Author: Travellers Tails

Jellyfish Island

One of the main things to do round these parts is a snorkelling or diving trip to Pigeon Island which sits about a bumpy 25 minute boat ride away.

My diving days are now behind me and with me hounding the other two we booked in with one of the numerous beach huts to go at 8:30 for a mornings snorkelling trip.

As is the way with us, we arrived a prompt and courteous 10 minutes early and then duly waited almost an hour for the others on the trip to arrive and for the boat to be readied. I spent the time dosing on a massive double decker sunlounger type thing, Zoe played with a puppy (which she seems to constantly attract out of nowhere) and Sue got more and more anxious about the trip ahead. I didn’t know that till later on otherwise I would have roused myself from daydreaming to attempt to placate her.

The ride out was pretty comfortable with nothing dramatic in regards to waves or scenery to look at. We had hoped that a dolphin or two might have appeared but alas flipper and friends couldn’t be seen.

Pigeon island is a small island, which doesn’t have any pigeons on it and which since the 2004 tsunami is heavily covered in dead coral. Think of a nice beach and replace all the sand with coral of various shapes and sizes but all feet crunchingly painful to walk on.

We had seen plenty of reviews which claimed that it is very crowded with tourists and that it was pretty out of control in regards to ensuring that those there could actually enjoy it compared to ramming more rupee paying tourists on to it.

As we arrived there were already 10 plus similar boats to ours moored up and the ‘beach’ was already fairly covered with folks in and around the water. During our time it was a constant stream of boats arriving and leaving but it wasn’t as bad as I was expecting and the main areas you could snorkel in didn’t seem that congested once you got past the locals.

Sri Lankan folks seem to enjoy paddling on the shores fully dressed – jeans / skirts / suit trousers; it doesn’t matter they just wade right on in to waist height. Like they are surprised to have ended up on a beach, after a boat trip to a beach, without bothering to pack any swimwear.

Amongst all the reviews I hadn’t seen any mention of jelly fish at all. However as soon as you put your head under all you could see to start with was thousands of tiny jellyfish. Literally thousands of them, no bigger than a shot glass, all together harmlessly being annoying.

The only way to describe it was like swimming in a pool of tiny water balloons or loads of translucent jelly which hadn’t quite set yet. It was an extremely strange sensation to feel them all over your face and during every stroke you could feel handfuls of them being moved out of the way.

It was apt that this was the most jellyfish I had ever seen and it surpassed those at Ironman Wales, which was exactly 4 years to the day.

Zoe’s reaction was to freak out massively and no amount of calming her down would get her to stay in the water, so in the entire time we were on the 4hr snorkelling trip she spent about 5 minutes in the actual water. She did make a wonderful coral based drum kit which made an impressive sound and she seemed to enjoy looking at the fish close to shore including baby sharks happily swimming past.

Sue on the other hand ploughed on through the jellyfish brigade to where the tourists and jelly’s thinned our alittle as the water got deeper and other forms of sea life got more prevalent.

I was massively proud of her for doing so as outwardly at least she gave no signs of discomfort.

She also spotted the first turtle again – for someone so visibly challenged she sure does have a knack of spotting camouflaged turtles under the water.

We soon found a fair number of them at various levels, happily munching on coral and generally not being phased by the occasional idiot like me who swam down for a closer look.

They are such majestic animals and we spent ages just observing them as they went about what I assume is a fairly typical Friday morning for them; bit of food, bit of a swim, bit of a float to the surface, bit of a float back down, ignore the tourists, chase a fish etc.

For me it was anything but and it definitely surpassed the previous encounters earlier in the trip and is probably the most fun I have had in water since I took part in the lilo world championships many years ago.

Sue also located some black tip reef sharks menacingly swimming around us and even though they aren’t interested in humans they still give me the initial panicked feeling of being on the menu for lunch.

The return boat trip was alittle bumpier due to the weather changing and when we beached the boat it was raining fairly consistently so we headed back down the beach to the hotel for a nice cold beer and a shower.

We knew today was the full moon celebration and having experienced a few of them in Thailand we were expecting a proper beach party to be the order of the night.

Upon my request of a beer from the hotel I almost cried and was fairly devastated to be told that on a full moon day in Sri Lanka, by law, no alcohol is aloud to be sold at all.

Anywhere.

The friendly hotel manager said he would sort us a couple of beers out on the quiet as long as we had them in the room, which we did, before we headed out dejected for some food down by the beach.

We ended up in a beach bar come restaurant type place called Fernando’s which had a typically hippie attitude to life. Thus when I asked about the drink situation I was told that you could get one without much hassle as long as they poured it into silver goblet type things instead of giving you the bottle like normal.

I could have kissed the portly, hairy Sri Lankan man.

Needless to say we took full advantage and for the first time in Sri Lanka had some ‘proper’ drinks which included sampling the local Arrack which is made from fermented coconut flower sap and tastes a lot nicer than it sounds.

As a result I was asleep before nine and woke the next morning with a foggy head for the first time in awhile, probably as a result of too much swimming…..

Advertisements

Animal magic

We left to head back to the coast in another teeny tiny car with the added bonus that the air con didn’t work and thus it turned into a teeny tiny oven which we were trapped in for almost 3 hours. At the end we had to peal ourselves from the seats like the sides of a overcooked lasagna.

Aligned to that sticky mess I realised that I had managed to bring the previous hotel key with me. Which was a predicament that prompted me to have to suck up to the taxi driver in order for him to agree to correct myself by returning the key.

The new place is good, pool isn’t the cleanest but it’s massive and it’s close to an enormous calm sandy beach. We had a go in both water sources and whilst swimming around in the sea we managed to get completely surrounded by little fish minding there own business and jumping about. Some of them jumped impressively high from the top of the rolling waves and was a suitably random way to finish the time on the beach.

Wonderfully when we returned to the hotel we discovered the area had a widespread power cut and thus the room turned into a taxi like furnace.

So we all got quickly clean and changed and went to head out when we discovered that one of Sues flip flops had gone missing from the pile we had left outside our door. After a quick bemused look we found it across the other side of the swimming pool, by the boundary fence.

I was chief culprit, closely followed by Zoe in Sues eyes but on closer inspection it was clear that a monkey had nicked it, had a good old chew on part of it, before deciding it wasn’t actually food and dropping it just inside the wall.

Sue has a track record of smelly shoes and I feel sorry for the monkey as it must have been gutted that it hadn’t snagged a gorgeous blue cheese chunk of goodness.

I did a quick bodge job on sowing them back together but my handicrafts aren’t great so we will have to replace them sooner rather than later.

After that fun we wandered to the chosen place for tea but realised that clearly if the area had no power we would struggle.

Luckily the place next door was also a similar restaurant and had its own generator so was fully operational. It must have made them a fortune on the night as it was only place to be busy, but the seafood platter was so good that it might have been due to its reputation.

The platter amongst other things had crab on it and disappointing, after zero practice or research, we are still as bad at getting into them as we were two years ago in Thailand.

We walked back down the shoreline on beach and Zoe befriended a cat in a local bar and made us get a drink (beautiful ice cold beer) so she good play with it some more. Without hesitation after we ordered the drinks the cat bit Zoe and so she burst into tears.

The cat must have seen us coming the little business genius as it then wandered off to look cute at another empty table.

Zoe’s night didn’t get any better though as loads of crabs were on the beach and she spent the next ten minutes screaming every time one came near her, or we noticed one or when I chased them as we walked back to the hotel.

The following day was “Zoe’s day” where she got to choose what we did; including food and activities. It started with her eating chips for breakfast which randomly came with the kids breakfast and continued with us renting a scooter.

For the first time ever we all ventured out together on one as the roads are so flat we thought we wouldn’t get stuck and potentially wouldn’t kill the scooter with her collective weight.

We didn’t, which was nice, and headed down to the next bay to attempt to find Zoe’s main desire for the day; a jet ski.

Amazingly we stumbled across the place I was aiming for and sorted it out without much issue. We weren’t allowed three on a jet ski so Sue chilled out on the beach whilst we went and hammered along the shoreline, in and out of a couple of boats and looking at the rocky outcrops.

We decided to attempt to get Sue on one with Zoe so she could experience it for the first time herself and hopefully give her some confidence for the future.

Beautifully, just as this had been agreed, the waves got alittle higher and we all got flattened half by the jet ski and half by the wave. Still they went off and had a quick go with Zoe driving and Sue hanging on.

An hour or so of snorkelling at the end of the bay resulted in us chasing fish around the calm rocky waters, which gently lapped against a disappointingly pretty polluted beach. I was impressed with the quantities and diversity of fish as I wasn’t expecting much to be honest. We got the tip from the jet ski guys and it was worth the walk to mess around in the sea, with Zoe’s confidence growing again with snorkelling. She seems to forget that she is a great swimmer and need reminding, then when she realises again you can’t stop her from chasing fish and diving down for a closer look.

Seen as it was Zoe’s day she decided that she wanted to go to Pizza Hut for lunch. We haven’t been having lunch as a general rule but we didn’t argue with her despite feeling abit stupid walking into a Pizza Hut and ordering some expensive international chain pizza whilst all soaking wet.

Subsequently she wanted to go back to the hotel and play monopoly, which we duly obliged – Sue won after Zoe lost all her money and I lost the will to live and gave up.

We had a final bash on the scooter, leaving Sue back at the hotel to chill out and headed the opposite way and went north to scope out different beaches and generally mess around on it; waving at people, stopping to pet dogs and talk to the endlessly roaming street calves.

It was evident that the weather was turning and cutting the trip short we headed home into a massive black cloud. The type of cloud which makes you think like the end of the world is about to happen.

We got back seconds before it almost did. The heavens opened and a massive thunder and lightning storm hit the area with the biggest consistent deluge of rain I think I have ever seen.

Quickly everywhere flooded with the cascading rain and the sky prematurely turned dark.

Not sure what would have happened if we had actually been caught out on the scooter in it. We would have had to take shelter somewhere random and wait hours for it to pass as it was definitely unrideable.

The rain didn’t relent all evening so we stayed in the hotel restaurant for tea with Zoe banking her original choice to be used again. The staff were amazingly attentive and helpful, giving us mountains of food etc for free, we think because the owner is actually here at the moment and they want praise infront of him.

Thankfully the rain eased in the night to be replaced by overcast sky’s and wind so Zoe did a couple of hours of schoolwork whilst Sue and myself did some further planning before splitting the rest of the day on the beach and by the pool.

The main issue with the planning is Hong Kong; as it alters so many of our plans if we avoid the country due to the current political situation. We have now resolved to go anyway as it makes obtaining the Chinese visas and actual entry into the areas of China we want to see first, much much easier. The risk is that the airport may be closed when we are due to fly in or that we get caught up in any issues ongoing at the time whilst the onward visa is sorted.

Whilst Hong Kong was confirmed we have now decided to remove Nepal. We were only heading to Kathmandu and were not planning on massively venturing outside of it, so it seemed a great expense to essentially just tick a country off because it was close. Also a lot of the culture, pollution and temples etc are similar to Sri Lanka and almost identical to India so after a combined 8 weeks we think we and especially Zoe will be ready for a change of scenery instead of more of the same.

It will be a country which remains on the would like to visit list but have no disurnable reason to go, unless we get into waking abit more and then maybe do Everest base camp later in life, which I very much doubt will happen.

The plan now stands at heading straight from Varanasi (Ganges etc) to Hong Kong via a couple of hours in Kolkata and with the days stripped out of the original plan it will allow plenty of potential extra time to get to South America which is a trade off I can certainly live with.

Sunshine with the occasional cloud

The short journey north was fine but it was to be the only bright spot in an otherwise pretty shitty day.

It was agreed that when we checked in and got sorted Zoe had to do at least an hours school work before going in the pool. She did some by herself for awhile but then when we came to review it and suggested some amendments all hell broke loose.

Cutting a long and very embarrassing story short, which included a smacked bum and a complete breakdown by Zoe in public, it ended with her being sent to bed amid hysterical screaming fits.

She promptly fell asleep for a couple of hours and woke up very sheepish and apologetic.

We used that time to book some Indian based stuff – internal flights, some tours, some accommodation and it felt good to finally stop skirting around some of the general delays in booking things.

We have, I think, made some sensible alignments to the plan – it is now alittle less extreme than before and not heading quite as far out into the middle of nowhere towards the Pakistan border. The overall time has decreased by 6 days from the original Indian plan I devised many moons ago but I think it might be for the best. It also now hopefully includes some tiger safaris in the middle, which I hadnt considered before.

We went for tea to the number one place in the area (an out of the way very traditional place with everything cooked on log fires) and although it was very homely and a good location I thought the food wasn’t that great, but Sue loved it and Zoe claimed to enjoy it (but I am not sure she really meant it) She did surprise us though by trying almost everything and giving it ago – not turning her nose up at it before even trying which was a pleasant change.

However as we were the only patrons during the two hours we were there it was a little like we were in the way of a family gathering, with constant attention from numerous family members. They even let us into the kitchen to watch how they cooked the rotti in the traditional way.

Another issue raised its head, just to round the day off nicely, in the form of a disagreement surrounding the weighting of who takes the lead and does stuff on a regular basis. All the tedious stuff like organising pick up times, packing day bags of essentials, starting up every conversation in hotels and general organising of the things which you don’t consider in everyday life.

Life on the road sounds glamorous in the extreme but everyday was never going to be like that in reality. We all have good days and bad in normal life, but when you are thousands of miles away in a small self contained group, in intense heat and humidity the tensions will no doubt rise from time to time.

Hopefully the day brought a few things to a head and we can all move forward again after clearing the air.

Every cloud and all that.

Due to those disagreements we didn’t resolve to reach a settlement over the plans for the following day, however everyone was up early anyway after Zoe had a nose bleed.

The original plan of going by bikes around the temples was replaced with a tuk tuk tour due to the heat in the area (35 degrees at 9am), the cost being similar and the knackered old bikes up for rental. The feeling being that it would be more enjoyable for us all if Zoe wasn’t moaning for the entire duration.

It turned out to be a great idea as I don’t think we would have managed to ride them even to the start of the complex let alone round them.

It’s a large site, basically the complete ruins of the town spread across 10kms or so which we rode around and then got out to wander through and on some of the impressively still intact remains.

You had to start in a museum, which gave you some information about what you were about to see. It seemed a bit pointless showing you pictures of the stuff you were about to see outside but one thing caught my eye.

It was a tiny statue of Sikhivahanaskanda murti which dated back to 12 AD – which is along time ago. It was a dude with four arms – 2 at the front in peaceful poses and 2 at the back carrying weapons. He was sat upon an armoured peacock who had a cobra between its beak.

Now tell me that doesn’t sound amazingly cool. Proper old school gangsta stuff.

Would make a good tattoo….

Annoying you can’t take pictures in the museum for some reason so I noted down the name and had a look afterwards and I can’t find it anywhere. The closest is this, but it’s nowhere near as impressive or badass.

When we escaped the museum the detail and characteristics of the entire site was massively impressive and the engineering they employed has largely stood the test of time – well 2000 ish years and counting.

It’s a pricey affair for the privilege and I think it was just about worth it for us.

We had to buy Zoe a funky hat to help in the heat and towards the end she preferred to stay in the tuk tuk shade rather than venture out with us to look due to the heat but the ruins were very impressive and largely deserted.

Numerous fancy buildings and palaces remain across the site including ornate swimming pools, bath houses, audience halls and Buddha statues.

Also a lot of work has and is being done to protect the sites with large permanent scaffold structures building erected over and around them to I assume safeguard them for years to come. It did take away alittle from the ancient vibe though in places.

Also as a lot of the sites are technically still temples you had to have the relevant bits covered and had to remove your shoes. That meant that we had to walk over blisteringly hot sand or paving slabs for large periods of time, resulting in some fast paced walking and mild running at times.

Whilst meandering around we were approach by various people selling items of the usual fair, hence Zoe’s hat and Sue acquired a small carved rock – a smaller version of the massive ornate entrance hallways we have seen so far on the trip.

One bloke stood out from the rest though as he got something out of his pocket and gingerly showed me various coins which he said he had collected and found over the years. He was a slightly dodgy looking bloke sitting away from the main walkways and other sellers.

I had a look and listened to his explanation of them and took an interest in an apparently old Buddhism coin, which he claimed was rare and the only place you could see one was in the museum – maybe I should have paid more attention. He has fairly loose on the facts, said it was found nearby after the last monsoon season and I thought he was trying it on so I asked the price and walked off.

I had a quick google, the joys of having a 3 mobile contract is that you can use it for free in Sri Lanka, and managed to find the coin he had attempted to sell me.

It did indeed date back along way, in fact almost 700 years as it had been proved that it was only used between 1236 – 1272 during the rein of Parakrama Bahu II (1236-71) AE kahavanu, which were the same dates as a lot of the ruins we were stood amongst.

When I knew that information I knew I was going to get it and so haggled with him and got it for half the price he had originally wanted – a massive £4.

As we walked off he told me not to show or mention it to anyone whilst in the complex which added to the mystery and which made me think that he probably pinched it from somewhere.

I do appear to like collecting random historical things and this will go with my billionaire note from Zimbabwe, my genuine US Vietnam dog tags and the medal of honour given to the Chernobyl soldiers from Kiev earlier this year.

Turns out I am a bit strange.

The whole place reminds me of a much better organised version and not as good version of Angkor Wot; without the jungle taking hold and with more structure of where you can and can’t go.

After an ice cream for Sue and Zoe and a couple of litres of cold refreshment we all eagerly got in the hotel pool to relax and cool down. I am not sure I have been hotter or sweatier outside of an ‘athletic’ event and getting into that pool was bloody amazing.

Zoe then did some science schoolwork (classification keys and Venn diagrams) with me whilst Sue had a chill in the shade to recover from the mornings efforts.

I have been conscious that a lot of the recent things have been of a similar nature – lots of temples of various sizes, shapes and religions and lots of walking up steps to get to them. Due to that I think its definitely a failing of mine about the stubbornness of sticking to the original plans and not adapting them. Especially when those plans were drawn up on a bit of a whim whilst sat in Stoke.

In my defence this country has a lot of temples and I think it’s hard to skip a world heritage site just because it’s similar to the other world heritage site you visited a couple of days before.

Sri Lanka seems to have a lot of them and makes me wonder if countries less developed actually would have more genuinely. If these had been in Britain the chances are that a lot of them would have been destroyed hundreds if not thousands of years ago with a Tesco or Pizza express now resting on an ancient burial ground or a long forgotten palace.

Being mindful of the similar days we have told Zoe she gets to pick a complete days activities when we get to the coast (the next stop) and for it to be centred on what she wants to do to even up the balance somewhat. Hopefully she picks jet skis and ice cold beers.

She also got to pick tea tonight as it was her turn but we didn’t get very far and actually ended up eating in the hotel. Again we were the only people knocking around and so it was alittle strange. They gave us some free banana curry which was random and very spicy for my liking but Sue polished it off without much issue.

Tomorrow sees us heading for the second to last place in Sri Lanka and back to the coast for the first time in awhile. It’s well known as being the best snorkelling in the country with a lot of other water sports available. We have quite along period of time allocated and will be staying 7 days – so like a holiday within a holiday – as it will be the last proper beach we will see till…….actually I have no idea.

We are not visiting beaches in India, Nepal doesn’t have any, we have no idea if Hong Kong will be stable and showing my ignorance I don’t even know if China, Japan or Taiwan have decent beaches.

Best make the most of it while we can!

Stepping into history

The following morning we had a nice game of car jenga as a result of us booking the cheapest and therefore smallest car available to get us to the next destination of Sigiriya 3 hours north.

We managed to squeeze everything in with our South African level of jenga experience coming to the fore. The only real downside of the car being so small was that every time he went for first or second gear he ended up touching me up in the front seat. Dont get me wrong I enjoyed the attention to start with but he was alittle too middle aged and a man for my particular liking.

His motto was also proudly ‘safety over speed’, which sounded like an alibi for all his general slowness and slowing down well before a potential issue – almost like he enjoyed changing down to the lower gears for some reason.

Despite his steady eddy driving Zoe was again ill in the backseat as the roads twisted constantly like a trip to the Welsh seaside.

The first destination was Dambulla and the largest and best-preserved cave temple complex in Sri Lanka. It is a fairly major attraction, with artefacts spread over five caves, which contain 153 different statues and paintings. These paintings and statues are all in relation to Buddha and apparently the murals cover an area of 2,100 square metres in total.

The world heritage site is reached by climbing 400 ish (we lost count) steps up a rock formation to be welcomed by a huge overhanging rock with a white facade lower down running the length of it.

The whole place felt incredible and a lot less intrusive than the previous days temple visits, which might have been because it was mostly tourists at the time we visited.

The caves themselves were simply stunning to wander around and through, looking in disbelief at the attention to detail of every ceiling painting or near perfect ancient rock statue.

In one corner sat a monk quietly and calmly making simple white bracelets. As we got nearer he asked us if we wanted a good luck blessing before we left. Now clearly this was designed to make us part with some local coinage however it felt right ahead of the next 8/9 months travelling to borrow any good luck which we could gather.

Plus I am sure we haven’t been blessed before by a monk and now we have. As an added bonus the pure clean white really makes me look like I have a tan. Touch wood so far so lucky.

Also on the same site is a enormous golden Buddha which we had a brief look at and admired from afar, it was much more impressive than the white one from yesterday that’s for certain, even though you couldn’t climb up any of it.

The hotel we booked is great, amazingly friendly staff, massive room and a big clean pool which we all enjoyed messing in with no one else around. They are actively encouraging people to write on the walls and roof supports, which Zoe didn’t waste anytime in taking up the invitation.

It only opened in early April this year, just before the terrorist attacks and has suffered due to the lack of tourists in the interim, which probably explains why it still feels so new.

We had a stroll into the main village in the afternoon and had a beer or two at a streamside Rasta bar, complete with hammocks over the stream, tyre swings, loads of puppies and an elephant getting a bath.

It was Zoe’s choice on food at night and as soon as she found out that a pizza place was around it was decided. Our hearts sank at the thought especially as we had found a couple of places serving traditional fare at half the price instead.

The pizza place owner was delighted to have us and to be fair the pizza was really good (mine was a wonderfully random spicy coconut affair) plus he allowed Zoe to watch the entire process and then add to the graffiti adorning the interior walls afterwards (making it three times in the last 24 hours she has defaced a wall in the country)

A relatively early night ensued to ensure that we were up bright and early to climb lions rock – another world heritage site and the main reason for stopping off in the area.

After a restless nights sleep Zoe had all the excitement of a turkey at Christmas as we woke her up early ahead of the climb.

The rock plateau, formed from an extinct volcano, is 350 meters higher than the surrounding jungles and takes over 1200 steps to climb to the fortress ruins at the summit.

The fortress complex which surrounds the rock includes remnants of a ruined palace, surrounded by an extensive network of fortifications, vast gardens, ponds, canals, alleys, moats and fountains.

The rock itself is an archaeological treasure and it’s pretty incredible to see such a historic example of city planning, with various complex moats built into the area.

The walk was fairly easy and at the time we did it the sun wasn’t at its searing best and it appeared that it was fairly empty on the way up, which given some of the pictures of endless queues we had seen emphasised that it was the right thing to do going early.

Zoe cheered up as we climbed and climbed higher and even began to let us take a few pictures on the frequent breaks.

About three quarters of the way up it levels out before a steeper final section. The section starts with a gateway entrance which is formed by the paws of a lion – they think it used to have a head as well but it must have broken up at some point in the last 1500 years – shoddy workmanship if you ask me.

Sue did well fighting the view and thin metal stairs which cling to the last climb and went on ahead of us to get it over and done with.

Upon the top of the rock is the ruins (sadly, not too much remains) of the royal palace which was built 1500 years ago by the then King, after he killed his dad to take over power.

After his half brother, 18 years later killed him it is then thought that it was abandoned before it was then used as a monastery for Buddhism until the 14th century. It was than abandoned again and the jungle recaptured it before it was rediscovered in 1894.

Sounds like an episode of Emmerdale.

The top has a 360 degree stunning view across the land in each direction and despite the wind it was easy to see why it was chosen as a place to build a fortress.

That said it must have been an incredible feat of engineering to build anything at the top and I got a strange sense of satisfaction in just sitting on a step and imaging what used to go on exactly where I was all those years ago.

The number of folks at the top was barely double digits which allowed us to move around the different views and information points without having to wait. At peak this place gets 4000 folks on top of it at any one time, so it was nice to not have to deal with that. As we started to head down the numbers increased dramatically to the point where we were often having to stop on the steps going down to ensure that folks could climb up past us.

The climb down was easier than the way up and we were back in time for a late breakfast at the hotel before we all spent a couple of hours cooling off in the pool again.

A non-productive day of some sunbathing, a smattering of school work and general chilling out occurred as I sorted some plans for India which is only 12 days away now. I can’t decide if I am more nervous or excited about visiting the country to be honest.

Kandy – man

The accommodation we had sorted was cheap and cheerful as you expect. It had the bonus of the first pool which we have had in Sir lanka and Zoe didn’t waste anytime in using it. It wasn’t the warmest and when I finally relented and got in it took ages for me to acclimatise.

We did have a nice mess around, I duly threw the ball out of the swimming area like the tool I am, then we had some swim races which I lost – clearly on purpose.

We had a wander around Kandy and it hadn’t quietened down from earlier in the day. It was full of hustle and people seemingly crammed everywhere, a constant flow of people crisscrossing each other on the tight paths, spilling over into the traffic. Tuk tuks battled for space with mopeds who themselves battled with pedestrians and all seemed to show no fear in the face of the huge local buses honking there intentions nano seconds before extreme manoeuvres.

We walked through narrow alleyways completely engulf by pungent smells of mountains of dried fish and then crazy vegetable stalls selling random alien looking things. Frequently stopping to talk to the local sellers who seem just as happy to proudly show off what they have to offer as they are to actually sell anything.

For the only proper food of the day we headed to the Muslim hotel; which confusingly wasn’t a hotel and didn’t appear to be run by Muslims. It has a bit of a reputation of simple, local food which is cheap and delicious.

We found it to be all of those things, we had great delight in trying food which we didn’t know existed and all of it came in large portions, on silver plates and was without exception delicious and remarkably cheap. Despite the poor photo I promise Zoe enjoyed it as well.

The ambiance of the place was certainly different and the bloke sat at the table nearest to us was producing some constantly loud throat noises which made me laugh, knowing how much it would be annoying Sue. Apparently the toilets were disgusting as well, but I managed to avoid the need to sample them myself.

We had a walk around the lake, which is in the centre of Kandy and enjoyed the calming nature of watching the fish on the shores, observing a huge pregnant monitor lizard and then fed some ducks after a friendly local gave Zoe some of the popcorn he was feeding them.

Sue had a go and one fantastically bit her, which made me laugh so much I thought I was going to start crying.

The following morning was mostly spent in the hotel with us enjoying a lazy breakfast and then Zoe hammering a couple of hours of maths work – with a nice view in the background.

The weather had taken a turn for the worst and from our high up vantage point it was cool to watch the rain clouds roll through and over the town.

When we did head out we went to the big Buddha on the hill, overlooking the city. To be honest we found it a bit underwhelming from start to finish. It might have been because you had to wander around through constant puddles across marble tiles with the threat of falling over ever present. But mainly I think it was because you couldn’t actually go all the way to the top with the top section bolted shut.

We had much more fun when we walked down the hill and into the central market. It was suitably random fun; smelly, loud, humid, random fruit and vegetables, flys everywhere and frequent parts of an animal I don’t think my stomach could handle. Nice bit of tripe?

Or some nice cows trotters, slowly warming in the sun…

We were frequently handed fruits to try without really knowing what it was and what it was expected to taste like. Most was lovely, some was plain weird. I brought a red banana, something which I have never heard of before, on the promise it tasted massively different to a normal one but to me it tasted just like a firmer normal banana.

Sue found a place for lunch which was a vegetarian Indian place which served a range of curries and various random sides – anyone for fried potato in a sweet hot dog bun?

The food and price was great the only downside was the idiot waiter demanding a tip for doing literally nothing, something which I refused to do despite him constantly opening the leather payment book and pushing it across the table to under my face.

We then found a nice place for an afternoon sweet treat of milkshakes before we went to the Temple of the tooth.

Zoe had the most ridiculously sugar laden cookie bad boy and I had a goat milk milkshake – because, well why not. Also randomly you were allowed to sign the wall by the toilets – something which has been going on for the last 20 odd years. Clearly this meant that Zoe added to the graffiti with the usual text.

We wandered to the the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic which is one of the most scared Buddhist temples in the world. It is located in the royal palace complex, next to the lake, which houses the relic of the tooth of the Buddha – upper back left apparently for those wondering.

Since ancient times, the relic has played an important role in local politics because it is believed that whoever holds the relic holds the governance of the country.

Nowadays it only comes out once every ten years and as we were either 8 years late or 2 years early we wouldn’t get to see it, but you could view the gold casket which it is housed in at certain times of the day.

As you enter the temple complex there are plenty of flower sellers attempting to sell you flowers to later leave in the temple. We saw plenty of other non-Buddhist visitors (tourists like us) do this, but we choose not to. I assume that they probably want to participate out of respect, but for me I felt it would be disrespectful of us to participate in something I don’t know enough about, nor fully understand.

What I do understand, I like to be honest and I think the whole good karma thing isn’t the worst way to spend your life.

We had a walk around and declined a guide before we went upto the second floor and we were suddenly standing in a room full of people dressed in white offering their flowers and praying, meditating or chanting.

Those of them who were not standing in line to place their flower on the table in front of the shrine that holds the tooth, just sat on the ground around the “altar”, many preying and some of of them looking at us which made us feel alittle like intruders.

It felt like we were disturbing people from something important and I felt wrong essentially people watching in such a place.

We then decided that in order to further our understanding of Buddhism in general and the temple in particular we would seek out the help of the guide which we had originally declined. This proved to be a wise decision as he led us round the various rooms explaining quietly and confidently the meaning and purpose of each particular item or historically significant painting.

He explained that tourists usually join the queue to witness the casket which holds the tooth too late and so advised us to head to it early, which we did. We stood for 25 minutes as the general atmosphere changed to one of a celebration and an inviting nature. People brought massive flower baskets and gifts to leave at the alter as offerings and we were shuffled past the casket quickly – you literally have a second to glimpse it from a distance of say 10 metres.

We took a few photos and headed downstairs to the less crowded areas and outside to the lighting of the candles, next to a incense shine burning hundreds of sticks filling the air with beautiful smelling smoke.

We decided to light three candles for the recently departed family members as a general tribute to them instead of any deep Buddhist meaning.

For the first time within the temple complex I left like we properly belonged and the sadness which the returning grief gave was only heightened by Zoe braking down in tears at the memory of those she can no longer see.

Fortunately she stopped crying, just before I was about to get started, after another discussion around the reasoning of the trip and what we all hope to get out of it.

I am not religious in the slightest, however I think the teachings of Buddhism could intertwine with life going forward.

Tomorrow we leave Kandy and head further north to some of the oldest temples in the country. I, for one, will be leaving with mixed feelings; the place is crowded, noisy, humid, smelly, at times insanely beautiful and the people are almost all delighted to just have a chat, it also helps that we stumbled across some of the nicest and cheapest food of the trip so far as well.

All very English

Tea and Trains

Our last day in Ella was a lazy day of little walking, plenty of school work and further trip planning.

The only exception and the days highlight was a visit to a local tea plantation up in the hills, which is a pretty popular thing to do. We visited the Halpewatte tea factory and spent 90 minutes looking around, had a guided tour and then tasted some of the different teas.

Coming from working in plenty of factory offices it was like stepping back in time to how production might have been done before lots of technology was introduced.

The factory only had one computerised weigh scales (which was 3 years old) and one almost brand new sorter machine.

All the other equipment was shall we say well used and as we were talked through the process it was clear nothing much had changed in decades when it comes to the entire process.

The smell was amazing throughout, especially the room where the tea was heated for the last time to remove any of the remaining moisture – like stepping into a giant strong cup of tea.

It certainly puts a different spin on making a brew that’s for sure and I didn’t realise that it all essentially comes from the same plant – just graded by size throughout.

Zoe played the pied piper of dogs again in the evening and we had a relatively early night in preparation of the early train ride in the morning.

I was pretty impressed the following morning with Zoe’s ability to finally carry her bag on a walk of any real size, probably because she wanted to get back to her favourite dog (which she had wonderfully named Stumpy) at the train station.

Sure enough it was knocking around and they made a beeline for each other and messed together during the wait for the trains arrival.

Sue attempted to add to the drama of the wait by falling up some stairs when fully laden with bags – luckily nothing to untoward occurred in the injuries department, despite it looking from my view point fairly serious at the time.

The train trip from Ella to Kandy, or the other way around, is considered to be one of the most beautiful train trips in the world and was something I was especially looking forward to do whilst in Sri Lanka.

It certainly didn’t disappoint on the views front, every turn the train took allowed stunning vistas of ever changing weather and landscapes which my pictures don’t do any justice to at all.

From tea plantations as far as the eye can see to dense jungle, to the small villages dotted around.

Being ‘allowed’ to hang out of windows and doors and experience the world fly past was surreal and hopefully unforgettable, but we all know I have a shocking memory.

The number of tunnels and bridges on the route made me question the sanity of building a train track but all these years later it still survives, hanging onto the frequently sheer hillside.

For all its beauty and photogenic appeal it was still a 6 and a half hour ride and it wasn’t as smooth as UK trains and felt like being on something constantly on the verge of breaking down or shaking itself to pieces, especially when slowly pulling away from stations.

It had a constant vague mechanical smell which took me back to my younger days being around Dad in the workshop with him working on cars. Sort of a manly smell; excitement mixed with alittle trepidation due to my complete lack of knowledge or skills in that department.

We had brought with us some random snacks to ensure that if anyone got hungry it wouldn’t add to the inevitable problems a long journey has, however plenty of vendors got on at the different stops and sold a variety of intriguing homemade curry based snacks, which two of us duly partook in sampling in for breakfast.

Zoe, as unfortunately appears to be the way lately on longer journeys, was not feeling great and wouldn’t help herself by eating anything of any real substance but her iPad seemed to do the trick and placate her but didn’t stop her being sick.

Probably something very English about that as well; stiff upper lip and all that.

Kandy seems absolutely mental so far, it’s the second biggest city in Sri Lanka and everyone appeared to be on the same road as us on the one short drive to the hotel. We only have two nights here as essentially it’s a stop off for us on the route further north but I am looking forward to exploring in the time we have.

Ella

We had decided to do a walk on the first full day in the beautiful mountain town of Ella and to climb Little Adams Peak and then go and visit the The Nine Arches Bridge.

The Little Adam’s Peak got its name after it’s big brother, the holy mountain Adam’s Peak, because of the similar shape. Adam’s Peak is a bit further west and alot higher and as such a much more exhausting and more challenging climb, which we wouldn’t be doing.

The climb we did do was fairly easy going and cut through a tea plantation where we nipped in and messed around in for a while.

Me being the stupid type picked a leaf and chewed it to see if I could get any tea taste out of it but ended up spitting it out in disgust at the bitter arid taste.

The walk turned into a massive staircase after that with loads of concrete steps up most of the way to the summit.

Not the most exciting climb but the view from the top was pretty breathtaking.

You had a 360 degree view around the valleys, surrounding mountains and tea plantations.

The view was enhanced even further by the mist clouds rolling through the valley meaning it went from a complete white out to normal in the space of a couple of minutes.

On the way down Zoe persuaded us to let her do the zip line over the tea plantation by herself and off she marched to get it all sorted. Sue was visibly shaking at the thought of Zoe doing it, but she took it all in her stride and even shouted “hi Mum” as she flew by her.

We continued down the hill and then through some proper rainforest to head towards the The Nine Arches Bridge or the Bridge in the Sky, to what, I am reliably informed is one of the best examples of colonial-era railway construction in the country.

All I know is that it’s bloody big and clearly a massive tourist attraction for foreigners and Sri Lankan’s alike. With it being a Sunday it was awash with locals of all ages enjoying themselves.

The bridge, shock, has nine massive arches which are 90 odd metres high and links two sides of a valley together. It also has a tunnel just the other side of it which got just as much attention.

We were told that the next train was 30 minutes away so posed away to our hearts content on the bridge and in the tunnel.

Then I had a great idea – what if you could stand in the tunnel whilst the train came through. I was confident that it would have enough space either side to allow me to take a cool video of it hurtling towards, then past me. Also I was stupidly intrigued to experience the heat, noise and smells of it.

Zoe decided to stay with me and we found a little cut away to give us even more room as we waited. A man with a whistle, I assume a guard of some sort, started to clear the tracks and the tunnel – meaning soon it was just the two of us waiting for the train to arrive. It suddenly didn’t feel like a great idea, but it was to late to move anyway so I started recording the video.

Basically the first minute is Zoe telling me to move and not die, then 30 seconds of seeing the train getting closer and closer and then 30 seconds of it hammering past us. The heat and noise were incredible as the old train rumbled past with people hanging out of every window to take pictures of the two idiots in the tunnel.

Afterwards I told Zoe she was lucky to have such a cool dad as me, allowing her to do wonderfully stupid things at every opportunity. She didn’t disagree which was nice.

The walk back to town wasn’t as much fun and neither was the science schoolwork which was completed afterwards.

The struggle for a balance between the two is a fine line and it was experienced the following day when it was English’s turn to enter the teaching arena. To be fair to Zoe she did really well for the 90 mins we discussed reading and listening and had a fun debate about sharks.

The plan for day two was a trip to a local, but not that touristy waterfall called Ella Walla. The only thing not decided was the method of transport; tuk tuk or local bus being the only options. Zoe wanted a tuk tuk, Sue the public bus and I couldn’t decide so decided to flip a coin (in the absence of rolling a dice).

It landed on tuk tuk so we went to haggle over a price – what we didn’t expect was to be told of a much nicer waterfall system further away, with hardly any tourists, with promises of swimming and views. After a bit of a debate we decided to go with that option and got into a knackered old tuk tuk to head an hour away back down the mountain to the Diyaluma Falls which it turns out is 720 ft high and the second highest waterfall in the country and 361st highest waterfall in the world.

When we arrived it was clear we had stumbled into a bit of a set up, as it just happens that you need a guide to take you up the falls and by luck one of the tuk tuk drivers friends was on hand to assist us – after a brief ‘discussion’ over the price.

To be fair to him you did need a guide as the path wasn’t really a path and then all of a sudden it was loads of paths so I am sure we wouldn’t have made it to the top anyway. Plus I managed to half his original asking price to something more in-line with expectation.

The path wound its way up through jungle, the occasional little hut and past a rubber factory before it got really steep.

By this point Zoe was really not enjoying herself, complaining of being hot / tired / dizzy and I had to get the guide to constantly lie to her about just how far we had left. The 2km (it was much longer) walk to the top took about an hour with all the stops along the way and we were all baked with sweat, so much so that I had to peel my t shirt off.

At the top were a series of different pools of various sizes with differing drops falls into them. We headed for the easiest swimming one to allow us all to cool down as quickly as possible.

Despite the heat Zoe took some time to get in, probably not helped by the fact that the pools had little fish in them which nibble away at your feet – like those ones you get in fish therapy places. I have had the experience once before in Thailand but it still always surprises me when you suddenly feel something attaching itself to your foot.

She wasn’t in that long when she got out and started to cry as she discovered a little leach on her toe which freaked her out massively. We managed to remove the little fella with the help of a stick, just before Sue also discovered one on her foot. I felt a little upset that none of them fancied me enough to give me a kiss.

Due to that incident Zoe didn’t want to go back into the water much, so the two of them sat with feet in a little pool, so Sue could get the foot spa treatment whilst I went off exploring.

The drops got more and more severe, into deeper and deeper pools so I went and had a go under some of the bigger drops – not jumping in like had been suggested as it was alittle high for my liking (plus the guide told me two locals died recently doing it, which put me off alittle)

It was good fun in the crystal clear waters with the only downside the difficulties in getting out of the slimy surface at the end. I was fairly certain that I might have to live in one of the pools as I couldn’t get out for ages.

The views over one in particular was especially impressive as you swam up to the edge of a 50 foot vertical waterfall, with only a small rock lip edge stopping you from being forced over.

After we hiked back down, with the guide pointing out cobra houses, elephant footprints and various tree growing fruits, we took the much slower return trip up the hill with the tuk tuk gradually going slower and slower the steeper it got.

Overall the hassle of getting to it in the knackered old tuk tuk and then the issues with Zoe on the walk and the leach situation meant that it probably wasn’t worth it despite the fun in the actual waterfalls themselves.

Most of the evening was taken up with Zoe feeding stray dogs on the street. She had the idea to buy some dog food and leave food with any strays she saw until it ran out. We managed to find some food after much asking around and duly she started handing it out.

She soon became the pied piper of dogs as more and more followed her. A lot of the strays in Ella are ‘adopted’ by the bars who put a collar on them and give them any scraps leftover at the end of the night. No scraps = no food for any of them and they certainly all looked like they needed a feed. We think it is because of this that all the dogs needed persuading to eat the normal dog biscuit food as none of them had seen it before. Most would only take a single biscuit from her hand very tentatively to begin with before realising what it was and then inhaling the pile of food she had left on the path.

Nice to think that we helped alittle bit for the ones we came into contact with, but such is the problem it wasn’t even a drop in the ocean.

Uber useless

So after all the fun of the turtles we packed up, had another mountain of breakfast from the accommodation then sorted out an Uber to get us to Ella, deep in the hills.

Uber’s are supposed to be the easiest form of taxi’s you can get, you literally pick a start and end point and pay upfront online via card. Wonderfully the first one I booked phoned me and informed me he wasn’t doing it, then hung up.

The second one I booked turned up and didn’t seem to realise he was an Uber driver and demanded payment in cash before going anywhere. His English wasn’t great and it took a lot of persuasion for him to actually start driving – originally he said no to taking us, but then pressed the wrong button on his app which meant he couldn’t cancel it.

So what’s better than a planned three hour taxi ride, well clearly it’s a four and a half hour taxi ride with a grumpy taxi driver who is driving so economically that it takes absolutely bloody ages.

It was like he was punishing us for having the cheek to book his taxi to a place which he, in theory, at least had agreed to take us to.

The another annoying thing about him was that he seemingly had a soft spot for Michael Jackson, with various selections on repeat throughout the journey and even had a typical MJ hat on his dash.

Randomly he only cheered up after Zoe threw her guts up all over the backseat on the constantly turning mountain passes. Maybe his love for MJ extends to all elements of his life.

Zoe struggled throughout the journey and was impressively sick 4 times in total – the food bags coming in handy. Poor little bugger handles that a million times better than when I have motion sickness.

The road was seriously windy when it hit the hills, but beforehand we were treated to water buffalos strolling through rice fields, high reaching tea plantations, large lizards on the street, monkeys and hundreds of dogs (alive and dead)

When we finally arrived in Ella, after an absolute age we followed the map to the spot of the hotel – however no hotel was to be seen. The MJ wannabe phoned up the hotel to get directions, as he didn’t seem keen to abandon us in the middle of a tea plantation, which we followed for ten minutes into the middle of nowhere, where the owner came to meet us in two tuk tuks to finish the journey.

The next 5 minutes were up a steep path come road into the jungle – getting further and further away from anything approaching civilisation. Eventually the path ended in a little opening where it was clear that this was our hotel.

In fairness to the owners they made us a brew whilst we sat around in a haze of tiny annoying flies, attempting to tell them that all the details on the booking.com website are wrong and that we wouldn’t have chosen the place if we had known the correct details.

I even had to have a nice chat with his daughter via the phone to help get my point across and eventually they agreed to cancel the booking and sort us out some transport back into town. But not before they insisted on us drinking the tea – including Sue who doesn’t even like tea.

Relived we were leaving, we made a mad google to find somewhere closer in and managed to find one, more or less exactly were we thought we had booked previously. It was massively ironic considering the effort we put in to get somewhere good this time that it went so tits up. However the revised one is only £9 a night and is owned by a lovely family, with a great location so in the end of all worked out ok.

After that fun we headed, in hope but not expectation, to the train station to attempt to get a ticket for the onward travel to Kandy. Having previously looked online it said no tickets were available for the next week or so and I was convinced we would be missing out on what people describe as one of the great train journeys in the world.

However some polite talking to the dude at the station and as long as we catch the 6:45 am bad boy we had managed to snag 3 tickets. We walked out of the ticket office and I celebrated by claiming, for some unknown reason, to be king of the world.

A funny old day really, which ended in a roadside bar, watching the brightly coloured local buses thunder past in clouds of black smoke, whilst we ate traditional Sri Lankan curry’s and shared one to many local beers.

Marvellous Mirissa

The taxi was so easy and peaceful two out of the three of us dozed off – Zoe was too busy laughing at some American rubbish on her iPad to sleep.

The driver wasn’t very talkative and the constant rice field, tea plantations and gently falling rain was pretty relaxing and turned me into a nodding dog on more than one embarrassing occasion.

We found the accommodation without any issue and it’s fine, in fact it’s bloody amazing for £3.50 a per person a night each. Especially as it also includes a three course breakfast of omelette, mountains of toast and then a fruit platter with as much coffee as you want to wash it all down.

Be good though if the shower was much more than just a gentle trickle and it would have been mayhem if the ants, which were constantly threatening, had invaded at any point – like a mini army hell bent on biting us. I have seen Antman – I know how vicious they can be.

The main reason for coming here was the beach and although it is out of season the turtles on it. But the only one on it was one which had been injured and was recovering. The waves didn’t allow any snorkelling to occur and it would definitely be a place I would come back to when they are more prevalent to see them, especially when the newborns hatch.

The beach itself is long, golden sanded and flanked by loads of bar come restaurants which will let you sit on sun loungers for as long as you occasionally buy drinks or food from them. Not a massive hardship when a beer is just over £1 during the 8 hour happy ‘hours’.

It’s renowned for being a place for surfers and body boarding due to the nature of the waves and sand bars. It’s quite a sight to witness the more accomplished actually surfing in, then surfing out again on the outward pull.

We hired some body boards and hammered around on them, with Zoe still being the queen amongst us all. Sue had her first ever proper go and was soon catching the biggest waves going – despite a couple of world class dunkings.

In the middle of the beach is alittle island called parrot rock. Well it is an island when the tide is in and just about walkable when it’s not.

We managed to get across at high tide but it was touch and go with us all being slightly swept away.

Also no parrots on parrot island – loads of crows and crabs, but then I guess crow or crab island isn’t quite as sexy a name is it.

We visited another beach close by, Polhena, which is also pretty famous for turtles. This being us, meant we did it via a hired scooter, which as per usual was great fun. Sue went in a tuk tuk, whilst we followed on the bike, avoiding wandering dogs and people.

The water was pretty choppy throughout the experience and we only saw two turtles from afar. Turns out they are pretty quick when being vaguely chased and I couldn’t get any pictures with the go pro.

I was fairly persistent in my attempt to locate some though whilst the others preferred to mess at the waters edge. As we were the only westerns knocking around they suddenly became quite famous with the locals wanting to play with them both and have pictures taken whilst doing so. It is amazingly easy to talk to the then and they are consistently talkative, genuinely interested in you and happy to tell you a life story or two.

On the way back we stopped at another well known spot, being made famous by social media types.

I didn’t think it was anything special to be honest, but we got a few nice photos and enjoyed watching idiots strike wonderfully stupid poses – which I think are probably all over the internet by now.

I think Zoe has enjoyed being back on a beach – the first proper one (away) since Durban, making friends and generally messing around in the sun and sand is much more fun for a 9 year old compared to 9 hour drives in South Africa with ‘only’ scenery to look at. Plus the beach has a kick ass rope swing on it.

The area has a lot of random places for food and covers all bases in terms of local and western delights. We have had some amazing local roti’s, awesome pineapple salads and Sue had something called a sexy bird – which unfortunately didn’t translate to you are what you eat.

The road down to the roti place was brilliantly shocking and I was pleasantly surprised when Zoe just marched down it, compared to moaning.

The three evenings we had were all spent on the beach; cheap seats, cold drinks and generally really nice food. Each evening was accompanied by card games and making endless friends with puppies / dogs got of all shapes and sizes.

On our last evening we (I) admitted that I would like to try and go see the turtles the following morning – arguing that it might be the only time we ever get to properly snorkel with a wild turtle. So the alarms were set for early doors to ensure that we could be on the beach, via tuk tuk, by 7:30 and ready to go.

Amazingly we were and despite the grey clouds overhead and the brisk breeze the sea was a lot calmer than the previous day and the visibility pretty perfect.

Zoe wasn’t feeling it so stayed on shore to start with whilst Sue and I went adventuring. Sue did really well again and it was a task to keep up with her as she seemed hell bent on locating a turtle.

She managed to spot one but I didn’t to start with despite loads of fish and seemingly a completely dead coral reef they continued to hide from me as we went back in to allow Sue a break and see if Zoe wanted to come help.

I ended up going back on my own for a bit to find one of the buggers, which thankfully I did at about the tenth time of trying.

After chasing one for 5 mins it gradually pulled away from me in its calm majestic beauty. Up close they are even more impressive than I imagined, morphing into the sand and coral with ease and gracefully bobbing up to the surface every once in a while.

We were both surprised at how big they were and how they appeared to not care that you were near them swimming along.

Buoyed by the discoveries we managed to get Zoe to come in and almost immediately we found another one.

I was delighted for myself as it’s something else ticket off a hypothetical list in my head of cool things to do, but also seeing the delight especially in Sue’s face at again overcoming something she isn’t keen on, but reaping the rewards but seeing something which is increasingly rare.

Not bad for a so called non-swimmer; snorkelling with sharks and turtles now – I have suggested we attempt to snorkel with crocodiles next, but that didn’t go down very well.

Next up is Ella (Ella, Ella, eh – thought I would get that in nice and early) and the highlands of Sri Lanka – tea plantations, lots of waterfalls and apparently some stunning hikes.

I could get used to this.

Tuk Tuk Tastic

Killing an hour of time before we were picked up for the airport we let Zoe decide on a choice of game and to our disgust she picked mini monopoly, which I had stupidly bought before we came away.

She then promptly destroyed us, turning into a female child version of Alan Sugar shouting ‘that’s how you do business people’ as I handed over another stack of rental cash, before she completely wiped me out.

Dubai airport was pretty lifeless apart from a strange internal metro system, which you caught after check in to get to the departure gates, much to our confusion.

We felt like we were proper travelling- getting on a plane but for once not going home but going somewhere new, different and exciting. Something which we have frequently spoke about but never really done together apart from connections or internal bumbling about Thailand.

The plane wasn’t anywhere near full and we were the only three non locals on the entire flight, which was a strange, but not unpleasant novelty.

We managed to spread ourselves out across an impressive 9 seats towards the back which was great for extra room but rubbish for sleeping as it was right next to all the noise of the waiters, sorry air stewards, preparing meals and doing whatever they do to make so much noise.

This meant limited sleep was going on, bearing in mind that we took off at 11pm and it was soon no sleep as the turbulence steadily increased to the point where the plane dropped quite considerably very quickly. Promoting Zoe to get scared and meant that she cuddled into for me the rest of the flight.

Immigration seemed to take an age with some especially surly looking security guards in attendance, clearly irked that they were also awake at stupid o’clock in the morning.

Sue did spot one particularly less than diligent worker, slumped back in his chair, mouth open, fast asleep in front of everyone which must be a special talent when under the stale artificial strip lighting of an old airport terminal.

Immediately upon leaving the airport we were struck by just how different it was to the towering masses of UAE and just how Thailand like it seemed.

Low, haphazard buildings, tuk tuks and scooters everywhere, dogs roaming the streets and crazy right of way rules on the small bumpy roads.

Even the rain, which was banging down as we raced along in a tiny tightly packed little knackered old Suzuki taxi driven by a young race car wannabe, was Thailand esq.

We had some wonderful confusion over the room we had booked but Sue managed to smooth everything over and we ended up with the room we thought we were supposed to have, but the hosts didn’t, for the price we had already paid, which the hosts didn’t think was right.

Due to the afore mentioned flight fun we were all fairly knackered so had a nap immediately, only to be disturb by a biblical rain shower which was so loud that I thought to start with it was someone hammering on the door to get in.

As with these types of climates by the time we were ready for a wander most of the downpour had evaporated away and only the most stubborn road submerging puddles remained in place.

Whilst waiting for the rain to abate we firmed up the route plans for the next week or so, slightly tweaking the original idea to account for the current west coast weather forecast – which is holding onto the rainy season for all its worth.

But after a mostly fried rice based lunch, we are now in Asia after all, we had a quick visit to see where the beach was and a unexpected paddle.

Pesky things those waves, but in our defence Zoe had befriended a dog and it decided to dig up and then kill crabs from the sand. Which we gave far to much attention to compared to the impending water levels.

After drying off we caught out first trip tuk tuk to a famous local Buddhism temple. Sue asked the guy if she could take a picture of his tuk tuk and he essentially refused to get out of the way till she took one of him infront of it as well.

We have found in the past the Buddhism temples to be especially pretty and they don’t seemingly hold back here either on the colour, effort and story telling which they put into the displays.

The two main buddhas were enormous but I am still none the wiser as to why the entrance made you walk through a giant lion / bear / creatures mouth.

It did prompt a conversation with Zoe on Buddhism and the joys of after life or reincarnation and we concluded that even if people aren’t religious (like us) it is probably better to hope that you come back as something else each time instead of going to heaven (or the other way) for ever.

I managed to find a lovely local beer with some pretty perfect words on the label. It’s strange how corny they sound when back home, but when away they seem to make sense.

A random day ended by watching the sunset through the fading clouds, eating fresh seafood and drinking cold beer whilst sitting on cheap seats in the sand.

In a nutshell more of what we would usually associate with a holiday.

Also not being 75% sweat when walking around has helped so far in Sri Lanka as well.

Most of the morning of our last day in Negombo was spent doing a tuk tuk tour of all the other major landmarks in the local area. We had already arranged it with the photobombing tuk tuk driver from the day before and with the rain clouds of yesterday giving way to bright sunshine we had a fun time flying around.

We visited another local temple, which was full during a special service (why it was special we couldn’t find out with his broken English and are non existent Sri Lankan). The noise, colours and smells hit every sense like walking into a brick wall.

It was fantastically different to anything else we have ever seen and certainly was a lot more fun than the church we visited later on in the trip.

The biggest attack on the senses was the visit to the local, but massive fish market. With a mixture of catching, gutting, washing, salting, drying and selling going on it was medieval in appearance and smelt like fishy Hell.

All sorts was going on everywhere you looked from the sand dyed red from the blood, to the crows pecking at the drying fish, to butchers chopping up large tunas and getting visible joy at showing you the deepest recesses of the fish innards.

The tour finished by us being dumped at a herbal medicine plantation with the indication that we should buy something before we got to leave.

Within the sales pitch they persuaded us that some of the red oil stuff was great for massages and decided they would prove it by giving us all a little back massage in the hut in the middle of nowhere.

Interesting experience especially as they kept talking about some miracle weight loss plant once they saw me with my top off.

We had found a place for lunch which we had to visit as it was called Jude’s – a tiny restaurant come hotel, which was nice and cheap – just like us.

A relaxed afternoon of school work and packing then occurred before a wander down to the beach again to play with dogs, watch the locals play with hundreds of kites and sampling the first street (beach) food of the trip.

We managed to find a nice place for food with a bit of cover as the rain clouds were threatening where Sue got, let’s say merry on ridiculously cheap local double gins.

Tomorrow we head south on the revised route of skipping a few stops and heading straight to Mirissa.

Having found ourselves a bargain of a place to stay of £3.50 per person a night including breakfast when we arrive we have decided to splash out and avoided a much longer tuk tuk / taxi / bus / taxi combo and instead just sorted a taxi for the entire way for alittle more.

Hopefully the £3.50 a night place isn’t a compete dive….