Sri Lanka Again
A Colombo market
It didn’t take me long to wake up, get ready and be out the door. The least amount of time spent in our dungeon the better. We asked at the desk if we could upgrade (we thought if we splurged for air con it might be less mouldy or maybe be a bit cleaner) and got to see a few rooms. I was shocked to find out we had one of the best (can I even use that word?) rooms in the hotel. One room I saw had green/black mould covering two walls from the middle down. It was so thick it was fuzzy. No we’ll keep our room thanks. I think it didn’t help that we are tired, just plain tired.
We couldn’t get our India VISA until tomorrow so we had the day to explore Colombo – after breakfast. We grabbed a tuk-tuk and headed to McDonald’s. Hey, it’s air conditioned and clean. Happily filled with McDonalds grease we started our walk of Colombo. The first time here we didn’t get to see much of Colombo. Colombo, population of about 685,000 people, is the capital city. I am excited to see the old buildings that have a Portuguese, Dutch and British colonial influence. I love old buildings.
We headed to the ocean and Galle Face Green; which has a park and a boardwalk like path beside the sea. It was a nice walk. There were a few tourists but mostly local families and a few groups of school kids hanging out. Some were picnicking, some playing cricket, some flying kites and some having fun in the water. It was very relaxing. At the end of the boardwalk you get to the fort. Well we couldn’t go in but we passed where it is/was. The Portuguese founded the fort in Colombo in 1517. I think there a few buildings left but any we can see have been renovated into tourist shops and restaurants. The old Dutch hospital is a perfect example. It’s a gorgeous building that has some of its original charm but is all shiny and new. We took a look around and continued on with our walk.
There is a shiny new office building across from the old Dutch hospital that has one whole floor of government approved jewelry shops. We went in for a peek. Sri Lanka has one of the best selections of decently priced gems I’ve ever come across. I added a few things to my wish list but didn’t want to commit yet; there are so many shops I still wanted to look in. Poor James.
James had wanted to check train and bus schedules so we walked in that general direction. As usual the Lonely Planet map was a bit off. We eventually found the train station. It was packed full, chaotic and loud. We stopped at the information desk and they were surprisingly helpful. The bus station was a few blocks away. It too was crazy. It was difficult to figure out what was going on. On the other side of the road, as we had walked from the train station to the bus station, was the local bazaar/market. I talked James into crossing the street and we entered.
It was fascinating, as only local Asian markets can be. And cheap. We both did a bit of shopping and a lot of people watching. We ended up in the textiles section, then the electric, then the lighting, then the pots and pans; I am going to miss this when I am back in Canada.
After about an hour we were hot and dusty and hungry. In extreme heat we both loose our appetites (ya I know, it doesn’t show) so when we actually feel hungry we try to eat. We hadn’t seen anything since the old Dutch hospital so walked back. It catered to foreign tourists and we had a plate full of ribs and a few cold beers.
Reluctantly we left the posh restaurant and went back to our pathetic hotel. I somehow showered without touching anything but the taps in the bathroom and quickly dove into my sleep sack. We’d had a long day and I was asleep pretty quick. In the wee hours, scratching in the walls behind us woke me. I grabbed James’ hand and woke him. Omg! There are rats in the walls. You can hear them! He mumbled something and fell back asleep – so much for saving me from the killer rats (because all rats are killers). I tried my hardest to ignore the sound but couldn’t. I just lied there for a few hours freaking out. Afraid to move. This irrational fear of rats and mice is annoying. But – THERE ARE RATS IN OUR WALLS! (James’ Note: It is particularly pathetic that this fear even extends to chipmunks. I would later see her cower from an adorable baby chipmunk that someone had in their hand)
I survived the night but only slept lightly for a few hours. When our alarm went off I was more tired than when I’d gone to bed. Shaking in fear all night is hard work. We were off to get our Indian VISA, Yeah! We grabbed a tuk-tuk and got dropped off at the processing center. We had to drop off our passports in the morning then pick them back up in the afternoon with our new visa. There wasn’t much of a line up and the whole process took only a few minutes. Then we were off….to shop for gems. We went back to a few that I’d been to before now that I had an idea of price and what I was looking for. We did the bulk of the shopping in a cute store in the mall that had unique one of a kind items. I picked up a few treats for me and a gift for my mom that I almost hope she doesn’t like. I love it!
We had pizza again and then went looking for a cool spot that had wifi. We still had a few hours to kill. I got comfy in a leather chair at the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf with a yummy coffee. James offered to go pick up the VISA’s and I happily let him. He returned about an hour later in a foul mood. When he was picking them up he checked them (Travel Hint: always, always, always check your VISA’s before leaving) he found a mistake. We had filled in all the boxes – most notable where we were entering the country/where was our first stop. The Andaman Islands. The Andaman Islands that are a restricted area that you need special permission for. Very clearly on our new VISA’s was “Does not include restricted areas”. Crap! He asked the lady and she sort of waved him away. No, this is wrong. He pointed out we had filled in the boxes correctly so why is our VISA wrong. She had no idea and told him we’d have to go to the actual Indian Embassy to get it fixed. Crap! Crap! Crap!
While he was gone I’d gotten bad news from home and was in my own mood….and the coffee shop had closed a few minutes before he returned and I was sitting outside on the floor. We frantically started to look up hotels (we both agreed we were not returning to the rat hotel) until security told us we had to leave. UGH! It just so happened we were 20 steps (through a sky walk) from a Hilton. So we walked the 20 steps. We had peeked at it quickly on line and found the prices they quoted were about $150 more than on line. We asked for the internet code so we could book. They refused. Hmmmmm. As I was talking to the lady, a guy behind me offered to let us use his internet. Cool! He handed us his IPad and we sat and chatted while James booked. A few minutes later were being shown to our room that had an amazing view of the park and sea front we’d walk in earlier.
I was still feeling frazzled (worried about home and about all the flights and hotels we already had booked) so had a shower and crawled into bed with the remote control. I hid there for the rest of the night.
The price we paid for the Hilton included an amazing buffet breakfast (that had real bacon). We stuffed ourselves and left with positive thoughts. Please let them fix our VISA, please, please, please.
At the Indian Embassy we waited in line a few minutes then were let in. Well James was. They only allowed one person in at a time and for some reason James took my passport. They signed him in and when he turned to get me the mean man behind the desk said NO. Just you. What? James shrugged and went in. Luckily I had my Kindle so stood on the sidewalk and read for 15 minutes…30 minutes…45 minutes…1 hour…at which point I was baking in the heat, sweat was dripping down my face and neck and my back and pooling in my bra. There was nowhere to hide from the sun. And I had to pee real bad (two delicious cups of coffee over breakfast will do that). I knocked on the door and practically begged to be let in. No! I hadn’t thought to grab money from James so couldn’t even take a tuk-tuk back to the hotel. An English couple came along and I warned them to keep their passports. They said if they saw a white guy, slightly balding, that they tell them to come give his wife the room key and some money before she wet herself. Such nice people the English are. When they walked in the guy kept a firm grip on his wife even though the guard was trying to split them up – what is up with that?
I waited about 15 more minutes. When James came out his mood wasn’t much better but I didn’t have time to get the story until we were safely in a tuk-tuk on the way to a toilet!!!
The one and only guy who can fix our VISA wasn’t in this morning so we’d have to come back in the afternoon. Crap. Our plans to see Sri Lanka were already a day behind (we were meant to be on an overnight bus last night), I wonder if we’d be able to leave tonight. We hung out at the hotel until we could go back to the embassy. We were smarter when we returned and I went in first with my own passport. Then James. They still seemed a bit put off by me entering but I didn’t care. We spoke to the lady at the information desk and she told us the guy was still at lunch and we could sit and wait. And wait we did. We had anticipated a wait so had our Kindles. After a few hours (and about 30 minutes before they closed for the day) we started to pester the lady. She finally told us the guy likely wouldn’t be back today. What?!? Today was already Wednesday and we had a flight for Sunday. Meaning we only had two more days to fix this before we lost time and lots of money. We gently pushed her. We somehow convinced her to help us. She took down our information (which included us writing in pen the same information that was in the correct little box on the last page saying we were visiting the Andaman’s) and set us away. Come back tomorrow morning she said.
So back to the Hilton. I was feeling a slight sense of deja-vu. We are stuck in Colombo waiting on VISA’s and might not get to actually see Sri Lanka. We stopped by the Hilton travel center and priced a driver. We decided (again) to fork out some cash so we could see everything we wanted to. We even went so far as to book it (and hotels) for the next day leaving at 1 pm. We were thinking positively…our VISA’s would be fixed tomorrow morning and we would be leaving Colombo. Once everything was booked I did a repeat of last night; shower, duvet and the remote.
Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara
My day dreaming was interrupted by other visitors arriving so we headed back down. The path up was crowded, almost a single line of people. I am so happy we were early. We got back to the hotel early so had a swim, a quick snack and I got to blog for a bit. I opened our French doors and let the cool jungle breeze in. As I was typing I heard a noise and looked up. On the roof above me was a little monkey. He was taking a good look at me and (I think) trying to figure out if he’d get past me. A few of his friends joined him and I jumped up and ran. James saved the day and closed up the doors while I hid in the bathroom. Note to self: do not leave the doors open. Cooled off and ready to go we went and sat in the lobby. The driver was late again.
As we drove away we saw an elephant coming down the road with a couple of tourists on top. I was having a surreal moment. In Sri Lanka, in the shadow of Sigiriya, pulled over to let an elephant pass. It was rudely broken when James laughed and asked if I was as jealous as he was of the tourists glowing white socks. Hrumph!
I was excited about our next stop. In the small town of Giritale is the ancient site of Polonnaruwa. More old temples, palaces, royal baths, sculptures…lots of crumbling stuff! Our driver took us to the ticket booth that was also the museum and we had another disagreement, this time about how to do/visit the ruins. He was a bit put off that we didn’t want to do the museum but we really love museums and have a tendency to take a long time in them so decide to skip it and see the actual ruins – we were still a little short on time. Then he wanted to drive us; James really wanted to walk. We comprised by walking a bit and getting drives a bit. Polonnaruwa, once a Royal capital, is nearly 1000 years old. We slowly made our way through the area admiring the beautiful artwork. We saw some unique stone statues made from marbled stone, maybe one of the most beautiful carvings I’d ever seen. The whole area transported you back in time.
Our last stop was a few minutes drive from the main area where we’d been walking (a place we had to convince the driver was even there). It was the Lotus Pond. The Lotus Pond itself was a bit anticlimactic, although beautiful, but memorable in a funny way. By now you all know I am terrified of monkeys, now our driver knows. I opened my door to get out and was caught off guard by a big monkey sitting in front of me. What I didn’t know was a smaller monkey was walking up behind me. Likely to just walk by…but I turned, freaked and dove back into the car. In my rush I left the door open and the monkey stopped, sat down and took a good look in. He then made a move to join me. The driver jumped into action and shooed him out. James just stood shaking his head in embarrassment. I did get out, eventually, and took a look at the Lotus Pond. Then scurried back to the safety of the car. Silly monkeys.
We were back to the hotel in time for a quick swim before taking advantage of the big buffet. I was starving and figure I got more than my money’s worth.
After breakfast (a really nice buffet, and included) we went to the lobby to wait for the driver. Who – wait for it- was late again. We had originally planned to spend a few hours this morning at the resort enjoying the pool. We only had one main site to see and a small town that I had wanted to just spend a few hours walking around. The driver suggested we add a few things to the itinerary and leave earlier. None of the additions appealed to James but he went along for me. The driver had originally suggested leaving at 7 am and we said no, breakfast didn’t even start until then and we didn’t want to miss it. We picked 7:30 am, which I still think was early even with all his additions. We had booked the car until midnight so we could move slow today. Our flight to India wasn’t until 4 am and we didn’t want to be at the airport too early. We knew the driver had spent the last two nights/days with his brother so didn’t worry too much. It’s just being up so early and having to wait after he was the one who wanted to leave so early. He was almost 30 minutes late. UGH!