Month: November 2016

Early morning

Friday 11th was the first day I have felt better for the past week so up far too early but strolled down to the beach before 6 am.

It was a delightful morning and the hotel staff were cleaning up the sand which runs from the hotel foyer to the sea.   I haven’t ventured the short distance down to the sea, and it is only yards, because the humidity has snookered my breathing.  However the week of Ayurvedic treatments has not got me right, but back on the track to being right, but a way to go yet.

There were four or five men on the beach, tourists, all clutching cameras, waiting for the sun to break through the misty clouds which looked light enough but they were not moving with any speed.   I walked along the beach at the water’s edge, past the next couple of hotels, but I much prefer this one which has been sensible enough not to shroud the view of the beach with trees and shrubs.  In fact as you walk into reception the vista is amazing. You look straight through to the infinity pool, the golden sands and the sea.  What more could you ask for?

I was a bit afraid to walk too far because I tend to run when I feel a bit better and suffer from the consequences.  I turned back, took the sandals off and tucked my mobile and room key in my bra, hoping I wouldn’t slip and fall in the waves.

It was delicious.  Warm frothy waves gently rolling back and forth.  I couldn’t see any great tidal affect and grew more confident.  Too confident of course because one wave had to be higher than the rest and my blue and white striped shorts (knee-length pyjamas but they are all I have with me) were soaked to a depth of about four inches.  But there was no harm really as they were soaked with warm water.   Really warm water.

I don’t know when I have paddled in water so warm or swum in water so warm.  Daren’t swim of course because that would be tempting Providence with my asthma as it is.

I sat down on one of the sun loungers and added a wet bottom to the wet knees but it doesn’t matter a jot.  The would-be sunrise photographers waited patiently and just as a tantalising crisp of fiery orange sun slipped out of a cloud, it slipped back again.  The photographers dashed off to snatch breakfast before their 6.30 am departure.

I had an early breakfast.  There were only a smattering of fellow guests.  Some children for a change and one gorgeous little Sri Lankan boy – too beautiful to be a boy really – was playing up mum and dad.   He swung a knife around that he had snatched off the table quick as a flash.  When the dad persuaded him to hand that back he snatched mum’s mobile phone in the blink of an eye.  I laughed as it is a scene played out in every other home these days.

However, dad, said, ‘Here’s Aunty.’  And the little lad looked at me in horror.  He expected me to tell him off and he quietened down immediately.  The whole breakfast time, I could hear the parents say, ‘Look out.   There’s Aunty.’  Or similar warnings.   The parents work in Saudi and are here on holiday but a touring holiday.

Later on, by the swimming pool and bribed by the Polo mints I always carry in my handbag, the little lad, two years five months, blew me kisses, and was carried away in dad’s arms calling, ‘I love you Aunty.  I love you Aunty.’  Amazing what a two or three sweets can do.

During breakfast there was a mum with an older boy who sat politely at the breakfast table with his father.  There were two little girls, one around four I would say and the other a bouncing ball of energy around 18 months to 2.   They were both gorgeously dressed and had been up and full of life when I was walking to the beach just before 6 am.

Mum was conscious of the other hotel guests and was patiently shepherding them from reception, back down the steps to the slatted wooden boardwalk.

As it was early all the housekeeping that you never see was being dealt with.  There are black cauldron like pots which flank each side of the boardwalk, probably nine feet apart along each side and they are staggered so there is one every four and a half feet one side or the other.  They are filled with yellow flower heads so arranged to encircle a white flower in the centre of each pot although some have white flowers in a heart shape surrounded by yellow flowers.

The girls were running ahead of mum when they stopped to look at the member of staff who was kneeling in front of each pot, one by one, carefully picking flower heads from the wicker basket on his arm, and completing his arrangement.

Suddenly he had two willing assistants whether he wished for them or not.  It says much for the patience of the workman as he explained what he was doing and handed flower heads to the little girls so they could help? him with his task.

It became a race for the girls as to who could complete one arrangement and run to the next.  The smaller girl could not keep up with her older sister and of course she was not to be beaten because she retraced her steps and rearranged flowers in already completed pots to her own satisfaction.  I would imagine she will go far in life.  I have never seen her walk, as she bounces in a half-run everywhere.  Remind you of anyone?

And as half the world goes mad, there’s a workman here, who has the patience and generosity of spirit to keep two little girls entertained for a while, and allow their mother a bit of respite time.  I am told from other would-be employees of Theme-Resorts that they are good and fair employers and the rate is better than most.

Maybe that is why I have found everyone so at peace with what they are doing, whether it is the waiting staff, cleaners, chefs.    There are no unhappy employees here which speaks for itself.

And as a footnote to the day as dusk started to fall around 5 pm there was an impromptu ball game on the beach with the players all members of staff.  I am going to ask for a job.

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Steamed Chicken

On Tuesday I experienced what it must be like to be a steamed and roasted chicken covered in oil.  I am having some Ayurvedic sessions hoping to improve my health.  They  begin with an Indian head massage.

Sitting in companionable silence alongside a petite German lady, who had her Ethiopian holiday changed a week before she travelled, (considered too dangerous), we were both commencing our treatments with said head massage.  Starkers except for knickers and a huge orange bath towel, which just wrapped around me but the German lady could have wrapped it around herself twice!   We both sat in comfortable chairs in the open air, facing the ocean and watched the waves rise and froth and gently roll into the golden sandy shore.  There were only a couple of security guards around all week but a couple of dozen French holidaymakers arrived yesterday and they took to the waves this morning.

One of the security guards works for the Maalu Maalu Hotel and Spa and the other one works for the hotel next door.   I would stay here longer if I could.  It is just amazing and the food is brilliant too.

I got more than my German friend, as my masseuse chants softly each time she starts the head massage.   Off to one of the treatment rooms along the corridor of gaily painted doors and on to the high table to have my body pummelled and pulled and oiled.  When I am turned face down I find myself staring at lotus blossom floating in a bowl below the massage table.  There are yellow trumpet flower heads and dark green glossy leaves scattered here there and everywhere, even in the toilet which is at the end of the corridor.

All is open to the elements with a thatched vaulted roof above to protect you from the sun.  Coconut palms and bushes sway in the breeze alongside the Ayurvedic suite of rooms.  Coloured canvas blinds can be pulled down as protection from the sun and there is a huge piece of blue silk with an embroidered gold border along each side of the length of the piece of silk.  There are dots of gold all over the material which may have been a sari in an earlier life.  It is stretched on bamboo in line with the table and about five feet above.

You would almost dose off but for the request, ‘madam turn over, madam sit up, etc.’  Eventually madam is guided to a steam contraption in another room. The only way I can describe it is like a wooden clinker built version of the iron lungs we used to see polio victims in when I was a child.  It was like a huge clam shell open and waiting for me to climb in so it could snap shut!

I hoisted my oiled body up and lay on a thick towel above the slatted base.  The slip of a girl, always quiet, always serious, indicated I should move over a tad to my right otherwise my left arm would be caught in the door as it came down. I duly moved over and within seconds found myself encased in the wooden steamer with only my head protruding.

I didn’t see any dials so maybe the heat temperature was operated automatically.  I lay there growing hotter and hotter.  My girl went out of the room and I wondered what I would do if it got too hot. I thought of the large stainless steel domed barbecue my cousin in Penticton has out on his deck where he does most of the cooking, even in the winter.  I thought I knew just how these oil-basted lumps of chicken felt as he closes the domed cover so the meat can cook through.

But just before I was on the point of yelling for help she came back in and asked if I was okay – which I was and then she went off again!   Not wanting to appear a wimp or anything but I didn’t like being left on my own and with my overactive imagination I fancied scenarios of the whole thing blowing up and me being thrown like a large white oiled whale up into the air and landing somewhere out in the ocean.

Before I could lose my mind completely and I was really quite hot by this time, the gaoler came in and released me and I returned ensconced in yet another large orange bath towel to what has become ‘my treatment room.’

Unexpectedly one of the stretches of nerve pain I have had from the shingles, for eighteen months, has gone.  The doctor here believes it is because of an oil the masseuse used and left on me like a poultice.   The oil is one that the Ayurvedic doctors use to treat the chicken pox virus and of course shingles are related to the same virus.

They have since used the same oil in the same way on the two other stretches of shingle nerve pain I have had without success but are having another attempt today.  It would be worth this whole trip to be pain-free.   So here’s hoping.

The Missing Pelicans

I can’t remember ever having seen a pelican before.   The son was driving me down from Negombo to Pelawatta through the usual heavy traffic.  As per normal I was looking all around me at the shops, the colleges, the government departments and the people, trying to take everything in.

I glanced up at the long double row of street lights in the middle of the road and thought, ‘That’s a very strange place to put a model of a bird!’  I didn’t comment out loud as you don’t.  When you are a guest in someone else’s country it’s not your place to make any observation that might be received as a criticism, besides I didn’t want to appear stupid, but stupid I was.

As if reading my thoughts, the son asked if I had spotted the pelicans!   And on cue one beautiful large whitish bird with its handbag sized pouch rose into the air and swirled off to the adjoining lake.  I have since tried to take a photograph of this species and held the camera phone ready but the minute the phone went into sleep mode, a bird appeared in the air above me as if to say – catch me if  you can.

It was the same with the small chameleon like lizard yesterday which I must ask the driver about as I can’t precisely identify it on line.   It was at the side of the road as we were travelling to the Maalu Maalu resort but although we tried to park off the road we were causing a traffic problem and there were police everywhere on the journey up yesterday.  They were obviously checking credentials, licenses etc, the driver of one minibus which overtook us at a rate of knots  was obviously fined for speeding as he was pulled over by the police when we passed him a couple of miles later.

We had a projected six hour journey North from Pelawatta which lasted longer than that with a stop at the magnificent Aliya hotel for breakfast.  It will take a couple of blogs to report on yesterday’s sitings.

We passed Paddy Fields, and plantations of pineapple, tobacco, rubber, coconut, mango, and teak.   It was amazing as we drove through the dry area of the country and one place which was a distribution centre for the small growers   The driver explained that the paddy fields are owned by individuals or families – no corporation owns them.  I watched men working very hard in the fields and I am told the remuneration for this Sri Lankan staple is small.

There was a delay at one point because the road had collapsed and we edged around a makeshift roundabout to safety.  However there is a huge amount of road building here.  Everywhere you go there seems to be teams of workers dissecting the countryside.  Not a lot of heavy machinery in evidence, but lots of man power in the shape of teak-coloured skins, lean wiry men whose strength belies their frame.

We were on the road from 5.30 am so we would miss the worst of the Columbo rush hour traffic.  It brought back memories of leaving Kent at that hour to have a straight run into London and breakfast in the city before starting work.  The things we do!

My driver is just lovely. He drives an automatic car and he is the epitome of a gentleman.  He is kind, considerate and courteous and has guided me through the Aliya Hotel and Spa in Sigiriya, which deserves a blog of its own. He hardly toots the horn, stops at zebra crossings when no one else does, and uses the indicators in the car when again no one else does.  I felt completely safe with him.

I was completely lost when I arrived at the Aliya Hotel and he pointed me in the right direction and was waiting for me in the foyer when I had finished breakfast.   There was a misunderstanding at the Aliya Hotel and Spa as I didn’t pay for my breakfast. I had tried to but my attempts got lost in translation and I must sort that out with the relative connected to the hotel.

My driver was just the same when we arrived at Maalu Maalu Hotel and Spa, as I was like a lost soul not knowing which or where to go.  He made sure I was handed over to one of the managers.  I was met with a melon sorbet and another member of staff gave me a traditional local welcome with a red dot of colour applied to my forehead.

The view as you enter is just as per the website and I have a lovely bedroom, balcony and a maalu-maalubathroom big enough to party in.  I am level with the tops of the coconut trees and the only sound is the ocean and some birds whose home is in the vaulted thatched roof of my suite.

 

Slave Island, Colombo, Sri Lanka

I cringed the first time I heard the name ‘Slave Island’ as we were heading to the Don Carlos, ‘most expensive furniture store in Sri Lanka’ shop.

I am Scottish, (half Italian and half Scottish to be precise), with Irish ancestry, so why do I cringe when I hear anything that I know is going to be connected to the time when the British pink covered most of the maps on the globe.  You just know the Brits had to be involved in some way with Slave Island.

Why are we brought up to be responsible for the sins of the generations that went before us? My maternal grandfather was a pacifist by the way, which was another sin during WWII and almost instigated WWIII when the subject matter was brought up by my stepfather, who was to suffer for the remainder of his short life from injuries sustained during WWII.

slave-island“Slave Island is a suburb in Colombo, Sri Lanka, located directly to the south of the Fort area of Colombo. The name Slave Island was given during the period of British occupation and administration, and refers to the situation under Portugese and Dutch administration when slaves were held there, most of them from Africa.  Most of the slaves later returned to Africa. However, a very small group of African descendants are scattered throughout Sri Lanka and are collectively known as Sri Lankan Kaffirs. The suburb contains Beira Lake, a large lake and its esplanade is visited by many for recreation. Slave Island is mostly a commercial area with hotels and shopping centres.”

The above is straight from Wikipedia thanks.

I spent last Friday at Beira Lake, well I think I was at Beira Lake, for the all Sri Lankan National Colleges Rowing Championships.  Daughter-in-law’s niece was amongst the rowers, although the traffic was so crazy despite our 7am start we arrived at the lake as said niece was rowing towards the finish line.

It was the first real day off I have had since being here. It was wonderful to spend the time with the DIL’s sister and the other mums.  We sat under the shade of a huge canopy – a quilted marquee open at both ends.   Pure dedication for the mums as most of them had set out from home at 5 am or earlier to have their rowers to the lakeside for the off.

There were teams of rowers from four colleges for girls and ten colleges for boys.  Everything was orderly, as the teams worked together to get the appropriate boat in the water and to wash down the boat immediately it came out of the water.

It meant we spectators had to keep a watchful eye out for the narrow metal rowlocks as the boats were spun over our heads and into a resting area until they were needed again.

The colleges where the competitors came from, are all fee paying as education is of huge importance in this country.  If you thought grinds were purely an Irish pupils’ penance, that’s nothing to what is going on here.  Every single night and at weekends too there is an extra class of some description whether it is maths, science, piano, tennis, rowing, elocution, ballet – the list seems endless.

The head of sport in the Army, officially opened the three-day event.  The schoolchildren lined up in their school teams and stood politely to attention for the Sri Lankan National Anthem as we adults rose to stand in respect.

The army commander spoke of the ethos of the sport of rowing, team work, fairness and spirit of the sport were amongst the words I caught as I was standing at the back near the lake edge.  The teenagers raised their arms during these words swearing allegiance to the sport.  The Army official then encouraged those who were interested to enrol in the army and he spoke of a huge investment the country was making into the sport of rowing.  (Gary and Paul O’Donovan of Skibbereen Rowing Club have a lot to answer for.)

As schools are single sex, this was a first meeting point for the teens of the opposite sex in their age groups.  I observed shy glances, from boys and girls, in the other’s direction, and much walking up and down from the shelter of the Colombian rowing club to the water’s edge but the bevy of chaperoning eagle-eyed sentinels, (the mothers), were enough to dampen any burgeoning interest or ardour.

The girls in the niece’s team were solicitous hostesses bringing chairs and tea for the mothers.  The niece’s partner in the pairs rowing had been attending the rowing for two years, helping carry, clean and wash the rowing boats down.  Last Friday was her first day being allowed to row, and she and the niece were presented with ‘Certificates of Awesomeness’,  “in recognition of having mastered the technique of rowing.”

There is no holding back such determination – two years washing boats! Magdalene Fularczyk and Natalia Madaj will have competition for Tokyo 2020.

I had hoped to slot in some of the photographs I took on the day but instead of photos I took videos and I am posting some up on facebook and will head them Slave Island.  You will see in one there was a huge monitor lizard swimming alongside the waters edge.  At one point it raised its head out of the water looking around at what was going on. I was the only one paying attention.  For all the other rowers and spectators the lizard was a regular participant.

Terrace Green Hotel, Negombo

I came up to Negombe a couple of days ago and am going back to Pelawatta later today and then maybe off to the east coast.  There’s a resort I would like to visit on the http://www.theme-resorts.com website, the Maulu Maulu Resort and Spa.

maalu-maaluhttp://www.theme-resorts.com/maulumaulu

I am fascinated by the images on the website particularly of this resort.  It’s like all the dreams you have ever had of sandy beaches and turquoise waters which keep quite shallow so you can paddle happily and in safety.

I have never experienced this on the Indian ocean.  Nearest was many years ago, (and there are photographs somewhere of me standing with a toddler in my arms), in Shell Bay on the Isle of Purbeck, maybe a couple of hundred yards out from the shore.  It was one of those blistering record-breaking hot days you get in the south of England.  The sea stayed at about eighteen inches deep as the land did not shelve so as the sun rose and heated the shallows, there was the blissful experience of hot water to paddle in as far as you could go out.    I remember our biggest problem was keeping the little boys covered up and persuading them they couldn’t live on that beach for ever.

Meanwhile I have really enjoyed my stay here at the Terrace Green Hotel. http://www.terracegreenhotel.com/ It has been in new ownership for about eight months and they are following the lines of some of the five star hotels I have stayed in – the Jetwing Beach and Blue, Negombo.

I checked this hotel out on TripAdvisor and the advice on there is really accurate.  They are working on some of the rooms as this is between seasons, but the floors are all solid, barefoot-friendly tiles, a very comfortable and enormous bed – a couple and children and two or three dogs size – is fitted with immaculate white linen and they have decent sized towels in the bathroom which is well kitted out too.  They have toiletries and flannels and really everything you could wish for.  There’s a flat screen tv which one of the nice young men helped me put on last night and I caught up with some local political news.  Great to have something other than the Donal and Hillary saga, which is quite disturbing when you think about it, but I tend not to.

There’s a fridge in the room too and a balcony with a glass topped coffee table and a couple of chairs.  I popped up a couple of flights of stairs to the roof terrace where there are some loungers but it’s out of season at the moment so no activity there.  There are other guests but you can’t hear any noise from the other rooms.

They are putting in a swimming pool by either December/January and I showed the manager the website of the pool at the Lodge & Spa, Inchydoney Island, Clonakilty, which set him thinking.  He thinks the hotel has access to sea water from a well at the entrance to the drive and he is going to investigate as he would like to have a Spa treatment centre here too.

In one respect the hotel is kind of off the beaten track but that’s nice too as you are living next to the locals and that is what this country is all about.  The people are welcoming and warm and charming.   I wandered along the red dusty road yesterday afternoon looking for a shop to put some credit on my mobile phone.  Most places were closed but there is a big catholic church around the corner, namely St Jude’s – this hotel is in St Jude’s Lane.

The food here is something else again.  I have lost weight over the past five or six weeks I have been here.  I know I need to lose more but because of the heat I have no pain when walking so have been going out most days that I could, just around the block in Pelawatta.

I booked half board and the choice of meals is good but the set menus for half board include appetizers, soup, salads, mains, desserts, and tea or coffee.   Of course because you are paying for it, you think you should eat it all to get your money’s worth!   The most expensive set menu is 2,800LK and that is roughly €16.  Well I have tried but I just can’t eat through all the courses and have been embarrassed having to return perfectly cooked and perfectly good food as it has been just too much for me.

The chef made me a smaller portion last night but I still couldn’t eat my way through the main course after the starter and the soup which were both so delicious I just had to finish them.

The food really has been the best that I have eaten since coming here.  And they have understood that I can’t eat spicy food so have cooked everything fresh to order.  This means that you might wait a tad longer if they are busy with other orders, but the food is definitely worth the wait.

Where to next I wonder?  I’ll let you know in the next blog.

 

 

Tata

I booked a small car to take myself and one suitcase to Negombo, on the coast north of Colombo and the airport on Monday, 31st October.

I had tried to book a taxi but with the sound of my non-native voice the first taxi company I contacted quoted me 7,000 LK and when I said too much, dropped the price down to 6,000 LK (about £30) immediately, but this was still way too much.

I tried the on-line http://www.budgettaxilk.com service next and it is a bit confusing – well I know I get easily confused – but I couldn’t work out if I was hiring a car for myself to drive (never would here) or a car and a driver.

The system is all so efficient, that is if you know what your are doing and I evidently didn’t.  Get on to their website where you can choose your vehicle, type in your pick up point, then your destination, but that is as far as I got before the screen sort of jumped to another page and it all got a bit beyond me so I dialled the telephone number.

A very nice lady had patience with my accent and mis-pronunciation but eventually we got there.  It’s not just a car and a driver you have the choice of. She asked if I wanted a TukTuk, an eco-car, a saloon car, a jeep or luxury car or a truck.   I wasn’t sure what an eco-car was but it sounded good.   She said it would cost around 2,500 LK and that the driver would phone me.

The company texts you with the assigned driver’s name and the registration number of his vehicle.

Unfortunately, the assigned driver, D G Priyantha, couldn’t understand me either, but I texted the pick up address and the destination on the mobile and shortly after a cream coloured Tata was weaving its way around the warren of streets adjacent to the Pelawatta house.

A Tata is quite a small car, petrol but you get good mileage, and you sit pretty upright in the front seat – my suitcase filled the back seats.  It was a really enjoyable journey with D G Priyantha as we chatted in half words and sentences, whilst he wove his way through the afternoon traffic.

The nearby roads are excellent because they are near the new Parliament but as the traffic became denser and slowed to a standstill, the white helmeted policemen directed the traffic at main intersections in the road.  The three lanes would become five or sometimes six lanes a side as TukTuks, motorbikes and even brave cyclists jostled for position in amongst the cars, lorries and buses.   With horns tooting consistently we moved further north and I agreed to pay the 300LK which would allow us to use the new motorway and shorten our journey time.

I had looked up Terrace Green Hotel on Tripadvisor and it seemed to meet all my needs for this week.   It’s just off the main road to the beach and came highly recommended.   It’s spotlessly clean and I was immediately upgraded to a larger room on the first floor.

I even have a flat-screen Sony TV but I haven’t watched TV since I left Ireland on September 17th apart from one schools programme on the 18th which I haven’t seen since.  I don’t know what is happening with all the soaps, who has died, who is sleeping with who and it is amazing how you can switch off from something – no pun intended.

I booked half-board and the dinner last night was amazing, although I couldn’t eat the main course, which was picture perfect.  The first course was described as Cordon Bleu chicken with curry and spices.  It’s all cooked fresh so there is a bit of a wait and I asked for no spices and no pepper.   What I got was absolutely wonderful.  Slim strips of chicken and a variety of vegetables all stir fried in a delicious sauce.  I almost licked my plate – it was just divine.  Then came cream of pumpkin soup with garlic flakes accompanied by a plate of feathery light tiny bread rolls.  I was full by this point and just had no room for the main course which was presented picture perfect so I apologised to the chef, and opted to have a dessert, curd and treacle and then tea.

There are around a dozen tables set in the open-plan dining room, which leads on to reception on one side and on the other, wearing pristine white uniforms and high hats three chefs work harmoniously together behind a high counter.

The waiter is from Colombo city and has been working here for around five months.  He gets the bus home on his days off but lodges nearby the days he is working.

The beautiful girl on reception wears fabulous saris, a pink one yesterday and a blue one today and she does have the figure to wear them.

It rained heavily during the night again and there were several rumbles of thunder followed by flashes of lightning.  The power went off two or three times last night but the hotel has a back-up generator.  However, it’s another hot, sultry blue sky day today.

I loved watching the clips on line of the rowing in Skibbereen yesterday.  So thanks for posting that up.  I was at the daughter-in-law’s niece’s rowing on Friday in Colombo.