Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Rest and Relaxation in Sri Lanka

We needed a rest and a holiday like never before. The past few months have been nothing but work and we were burnt out. So off we went on July 10 with our friends Jules and Susan to Sri Lanka for a little RandR.

There was a lot of sitting on the beach and by the pool reading, but we did manage to get out and have a few adventures. The most exciting of which was the Esala Festival in the town of Kataragama, about an hour and a half drive from our hotel. It is a major festival, lasting up to 14 days and culminating with the Maha Perahera at the July full moon, which was on Saturday, July 12. Kataragama in the South-East corner of the island is a jungle shrine dedicated to the God Skanda (Kartik), depicted as a six-headed (Shanmukha), twelve-handed (Dvadasakara) warrior riding a peacock (Paravani). Kataragama is a popular pilgrimage centre for Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, and the Vedda. Upwards of 50,000 people follow a special 45-day pilgrimage route from Jaffna, or from Dondra, visiting many temples and shrines throughout Sri Lanka, culminating in this festival, commonly known as the Festival of the Full Moon. Upon arrival, pilgrims take a sacred bath in the Manik Ganga River (River of Gems). The festival includes fire walking, whip crackers and fire dancers; with troupes of dancers and drummers in colourful traditional costumes; torch bearers and many, many caparisoned elephants. 

Our next great adventure on our trip started out after an unfortunate incident with our airline. The day began as our final day in Sri Lanka and after waking at 4 AM, checking out of our hotel, and travelling nearly 2 hours to the airport, we were instructed that our plane was going to be 14 hours delayed because of "operational issues." The airline didn't update their website and failed to notify us. Now bare in mind that we are now in the middle of nowhere, without a single building in site, there are no taxis, we are all out of Sri Lankan Ruppees (no ATM at airport), and the only restaurant at the airport looks more like a vending machine than a place we could spend a day waiting on our plane to arrive.

The kindness of the Sri Lankan people prevailed and once discovering our plight, several people from the airport started making some calls to their friends, and within 15 minutes, we had a driver waiting out front to take us to an ATM machine in a nearby town, a shop to buy beer and supplies for the day, and a hotel where we could spend the day. The "hotel" was in the middle of a country field and it wasn't exactly a hotel, but rather 3 mud huts. Even though it wasn't exactly what we would call comfortable accommodation, it did have the kindest operators who prepared lunch for us and showed us the small property with beaming smiles and twinkles of deep rooted pride in their eyes.

Realizing that it would be a rather long day sitting around drinking warm Lion Beer in the heat, Jessica, being the eternal optimist, seized the opportunity and asked our driver if he could arrange for us to go on a safari at the nearby Udawalawe National Park. After he made a few phone calls, we hired a 4x4, another driver, and a guide to take us through the park. We spent the next 3 hours bouncing around the Sri Lankan countryside seeing elephants, crocodiles, bald eagles, water buffalo, and countless birds. All in all, it was an interesting final day in Sri Lanka. 

1 comment:

  1. I have heard that the elephants give you quite a show. Would love to go someday.