not just by the other food, but by everyone grabbing and stuffing their faces.
I looked to see what I could salvage, but gave up and walked out.
I walked the kilometre or so to the pickup place for the tuktuks, another hostel/guesthouse. When I went in through the gate I wondered if all the occupants of my overnight hostel had suddenly beaten me to it and transported themselves to this one as well. I muttered a curse under my breath and forged on though.
It was difficult to tell who I should approach from the Westerners as I couldn't tell who worked there and who didn't. So I asked a local man bending over one of the tuktuks. He pointed out another who then passed me on to a western bloke. It all seemed a bit make do but appeared to work. I was asked to first sit in front of a laptop and listen to a video about the tuktuks. An Australian guy on the video kept me enthralled for the next half an hour telling me all sorts of things but what was so distracting was that all you saw, for half an hour, was his face – close up – and you could count every single beard hair.
That gone through I went outside again and was taken in one of the vehicles, which ended up actually being mine, for a ride and a practice drive. That took about twenty minutes and we returned. I was given my driving licence and that was it. The driving licence – for a fee of $40, the company will sort it all out. The problem is Sri Lanka is one of the few countries that do not recognise your home country licence or an International Driving Permit by themselves. You have to get one of theirs. Fortunately this is an easy process but takes time as you have to visit one of their official offices to do so – or you pay up before you get there and the company will sort that all out for you, visiting the office, filling out the forms, waiting in line etc. If they do then all you have to do is sign your licence/bit of paper and away you go.
I threw my bag in the back and slipped out onto the main road to head south. At an awe inspiring speed of 40km/h. There are different speed limits as normal for different classes of vehicles, but for tuktuks and tractors it is a blanket maximum of 40km/h not matter what road you are on. They say driving one is like a motorbike. If you are familiar with motorbikes you'll do ok. I don't actually think so. Imagine a cross between a quad bike and a Vespa scooter. A quad bike because of the width and length, but mainly because you don't need to lean to take corners, you have to drag it round to a certain extent. Leaning and cornering is not the thing, it is pulling the handlebars right or left.
A scooter because of the gear change. On motorbikes you change gear with your foot after pulling in the clutch. On a bike you have at your feet on one side a gear change and on the other a rear brake. On the handlebars you have a clutch and a front brake, the accelerator being to twist the right hand grip. On a quad bike though the accelerator usually is a thumb operated lever.
On a tuk tuk you have one foot brake, by your right foot, which is as effective as you want depending if you stamp heavily on it. I only locked the brakes up once on the trip and that was due to an animal. There is no lever on the right side of the handlebars, just the twist grip accelerator. On the left side is the clutch lever and twist gear change – just like on a scooter. If you are not familiar with these they can take a bit of getting used to.
To change gear you come off the revs, pull the clutch lever in and then twist your wrist to twist the whole grip including the clutch lever, to engage the next gear. They have four forward gears and a reverse gear. From neutral you twist up to get first, then down, back through neutral, to get second. Then down and down again for 3rd and 4th. For reverse you engage neutral, pull up another lever that is down on the floor like a handbrake, select first and go backwards. To go forward again you can just return the reverse lever to its original position, leaving the gear shift in 1st, and then pull forward. But, the whole tuktuk is easy to push, and that is what I did more often than not.
Most tuktuks are now 4 stroke instead of the older two stroke and run on normal low grade petrol. Every 1000km you need to do a complete grease of the vehicle and the fuel tank will hold, depending on model, between about 6 and 10 litres – though the last 1½ litres is designated as a reserve and you have a small twist knob to change between the main part of the tank and the reserve. Fuel consumption, I was told, would be about 25km to the litre. I never got that. I always got a lot more. Only once dropping below 30km/l and odd days up to 40km/l. I tended to work out on the middle of 35km/l. Petrol was 117 rupees per litre (0.63 euro, $0.75), so each day I would spend the grand sum of 2½ euro (ish) on fuel at the most.
After battling through several rain showers I parked up outside my home stay/guest house for the night in Bentota –
The company I rented from doesn't own their own vehicles and purports to use those owned by private individuals and give them a proportion of the rental fee. What percentage this was, funnily enough, nobody seemed to be able to clarify. The one I had was 'well-used' and had already done forty thousand kilometres, but never missed a beat. I never called it by name, it never told me what it was, but I would refer to it as "Crunchy" because of the worn gearbox. Going uphill for example it would, if left to its own devices, drop down a gear by itself under load. I had to hold it in the gear I wanted. Nevertheless, I did 2055km in it without a problem other than a broken stop light.
This was the route I took. Anti-clockwise from the middle of the west side, round the bottom, all the way up to the top, down through the middle, then veered back to the coast for the last couple of days –
I spent the first few days just travelling along the coast and enjoying the mobility. Having a look at the sea and beaches. Plus having haircut for two euro. Lunches were usually at a roadside place. A restaurant or cafe. Just like this one -
Food was filling and cheap. This was about three quarters of a Euro -
I stopped off here and there to look at this and that –
And then reached my next destination, Talalla Bay. During that day I'd wondered why there were so many army and police about. I later understood it was a voting day and it was quite normal for them nowadays to provide some security at the polling stations. I stayed in the place in the next photo which was one of a couple of disappointing ones. I'm not sure what people are thinking when they write reviews. Nearly all sweetness and light and the odd one might point out a little something like, in this case, the mosquitoes. Never mind the room I had was the same price as many others and of a lot poorer standard. See the soft comfy chairs to the right of the photo? There was no base to the seat. It was just the cushion resting on the frame. I sat down on one and my arse went straight through.
The mossies were very aggressive and were biting through my shorts. Instead of being a pale grey colour they were nearly black and moved quite fast. I wondered if they were something else, but thought probably not, they were mossies I'm sure of it. A double blow was that went I went for a walk on the beach I was bitten also by sand flies. I ended up buying some calamine lotion to alleviate that. I did have with me several types of mossie repellent. A spray can from Zambia, a cream from somewhere and can't remember, and the best of all is a soap used by the Colombian military. That is good stuff. This was about the only place I got a few bites though -
It was this room that convinced me I had to buy a couple of things. One was another power point adapter. The one I had, which is supposed to be universal and has always worked before, didn't fit the power points, which had circular holes. I had this problem I remembered in Namibia and bought another adapter there. But even though I'd looked up what points they had here, somehow it slipped my mind. In some newer places they had the UK type sockets and often also sockets that had USB ports. Ideal.
The next thing was a kettle. Nearly all the rooms I booked advertised they had "tea and coffee making facilities". Most didn't. In fact most of the stuff they said they had, they didn't. I soon came to realise, even after just a handful of nights, that when the owner made the advert he had a load of ticky boxes for what was in the room. He then proceeded to check every box to cover all bases. That meant that, no I didn't have a fridge and cooker and a kitchen in there – plus every other thing like a sitting area, a kettle, an iron, bidet etc etc. I don't need all this stuff but often all that was there was a bed, a wardrobe and a plastic chair. Yes, there was a shower and a toilet, but hot water was often hit and miss.
So I stopped off at a place I saw at the side of the road selling kitchen stuff and bought an electric kettle for about eight Euros - plus a spoon, a knife, a fork (referred to as "eating irons"), a mug, a plate and a bowl. Everything together, accurately or not I referred to as my "mess kit". You could buy coffee, tea, sugar, milk etc but in most supermarkets was something ideal for me. A large packet containing sachets. In each sachet was a portion of Nescafe, sugar and milk powder and just enough for a mug full. This and the kettle and mug/spoon were referred to as my "brew kit". Are you following so far?
So when I tell you to fetch the right kit out of the tuktuk, you'll succeed and not bring me the wrong one or all of it that I don't need? Good. Stand at ease. One thing so far I've forgotten to mention is navigation. A good road map is like rocking horse shit, so don't expect you can pick one up anywhere. Normally they are just tourist maps with vague directions, scales and pictures. Not very good when you want a particular road/street where you mean to stay that night.
What I've used in India and a few countries is a pure point and shoot Garmin eTrex handheld GPS. Robust and accurate but just points in the direction of your destination. Works off two AA batteries and a good tool, but has had its day really. I bought it more years ago than I can remember when I started hanging round by myself in the deserts of Namibia and then Egypt. A real life saver. It was the basic version and you can get them with a screen now like a satnav. In my car I use a normal satnav and have done since before the rise of the machines. Sorry, the rise of the electronics, like a smart phone.
I didn't want to bring a satnav with me, which could entail buying a map for it, though there is something called "Open Street Map" which is free and reasonably accurate. Plus it would just be another device to look after. I have a basic smart phone but I won't connect it to data. Thus using Google Maps is not on unless I download an offline map. Unfortunately these are quite big in size and my poor little phone, with its small memory card, can't cope with it. I tried it once and heard it groaning, huffing and puffing, only got halfway through and then wanted to go lie down in a cool darkened room for a few hours to let it settle.
The solution, and I expect I'm telling you something you know, is an app called Maps.me Each map is a lot smaller than the Google alternative, has fewer features and so on, but is still quite comprehensive. In fact in all the places/streets/accommodations I wanted were all on there. So I downloaded that, my phone asked if there was a dessert because it still had room for more, and cheese and biscuits, and with a phone holder and usb cigarette point supplied by the tuktuk company (I had to supply the charge cable), off I went.
I was making my way to a place called Kataragama. So there are a few "on the road" shots –
I certainly had to stop and take photos of these –
The odd shop and stuff –
In the town I was at there was a Buddhist temple or two. I had a wander round one of them. I didn't spend too long because I was quite hot and dirty and the hotel I was staying was pretty good. Fairly new with clean with well equipped rooms (took my adapter and brew kit in their anyway just in case but didn't need them) plus it had a large inviting swimming pool that I wanted to laze in. So I did. Anyway first –
Nope, no idea again. The signs for it were unreadable to me –
I could read this one though –
It also had nearby the standard tied up elephant for ceremonial purposes –
In the evening I had a plate of what is called kottu. Don't have a photo. But imagine a couple of parathas chopped up small and then quickly fried with some veg and sauce. Again, cheap and filling. One of the noises I constantly heard was the sound of someone chopping the parathas. They use a metal chopping board/tray and two choppers, one in each hand. Like this –
A sound I also heard that evening whilst eating was the chanting of Hari Krishna devotees from somewhere. Initially quite nice but then after half an hour sounding just like a stuck record. And that was the end of another day.
Wow, great pictures. That's a big trip you made in your tuk-tuk. I remember the railway behind the Mount Lavinia Hotel. Apparently nothing has changed. People are still walking on the tracks and hanging out the doors and windows.
So I stopped off at a place I saw at the side of the road selling kitchen stuff and bought an electric kettle for about eight Euros - plus a spoon, a knife, a fork (referred to as "eating irons"), a mug, a plate and a bowl. Everything together, accurately or not I referred to as my "mess kit".
My mess kit is a 300ml enamel mug and a small electric immersion heater, international adapters, plate and bowl. My "tucker tackle" is a strong plastic knife, fork and spoon, a sharp paring knife and a metal teaspoon with a long handle for getting to the bottom of jars etc. The tackle is rolled up piece by piece in a tea towel and the lot travels in an old pillowcase with laundry kit, mending kit (duct tape, sewing stuff,string etc) The first aid/medical kit also fits in. I prefer old pillowcases of different patterns...they don't rustle and disturb other people's sleep and I can find them easily.
Travel! Set out and head for pastures new[br] Life tastes the richer when you’ve road worn feet.[br]Ibn Battuta[br]