13.14.

Numbers. 13.14. Looked at the guy on the bed, looked back at the number.

Pausing for a few seconds, I tried to make sense of it.

Was I supposed to share this small cabin, a bed so small I could not stretch fully myself, with another complete stranger??

…….and for the next 14 hours of the journey?!

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Things work differently around here, I guess? I had paid 800 Rupees, or ($20)  for a Sleeper Cabin in the non-air conditioned Bus from Goa to Mumbai. The previous night, I paid 250  rupees  ($6) for a Huge room, even with my own toilet.

It was just 8 in the evening. Lights were immediately turned off, leaving only 3 dim coloured bulbs- the kind you see on roadblocks, or police cars in green, orange and blue.

If I needed a travel buddy, this would preferably be a good time.

All the reminders from family and friends, the stories from strangers and locals on how things get stolen in trains and buses kept playing in my head, just like the incessant horns in the city’s traffic. How people get mugged and all that. Determined not to be the next victim, I thought, hey if I build trust with this complete stranger, there would be a small chance he’d think of doing anything.

“Hi, how are you? Were you calling your mum or girlfriend?””, I picked up some clues as he was on the phone for the longest time, he must have been a family guy, he seemed very contemplative.

“Hi, I’m good. Ha, yes that was my girlfriend”, he spoke in perfect English.

The ice was broken. Sham was a roman catholic living in Goa, who had to travel to Mumbai for a week’s long training in his new company, LG. He has a bachelor of finance, but the previous bank job took him 120 kms 2 ways everyday. That was too much after 6 months. Goa was a Portuguese colony,  with their streets lined with catholic churches, biblical quotes painted on buses, and possibly one of the few places where cows get slaughtered for food in the ‘cow worshipped land”.

The most interesting fact? All locals of Goa could receive a Portuguese passport which allows them to live and work in Europe for a fee given to the government.

The tense muscles in my body eased. Even in that confined space that didn’t allow a single twist or stretch, I was comfortable with my new friend. This was also Sham’s first time sitting in a shared sleeper bus. In his 21 years, he’d not traveled much.  He must have felt as uneasy as I was in the cabin.

We all have perceptions of things, stereotypes  Bad ones tend to be the first that come out of our minds and mouths. I’ve learnt that it is never what it seems sometimes, and the world is a genuinely good place, with sincere people. I’ve  now gained a little more confidence for the next sleeper trip. India is a vast vast place, and many of the locals from other states are as unfamiliar and unsettled as we are. Lets throw out generalizations and stereotypes, the human spirit is the only accurate representation of who the ‘other guy’ is!

 

 

Sri Lanka – A Summary

To sum up my Sri Lanka trip in 3 words :  “Rainbows and butterflies”

The land of wide smiles, and definitely the friendliest people in the WORLD, the pearl of the sea etched heartfelt memories in my heart. A place to return to – most definitely.

My main objective was to spend time surfing, to clock the continuous time needed as an individual to understand the working of the seas. Surfing is highly challenging because the conditions change all the time, and it takes time to feel the currents, winds, and understand the workings of the power of the sea.

The second objective of mine was to begin my culinary experience. Having dealt with coffee and cafes for the past 4 years, I’m making a huge decision to move into the engaging world of food. Food and travel comes hand in hand. If you’d want to know what the best italian pasta should be like, you have to be in Italy, immerse yourself in the food culture and familiarise yourself with it all.

With these 2 objectives in mind, I set out to look for the best waves, and the best cooks to learn from. Everything else was a bonus – the journey to the hill country with my 2 good mates was especially eventful!

1. Surfing at Midigama & Hikkaduwa

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Here I gained confidence surfing on shallow Reef. Most of the time waves were of a comfortable size and not too gnarly. It’s a good place for intermediate surfers, but I recommend Bali if you’re trying it out for the first time.

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The daily affair of sunsets, you wouldn’t need anything more in life!

2. Apprenticeship at a 30 year old Rotty stall 

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Here we learnt how to knead and flip rottys, cook curries. Hands on!

3. The Beautiful Hill country

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Tea plantations make the world a better place

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The senic train rides through bridges, hills was something out of a postcard.

4. Adam’s peak

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This deserves a mention on it’s own. Stunning views.

5. Families that made a difference

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Anoka’s family’s pride and joy. The very spoilt ‘Teddy’, living proof of the family’s generosity and hospitality.

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Simple, rual living of Mencha and Baabaa and family. For 2 weeks, I WAS part of village. Fishing and surfing with the boys, playing with the children. And Fruit Shake!!

I could go on forever how much I love this place. Yes it is livable, in my opinion. I’d love to thank all the people who have played a part in this amazing journey, I’d definitely love to be back!

 

EXTREME FISHING Pt 3 – Catamaran & Net fishing

 

 

 

Taking a stroll along the beaches of Mt Lavina, a group of fishermen gathered around a boat, it was 7 in the evening.

“Come come!” they signalled for me to join them.  They shouted in Singhalese, though I did not understand, I understood the rythm. I pressed my lips and I did a dead lift, and dragged the boat couple of metres each time. Back in the military, I had an affinity with boats. We’ve had to carry dinghies on our heads during ‘Hellweek’, drag the seaboats upshore after each day of diving, it was a nice reminder of my connection to the sea. The boats were in.

Some 40 minutes later,  the boat is in, and double the number of people join in the fun. There are 2 parallel lines, and each side has at least 10 people. They waved again for me, and I joined in. There was a  motley crew of fishermen, guys in formal attire, maybe wanting a change of environment, and tourists-me. After a good while, the nets were brought in, hundreds of small fish flapping in it. There was a HUGE fugly thing in the net, the size of a small pig. I was sure it was a turtle.. They dragged it out, and it was a puffer fish! Not good for dinner, it was hastily flung back into the ocean.

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We travelled out to sea on a local Catamaran fishing boat with the Midigama surfer boys.  The catamaran is basically a twin hulled boat, with the second and smaller hull providing stability. We wished to observe the entire trawling fishing process with the boat, however with these things, it is seasonal and the fishermen waits for a call from his fellow mates. No forward planning, it’s all ‘snap snap!’  Unfortunately, it wasn’t our day for fishing, and we just went out to see, did some line fishing, and island hopping. This method of fishing is tedious, the nets are huge, and they are brought in manually. It requires 10-15 strong, experienced men to bring in the nets, and the boats head out up to 5km into the seas. Sometimes, spending days out before returning.

 

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Up and about on in a local fishing village.  Heaving boats, yellow fin tunas, a small catamaran, and preying crows.

This is my last post on extreme fishing, as I leave the fishing coast of my travels and head up to the deserts and mountains of India!!

Adam’s Peak 2/2

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The countdown begins at 2 in the morning..5250, 5249, 5248 steps to go. It gets steeper, smaller and meaner. I trek with that bitterness of having to torture myself in the middle of my sleep. Reminiscent of the good ol army days.

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‘Threading’ from one to the other end of the line for first time pilgrims. This is a sacred walk, and there is an air of respect.

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Some locals start trekking much early on, to take their time, find a place to rest and seek solace. Most tourists like us arrive at the peak for minimal waiting time for sunrise, hence the later start. When we reached the peak at 5 in the morning, it was already shoulder to shoulder.

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Pilgrims bring oil to add to the fire that signifies one that never ends. They pause for awhile to warm their hands from the frigid cold. Looking at the flame from afar brings

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The wait for sunrise begins. Tourists stick out like a sore thumb in this holy sacred land. We climb illegally on the fragile roof, about a hundred of us. The police pleads for us to get off, but we haggle and fight out way to stay, for the best vantage point.

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Mist over the hills, make you think you’re in heaven. The bell is rung, for the number of times you have scaled the peak. It has been going on continuously, and will continue to.

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Many of the pilgrims head inside the Buddha footprint temple for prayer. It’s called Adam’s peak also because other religions take it as a sacred place. They say Adam from the bible left his footprint.

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The shadow of Adam’s peak cast on the surrounding hills show its scale and glorious geometry. It’s been an incredible climb, you HAVE to do this once in your life.

Adam’s Peak 1/2

This is one pilgrimage not to be missed out. I’ll let the photos do the talking and you’ll see why.

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Galle Fort

Fun Fact: The  walls of  the Fort are made of Coral!..No..I’m not sprouting rubbish…and…Yes…sea coral! (See bottom pic)

Originally built by the Portuguese in the 16th century, the Dutch took over of it and reinforced the entire fort with walls of Coral, granite and beeswax. The coral mixture was apparently stiffer and more sturdy than sand stone. However, it seems that even that could not stop damage from the Tsunami from creating a gaping hole in one of the walls.

The fort held an air on it’s own, there was something strong, unwavering, and cultural about it. Churches, mosques, and temples are the cornerstones of the fort now. A short walk in and we stepped into Europe. The grid layout and strong dutch influence and architecture, personified by characteristic street lamps and brick walls brought us into a different world. On the plane I read an article about a journalist, a world traveller who had been to so many countries,……but once she stepped into the fort.. Her walls held her in. There was a strong draw about it and she started collecting stories about each owner of each house, and compiled it in a book. That’s how powerful it is.

This was how I celebrated Feb 14, 2013, Valentine’s day. Looking at the beautiful clouds…and other couples hand in hand..having their wedding photos taken, pondering how it would be like if  things were different, and there was someone to share the moment with?

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we were invited in by one of the families who had an intricately designed home with a theme of scary masks, red indians, and small knick knacks.

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Coral walls of the Fort

 

Saving Smiles

A sense of anticipation, fear, adventure churned in my stomach as we approached the tunnel. There were no lights, bats were fluttering, young people yelling on the other side. The damp, moist ammonia stench from the Bat urine and the dodgy screams of voices of boys was troubling. I braced, and fronted the walk, along the train tracks.

“Hi, where you from? Got smoke?!” , one of them shouted, his eyes were shifting, he was buttoning up his shirt. My gut told me they were obviously up to no good, and my gut was always right.

“No sorry, we don’t smoke”, I replied.

“WALK WALK! Ignore, lets get out of here”

Would this be my first street fight? From the day I got robbed at 15, I made sure I could defend myself and never happen again and picked up the rough sports of Rugby, Muay thai, and Aikido. Having read Shantaram, I learnt a thing or two about street fights, confidence, and spirit. As the boys neared, I slowed, lowered my chin, clenched my fist, and exhaled. Then take the rest as they come.

“HELLO!!!” in the distance, just 20 metres up ahead on an incredibly steep slope, 2 boys 10, and 12 waved enthusiastically. Tiffany waved back, and they immediately darted down at light speed. Brothers for sure, they smiled so widely, parading their gleaming white teeth, their big eyes lit. It was a smile that was pure and innocent, untainted by the troubles and complications of the world. These 2 youngsters brought such an assurance with their confident strides, we knew we were safe.

“Come come! Come to our home! Just here!” we looked back to check, the group peeled away. Still reeling from the adrenaline from the encounter, we wanted to get away as quick as we could. Following the boys up in the soft mud, it was a 60 degree slope, slippery as hell. From their speed, their  experience in mountain climbing was unmatched.

We trekked up willingly, every step was a soothing step away from danger. Up at the top, we were greeted warmly by the family, the elder brother, and their parents. They pointed at our feet, “Leech! leech!”, and prompted us to remove it, quickly brought us a pail of salt water to sterilise our wounds. The leeches were incredibly fast and accurate, attacking spot on, feasting greedily on our open wounds.

The 9 -Arc bridge in Ella, up in the hill country was the reason we just trekked kilometers for. It was a behemoth, so massive, with its 9 arcs standing proudly tall over a river. Its scale made everything around it look small and weak. The train from Colombo appeared through the tunnel we had just been through. Seeing it from up there was fantastic. They picked out a 50 Rps note, and on it was the bridge on the note, it was a national icon, and their actions made them proud ambassadors of it.

Just then, the sky raptured into magenta, orange and blue, it was a gorgeous sunset.

“Tea? Coffee?”, I knew they had so much love to give, and serving us would make them feel like they’ve something to offer. I obliged, after all, a nice warm cup in the cold dry air would be very pleasant. They proceeded to serve us with a beautiful tea set with pastel paintings on the teapots and cups that reminded me of the navy ensigns of A-Z. The family whipped out a stack of documents, filled with colorful pictures of themselves and foreign people. Letters were written to them thanking them for their hospitality, and taking care of them in the same way we were.

“You are like my son, please come back here when you are in Sri Lanka”, mum smiled, and embraced me like I was her own. It was dark, but the boys led us to the shortcut out towards ella. We waved goodbye, knowing it might be the last time we’d see them, bellies filled with warmth and love from these perfect strangers.

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The warm smiles that greeted us 🙂

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9 Arc Bridge with the train from Colombo

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The dark, daunting tunnel from inside.

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Tea served with love.

Safari & Jeeps

“Leopards? I try!”

We jerked back into our seats, a mild whiplash effect. Our driver was the most experienced among all the others in the Safari, with his coarse wrinkles, white hair, and of course, 35 years of working experience.

“Boom, Boom, Boom, Boom”, the jeep jumped and swayed in a rhythmic intervals over every single porthole, the mark of the elephants, each 3-6 inches deep. We darted across the roads, in haphazard fashion.  A momentarily loss of concentration, could mean a thick branch smack your face like a whip in its peak of swing. Skimming the sides of shrubs and branches indeed added to the atmosphere, it was a roller coaster ride.

Up ahead,our  brakes jam. 6 other jeeps choke up the entire pathway. Tourists peer with binoculars,  long camera lenses, and squint hard to spot something hidden in the foliage. Having my line of sight blocked by the other jeeps, I jump off mine and walk closer to take a better look. The area broke out in hysteria, other drivers started pointing and screaming. I knew I wasn’t supposed to get out, and shuffled back to our jeep, in a walk of shame. ‘Stupid asians’ they must have thought. Whoops.

Lucky day , not 1, but 4 leopards spotted. The superstar of the safari, we got aquainted with quickly. It wasn’t the same effect as a Nat Geog show where the predators chase deer, and tear them apart with brute force and much theatre effect. Our stars today were lazing in the trees, oblivious to the humans who worshipped them, almost. Deer, crocodiles, ox, eagles, were also checked off today.

What I loved most about the Safari- the starburst of brightly hued colours, surpassing the spectrum you thought you’d ever known.

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EXTREME FISHING 2 – Stilt fishing

As I climbed onto the wooden pole in the midst of trashing waves in the surf zone, fingers crossed in my heart that the flimsy looking seat would hold my weight. It looked fragile and weathered, some other poles had missing parts.

Thankfully, the unintended slimness test proved that I was still in shape, and we were alongside the stilt fishermen, practicing a mythical tradition way of life – Stilt fishing.

The poles only appear in the South-western coast of Galle Rd, in general close proximity to one another. It was always assumed as a ‘tourist attraction’, only appearing in postcards, guide books and paintings. I’d never thought I’d be having a chance at it as I read somewhere that the poles were handed down from the fishermen’s generations, and regarded as somewhat sacred As we were making our way to see the sharks in the outdoor aquarium, we approached some local stilt fishermen and they welcomed us to have a go!

It’s an extremely rudimentary, and painstaking way of fishing, absolute respect to the guys. The target fish- Sardine and Herring, no more than 5cm in length are caught one by one and put in a plastic bag tied to their belts. The fish don’t sell for much, and the fishermen sit on the poles for easily 4 hours at a time, preferable during dawn and dusk.

The intention of stilt fishing, is its unobtrusiveness to the fish in the reef. They believe that if you use a net, the fish in the area might be scared away and never return. It is a simple way, there are no live baits, just a little shiny yellow bob would do the trick.

Within seconds of casting, Ban Jo, the local guy caught one! His friend unhooked the fish, transferred it to Tiffany’s hook, and smiled cheekily, “for the picture!” It was great fishing with these guys..unfortunately, our novice skills caught us none in the sea of sardine that swarmed the reef around us. Better luck next time!

Another one ticked  off the bucket list!

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Family

“Ooh, I LOVE Singapore, I was working for a very good family, for 2 and a half years. The trains, I LOVE, so fast, beautiful!” Pasir Ris, I LOVE, Mencha’s eyes lit up.

“I really really want to go back and work in Singapore”

It’s an interesting juxtaposition, the typical story of how the country girl wants to live in the city, and the city boy wants to get out to the countryside. In fact, it’s been a wish, a long time coming. I’ve always felt like I was sometimes born in the wrong generation, wrong country since it seems I was always drawn to sustainable living hunting, fishing, agriculture, cooking, and the great outdoors!

My wish came true, I’ve had the amazing experience such a live staying with Mencha’s family of 7, 5 young children, from 2 to 12 in traditional local style. Uncle is an incredible fisherman. He catches reef fish for exports, and spearfishes to sell or provide for the family. At the moment, his gun is down from a snapped rubber.

Aunty is the strong woman, and anchor of the family. Apart from dealing with her hyperactive  children, she does a side business of making the biggest, meanest, and BEST fruit shakes which thirsty, sweet-toothed surfers fantasize about. The shakes are GINORMOUS, they’re always filled to the brim, and a generous chunk of chocolate ice cream is splashed on it, intentionally making the shake spill over its sides. It’s a sight to behold, and the muscles on your face involuntarily twitch to for m a wide grin. Is it a meal? Is it a juice? Is it a desert? To me, it’s breakfast!

Couple of teething issues you have with living jungle side – the roof that seems to be held together by some canvas seems to have  mythical creatures crawling on it in the middle of the night, scaring the shit out of you. It sounds like monitor lizards sometimes, I try to imagine they are cute squirrels. You hope too the roof does not cave in. This house had survived the 2004 Tsunami, it’s damage can be seen in its battered structure. The usual host of interesting bugs pay you a nightly visit. 2 nights ago, couple of fireflies dances around, yesterday a praying mantis was hanging with me. You get the full barrage of living with young local children who LOVE to to run around, climb, do what kids should love to be doing. It gets a little noisy at times, but I’m embracing it as part of the family experience.

It is a beautiful house, the walkway is lined with lush fauna and flora. Burgeoning banana trees with their bountiful leaves invite you into the centerpiece, the outdoor dining area with a coconut straw roof, and a wheel of a traditional cart looking right at you. The house is at least 100 years old, they are the third generation to stay here, just like a couple of other guesthouses in the area.

Macom, 5, loves to be thrown around, and Tim, the Aussie guest does an amazing job flipping him 360s, twirling him, it’s like a circus, almost! Rajita loves painting with me, she joined in when I was sketching their house and it turned into an art sesh with the 2 girls furiously drawing, painting, and giggling. She started drawing me, and charmed me with that sweet wide smile. That girl is going to grow up being a heartbreaker. The children play with rudimentary items, throwing stones at walls, catching. No toys, no iPhones, any of those evils.

The family had braved the tsunami, everything was washed away completely. All they had worked so hard for had disappeared. They ran up to the temple at the mountains, the moment they saw the entire sea dry up, and the felt something was amiss. Sometimes, you can see a slight sadness in the corner of their eyes, but they disguise it with that genuine wholesome smile. Mencha reminds me of my own mum, who grew up in a similar environment, working really hard and doing everything for the children. It was a stark reminder of how little I knew about the handwork, living with very little, even worrying about the next meal. My heart stirred, I finally understood the concerns of my mum. I finally understood how difficult it is for her to let go, worry less, when all that effort was put into raising the family.

I’m not sure what it is that makes the Lankans so hospitable and inviting despite our backgrounds and cultural differences. Uncle Sanil’s, Anoka, and Aunty Mencha treated me like one of their own, and I felt like I could easily live with them for longer.  The wold is an amazing place, and there are good people out there 🙂

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