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SRI LANKA  DIARY 11

10/12 2013 - 10/2 2014

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 After most of the south-eastern coast - I turn inland to the low and humid south central area.

20/1. I have had my thoughts about the "metal-woodpecker" in the right front of the car. I might experience a malfunction in the steering system, one of these days. Either in front of one of the mean busses or in a way-too-remote area. Considering the expected low prise, I check at a authorised workshop. 1000 for the steering-ball, 1000 to get in mounted. That is cheap for a piece of mind!

 I'll find some breakfast meanwhile, and head on with a good feeling. The first part is along yet another of these huge tanks, supplying the rice-production. I follow the canal for quite some time, and get a cup of tea at its side. Real peacefully - until the water starts to rise.

 It turns out, I have parked in front of a orchid collector. He have around ten to fifteen different species from the area, and are real passionate about them. He only have the local names, but it is interesting to see how he grows them. Unfortunately, his life companion turns up, and he don't like to share.

  I am now crossing the boarder of Gal Oya National Park. Small hills or mountains start to show, and the vegetation turns into forest. Another huge dike and tank have its own power station and nature area. I climb some huge boulders, but don't seem to be able to beat the big-footed piles of flesh. The most common ground vegetation is massive mats of Sansevierias

 As I keep driving deeper into the park, small farm houses keep flanking the road along with their tiny patches of rice, bananas and corn. I do several stops where it is not farmland, and another time, to get a cup of tea. The numerous tiny shops along the road get a delivery service with goods. A small lorry with five or six workers.

 One is the designated driver. One is the tie-bearing salesman, one is the runner who get the single bags of chips or shampoo from the one or two, working in the back. Meanwhile, a kid is replacing the posters on the front of the shop. Sometimes, these small lorries hold in line! In Denmark, you can order online, and you will have it the followering week - if you are lucky. And the prices will still be 20 to 40 times higher.

 Well, not all is this fancy. The local farmer drive by on his bike with mangoes, the fisherman on a moped with tiny fish and so on. Some have a bullhorn, some a bell, the rest shouts out loudly. Only the bakers have this awful "Falling leaves" tune in a digitalized version.

 Despite I'm kind of in a National Park, here are surprisingly many and rather big schools. Then, after the village of Buddama, it changes. Way less houses, no schools and hardly no road! It have suffered severely during more than one rainy season for sure. It is a bit tricky to get the car through, and the "woodpecker" is back in full strength. Then it was something else madder with the car...

 I must confess: I do not enjoy the forest enough; I concentrate way too much on the road - or more: Lack of it. Reluctantly, I must let my GPS have it: This is actually not really a road. I do a few stops, and find several species of orchids, but nothing else. Out of the park, I meet an ongoing road work. Then - in sections - a smooth and newly sealed road. I stop a few times, and when people ask, where I come from, and I say Buddama, they tell me: I can't go: "The road is gone". Well, they might be partly right.

 The road connects in Magandena,  and I head out the western road. It is a de-tour, but the area is magnificent forest with only little settlement, and I have the time. When I reach the bigger road, connecting Bibile and Nakkala, the massive road trees are back. Easily four meters across at the base, and host for three or four different orchids - at least! One is flowering, but way too high for me to get a good look.

 I reach the bigger town Monaragala around four, and have to settle for a real nice hotel, but without hot water. I drive down town, and I find my absolute favourite Sri Lankan town. Beautiful, colourful, friendly (but they all are), mounted with in tall green mountains. I make numerous photos in the perfect evening sun, almost forgetting dinner.

 Here are still cows and hens in the street, but also modern shops and sidewalks. The market is small, but cosy. A creek crosses town, and it is all green along the sides - hardly any trash. I think I have to spend yet another day here - hot water or not. Actually, I try the two fancy hotels, but one has booked all the "hot water rooms", the other don't have hot water. It is just a heater, places on the hose for crying out loud - how hard can it be???

 I spend part of the evening, finding a few sights around here. An ancient degoba and a Buddha statue, both in wild nature surroundings - one perhaps a bit too wild?

21/1. I figured it could be neat to be able to use the SIM-modem for the internet, at home and on other tours. I guess it is locked, but I saw a Dialog office down town last night. They will have it opened for me in the evening, no problem, just 6-700 LKR. Then I head out towards Buttata through some large forests.

 I do some long walks, in what seem to be a real old plantation of a tree, I'm not familiar with. There are orchids way up in their canopy, some 20-35 meters up. Then it is just a question of finding old, dead branched, which have fallen recently. Despite the forest have a quite dense under growth, I manage to find several of these branches, and they do have orchids attached to them - even with fruits.

 As I reach the fare side of the forest, I meet the farmers fields and their tiny huts. Back at the road, I remember to take a picture of the so common Indian water-pump. The next time I explore the forest, I only find a enormous wasp's nest, almost one meter tall and half wide. A bit further on, I find a huge cluster of orchids in a dead and very exposed tree, but they seems to thrive.

Some of the nearby trees have another species attach to them. I'm in the semi-lowland, around 200 meters over the sea, and the valley is surrounded by small mountains.  At one stop, I have to cross the river on a really wobbly bridge, through banana plants. It have become more and more farmland, and finally, I reach Okkampitiya; my first way-point, which my GPS refuses to recognise. Once again, it is useless as a silencer on an atomic bomb. But the village is here, and I'm lucky to visit it on the weekly market day.

 I get a lot of great motives on the fair, some could originate form the rainforest. I get a few cups of plain tea, watching the activity and the people. Then I head on towards Maligawawalia/Maligavila/Maligawila. It is an ancient archaeological site - although it was first discovered in 1950.

 The smooth road leads through lush, green rice fields, surrounded by mountains. The site seems to be locked of, but I try and drive around. I ask an old lady - in Danish - if that is the way I want to go, and she confirms with a one-tooth big smile. I end up at another set of ancient signs, and start walking.

 The Maligawawalia Buddah Statue is rather impressive. Made from one block of stone, now weighing 100 tons and reaching fifteen meters. The area is closed off, and some technicians walk around in there. It is, once again, being restored. I can see fine from outside, and start a walk around the 200 hectare of prime forest. Next to the complex is a Tamarind tree; Tamarindus indica which is African. Well, the many Strangler Figs are indigenous enough, and so are the rest, I think.

 A narrow trail leads a long way around the area, but I fail to see any real interesting things, except from quite some huge lianas. I passes my car, and head towards the Maitreya Bohidsattva Statue. It is another giant statue, which have gone to pieces by time and them blasting. It is now nicely assembled on top of the giant, five stone terraces. Both statues are thought to originate from 7th century A.D.

 Besides from the stones, I se a Terrestrial Monitor and a lot of small birds. Particular the amassing Black-hooded Oriole; Oriolus xanthornus is a fantastic sight. I do a loop here too, but I have another sight in mind too. The Yudaganawa Dagoba should be quite nearby, on the other side of Buttala.

 I drive all the way from Buttala to Badakumbara, and here are actually several tourist signs! I find another small degoba, way out of a narrow road. It is a great walk through wild nature and rice patches. The first part even around a huge lake - or probably; tank. The road sides are filled with flowers like he Gloriosa superba, and I even spot orchids.

 The Katugahagalge degoba it self is not impressive, but the stairs cut into the boulder is nice work, and the view from the top; not bad at all. As a special bonus, I spot some Commiphora caudata, which I have been looking for. I have them on my Caudiciform-site, but as I expected, they do actually not belong here.

 Another sign leads to a small waterfall, but despite I ask several times, I fail to find the Yudaganawa Dagoba, and it is getting late. The last I ask, is two officers on guard at the military camp. They point me way bag through Buttala, but the policeman who pointed me back on this road in the first place, seems more reliably. My GPS is helpful as a water resistant towel.

 I'm back in Monaragala just in time to pick-up my SIM-modem. Strangely enough, they claim the latest model, which I have, can't be un-locked. I'll try another place, if I stumble over it. Dinner in the dusk, and then back to the hotel in the dark - real dark: Here is a power failure. That can't keep me from working. Candle and computer might seem like an odd combination, but I have used it quite often in the past.

22/1. It starts pouring down, while I have my breakfast. I am heading back to the south-eastern coast, and that should shake it off - I hope. First, I drive around the huge Mount Monaragala and its forest covered sides, but out in the rice fields. I try to get close to the mountain, but the road is lined with farms. At one place, I find a road, and walk for quite some time. The locals seems a bit puzzled, but smiling.

 That changes, when I meet the only grumpy Sri Lankan so far. He want me out of his neighbourhood, as soon as possible. He cools a bit off, when he get to me, head and a half smaller as he is, but still persistent. I was turning around anyway, and no reason to make a scene.

 The trees are covered in tiny round-leaved ferns and pepper. If someone wants you, where the pepper grow, don't worry; it is a nice and fertile place. I do a few more stops, mainly to study the different orchids on the huge road trees, which apparently make the perfect host.

 I have managed to skip the rain, but black clouds are gathering in front of me. We meet up in Siyambalanduwa, where it starts pouring down, just as I leave the car. The little city is teaming with life; I have managed to hit another market day. Pretty much the same as usual, but the rain add a new factor.

 I try to get some good photos of the people working there, along with their goods. Some directly ask me to photo them, other happily let me do it. Unfortunately, the light is lacking - especially due to the rain, and only a very few photos are good.

 Up on the road, rice tractors, lorries and what ever else can transport people, are in action. The rain have stopped, and I hit the road towards new unknown adventures. I reach a wet-land with some wild nature. Some Pheasant-tailed Jacana; Hydrophasianus chirurgus do the dance, which is quite impressing with their black and white wings and long tails.

 In a flooded tree, the Baya Weaver; Ploceus philippinus have woven their nests, and I get rather wet and dirty, taking that photo! And I don't get the nice, yellow bird along. A bit further up the road, a sign show off to Tharulengala Forest Hermatage and Hullannuge Vidyalaya. I have not heard of it - or forgotten again (more likely), but it is actually Sri Lanka's longest cave, and an ancient monastery.

 A man greats me at the site, and although we don't share a single word, he insists on guiding me. First, we walk up the huge boulder, to see a long cave with a brick reclining Buddha in. It is rather damaged by time, but some of these are, after all 2000 years old - or more. Then he ask, if I want to see more. Well, there is a small degoba higher up, and the view must be great, so Yes-please.

 We don't reach that, but a sitting Buddha have a similar great view. From here, endless rice fields and forests can be enjoyed, along with the local nature. Here are the usual imported Plumerias, Euphorbia lactea, Agavas, Opuntias, and a new; Piaranthus/Stapelia of some unknown species. My guide have no time for fooling around, and calls for me. Seems like I better catch up.

 We walk on a rarely used trail, through the forest on the top of the giant boulder. Then we reach another set of caves. They are, just like the first one, just a long crack, following the outer of the boulder, reaching a debt of 6-9 meters. I make a fast stop at a few Begonias, but are called on again.

 Then we reach the end of the trail, and Sri Lanka's longest cave. The magnificent natural drip-ledged cave is 156 meters long, but not more than eight deep at the deepest. A few structures in raw clay like shelf and tables smoulders away, twigs "holds" the rock, and that is about it.

 On the way down, I get a single photo of a "barb-wire tree" and a cork-liana. Back down, he indicates; he would like a financial compensation for his efforts, and I give him 500 LKR. From the look on his face, and the offering for further guiding, water and food, I guess he was hoping for 100. I had paid more, had he let me enjoy the nature.

 The nature have taken over, and now I'm entering Lahugala National Park - and elephant country. Not that I have been missing those overweighed inconveniences, but what can one do? Well, keep and eye, nose and ear out for sure! The only paths I can find, is made by the hairless behemoths, and at one point, the smell of them become too strong, and I return quickly.

 Some shallow lakes and swamps form small openings in the dense forest, and I try to explore several of them. The last one is brought to a quick stop, when something, way too heavy, start to move around, 15-20 meters from me, on the other side of some bushes.

 I drive 50 meters around a corner, and meet a huge swamp. Three elephants are foraging in the shallow sedge, and I get some photos from a safe distance. Figuring the elephants are here, I go for a longer walk on the other side of the swamps, at a little lake. Strangely enough, I have not been able to find any interesting plants in this national park, only big-bellied beasts.

 I must be near some sort of tourist area. A new sign points to something apparently interesting; Neelagiri (Neelagiriya Maha Seya). A new concrete roads leads through several kilometres of rice fields, then through elephant forest. I end up at a giant, but rather demolished degoba, way out in a forest. The dung piles make their tail, but the guard has another. He is actually an archaeological student, and try to fill me in.

 It was build by the ancient King Kawanthissa/Kavantissa, 2300 years ago. Many huge granite works are scattered around, along with endless loads of bricks. The entire degoba is a massive mountain of burned bricks, and a few granite stones. Part of it, is covered with a temporally roof, and work have begun to rebuild or restore it. It is 182 meters around, and although its current 22 meters is barley half if original size, it seems enormous.

 It is getting late, and I see many peacocks on the way out. The elephants wait for me in the forest, I guess. I only get to drive a few kilometres, then a new sigh caught my attention; Magul Maha Viharaya. Considering how lucky I have been with the others, I'll give it a try.

 This is a huge complex, build by King Kavantissa - or was in Dhatusena in 460 BC?. The first the guest meets, is a tank, filled with Lotus - and a few other water plants. Then a swamp which probably use to be a tank, surrounded by ancient steps for bathing. Then there is a giant wall, made of huge, square granite stones. Either the ancient Sri Lankan were giants - or they used elephants.

 Here are temples with the half-moon stones, pinnacles and degobas. Some of the ancient stonework are excellent work, but time have taken its toe on the finishing. It is a pretty nice archaeological site, but I have seen quite some by now, and a cup of tea would be nice by now.

 I only have 13 km to the sea-town of Pottuvil, but I passes two more entreating signs for Kotawehera and Thunekanuwa, but that will be tomorrow. As I approached the city, more and more farms and farmers flanks the road. I just have to stop at one, washing his Massy Ferguson 240 in the river, just as it was an elephant. Herds of white oxen are driven home, and I enters the town along with them.

  It is not much of a town - or village at all. I drive right through, looking for a hotel, but nothing even close. On the way back, I'm stopped by a police officer. He see my papers, and I enticing ask him for help regarding a hotel. Further down south. I figured that much my self, here is the tourist trap of Arugam Bay.

 I passes a single Room-sign on the way, and give it a try. It is on top  of a huge carpenter factory, and the room is real lousy. On top of that, he ask for 2000! I can do better for sure. A few kilometres further on, I reach Arugam Bay, and that is the most intense tourist trap, I have seen in Sri Lanka. The bay is famous for its surf - eight months a year. That is NOT now.

 It seems like the entire city is made up by hotels and restaurants, and I might as well try the first in line. 4500 LKR for a nice bungalow - don't think so. On the way out, I get an explanation for the blond lady: Under Danish Management, a sign at the entrance say. But out of Danish guests, I might add.

 The next offers me a real nice bungalow for 1500, if I promises to stay for at least two days; deal. He do not serve any food, due to the off-season time. A bit further down the road, I find a huge glass of tea, but have to pay three times the usual price - off-season or not. I live only 25 meters from the beach, which - surf or not - is perfect.

 I do another of the short main road-beach trails, and despite all offers rooms, the restaurants are closed. One pick me up at the beach, and bring me back to his hotel. I get a menu-card, and ask if he have the ingredients for a chicken sandwich. He has, but first, he insists on showing me a nice room, normal 3000, now 500. Then it turns out, that although he might have the ingredients, he is fresh out of a chief. The hunt is still a foot.

 I passes a dark looking restaurant, but a person calls me in. He turns out to be the local English teacher; Sri, and his English is actually pretty good. He organises a fried rice with chicken - which end up being the early stage of a chicken, known as an egg. He has a plan of starting his own restaurant, and I give him a few ideas on how to run it. For that, I'm invited to dinner tomorrow, at his place.

 Back in the dark to, what I hope is my hotel. It is, and I work till nine, where I make a tea brake nearby. I'm invited to share the man's rice and fish, but I decline. His three year old daughter is the most adorable little heart-breaker, I have seen ever!

23/1. My host offers morning tea, but nothing to eat. Then I figure; this must be the time to start eating the real expensive oatmeal I bought the first day. Along with local grown cane sugar and the cinnamon I bought on Cinnamon Island, by the farmer, it makes an excellent meal.

 Then I head back to Lahugala National Park, either to see elephants of to avoid them. I see some wild Water Buffalos, but they are gone before I get a good picture. Their tame cousin on the other hand, is slow enough for me. They are smaller, and their horns are small and rounded, where the wild ones can have a 150 centimetre span - and much more temper!

 I can't se the elephants in the swamp area, but I make a few walks anyway. Besides from some good pictures of the flowering Crinum asiaticum, a huge; Lesser Adjutant Stork; Leptoptilos javanicus and one of the usual Monitors, I have a hard time finding any thing interesting. One time, when I return to the car, a huge pile of dung is right next to the door. I wonder if that is a message?

 I leave the park, but not elephant-land in any way. A juvenile sap-sucking tick, is all I can find. Then I try the tourist site of Kotawehera. Despite here are some huts and a lot of cooking gear, I find none present. Well, that can't stop me. A tiny, natural pool with steps cut right into the rock, and another set of steps, leading to the top of the boulder.

 Here use to be a degoba, but only the last two meters remains. The view is excellent, and with a lot of caution, I navigate the barbed razor wire, mend to keep the thick-skinned tormentors out. Well, it don't work on them either; I can't say which side they should be on, dung are all over the place.

 The other site I saw a sign for yesterday, seems to be not only a hole in the ground, it is also covered by a blue plastic tarpaulin. I head back to Pottuvil, because I saw a Dialog shop yesterday. I ask them, how much it will cost me to get the SIM-modem re-opened. I spend an hour, walking around the rather lousy village, and then I can pick-up my opened modem. Only because I am a foreigner: It is the latest model, and Dialog would like to keep it for them self. They even demonstrate it with a other company's SIM card - although it probably is their "Kid-brother-company". Anyway, now I have tried, and if I get a brand new modem for 600 LKR at home, I call it cheep.

 When I passes the bridge to Arugam Bay, a lot of tame water buffalos are crossing the river, and the local scrimp-fishers are throwing their nets in the bay. I return to the hotel to park the car, and head down to the beach. Once again, I have it all to my self, but here is not much to find. A few shells, that is all.

 I walk almost to the end, and head back along the road. It is one line of hotels and restaurants, mixed with bars and surf-shops - and they are either closed or empty. I find a cup of tea at a local place, and reach "home" at four. A bit of laundry and repacking of my gear. It is incredible how little I'm actually are using. I think four kilos would have done it, including the big bag-pack, sheet-bag and blanket.

 Then I start working, and prepare for my dinner invitation at six. Sri Master makes a fantastic fried rice with small, local shrimps, which are eaten headless, but else complete. He is going to start a restaurant, and it turns out, I actually have quite some knowledge and a hole lot of ideas for him. All from the outer of the building to how to describe the courses on the menu.

 This part have turned out to be way to long and picture-rich - rather unexpected. I make a slideshow, and start a new section.

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