Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Would you pay for a FAQ?

A few weeks ago one of my friends locally sent me a note suggesting an idea...I should try and make some money off of my Moving to Iqaluit FAQ. That instead of putting it up on the blog for free, which I've done for years, I should instead put it up as an Amazon single. I could charge 99 cents for it and keep about 70 per cent of the money.

I confess, I never really thought about making money off the FAQ. I always considered it more of a public service. When we were first looking at moving up to Iqaluit in 2005, the online resources to help you with such a move were practically non-existent. A smattering of blogs, a bit of information on the truly awful (at the time) Government of Nunavut website and that was it. There was a lot of guesswork involved in figuring out what you needed to bring and what you were in for if you choose to move here.

I remember us taking an action packer with plants because we were convinced we would not be able to find or buy house plants in Iqaluit. That theory went out the window pretty much on my first trip to Arctic Ventures. There wasn't a great selection, they were over-priced and half dead, but hey....plants.

It's changed since then. There are a lot more blogs outlining people's experiences in Nunavut. The Government of Nunavut has gotten a little better at providing information to new arrivals. There's even a slap together website outlining information about moving here.

So I wasn't sure if the FAQ is really as needed anymore. However, the last update in October has more than 600 page views. It's by far the most read post on this blog. I've had strangers tell me how much that post helped them. Hell, I was in a class last year and when it was revealed that I was the guy who wrote that blog with the FAQ, nearly all the non-Inuit in the class knew that post. One local reporter told me he uses that post as a test for newbies eager to move to Nunavut for "an adventure". I believe the cull rate of people after reading it is about 80 per cent.

Which was never my intention, by the way. I never meant to scare the crap out of people or tell them not to come here. It was always intended to be an honest assessment of the pros and cons of moving here. I like to think I've managed to do that.

So I'm tempted by the idea of an Amazon Kindle. I'm under no illusion of making any kind of significant money off of it. If 25 per cent of the 600 people who read that post spent 99 cents on it (a deeply generous estimate, I suspect), and then I made my 70 cents off of that sale, I would make about $100. If you've read that post, you'll understand exactly how far $100 will get you in Nunavut. But hey, better than nothing, right? I try to limit my writing where I don't get paid to the confines of this blog these days.

But I am curious. My readership is a fraction of what it was back at its peak in 2009. But for those of you still kicking around here waiting for me to say something interesting, would you go and pay 99 cents for an Amazon single on information about moving to Iqaluit? It's only a buck, but people can get weird about spending money online. There still exists an air of entitlement when it comes to writing and information. That it should be free.

If I get enough feedback to make it interesting, I'll look at doing a single. I'll pull the information off the website and put a link to Amazon. And then I guess we'll see what happens next.

Last Five
1. Behind blue eyes - The Who
2. Hey Jude - The Beatles
3. Damned if she do - The Kills
4. Don't fail me now (live) - Ryan Adams*
5. Been a son - Nirvana

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Travel plans

Obviously the last 12 months have featured just a ridiculous amount of travel...for both Cathy and I, but more so for me. Barring unforeseen weirdness, that pace isn't going to continue for much longer. When I was in Sri Lanka a few of my friends asked what was next in my travels. Keep in mind that most of these people have travelled a lot more than I have and even they were a little shocked by how much going I've been doing. Having said that, there are plans and schemes afoot.

The next two trips are pretty much locked in. The first will be a week in Florida, which we've done each year for the last four years. In the past Florida has been as much about the shopping as the relaxing, but I think this year it's just going to be about the sloth. Which is fine.

The summer trip is in a couple of stages. Stage 1 is the annual sealift resupply (perhaps a jaunt down to the States to hit some of the Outlet stores. We've never done that before). Stage 2 is going to Kingston for Dups/Jenna II. If I can make it to Sri Lanka for the wedding, I can surely manage to get to Kingston. Stage III is heading to California for a few weeks. We'll mostly be in the San Francisco area, with a few jaunts down the Pacific Coast highway, Napa and probably to Yosemite so Cathy can see giant trees. I was hoping to get to San Diego for the comic con, but tickets sold out in something like 30 seconds. I never stood a chance.

After that, things get vague. There probably won't be another trip for me then for a year. The last few years I've managed to get out in October, but I don't think so this year. Nor do I think we'll be going anywhere for Christmas this year. Part of it is just trying to save some money. We have to top up the reserves for the next big round of travelling.

However, tentative plans would look something like this:
2014 - Central Europe: Germany, Austria (I really want to see the Alps), Czech Republic with perhaps a jaunt up to Scotland and tour the west coast with some friends.
2015 - Machu Picchu, Peru along with the Galapagos.
2016 - Spain, Portugal, Morocco and the Canary Islands

All subject to change, of course. The Scandinavian cruise didn't come up on the radar until fairly late into our summer planning. As for other trips, well, Cathy and I still have a couple on our bucket lists. We've been lucky to be able to cross off Italy and Australia, however I would say Egypt is still high up there for Cathy and Thailand is still up there for me.

There are problems with both of those, although perhaps not as impossible as I first thought. The security situation in Egypt is worrying. However, one of the people I was bopping around Sri Lanka with has made multiple trips to the country in the last month. And considering she's a young woman and was travelling by herself, well, maybe it's not ridiculously bad, if you just avoid certain parts of the country and avoid being stupid and careless.

The problem with Thailand is mostly the food. Cathy's allergic to seafood and peanuts. Which is a problem as most of the food there is doused with one, if not both. However, I've done some digging into the subject and people with severe allergies can travel there with some basic precautions such as sticking mostly to western food and having strongly worded cards printed in the local language explaining her allergies to hand to waiters at restaurants.

If that's not enough, there's still more. We'd both like to see some of the Greek islands. We'd love to get to New Zealand at some point. Cathy would like to see Sri Lanka. I'd like to see Ireland and Iceland. And there's Australia, Italy and Costa Rica...countries we've visited, but loved and would love to spend more time exploring. Oh, and a Panama Canal cruise, while we're dreaming.

And if I'm still dreaming, it'd be nice to share some of these adventures with friends. One of the very nice things about Sri Lanka was doing the trip with friends. There are pros and cons to this kind of travel, but it's the first time I've done it in ages and I really enjoyed it. I'd travel with any of my Sri Lanka companions again in a second.

On Facebook I have the TripAdvisor app which says I've visited 18 countries and been to something like 120 cities in the world. It's more than I could have dreamed of doing when I was 18 years old and about the only place I'd ever been in my life was Ontario and Florida. But when I look at the map, all I see are vast white spaces...places I haven't been to yet and want to see. Plus, I feel like I'm still learning how to travel. One of the reasons why we're going back to California this summer, aside from seeing some friends, is that we felt like we didn't do it right last time. We'd like another shot of doing it right.

How do you "do" a country right? No idea. Part of the fun, I guess. Figuring these things out. I'm looking forward to continuing my travel education for many more years...

Last Five
1. The path of thorns - Sarah McLachlan*
2. Runnin' with the devil - Van Halen
3. I'm yours - Joel Plaskett Emergency
4. The infinite pet - Spoon
5. What I'm looking for - Brendan Benson

Friday, February 22, 2013

Sri Lanka, Days 8-10

After one of the memorable weddings, and days, of my life, the rest of the Sri Lankan adventures seem a touch anti-climatic by comparison. And they were. Not to say that fun wasn't had; I enjoyed myself quite a bit. But this was more standard vacation fun than what had happened during the first week.

By agreement we'd all decided after the wedding to head down south towards Unawatuna. The south coast of the country is the beach area and the most touristy. When planeloads of Europeans arrive in Sri Lanka most of them are not heading north to the national parks or Buddhist temples. They're heading south for a beach and some sun. Considering how hectic the last week had been, especially for the new bride and groom, a few days on a beach before heading back to frozen Canada (more frozen for some rather than others) worked.

So after the usual chaos we managed to get on the road. By consensus, we decided to hire back our drivers rather than trying to use trains or buses. We also decided to take the slow coastal road down to Unawatuna rather than the slick new highway connecting Colombo and Galle (which is just a few minutes north of Unawatuna). The drivers seemed quite disappointed. I think they were anxious to show-off the new highway. After so many days of marginal roads and lunacy on the highways, they wanted to show off something shiny and not crazy.

Still, I've been on highways. It's a nice drive down the coast as the road was frequently only a few metres away from the ocean. It's hard to tell when you've left Colombo because there's always signs of a city of some sort. But the pace and craziness does easy up. And there's also one other sign that you've left the capital. The signs of destruction.

The 2004 tsunami devastated southeast Asia, particularly Thailand. But Sri Lanka didn't escaped unscathed. Parts of the east coast and the south coast were badly hit. Cities were destroyed and thousands of people lost their lives. More than eight years later you could easily spot the traces of flatted buildings that have never been rebuilt. The level of recovery is frankly amazing, but the ghost of the tsunami are always lingering. We passed by two memorials marking where at least 1,700 people were killed with the wave slammed into an over-stuffed train. It's the worst train-related disaster in history.

The one put together by the Sri Lankan government is a bit grim and on the shambly side. One donated by the Japanese government is much more serene and beautiful.

Eventually we made it to Unawatuna, where we stayed at a hotel run by a British ex-pat. Which would be a theme with Unawatuna. I think it's as close as I came to being disappointed with a place in Sri Lanka. It has a very "generic beach town" feel to it. Really, it could have been in The Dominican Republic. Or Cuba. Or Costa Rica. It could have been anywhere in the world that has a beach. There was little distinctly Sri Lankan about the place.

I guess asking for beach and culture is asking for a bit much. Still, Unawatuna proved to be a bit disappointing on both fronts. Lack of culture aside, there's also the matter that it's beach was practically wiped out after the tsunami. It looks like there's attempts at trying to rebuild the sandy aspect of the beach, but it won't be back anytime soon. In the meantime, in the typical chaotic Sri Lankan manner, new businesses are building right on top of the beach. In some cases it's only a matter of feet separating the front of a hotel and restaurant and high tide.

It would never be allowed in most places. In a few years, they might even fix it. But right now, the beach at Unawatuna, other than being wet, was a bit of a disappointment.

Fortunately, Unawatuna made up for the lacklustre beach in other ways. While we had lost two of our travelling companions just before the jaunt down south (Eddie and Tushar had to fly out that day), the rest of the crowd were all staying at the same hotel. While some people like Janius and Laura and her family are relative strangers to me, it was honestly awesome to be able to squeeze in as much hanging out time as possible with Dups and Jenna (they were in Honeymoon mode, so we didn't crash their space, obviously), or Niall and Rebecca. Hell, even Lori and I were not ready to kill each other yet even after spending nearly two weeks together.

These people mean a lot to me and I never see them often enough. So even if it's walking down a beach, eating at awful vegetarian restaurant (the food was fine; it just took 90 minutes to get it and the owner was a passive-aggressive ex-pat Brit prick), or just hanging out at the hotel, it was all good.

Even wandering around Galle one day, and visiting the Dutch fort was fine. It felt a little weird, seeing this very obvious European intrusion into Sri Lanka after days of temples and Sri Lanka culture. But it was nice to walk around the walls and get some photos. It was also nice to get some last minute shopping done in Galle. I'd promised Cathy "all the gifts" when I went and she couldn't go. So I grabbed a couple of more items (two silk saris. Nothing like grabbing about 14 feet of intricately decorated silk for less than $75) and declared myself done. Except, you know, the few things I got at the airport.

But now, alas, people had to start to leave. After day one, Dups, Jenna and Nuala had to leave. Then we had to say good-bye to Mike and Kelly, who were staying for a few extra days and moving on to their next location. So then it was Niall, Rebecca, Janius, Jan, Lori and I heading to the airport. And then we lost the first three as they had to wait until 4 am for their flight to leave, and ours left at 1 am. We lost Jan in Frankfurt, where she was catching a flight to Vancouver. Then, finally, I said good-bye to Lori. She was the first one I met up with on my travels and the last I said good-bye to.

We didn't kill each other, which surprises me a little. We can both be stubborn and have a bit of a temper. But she was great to travel with.

It was a great trip, honestly. I was probably guilty of trying to peg Sri Lanka into other countries I've visited before. At different points I thought it reminded me of Costa Rica, South Korea and the Dominican Republic. But it is one of the most distinctive countries I've ever visited. Certainly it has the best food I've ever eaten. Yeah, better than Italy, New York and San Francisco.

It's a country in transition, and that can always be a fascinating thing to watch. It's coming out of the shadows of a decades long civil war and trying to become normal again. From talking with my friends who had been there only five years ago, they spoke of how much more relaxed the country is, how much happier the people are, and how much more prosperity there is.

I'd like to go back there again one day. I think Cathy would like to as well, so perhaps in five years time or so, we'll find a way to get back. It'll be interesting to see how much more it will have changed by then. Change is always messy, so I'm sure there will be somethings it does right, and somethings it does wrong. I hope it keeps the food, the parks and wilderness, the temples and the friendliness and curiosity of the people. I hope the driving gets a little better. I hope it doesn't get overwhelmed by European beach goers and turned into another beach resort country.

I look forward to returning and seeing what they got right...

Assorted Bits
1. One way the country is changing is the military is trying to find things to do. Mike found a page on their air force website offering to fly paying passengers via helicopter to Jaffna, which is in the northern part of the country and deep in Tamil control during the Civil War. It also suffered heavy damage in the final days of the war. Alas, they didn't get back to him in time. But I think it was something like $100 return, per person, which is just silly.
2. I thought I was playing things very loose on this trip compared to how rigidly planned Cathy and I normally do things, but that's nothing compared to Mike and Kelly. The day we were checking out of the hotel in Unawatuna, they didn't know where they were going to stay that night, or what they were going to do for the next five days. Then again, they had fun and the world didn't end, so there's something to be said for it.
3. A decided western complaint, but hot water is a hit or miss venture in Sri Lanka. Solar showers are as common. Which is lovely when the sun is shinning, but a lot of days there it wasn't. An unintended consequence of this is I came home with a beard.
4. We ended up taking the toll highway when dashing to the airport. They really are proud of it, the first of several around the country. And it did cut down the travel time from Galle to Colombo significantly. Plus, the drivers behaved normally.
5. We had a small adventure flying back to Canada. When we hit Frankfurt at 7:30 am we learned that our flight at 1:30 pm to Montreal was being delayed by at least six hours, maybe more. Mechanical problems. After a mad dash, we managed to get on a flight leaving for Toronto that actually got us into Canada about 4 hours earlier. And our luggage arrived on time. So, as hard as it is for me to say this, kudos to Air Canada. They transferred us over to the new flight with no grief, got us good seats and my bags arrived. Can't ask much more than that.
6. The jetlag off of a 10.5 hour time zone change is vicious. It was bad when we arrived in Sri Lanka, but much, much worse coming back. It took me about six days to shake it off. Not helping was picking up a cold.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Sri Lanka, Day 7

Nearly a dozen years ago, Dups gave me one of the most remarkable few days of my life when I attended his citizenship ceremony in Ottawa. Days of celebration with friends cumulated by watching him bounce across the stage at the Museum of Civilization to become a Canadian citizen. I've always cherished that event.

And now he's given me another memory to cherish for the rest of my life. Because, honestly, I've never experienced anything quite like February 11, 2013, the day he and Jenna got married. It was a remarkable day. Those of us in attendance kept looking at each other as if we couldn't believe we were actually in Sri Lanka and experiencing this.

My day didn't begin as early as Dups and Jenna's did, but I was up at 6 am, just in case he needed any help. Besides the plan was that most of the men would meet up in one of the hotel rooms and get changed, plus to give Dups any support or help he might need.

It was a fun hour or so. Lots of jokes and moments of cracking up. Dups running out of the bathroom and asking if any of us had any hair gel. Let's just say that of the men in the room at that time - me, Mike, Eddie and Tushar - gel was not something we felt compelled to pack for the trip. We concluded prolonged exposure to Dups could cause hair loss. When I think about it, I believe I did start losing my hair right around the same time I met him.

Later, when Dups was getting dressed he discovered that perhaps you should take your new dress shirt out of it's packaging sometime sooner than two hours before you get married, so Tushar was doing some frantic ironing of shirts.

But the moment things hit home was when Dups asked Niall and I to run upstairs. Niall needed to get some photos of Jenna and Nuala. He needed me to grab Jenna's dad's cufflinks, which he wanted to wear when they got married. So Niall and I got an early preview of how the bride and her maid of honour were going to look.

Breathtaking. No kidding, I've been to a few wedding and seen some stunning brides. But I've never seen anything like what Jenna and Nuala looked like. I think all I managed to keep saying was "wow." Although I'm not entirely sure how they managed to breath in either dress.

I remembering bringing the cufflinks back to Dups a short time later and telling him "try to remember to breath when you see her." I wasn't there when that happened, but by all accounts it took him a moment or two to remember.

After getting dressed, everyone began making their way to the main lobby of the hotel to meet before the wedding. I was wearing a suit, but a couple of the guys - Niall and Eddie - opted for more traditional Sri Lankan men's clothing. Most of the women either went with saris or tunics. We were actually hanging out in the lobby for about 15 minutes or so with Dups and Jenna (they had a bunch of photos taken before the ceremony) so everyone got to see them together. They actually were pretty calm, I must say. Although Jenna and Nuala were the centre of attention. People were either asking permission to take pictures, or trying to sneak one in.

Now, here's the weird thing...we didn't actually know what was going to happen. Dups Sri Lankan family did, obviously. But the western contingent didn't have a clue what was about to happen. Hell, even Dups and Jenna were a touch in the dark about aspects of what as to come next. They had made a number of changes from the more traditional ceremony. There would be no foot washing of the groom, for example. They cut some other aspects of the ceremony Dups was not comfortable with for personal reasons. So everyone was curious about what was about to happen.

Dups and Mike went ahead to the main hall. Most of us stayed with Jenna. Because Dups had so much family in the country, we decided to be Jenna's family. That meant at the appointed time, someone came and told us it was time. Jenna, her mom and Nuala went first. The rest of us followed behind, a little uncertain but going with the flow.

Outside of the banquet hall, we were greeted by men in traditional Sri Lankan dress. That's when they began singing, dancing and playing drums to escort the bride and her family into the hall. I keep using the word "remarkable", but it was. It was so full of energy and life and joy. You couldn't help but smile the entire time.

The timing of everything was also important. The duration of the celebration escorting Jenna in was dependent on her being at a specific place at a specific time, as I understand it. They had their horoscope read months earlier, so much of the timing of the ceremony was based on that. The drumming, singing, dancing and, eventually, acrobatics, lasted about 10 minutes. It could have been shorter, it could have been longer.

Throughout all of it we were encouraged to be as involved as we wanted. There was no problem milling around and taking photos and video of the festivities. There were seats, so if you wanted to sit down, you could. If you wanted to be up close and take photos, you could. There was a very specific ceremony and ritual happening going on, but it was also quite relaxed about how involved the families could be. It was fantastic.

After that, it was a ceremony. Dups and Jenna had to step on a special hand made dais at a specific time. The priest performed a ceremony that I think caught Dups a bit by surprise because he was not speaking Singhalese; he was speaking Sanskrit. It's basically the equivalent of a Catholic ceremony being done entirely in Latin. There was a moment when the priest handed both of them some leaves. Dups thought they were supposed to hold onto them; Jenna thought they were suppose to drop them on the floor.

For not the last time in their marriage, Jenna was right.

There were other moments. A coconut was lit on fire and cracked in half with a machete (it actually kind of exploded. Smoking coconut shrapnel hit several people). That was supposed to symbolize virility. Not terribly subtle, now that I think about it. But it's bad luck if it doesn't go well. The signing of the registry and saying the vows, which is a moment where I think it kind of sank in finally that they were getting married. There was also a moment where they had to light some candles around a bronze stand. I confess, I wasn't really paying attention to all the details of the stand at the time, so I missed the initial joke.

You see, we'd spent days at this point making fun of the national bird of Sri Lanka. It's the jungle fowl. In Sinhalese it's called a Fire Bird. In reality, it's a chicken. It's a jungle chicken, but a chicken all the same. So we've spent days exaggerating how fearsome the jungle chicken was ("Did you know the jungle chicken is the only natural predator to the elephant. It takes about 20 years of pecking, but he eventually wears him down"). It was reaching Monty Python-like proportions. It was a good bit of fun at Dups experience.

On top of the bronze stand was the bird. So when Dups and Jenna finished lighting the candles, they walked by and whispered to Lori and I, "Hey look. It's a fire chicken!"

I nearly lost it. Just a perfect little moment in a perfect ceremony.

After that, there were elements you would find in a lot of weddings. The newly weds were brought to a sati where people went up and offered congratulations and had their pictures taken with them. They went around from table to table and spoke with family and friends. There was yet another astonishing Sri Lankan meal. The food in that country is unreal.

And then, well, there was some milling about. You see, they weren't allowed to leave until a certain time. Nor were the guests. It would be bad luck. There was music playing, but of Dups brothers was in charge of the music for the wedding. He loves 80s karaoke. I'm not kidding. And they were playing it loud. However, no one was really inclined to get up and start dancing to it. Oh, and there was no alcohol.

There were still a few more amazing moments to come, however. One was that Dups family felt comfortable enough around us that they went up and started singing traditional Sri Lankan songs, which was amazing. What's more amazing was that Dups father joined them and sang as well.

Dups dad had fairly serious surgery back in December. The fact that he was well enough to attend the wedding was almost a miracle. That he was up there singing along with his family...well, you'd have to be inhuman not to be touched by it.

His dad also said a few words at the end of the ceremony. I'm glad I got the chance to meet him. I wish I had met him when he was healthier. He was amazing at the wedding. From speaking to Niall, Rebecca and Mike, who had met him years ago, he was even more amazing back then. Plus, he has one of the great laughs. It just fills a room. You can't help but smile when you hear it.

And then that was it. The bride and groom headed out, with all the family and friends following. Jenna arranged a vintage car to pick them up and carry them away (they were back at the hotel 10 minutes later).

After that, the rest of the day feels kind of anti-climatic. A group of us went out on the upper deck of the hotel and had high tea. Nuala joined us. She'd changed out of her bridesmaid outfit, but kept the hair, which was like concrete. It didn't move an inch for the rest of the day. She told us later it took soaking her hair in conditioner for about 30 minutes before it even began to loosen up.

Later in the evening, we all headed down to the beach and ate supper. Dups and Jenna even joined us for the evening. It was just a nice night of hanging out with friends, talking about the day and enjoying each other. It was the last evening we were all going to be together. Exhausted, we all headed back to the hotel around midnight...

Assorted Bits
1. We briefly entertained the idea of going up and singing a song or two ourselves, but we had a hard time trying to come up with a song to sing. It was nearly "Barrett's Privateers", but we thought that wasn't exactly cheerful to sing at a wedding. It was noted that there are not many sing-alongable and cheerful Canadian songs that do not involve lots of drinking. We'll figure something out before the Kingston wedding.
2. Mike was considerably nervous before the wedding. He was the best man, but Dups kept him in the dark about what he was supposed to be doing. We never did figure out if that's because Dups didn't know what was going on, or if he just wanted to torture Mike. I think Mike was the most relieved once the ceremony was over and discovered his role was fairly minimal.
3. Both Jenna and Nuala had considerable amounts of make-up added, which darkened their complexion. Nuala, in particular, seemed to frustrate the make-up folks. She's Irish and has freckles. They seemed very determined to get rid of them. Thankfully, they failed...
4. Rebecca and Janius both wore lovely saris, but it was a near thing. They had been fitted for them a week earlier, but the tailor apparently tossed out the measurements. They didn't fit and it took a morning of frantic adjustments to make the saris work.
5. When Dups first bounced into our lives, nearly everything he wore was purple. In honour of that, Lori wore a purple tunic and I wore a purple shirt and tie. Which was fantastic, but it cracked up my my wife when she saw the pics. "You guys look great, but it looks like you're going to prom together..."

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Sri Lanka, Day 6

Today was the Gathering. A group of people ventured from Canada and Europe to come to the Dups/Jenna wedding, but rather than all trying to travel together, we all went and did separate things in different groups. Lori, Nuala and I have never been to Sri Lanka before so there were certain cultural and historical things we wanted to see. But others had been here before, and so went to other parts of the country and did different things, like scuba diving.

But now, a day before the wedding, everyone began to gather in Colombo and making their way to the Mount Lavinia Hotel, one of the most posh hotels in Colombo. It used to be the Governor's residence back in the day and sits on a point of land and overlooks the Indian Ocean. It's a beautiful old hotel, but the rooms were kind of basic. Still, there are compensations. We were on the ground floor, but had a balcony with a view of the Indian Ocean, where we could watch people fish or kids dive into the water. So that made up for a lot. There were also Sri Lankan employees dress up in old colonial wardrobe and the drink and food menu is impressive.

But before the full Gathering, Lori and I went on an adventure.

We've done surprisingly little shopping since being Sri Lanka. Up north there were little in the ways of gift shops or even places specializing in local arts and crafts that we found. With the number of days winding down quickly, we figured a trip to the main market, the Pettah, to do some poking around would be in order.

So one air conditioned cab ride later, we managed to find one aspect of the market. The Pettah is huge and it all depends on what direction you enter it from. However, we'd managed to arrive on a Sunday. I'm still trying to figure out if that's a good thing or a bad thing. On the one hand, it meant a lot of interesting stores were closed, making shopping more difficult. On the other hand, it was almost overwhelming the number of people and noise going on.

Adding to that is, well, Lori and I are white. So we tended to attract extra-special attention when we were walking through. Pretty much everyone was asking us to come into their store. Most were very polite although a couple did try and gently grab you by the arm to drag you in. One gentleman thought yelling "Hello, white man" would do the trick. I laughed, so it very nearly did.

We also accidentally acquired a "guide" who was trying to lead us to specific shops (where he no doubt got a commission) until we finally managed to tell him to go away. Canadian politeness is not something that always works in situations like this.

The thing about Pettah was that there was still a tremendous amount of junk. If we wanted fruits and veggies, there was lots and lots of it. And at ridiculous prices. They had 5 apples for sale for 100 rupies. That's about 75 cents Canadian. There was a moment when I wanted to buy all the fruit. The bananas in Sri Lanka are some of the best I've ever eaten.

But as for looking for gifts, not so much. A lot of Chinese trinkets and junk, or cheap t-shirts with North American slogans, knock-off DVDs and the like. There was nothing distinctly Sri Lankan about the stuff for sale there.

So after an hour or so of wandering around there, so we began to get restless. So began our Tuk-Tuk adventures. Tuk-Tuks are the omnipresent method of transportation in Sri Lanka. They're three-wheeled bikes. The driver in front, with normally two to three passengers in the back. You can either negotiate a price or you can get a metered one. The later is preferable. You can also get one very plain or very ornately decorated. They're not the fastest thing in the world, but they're cheap, agile, their drivers have death wishes and if you want to go short distances they're a pretty good means of transportation.

So we hopped on one to go to a different part of the market, only to wash out there. Then Lonely Planet said there were a couple of nice craft stores in a different part of Colombo, so we grabbed another one and tried there. After 20 minutes of getting lost we finally managed to arrive.

It was Sunday. It was closed.

So this was getting frustrating. We grabbed another Tuk-Tuk with the intention of heading back to the Lavinia Villa hotel to grab our bags, transfer them to Mount Lavinia Hotel and maybe poking around there. However, we managed to find a nice clothing store on the way, hop out and picked up a few things.

Then, finally, we all met up at Mount Lavinia. Dups and Jenna trying their best to not be freaking out considering they were getting married in the morning. Eddie who had been wandering around Sri Lanka via public bus and trains and doing his own solo thing. Niall, Rebecca, Janius and Mike who had been hitting a few sites of their own, including climbing Adam's Peak, something they were still suffering the results of. Laura, her husband (whose name I'm blanking on) and their two young children. They had been merrily bopping around the countryside using buses and whatnot. Never in a million years would I have tried it, but they were considerably relaxed about it and their kids were amazing. Dups school friend Tushar made it in from London...a pit stop on his way to two other weddings in different parts of the world that week.

Oh, and Jan, mother of the bride, who I think was enjoying watching Dups and and his Canadian family (we came this far for him, we're family) interact with each other.

It started with taking over the bar area and later moved to the restaurant for a late supper. Theoretically the bride and groom to be were supposed to be going to bed early. The bride had a 4 am wake-up call for make-up, hair and getting in her dress. And if she was getting up at 4 am, so was her husband-to-be. Just because.

He actually did need to get up that early to help with last minute set-up. What Jenna ended up doing when she parted ways around 11 pm I'm not sure. Dups ended up in Niall and Rebecca's hotel room with a group of us drinking, with stories and jokes flying. Lori and I packed it in around 12:30 am. Dups apparently didn't managed to get to sleep until around 3 am. Not sure why he bothered, but there you go. Now all that awaits is the day we all travelled half way around the world for.

Assorted Bits
1. You know how London cabbies have "The Knowledge" and they have to study for years and have an intimate knowledge of the city before they can become a taxi driver? Not so much in Colombo. Tuk-Tuk and taxi drivers rarely seem to know where they're going, or at least with us they didn't. Often they would nod their head when we asked to go somewhere, and then they would be constantly stopping asking people on the side of the road for directions. One guy took 20 minutes to get to our spot and asked directions about a half dozen times.
2. Tuk-Tuks cost 50 rupees (less than 40 cents) to get into. Our 20 minute drive cost about $3.
3. Lori has decided she wants a fully souped up Tuk-Tuk when she gets home. I'd like to see that.
4. I'm not much of a drinker, but Mount Lavinia Hotel had a chocolate martini menu. Lori and I both came to the conclusion that it had the potential to get very ugly, very quickly. I stopped at two as I didn't want to be hungover for the wedding. But they were very tasty. We took a photo of the menu. I think I'll be hitting a martini bar at some point in the future for a few more.
5. The lot of us getting together in one spot can be dangerous. We do take over a spot in a hurry. I can only imagine what the Kingston wedding is going to be like.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Sri Lanka, Day 5

I'm running a couple of days behind posting these updates. Sorry, but Colombo has been hectic. I'll get them all up eventually.)

So let's take a moment to reconsider drivers in Sri Lanka. On my first day in country, during our mad dash from Colombo to Kandy in the pre-dawn hours, I might have been a bit harsh. Exhaustion and culture shock may have played some role in that first impression. Certainly I was concerned that Dups might have arranged a lunatic to drive us in some sort of passive-aggressive way to do me and Lori in before the wedding (and meeting Jenna) to spare himself any horrors that we might inflict on him.

But after spending a few days with our driver, Rukman, and spending more time watching how he does what he does, I'm having to reevaluate things a bit. Oh, don't get me wrong, if he tried half the stuff he has over the last few days any police force in North America would have pulled him over, fined him to within an inch of his life, taken his licence and probably thrown him in jail for good measure.

But in the Sri Lankan context of things, he's actually a pretty good driver. He understands that when driving you're having a conversation with the other people in the road, which tends to be very different than North America, where courtesy is one of those rarities and can just as often get you in trouble. North American drivers are very much in it for themselves and screw everyone else on the road. Trying to drive like a North American in Sri Lanka would get you killed in about five minutes.

On this day, we began our mad dash from Anduradhapura to Colombo. Nuala had to get into the city at a reasonable hour for a sari fitting (she's the maid of honour). Dups had warned us the traffic was more horrific than normal so we were on the road by 7:45 am. The distance between the two cities is a little more than 200 km. It's like driving from St. John's to Terra Nova National Park. I could easily do that in less than two hours, assuming traffic and weather weren't really bad.

It took us six hours.

There are any number of factors for that. Our van is of...indeterminate age and not the fastest thing on the road (Nuala noted we were always travelling at 55 km/h, even if we weren't moving). While there is a lot of new pavement, there's also a lot of road construction happening. And yes, the traffic was impressive, especially as we got closer to Colombo.

So I had some time to observe things. The scenery is, of course, amazing. But after awhile I started paying more attention to how Rukman got us to Colombo alive.

There is a communication between everyone on the road. Horns are not used as profanity, as they are in North America, but as a way of communication your intention and your opinion. Rukman would frequently toot the horn when passing a vehicle to let them know he was overtaking them. Sometimes they would toot back suggesting that given the approaching transport truck, this was not a good idea (there are a lot of twists and turn in Sri Lankan roads. The vehicle ahead often have a precious few extra feet of view) and Rukman would back off.

However, when he was passing, even if there was a car or bus coming, the vehicle we were passing normally slowed down and gently veered to the left a bit, giving us a precious few extra feet to dive back into our lane of traffic. And when we were being passed, he would do the same thing.

This played itself out dozens of times over those six hours. There's also the recognition that the bigger you are, the more you own the road. So we were about middle of the pack in terms of respect/priority. We were ahead of motorcycles and tuk tuks (three-wheel bikes/ATVs often used as cabs), but obviously behind buses and trucks.

There was only about five times or so that I saw Rukman pull moves where I deeply questioned his sanity. But normally the Sri Lankan urge to not see people die prevailed. Even when they saw someone doing something deeply stupid. We had a truck in front of us dragging a large flatbed behind it for a good chunk of the trip. It was only the courtesy of the other drivers on the road that kept a truly horrific accident from happening, because he was driving like a lunatic.

It's not a system that would work everywhere, but it works well for this culture.

We did manage to make it into Colombo in one piece and got Nuala to the seamstress on time-ish. Afterwards it was a little power shopping for a suit for for the wedding and then eventually plunking down into our latest hotel. Last night involved a walk down to the beach to hook up with the happy couple and a few friends for some food (spectacular once again) and a few drinks. Everybody stumbled back to their respective rooms around 12:30. A long day, but a pretty happy one.

Assorted Bits
Who says advertising doesn't work. The thing that I've seen the most advertising for in this country, by a mile, is not for Coke or Pepsi or McDonalds or even Lion Beer. No, it's been for cream crackers. Two kinds in particular are waging a cream cracker war for the hearts and minds of Sri Lankans - Super Cream Crackers and Smart Cream Crackers. They're on billboards and store fronts everywhere. I finally broke down and bought some Smart Cream Crackers yesterday. They're nice and all, but I'm not sure if they're worth quite the amount of money being spent on advertising.
There was an epic thunder and lightening storm in Colombo last night. Perhaps for people down in southern Canada who are used to such things, it was no big deal. But it was the first one I've seen in ages and it was deeply impressive.
I've added another ocean to my list of ones I've been in. I now have the Indian Ocean. I thought that meant I had the set, but I was told last night there's the Southern Ocean, which is new, I think. It might take awhile to get that one.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Sri Lanka, Day 4

As much as I enjoy the big moments - the massive historical site or a pack of elephants - it's the little moments on a vacation that are often the ones that stick with me the longest. One of my fondest memories of Venice was turning down an alley - we were lost again - and finding a beautiful old door, with a sunflower in a vase in front of it. And it was that perfect time of day for the light to be shining on the door. A few minutes earlier or later and the moment wouldn't have been there.

It's a good day when you can have a little moment like that. Day 4 gave me three.

It was planned to be a mostly slow day for us. After all the travel and excitement of the last few days, we thought we would stay closer to the hotel and relax a bit. Maybe pop into town as Lori wanted to get a burner phone so she could call home and take a quick walk around. Dups recommended another temple site we might want to take a look at.

Dups, Jenna and her mom took off around 10:30. Around 2 pm we decided to finally get moving. Quiet moment number one happened when we were walking down the street and I glanced at a couple of soldiers, in full military fatigues and carrying their machine guns. Not an uncommon sight in Sri Lanka. But one of them had at what appeared to be at first glance a bottle of water. Then it started to move. I realized he had a bag of water with a goldfish inside and he was showing it to his friend.

I like that. I like it when you catch military people doing unexpected things. I remember being in South Korea and seeing two soldiers in full riot gear holding hands. Men in South Korea often hold hands, so it's no big deal. But for me, having only recently arrived, it caught my attention. So did this. The fish was probably for his child, but it was still a nice moment.

Moment number two happened at Mihintale, the temple Dups recommended. We got there and after climbing a significant number of steps were walking around the grounds. That's when it started to rain. We got some shelter from a tree, but looking out across, the rain was being lit up by the sun, so you got this beautiful view of the temple and the Buddha statue. I tried taking a picture, but God knows if it managed to capture the moment properly.

Moment number 3 happened when we climbed up even more steps and visited another part of the temple site. We came across a monk sitting on what appeared to be a pile of lumber. We were getting ready to turn around when he called us over. And there was this small temple of a reclining Buddha. No one else was there except Lori, Nuala and I. And the monk. It was amazing. I don't know why I like Buddhist temples so much, but I feel much more relaxed in them than Christian churches.

It was a nice afternoon and gave me moments I'm going to remember for a long time.

After the temple it was back to the hotel where we had yet another fantastic meal (we've yet to have anything less than great and quite frequently the food has managed to be astonishing) and then cracked open a bottle of gin that Nuala had been carrying for a few days.

A quieter day, but another pretty good one.

Assorted Bits
1. I don't know if Sri Lankans love lots and lots of steps, or if it's just Buddhists, but damn there has been a lot of climbing up steps on this vacation. Lori brought her Fitbit with her and it's been freaking out over all the climbing she's been doing.
2. There were a lot of kids at Mihintale, many of whom took that moment to try and test out their English on the white people. Which I didn't mind, although the one who "oinked" at me I gave a bit of a hard time to. Lori's favourite with the kid who ran buy and yelled "I'm fine, thank you very much!" The strange thing is, English is not something I've heard a lot of from the caucasian people we've seen. They're much more likely to be speaking French, German or Russian. I imagine they can't be terribly amused by the English barrage.
3. Although there's a lovely Buddha and temple at the site, there was also a talk rock you could climb for nor apparent reason other than it was there. Lori used up the last of her climbing courage yesterday, so she begged off. Nuala and I climbed it, but nowhere in North America would you have been allowed to have made it. The steps were mere suggestions half the time and most of the climb involved hauling yourself up using the guide rail. Nice view from the top, though.
4. It's not often I see Dups mad, but when you mess with people he cares about it's never a pretty site. We've been getting around the country with our driver Rukman. Most hotels have what's called driver's accommodations. Because so many tourists depend on drivers ferrying them around (Lonely Planet advises against trying to drive yourself. That might be the understatement of the year), many hotels have special rooms where they can stay at no charge. Our last one did not and they expected Rukman to either pay for a room or sleep in the van. Dups was not having that. It got squared away and Rukman got a room to sleep in, but I wouldn't have wanted to have been hotel management there for a few hours.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Sri Lanka, Day 3

The soundtrack to day three in Sri Lanka was Lori's terrified muttering.

"I can't believe I'm freaking doing this."

"My husband's never going to believe that I did this."


"Oh my freaking God!"

It was actually when the muttering and profanity stopped that caused some concern. That's when I knew she was getting seriously freaked out.

The day started with a cold shower (eco-resorts have solar heated showers. Doesn't work so much first thing in the morning), a spectacular breakfast and trying to figure out where the day was going to bring us. Fortunately Dups had the plan which involved going to Sigiriya. It's worth doing a quick Google on the history of the place, which is quite extensive and I won't go into in detail here. But let's just say that an ancient king of Sri Lanka decided to build a fortress and put it on top of a massive hunk of rock in the middle of a jungle. This obviously sounded like a good idea at the time.

We drove right past it the day before. I have no idea how on earth we managed to not see it. The bloody thing is about 600 feet tall. But what we didn't know when we were going there, and after we arrived, was that we were going to climb this thing.

I remember looking at it, judging the temperature and humidity, and thinking "oh, this is going to be a bit of a bitch to do." Lori looked at it and started freaking out.

Lori, you see, doesn't like heights. Didn't realize that before, or at least I didn't realize the extent to which she didn't like heights.

The extent is quite extensive. She really doesn't like heights. And now we were walking to a giant hunk of rock and being expected to climb it. She was not handling the prospect well.

To give her credit, she did climb the rock. She cursed the entire time she was climbing the rock, which I have to say, made the time much more entertaining. The cursing got much more...vocal depending on what we were walking on. If it was solid rock or concrete, then she was muttering. However, there were occasions when we were walking up metal stairs bolted into the rock. That's when the stress levels went up quickly.

To make things worse, during the last sprint to the top a local "guide" quickly latched onto Lori to "help" her. It's a scam and under normal circumstances if I had been paying attention or if Lori were not seriously freaking out, she would have brushed him off. But as it stands we have to give him a couple hundred rupee when we made it to the top.

Which was spectacular. Absolutely amazing views, where you could see for dozens of kilometres in every direction and could see almost nothing but greenery. It was astonishing. Lori quite enjoyed it once she got to the top and was justifiably quite proud of herself. So we took a nice half hour just savouring the views and enjoying the fact that we had made it up this thing.

Then we had to go back down. There's a sign at the top that reads "Going Down is Dangerous". Lori's comment was that if she knew that before going up, she never would have done it in the first place. Another friend commented on Facebook that here was a sign with multiple meanings. Ah, my friends.

Anyway, the problem with going back down is that you're actually looking down. When we were going up, it was easy just to focus on what's in front of you and not looking down. But when going down metal stairs, you can't help but notice that you're really quite high up in the air and on metal stairs attached to a rock.

Lori stopped cursing for large parts of the trip back down.

But we made it down and she was much better. She said 10 years ago she never would have done that, so it's quite cool that she did.

Oh, and we remembered being told that there was a special "visitor's exit" that would let us come out closer to our vehicles. I guess I'm naive or stupid enough to think of how considerate that was. I failed to realize what it really meant is when you're leaving you had to run the gauntlet of people selling you crap. But that was all right. And really, Sigiriya was amazing. There's something to be said for being totally surprised by the day's events.

Also, it was nice that I managed to get to the top of this bloody thing and I was fine, physically, when I got to the bottom. I was sweating, but that was because of the heat and humidity. But my muscles were fine. I'm really quite proud of that. A year ago that trip up would have killed me.

It's hard to beat a 24 hour period where you have 18 elephants (we saw two more on the way to Sigiriya) and climbing a giant fortress, but we did our best. We hopped in our van and our driver, Rukman, drove us to Anuradhapura. It's an ancient capital of Sri Lanka and a deeply holy site. It goes to show that the two hour drive there didn't faze us at all, despite occasionally close calls with buses and bikes. All it takes is a couple of days on Sri Lankan roads to make you uncaring about potential impending death.

After we made it to Anuradhapura and spent a couple of hours relaxing and waiting for the temperate to cool off we went to the Sri Maha Bodhi. It's nice to be able to visit this site and have Dups as a guide. He's been to the site before and while he's not the most devout Buddhist in the world, he still knows enough to provide perspective and knowledge when we were there.

And being there at sunset was nice. It was beautiful light, in a very holy place and friendly people. It was much nicer than the Buddhist temple in Kandy, which was a madhouse and filled with tourist all trying to get a view of Buddha's holy tooth. The grounds here are much larger, better spaced out and just much...calmer. It was a very nice evening. We gave some lotus flowers to Buddha and made a prayer and lit some incense and made a wish.

After that we went to another temple site. It was after dark and closed and almost immediately after arriving a police officer and a member of the national security force arrived. We figured we were going to be politely told to leave. Instead, Dups spoke to them and next thing we know, we're getting an escort around the grounds. They asked Dups why we were taking so many photos at night. Ah, those crazy white people and their cameras.

And that evening was followed by a nice supper and some Lion beer. And for those who know me, yes, I drank beer. It was fine. I've also drank some tea, which is quite nice here as well. Sri Lanka is doing wonders for expanding our horizons.  New adventures, new food, new drink. It's all kinds of awesome.

Random Bits
1.After awhile you can apparently become pretty bored with monkeys. We might be at 18 elephants, but we've seen dozens of monkeys. Dups also hates them and view them as little better than vermin. Then again, his mom runs a coconut plantation and they're viewed as pests.
2. The situation with dogs is kind of weird. There are strays everywhere. And I mean everywhere. They're often sleeping on the side of the pavement where cars miss them by inches and they don't flinch. I was surprised to see them on Buddhist temple grounds and no one cares. They're not feral, but we still give them a wide berth, just in case. They also almost always look half starved. It can be hard to look at.
3. Kids do love coming up and trying to practice their English with the white folks. It's amusing. Of course, if you start to try to talk to them, they tend to run off.
4. I wasn't sure how the security situation was going to be here, but it's not as bad as I thought. It's only been a few years since the end of the civil war and while there are police and security forces (we've been pulled over once and our driver had to show ID and talk to them), it's still pretty low key stuff. It's a country that feels very anxious to get back to normal.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Sri Lanka, Day 2

"So, what did you do today?"

"Oh, I went to work, did the usual stuff. How about you?"

"Oh, I got to see 16 wild elephants. So it was a pretty awesome day."

Such was the story of day 2 on the Sri Lankan adventures. And really, any day in which there are elephants can't be such a bad thing at all.

This adventure is proving to be a lot more...freeflowing than other trips I've taken. The original plan when we left Kandy was to head north and check out some ruins at Dambulla. Dups (I forgot to mention yesterday that Dups is the reason why we've made this crazy journey around the world) had recommended it and it did sound interesting. Until we consulted Lonely Planet and realized there was a national park along the way when you could get a safari for a very reasonable price where there was the possibility of seeing elephants in the wild.

Which pretty much settled among the four of us travelling together how the day was going to be spent. So after spending about four hours getting out of Kandy and then navigating the roads north, stopping by for a quick lunch at a roadside restaurant (a huge vegetable currie and a soft drink for about $3, which is ridiculously cheap) we then hit the park.

I've done eco-tours of a sort before in the past, but this one was a bit different. Not bad different, but perhaps reflecting the way Sri Lanka is changing. Lots of what I've read said now is the time to come to the country, what with the civil war being over, but that all the investment money that's expect to start pouring in has only just started to arrive. It's not polished up yet, or overrun with expensive western resorts.

So the safari guide, for example, could only speak a smattering of English. He did his best to convey what we were seeing and to try and give some information about the park. The road was a bit rough in places and there was a good chance of getting permanent damage done to our kidneys at different points. We could have probably mitigated some of that by not standing on our seats and looking out the top of the jeep at all the wildlife, but where's the fun in that?

So yeah, a bit rough, but I think I'm perfectly all right with that.

But Minneriya National Park was an entertaining few hours. Along with the elephants (the running joke of the day was did we see 16 elephants, or the same group of elephants on the way out as we did on the way back. Lori is saying it's 16 and that's that), but there were also water buffalo, peacocks, deer, rabbit, and more birds than you can shake a stick at, including the national jungle bird of Ceylon. Unfortunately, it resembles a chicken, so that became a running of the day...that we were facing the vicious national jungle chicken of Ceylon. It sounds like a Monty Python skit.

(Note: We just found out it's also called the fire bird. So it's a vicious, national fire chicken of Ceylon)

After the national park we made our way to Back of Beyond, which is not an exaggeration in the slightest. After about 45 minutes of going through various dirt roads of increasingly dubious structural integrity, we finally made it to the resort. On of the one hand, it was awesome because we were in a tiny little eco-resort (the lights kept going out after dark because the solar batteries were running down) and the food was amazing. Even Dups, the man of the hour who joined us at the resort, said it was some of the best food he's had in Sri Lanka, so that's high praise.

On the other hand, we're pretty sure they screwed us on the rooms. We were supposed to be in a treehouse, but ended up with something on ground level with one small room up in the tree we could use. The treehouse that was supposed to be ours was occupied. We never saw the guests first nor last, so we suspect they complained and stole our spot before we got there. Annoying.

But a day with lots of elephants, great food, good friends and the vicious jungle chicken of Ceylon makes for an entertaining day all the same.

Assorted Bits
It really is great to have a driver for these kind of adventures. I believe ours is costs about 7,000 Sri Lankan rupies per day, which is about $50-60 and includes the cost of gas. By the time you split it three or four ways the cost is nothing. We get to do a lot of travelling and by Day 2 the terror of Sri Lankan driving has eased somewhat. There were probably no more than a half dozen near death experiences yesterday.
Lori and I are old friends at this point (much to our horror, we realize we've known each other for 20 years now), but Nuala and Jan are new to us. However, we've settled in quickly. Nuala is a friend of Jenna, the bride, and Jan is the mom. I think she was a bit concerned she was ruining our fun or something until Lori and I reassured her with the following conversation.

Me: You don't understand, Jan. You're vital to our survival.
Jan: What?
Me: Look, if something bad happened to me and Lori, Dups would probably feel bad about it for a couple of days...
Lori: He'd probably make it to the funeral.
Me: Well, not if mine was in Iqaluit.
Lori: No, that's true. But there's no way Daphne (my mom) would let you be buried there anyway.
Me: But if something happened to you, well, killing the mother of the bride before the wedding, that's some serious bad luck.
Lori: That's major bad Ju Ju right there.
Me: Absolutely. So you stay with us for as long as you want. Our lives might depend on it.

Both her an Nuala are awesome, actually. We've settled into a nice rhythm between the four of us.

3. I was a little punch drunk the other days when writing about our arrival in Kandy. It's a bit of a mad place, but Sri Lanka is like that. Areas where there's nothing but wilderness and then concentrated urban madness. We stayed at the Queen's Hotel in downtown Kandy, which charged us I think $40 a night for a series of ridiculously large rooms (I had what was easily a $200+ room by Ottawa standards), but still filled with lots of that weird old English charm. It also reminded me of Booth Memorial. If you've ever been in that high school in St. John's, it was easy to get lost because the layout made no sense. Same with the Queen. Lovely place, though.
4. We've become pro-bat here. We thought for sure last night we would be eaten by bugs and were mystified why that wasn't the case. That was until a bat swooped through the area where we were eating supper. So we understand now. Bats are our friends.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Sri Lanka, Day 1

There's an open competition to see who has the worst drivers. Consensus in Canada seems to be that surely God it must be the ones in Montreal. I kind of have my doubts about that. I'm not sure they're bad, just so much desperate to keep moving lest a bridge fall on top of them or a sinkhole open up underneath them or a watermain explode and wash their car away.

Judging by my trip home at Christmas St. John's is in the running, although whether it's because of the goddamn townies who don't know how to drive or all the goddamn baymen who don't know how to drive remains unclear. Perhaps they can all just unite and blame people from Mount Pearl.

And Iqaluit, of course, laments French taxi drivers and lunatics on skidoos, but it's pretty mild stuff.

No, for world class insanity, let's take my day. Early this morning I arrived in Colombo, Sri Lanka. One of my best friends is getting married. If Moses reappeared in the Middle East tomorrow with 10 brand new sets of commandments, it would only be slightly more surprising then this turn of events.

Being the gracious host and genuinely thrilled that so many of us made the journey to see this (honestly, how often do you get to see miracles? Of course we had to come) he helped a lot with the arrangements, including getting a driver for me and three travel companions for the next five days. Rather than hang around Colombo, we decided Kandy, in the central highlands, as soon as we left the airport.

The driver is good, I should add, but he's good in the way that all Sri Lankans are insane when it comes to driving. Let's take, for example, the winding hill we were travelling up to Kandy. Our driver decided to over take a bus on a blind curve. Which is potentially more than a little crazy, of course. Except the person behind us, deciding we weren't fast enough, passed us on the outside. So at one point, we were three abreast, going up a hill and around a blind curve.

The first thing that occured to me was that I hadn't written up my will. So Cathy, you get everything. Even the comic book stuff you can't be bothered with.

Later on the in the day, when a city bus driver apparently had a last minute change of heart about committing suicide by ramming into us head on by veering away at the last second, I noticed the front of the bus had the phrase "Jesus Save Us" on the front. Sri Lanka is about 70 per cent Buddhist, so I would have though his attention would be elsewhere, but hey, thanks for the help today, big guy.

So yeah, you think you've got crazy drivers....Sri Lanka laughs at you, my friends. Because that was the two highlights of a dozen "Oh holy fuck we're going to die" moments today. I don't know how people on motorcycles do it. They should be dead 20 times an hour.

Of course, I could have been hallucinating it all. Twenty hours from Ottawa to Colombo, with very little sleep. And a bit of good luck when I decided to change my ticket from Iqaluit to Ottawa from Saturday to Friday because I was worried Environment Canada might actually get a blizzard call right. They did...all flights on Saturday were cancelled, which would have made my life a lot more stressful.

Because honestly, even with the long travel and crazy driving I'm thrilled to be here. I got to watch the sun light up a valley with mist this morning. I watched bats and monkeys in a botanical garden. I saw a Buddhist prayer ceremony and, possibly a holy tooth from Buddha. It was very quick, so it's hard to be sure. And tomorrow there are ancient ruins and possibly elephants.

So let's see what the next day brings us.