God’s country: discovering Sri Lanka attractions

God’s country: discovering Sri Lanka attractions

Oh Sri Lanka!  Deb is an engineer whose dissertation/summer project involves a holistic analysis of water systems (and their economic, social, cultural implications) in Sri Lanka.  She was there before coming to Singapore, didn’t have the best experience and had to go back for a week of data collection so we decided to join her for a fun weekend of sightseeing.  The three of us (Alissa, Dawn and I) who joined Deb didn’t know much about the country when we agreed to go, partially none of us know anyone else who has been to Sri Lanka.  Fortunately, Deb’s Sri Lankan childhood friend recommended a driver for us so all we really had to do was pile in a van and try not to worry too much about how to hit Sri Lanka attractions. The trip was an adventure from the very beginning.  I sat next to a hilarious British guy about my age who was flying home after 8 months of olive farming in Australia.  He made me pinkie promise that I wouldn’t do the same, a lesson he learned the hard way, even though he worked on his best mates’ farm.  So valuable advice for all my readers: “Don’t harvest olives in Australia”. After arriving in the airport, we had to navigate through the most ricidulous duty free store I’ve ever seen, where they sold washer machines and lawn mowers (exactly what I need once I get off a plane!).  We were a little nervous about filling out the mandatory address on our arrival card, but lucky for us, “Namal’s house in Kandy” is perfectly legitimate.  Namal (the driver) and Sean picked us up to explore Columbo for a couple hours until Deb got out of meeting.  They introduced us to drinking King Coconut (normal coconuts will never be the same!  They actually call Sri Lankan sugar daddies “King Coconuts” which cracks me up) and we walked around Galle Face beach. Sean was a professional cricket player back in the day (supposedly people still recognize him as a national celebrity and he still coaches) and he spent about a decade in New Orleans so he was an entertaining and amazing guide and translator.  Namal personified preciousness and we loved him, especially his contagious laughter, expert avocado-picking abilities, photography advice when Sean was behind the lens and strategic wind-chime shaking routine to ensure Alissa picked the most melodious one. We picked up Deb then headed to the hills!  Driving in Sri Lanka isn’t quite as crazy as India (Sri Lanka was a little crazy but nowhere near as crazy as India) but its impossible to go anywhere fast on one lane roads, especially on a Poya weekend (Sri Lankans get a three day weekend every full moon… apparently they never do any work.  Especially because even when they are “working”, they’re usually just standing somewhere).  We enjoyed passing compartmentalized roadside stands: basket-land, car seats for sale, fruit stands followed by a stretch hundreds of inflatable toys and swimming pools.  Eventually we reached Kandy, where we had a delicious dinner.  Sri Lankan food looks similar to south Indian but with different flavors.  It’s very spicy- tears were building in our eyes as we demolished roti, prata, hoppers (a crispy cracker-like bowl), fish and daal curries and kottu (mushed up meat, bread and assorted spices- surprisingly delicious). Us with our offerings at the Tooth temple- mine was huge! Saturday morning, we woke up in Kandy, a town in central Sri Lanka, a UNESCO site, partially because it holds Sri Dalada Maligawa “Temple of the Tooth”, a worldwide Buddhist pilgrimmage site. Dawn and I actually visited the Singaporean version last month but this was an entirely different experience.  We all bought flower arrangements as offerings and joined the massive herd of worshippers (between the holiday weekend and people visiting for the 11 AM ceremony, the place was pretty packed).  We didn’t see the tooth itself because that would require several more hours in line but we got to experience some traditional Sri Lankan musicians, beautiful British architecture and a VIP tour of the Buddhist museum on the upper floor.  We stopped at a jewelry store where we were spoiled with classy couches and tea as we learned about Sri Lankan gems.  One of the gems went on a little adventure, hiding in my handbag, which was somewhat terrifying, but after some standing and shaking, I recovered and returned the gem and could breathe a sigh of relief. After some brief exploring (Kandy was pretty disappointing), we hopped back into the van and headed to a tea plantation, built back in the 1930s.  Sri Lanka produces the world-famous...