Friday, September 30, 2005


Walked up the hill behind the golden temple in Dambulla... an amazing view, and more interestingly, a bunch of monkeys... I managed to take quite a few photos of the sunset, the view (you could see for miles around), and of the monkeys themselves, before a very er, excited, alpha male chased me away.

Woke up at 5AM this morning and caught a bus to Sigiriya, a massive rock about an hour away. It was beautiful.. reallly. and I managed to get there early enough to avoid most of the crowds. I'll post photos another time, but the view was just mindblowing. And the thought that humands carved a fortress into this rock thousands of years ago is very impressive.

On the way home, I had my first -real- taste of Sri Lankan busses... the one going there just wasn't busy enough to really experience it.

It seems that no matter how crowded a bus is, there is always room for one more customer. I kept starring in disbelief as more and more people packed on (I had my seat already, so I was happy) its peak, there were maybe 3-4 people hanging out of the door. Quite amusing.

Tomorrow, off to see some ruins, and should be back in Columbo by sunday-ish.

Thursday, September 29, 2005


I'm now a man, wearing a skirt.

But before I get into that, let me backtrack.

Randomly met up with Charlie, a british guy I met in Kandy last time - I saw him in the street, and we got together later that evening for a drink. I'm actually somewhat annoyed that I need to move on, if for the sole reason that I would really like to stick around and talk to him for a few more days.

Went to the Sri Lankan airlines office, and changed my return date. I now leave for Chennai/Madras on the 5th of Oct. That should give me enough time to see the sites I need to, and then leave.

Some bigwig in Kandy died a few days ago, and so the streets were packed with schoolchildren and other people waiting for the funeral procession to pass through town. White fabric was hanging over the procession path. I wanted to stay for it, but I needed to get out of town, so that I could make it to Sigaria before the weekend (when local tourists decend).

This afternoon, I took a 2 hour local bus up to Badulla - a nice leisurely bus ride (although the drivers are a bit insane), that was made easier by the fact that I bought a ticket for my bag, and myself. giving me a padded bench to myself on the bus.

I'm now in Dambulla.... a small town, by the looks of it thus far.

In any case - in regard to the title of this post. I brought one pair of pants with me on this trip - a pair of purple thai fisherman's pants - which i've more or less been wearing every day for the last few weeks. I decided to break down today, and wash them, which presented the problem of what to wear while they were wet... solution: A Sarrong.

A lot of the men here (the poorer ones it seems) wear sarrongs, which seem to be nice and cool (temperature wise)... I bought a purple batick styled one for 3 dollars, and have been wearing it for the last hour. It's certainly breezy, and is making me somewhat aware of the people who honk as I go past...

In any case, the pants will be dry for tomorow morning, when I head off to a huge rock/castle thing about an hour away. I'm going to try and be there for 7:00 (fingers crossed), to avoid the crowds, and heat.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

An Israeli?

This morning, outside my guest-house window, at 7AM, building work starts.

I'm not a happy camper.

I had previously managed to haggle down the cost of my room after being woken up by noise outside, and so I went upstairs to speak to the guest-house manager.

She flipped out. Practically started crying, and said that she wouldn't put up with my behavior. Said that I was just as bad as Israelis, who she will not allow to stay at her place, because of their constant haggling. I took this in stride, and in fact, saw it as a somewhat compliment - Israelis are well known for their awesome haggling skills.

So, the greek girl and I move out (she's next door, and equally bothered by the noise), and find somewhere else 2 doors down, with much less noise, and private bathrooms, for the same price.

After all that fuss, we head off to the Botanical Gardens - by local bus (6 rupees). The gardens were great, and in particular, the orchid room had some pretty flowers (photos to come later).

I've had to delay my plans slightly (I wanted to leave Kandy this afternoon), so I can sort out some health insurance issues that have cropped up in the US - which will take a few hours of Internet cafe time.

The plan right now is to leave Kandy for Dambulla tomorrow morning.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The Train from Ella

Woke up nice and early, took a 1st class train from Ella back to Kandy.

Spent much of the first part of the journey waving at people from the train - pretty much everyone was happy to wave back. Often, a smile on my part would be enough to solicit a wave from them - which I would happily return.

For the first two hours, I had the entire train carriage to myself. However, later, a few Sri Lankan families got onboard. They brought a drum, a bunch of food, and a decent amount of alcohol. Anticipating a party, I took off my headphones, and began to do the international sign of "hi, invite me to your party" = i.e. i started smiling, or actually, beaming.

Soon enough, a few come over and start chatting with me. It turns out that for the first 30 mins of the journey, they restrained themselves from playing music because they were worried that they would disturb me - the sole non sri lankan in the carriage. I soon convinced them otherwise, and they started singing. Then, out came the Arrack.

So it's just after noon, I'm drinking arrack out of a plastic waterbottle (turned into a cup with my pocketknife), and then they decide that they're not content to see me clap - they want to see me dance. Thus, I get up, and start dancing (mostly copying the dance moves of an 8 year old girl near me). This leads to much laughter on all sides - and quite a few of them pull out cameras with which to photograph the authentic englishman looking like an idiot.

In the end, we have about 2 hours of music, a few drinks, much laughter, and I get a few pointers on drumming and dancing - and as always, I leave with people's business cards, and an offer to stay at their house if I come through Columbo.

Sri Lankans are so friendly.

Got to Kandy - decided that I didn't want to spend 950 Rupees (9.5 dollars) like last time, and checked out a much cheaper (and dirtier place) - 420 with shared toilets and cold water.

I meet an English/Greek girl in the hallway outside, and we both decide that the place is disgusting. We end up sharing a taxi to another place on the hills overlooking Kandy, where I haggle the price down to 600 per night per room per person, and I get them to throw in a free cup of tea.

The plan right now, is to wake up as early as possible tomorrow, and head to the Botanical Gardens... after that, i'm unsure.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Packing Lessons Learned

Things i'm glad I brought:

MP3 Player (although, it's already falling apart, and being held together by duct tape).
Duct Tape (see above).
Shortwave Radio (The BBC is awesome!)
11 books - I've read 4 already.

Things I should have left at home:
350 tablets to stop the runs.
Drugs - Cipro and such are far cheaper here than in the US, or even in Thailand.. India seems to make dirt cheap prescription drugs.

Things I should have brought with me:
comfortable footware (I assumed I could buy it on the way, neglecting the fact that I would need to break it in.

Options in Sri Lanka

Much of the country is cut off to me.

The east has apparantly seen some bombings recently. I received an SMS message from one of my swiss friends to tell me there has been some gunfire 2km north of him in Aragurn Bay... I value my life more than tubular surfing options, and so I think i'll be keeping away from the East coast.

It's the wrong season to go to Adam's Peak (the highest mountain), and the Edge of the World (a really high cliff) - the views aren't that good right now.

And so, there is not much else to see.

I think i'm going to back track tomorrow, and head back to Kandy. I'll probably stay there a few more days, and after that, there really won't be much left to see - unless I want to fly north to the Tamil controlled area of Jafna.

When I get to Kandy, i'll call up Sri Lankan Airlines and see if I can move my flight forward - and head to India early.

At the least, I need to go to Colombo for a day, and get my Indian visa sorted out. It also seems that Arthur C Clarke lives there, and I hear that it's possible to meet with him for a cup of tea. So i'll see if I can sort that out - it'd be quite fun.

I really need to upload some photos soon. I've seen some great things thus far - I climbed "Little Adam's Peak" yesterday with the Aussies.. and then spent 2 hours last night learning how to make a few awesome dishes with the owner of my guest-house.

More news from Kandy tomorrow night.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

In Ella

When will I learn?

I end up arriving in Ella at 8:30. Now, I learned from my last late night train experience that arriving at midnight was a bad idea. However, it seems that arriving anytime after dark is not such a hot idea.

Sri Lankans in general go to bed early.. but it seems Ella is really bad. I arrived at 8:30, to find not a single taxi at the station. I wandered around for a bit at the station looking confused, and eventually, one of the station employees grabs a flashlight and walks me (down a steep path) to the center of Ella Town (a tiny place in itself). He takes me to the nearest guesthouse, speaks to them.. and suddenly, i'm sat inside, sitting on the family's sofa, talking to the lady of the house.

I explained that I had a reservation at another guesthouse, and could they please point me to the way. She calls up her husband, who arrives a few minutes later with his van, and drives me to my guesthouse. Both he, and the station chap refuse to take any money from me. Again, confirming the fact that most Sri Lankans are amazingly friendly. I'm repeatedly told that this is their duty to help foreigners.

I met 2 Australians on the train to Ella, and so I meet up with them for breakfast, and then a relaxing 4km walk down to a waterfall near town. It seems that every 200 meters or so, we come across a sketchy looking dog - however, the big umbrella i'm carrying proves to be quite useful in keeping them at a distance.

Eventually, we come across a parked truck, filled with Sri Lankans - who offer us a ride to the falls (we're half way at this point). Not wanting to miss a fun experience (and happy to get away from the remaining dogs on the journey), we hop on... soon enough, out comes a drum, and the entire bus is singing local songs. We do our best to clap along and smile... the locals seem to be really happy to have us along, and seem to be amused at our attempts to keep a beat.

The waterfalls themselves are nice enough - lots of locals bathing in them, with a few vendors hawking sparkly stones, and sweetcorn. I wander off and find a large group of military guys on their weekend off, completely drunk on Arrack (coconut liquor), and singing and dancing together. Soon enough, i've put my umbrella down, and am dancing amongst them. My salsa moves (learned this summer) prove to be pretty useful, and at one point, I catch the eye of an officer who asks me to take him back to my guesthouse.. Hah. At this point, the Aussies arrive, dance for a while, sing an authentic australian folk song, and then we all make a hasty exit minus the potentially gay soldier...

In the evening, we dine at my guesthouse - which reportedly has the best food in town. We eat a curry made pretty much solely of garlic cloves (very tasty), and a mind blowing eggplant curry - which the guesthouse owner has promised to show me how to cook tonight.

No phone access here, and internet is expensive... I'll probably be here for a few more days, as it's cheap, beautiful, and more relaxed than most other places thus far.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Back on the Train

Problem. The train to Elle leaves at 8:30AM.

I woke up at 7, still rather drunk, with a hangover rapidly approaching, packed my bag up, and got ready to check out.

Problem. I had 17 dollars left of rupees in my wallet, and owed 18.50 to the hotel. I give them all that I have, plus a US dollar to make up the difference, grin, and walk out the door. A taxi driver tries to charge me 2 dollars for the short trip to the station.. time was short, so I just kept walking. Pretty soon, a chap in a van stops, and offers me a lift. Very nice.

Make it to the train on time, sit down in my wonderful first class seat (at the back of the train, with a huge observation window in front of me)... pull out my guide book, and find out that Elle doesn't have a bank. The nearest town to Ella has a bank, with no ATM, and the banks close at 3PM here (30 mins after I would have arrived).

Thus, I had to travel an additional hour to Badula, got some cash, internet, and will be heading back to Elle shortly. All because of my stupidity.

Anyway - back to the journey. It was a 5 hour train ride, across some of the most beautiful landscape that I've ever seen. Lush jungle/trees, tiny villages with waving children, and then up into the hill country... quite a few large waterfalls, and then massive tea plantations. Every once and a while, you'd see a few women with baskets slung over their backs, filled to the brim with tea leaves.

Elle is supposed to be very British - the home away from home that they created when they managed the tea plantations. Not sure if i'll have net access there, but I think i'll probably stay there for at least 4-5 days. I've travelled a lot recently, and really need to stay somewhere for a while.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Kandy Day 1

Wednesday afternoon, I left the beach, and took an all-day train (2pm->8pm) to Kandy.
"Befriended" a british guy as I was leaving the train station, and shared a tuk-tuk (3 wheel taxi) with him to the hotel... and promptly ditched him the next morning.... One of the nice things about travelling is that when you meet someone annoying, there is no obligation to see them ever again.

Woke up early-ish Thursday, and headed to the train station to find out about an onward ticket to Ella. Only 4 1st class tickets are available on each day's train, and so at times, you have to book ahead. I was given the option of either leaving the next day, or waiting a week. Thus, I booked a ticket leaving the next day.

Later, I went to a "royal" garden overlooking the city, only to find it full of sri lankan couples trying to get as close to kissing without actually touching lips. It's still very cute.. although being the only un-coupled person in the park does make you feel a bit strange... and of course made me miss Kat.

I decided to reward myself with a beer, and headed to the british style pub off the main street - a large bar with a barman, a security guard, and one lone englishman sitting down. Pretty soon, we were chatting (he'd taught english in japan for 10 years, and was now doing it here).. and he told me about a free concert starting in about an hour.

Thus, I hurried off to see the WOMAD Sri Lanka Drumming festival... an amazing show with drummers from the UK, The Ivory Coast, and Sri Lanka... Now, this festival would usually be a huge sell-out in the UK, or in Australia... but here, it attracted a pretty sad crowd.. maybe 200-300 people max.

Still. Had a great time listening and dancing to the music.

However, it wouldn't be a music festival without beer. So, before heading to the festival, I stopped by a liquor store (even in Sri Lanka, they have metal bars that stop you from robbing the people behind the counter) and picked up a few. Fast forward a few hours, and I'm drunkenly trying to haggle with a taxi driver.... which is never good. You're a captive audience, and they know they have you.

Eventually make it home.. not quite sure how.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

More from the Beach

I've spent a number of hours over the past couple days chatting with a german guy, Robert, who is living in the guest-house here.

He came here 10 days after the Tsunami, and was so shocked by what he saw, that he quit his job back home, sold his Porche, and moved here. He's setup 2 for-profit companies (one painting the cars of rich Sri Lankans, and the other washing the clothes of tourists for hotels) all of which pour the profits into a vocational education center he's built here. Thus, his two for-profit businesses are supporting the vocational center 100% - which is training 15 people every year to do construction related jobs (of which there is much demand here).

It's pretty inspiring.. he threw away a large salary and a fancy life back home, to live in a wooden house.. however, he employs over 70 people (who in turn support 10 people each with their salaries) - and thus, he is responsible for feeding over 700 people. Very very impressive.

However, not all is well... I've learned even more about how much things suck here for the average Sri Lankan.

It seems that after the Tsunami, the government set a policy that no permanant structures were to be built within 200 meters of the coast. What this means, effectively, is that the people whos land falls within those 200 meters, are now homeless. They are not allowed to rebuild their homes and businesses, and can only construct temporary structures for themselves (wooden shacks, and or tents). This is a ghastly policy - and only through bribery and trickery has the owner of the guest house I'm staying at managed to avoid this policy. Another place down the coast had 200+ police visit last week to knock down the new structure they had built - as they attempted to see how commited the government was to this policy. This, they found out.

I've spent the last few days chilling out, reading books, and going body-boarding in the ocean... It's fun, and it's great to have people taking care of your food/drink needs, but this sort of paradise isn't for the long term. I'm rapidly tiring of this, and I'll probably be moving inland tomorrow.. first, to Kandy (where the Buddha's tooth is supposed to be), and which will put me in a good position to explore the tea-growing hill country a bit.

My cellphone service sucks on the beach, and fear that it'll probably suck in the rural tea growing parts of the country too.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Meeting the Guest House folks

So as the day goes on, I meet the other folks at the guest-house, and learn about the situation here.

The owner, Radma, was a 2 time national marathon champion turned tour guide turned guest-house owner. He'd had his place open for just a few months when the Tsunami hit, and like most of the other places near here, was pretty much totally destroyed.

The swiss couple I met in Galle (who invited me here) were here to hang out with another Swiss couple - friends of theirs, who, after staying here late last year, befriended the owner of the place. After the Tsunami hit, they sent him 400 dollars - with which he bought food for pretty much his entire village - for months. They then came out in February, and again, with their own money, bought matresses for about 40 families, who until then, had been sleeping on dirt floored tents.

Speaking to this swiss couple, and a german chap living/working here has been very educational, and to be honest, rather shocking. The Red Cross and Unicef all have staff "working" out here (the Red Cross folks are paid a quite handsome 1700 USD per month), and are reportedly sitting on the beach outside their hotel most of the time. Many families are still living in tents, months after the Tsunami, as the government has (like many 3rd world governments) been diverting the aid money to other projects, and their own pockets.

There has been vast amounts of money flowing in to the country, but very little of it appears to actually be reaching the people who need it the most. Fisherman who had their boats, and thus sole method of bread-earning, destroyed, have still not gotten new boats, while well-connected individuals in town who have never fished before, now find themselves the proud owners of $4000 dollar boats.

For sure, it is no shock that the government here is corrupt. That, I expected. What I didn't expect though, was to hear of so many NGOs doing so little. Volunteers and workers fly out here for a month or two, talk to a few locals, teach english for a while, and then fly off home... In a country where 3 dollars can feed a family for 2 weeks, it's pretty awful to spend such obscene sums flying in and out volunteers who stay for such a short amount of time - even more so when there are so many out of work Sri Lankans who are desperate for employment.

Anyhow - last night, the swiss couple (the ones who donated the money, not the ones I met in Galle) were leaving back for Switzerland, and so Radna threw a party for them... a traditional Sri Lankan band played, we had a fire on the beach and drank large amounts of Arrack, a foul coconut liquor.. more on that later.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Welhengoda Ahangama

The swiss couple I met in Galle told me about a guesthouse 10k south of Galle - that was owned by a friend of a friend.. It's on a beautiful stretch of the south-eastern coast, quite far from a large stretch of package tourist aimed resort hotels.. and surprising, I had to pass a Free Trade Zone (of which i've only read about in books) on the way - barbed wire and everything, which was quite spooky.

In any case. There aren't any other guest-houses nearby. It's about 2k from the nearest town, and there are just a couple people staying, which means when I want to hit the beach, I have it to myself.. This is the first time in my life that i've been able to look up and down a white (and lava black) sanded beach complete with palm trees and huge waves, and had it 100% completely to myself. It's great. I've even started doing Yoga again - and even more surprising, I've been doing it at 6:30AM, before the intense sun comes out. This area is very very windy, which is actually a plus for the most part (reading books aside), as it means there is always a solid breeze to keep you cool during the mid day heat.

Galle, 2nd day

Yesterday was a full moon, and thus a holy day for Buddhists. The area outside my guest-house was thus packed with tourists, and while it's cute for a while, it does tend to get on your nerves.

I've learned thus far that Politics are something you just don't discuss here. There have been a few bomb attacks in the last week or two on the east coast, and with elections coming up in November, there promise to be more problems. Thus, i'm keeping my mouth shut when it comes to the local political scene.

In addition, while i can ask questions about religion, I have to be very careful - Sri Lankans believe that their country is the chosen holy land of their form of Buddhism (which later spread to Thailand and SE Asia), and take an almost Israeli style approach to killing people who threaten their religion/land. As religion and politics are so closely linked here, thats another topic off limits.

With politics and religion off the table, the only other conversational topic available to me during breakfast this morning, was of course, sex.

My landlord and I thus spend about 30 minutes discussing the dive in cultural standards that the last 20-30 years have brought. Couples now come to Galle to make out, and worse. Apparantly, there is a thriving trade in Japanese style Love Hotels (rented out by the hour). With most local guesthouses only renting out rooms to foreigners, the sex-crazy youngsters pay upwards of 1500 rupees (15 dollars) for a couple hours (compared to the 1000 that foreigners pay for a night).

With that chat done with, I set about packing up my stuff. Galle has been nice, but it's just too crowded and touristy for me. I'm heading about 8km down the coast to a quiet town called Welhengoda Ahangama to hang out with a swiss couple I met yesterday. The town has less than a paragraph in the rough guide (it's only really famous for a large collection of fisherman who sit on stilts in the water all day). I'll probably spend a day or two there, chilling out.

I doubt i'll have Internet access there, but as always, my cellphone will probably work, if I need to be reached.

Off I go.

1st day in Galle

Galle's a beautiful town, the 4th largest in Sri Lanka.

On the way down here by train, while it was pretty dark, I was able to see a surprising amount of damage to coastal houses, a result of the tsunami. Galle doesn't seem to have suffered too badly for some reason, although, the international cricket stadium has been damaged (much to the extreme sadness of the locals).

The town was colonized by Portugal, and then later, the Dutch, and they left behind their mark. I'm staying inside the fort protected area of town, just near the ramparts above the beach. They make for a nice prominade, upon which weekend tourists (families, and a lot of young couples) from other parts of the country come to walk, talk, play cricket, and be seen.

In particular, it seems that every hidden nook in the rapart structure is occupied by a pair of lovers, sneaking kisses and whispering when no one is looking.

I've adopted the local custom of using an umbrella to shield myself from the sun. After an hour of walking around without one, I was sunburned pretty badly (I think this is at least partially due to my Malaria pills). The locals also appear to use the umbrellas to provide themselves with a bit more privacy when they're smooching.

I spent much of the early afternoon in my room, under the comfort of the ceiling fan, reading a book and listening to the BBC world service on my short wave radio (which i'm very glad I brought now). As the early evening approached, and it cooled, I again went out onto the ramparts to sit down, relax, and enjoy the sea breeze. The sunset was very beautiful, and as soon as I can find non-dialup internet access, i'll upload a few photos.

I sat on a few rocks taking photos of the sunset when a young chap approached me, and struck up a conversation. He was a fisherman by trade, but spoke amazing english, and we ended up having an hour long chat about Buddhism - quite educational for me, and it gave me a glimpse into the Sri Lankan version of a relgion that i've seen practiced in a couple countries thus far.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Safety Lesson #1

[Editor's Note: I realize that loved ones are reading this, but, I'm still going to be honest (mostly) with what i post here.. even if it could potentially worry you. Sorry.]

As I said before, Colombo was not the most pleasant place in the world - noisy, dirty, traffic congested, and so I wanted to get out as soon as possible. After consulting my travel guide, I learned that there was an "express" train (2.15 hours) down the coast to Gaul at 17:45. However, it seems that my cellphone clock was incorrect (I always assumed they got their time from cellphone towers, but it apears mine doesn't), and so I missed this train. Thus, I waited for the 7:30 train.

One upside of this, was that I got to the station early enough to guarantee myself the first seat on the train. 30 minutes later, as the train departed, it was packed to the rafters with commuters heading home. Unfortunately, this train was not an express train, and would be making 17 stops between Colombo and Gaul, finally arriving just before Midnight.

As each stop went by, the train shifted away from the sardine can atmosphere to a more casual environment, in which one could stretch their legs. Throughou the journey (as in most other places thus far here), people were anxious to talk to me (Sir, what is your name, country, where are you going, job, etc). As I was riding in second class (and not the crummy 3rd class), I sat next to mostly middle class folks, including one chap who I later learned was a Justice of the Peace - a handy business card that might get me out of trouble later.

3 hours into the journey, my 2nd class cabin contained just 2 gentlemen, who I had been talking to, and myself. These gentlemen seemed to be rather worried, especially when a number of shifty looking individuals entered the cart, and sat down across from me. What I learned later, was that this train was in fact the final train of the evening, the postal train, and a location of frequent robberies.

The technique of choice amongst safety minded Sri Lankans is to shift to the front of the train as the crowds thin, thus maintaning safety in numbers. However, I didn't know about this technique, and couldn't quite figure out what was happening. In fact, after such a packed train 3 hours before, I was quite happy to have the extra space to stretch.

After the dangerous looking guys switched to another carriage (after eyeing my bags, and me multiple times), my train compartment parnters informed me that they were staying in my carriage - solely - to protect me. They insisted that it was their duty to look after me, as I had come all this way to visit their country.

In the end, I arrived at Galle, at midnight, where the owner of my guesthouse met me at the station, talked to the 2 chaps, and translated everything they had told him...

Lesson Learned: Don't take the last train of the evening, and don't sit in a train carriage by yourself.

Friday, September 16, 2005

In Sri Lanka

Day one in Sri Lanka.

Now that i'm in an area rife with Dengue Fever, i'm getting more paranoid than normal. Mosquito net at night, spraying my clothes and body with 40% DEET, etc... you can't be too cafeful when it comes to a disease nicknamed the "Bone Break Fever". Oh, plus you can catch Malaria here too.

I'm staying in Columbo, the capital of Sri Lanka, which, like most other third world capital cities, is an absolute shit-hole. Noisy, dirty, filled with traffic, and lacking much to see. I'm taking care of business here, and then getting out as soon as possible.

I woke up at the crack of dawn, or as close to it as I could get, and head straight for the Indian embassy, where, it seems another 50 locals did the same as me. After an hour of waiting in line, I submit my visa application, and am told that I can come back after 5 days to pick it up. Success.

The rest of the day is spent running errands:

My first proper meal in Sri Lanka (but eating south Indian food): A Masala Dosai (a thin crepe filled with spicy potatoes), lentil Dhal, a samosa, a ginger beer, and a liter of bottled water. Total price: 1.3 dollars. Sweet!

I bought a new GSM chip for my phone, thus giving me a local number in Sri Lanka. Calls to the UK are pretty cheap (11 cents per minute), but I think US calls are rather expensive... however, I can send text messages at 2 cents each, and receive them.. so, feel free to send me messages on this number for the next 30 days or so. +94 72 3533972

Got a shave at a barber shop: Left bleeding from multiple spots. That'll teach me for trying to clean myself up...

And went clothes shopping:

If I were here for a month, and then going home, I'd buy an absolute tonne of clothing. Sri Lanka is home to many sweatshops, er, factories, which produce clothing for mainstream US brands. The Finn on the plane recommended that I go to the "House of Fashion", which I did. It was a huge 6 story clothing store, filled with brand name clothing, at dirt cheap prices. If I actually wanted to look professional, and outfit myself in nice threads, this'd be the place to go.. but alas, I have 9 months of dirty backpacking ahead of me, so buying nice clothes seem rather pointless. In the end, I pick up a couple of items, but not as much as I should have.

Later this afternoon, I'll catch a 2-3 hour train down to the southern coast, to the town of Galle.

The "travel buddy" game

The minute you get to the airport/bus/train station in a strange land, you start scoping out other travellers. It's just how it works. Especially when you arrive at 11:30PM, you don't want to have to fight off the horde of taxi-drivers nor have to find a place to stay by yourself. There is safety in numbers, and more importantly for the budget traveller, economies of scale.

At the Sri Lankan Airlines checkin desk, I spot two young ladies who, by their facial expressions and looks were British. However, they didn't seem to be too interested in having a chat, and so after a few attempts to befriend them, I gave up.

While waiting in line to have my passport stamped, I struck up a conversation with a Malaysian woman. I turned out she had run Glaxo Smithklein's factory in Kula Lumpur for a number of years, and had now retired to become a "woman of leisure" or, a woman perfecting the art of spending her husband's money (her words, not mine). I mentioned that my girlfriend was going to be working near to her in the Spring, and so she gave me her phone number, and told me to give her a call if I visited - she'd show me around, and answer any questions my girlfriend had. At one point, I mentioned that I too would like to live off my wife's money, and jokingly asked if she had any daughters... out came her family photos, and in particular, photos of her 20 and 22 year old daughters... I promised her I'd call in the Spring, at the least to say hi, and perhaps to meet my future wife.

So. At this point, I've met two unfriendly British ladies who are going to Sri Lanka, and a very friendly Malay lady, who is going home... Neither of these are going to help me cut down the cost of a taxi in Sri Lanka.

While waiting at the gate for the plane, I strike up a conversation with a young Israeli guy. Typical of most Israelis you meet on the backpacker circuit - he was fresh out of the army, and was trying to make his savings last as long as possible, as he travelled at a level of stingyness that even humbles me. We initially agreed to split a tuk-tuk (3 wheeled taxi) to the nearest town from the Airport, but I soon realized that he wanted to stay in a sub 3 dollars a night place...

However, I strike gold on the Airplane.

The chap sitting next to me is Finnish (although, I guess Swedish intially). He's one of the chief engineers for a Danish Demining NGO, working in the Tamil Tigers area of North Sri Lanka. We have a nice long chat during the 3 hour flight, during which I find out that there are over 900,000 mines in Sri Lanka (mostly of Chinese/Pakistani origin, with a few Belgian ones to boot). I learn a bit about the local politics, the bickering and corruption that has followed from the huge influx of post Tsunami aid, and what life is like for someone in an NGO. Quite educational. The best part, though, was that his boss's driver was picking him up from the airport and could drop me off after him.

Thus, at 1:00AM, I arrive at my guest house, in style, in a nice, air conditioned, brand new range rover (donated to his NGO by the Japanese government), and thus saving me a 10 dollar, 1 hour bumpy taxi ride. Sweet!

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Slight change of plans

Found out I could get out of Bangkok sooner than I thought.

I'm on Sri Lanka Air flight UL 423 from BKK->COL tonight. I arrive in Colombo, the capital city, just before midnight.

Now I just gotta find somewhere to stay, get some malaria tablets (which I probably am supposed to have taken for a week before going to an iffy area), and a guidebook, pronto.

Seeya in a few months Thailand...

Wednesday, September 14, 2005


It appears I arrived during the Rainy season.

My first day - I head to a fancy-pants hospital down the road from my hostel, and get myself checked out. A clean bill of health, so I feel pretty confident now about my onward travels.

On to MBK - the huge 8 floor shopping mall in Bangkok where I pick up a pretty cheap cellphone, and get myself a SIM card, thus giving me a Bangkok phone number, and the ability to make calls within thailand at 1Bt (2.5 cents) per minute - one wonders why US carriers can't offer service like this. I'll be taking the phone with me wherever I go, although, I'll probably get a new SIM card in each country I go to.

Day two appears to be a wash... 24 hours of non stop rain.

I make it to Khao San Road, the backpacker ghetto, on the other side of town, and start pricing onward travel. Bangkok is very wet right now, Northern Thailand is flooded, Burma, Vietnam and Laos are all in their wet season right now too, so clearly, this is not the best place to be.

The chap sitting next to me on the plane to Bangkok was an international aid worker from Sri Lanka, and told me that this is the perfect time to visit... so, it looks like I'll be heading there.

I've priced out a one-way flight from Bangkok-Chennai/Madras, which allows for a free stop in Sri Lanka, for about $250. With any luck, I should be able to fly out of here either Friday, or Saturday. At some point, I'll need to pick up a visa for India (which I should have done before I left, but assumed that India didn't require Visas of Brits).. but for Sri Lanka, I don't need one.

In the mean time, I'll probably spend my time drinking Thai Whiskey, and getting rather expensive (for this part of the world) massages at $5/hour.

Monday, September 12, 2005

The Journey to Asia

Checkin at Seattle Airport.

All the exit rows were taken for the first flight to Tokyo, but they were able to at least give me an exit row for the Tokyo->Bangkok flight. Oh, how I would gladly sell my soul for an exit row on this flight. But alas, it is not meant to be.

The flight was oversold by 4 seats, and so I volunteered to give up my seat - in exchange for 400 USD in cash, a night in a Seattle hotel, and 50 bucks in food vouchers. Alas, at the last minute, a few people don't show up, and so they decide to put me back on the plane... close, but no cigar.

The flight was just fine - as usual, i'm glad I ordered the 'indian vegetarian' special meal. The lady sitting next to me looks rather jealous when I get my food before everyone else, and when the smell of a curry starts whafting in her direction. Hah.

I land in Tokyo with 3 hours to spare, and decide to use one of my guest passes to the United Red Carpet Lounge. The Lounges in the states are rather pathetic - free OJ, and a few crackers.

The Japanese one is by far the best i've been to. A fancy-pants beer machine that tips your glass, and pours you a perfect pint, and awesome personal shower rooms - which, after 9 hours on a flight, are just what the doctor ordered.

Thus, 3 hours later, after a few cold Saporo beers, a 30 minute shower, I walk out of the lounge in my newly acquired United Airlines Lounge slippers, and head towards my flight to Bangkok.

Sunday, September 11, 2005


Flew in to Seattle to visit Cosmo for 24 hours, or just short of.

He's living on his boat, and so for the first time since the age of 6, I slept on a boat. It was very very cool - pirate jokes aside.

We went out for a late lunch at a vegetarian hari krishna/cult place, and then in the evening, I manged to convince him to go see a Cuban Son/Salsa band ( play not too far from his house. Cosmo's girlfriend is an amazing dancer, with multiple years of heavy salsa dancing behind her (after travelling through south/central america for a few years). At least a few of the suave dark latin men in the club already knew her, but she was happy to dance with me for a couple songs.

My big fear before going to this club, was that the dance classes I took at Stanford this past summer would leave me rather unprepared. I was rather worried that I would only be able to dance with the people who had taken my class, and thus knew the exact moves that I learned.
This proved to be incorrect. In an attempt to get a bit more time with Cosmo, I think, Sarah palmed me off on some poor lass standing in the corner of the room: "She keeps looking at you", "she obviously wants to dance with you", "why don't you go and ask her to dance already"... etc - which proved to be even more fun than dancing with Sarah, because in this rare of rare cases, I was actually a better and more experienced dancer than my partner.

Cosmo was pretty impressive. He's not the best dancer in the world, but his girlfriend obviously enjoys it, so he danced quite a few numbers with her. When she was off dancing with the previously mentioned latin guys, I tried to get Cosmo to dance with me. At first, he didn't seem too happy about it - and to be honest, by the end of the evening, he still wasn't too happy about it.. But I did manage to drag him out for at least a couple songs. It was a pretty funny sight.

The next morning, I wake up early, shower (on the boat, tres cool), grab a huge vegetarian breakfast at a vegan place that Sarah knows, and then they drop me off at the airport - where the real journey begins.