Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Oh the Humanity

Mood: Overheated and disgruntled

Listening to: Istrumental version of Pal Pal Bhaari – from the movie Swades

I admit it, I am unashamedly pulling an ostrich. We have nothing in the house to eat for dinner and I am supposed to be whipping up delicious curry and vegetable and chicken type things, but I needed a few minutes to cool off.  The mountain of laundry is still laughing, but slowly becoming smaller. I’m coming for you mountain, just wait. Now that I have a metric ton of laundry to do, it is taking forever, not only because of the water situation, but also because of the drying situation. My old trusty wooden drying rack is no match for 3 loads a day of laundry. It holds exactly .75 of 1 load. The remaining quarter is hung up after I re-tie the porch clothesline a few times.

After waking up at the ungodly hour of 8 am (quiet down Mom, this is still early for me), feeding and clothing the (bickering, always with the bickering) natives and myself, and bolting down my non negotiable cup of coffee, the girls and I set out for Delhi Public School.  This is not the 1st, or even 4th time I’ve been required to do this and I hate every single last trip. My eldest daughter started there in January and went until school ended in April. I cannot even tell you the amount of monkey shenanigans we have had to put up with at that school when we got her signed up. I still have nightmares.

Well folks, school starts again for her on Friday. We also have younger daughter starting there next week. 
Consequently, the school expects to be paid tuition fees and bus fees for both girls. Ridiculous bastards. You read that right, there is no included bus fare for children here. If you want a bus ride, you pay, just like a city bus. It’s a nice little side business for the schools. There have been instances in the past where I have had to make 2 – 3 trips just to accomplish 1 thing. Each of these trips costs me a cab fare, which isn’t all that cheap. Bangalore be expensive yo.  Accordingly, I am willing to beg/borrow/steal/stab people to actually finish whatever is that needs to get done.

We got to the school at 10:00 am and were waved into the back way to the administration building by the security guard. We entered and went into the administrative section in the basement. Now. I really don’t suppose anyone is going to be overly shocked when I say that India is absolutely chock full of people. Lots of those people were at the school this morning. I’m not sure what happened, but everyone seemed to look into their morning coffee today and realize with horror that school starts in 2 days and they must get all of their fees/bus fares/uniforms/books taken care of today.  To call it a zoo would be kind. Of course there are no instructions as to what’s going on either. There is a bulletin board up in the center of the room outlining fees in the most confusing manner possible with 2 – 3 people leaning up against it writing checks so that no one else can use that information.

After spending about 10 minutes trying to figure out the meaning of the non linear non logically fashioned information was, we decided to pick a line to stand in. There were about 10 leading to various cubicles. I recognized the fee guy and stood in his line. I had a small freak out over forgetting their admission numbers at home. This, people, is the kind of stuff that results in multiple trips. I decided to try my luck and see if he would be in a mood to look them up.

After waiting in line for 30 minutes, we were crammed in the cubicle with 3 other separate people also having business with him, he asked me write their admission numbers on the back of the check. After hearing I didn’t have them, he scolded me that I should have them. I was sweaty, tired, and about to punch the lady behind me who didn’t have any concept at all of personal space (seriously chicky, at least buy me dinner first!), I snapped back that I just didn’t have them. He calmly helped 3 other people. When he saw I wasn’t leaving, he looked up the numbers. It took all of 3 seconds. Fighting a losing battle with the impulse to roll my eyes all the way around my head, I remaining standing there as he helped 3 more people, even though the checks were all written out and in his hand. He then asked me to write a different check as the amount I had written was wrong. I sighed, stuck out my elbows for some space and then wrote another check. If you would write it so that people would understand, you wouldn’t have to wait for me to write another check. We were assured when the school year ended that we would get a text on what the school and bus fees would be and when to pay them. Of course that never materialized. One more he said, mumble mumble, technology fee. After obtaining receipts, we pushed our way back out of the packed cubicle past the line that had become epic.  

More studying of the cryptic board to try and determine what bus fees for the year would be.  We went to the transportation office, also in the basement only to find it empty. Of course, they moved the transportation guys to tables on the opposite side of the room without leaving any trace in the original office. How logical. Another line to wait in. Hooray! At this point, both of my girls were very, very unenthusiastic about going to school and even bothering to finish this business, but after being home for almost a whole year between American school break and Indian school break, those kids are going to school. Someone handed us waivers to sign. I was busy writing a check out and just took them. The girl urged me no fewer than 3 times to fill it out. Take a breath Pollyanna. This line will take 20 minutes to go down, I have plenty of time to write 1 check and fill in 3 blank spaces. After being directed to the end of the shortest line (not the one I was standing in), the girl demanded to see my forms. Must. Not. Roll. Eyes. Ugh too hard, much eye rolling happened. Last time I checked, my signature and the date wasn’t really all that difficult. She then wanted the check. Keep in mind, she wasn’t at a table, she just wanted to make sure I had done it right. Again, I’ve been writing checks for the last 10 years, I’m not all of a sudden going to forget to sign it or put the incorrect date. After our 5 minutes with the transport guy, we were done in the basement.

We left and crossed the campus to get youngest’s uniform and books.  One look at the ginormous uniform queue (line) and we decided to try our luck with the books instead. Oldest paid for and received her books previously. The book store employee kindly informed me that I have to pay for the books in the admin section in the basement. I started laughing at this point, which is never a good sign. There was absolutely nothing in the basement indicating we needed to pay for books there. Back across the campus we trudged. 

This time, the rear door was locked and only about 300 people were in a small space in front of the door. They were giving out small chits with numbers just to get in the building. Although it’s better than I remember, Indians do not do lines. They do mobs, herds, clusters, etc. If you are stupid enough to wait in line, people will just go around you and stand as close to the thing you want as possible in hopes of getting waited on next. Fortunately, I can also play this game. Dragging the whining girls along, we crammed in next to the door and collected a chit from the girl at the door. This was great in theory, but not really practical. Almost every single person in the entry way had some reason or other why they shouldn’t have to wait in the line at all. I started laughing again when it didn’t matter at all what number was on the slip of paper. If the door was open, people tried to stampede like cattle, even though they had been asked nicely to wait patiently. The school people in charge were completely overrun with obnoxious questions, excuses to go inside before everyone else, and trying to be polite with all of the hot argumentative parents who decided that random entry was totally unfair, yet they wanted to be let in right away anyways. One parent took over and called numbers in order. All of those people, including us, surged at the door at once. When we finally got in, we headed downstairs again. After several pointedly ignored questions about where the book fee cubicle was, a parent took pity on us and pointed us in the right direction. 5 minutes later, we were crossing the campus again to pick up the books. By the time we got the books, the uniform queue was unmoved. I only booked a 3 hour taxi (and I thought I was overdoing it!) and my time was up if I wanted to get back home in the half hour I had left. I was hoping to get home before the housekeeper came too, because she doesn’t have keys. If I’m not home, she doesn’t clean. The children cheered as we left. The ride home was uneventful. I still ended up getting home after the housekeeper came, which means I scored some dishes to wash tonight too. Sigh.

Delhi Public School: 8  
Me: 0


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

An Unwanted Visitor

Mood: Aggravated. I hate when stuff disappears
Listening to: O Saathiya Mere Sathiya – Shaan and Shreya Ghoshal

Daddy G and I were hanging out with the daughters one afternoon when some strange noises started coming from our room. I dislike strange noises, so I went to investigate. There, sitting on my curtain rod, happy as pie, (or as happy as you can imagine one being or appearing) was a pigeon. We have glass sliding doors that the owner was too cheap to put screen doors on and somehow, this pigeon mistook the open door for an invitation to come on in and get comfy.  

Before I became a Bangalore girl, I lived in New York for almost 7 years. You don’t live in NY that long without some things sticking. One of those things is a hatred for pigeons. A New Yorker joke:  What’s the only thing worse than a rat with wings (our slang for pigeons)? An actual New York rat. Shudder. I hate rats too. New York pigeons are dirty, filthy birds that spread dirt and pestilence wherever they go. They eat garbage and tend to live in huge groups. The pigeons here love my apartment complex. What’s not to love? 20 bajillion ledges for them to roost on and a nice blue pool in the middle to drink out of and crap next to. Jeezy Parcheesi I hate pigeons.  I am FOREVER chasing them off the porches and windowsills. I need some plastic owls or a hunting hawk. That would be awesome. This was more than crossing the line, this was thumbing the pigeon’s nose at the line and then crapping in my general direction.

“Oh it’s on pigeon, it’s on.” I mumbled as I tried to shoo it out. I wasn’t about to touch the nasty little thing with my bare hands and end up with bird mites or plague or some crazy thing like that, so I had to resort to chasing it around the room. Besides, its beak looked sharp and it had those round red eyes with a tint of insanity. I wasn’t taking chances. It was a very stupid (read smart) pigeon that somehow just “forgot” where the huge open glass door was a few seconds earlier. Have you ever tried to shoo a fly out a window when it’s dark outside? They will fly everywhere EXCEPT at the dark open window, even if you almost force them out. It’s like similar polar forces – repellant! Same principal with this silly pigeon.  

We shooed the shrieking jumping children out of the room because we really didn’t need them covered in bird feathers, mites, and crap either.  Daddy G and I pretty much cornered it with outstretched hands next to the screen door and tried to shoo it outside. We lost ground when Daddy G insisted on stopping for a minute to turn off the ceiling fan in case the bird flew up into it. He’s nonviolent like that, I really didn’t care. 

The pigeon took that very opportunity to careen crazily around the room because our arms were no longer in the way. He ironically flew into my mirror because it was reflecting the open sliding door. He settled in an opposite corner and shot us the evil eye for not letting him sit on the curtain rod and crap all over my curtains.

We again slowly backed him towards the screen door. I guess the pigeon figured we meant business, because it slowly backed out the door before careening crazily off to sit on a ledge somewhere. I was totally ready to volleyball spike that bird out the screen door if he tried flying around the room again.

The Indian wildlife – it does not like me. This is the second pigeon attack I’ve had since December. The other one involved a pigeon flying out of a dark cave we were checking out and colliding with my legs with so much force I almost fell over. I need a BB gun.


An Ode to Pickle

Mood: Aggravated. I hate when stuff disappears
Listening to: Deewane Dil Ko Jaane Na – Alka Yagnik and Sonu Nigam

My western audience (I know, laugh it up, but leave me to my delusions of having an audience) may be thinking that I am talking about pickles. The green cucumber sticks brined in dill, spices and salt for a while. While I do like the occasional pickle, this is not what I’m referring to.

What I’m talkin about is Indian pickle. It’s made up of a vegetable (my favorites are green mango and tomato, but not together), a metric ton of salt and chili powder, oil and a few spices.  It is a red chunky paste that looks like this in a bottle, since I couldn't find any on a plate:

Priya isn’t the only brand, but it’s one I like. For a western palate, pickle takes quite some getting used to. I had my first taste back when Daddy G and I were dating and I hated it. Slowly over the years, I have become a huge fan of pickle.  If you want to try it, go very, very slowly.

Mostly, I eat pickle with upma. Upma is cream of wheat cooked with carrots, peas, a few spices and cashews, if you’re kinky like that.  I could quite possibly eat upma and pickle every single day. Not every meal, but still. My housekeeper makes it and she nails it every time.

I dump so much of that stuff in my upma, I’ve been asked by more than one Indian:

“Um… do you know what that is? You do. Okay. Are you sure you wanted that much? You are. Um, can I get you an antacid?”

No thanks, I’m enjoying. And I’ve never gotten indigestion from pickle either. All that salt and chili kills any errant bacteria.


Monday, May 28, 2012

Tips, Secrets, and This That Won't be Left Unsaid.

If you didn’t feel like reading through the entire Sri Lanka saga, here are the essentials. We went through Yatra and took a package that included air fare, hotel, a van and a driver, and breakfast. Your experience may be different if you travel differently. My husband and I couldn’t really do a backpacking style of moderation travel with our daughters. It just wasn’t practical for us. I hope I don't offend anyone with the advice I have to give, it is based only on our experiences and probably won't apply to everyone.

Weather : We chose to go to Sri Lanka in May, mainly because we are horrible at planning things ahead of time. Sri Lanka is hot as Balls in May and just as humid. Seriously.  If you can put up with it, May is really  a great time to go because everything is not jam packed with tourists. If you need the more moderate weather, go in the winter.

What to See: This is largely up to you and what interests you the most. Since we live in the Google age, I strongly recommend you do quite a bit of research into what areas/what things you want to see or do. We did the cultural bit because that float’s Daddy G’s and my boats. If your thing is more lounging on beaches and snorkeling, you will probably go somewhere different than we did.

Dress:  I got far fewer stares in Sri Lanka than I ever do in India, but I dress conservatively. Pants/jeans/long skirts are essential, especially if you would like to visit any of the temples. This will be expected of you. I wouldn’t recommend tank tops to ladies either, but that’s just my take. Sri Lanka is incredibly oriented towards tourism, so people really do go out of their way to make you feel comfortable. This being said, don’t be stupid. You’re always better covered up a bit more. If you go in the summer, I STRONGLY recommend ankle length skirts for the girls. Much cooler than jeans. Capris are perfectly acceptable too, but will still be hot. Men have more freedom. Most of the Sri Lankan men wear lunghis (long pieces of fabric that are folded in a certain manner and tucked in), however this is completely impractical for anyone who didn’t grow up in Sri Lanka or India wearing one. Shorts are fine for the men, except for in a temple setting.

Transportation: There are small motor carts (tuktuks, same as Indian autos) if you have small distances. Otherwise taxis can be arranged, but they aren’t all that economical, especially if you are headed out of town and into the village areas. What I would recommend would be to hire a car and driver if that doesn’t come with your travel package/plans. It’s well worth the expense.

Guides: Guides can be a great resource or a pain, depending on what you want. Our driver acted as our guide many times and had lots of interesting information to tell us. He also had a vested interest to steer us towards some things we had absolutely no interest in (such as clothes and jewelry shopping). Remember that it’s just good policy to tip a guide. If he’s not good, don’t tip too much, but definitely don’t stiff the guy. This is their livelihood, they need the tips.

Food: Sri Lankans love spices and spicy foods. If you don’t like spicy food, you will end up eating a lot of over salted fried noodles and fried rice everywhere you go. It’s great if you are open to new stuff, because there is lots of yummy-ness to be discovered in Sri Lanka. Always start out slowly  with the heat level and increase as you feel comfortable. If you stay in the larger hotels, expect more choice, but also expect a larger bill at the end. Water is essential, especially in the summer time. If at all possible buy lots of water from a grocery store and use as needed. Even in the hotels, the cost of water bottles is jacked WAY up. Do not drink the tap water people, that should be travel 101.

Money: This is where things get a bit sticky. If you are coming from America, or including Sri Lanka in your Eastern trip, you will already be spending a lot of money on plane tickets to get to this side of the world. That being said, Sri Lankan rupees are currently around 100 per 1 US dollar. Things are pretty cheap all considered. If you are an Indian coming to Sri Lanka, earning and spending in rupees, Sri Lanka gets pretty expensive fast. Our hotels were all very nice, which translated into ridiculously expensive meals too. Sri Lanka is not as developed as India and almost everything has a village feel (except for Colombo). This makes the sticker shock even more shocking. Sri Lanka knows it is a tourist destination, and knows the value of its services.  The prices are pretty close to American ones which is hard for an Indian tourist to swallow. You will need to convert your dollars to Sri Lankan rupees, preferably not at the airport. If you have Indian rupees, they will need to be converted to dollars, again hopefully not at the airport, and then converted to Sri Lankan Rupees when you land, not at the airport. There are visa ATMs in pleny around the bigger cities, so if you run short of cash in those places and have an international credit card, you have access to more money.  Make sure you have enough money for tips. As this is a tourist destination, everyone performing a service will expect one, even the grocery guy carrying your bag for you.

Souvenirs:  Souvenirs get expensive fast too, so if that’s your cup of tea, make sure you bring along enough to do whatever shopping you need to do. Try your best not to get sucked into one shop just because someone recommended it. Everyone has a stake when they give you a suggestion. Use your best judgment and try and stay away from the tourist heavy sections of stores. Bargain shamelessly – a good place to start is just above half.  You’ll also have a bit more bargaining room if you stay away from factories that give tours.

Beggars: If you come from the west, this will be hard. Don’t give to beggars. If you feel the compulsion to be compassionate, give to the Red Cross or another international aid organization. Begging is not a viable career option for people and does not help them overcome their situation. We didn’t see too much of this, but there was some. Don’t be unkind, but a firm no and no more attention should do the trick.

Time: Sri Lankans operate on a different time schedule than the west, or even India. They are much more relaxed. Try not to bother the waiters too much and try to be Zen about it.

Religions: Sri Lanka is a majority Buddhist country. There is a decent Christian, Hindu, and Muslim minority. If you don’t believe the same as one of these, do your best to live and let live. Everyone is pretty much relaxed about living together, just go with the flow.

Hotels: Do your best to stay in nice hotels as Sri Lanka has some amazing ones. I would recommend any of the hotels mentioned in my blog with the exception of the Topaz.  I do not recommend bed bugs. If they can fix this problem, it will be a great hotel too.

Bugs: We found surprisingly few mosquitoes in Sri Lanka, which was totally unexpected. They are there, but they seem to be bigger, slower, and in fewer numbers than we are used to in India. That being said, bug spray is not a bad idea if you will be out in the evening as all the public buildings we encountered were of an open plan and mosquitoes came and went freely. We didn't encounter too much else for bugs. 

Hope this helps. I welcome emails/comments/questions and will do my best to answer.


Sri Lanka Day 7: The Never Ending Trip Back to Bangalore

Mood: Mellow but Motivated
Listening to: Nothing – my daughter has Hindi tuitions right now

I’m not really one for hangovers unless I mix a lot of Black dog whiskey with wine in the same sitting (and that will never happen. Ever again.), so the next morning was fine. The Taj Samudra really outdoes itself for breakfast. I finally gave in and ordered a dosa from the dosa chef (yes, really) because I was aching for Bangalore food that badly. They had so many options, my kids even got pancakes. After stuffing ourselves to the gills, we packed up and slowly found Harry.  After assuring that our plane tickets and passports were indeed in our hands, we headed off to the airport at noon. This was the craziest I saw Harry and the traffic was ridiculous. I would never want to live in Colombo!  

The airport was uneventful. We had 3 hours until our flight so we generally wandered around the duty free shops laughing at how expensive the candy and liquor was.  We got some chicken tikka sandwiches from LaVazza, a coffee shop that is in India also, and waited. Then waited some more. Sri Lanka has free internet kiosks in the airport. I think this is a brilliant idea because it kept the kids busy for the remaining hour wait we had.  Daddy G changed all of our Sri Lankan rupees back into dollars because I just didn’t feel like wasting the remaining money on overpriced stuff at the airport.

Our flight to Chennai was short, uneventful, and featured sandwiches again, even though we barely had time to chow down before the plane landed again.

Chennai airport, unlike the last time we went, was a zoo. We cleared customs rather quickly and walked into the main terminal to a madhouse of people. Nothing like coming home, is there. We found seats and sat for a while because we were too early to be let into our gate. Our gate was yet to be determined, so we just sat somewhere.  I pestered Daddy G to get the kids sandwiches so they wouldn’t be whining on the plane or in Bangalore (not much open at that time of night here). No one ate much. The sandwiches were mainly vegetables and cheese but were pretty good.  In retrospect, they made more than one of us sick, and I probably won’t get anything from shady airport shops again. What do you expect? This is India. After waiting until 15 minutes until our flight was due to depart for them to announce a gate, we heard an announcement that our flight was delayed. We waited around until 9, when they announced our flight. 
At 9:30, we boarded with 2 very cranky, tired children. 

The kids fell asleep the minute the engines started. Another short, uneventful flight to Bangalore and we were there. More cranky crying children and 2 suitcases later, we joined the taxi line, which for whatever reason was huge at 10:30 at night.

My eldest started hyperventilating and crying that she was so tired and she was definitely going to throw up. Now, she’s a little prone to exaggeration when she’s tired, hungry, or sick, so we thought this was just an impatient dog and pony show. We did our best to calm her down. When it was our turn in the taxi line, we quickly piled in the taxi and left. 

Unfortunately, we found a driver who put Harry to shame. I think he was trying to get back to the airport and get one more fare for the night, but he was nuts. To top it all off, my eldest daughter puked all over the back floor of the cab. My husband swears the cabbie didn’t even notice until we paid him triple the fare so he could get it cleaned. We felt horrible that it happened, but it was plenty of money to get the car cleaned. After my daughter running into the house and puking again, we finally pout the kids to bed.

I am glad to be home. Our trip was wonderful and I am SO glad we went, but there is nothing like home. I really missed my Bangalore coffee.


Sri Lanka Day 6: Colombo

Mood: Mellow but Motivated
Listening to: My Life would Suck Without you – Kelly Clarkson

After another very nice buffet breakfast, we bid farewell to Kandy. Another long drive found us in Colombo. Harry’s driving became even more erratic and traffic was even worse than Bangalore, if that is even possible.

We stopped for lunch at a very fancy restaurant. Daddy G and I rolled our eyes at each other yet again about the food thing. It was getting a bit much. We went with the buffet as the kids were free here too. I got crab curry with a beautiful crab leg in it to start as we had avoided seafood up until now. Whatever overpriced nonsense the buffet was, this one crab leg made up for it all. The curry was amazing and that crab leg was absolutely glorious. I enjoyed it, curry all over my hands. That is the only way to eat a crab leg. There were lots of yummy vegetarian options too. We got to try some Sri Lankan desserts too, of which some were great and some a tad bit too English for my taste. Treacle Tart anyone?  After a hastily gulped green tea at the end (the girls were squirrely and ready to leave. Now, please.) we set out for the hotel. At this point we were kind of frustrated with Harry. The day was only half over and he insisted that Colombo was just a concrete jungle with nothing to see. I doubted that, but I think he was eager to get back to his family in Negombo for the night.

Our hotel, the Taj Samudra, didn’t have driver accommodations, so he was taking a bus trip home for the night, and would return at noon to bring us to the airport the next day. I absolutely loved the Taj Samudra. Daddy G wasn’t so impressed. He thought it was more of a showy, business hotel. Whatever, I never get to stay places like that, so I enjoyed it.  More quick checkin, more juice, and we were escorted up to our room.  Our room was standard hotel fair but absolutely spotless.  We hung out and watched TV for a bit to relax. The wireless here was about 500 rupees per 2 hours, so we just decided to ditch the work all together, since it was only 1 more day anyhow.

Sri Lankans LOVE their elephants.

After we rested up, we decided that it was pool time. The Taj Samudra is currently renovating their pool and it is closed. The Ramada across the street has kindly agreed to let guests swim in their pool instead. Or are being paid a buttload of money to let people use it – I have no idea. We moseyed on across the street and signed into the pool. They were kind enough to give us big fluffy towels to borrow.  The pool was small, but mostly empty and had a nice small attached pool for the kiddos.
We returned to the room and showered. We had asked Harry where we could walk around in the evening and he gave some vague wave of his hand and told us that we could walk there, but the hotel grounds were the best place to walk around.  Undeterred, we decided to walk next to the ocean, which we could see from our hotel room. The water again was rough and the sand too fresh in Daddy G’s mind to consider a swim, so we just went to the boardwalk. There were lots of Sri Lankans out and about, lots of food stalls selling small eats.

Sri Lankan Sunset. Very Nice.

We enjoyed the sea air and wandered down the walk. We did eventually try to go where Harry was pointing, but ended up not finding anything but more hotels, which really wasn’t all that interesting. There was a military facility near the hotels and there was a LOT of policemen walking around with lots of large guns. We had been warned not to take pictures towards the end and I pretty much pocketed my camera after 15 minutes by the water. We finally got tired of the humidity pouring off the ocean. It was absolutely nuts.  By the time we walked back, it was dark and we could see all the moisture in the air blowing by the street lamps.  We decided to try the north Indian food option (there were 6 places there to eat, including a coffee shop type thing). They immediately told my husband he would not be seated wearing shorts and would he be interested in them finding him a sarong? I had a very good laugh at his expense before pondering how ridiculous this is. I know you’re  a fancy hotel, but I can’t think of any other Indian place in the world that would blink at a man wearing shorts. We took a gander at the expensive menu, determined that there would be nothing the kids would eat except yogurt rice, which was 300 rupees each! All the grownup food was even more silly priced.

We gave back the sarong and went back to our room to regroup. We decided to order sandwiches off the room service menu because no one had any enthusiasm to go out.  They brought our food after a half hour (seriously, everything in Sri Lanka was slower paced, except maybe Harry). The general manager called while I was trying to eat my very nice salad to ensure we were comfortably settled. I was pissed at being interrupted from my salad, but Gaurav was insistent on being chatty. After I assured him we were great, thank you!, he hung up. After dinner, the kids passed out and I went to shower.

When I was done, the doorbell rang. I sent Daddy G to answer the door since I wasn’t dressed. He came back in with a puzzled expression and a bottle of wine. I, of course, immediately got excited.  I asked him what it was and he replied that it was a gift. This made me insanely happy. Taj Samudra and Gaurav, thank you. I joked with my husband that I’m a cheap date because a bottle of wine will ensure that I absolutely love you. He joked back it might not be so cheap because it take a whole damn bottle of wine for me to get drunk.  Whatever. We made sure it was free (seriously. There were chocolates out that I almost ate. 4 chocolates for 400 rupees.), and then popped it open. Well, unscrewed anyways.  A free bottle of wine is a big deal for us because wine is so expensive here and we don’t indulge much. I’m not sure what the label was, but it was a Chilean red (!!!). I love Chilean wine and don’t really drink white, so this made my entire week. It was a great bottle of wine. We watched an Ajay Devgan (yes please!) and Akshay Kumar (double yes please!!) movie. I got about ¾ of the way through before passing out happily on the bed.


Sri Lanka Day 5: Kandy Part 2

Mood: Mellow yet motivated
Listening to: Another Like You - Mishka

We got a treat by being able to sleep in. Mainly because we didn’t have anywhere to drive this day. We got up slowly, had a wonderful breakfast (that buffet was huge!) and found Harry.

We went to the Botanical garden. I was very, very impressed. The grounds are beautiful. I’m not going to bore you with the 20 bajillion plant and flower pictures I took, but it was very well done. Kandy is up in the mountains and the temperature is a bit cooler than other places further down with a bit less humidity. Mind you I didn’t say it was cool nor there wasn't any humidity. By this time the heat and humidity was really getting to us and there wasn’t much enthusiasm. Harry walked with us and gave all of his tour guide spiel, which was nice. We weren’t there very long at all – just no interest.

When we were done, Harry took us to a gem factory and we were shown how they polished. We were also shown a movie on how the gems were mined that smacked of exploitation. I’m still not sure why they showed that because I never want to buy any gems from Sri Lanka. Ever. We admired all the dingchak (shiney thins) politely and asked Harry to eat lunch. We stopped at a place that had a beautiful view of the river. This was the only good thing about this place. We opted for sandwiches to keep it cheap and light. We got small shreds of spicy carrots on bread loaded with mayo from a waiter who for some reason thought we had ALL day to linger.

After lunch, we were taken to a wood carving shot. At this point, Daddy G and I were thoroughly tired of being steered towards buying things.  We looked politely and the work and watched as they explained the different types of wood. We wandered throught the ginormous warehouse with everything you could ever imagine. Seriously – I saw wooden dildos inlaid with moth of pearl. Not even kidding. Tables, beautiful chess sets on coffee tables. We wanted to buy a traditional wood mask. We chose a design and spent a few minutes digging for a brightly colored one. The salesman who was supposed to give us a “great price” absolutely did not and Daddy G just didn’t have enough energy to bargain. After that we were steered into a clothing boutique loaded with overpriced stuff. We half heartedly looked around while I whispered to Daddy G that if we were taken to one more shopping spot, I was going to disabuse Harry of the notion that we wanted to shop anymore. We’re not big into shopping anyways. The sales girl was quite offended that I wouldn’t even look at the 600 rupee tee shirts for the kids with elephants. Erm what? Not only do we not need shirts for the kids, I am not paying 600 rupees for them just because you silk screened some elephants on them.  We headed back to the hotel to relax a bit and asked Harry to pick us up in the evening to visit the Temple of the Tooth.

After we woke up, we took a brief swim and then got dressed. Harry picked us up and we headed out to visit the Temple of the tooth, where one of Buddha’s teeth is. The temple was beautiful. Very colorful and ornate.  We spent a while in there wandering around.
When we were done, we stopped to get some fresh juice with Harry.

After that we were hoping to wander around a market type area, but Harry told us there wasn’t much open after dark. We asked to eat something simple and cheap and he suggested KFC. We enthusiastically agreed. KFC was about the same price as it is in India.  After buying some water from the grocery next door for the next day, we headed back for our final night in Kandy. We all fell asleep rather quickly this night.


Sri Lanka Day 4: Damballa and Kandy

Mood: Mellow yet motivated
Listening to: Carousel - Buckcherry

We woke up early again (notice a pattern here?) and had breakfast. The buffet was standard, but really nice. Back into the car and on the road to Kandy with a stop in Damballa.

This has got to be one of the coolest places I have ever been in my life. I know my inner nerd is showing, but still. We parked at the Damballa temple. After some quick bathroom breaks and more money hemorrhage for tickets, we wandered into the Buddhist museum. It was amazing. If you ever have the opportunity to go to Sri Lanka, you just can’t miss this. It was a great museum. I’m only posting some of the pics I took – otherwise this would take way, way too long.

Wall Paintings

For some reason this Buddha cracked me up. Look at that Goatee and pencil stache. That there is Buddha Bro.

I'm not going to drive you nuts by posting all of the Buddhas in here (and there were TONS), but it was fun to see how different countries reincarnated the image to fit their needs.

Buddha's on every flat surface. Oh my.

My kids swore these statues were going to come alive at any moment. My husband, being the gem he is told them they only come alive at night and eat naughty little girls.

We then hiked up to the temple in the mountain. Harry took us half way in consideration of the smallest child. It was still a little hike, but nothing like Sigriya. Lots and lots o monkeys here. Silence is required, as is leaving your shoes outside.

The outsides of the caves

Even the frogs are Zen. We were super close to this one.

The caves were absolutely breathtaking. So very serene and spiritual. Trust me – that’s quite a statement coming from me.

When we were finished, Harry took off for Kandy like it was running away. We eventually wove our way up into the mountains. Harry stopped at a spice garden so we could take a tour. The guide talked us into eating lunch there. We were hungry, so it seemed to be a good idea. Again with the fried noodles and Sri Lanka curry. There was absolutely WAY too much pepper in the food. We dropped so much money just on water to wash it all down! It was a tourist place too, so way overpriced.

The “kerosene” lamps cracked me up.

The guide took us around the spice garden and showed us some of the plants and pontificating on their Ayurvedic properties and uses (another word for plant based medicine).  He said “Excuse me Sir and Madam,” Every 3 minutes, even though he had our full attention the entire time. I felt like flicking him in the head by the end of the tour, even thought it was short.

Pepper Tree

He offered to give us short Ayurvedic facials and massages at the end. After the way my skin reacted to the facial I had in Bangalore, I wasn’t up for putting anything else on it right now. As to the massage, well, I’m not a big fan of touching people or being touched by random people, especially guys. After moving to India and having guys trip over themselves on the street to not accidentally run into me, I’m quite cool with that. Even disrespectful guys never get close enough to touch. No touch-ee dude, no touch-ee.

We collected Harry and piled back in the van to finish our short trip to Kandy. As we arrived, I loved Kandy. It is an absolutely charming city. It’s set in a valley with a river running through the middle of it.
On the way, we stopped at a Batik shop. Batik is created by an artist using a special tool to drop wax on certain parts of a cloth (which also soaks through to the other side) and then the whole cloth is dipped in dye. The cloth is then boiled to remove the wax. Depending on the design, it is waxed again, either the same spots or different, dyed and boiled again, until the desired picture is achieved. It struck Daddy G and I as very tedious work for the artists and we bought some as a souvenir.  The shop lady even kindly showed me how to tie a Sri Lankan sari. I know it was a sales bit, but it was fun to learn, since I already can tie an Indian sari. Another wedding was going on right next door.

When we were done, Harry piled us I the van and went to park along the street across from the cultural center. WE walked down to the river and took a very much over priced boat ride. It was nice, but short. There were an absolute ton of birds everywhere, including cormorants, which I like.

When we were done, we went back to the cultural center to take in a traditional Kandyan dance performance. Again, this is one of the best experiences I have ever had. If you want to see an example, I suggest you check out Kandyan dance on Youtube. Blogger is very unhappy with me today due to all the pics I am uploading. Every one of us enjoyed the show immensely and especially enjoyed the fire dance show that happened afterwards.

When we were done, we asked Harry to go somewhere to eat, but he told us no can do. Apparently, a General who had gone against the President was let out of jail and was visiting the temple of the tooth. Bad place for foreigners to be in general. We quickly agreed with him and went to the Kandy Topaz hotel to check in. Quick check in and fresh juice. The hotel lobby was quietly fancy and had a gemstone store. We went to our room and chilled out for a while. There are some rumors about bedbugs floating around on the internet for the Topaz, and I think they are correct. The room looked spotless, but we still came away with multiple bites, even though the room didn’t have any mosquitoes. Our room had a small porch and the view was beautiful.

Again, we headed down to the pool. There wasn’t really a shallow section of the pool here, so the kids swam with us. It was on a hill ledge and it was dark by the time we got to swimming. It was still very nice.
Again, a dinner ordered for the kids – which they were almost too tired to eat any of – and then back for bed.

This hotel charged for internet access. While it was expensive (350 rupees for 2 hours!), I had work I needed to do. When my computer died because it didn’t have batteries, things got ugly. There were absolutely no plugins in our room. I got really pissed that I had just bought 2 hours of internet I could not use. The lobby didn’t have any plug ins either.  What gives Hotel Topaz??

I pouted, stomped (quietly) around for a while and then just went to bed. I decided to embrace Sri Lankan Buddhism and just accept the situation.


Sri Lanka Day 3: Anuradhapura

Mood: Mellow yet motivated

Listening to: Paper Sun – Def Leppard

Daddy G and I decided we wanted to have a little bit more of a relaxing time, so when we got up (early!) the next day, we decided to not visit the ruins at Pollunaruwa as it was the opposite direction from where we were going the next day and was also ruins. Breakfast was again lovely. They didn’t have a buffet that day, so they served omelets, toast and a nice huge plate of tropical fruits, some of which I had never even seen before. I love trying new stuff, so this was fun for me. Sri Lankans love them some tropical fruits.
The drive to Anaradhapura was a long one and my eldest doesn’t really do well with jerky, swerving car rides. Thankfully, a nap took care of that nicely.

Anaradapura is a great place to visit some old ruins and a very nice temple. The grounds were super peaceful and had lots of trees and shade. It was still hot as hell.

Buddhist Stupa

What was on top of the Stupa

Note the Elephants and the Buddhist flag

An Elephant Swimming Pool - or so the legend goes

Oldest outdoor Buddha statue. It was so calming among the trees and quiet grounds


Cute carvings on the steps

When we were done, we were all pretty heat exhausted. We decided to try some of the yellow tender Sri Lankan coconuts. They were delicious – much sweeter than Indian green coconuts. They also were FULL of water. By the time the vendor scraped out the meat, we were pretty full already.

We asked Harry to bring us to a restaurant to avoid the resort pricing for food. He obligingly took us to a tourist trap where the prices were inflated anyhow. We got the hard sell about the buffet, which we agreed to after they told they wouldn’t charge for the kids to eat. Our kids don’t eat a ton of food anyway, so we usually don’t get buffet for them anyhow. We got to try some different stuff and lunch was pleasant.

We then went to the hotel. Palm Village Garden was also stunning. I wish I would have taken pics of the lobby here too, but there was yet another wedding going on. Harry informed us it was wedding season in Sri Lanka, which I found silly due to the heat. It was another rowdy wedding, but thankfully nowhere near our room. Again with the quick check in and fruit juice, we were then escorted to another cottage type set up. This property was even larger and had beautiful grounds. We collapsed into the air conditioned room and chilled out for a while, much the chagrin of our pool wanting children. The room again was beautiful and spotless.

Daddy G lookin a little scary goonda-ish- he isn't, I promise.

I generally don't like bathroom pics, but I loved these tiles

Patio Chairs - squee!
After we had rested a bit, we went exploring. We wandered down the lane to the end of the property.

There was a fence, a gate, and a warning sign about not leaving the property because wild elephants were there and it was dangerous.  There was a path, and lake with some benches just outside. We wandered down the path until we came across another very large sign to stop because of elephants. We decided discretion was the better part of valor and were content to sit on the benches and enjoy the breeze at dusk next to the lake. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any elephants. We did see a nice Ganesha statue about a quarter of the way around the lake. However, another sign made us reconsider seeing it up close.

The forbidden statue.

We left the lake and wandered up through the center of the property which is a grassy/vegetated section with lots of trees/tall grass.  We stopped by a small lake in the middle. The kids were playing around when we noticed a big mound of dirt with holes. Noting how much this looked like a snake’s home, we decided to move on. A little further down the trail, my husband started yelling about a snake that my youngest almost stepped on all of a sudden. It was a good sized snake and we all watched as it fled through the grass. It stopped for a few seconds and raised up a ways to stare at us. It was too far away for us to tell if it was a cobra or not, but it looked like it to me. After a few seconds it disappeared through the grass.

We decided that we had enough encounters with snakes and went to change for the pool. The pool here was enormous and nice to swim in, although the water was still really warm. As with Sigriya, we were the only people in the pool. It was a little deeper than the day before, so we stuck to the shallow end with the kids.

We got dressed and went for dinner. The dining room was beautifully decorated and open, as with the other places we had been. We opted for the Ala Carte menu even though they tried the buffet hard sell. The food was good, although it seemed to get more spicy the more places we ate. We tried Kerala rotis, which are hockey puck sized heavy rotis that have a lot of coconut in them. They were good, but not really Daddy G’s and my favorite thing to eat. After coaxing the exhausted kids to eat a few more bites of their sandwiches, we went back to the room where they promptly passed out. Something about the heat and humidity seemed to keep us perpetually in need of a nap and early bed time. In the end, cutting out Pollunaruwa was the right decision. It just would have been too much.

This hotel also didn’t offer wireless. I was getting worried at this point, but still had time. I watched TV for a while and then crashed.