Climbing the cliffs. . .

Trip Start Feb 19, 2006
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Trip End Oct 01, 2006


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Flag of Sri Lanka  ,
Saturday, August 5, 2006

Well, now that I'm in Bangkok, I can continue the story--Bangkok has a few stories of it's own, some involving darts fired from unlikely places. . But of course we shall move on to that in detail when the time comes. .

On the morning after fixing the superintendent's car, I woke early, had a little breakfast, which in Sri Lanka, or at least on the plantation, usually involves curry chicken, chilies, and bread. Just the kind of high-potency caloric intake I would need. I did not know it quite yet, but I would be out a little longer than planned. Typical south asian, though, as nothing ever quite goes as you expect it.
The big cliffs, as the crow flies, looked to be about 5 kilometers away, so I took the most obvious direction, and tried to hold to it. The road kept switching back, and then veered off in the wrong direction, a small path leading through the woods and up the hill, so I took that, winding through poplars, and eventually coming to a concrete dam or bridge with tamil tea workers doing the daily wash and staring at me as though I had lost my way. I pointed to the peak in the distance, and they nodded knowingly, if not a little astonishedly, at why some crazy westerner would want to scale a big rock when it was perfectly nice down in the shade. I went on my way, and after a little bit came down to a road.
Following the road, I thought that the best way to go would be to cut through the maze of tea plantation paths, more workers giving me the eye, and then going about their labors. One thing about Sri Lanka is that the people kind of glance at you, and then just get back to the business at hand. Not quite like India, where they stop all business and stare. A few other comparisons between India and Sri lanka:

Service, restaurant and hotel----India

Beer----SL, hands down, India just does not know how to make it, it is awful there.

Laundry--India. Sri Lankans, I think, are just too gentle with the clothes to make a
shirt or pair of pants truly clean, in India they beat the clothes on a rock,
all the more effective. Most times I just do my own in a bucket in the bathroom, being just a poor geto backpacker and not having the disposable income for such luxuries.

Hygiene--Tie. Sri Lankans are a little more fond of cologne,though, and may win in this category by a 'nose' if you will. Sometimes, however on a crowded bus cheap aromas can be a little cloying to say the least. For general sanitation and public hygiene, Sri Lanka also rules.

Cleanliness--Sri Lanka wins by a lap. They like to clean things, and there is, amazingly enough, not even a fraction of the rubbish littering the countryside--they use more refillable and recyclable bottles and home made bags from old newspaper as well.

Infrastructure----Sri Lanka. When I hear people complaining about the "rough" roads, and bumpy buses I have to laugh a little inside. Compared with India, Sri Lanka is a model of civil engineering. Felt a little like being in a civilized country, the buses run frequently and it is very easy to get around, if a little uncomfortable on the bus itself at times. Most of the signs in the smaller towns are in singhalese as well, and most people don't speak much english, so knowing the name of your destination town and a couple of towns along the way usually nets you a bus in a timely manner. Sometimes you have to go in shorter hops, as there are less direct buses, and if you have a bag, you really want a seat. .

Attitude----India wins this. The indian people seem to always smile, even in hardship. Sri Lankans many times are a cheeky bunch, and can even be slightly aggressive. There is a special innocence that the Indians have that the Sri Lankans can't touch. Perhaps it is partially due to the fact that more sri lankans drink, in fact lots of them do, but sri lankans seem to get things done a little more efficiently and properly than the more lax Indians. In sri lanka sometimes a smile begets a scowl even.

Coffee--Sri Lanka

Touts and beggars----Sri lanka wins for touts. In india they are more persistent, but much less savvy and sly. The Lankan touts are a bit more subversive in their tactics to get you to buy things that you did not really have an interest in anyway. Resistance is sometimes hard--best to just go on your way and not look at the wares offered. Pressure to buy is strong, and they try to make you feel guilty for slipping away without buying. When someone says "friend, friend!" what they really mean is "business! business!" and should just say that instead of the friend business.
Beggars are more prolific and pitiable in India, and more organized. Sri Lanka really does not have much of a begging industry, I think they are a little bit more well-to-do than India, with it's overpopulation and extensive drylands. Sri Lanka, for the most part, is fertile, and people have their act together enough to make the most of the rich farmland. No-one goes hungry here.

Literacy---Sri Lanka by far, though it would seem that less of them speak english. Perhaps they just choose not to, the cheeky bastards. Learning some bits of singhalese helps immensely, and as always, they are overjoyed that you make the attempt, no matter how bad. The phrase "hundai-tikai" came in handy quite a bit, meaning "good, but small,"
I learned this as one of the first phrases, and of course, it can be used in a joking manner as well, it's implications ilicit laughs all round in the proper context. Yes, No, thank you, good morning (there are 4 parts of the day to learn in Sri Lanka), and "what is your name" are the first things that anyone should learn to say in any language, if not to converse, at least to be polite and show that you're interested. The people always teach more along the way. My slight bit of Tamil that I learned in India also came in very handy, as along the east coast there are many tamils, living together with the sinhalese and muslims. (In peace, that is, don't let the news fool you. .)

In any case, perhaps this should be a blog of it's own, as there are many interesting comparisons to make between these two countries that are so close in so many ways, and yet light-years apart in others. . .Plus, I guess I am rambling again. Back to the story:

I wandered through the green of the tea plantations, sometimes coming to a supervisor, who, if he did not understand what I was saying, I could sign out and point to the cliffs, and he would point me in the (mostly) right direction. At one point I saw one of the tiny Sri Lankan deer, no taller than my kneecap, fleeing the tourist coming down the path, frantically struggling to find his camera.
At length, I came out in a small village, and found a larger road. The rocky goal was within reach, and after trudging up the hill to the base, I realized that I was getting a little hungry and thirsty. I had really expected to walk perhaps 5 kilometers instead of 15 or 20.
With afternoon coming on in full force and no shops in sight for water, I had just this one chance, so I proceeded to scale the steeper-than-it-had-appeared-from-a-distance slope, which was covered with razorgrass and big stony outcrops like little islands I could rest on to take a break from the strenuous climb. Frequent rests.
I got about two thirds of the way up, and was whistled at from below. I saw an old man coming up the beginning of the slope, disappearing into the woods. Good luck, buddy, I thought, catch me if you can.
Well about 2 minutes later, the barefoot villager appears next to me. "Come," he says, motioning me in a sidewards direction. "Easy way." At this point I was pretty tired, so the prospect of not having to slog along as I had been going sounded good. The man took off like a leopard through the underbrush, easily striding through, and myself close behind. He had to wait for me a number of times as I rested from the climb, Indian cigarettes catching up with me a little, but more so the thirst.
Finally making the top, in the high forest, my unexpected guide waited for me, sitting on a log. We scanned the horizon, and he pointed at things, places with names that I perhaps will never remember, and Sri Pada, the highest point on the island, and Adam's peak in the distance. Views like this are worth the climb, especially when they happen at a place that is rarely visited, especially by tourists.
Asking of the man "Watura. . Tani?" the singha and tamil words for water, he motioned me through the woods again. "Watura. . one kilometer," he pointed, and off we went, the signs of the mountain spring becoming more apparent as we grew closer, muddy patches with strange pawprints, some of the tiny deer mentioned before, but some more ominously feline in origin. .
Coming to the clear water flowing out from the spring that was hidden in undergrowth, I felt like a man who has been lost in the desert--You know the one--the cliche of a crawling man gasping "water, water," though in this case it was "watura, watura. ."
The villager took two palm leaves from a nearby tree, and folded them to make a neat little scoop-like cup out of them, and making one for me as well, and we both enjoyed the clear and cold gift of nature, my thirst overcoming any small worries that may have sprouted in my mind about giardia or some such other little nasties. The water was some of the clearest and freshest I have ever tasted, and I could feel the energy return as I became hydrated again.
After our little coctail hour, my new friend led me down another way, through the bleached white trunks of the high forest trees, some kind of poplar, I would assume, and only existing because where they are growing had not been able to be accessed by the logging machine that had left it's ugly mark on the lower areas. Majestic and beautiful, the woods were like the arches of some kind of cathedral to nature, a monument to an ancient Earth Mother, who as of late seems to be a bit of a battered woman. Big monkeys watched us from the branches and rocks, never quite getting close enough to get a clear picture of them. .
We made it down from the mountain in about an hour or so, and the man motioned me to follow him to his home, a rude stone hut with timbers for a roof, surrounded by lush cultivated plants, vegetable, and flowers. His two sons showed up, their wives, and the man's own, giving me tea and milk, and, as a special treat, pulling honey out of the hive and serving me with bread to dip in it. Like manna from above. Sri Lanka also knows how to make bread.
His sons showed me old photos in an album, they had both been in the army, and so now had good jobs as security men for the surrounding tea estates. The man beamed about his family, and has good reason to be proud--two good sons, a little plot on which to grow his food, a good wife, and grandchildren.
The sun began to fall lower toward the horizon, and I gave them my reluctant farewells, them asking me to stay the night, but I knowing I had to get back to the estate, as they would be worried (which turned out to be exactly the case).
The younger son showed me the way to the main road, and I boarded the bus. Of a sudden, I felt a tap on my shoulder and someone called my name. I turned around to see a friend I had made in Kandy, Ravi, and his wife, she with one of those impossible-for-my-western-brain-to-remember Sri Lankan names. They were, it turns out, going up to the very same plantation, to which they had been invited by the woman's son. Funny. Of all the country buses in the world, they had taken the back way in from Kandy by chance, and there they were sitting right behind me!! What are the chances?!?! Small world, or at least, small island.
They were as surprised and happy to see me as I them, and we made our way into town, spirits high, and making conversation, as they were both quite good speakers of my native tongue. .
After all, this truly is 'friend, friend,' and not 'business, business. . '
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