Nuwara Eliya 1
Trip Start Feb 25, 2010
16Trip End Apr 23, 2010
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Where I stayed
I woke up early and went for a walk towards Adam's Peak in time to see pilgrims returning from their climb last night. I ran into the young English couple that I met last night - and the girl (Sarah) said that the climb hadn't been worth it to her. They said that it was cold, windy, crowded and dirty at the top. And I thought it was supposed to be lonely up there!
Although we had planned to depart for Nuwara Eliya (henceforth NE) at 10:30, we didn't get away until just after noon due to Joanne and Marlon's late return from scaling Adam's Peak.
The drive was very scenic and on the way we stopped for lunch in a beautiful castle
When the menu came, I hurriedly looked at the prices, and to my delight, the place was hardly more expensive than what we were used to paying at the cheap guesthouses at which we were staying - confirming my suspicion that the guesthouses are way overcharging for what they are providing. (As mentioned before, they often cater to captive audiences - and they make us pay for that.)
The meal was fantastic and because I was so pleased with the way everything was going, I paid for lunch for all of us
We arrived to NE at 16:00 and I was dropped off at a hotel that had been recommended to me by that English couple in Negombo. (They had told me that the rack rate for the hotel was expensive but that it was possible to negotiate a 50% discount.) They must have been there during the low season because I was unable to get much of a discount. So I loaded up my gear and proceeded to hike around the neighborhood looking for the right combination of price and quality accommodation. Luckily the weather was spectacular (sunny and somewhat cool - or at least not hot). I must have looked at a dozen places before stumbling (not literally) upon a place that didn't even look like a hotel. It was a big, colonial-looking building that looked like a manor house. The sign out front said Ceybank Rest - which didn't exactly make it appear to be a hotel - and then not one open to the public in any case. By then it was 17:00 and I was getting tired (not having had my nap today), so I gave it a try. Well, it was worth the search because the place is just lovely. It is a very charming place with nice, big, old-European style rooms - all for 2,000 rupees - or about 18 dollars a night. (By comparison, the more well known colonial hotels around town are in the US$100 a night range - five times the price for only marginally nicer rooms.) The only problem was that they didn't have a room that would be available for the duration of my desired stay, so I would have to change rooms every few days
After securing a place to stay, I took a walk around town and was pleased to find that although the town itself isn't beautiful (in fact, it's pretty much the same ugly dump that most third world towns are), it has a bit of size, which enables it to support two supermarkets and a few restaurants and other such amenities. Just what I'm looking for - and a real treat after that little village Dalhousie that consisted mainly of a few guesthouses and trinket shops to sell useless crap to pilgrims. (Well, useless to me anyway. Evidently somebody must be buying the stuff.)
By then I was feeling utterly exhausted - even too tired to eat dinner, if you can imagine! - so I went to bed at about 19:30, pleased with where I am and expecting that this is a place where I could spend a bit of time.
Woke up early after a nearly 12-hour sleep and immediately proceeded to walk around town looking to see if I could find another place to stay where I wouldn't be forced to change rooms every day or two. A two-hour search, during which time I think I looked at every single guesthouse and hotel in town, led me to the conclusion that I am better off staying where I am.
When I got back to my hotel from my walk, I had to switch rooms to one a bit less nice than the one I had last night
Feeling quite happy and settled, I did a bit more exploring in the bright but cool sunshine. The (natural) surroundings of the town are beautiful even if the town itself is a bit of a dump. I also did a fairly massive amount of reading, finishing my first book of the trip. The reading had been slow going up until now as I had been unsettled previously, changing venues every day or two. Now that I've found a place that I like, I'm hoping to settle into a nice little routine.
Later that day, in the hotel TV room, I got into a conversation with an older (perhaps in her 60s) Sri Lankan woman. She had lived in the UK, raised two apparently very successful children there, then eleven years ago her husband dropped dead from a stroke. Since then she's been spending half of each year in the UK and half in Sri Lanka's capital, Colombo. The conversation was going very pleasantly until she asked me if I am married
On a more pleasant note: I finally got my laundry done. The hotel here seemed not at all surprised at my request, and now I'm back to clean underwear, rightside out, front forward. They did a good job on the laundry, but their arithmetic skills are lacking as they miscalculated the bill - in their favor, as luck would have it. They counted my shirts as jeans. An easy mistake to make, I suppose.
18 March - Mum's birthday (Happy Birthday!)
The weather has changed. The sunshine has been replaced by clouds and cooler temperatures. Actually before coming to NE my research had almost made me decide not to come here because many people said that the place is cold and windy most of the time
Luckily for me, though, today was blog day, so I spent the overcast morning in an internet cafe bringing my blog up to date. (I'm sure you appreciate the effort!)
After I finished my 2+ hour internet session, I walked over to my favorite new restaurant in town, the Indian Grand - an Indian restaurant (obviously) that is attached to (but physically separate from) the Grand Hotel, NE's fanciest hotel. The place is nice and clean and the food is satisfying - especially when you are starving.
As I was doing a bit of shopping in the afternoon, the rain really started coming down, so I pulled out my hooded rain jacket that I had bought in Taiwan a few years back but never really had a chance to try because when it rains in Thailand, it's always too hot to wear any kind of jacket. (In Thailand we have a rainy season - and, theoretically, a cool season - but never do we have cool and rain at the same time). The rain jacket worked well as the parts of me that it covered allowed me to stay completely dry without the aid of an umbrella
I made it back to my hotel drenched, took off my wet clothes, put on some dry things, hopped in the bed and read for awhile before taking a nap. I then went out to buy some fruit before dinner. On my way to the fruit market, I had to pass a dark corner that was occupied by a lone man. I sensed that he was waiting for me and when I got to where he was, he started walking with me. At first I thought he might intend to try to sell me some drugs - or arrange a prostitute for me (well, one can hope), but no, he wanted money. "Fifty rupees", he said. I said, "Speak up. I can't understand you." "Fifty rupees - you give me!" "Why?", I asked. "For the bus. I mean for a taxi." I just laughed and kept walking, albeit at a brisker pace. Does it make sense for me to pay for somebody else to ride when I'm walking? I don't think so.
This reminds me of another "scary" incident I experienced yesterday: As I was leaving the supermarket, I was set upon by a group of five young men holding a deck of cards
Conclusion: Compared to most places I've been, Sri Lanka seems to be pretty tame as regards crime and scams. Speaking of scams, there was one that was tried on me back at Adam's Peak that I forgot to mention: A man called me into his shop and insisted that I have a look at his collection of foreign coins. He then asked me if I have any foreign coins that I could give him. The fact that he has a box full of these coins induces people to think that he is sincere about being a coin collector, so they apparently give him coins from their own country. What he does then is whenever a foreigner is passing by, he asks them where they're from and if he already has coins from their country, he will ask them to give him Sri Lankan money in exchange for the coins from their own country, which they'll of course be able to use back home - or give back to him for his collection. Ha. It's not a very lucrative scam, but on the other hand he gets his inventory for free
Anyway, back to the plot: I had dinner at the Grand Hotel Coffee Shop. On paper - that is, on the menu, the hamburger looked so tasty. So I thought I'd give it a try. It was awful. It was a burger made by someone who had never actually eaten a burger in his life. But, well, sometimes you have to take risks in life. I then came back to my room and read and drank a beer that I had bought earlier at the supermarket. And this proved to be a winner. Sri Lanka's "Lion" beer turned out to be the absolute best Asian beer I've ever had. It was a beautiful, delicious beer. I wonder why we can't have beer like that in Thailand? It's not quite up to German standards, but for the price (just over a dollar for a very big bottle), it gets my vote.
So with my beer in one hand and my book in the other (except for when I put the beer down to turn the pages), I managed to finish reading my second book of the trip - this last one, Somerset Maugham's "Far Eastern Tales", taking just over 24 hours to complete. I've now started "The Tipping Point" by Malcolm Gladwell. (Actually this book was not in my original pile for the trip
With this I drifted off to a peaceful, happy - and cool sleep.
Settling in to NE by now, I'm trying to do things to gradually, incrementally improve my quality of life.
My first stop was the local library. Believe it or not, this little town has a very nice little library - that even manages to have lots of books that I would be interested in reading. So if I do decide to come back to Sri Lanka in future years to again escape the Thai summer heat, I think I'll come with fewer books of my own and just borrow my reading material from the library.
I also went to the tourist information office to ask about a gym. I already checked out the gym at the Grand Hotel, but it is open only to guests - and it's not worth it for me to pay a hundred bucks a night for a hotel just to use their gym. The tourist information officer told me that there is a free gym up the road at the town stadium.
So I marched up the road to check out that gym. I encountered a massive police presence and when I asked what was up, I was told that the president of Sri Lanka will be swinging by tomorrow as part of his reelection campaign, giving a speech in the stadium
I won't say much about this presidential visit except that it just reminds me of the scam that politics is. A few people in every country realize that by controlling the organs of a government, they can legally steal more than they could have ever done as the ordinary criminals that they are. Who me - cynical?
I'd like to comment on the shade of the people's skin here: It ranges from brown to very very very dark brown. In spite of the cool weather up here in the hills, the sun is still very strong. In fact, I've even gone a few shades darker myself. But that isn't hard to do. In Bangkok, due to the heat, I rarely see the light of day. The result: Milky white skin. Okay, with lots of freckles and other blemishes. But otherwise the envy of the locals.
But back to the people here: Some of them really have the darkest skin of any non-negroes that I've ever seen. It surprises me sometimes to see people with faces that look the same as some (white) people I know back home, but their faces are shiny black. And between you and me (and whoever else reads this), there is no more attractive skin than that of some of the shiny brown gals that I've seen here. I sure wouldn't mind seeing one naked - just to get the complete picture, you know.
I wonder - and will investigate - whether skin color determines social rank in Sri Lanka, as seems to be the case in many countries, including my homeland, where a real black would be unlikely to become president, but a lighter-skinned, half black just might. I'll admit that I haven't been back in a long time, so things might have changed since my days as a southern plantation owner.
Now a little observation about the local use of the English language: The people here, when they see a foreigner, invariably ask them where they are from. But they don't ask in the way you and I would expect. Rather, they say, "You are from . . . sir?" They make a statement and end it with a rising pitch of their voice, thereby making a question out of it. Today one man "asked" me: "You are going?", which I by now have realized means "Where are you going?" However the question is asked, though, I don't see that it was any business of his where I was going. So I just answered, "This way." - which seemed to have satisfied his curiosity.
Having eaten lunch at the same Indian restaurant for the past few days, I was in the mood to try something different. So just after noon, I headed over to the most highly recommended restaurant in the guidebook, the one with the Italian name of "Milano's" - serving up Chinese and Sri Lankan favorites, of course. To my surprise and disappointment, the restaurant was completely shut down, locked up, devoid of any signs of life. So I had to have my lunch elsewhere - somewhere rather less nice (if that were possible). After I finished eating, I passed back by Milano's - to find it open! WTF? A restaurant that closes for lunch? As it turns out, it is a Muslim-owned restaurant, and this being Friday, they closed for an hour to go to the mosque. I'm not even going to bother suggesting a different way of managing their Friday opening times . . . Okay, I will. I can't help it: How about praying before or after lunch? Just a thought.
The afternoon I spent doing my usual: Walking, reading, nap, trip to the market to buy some fruit (from Mohammed the Muslim fruit vendor). As a regular customer of his, he goes out of his way to give me good fruit. Today I bought four bananas and two avocadoes - for 45 cents US - total! Can you believe - avocados for less than ten cents a piece? We pay 25 times that price for them in Bangkok! I have two of them - along with the four bananas - and my brought-from-home German bread and locally bought Austrian cheese for breakfast every morning. It's the culinary highlight of my day.
After my fruit buying, I headed off to the Indian restaurant for dinner. At the restaurant, I spoke with a French couple whom I had seen earlier in the day. Foreign tourists here are so rare and stay for such a short time that I know when there's somebody new in town. These Frenchies, for example, are staying in NE for only one night. I'm already the top dog long-staying foreign tourist in town. (There are a few living here, one of whom I met yesterday - a young Canadian named Larry who is teaching at a local school.) I saw him from across the street and I could tell by the way he was dressed that he was not a tourist, so I collared him and asked him for advice about finding a gym and an internet café. I ran into him again later and he invited me to a Saturday afternoon lunch with all the other foreigners in town. I'll have to check my schedule to see if I'm available. Oh, I do have an opening - in my stomach. Ha.
At 10:30 I met Larry the Canadian school teacher, along with Jim, an English co-teacher of his, at the bridge behind the bus station. We walked together to their school, from which we caught a bus to the home of a Kentuckian co-teacher of theirs for a Saturday afternoon barbecue.
We adult menfolk, along with everybody else's wives and children, spent the afternoon eating, talking, laughing and generally having a great time. I learned a lot about Sri Lanka and NE from these very nice people. For example, it seems that for most of the year NE IS cold and rainy. This happens to be pretty much the only time of the year that there is sunshine. Since this is exactly the time of the year that I am interested in leaving Thailand, it makes it the perfect place for me to spend the Thai summer. What happens for the rest of the year when I'm not here is no concern of mine.
I also learned that the Sri Lankan government doesn't appreciate foreigners coming over and educating the locals. An educated populace is difficult to manipulate, and educated people tend not to vote for crooks - which is not good for the crooks who are and want to remain in power. I heard, for example, from several people that 120 members of the current president's extended family are working in government jobs. Ah - probably just coincidence.
Also, apparently, Sri Lanka has enlisted China to teach it how to censor its internet. Allegedly, China was the only country that didn't have a problem with Sri Lanka killing a lot of its own civilians during its recently ended civil war, so China was the only country to give Sri Lanka financial support. As a result, China now has a toehold in the country and preferential access to business opportunities.
Today happened to be the day that the president came to town for his election speech. As I mentioned, the streets are full of policemen and soldiers. On the one hand, they are there to protect the president. On the other hand, I wonder if they are not perhaps there as a subtle threat to the populace, as in "Look how many armed guys I have on my side. So if you were thinking about voting for the other side, you just might want to think again."
I also noticed that the town was undergoing a major clean-up leading up to the president's visit. I wonder if the president arranged this clean-up to impress the people, or if the town arranged the clean-up to impress the president. Either way, what is the point of cleaning up a place only during election campaigns?
So, after a very nice lunch with a lot of nice people, I was dropped off back at my hotel, where I promptly set myself to finishing my third book of the trip before having a rest.
The remainder of the evening was spent doing my usual fruit market, dinner routine. But this time at dinner I met a very nice couple from Prague, and we sat together talking - with me reminiscing about the times I spent there some half of my life ago. We even managed to resurrect my five words of Czech that I had buried deep in my memory. I gave them the phone number of my ex-girlfriend there and asked them to call her when they get home and tell her that we met here in NE, Sri Lanka. Ah, the memories from my youth. The wonderful memories of Prague.