A Travellerspoint blog

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20 °C

Wow....I just realized that it's been almost one year since I started by blog with bold ambitions of chronicling my four week trip to Sri Lanka last January. It took me two weeks into that trip to realize that I rather be travelling than blogging on my laptop! They were two amazing weeks and I really had no time to update my blog. Luckily, i took plenty of photos.

Just last week, I was forced (ahem...decided) to go with my wife to see the film Julie & Julia (or was it Julia & Julie?). No matter. The point is that it was a film about a woman who was blogging about her attempt to cook through a complete Juila Childs cookbook. So that's what got me thinking about my own blog again. The film was pretty good too.

So I have decided that whenever I can escape the work, the kids, and of course the travelling, I will update my blog once again! Starting where I left off, 2 weeks into my trip to Sri Lanka. I also have some trips to New York, backpacking in the Cascade mountains, etc to tell you about as well. Stay tuned.....

Posted by RuwanPDX 00:25 Archived in USA Tagged armchair_travel Comments (0)

Village Life

A relaxing change from the congestion of Colombo

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View Sri Lanka 2009 on RuwanPDX's travel map.

A rooster crows in the distance, a dog barks, crickets chirp, voices of people are heard, a cool wind blows in through the slightly opened window. I feel a slight chill in the air as I get up to turn off the ceiling fan that I turned on last night, wrap the bed sheet around me, and turn over in bed for a few more minutes of rest. More roosters.....now the birds are starting to chirp, the sound of buddhist prayers can be heard from loudspeakers at the nearby temple. (at least there is no competing hindu temple, church, or mosque) There is no way I can stay in bed, there is too much going on....it seems all of nature is awake and life is passing me by.

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I wake up and drag myself to the porch to see what's going on. I see nothing except for darkness and a few lights. It's 5:00 AM. This is how every morning starts out here.

We travelled to Minuwangoda, which is about 30 miles north-east of colombo to stay for a few days with Nipunee's other aunt and cousins. I expected it to be boring for me, stuck in the house with in-laws for three days. But it wasn't too bad. We didn't do much but, I had a chance to relax and sit by myself for some time. I don't get a chance to do that often these days. My "cousin in-law" (which I'll refer to as my cousin) was great. She's rather quiet and unassuming but she's very hardworking. She teaches english to primary school kids at a nearby school. We ate lunch until she came home.

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A typical simple lunch.

We waited until she came home and she took us for a tour. I took some shots of flowers around the house as we were walking around. I don't know the names of the flowers and don't really have the time to look it up....

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There was a stand of maniocs (aka casava) in the land next to theirs.

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Maniocs are somewhat like yams if you've never heard of them. They are a starchy root and you can get a lot of carbs from them. There were a few plants in their yard as well and when I inquired about how they are harvested, she quickly proceeded to dig one up. After some time, I was able to convince her to let me try it....

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I felt bad that she dug up one of only a few plants just for us, until she explained that you can let the dug up tree dry for a few days, cut the trunk up into small pieces, and replant it. How's that for a sustainable food supply!?

They also had mango, guava, coconut, banana, ebony, teak, cashew, jakfruit, papaya, and king coconut trees. Here's a papaya tree (without the fruit!)

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and a king coconut tree

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King coconuts are like regular coconuts except the trees are shorter and the leaves and nut have an orange tint. The water inside the king coconut is better tasting than the water inside the coconut and is nutritious. It's sold everywhere on the street and is a safe and cool thirst quencher, much safer than water in some parts.

Here is a bunch of king coconuts cut down from the tree.

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If you take a coconut with the outer husk in place, let it dry and plant it, it will grow a new coconut tree. Some people (my wife and cousin), like to dig up these poor baby coconut trees to eat the insides of the coconut seed. It tasted like eating a sponge (not quite the consistency...it actually almost melts in your mouth) that was filled with coconut flavored water. I just didn't get it.....

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Now these are different from the "baby" coconuts that fall from the trees before they are mature. IMG_0073_JPG.jpg
They are just like the big ones, just smaller.

Every part of the coconut tree is used from the leaves (thatched roof), trunk (construction), coconut husk (coir for rope), as well as for food. They even take the coconut shell, polish it, attach a handle to it and make spoons.

This was an interesting few days. From here we visited a buddhist temple that was built into the rock around 24 A.D. and then visited a local Hindu temple. I'll post some pictures soon. Then we went back to Colombo and made some more one day trips to visit relatives. Last weekend, we climbed Sri Pada (Adam's Peak, Samanala Kanda,) which is about 8300 ft in elevation and the 3rd highest peak in Sri Lanka. That was quite an experience! I'll write about it soon. I've been on the go so much that I haven't had time to post anything. This week, I'm back in Kalutara at my uncle's place. We have a few trips planned from here (to the beach finally!).

Till next time.....

Posted by RuwanPDX 00:15 Archived in Sri Lanka Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Family Life in Sri Lanka

Itching to get out.....

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I came here to visit relatives and tour the island. So far we have been doing the family part of it. It's nice to see them but now I really need to get out into the countryside. In the meantime, I figured I'd write something about the family life here in Sri Lanka.

People haven't changed much since the last time I was here 4 years ago. There's much more technology. Almost everyone has a mobile phone. Few people have an internet connection. Even fewer have a DSL line or satellite TV. There is an increase in nationalism. The price of goods have gone up. The economic downturn in the rest of the world has affected this economy as well. Some banks and insurance companies have gone bankrupt. Since a majority of the economy is dependent on exports, decreased export demand in addition to the huge spending on defense has kept the economy from growing.

But here, as everywhere else, people live their lives as best as they can. The other day, we got tired of sitting at home and decided to take a walk down to the junction near the house to go shopping....or at least "window" shop. Going shopping shows the two worlds that Sri Lankans are living in. There are the banks, malls, and grocery stores which are contained in modern air conditioned buildings (although as an engineer, I noticed that humidity control was not very effective in some of these buildings) and then there are the street side open stalls.

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In a nearby grocery store. They have everything that I could think of from back in the US.

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Here's an open air stall selling fruit. There are papayas, guavas, and woodapples. Yes, woodapples...because the skin is so tough, it's like a ball of wood. You have to crack it to open it.

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In fact, our daughter thought it was a ball and started kicking it when I gave it to her. She was quite surprised when I cracked it open and started eating it!

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There are more than six varieties of bananas here. Most of them look pretty similar (all except for a few are smaller and tastier than the ones we're used to in the US) so I can't tell then apart too well. But most people could identify all of the varieties. Bananas are usually hung just like this on the entire "cane". They'll cut off as many as you want or sell you the entire thing!

You know when I took these pictures, I kind of did it secretly. I felt rather foolish taking pictures of things that people here take for granted. I wasn't really a tourist!! Or am I? That got me thinking again. I don't think of myself as a tourist because I look like these people, can speak the language, and have family here. But when I'm walking around, I realize that I don't know a lot of the minor nuances of the culture and that some things seem foreign to me. So in a way, I feel like I am home and then in another way, I feel like a tourist. I try to blend in as much as possible, but I think people know that I'm from abroad. It's not the clothes, it's probably my mannerisms.

Ahh well...tomorrow we're leaving to stay at another relative's place for a few days. I don't think they have internet access, so I will be out of touch for a few days. But I'll try to take some pictures to upload later.

In the meantime, here's Sakya trying to feed a leaf to a cat. She's used to feeding the rabbit at home so she thinks cats are vegetarians as well. This particular cat has 5 new kittens to feed and she's looking a bit scrawny to me..

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And here's Sakya ready to go.....

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Till next time....

Posted by RuwanPDX 15:33 Archived in Sri Lanka Tagged shopping Comments (1)

Arrival in Sri Lanka

we're tired but quickly learning to relax!

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I'm finally relaxing! My iphone doesn't work here so I can't check my office email conveniently. Otherwise, I'd be checking my email every few hours and that's not good. There are 3G networks so I'm not sure why it isn't working...oh well.

We flew from PDX to Chicago to London on United. The flight to London was rather stressful. The kids were tired and cranky and they cried...alot! Then we had a 5 hour layover in London which gave the kids a chance to run around (or crawl around) and relieve their stress. The flight from London to Sri Lanka was about 10 hours but it was great! The service was excellent, the food just as good, and they really went out of their way to keep the kids happy.

Arrived in Colombo at 5:30 AM on the 2nd. We picked up our luggage, two car seats, stroller, and baby carrier and got out of the airport in about 45 minutes. My wife's aunt and uncle were there to pick us up, so we loaded the van and headed to their house in a suburb of Colombo.

Funny story: I hired a porter because we had a lot of bags and two kids. We had him pick up all of the bags and the baby carriers and left the airport. When we were loading the van, I realized that we had forgot to pick up the 2 car seats. So the porter took me back inside thru security explaining to all the security people about the forgotten luggage. Now here's the thing, most people in SL don't know what car seats are! So as I was going back out thru security, they asked my what they were. I told them they were car seats. This guy thought I was importing actual seats for a car! I had to explain to him what it was for and he let me thru with no problem. So when my relatives saw the car seats they asked us why we went to so much trouble because they aren't required here. They didn't realize that it was for safety reasons that we brought them, not to avoid any fines! You can buy them here, and some people even use them. I haven't seen for my self anyone using them. What people do is sit in the back seat with the kids in their laps. People don't really wear seatbelts either.

The first thing I noticed as we stepped out of the airport was that it wasn't that hot. It was about 72F (granted it was 6:30AM), but I expected more humidity. The second thing I noticed was the definite increase in security. I asked uncle about this and he explained that a new Army special forces unit was developed to maintain the security in the capital. Due to the stepped-up government attacks up in the North part of the country, the separatists have been trying to increase bomb attacks in the capital. So far, the Army has been able to catch alot of these planned attacks. Hopefully, there won't be any suicide attacks anywhere we go!

We took the first day to relax around the house and get some energy back. I was getting really sleepy around 3pm (which is about 2AM the previous day in PDX). But I forced myself to stay awake to minimize the jet lag. The plan was that I would be really tired at night and would sleep soundly through the night and wake up in the morning. I didn't want to be fully awake at 3AM. Well, the plan worked...sort of. We had let the kids sleep as much as they wanted, so of course they both woke up at 2AM. My plan would have worked, if not for the kids!!

So today we unpacked and organized all of the gifts. A friend and his wife dropped by last night to drop off a new mobile phone for me to use while I'm here. So this morning, I made some calls to friends and family here to tell them that we have arrived. Then I finally found some time to update my blog.
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and pose for pictures in front of the house
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This is going to be our main place of stay. We'll be going to stay with my uncle for some days as well.

Then we went to the store to buy some clothes and supplies for the kids as well as some clothes for ourselves. I got some nice shirts for about $5 each!

This area of town (called Nugegoda) is known for its traffic. There is some major road construction going on which causes a lot of people to drive thru this way:
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Notice the cars, buses, motorcycles, bikes and pedestrians all sharing the road. I'll be passing thru this way on my way down to Kalutara tomorrow. Kalutara is where I grew up while I was in SL and is where my uncle lives.

Since we have been here, there has been two suicide bombs in Colombo. The government also issued a statement that they have captured the main rebel HQ's yesterday. To celebrate, people were firing firecrackers in the streets. I was thinking to myself, someone could set off a bomb in this madness relatively easily. Sure enough, someone did exactly that. Luckily there have only been 2 deaths. It seems that some rebels have infiltrated the city with explosives. But there is no communication with the leadership up north and they are setting off the bombs in unimportant places. They say that the government could capture all of the rebel territory in about a month. However it goes, I hope this was finishes up soon.

People might wonder why we decided to travel to SL during this mess. The thing is, life goes on normally here, even with the bombs going off. That said, it's certainly not normal for the residents up north. But for the people here, they have to continue living; they can't just move to the US! People are tired of the war, but they seem upbeat and they are always so friendly. They seem to love kids. No matter what side you take, it would seem to me that to take the side of peace is the way to go. It just doesn't make sense to me why this conflict couldn't have been resolved years before.

This is a beautiful country and we have several trips planned....like I said, I don't like staying at home for too long. We'll be climbing the 4th highest mountain here Sri Pada mountain or Adam's Peak. It has an elevation of around 8200 feet. There are many people making pilgrimages up to the top. There is a Buddhist temple there. Sri Pada translates to holy footstep (close enough) because legend has it that the Buddha stepped on the top of the mountain on a trip from India. It's also worshipped by Christians (thus Adam's Peak), Hindus, and Muslims. Also is planned a trip to the South coast which has lots of beaches and snorkelling/diving. This area was seriously affected by the Dec 26, 2004 tsunami. The tsunami happened a few weeks before our wedding. We planned the wedding in SL for Jan 2005 and almost cancelled it. Then there is a rainforest and arboretum I want to see.

Tomorrow is 30 or so miles down the west coast from colombo to Kalutara. Next week is reserved for visiting relatives.

Till next time.....

Posted by RuwanPDX 03:27 Archived in Sri Lanka Tagged family_travel Comments (2)

Snowed-in in PDX

Finally thawing out!

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I wasn't really going to write more about this snow "event" or "Arctic Blast" as the news media likes to refer to it, but we actually did get about a foot of snow. Having lived in the East Coast for so long, that doesn't seem much, but to Portland, it's rather historic. Portland does not put salt on the roads (not that I disagree with it) and we live in a valley so it has been a bit tough venturing out.

For some reason (hmm..maybe it's the hills) it's a bit more slippery out here than back East. Last year we had a few inches of snow and the entire city seemed to be on "alert". Of course I got into my Honda and headed for work (not listening to any of the wise advice coming from my wife) and promptly slid down a hill. I basically slid/drove down the hill to a parking lot, parked the car, and walked back home. I didn't make the same mistake this year. My Honda is safely in the garage and the Escape has the chains on it.

Anyway, the point is, we haven't had much opportunity to go shopping and get ready for the trip to Sri Lanka. What is there to get? Well, unlike other vacations to Europe or wherever, going to SL means buying gifts for friends and relatives! Lot's of gifts! I only see them every 4 years or so...By the way never take clothes to SL as presents. There is a huge clothing manufacturing industry there...making clothes for Gap, American Eagle, etc....plus, you can have clothes literally tailor-made. And it's cheap. I always end up buying clothes there and bringing them back to the U.S.

So that's just a quick update. I'll post a update about our packing proces before we leave. Do you think we can pack the kids in the luggage?? Just joking....

TIll next time...

Posted by RuwanPDX 22:18 Archived in USA Tagged preparation Comments (0)

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