backpacking

Sigiriya

Firstly let me start by apologising. Since I got back from holiday life has been heeeeectic. Lots of exciting stuff happening, which I will tell you all about once I have wrapped up the blog about the holiday. 

Sigiriya (or Lion Rock) from below.

Sigiriya (or Lion Rock) from below.

The things you do for friends. 

Pick ups/drop offs at the airport, putting them to bed after they have had too much to drink (to be honest its been a while since I have had to do this), talking them through their latest break up (this on the other hand is rife at the moment), or in my case recently, foregoing a cruisey ride in an air-conditioned car from Kandy to the north of Sri Lanka, and instead, getting one of my friends to drive me for four straight hours in his tuktuk.

Idiot. 

Well that was my initial thought while I packed my bags at my hotel in Kandy. And this was only compounded at breakfast when I told the man that ran the hotel that i was staying at what I had planned for the day. He looked at me like I was a mad man. ‘A tuktuk, to Sigiriya? Really?’ Accompanied by a face that very much said ‘you are f@#&’ing nuts!’.

Don’t get me wrong, I love me a tuktuk ride. Zipping through the cars, trucks and bikes, the wind in my hair, some eccentric man waxing lyrically about breasts… If I had a dollar for every time a taxi driver or tuktuk driver in some far-flung country had talked to me about breasts, I’d have more than enough money to buy myself a pair. And from a good surgeon too! Not some rubbish after the fact you find yourself with one looking up, one down and then eventually featuring on E!’s Botched, sort of number. 

Anyway, I digress… I love tuktuks, they are one of my favourite parts of visiting Asia, but hours and hours in the back of one? I had my concerns. But as I alluded to I felt it was better to pay the money to my friend Chana (who drives a tuktuk), and help him and his family out, as opposed to give it to some random I didn’t know, who probably would’ve quite liked the money too, but with whom I had no relationship.

"Are you ready…?" yelled Chana as I came down the stairs. “As ready as I will ever be," I replied. And after a quick stop to pick up my washing, some water for the trip and Chana’s bank to pay off some of a personal loan (it had to happen before COB that day apparently), we were on the road. 

Of course the joy of having a driver is you can stop whenever you want.

Cup of tea? Why not.

Mango covered in salt and chilli - this might sound odd by you HAVE to try it. I feel in love with this combo in Mexico and was stoked to find the Sri Lankans are a fan too! 

How about to see a cashew nut tree? 

A cashew nut tree.

A cashew nut tree.

…an odd request yes, but tell me, prior to seeing the above picture had you any idea what a cashew nut tree looked like? Didn’t think so. 

So yes, although it did take us a good three hours to get to Sigiriya, and this wee trip was no doubt the reason I had to visit the osteopath and get my neck and back re-aligned as soon as I got back to NZ, the journey was actually really, really fun.

As well as learning about where cashews come from, Chana and I also swapped stories about life and love, sung, danced and laughed about all sorts of stupid things. And as is so often the case, what I was initially a touch worried about, turned out to be a wicked time. 

Much like New Zealanders do with Queenstown and Rotorua, just about even Sri Lankan I had meet had encouraged me to visit Sigiriya or Lion Rock. So I arrived brimming with anticipation. Sigiriya is an ancient rock fortress. It was the capital of a Kingdom way back in 477-495BC. King Kasyapa built his palace at the top of the rock and his minions lived and farmed in the surrounds. 

But this is the crazy thing, the rock is called Lion Rock because King Kasyapa built a bloody great Lion head one end of the thing so it actually looked like a lion. Back in the day you walked up some stairs, through its mouth to reach the palace at the top. Unfortunately the lion was destroyed in a battle (very long complicated story that one), and now only the feet remain. 

The old entrance to the palace and all that remains of the aforementioned Lion.

The old entrance to the palace and all that remains of the aforementioned Lion.

As I climbed the various stairs to the top of the rock, dealing with the full force of the wind, I did question the intellect of the King building his palace all the way up there, but once at the top, I quickly swallowed my words. The view. My God the view. Actually breathtaking. Just stunning. 

Of course back in the day of King Kasyapa things would’ve looked very different, but I think a couple of thousands of years of natural growth has been the best thing for it. Nature uninterrupted. I mean how often do you see it? The seemingly never-ending green eventually giving away to the blue of the sky interspersed with Mother Nature's icing, big fat fluffy clouds.

Atop Sigiriya looking South East. Incredible huh? 

Atop Sigiriya looking South East. Incredible huh? 

I have found myself in awe a couple of times since arriving on the planet. Seeing the Taj Mahal in India, at Iguazu Falls in Argentina, when I learnt the American government was actually just printing more money to get itself out of the GFC, LITERALLY JUST PRINTING MORE MONEY! And atop Sigiriya. It really is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been in my entire life. 

Following a good amount of time wandering the summit, taking in the beauty, contemplating life and congratulating myself for all the choices I made leading to this moment, I bounced down the rock and back to Chana so he could take me to try and find some elephants. I know, as if the day needed to get better, but yup, after the incredible experience that was Sigiriya, Chana reckoned he could track me down some elephants before we headed north to Trincomalee

But that story, and the yarn about the ridiculous bus ride that followed soon after, will have to wait for another day… Promise it won’t be a month between blogs. 

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The day after the day before

I had a terrible sleep Saturday night (my first night in Colombo). The plan was to have a few beers at the hostel, and then head out into town to see what trouble we could find ourselves. What actually happened was, I had two beers in the lounge and pretty much collapsed.

It might have been the cricket chat that did it (on a side note, can someone please tell me what NZ as a whole thinks about Sri Lanka's cricketing style? Ha! I have been asked this more times that you'd ever believe in the last few days), or the fact that Xanax induced plane sleep isn't in fact real sleep, so by the time 8pm rolled around I had pretty much been awake for two days. But either way, the sleep wasn't good. I crashed at 8:30ish, waking at 11pm, 1am, 3am, and then finally again at 4am. At half four, the mind engaged, and with no sign of getting back to sleep due to Mr Pakistan's incessant snoring, I decided to head to the common room to do some reading.

...Mr Pakistan update. He went out on Saturday night and made a couple of friends. I didn't ask if anything else happened, but hey, friends is a good start, right? 

It turned out however I wasn't the only one awake. The mother of the man that owns the hostel, was already in the lounge drinking coffee while waiting for her hair to dry. Pleasantries were exchanged, I drilled her for information about where to go and what to see in Sri Lanka, and then (and I believe she instigated this, not me, honestly), we started talking politics. 

Safe to say this lady was not a fan of the last President. To be fair she did say he did do a lot of good things. But, filing his cabinet with family (apparently every minister was a brother, a brothers wife, or sister), and various dodgy dealings, including the mysterious death, via exploding car, of a famous Sri Lankan rugby player, who was 'the only thing standing in the way' of the Presidents son becoming captain of the team, was enough to see him and his party ousted at the last election. 

In world news, New Zealand PM makes headlines for pulling pony tails, and in Sri Lanka, allegations the President is somehow involved in the murder of a rugby player so his son could captain the team... 

As creepy as the pony tail thing is/was, I'll take that over the latter every day. 

I have since asked a couple of people about the allegation, and although all seem aware of the story, whether or not you see any truth in it seems to very much depend on which side of the political fence you sit.

It was also quite interesting talking to this lady about the civil war. My current POV on this (and maybe this will change), is the Tamil's, the people of the North, were completely out of line trying to split the country and gain independence. 

The Tamil's are originally from India. They were brought here by the British to work in the tea plantations, and as I alluded before, they wanted to split the island in two creating a seperate state for themselves in the North, leaving the Sinhalese to govern the south. 

Can I understand that want? Sure. But if you've only been in the country for a hot minute when compared to the Sinhalese, who've been knocking around these parts for millennia, I'm hard pushed to say you were fighting the good fight. But, as I said, this could change as I learn more about the situation. 

From what I am aware of though, and probably somewhat unsurprisingly, the whole thing was horrific. Twenty six years, tens of thousands dead, and as per, many of them civilians. It is widely believed 40,000 civilians were killed by either side in the last few weeks of the war in 2009. Just crazy numbers yeah? 

But with her hair dry, the church service she was planning on attending with her sons wife edging ever closer, and my stomach in desperate need of some food. That was where we left things.

With the temperature already at 20+ (and this is at 7am), I decided a swim at the beach was in order. And so I found myself a tuktuk and headed to southern Colombo for a swim at Mount Lavinia. 

M

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pps you'll see I am now running black text on white, don't say I never do anything for you, better? 

Season 1 Ep 1

Just after landing in Colombo, Sri Lanka - June 17th 2017

Just after landing in Colombo, Sri Lanka - June 17th 2017

A few months ago on a random Tuesday evening, I got drunk. Very drunk. Smashed in fact. I had spent the best part of the previous two months working every waking hour available to me. Newstalk ZB during the day, managing my importing company and preparing to launch the food truck yeah naan, evenings and weekends. I was due a blow out, and an invite to some drinks at a friends house turned out to be just the ticket. 

I'm not a big weekday drinker. I've never really seen the point. I'm one of those horrible people that drinks to get drunk. I don't love the taste of alcohol. On the rare occasion in the sweltering heat I will yearn for a beer, but I've never really found myself dying to have a wine, or a gin, or a rum. I drink because I love the adventures come with drinking. Very rarely do you get home from a few drinks without a new friend, or a new story or two. Fun things happen when you drink. Or at least, that's how I feel. 

Anyway, on this fateful Tuesday night, smashed, I made a promise to a certain person that I would start a blog. Start a blog and write about my travels, the ones I have been on, the ones i will go on, and (her suggestion, not mine), my life in general. So here I am, making good on that promise. 

I have blogged before. When I first left New Zealand for my big O.E (Overseas Experience for those of you not from NZ), in 2012, I played the blogging game for a bit. There is a Tumblr somewhere with details of a few days, possibly weeks, of my exploits in Europe. From what I can remember, nothing outrageous, just my musings from life on the road. I haven't read it since, and don't really want to. Truth be told I kinda cringe thinking about it. I can only imagine the rubbish I wrote.

And so although that Tuesday night was months ago, and I have had ample time to start, I thought today, right now, would be the perfect moment to begin. You see I am back on the road again. Back out in the world. The wind in my hair and my most recent new music compilation blaring in my ears. And it feels so good. In fact it's beyond good. It's fucking fantastic. 

I landed in Colombo in Sri Lanka five hours ago. I left New Zealand (ironically), bang on 23 hours ago. Not even a day away from home and already, so much has happened. I've already meet so many interesting people. 

People often ask me if I am done with travelling having already spent quite a considerable amount of time and money galavanting all over. My answer is always no, and the last 23hours, the last five hours even, perfectly demonstrate why.

On my flight to Kuala Lumpur I sat next to an incredibly interesting guy called David who was on his way to Europe for an engineering conference. Not that I knew this to start with, as we didn't talk until a few hours before we landed in KL. But boy did we cover some ground in those few hours. Travel, life, love, politics, the future of New Zealand and the globe, it all got a going over. So much so a coffee was sought after getting off the plane, but had to be skipped as our connecting flights were at opposite ends of the airport and departing soon. 

We are going to catch up for a beer in Auckland when I get back.

My flight from KL to Colombo was less eventful, although still very enjoyable. The service you get on airlines not based in Europe and Australasia is just incredible. The food they served (a chicken curry), was not only delicious, like actually delicious, I got to eat it with REAL CUTLERY. Call me sad, but the sight of an actual metal knife and fork on a plane gets me excited. If Sri Lankan Airlines can do it Air NZ, why can't you? 

However since landing in Colombo it has been all go. I ended up sharing a taxi into town with a girl from the Maldives, who may or may not have been working as a hooker in Thailand until recently. We are now friends on Instagram, so I will try and find out for certain and let you know.

After checking into the hostel and then finding my bed in the dorm, I met a guy from Pakistan. This next bit is horrible. This poor dude is staring down the barrel of a life all alone, as he's gay, and obviously being gay in Pakistan is a big fat no, no. When I asked him if there was anything at all he could do, any possibility he could meet someone, any chance he could move abroad, he answered, 'no, but it is ok, this is life'. 

My heart broke hearing it the first time. Its just broken again typing it out. He is away from home and here in Colombo for a month. Today is his second day. He is obviously dying to meet someone (I think he might have thought that maybe I was going to be it...), and so we had a good chat about talking to people on Tindr, and what to do when meeting them in real life. And just in case he couldn't be anymore of an outcast in Pakistan, he is also an atheist. A gay atheist in Pakistan. I mean, the poor bloody thing. 

A tough act to follow, but shortly after Mr Pakistan had headed off for a shower, the German born child of a couple of now England based, Tamil refugees entered the room. FYI the Tamil's are the people of Northern Sri Lanka who the Sinhalese (the people from the rest of Sri Lanka), were fighting in the Sri Lankan civil war until 2009. This was his very first, and his parents (they left last week), first trip back to the country in 30 years. Their first visit since they escaped to Germany just after the conflict began. Man, the stories he had. 

All of this, and I haven't even begun to explore yet. All this, and I haven't told you about leaving my hat on the plane (I didn't get it back), the ATM chewing up one of my EFTPOS cards, the taxi driver, the guy that checked me into the hostel, the city, the heat, the food... 

This is why I love to travel. This is why I can't stop. This is why I probably never will. And now, given I have made good on my promise and started writing some of it down, you'll be able to (that is if you want to), share in my adventures too.

Till next time. Whenever that might be. I'm off to buy some beers and get drunk with my new Tamil friend. So no doubt a few more stories en route.

M

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