Sri Lanka, an island off the Southeast tip of India, is a stunning country filled with history and archaeological treasures and best of all... some of the nicest, kindest, sweetest people in the world. Put it on your "must visit" list.
Fun fact: There are 8 Unesco World Heritage sites in this small country (America has only 23 in its vasts lands). So there are a lot of wonders to see in Sri Lanka. Second fun fact: Almost all of those sites are on the TOP of a hill or mountain. There is some unwritten rule here that everything gets more sacred if you put it really high up, where it's totally exhausting to visit it. But, I will admit, the views from some of these places were amazing.
Bill opened the leg at noon on Saturday. By 1:45pm, Rainey and I had packed day packs and were on a 7+ hour, non-air conditioned train to Anuradhapura in the North. We did not get seats for the first 4 hours.
So, imagine multiple hours where the people standing pressed right up against you are all rubbing their sweat right onto you with every shake and rock of the train. I was doing lots of slow yoga breathing. The things you will endure on this trip for scavenge points...!!!
Plus the train moves only slightly faster than the villagers walking along the tracks. But it did give me lots of time to ask questions of our fellow riders and get some strategy advice on how to tackle this country.
Warning: you also have to stay sharp to side-step the cockroaches on the floor (what do you expect when people consistently walk up and down selling boiled corn, cotton candy, samosas.. you name it... and food crumbles litter the floor?) Finally getting a seat next to a window - many hours in - so the damp humid wind hit my face was like manna from heaven.
Less than an hour later we were sitting in Chachim's garden eating dinner. Much of his house is still being built (likely everything but the kitchen area) and has only dirt floor and open holes in the walls awaiting windows. But he has a garden with some palm trees and fruit trees and we hauled every chair he owned out to the yard. Such an interesting experience.
Dawn the next morning found us climbing to the top of the Minhitale. And, of course, we had to get to the TOP.
At one of the temples, we ran into a parade involving a beating drum band, a very long stream of orange cloth as well as much chanting and slow marching around the stupa. Not sure the significance of any of that, but there was true devotion attached to the pilgrimage.
And my favorite shot from that temple complex...Aptly titled: "Monk resting below elephant statue."
We then moved on to another city, Polonnaruwa, which is chock full of ancient ruins. My favorite: the giant headless statue, mainly because the ground was so hot and you had to take off your shoes and the statue's black toes felt like my toes (burned all the way through).
Plus the fact that you are not allowed to take any photos while backing the statue (so you don't show the decapitated deity any disrespect) is a true repudiation of "the selfie."
And how about this for unusual? There are tons of wild elephants in this part of the country. As we drove alone, we saw one hanging out by the river ... and one just waiting for the cars to pass so he could cross the road.
Much of the palace has been washed away over the 1,600 years, but the entrance to the palace was originally through a giant lion's mouth. Only the lion's paws remain which lets you at least imagine how incredible the whole original structure must have been.
There are frescoes drawn into the side of the rock in a small cave about half way up. If not actually drawn by a 12 year old boy, they were clearly created by an artist with a 12 year old boy's unrealistic imaginings of the perkiness and roundness of the female breast. Or breast implants were all the rage back then.
I was so hot by the time we climbed down that I jumped into the hotel pool with all my clothes on. I got in a 2 minute soak - and reduced my core temperature from health-damaged levels - before the nice security guard asked me to please get out.
Next morning we set out for Nuwara Eliya, a British-styled tea plantation town. A Tuk Tuk ride and 2 buses later... with 6+ hours of inhaling exhaust fumes ... we finally arrived and did a tour of a tea factory. Guess what? Automation has reduced the number of workers in the factory from 64 to 5. Even in Sri Lanka... the robot-reducing-labor phenomena is alive and well.
We learned that to buy a package of the tea would cost the tea pickers two full day's wages... just wow.
Last scavenge of Nuwara Elijah, to eat "high tea" in the British-styled gardens of the Hill Club (very posh).
Then on to the base of the mountain, Adam's Peak, where we got 4 hours of sleep before getting up at 1:30AM to start climbing. The scavenge points were for being at the top by dawn. And we were...
We hurried back from Adam's Peak for check-in and found out that our next stop is Cairo, Egypt. We were there 10 years ago. I wonder how it's changed in the wake of the Arab Spring. Let's see...