Thursday, March 17, 2022

Sri Lanka

Notes and observations on our Sri Lanka trip, January 2022

Saturday 12-31-2021 to Sunday 1-1-2022 

 Start out from Zurich on New Year’s Eve. Airport is quite empty. Qatar Airways flight is maybe half full, we have three seats for the two of us. Nice spacious seats, new plane, good food. Midnight (European time zone) comes and goes but there is no announcement, champagne, or whatever. The plane has left that time zone a while back. 
 Doha. World’s best airport - in case you didn’t know this fact, there is a giant sign announcing it under an even bigger yellow teddy bear statue. We arrive at 5:00 am Qatar time - airport hotel full, sleeping pods full, everything full. Guess we should have booked in advance. Hard to find even a seat. Airport is very nice and modern with lots of stores but nothing like Singapore Changi, my fave airport. There are lots of people helping all over the place, which is very nice. Food is pricey even for airport standards (think $9 for a slice of cheese pizza). At the end of an almost 5-hour stopover as we are getting ready to board, suddenly everything stops. Flight delayed, lack of crew. It takes four more hours of waiting to get a crew to fly the plane. Most other flights also delayed, too many crew testing positive for Covid. After spending some time acquiring lounge passes (ultimately successful) we don’t have time to enjoy them, as suddenly we are boarding. This one is a full flight. A large number of Russians are on board, who all seem to think mask rules don’t apply to them. A frustrated mom of three from Austria -whose two older kids are wearing masks despite their young age- just shakes her head disbelieving as we lock eyes. 
 Colombo airport. Through immigration and health check and walking out into the tropical evening. Sri Lanka, a former British colony, is a right hand drive country, and that, in combination with the free-for-all traffic prompted us to engage a driver/ guide for our entire trip. We meet our driver Shehan, a 28-year-old nice young man, right at arrivals. He takes us to the Jetwing Colombo Seven, our hotel for the night. The Jetwing is very nice and modern with large rooms. There is a beautiful rooftop pool and a bar. We check out both, order some room service dinner and then fall asleep quickly, in hopes to recover from the long exhausting journey. 

Monday 1-2-2022 

 The next morning after breakfast we go for a swim in the pool before packing up to start our drive to Dambulla. It is a four hour drive, on two-lane roads that clever Sri Lankan drivers constantly turn into three-lane ones. Cars, trucks, tuk-tuks and motorbikes navigate the road that goes through villages and towns. We see garment stores, car part shops, fruit stands, and drive through a town where everyone seems to sell only cashew nuts. 
Sri Lanka is like India in many ways, but there are some marked differences. It is much cleaner here for example. In India we saw piles of trash on the roadside. Sri Lanka it is quite clean. In India I loved watching women ride on the backs of motorbikes, wearing bright, jewel-toned saris. I have seen nothing like that in Sri Lanka during our drive. There are saris here too, mostly made of a patterned fabric not the single bright colors as in India. We spy a few Buddhist temples and even a giant Buddha statue on top of a hill. 
 In the late afternoon we arrive in Dambulla at the Tropical Life Resort and Spa, our home for the next three nights. The buildings with the rooms are clustered around the main dining building and the pool. The resort is in the middle of the rainforest and when we arrive it is pouring rain. Our room is beautiful and large, with a balcony looking out at the nature reserve area. Bird calls and other animal sounds fill the evening air. 

Monday, 1-3-2022 

 We wake up to some ruckus outside. A group of monkeys are playing on the trees right by our balcony. As I walk out to snap a photo of them they clamber quickly away. Breakfast is a British-Sri Lankan affair with baked beans and tomatoes, omelette, curries and rice. The rain has stopped but the air is heavy with humidity. 
 Shehan meets us out front and we set off to our first stop, the Dambulla Cave Temples. A long set of stairs, with monkeys huddling on one of the landings, takes us up to the entrance where we drop our shoes off (for a 25 cents minding fee) and proceed barefoot into the temple yard. It is raining and the cobble stones are wet and slippery but we manage. We visit the different cave temples and admire the various sizes of Buddha statues within. There are also painted ceilings as well as murals all over the caves. This is an ancient place of worship: humans have come here for over two thousand years. The rain has stopped, incense scent drifts in the air and a man is banging on a drum by one of the caves. We collect our shoes, politely decline buying anything from the eager vendors, and take a different set of stairs down to where we are to meet our car. We check out the huge golden Buddha statue at the bottom, not nearly as ancient as the ones in the cave temples, having been completed in 2002. Shehan is waiting for us and we set off to our next destination. 
As we approach the cultural village tour site, dark clouds start gathering overhead. We transfer from our car to a tuk-tuk, and speed down narrow roads until we stop at a spot and see some oxen. Two of them are tethered to a cart, and we exit the tuk-tuk and clamber up onto the ox-cart. The oxen start pulling amid the encouraging noises of the driver. Left ox seems more lazy than right ox, he gets more encouragement accordingly. We roll past homes set amid fruit orchards, and spy mango, papaya, banana, and other tropical trees. The ox-cart stops at a lake and we transfer onto a double hulled canoe, paddled by a young man. The dark clouds by then look positively menacing. When we reach the middle of the lake the clouds decide to unburden their water weight in a torrential downpour, right onto us perched on the canoe. We try to fend the deluge off with umbrellas but to no avail. By the time we get to our lunch destination, we are thoroughly soaked. Lunch is preceded by a cultural demonstration of palm frond weaving, rice pounding and milling, and coconut opening and grating. The coconut shavings are turned into a wonderful salsa that is part of our lunch. Everything is made with traditional Sri Lankan methods, and the food is delicious. We leave with our bellies full, ready for the main attraction of the day. 
 This highlight takes place in Hurulu Eco Park, and is a Jeep Safari in search of elephants. While we hope to see a few, maybe a dozen, we are rewarded with way more than that: in the 3.5 hour safari, we encounter some 80+ elephants, moms with babies, lone males, teenagers hanging out together, and several large groups. We observe them eating and wandering, taking a mud-bath and playing in the rain. For most of the safari we are lucky to not get rained on, and ride standing in our open-topped Jeep. It is a thrilling experience. Towards the end the rain starts again and we roll the tarp-top back on, and continue our elephant adventure while peeking out from beneath this roof. Our Jeep driver Sasilu does some extreme off-roading to take us up close to these amazing creatures. I keep snapping photos. Exhausted and happy we meet up with Shehan and head back to the hotel. We stop for a quick purchase of wine and are surprised at how relatively pricey wine is in Sri Lanka. Back at the hotel, after dinner and warm showers we fall asleep dreaming of elephant adventures. 

Tuesday, 1-4-2022 

 We start our day by a challenging climb up to the top of Sigiriya Lion Rock. The elevation change is only 150 meters but it is in a from of sets of almost vertical steps. To view the “rock” we are about to climb we first drive to a viewing spot and admire the unusual geological formation rising above the landscape from afar. Shehan then drops us off at the entrance to this UNESCO World Heritage Site. We start our exploration in the museum and then move on to the hike to the top. Water gardens, low walls and giant boulders are the first things we pass by and when we arrive at the foot of the rock the gentle uphill grade turns into a steep climb. We huff and puff alongside other visitors and then are rewarded with amazing views as we reach the top. An ancient king of Sri Lanka, King Kashyapa decided to build his palace here in 477 A.D. The structures were only used until the end of his reign in 495, but well-preserved ruins remain today, because of the remoteness of the location. We wander around and take lots of photos. Sigiriya Lion Rock is an extraordinary place of beauty. We are luckier with the weather than we were the day before: with clouds masking the blazing sun we are neither drenched with rain nor roast in the heat during our hike. We head down navigating endless narrow steps, and meet up with Shehan. 
Next stop is lunch at a local restaurant. The food is delicious and we both opt for a vegan feast. One of the offerings is made of taro, and we both find it much more flavorful than the Hawaiian poi version of the root. 
After we polish off a large amount of food we set off for Polonnaruwa, one of the ancient capitals of Sri Lanka. Stray dogs loiter along the road, and we see a few elephant crossing signs. Sri Lanka rivals India in the amount of dogs wandering free. They all seem to be of undetermined ancestry, usually a rust color, varying sizes with perky ears, mostly with short hair and a long tail. The dogs are of a mellow temperament, friendly yet dismissive of humans at the same time. They are fearless nappers: they can fall asleep on the side (and occasionally the middle) of the road, with motorists swerving around them. They seem to be mostly healthy and well-fed. In contrast to them the dogs we see at Polonnaruwa are malnourished and have wounds. We are told with the lack of visitors because of Covid, many dogs in the ancient city have died because of malnutrition. More casualties of the pandemic. Besides the dogs, there are also a lot of monkeys playing on the ruins and I of course stop for some snaps. 
Polonnaruwa is a city built and inhabited between the 11th and 13th centuries, and it is very well preserved, because it has been abandoned instead of “renovated”. The jungle took over and reigned supreme, until at the end of the 19th century some British explorers found the ruins. This ancient city is so large that we opt to hire a guide and explore the different sights by car. From our guide we learn not only the history of the city and the kingdom, but also some new facts about Buddhism and Hinduism too. The late afternoon sun accompanies our exploration, and as it is about to set we head for our hotel. It is an hour and a half drive from Polonnaruwa, and we arrive in the dark, tired and happy with an exciting day behind us. 

Wednesday, 1-5-2022 

 The following morning we say goodbye to the Dambulla region and head south towards the city of Kandy. It is a lovely drive. The inland areas of Sri Lanka are lush, dense tropical jungle. Big Island Hilo side feeling, but also reminded me of Borneo. We drive past houses with wraparound porches, hibiscus bushes, bougainvillea, monkey pod and banyan trees, and lots of king coconut palms. Much of life happens along the road. We watch people selling everything from chairs to fresh fruit, people walking along, chatting, or just standing and looking, maybe waiting for someone. Dogs wandering and napping. Everyone wears masks: motorbike and bicycle riders, tuk-tuk drivers, pedestrians. Sri Lankans are very disciplined mask wearers. Tourists wear masks most of the time, except for Russians who almost never do. Even when they are specifically asked like at the Sigiriya Mirror Wall, some of them still don’t comply. We try to give them a wide berth. 
We drive through towns with stores crammed next to each other, tuk-tuks and motorcycles navigating around people and roaming dogs. Women in bright dresses, some in saris not lithe and jewel toned like in India, but patterned and of a heavier weave. A lot of the men wear long traditional looking wrap skirts. Women also often wear dresses or jeans but no shorts or miniskirts. We stop at a spice plantation and learn about the many spices which made Ceylon famous. I love plants and am considering trying to grow some of them, like vanilla, in my garden in Hawai’i. Having never considered how black pepper is grown - (Is it a bush? Is it a tree? Is it groundcover? Turns out it is a vine that keeps up trees.) - we marvel at the origins of some of the spices we use daily.
We continue our trip south and reach Kandy shortly after noon. Kandy, the former capital of Ceylon is a large city with lots of traffic. Policemen direct traffic at some intersections- no lights. We see girls and boys on their way home wearing school uniforms. Kandy has many schools not just for locals but also boarding schools for children around the region. 
Our first stop is the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic. It is an important Buddhist pilgrimage site, as the tooth in question once belonged to Buddha. Like many special objects, the Sacred Tooth had a colorful history, which is displayed on beautifully detailed painted panels in the great hall. It was brought to Sri Lanka by an Indian princess and her husband 1700 years ago, and its guardianship has become the symbol of power on the island. Several kings built various temples to house the relic. The British took possession of it when Ceylon became a colony, and it was finally returned to the people of Sri Lanka in the middle of the 19th century. Since then it has been residing in this temple in Kandy.  We visit the temple complex (including the former royal palace which also includes a museum of Buddhism), and watch locals bring lotus and other flower offerings to the relic. It is beautiful. 
 After lunch and we visit the Royal Botanical Gardens, a tropical yet quintessentially British establishment. Strolling along the manicured flowerbeds we learn the difference between Norfolk and Cook pine trees. Hawai’i friends, you may be interested in the fact that what we call Norfolk pine is often in fact Cook pine. 
 To end our tour for the day we check out the sunset over the mountains from a viewpoint in the Kandy hills. Our hotel is not far from this spot, and has a gorgeous view of the Temple and Royal Palace across Kandy lake. It is a small eco lodge with maybe 8-10 rooms and great food. We eat an excellent dinner and sip wine looking out at the lake, then retire to our room, which has a large balcony with the same spectacular view. 

Thursday 1-6-2022 

 After a tasty British breakfast we set out on the windy road from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya. Our drive takes us past tea plantations, and through villages with lots of tuk-tuks, small shops and dogs along the road. We hike to Ramboda Falls. Tropical mountain vegetation, large bamboo bushes, lush leafy trees. Very much like a hike in Hawai’i. The path is well maintained with a lot of steps, the hike is not long and the waterfall is beautiful. There are monkeys everywhere, hoping for a treat from the tourists walking by. We climb on some rocks for a few photos and then just sit and watch the waterfalls and the people. There may be about a dozen others at the site. 
 Back by the car, we see some old women begging along the road. First time seeing this in Sri Lanka. Poverty doesn’t seem to be as widespread here as in India, though we learn that the epidemic was terrible for the local economy, which -much like Hawai’i- relies heavily on tourism. Apparently there are rolling blackouts in several areas of the country as the results of the pandemic. 
 We continue towards Nuwara Eliya, past pine forests, the road hugging the hillside. Amazing views open up as we climb higher. There are no more rice paddies, only tea is grown up here. We stop at a large tea plantation. On the factory tour we are showed how tea is processed from green fresh leaf to what we know as tea. Up here only black and green tea is grown. They are both made from the same plant, just with different processes. (White tea also grows in Sri Lanka, at lower altitude.) It takes only a day from fresh leaf to finished product, a much faster process than coffee. 
 We reach the pass to Nuwara Eliya - the elevation here is about 2000m. The weather is much cooler up here and I pull my hoodie out of the luggage. Nuwara Eliya is nicknamed Little England because it was settled and developed by colonial tea plantation owners. Nestled among the tallest peaks of Sri Lanka (highest point is 2500 m), colonial era bungalows dot the hillsides. “The Rotary Club welcomes you” says the sign on the outskirts of town. There is a horse racing track - no races now, the season is March-April, at this time of year it only offers horseback riding to visitors. 
 We walk around the lovely Victoria Park and along Lake Gregory, enjoying the cool breezes and upcountry scenery. It is a very different Sri Lanka up here, but no less beautiful. We stay for the night in a large hotel, a departure from the small lodges. Our room is huge, on the 6th floor, and has a beautiful view of the landscape. As we look out, a bright rainbow appears in the sky. 

Friday, 1-7-2022 

 After a leisurely breakfast we set out to explore more of Nuwara Eliya. Per my friend Shiyana’s suggestion, we walk to the Grand Hotel and the Hill Club. Shiyana used to spend summers here as a child. The Grand Hotel is a beautiful colonial era building and we check out the photos of famous people who had stayed here. First in the line is Queen Elizabeth, who visited in 1954 when she was also Queen of Ceylon. I somehow overlooked this hotel when I booked our accommodations. Now I wish I hadn’t. Oh well, there is always next time. Next door we check out the Hill Club and a golf course with lovely mature trees. We walk along the path and then up the hill back to our hotel for a swim. 
 Early in the afternoon we take the train from Nuwara Eliya to Ella. It is one of the most scenic train rides in the world. Our driver Shehan drops us off at the station. He needs to hustle, since the drive to Ella is 2.5 hours where the train only takes two. 
 Train is an hour late. We ain’t in Switzerland any more, Toto. Guess Shehan will even get to take a nap in Ella. It finally arrives and we get on board. The ride itself is spectacular, the track mostly following the ridge. Dense rainforest, tea plantations, lots of eucalyptus trees. A group of otherwise cute kids on the train scream at the top of their lungs every time we go through a tunnel. There are a fair number of tunnels. Some of the kids (I have seen this elsewhere too) are wearing thick winter hats - we have no clue why. Otherwise mask-wearing Sri Lankans seem to forget doing so on the train - luckily, all the windows are open. Catering guy walks up and down the length of the train singing in Sinhalese the name of whatever food or drink (tea) he is offering. 
The train stops in small villages, occasionally in a town, sometimes at a station seemingly in the middle of nowhere in the jungle. We get to Ella just as the sun sets. Shehan is waiting for us. Ella is a hopping little party town with a fun vibe. We check into our hotel, the Ella Heritage, and then take a walk around town and find a gallery that sells prints of vintage travel posters. My kind of souvenir. We pick up two that both say Ceylon. Back at the hotel restaurant we order Kottu Roti for dinner, a yummy Sri Lankan dish of diced roti stir fried with onions and vegetables, spices and the optional meat. We have had this dish a few times and it is delicious. It is quite a climb to reach our room, (we dub it mini-Sigiriya Rock) but the view of Ella Mountain is worth ascending the many steps. 

Saturday 1-8-2022 

 Exploring the Ella region, we hike to and then watch the train cross Nine Arch Bridge. Surrounded by lush rainforest this colonial era viaduct is a must see in the area. To get to the hike we take a tuk-tuk for some off-roading. We could technically walk from the road, however, our time is constrained and taking a tuk-tuk there and back saves us an hour. There are a fair number of other visitors (Sri Lankan and foreign alike) who also came to see the 9:20 a.m. train pass over the viaduct. The train is indeed on time and we snap shots as it enters the bridge, riders hanging out of its doors looking at the scenery or posing for a shot. 
 Next we climb Little Adam’s Peak for some spectacular views. The hike is a little over an hour with some decent elevation change (230m up). The landscape, as the vegetation, remind me of Hawai’i. So does the weather. It is warmer here than Nuwara Eliya, but still quite a bit cooler than along the coast. There is a Buddha statue on the top as well as some vendors selling fresh coconuts to drink from. The views are incredible. 
 Back at our hotel we shower, pack up, and say goodbye to the mountains of Sri Lanka. On our way down we stop at Rawana Falls. A beautiful but (because it is right on the road) very touristy place. Vendors peddle their wares. The monkeys begging for scraps are pretty happy here: lots of opportunities for them to score some food. 
 Continuing our drive, the road winds down towards the flatlands. There are lots of fruit stands on the roadside, selling mostly coconuts, bananas and papayas, but also occasionally oranges or mangos. We take a side road to view some ancient Buddha statues carved into the hillside. This spot is relatively unknown, even our driver has not been here before. It really is just the three of us in the whole place plus one family of Sri Lankans. The site is called Buduruwagala (don’t you just love these long names?) and there are seven large statues carved into the rock surface. They date back to the 7th-8th century B.C. 
 As we continue towards Yala, I spy lots of shallow clay pots stacked on stands by the road. Shehan tells us they contain curd. He also regales us how the area is also known for illegal marijuana growing, and tells us of the airport built here and then abandoned because all the birds in the area posed a risk to aircraft. 
Further along there are a group of water buffalo on the road and a few minutes later we encounter a herd of cows. Cows here roam free just like in India, but there are a lot less of them, and they are in the countryside and not inside the cities. In India we saw cows roaming free even in the middle of large cities like Delhi. 
Our hotel for the night is the Shangri-Lanka Resort. It is a tiny (just three private bungalows) but lovely resort, with a main building that has dining, and a huge garden with a large pool. We go for a swim and make friends with a puppy named Lucky. We order our dinner for 7:00 - we need to wake up early tomorrow. It is just the two of us there for dinner, making it feel like a special date. We sip wine and listen to the sounds of wildlife around the lodge. 

Sunday 1-9-2022 

 Wake up today is at 5:00 a.m. for an early morning game drive. Our safari driver meets us in front of the hotel. We were supposed to get a picnic breakfast which is nowhere to be found, so we set out without it. Two Russian dudes (no masks of course) are already in the back of the jeep which is a less than ideal scenario. Our last Safari was private, this one apparently we have to share. Yala safari vehicles have 6-7 seats in an open-air cab perched atop the truck bed, with fixed roofs. There are rolled up tarps alongside the roof to let down as a shield against the elements. Our truck has three seats behind each other on either side, with space in the middle to pass. At the back is a door along with a short ladder. We board and pick the two seats in the back, distancing ourselves from the Russians with no masks. 
The ride from the hotel to the park is 45 minutes. At the park entrance we pick up one more passenger, a local wildlife guide. He sits down in the middle row. There are a large number of trucks just like ours around with tourists, most do not have guides of board though. We set out to find some wildlife. In the proceeding four hours we drive down bumpy red dirt roads, cross patches of water and weave through bushes in search of animals. Despite the massive number of trucks swarming around the park, we do find a lot: water buffalo lounging in ponds, spotted deer, foxes, crocodiles, boars, a few elephants, one of them causing havoc by jogging after trucks on the road. Mad scramble ensues as jeeps scatter and speed away from the tusker both forwards and in reverse. We see wild buffalo and a large monitor lizard, lots of birds: peacocks preening with their tails fanned out, small but colorful bee eaters, Sri Lankan eagles and hawk eagles atop trees, storks, hornbills. But we came here to see leopards, and they prove to be elusive and do not show themselves. There are about 25 of them throughout Yala National Park, and our guide tells us they are easier to spot in the dry season when they go to the ponds to drink. It is a bummer, but we still feel we got to see a lot on our safari. 
 We get dropped off back at our hotel and partake in a very late but plentiful breakfast. Shehan arrives to take us to our next stop: the Udawalawe Elephant Transit Home. This facility, located next to Udawalawe National Park, cares for orphaned elephant calves and prepares them for release in the wild. It is one of two such facilities in Sri Lanka. 
We arrive not long before the elephant calves are to be fed. There are about sixty of them, ranging from a few months old up to five years. When the feeding begins the young elephants are let into the feeding area in groups of three. Their excitement is palpable and contagious. We watch with awe as they make a beeline to the milk station where they are fed through a large tube with a funnel on the end. The caretakers mix powdered milk with water for them. It is such joy to see the excited calves run towards the milk station. Have you ever seen a baby elephant run? They take fast long strides, nothing like the canter of other animals. After they get their allotment of milk they move on the the solid food area where there is some sort of grain mixture in two large tubs as well as a bunch of sugarcane. They crowd around the tubs and reach in with their trunks. New groups are released into the feeding area three by three until all of them are there chomping happily on sugarcane. 
After the feeding is over and the last reluctant calf is ushered out of the area we walk through the information exhibit where we learn a lot about the center as well as many cool facts about elephants. A wonderful experience through and through. 
 We proceed to the town of Galle on the southern shore of the island where our next hotel is located within the fortification of the old Dutch fort. The Bartizan is a beautiful small boutique hotel and we are here for two nights. The first night we spend in a small (somewhat cell-like yet sumptuous at the same time) room as the hotel is full, the next night we manage to upgrade to a large sea view room which is huge and beautiful. After checking in we roam around the fort in search of dinner (ultimately settle on pizza) and check out some shops too. 

Monday, 1-10-2022 

 Fantastic eggs Benedict for breakfast at the Bartizan. We have a full day to explore Galle and surroundings, and we ask Shehan to take us to see some of the traditional stilt fishermen that the area is famous for. In olden days these men made their living by fishing perched on tall poles in the ocean. These days they hang out in the shade waiting for tourists to arrive and then dress up and climb atop the poles for photos. We giggle as we watch them get ready and then go out to “perform” for us. Emboldened by their friendliness we also climb up on poles and pretend fish. The fishermen do actually catch a couple of small fish and we are handed the poles with the fish on them to make it look like we caught them. In parting we take a few group photos on the beach and say aloha to the men. Best $10 ever spent, we had so much fun with them. 
 Next we explore some beautiful beaches and take a swim in the warm Indian Ocean. The water temperature is similar to, or maybe even slightly warmer than in Hawai’i. We relax on the beach and take in our surroundings. It is heaven.  Sadly, soon we have to proceed to a laboratory for our PCR tests for our trip home. 
Back at our hotel we move into the large room. It is four times the size of the old one. Definitely worth the additional $$. At sunset we walk around the ramparts and check out the lighthouse. We have sunset cocktails and a lovely dinner at an oceanfront restaurant called A Minute By Tuk-tuk. We sit gazing out at the ocean as colorful wooden fishing boats head out to sea for the evening catch. A special experience.
 After dinner we wander the streets within the old fort, and do a little souvenir shopping. It is still very hot, even though the sun has set a while ago. Dogs lie asleep on the doorsteps of stores. In one establishment I count five sleeping dogs. 

Tuesday 1-11-2022 

 After a leisurely breakfast (Eggs Benedict for me again!) we take a last walk around Galle Fort, buy some tea and then check out the clock tower and some of the fortifications on the other side of the fort. Shehan picks us up and we say goodbye to The Bartizan and head for a turtle hatchery and rehabilitation site.
 Injured or sick turtles are brought in here by fishermen who get paid for delivering them so they aren’t sold for food/their shells. They get veterinary care and are nursed back to health, then are released to the ocean. Most common issues encountered are plastic in stomach (they become so buoyant that they can’t dive and feed any more), missing limbs because of fishing nets, injuries by fishing hooks. Turtles with missing limbs can get artificial limbs fitted. Ones with plastic in the stomach get either surgery or are treated with medication that helps them expel it. We get to meet some of these patients and also to hold some baby turtles that have been born the day before and are set to be released at sunset. Seeing all these beautiful creatures suffer from plastic pollution and injuries drives home the point of keeping our oceans and beaches clean and cutting down on single use plastics. The center is funded by visitor tickets and donations and just like at the elephant orphanage, we make a donation before we leave. 
 Our last stop on the tour is the modern-day capital of Sri Lanka, Colombo. It is a large city with all the traffic and noise that large cities come with. We see beautiful colonial mansions, run-down shacks, and modern buildings all next to one another. Some vehicles spew out black smoke. We have noticed this around the country. Shehan explains that some places mix stuff in the fuel to make it cheaper. It is bad for the environment and illegal too, yet seems to be a widespread problem. Traffic is crazy as ever in Colombo and we are grateful for having a driver. We visit a Buddhist temple complex and a national memorial site. It is crazy hot in the city, and we don’t feel like lingering for long at either spot. 
After picking up some dinner we go to our hotel for our last night in Sri Lanka. The Green Olive Villa is close to the airport and offers free drop off which we will need at 2:00 a.m. We say goodbye to Shehan and eat our dinner on the porch overlooking the pool, as the sun sets on our final day in Sri Lanka. 

Wednesday, 1-12-2022 

 Our flight to Doha is on time and after going through three airport screening checkpoints we board the Qatar Airways flight. In Doha we just have enough time to transfer planes and we are off to Zurich. Arrive a little after noon to cold, but sunny skies. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Room with a View

It seems like forever since I last did a blog post. A lot has happened. We moved from Hawaii to Switzerland, and I spend even more time traveling than before. We have also just finished this project, a small studio apartment for a lucky girl in her first year of studying veterinary medicine. This place may be small, but it works well for a college student, and has killer city views. 

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Mothers' Day

The story I share with you today begins about 15 years ago. I was at a party at a Hungarian friend's house.  Living so far from home, one gets to appreciate the chance to relax and chat away in the old mother tongue.  I call it switching my brain off.  As a plus, there is always awesome Hungarian food to gorge on too!

One-day-old Dominic and me in 2004. Photo by Andi Lilikoi Gaspar

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

All-Dessert Party!

Are you a dessert enthusiast? If you said yes, it is not surprising - most people are. Take my friend Melanie for example: she not only excels at consuming desserts, but is also a talented baker. In fact, she spends her birthday month baking a different delicacy almost every night. Luckily for her, none of the calorie laden sweetness seem to affect her figure.  

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Waikiki Reshuffle

Last year I worked on a lovely penthouse apartment in Honolulu that somehow I never got to blog about.  (Maybe one day I will...) Then in January I got to do another penthouse, this time in Waikiki.  The view is just gorgeous!  There was a lot of furniture in the apartment, and after removing some, we reshuffled the remainder and added some accents.  The blue pillows really pulled the space together and added to the relaxing atmosphere. It all helps in getting people to sit, chill and enjoy the most important feature of this great property: the view.