A Travellerspoint blog

The Dawn Chorus

sunny 31 °C

As the sun rises over the misty jungle we are woken by a heavenly choir unmatched by any sounds created by man. A symphony of sound greets us as the wild creatures herald the start of another sun-filled day. The birds in the canopy are the coloraturas, the altos, sopranos and tenors. These exotic flyers sing point and counterpoint with an agile range of runs, leaps and trills. Lower down the scale, in the branches, the orchestra of sound is provided by chattering chipmunks and howling monkeys, while the elephants on the forest floor pulsate the air with their deep baritone calls.
Here are a few of the many wild animals we have encountered so far...
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Troupes of mischievous monkeys can be seen everywhere here in north central Sri Lanka, but wild elephants are more elusive. This is the first one we spied...
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This fine creature watched us warily from his roadside hiding place while, at the elephant orphanage in Pinnewala, we had a grandstand view of the elephant's bath...
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Sri Lanka has a very long and rich human history beginning some thirty two thousand years ago when nomadic settlers called Veddahs came across a land bridge from India. The bridge eventually disappeared but invasions of other civilizations continued, bringing with them their religions.
Anuradhapura was the capital of Sri Lanka from 380BC for nearly a thousand years. Few of the ancient buildings remain apart from the many Buddhist temples with giant stupas known as dagobas. This dagoba was built in the 3rd century AD and is said to contain the collarbone of the Buddha himself...
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While King Dutugemunu had this dagoba built in 150BC in penitence for eating a hot curry without first praying...
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Anuradhapura is the religious centre of Sri Lanka and our visit coincided with an auspicious time in the Buddhist calendar – the February full moon – when thousands of congregants from all over the country bring great rolls of cloth to ceremoniously wrap around the stupas...
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Before visiting the temple the white clad worshippers purify themselves by bathing in the nearby lake...
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The enormous dagobas were badly neglected for centuries during the colonial times that began with the Portugese invasion in 1502, but today they have been restored to their former glory and rise like shining beacons above the surrounding jungle. The historical site at Anuradhapura covers a vast area and ruins of ancient buildings can be seen everywhere. However, perhaps the greatest treasure of the city is the Bodhi tree...
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This carefully guarded tree was brought from India some two thousand years ago and is claimed to be a sapling from the very tree where the great Buddha once sat to meditate. It is the oldest documented tree in the world.

Posted by Hawkson 22:30 Archived in Sri Lanka Comments (8)

Just Another Sri Lankan Day

sunny 31 °C

The perpetually warm Indian Ocean, fed by the great rivers of Africa and Asia, is a perfect breeding ground for fish of every kind and we began our day on the beach in Negombo where the fleet had come ashore with the night's catch...
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It was still early morning for us and our friend Christine, but the main business of the day was already done. The fish market opened at 4am when the serious buyers vied for the swordfish, marlin and tuna, and by the time we arrived the locals, and the gulls, were scrapping over the small fry of whitebait, shrimps and blue crabs...
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Negombo's seafood market is just a ragtag assortment of flimsy stalls along the seashore, so the fish has barely left the sea by the time it ends up on the slab. However, even the freshest fish has a sell by date counted in minutes under the blistering tropical sun, so much of it is dried for export to China and Japan. Relatively rare red squid command a premium in Tokyo and these women are braving the heat to lay out the night's catch under nature's broiler...
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Entire families live and work in shanties along the shore and scrape a living by catching and drying all manner of fish in a round-the-clock operation that will continue until the monsoons come in October.

But our day has just begun and we head to the capital to witness Colombo's biggest annual cultural event – the Perahera of the Gangaramaya Temple. Three days of celebration take place around the February full moon every year and is kicked off with a incredible parade of some five thousand dancers in splendid costumes...
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Along with the dancers are numerous gaily attired musicians...
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There are hundreds of monks, flag wavers and parasol carriers...
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Troupes of plate spinners, acrobats, and stilt walkers add to the excitement with daredevil displays as they slowly pass the cheering crowds...

We, being foreign visitors, have front row seats and, like everyone else, we are anxious to see the highlight of the show; the mighty Sri Lankan elephants...
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Twenty or thirty? We lose count as one after another the giant beasts in their flowing robes are led sedately past surrounded by dancers, musicians and mahouts...
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The hours tick by until the grand finale when three giant tuskers sway into view carrying a relic from the Buddha himself...
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Colombo's Perahera is a magnificent and unforgettable sight and we go to sleep dreaming of elephants. Tomorrow we head north to the tropical jungles where we will undoubtedly see many more of these magnificent creatures.
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Posted by Hawkson 20:14 Archived in Sri Lanka Comments (7)

On the Beach in Sri Lanka

Only Mad Dogs and Englishmen....

sunny 32 °C

The island of Sri Lanka is just a teardrop in the Indian Ocean. Its northern neighbour, India, is weeping over the fate of this tiny piece of tropical nirvana – and with good reason.
Sri Lanka has a history riven with death and destruction. Competing religions, races and empires have fought over this land for thousands of years and the recent three decade long civil war between the Sinhalese majority and the Tamils is still very much an open sore. The war ended in 2009 but, as in all civil conflicts, the scars run deep: recriminations and accusations will linger for generations. As we tour the island we will undoubtedly see signs of conflicts, ancient and modern, but in Negombo, an oceanside town north of the capital Colombo, we are surrounded by beauty. From our balcony we have a vista filled with palm trees laden with bananas, papayas and coconuts...
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Outside our window the mangos are sweetening in the hot sun...
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And the orchids are blossoming in its shade..
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We also seek the shade from the baking equatorial sun and after breakfast we take a tuk-tuk tour of the town. Tuk-tuks rule in Negombo. Hundreds of these colourful little people carriers buzz around the town like busy insects...
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We cross the canal built by the Dutch when they ruled this island in the 17th century...
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And arrive at the near-deserted beach at midday...
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There are neither mad dogs nor Englishmen, (apart from us), but the Indian Ocean looks inviting so we brave the baking sand to dip our toes in the tepid water. Sometimes you can have too much of a good thing and we quickly retreat to an air-conditioned cafe for lunch. Sri Lanka is now a popular place for northern sunseekers but the beach is not for us. We are here to explore its many natural beauties; to visit the tea plantations; and to connect with the beautiful people who have already made us so welcome in this corner of Eden...
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This is Neetha, the lovely matriarch of our small hotel in Negombo, From Neetha we learned the secrets of making Sri Lankan hoppers...
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Hoppers, (called Aappas locally), are traditional rice pancakes that are stuffed with sweet or savoury fillings. Neetha's hoppers are light and delicious. We see a lot of hoppers in our immediate future and we are happy about that.

Posted by Hawkson 03:27 Archived in Sri Lanka Comments (10)

Happy Days in Hong Kong

semi-overcast 21 °C

What a difference a day makes...
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Our Friday began in the Canadian snows as a rare blizzard blanketed Vancouver airport and delayed our midday departure. We eventually left ten hours late and arrived in Hong Kong at five am on Sunday morning. But what had happened to Saturday? Had we slipped through a time warp?
But it wasn't just the time. The temperature had jumped 22 degrees, the skies had cleared and we had waltzed into a balmy spring day...
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Hong Kong is in many ways similar to Vancouver. It is a shining city of highrise apartments and office towers on the rim of the Pacific Ocean. But at ground level it is another world. While Vancouver sprawls leisurely along its many waterfronts and gently eases its way into the surrounding valleys and mountains, Hong Kong is crammed into a dense jungle of concrete and glass towers that reveal only fragments of sky. However, when the skies clear and we step back a little from the bustle the soaring buildings are a testament to the builders of this city...
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...although watching the construction workers balancing on the flimsy bamboo scaffolding can be vertigo inducing...
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The cluttered twisting lanes and alleys of Hong Kong are in sharp contrast to the wide clean streets of its Canadian cousin. But it is the constant bustle and the exotic sights, scents and sounds of Hong Kong that makes it such a vibrant city and draws us back here...
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Hong Kong is at the crossroads between East and West and is truly cosmopolitan in all respects. While the majority of people are Chinese, the streets are thronged with people of every colour, race and creed and no one seems out of place. We receive no special attention here, although James is certainly a target for the many tailors' touts who promise inexpensive handmade suits, shirts and ties at every turn. And then there are the restaurants where Peking Duck is a staple...
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When it comes to food, Hong Kong can be as cheap or expensive as you make it. Five dollars will get you a decent breakfast including coffee, but the same five dollars will barely get you a medium Starbucks. Whereas, at this street cafe, five dollars will get you enough boiled pigs intestine for a family of four – the choice is yours...
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Local foods will play quite a part on this trip as we travel across southern Asia, but we are on the trail of tea. Our next stop will be Colombo in Sri Lanka, the capital of the island once known as Ceylon, the tea capital of the world. In the meantime – we will start with some Chinese green tea here in Hong Kong...
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Posted by Hawkson 22:04 Archived in Hong Kong Comments (8)

On the Trail of Makarios

sunny 23 °C

As Mel Brooks said, “If you've got it, flaunt it,” and Cyprus has taken that motto to heart. It has sun, sand and endless blue seas, so its ragged coastline is a hotchpotch of development, (and over-development), that tries to give everyone a piece of the action.
However, in the mountains, far away from the $7 cappuccinos and constant whiff of sun-tan lotion, there are ancient villages where rural life has changed little over the centuries. Herds of goats forage for leftovers in the olive, carob and citrus groves, while locals flag down passing tourists in the hope of flogging a few figs or a cup of Nescafe. One innovative villager entertained us by feeding his cats cucumbers...
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There are hundreds of miles of tortuous mountain roads and gravel tracks and our GPS was determined to keep us on the narrowest and most treacherous of ledges as we climbed six thousand feet, high into the cedar forests, to get spectacular views...
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But our goal was the tiny village of Pano Panayia, birthplace of Archbishop Makarios. This is the room in which he was born...
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One man's freedom fighter is another man's terrorist, so opinions of Archbishop Makarios and his attempts to shake off the yoke of colonialism are varied. The British eventually exiled him but, following independence in 1960, he returned and was elected President. He then found himself at war with Greek nationalists. After four failed assassination attempts by the Greeks, Makarios was ousted in a coup in 1974. The Turks invaded almost immediately, the Greeks retreated and Makarios found himself back in power in the Greek area. Following his death in 1977 Makarios was entombed on a mountain peak near the monastery of Kykkos where he had spent his early life...
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Our time on Cyprus is coming to an end and we are still ambivalent about its virtues. For sun-worshippers who enjoy the nightlife and the razzmatazz of holiday theme parks, this is certainly the place for you...
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It is also an easy place for English speakers and those used to British roads – they still have Belisha Beacons at pedestrian crossings...
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There are also places for those seeking a quiet seaside holiday in relatively quaint towns like Polis on the north coast...
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This is the pristine undeveloped beach at Polis...
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Polis is also the place where legend says that the beautiful goddess Aphrodite used to bathe naked in this spring-fed pool...
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And that, dear blog reader, is a most romantic notion on which to end our Eastern European odyssey through fifteen countries from Estonia to the very edge of the Middle East. Next stop - London - where we will be cooling off in preparation for our return home. Thanks for coming along for the ride and we hope you will join us next time on our Blissful Adventures. For now, Avrio from sunny Cyprus
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Posted by Hawkson 07:14 Archived in Cyprus Comments (5)

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