A Travellerspoint blog

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)

Cyprus's Great Divide

sunny 24 °C

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Day after day the aquamarine seas meld seamlessly into the clear blue sky and we bask in the warmth of the Mediterranean sun. But Cyprus is an enigma in so many ways. It is an historic land that has been submerged under a thick veneer of concrete. It is a land of all-inclusive resorts, British pubs, fish and chips and 'Kiss Me Quick' hats. So, for us and our friend Christine, it is far from paradise island – although there are some pretty sights...
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Cyprus is at a maritime crossroads; surrounded by countries who cling to their guns and religion with as much fervour as middle Americans. Turkey, Syria, Palestine, Israel and Egypt are all within missile range - and they all have missiles to spare – but Cyprus is not new to military conflict and the struggle continues. For instance; this is the south end of the main street in Nicosia, the capital...
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And this is the north end...
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Spot the difference? One end is in the Greek area of Cyprus while the other is in the Turkish area. One end has Christian churchgoers ringing the bells while the other end has Muslim muezzins blaring out their calls to prayer from the many minarets...
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The language, the money, the music and the food, are all miles apart, yet we only had to show our passports and walk a few yards across a heavily defended no-mans land to reach the other side. This is a Turkish bakery in the north...
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The conflict which has divided the Cypriot people and their island rumbled for decades before it came to a head in 1974 when the Turkish Army invaded from the north and sent 200,000 people fleeing from their homes. Since that time the feuding islanders have been kept apart by a UN patrolled fence. We cannot show you the fence without risk of being jailed, but it is an ugly reminder of what can happen when xenophobes take control.

Nicosia may once have been a beautiful capital, but the fence and other barriers across the old walled city has ripped its heart in two. Little ancient architecture remains beyond the once magnificent Venetian walls, but they are now car parks, garbage tips. and a handy place to store concrete paving blocks...
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We have now moved to the western end of Cyprus, to Paphos, in order to explore the Troodos mountains and visit the tomb of Archbishop Makarios - more about him later. In the meantime, here's a peek at his enormous palace in Nicosia...
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Posted by Hawkson 12:01 Archived in Cyprus Comments (4)

Adrift in the Eastern Mediterranean

All at sea in Cyprus

sunny 22 °C

Despite numerous pleas for us to return home to British Columbia to help build an ark we've decided to put up with the relentless sun on the beaches of Cyprus for another week. This is Larnaca beach at sunset...
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The island of Cyprus is like a giant ocean liner - an outwardly peaceful and prosperous mega-ship adrift in the Eastern Mediterranean sea. Around us the seas are calm, clear and warm, and for the past week there has barely been a cloud on the horizon. But all is not well below decks. However, let's first take a tour of the first class accommodation.

There are many interesting things to see on board: Byzantine castles from the 13th century...
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Three thousand year old temple ruins...
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Century old British Colonial buildings...
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And for the religiously inclined there is a wide choice of ancient Christian and Muslim monoliths...
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Our fellow passengers come from far afield but the Good Ship Cyprus is particularly beloved by Russians, Ukrainians and Brits, so almost everyone speaks some English. Navigating is easy as the Cypriots stick to the left, (like the Brits), and most signs and menus are in our native tongue. The food is excellent and inexpensive- especially the souvlaki...
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Inboard, away from the casinos, night clubs and restaurants that are strung along the outer decks, are the crumbling homes of the steerage passengers and crew – ordinary Cypriots who still work the land and grow dates, olives, grapes, pomegranates and carobs under the blazing Mediterranean sun...
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Like many great ocean liners, Cyprus has had a number of owners since its launch as a Neolithic colony some twelve thousand years ago. The Mycenaeans boarded from Greece four thousand years ago and then the Assyrians, Egyptians and Persians all trooped up the gangplank at various times. Alexander the Great seized the helm in 333 BC, but the Romans, Arabs, French and Venetians all took turns at the tiller until the Ottoman Turks grabbed the wheel in 1571 and held on until 1878. Britannia steered HMS Cyprus from 1914 to 1960 when the Cypriots were left in command – and that's when the trouble started below decks. So stay tuned for the dramatic part 2 of “Adrift in the Eastern Mediterranean.” Coming soon to a computer near you.

Posted by Hawkson 03:00 Archived in Cyprus Comments (4)

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