27/28 December – beach bums!

We now have a couple of days to sit by the beach and generally take it easy after a hectic Christmas! Luckily we are staying in bangallows, I assume this is the sri Lankan for bungalow, that are run by the most chilled out guys ever, I believe they may partake in a ‘recreational’ cigarette or two of an evening. Therefore it takes an inordinately long time to get a menu, get food ordered and to have it served to you. However, we have little else to do in the daytime so that isn’t too much of a trauma. Our first meal was a disappointment, calamari noodles was 2 packets of super noodle’s, stir fried with chicken stock powder some vegetables and calamari, possibly the worst meal I have had.  Guy’s was worse…soggy canned veg in gloopy soy sauce and flabby rice, yum yum. The rest of the day was spent recovering under a coconut tree, watching the Christmas tree on the beach, sweating profusely, consequently a few beers were required to rehydrate in the evening.  We were debating eating elsewhere for dinner, but overheard someone saying that mango, coconut and prawn curry was the best ever, so we decided that walking elsewhere was too much to contemplate, had the curry and it is possibly the best thing we have eaten since the pie, chips n gravy we had as a last supper! Not sure how they can serve the worst and best food we’ve had.

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Day 2 Beach side saw another day under the coconut trees. Using our sri Lankan mobile we booked hotels in Galle and Negombo, it was difficult to hear them speak over the noise of the waves, but we coped. We then felt the need for a walk into town, along the beach. Walking past all the beach bars and local fishermen you get a cheery ‘hello mister’ / ‘hello madam’ (I confess to liking being called madam, might insist on it when I get home) and lots of chatter, however on entering the town there were still lots of police and soldiers with scary big guns and a very sombre atmosphere, so we decided to get some water and leave. That proved easier said than done, we found a ramshackled shop that had bottles of water on view, on asking the slightly mature gentleman if we could have some, he waved towards the next room and intimated I should go through and help myself to a cold one from the fridge. The fridge looked like it had survived the tsunami and hadn’t been cleaned since, inside or out.  There was one shelf with some water and some mangos stuffed in there, I pulled out the water and went to pay. To pay meant disturbing the old fella from sorting out the betel nut parcels (mild natural sedative chewed and spat out) he was ever so carefully making up. He was concentrating so hard, this proved difficult to do, so, as we are English, we politely waited, about 5 mins until he had satisfied himself the 10 parcels were correct, he then toothlessly intimated it was 75 rupees for the water and we paid, unfortunately not with correct change so a further wait was required for that.
So when you all ask ‘What do you do with your time when you are traveling?’ The answer is that just ordering food and buying water can take a whole day!

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26th December – Ella to Tangalle

Woke up with a rather unusual sensation for a boxing day, excitement. We left the cool highlands and snaked our way through the hill passes heading south to the coast. The views were beautiful and the drops from the side of the road were steep. The Italian Job sprang to mind.

We were breaking today’s journey at a national park called Uda Walawe which is supposed to be full of elephants. Since we had seen a wild elephant washing itself in a lake a few days ago we decided it would be nice to see them in their natural environment and it is, after all, the national animal and symbol. We had also heard of wild elephants attacking tourists recently and a German cyclist being thrown across a road resulting in a broken arm and leg. The parks have electric fences now to try and keep them in, but various people had told us of houses being knocked over when they had managed to get out.

We got to the park and clambered into a 4WD and set off through the fence with our guard reassuring us by saying that he wouldn’t get out of the car as one of the vehicles had been attacked this morning. We laughed nervously. Straight away though we spot a solitary male by the side of the track picking and munching away at the grass. We drive alongside, roughly 10 foot away and he is too busy stuffing his face to care. After a minute or so we leave him in peace and feeling dead chuffed we drive down the kind of path 4WD are designed for. Enjoying the warmth of the sun and the scenery we suddenly turn a corner and crossing the path 20 foot ahead of us are a herd of about 10 adults and 2 children. The driver stops and kills the engine. One of the females turns and stares at us. Hoping she’ll turn away and carry on, she does what neither of us want and heads straight towards us. She comes up alongside what was formerly Al’s side of the car and scrapes alongside, giving the car a gentle rock with a push of her hips. At the end of the car she turns and walks slowly back and stops to inspect us, wondering why Al is crouching on the floor. I do a bit of elephant whispering and off she potters in the knowledge we are not a threat to the kids. More nervous laughter and we drive on thrilled and scared by our encounter. The park is beautiful and we also see a crocodile, jackals, water buffalos, loads of birds and loads more elephants but none as close. As we are leaving we pull alongside a Toyota hiace which has also had a close encounter with an elephant this morning. However it has a smashed rear windscreen and a huge dent on the drivers side. Our guide kept shouting “I am lucky, you are lucky” and perhaps this time it wasn’t just tourist banter. (After we paid the guide, he went straight to the local lottery stand and bought a ticket!)

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Al admiring a wild beast

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Where’s Al gone?

We got to Tangalle on the south coast and noticed a lot of armed soldiers everywhere. The driver explained that this is the presidents hometown and he was visiting today on the 7th anniversary of the tsunami which decimated so much of this part of the world. There are still abandoned houses metres from the shoreline.

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