Thursday, June 5, 2014

Sri Lanka & Maldives Tour – April 2014


My India area tour was scheduled with Advantage Travel & Tours, Poway, California to complete my visits to all the countries in Asia.  The trip combined set tours by Advantage Travel to Western India with a pre-tour to Sri Lanka and the Maldives Islands and a post-tour to Bangladesh, Myanmar and Laos.  This journal documents the tour of Sri Lanka and the Maldives Islands with Lynn Bishop, Mary Warren and Steve Mathews.   I had roomed with Lynn on many trips in the past and had traveled with Mary on the North Korea trip.  On this trip I roomed with Steve Matthews from Orleans, Vermont, who I had never met but had been a longtime friend of Lynn’s.

Tuesday, April, 01, 2014: Fly Lax to Singapore via Narita, Japan

I had a comfortable 11:20 flight scheduled on United Airlines in a B-787-8.  My ride picked me up at 08:30 and we encountered only moderate traffic on the drive to LAX.  There must have been an accident on the 101 in Calabasas since there were only a few cars on the 101 when we entered in Woodland Hills.  The 405 had its usual slow moving commuter traffic.  The driver had picked me up on may occasions in the past and we had a nice chat on the way to the airport.

Check-in was a breeze and I elected to use the Terminal 6 security entry since it had full body scans where Terminal did not.  Other than the longer walk since I had to return to Terminal 7 for my flights gate the security check was a breeze. I have TSA Pre and didn’t have to remove my computers, shoes or belt.

I spent some time in the United Club waiting for boarding time.  When it came time to board I was one of the first in the number 2 line.  I had selected a window seat since all the available aisle seats in Economy Plus had passengers next to them but several window seats had a vacant seat between the aisle and the window.  This was my first flight on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.  The overhead bid was large and curved so when you put your carry on in the bin and close it the bag slides to the rear and whe you open the bin the bag slides forward.  (Very convenient)  A video touch screen on the back of each seat contains the controls for not only the videos but also the lights and attendant lights.  The windows do not have shades and a button below the window controls the color of the window supposedly enabling you to turn the window black.  The windows all had a green color when I boarded.  In flight I was on the south side of the aircraft with bright sun shining on me the whole trip.  I could darken the window but not completely which resulted in a spot light effect on my seat as the sun reflected off the wing surface.  I don’t know if it was a mechanical failure or just that you just can’t “close” the window completely.

The seat was very comfortable and with an empty seat next to me I was very comfortable.  Since this was the third long flight for me on a United aircraft in the last 30 days, I had seen all the movies and TV shows I was interested in.  I did watch A.C.O.D. and then turned to watching videos on my cell phone and eventually on my laptop.

They served two meals and a snack on the flight.  The first was chicken and rice, the snack a ham and cheese sandwich and the third a breakfast of eggs and sausage.

My seat mate was an US Army Intelligence Specialist of Japanese descent.  We had some interesting conversations about the current world situations.

Wednesday, April, 02, 2014: Arrive Singapore

We arrived in Narita, Japan 25 minutes early.  I had to pass through a security check point before entering the departure area.  It was a little bit of a pain since I had to remove my shoes, belt, and watch and still got padded down.  From the check point I walked to the United Club to wait several hours before my flight to Singapore.  I was able to access the Wi-Fi and clean out some emails.  When they called my flight I proceeded to the gate and saw Lynn and Mary and was introduced to Steve whom I will be rooming with on most of the trip.  Steve was from Vermont and had traveled with Lynn a lot but not with Bob and Cathy.  The flight was boarding so I got in line.

On the flight I had an inside aisle seat with an unoccupied seat next to me.  I watched the movie on Princess Diana about the period after her separation and divorce from Prince Charles.  It documented her romance with a Pakistani heart surgeon Hasnat Khan and implied that she used a publicized romance with Dodi Fayed to make the doctor jealous.  It was not something I knew about.

After the meal and the movie I feel asleep for several hours when I woke up the served a light snack and we landed in Singapore right on schedule at 10 minutes after midnight.  Processing through Immigration was easy and it didn’t take long to retrieve my checked bag and I exited the Baggage area and waited for the other three.  Once we were all together we walked to the hotel which was in the terminal.

It turned out that Steve also has a CPAP machine which was larger than mine.  We found that there was an electrical out let beside each bed so we had no problems plugging in our machines.
Thursday, April, 03, 2014: Fly Singapore to Colombo, Sri Lanka, Tour Colombo

Steve showers before bed so I woke before he did in the morning for our 09:55 flight to Colombo.  We had breakfast and checked out of the hotel and took a short walk to the check-in counters.  The hotel had been very convenient.  We could not process through Security until one hour before scheduled departure which surprised me.  The four of us sat outside the Security area until the monitor flashed that we could enter.  Security was easier than Narita but I still had to take off my shoes.  The gate area was large and an Airbus A-380 was just pushing back at the next gate.  I guess the over 500 passengers on the 380 necessitates controlling their processing through Security.

Our flight to Sri Lanka was on a Sri Lankan Airways A-320-200.  In contrast to the previous aircraft it was very much smaller than the 380.  The flight was lightly occupied with almost each passenger having two empty seats next to them.  I slept a little on the three and one half hour flight to Colombo to make up for the short sleep had had in Singapore.

When we landed in Colombo we were bused to the Arrivals Hall.  As I entered the hall I saw a desk for “Visa On Arrival”.  I had processed a visa on line and had a document proving it.  We expected to have to pay a $100 and give them a couple of passport sized photos but when I showed the agent the email document he told me to the go directly to the passport control desk.  There they looked at the email and stamped my passport without my having to pay any additional fees or give them a photo.  Surprised by how easy and quick it took I proceeded to retrieve my bag and exit the baggage area.

When we exited the baggage area we did not have to have our luggage x-rayed contrary to what I have found is often the case in many countries.  Our Sri Lanka tour guide was waiting with a sign for William Bishop (Lynn’s given name).  The guide’s name was Chandana and he introduced himself to us in a quiet voice and led us to the outside curb where we waited as he retrieved his Nessan Caravan from the parking lot.  The Caravan had three rows of seats and enough room in back of the seats to store three of our large bags and our two carry-ons had to be stored on the back seat.

The airport is located 40km from the city and an expressway leads into the city.  We could barely hear Chandana’s commentary on the drive.  He drove slowly but as we got closer to the city center the traffic increased to a very slow moving jam with dozens of tuk tuks dodging in and out of lanes between trucks, buses and passenger cars.  We arrived at The Kingsbury Hotel around 13:00.  It was a large new hotel (opened in December 2012) with several meetings going on.  One of which was the rollout of the Samsung Galaxy 5 smart phone which peaked my interest.  Unfortunately I couldn’t get in the auditorium to see the demonstration.

We checked in but were not assigned a room and were told that the rooms would not be available until 14:00.  The bell boys had unloaded the van and Chandana had departed when Lynn and I realized they had not removed our carry-ons from the back seat.  It was a slight concern but we knew he was going to be returning to take us on a city tour at 15:30.  As we walked around the hotel waiting for our room keys, Chandana appeared.  He had just taken the van to the parking lot.  Lynn told him about the carry-ons and he retrieved them before we got our room key.

They didn’t have a room with twin beds for Steve and I so they assigned us to a room with a roll-a-way and one king size bed.  It was crowded but for one night we could put up with it.  I slept on the roll-a-way.
At 15:30 we met with Chandana and he drove us around the city for a couple of hours.  The traffic was bad and the tour was slow.  Chandana did not comment very often about what we were seeing and Steve who was riding in the front seat had to ask him about various sites we passed.  The answers were in a quiet voice which Steve had to relay to us in the back seats.

The city is crowed with several million people and hundreds of tuk tuks darting around.  We saw a lot of busy light industry, markets, trucks and busses.  Amount the sights we saw was the Dutch Reform church built in 1749; the central bus station, the railroad station, the military headquarters buildings, a Hindu shrine; the city hall that looks like a cross between the US capital building and the white house; Independence Memorial Hall; several old churches, and parks.

There was a long water front but no one swimming.  The waves were the type to entice surfing but we speculated that there must be a strong under tow that is the reason no one is allowed to swim.  Our hotel was next to the old Fort which was converted into government buildings.  It was a massive sight facing the water and a row of cannons faced the water in front of the buildings.

We were told that dinner was served at 18:30 giving us an hour after our tour to unpack and freshen up.  At 18:30 we met in the lobby and were told by the dining room staff that they would not open until 19:00.  The Cricket World Cup was on the TV and Sir Lanka was playing in the semifinals against the West Indies.  The bar furniture was arranged in rows facing a large screen TV.  I had a beer at the bar waiting for the dining room to open and watching the cricket team warm-ups.  I wish I had a better understanding of how the matches are played and the strategy taken to win matches.  About the time I finished my beer they opened the dining room.  In rushed a very large tour group.  The dinner was buffet style and the tour group quickly got in line for the food.  They focused on the salad bar so I went to the main dish section where I selected one or two pieces of meat or fish from each offering to get a flavor for the spices used.  Some were too spicy for my taste and some of the samples had too many bones for my liking.  When I finished with the samples I returned to get a balanced meal of vegetables and rice with the lamb and mint sauce.  For dessert I took a small sample of each type of dishes on display.  Overall it was a good meal and I retired to the room to get ready for the next day’s activities.

Friday, April, 04, 2014: Tour the ancient city of Polonnaruwa UNESCO World Heritage Site

I slept comfortably, although the bed was short and my feet stuck out over the end of the bed and woke at 05:00 to my smart phone alarm and for some mysterious reason it would not stop ringing until I shut off the phone.  Consequently I woke Steve who had planned to sleep another hour.  We went to breakfast at 06:30.  It was a full buffet breakfast with both western and Asian food choices.  I had an egg over and fruit.  None of my usual orange and yogurt was available.

At 07:30 we departed the hotel for an eight hour drive to the center of the country and a visit to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Polonnaruwa.

Along the way we found the road surface to be smooth but slow going with a lot of traffic in the city and for over an hour’s drive out of the city.  Once the traffic thinned out we began to see rice fields, farmland and groves of coconut, banana, figs, cashews and teak trees.  There were still a lot of businesses and homes along the way until we turned off of Route 1 to Route 6.  The pace picked up but we were often slowed down behind trucks, buses and/or tuk tuks.
We were surprised to see groupings of auto parts shops.  Some villages had a dozen or more next to each other on both sides of the road.  They didn’t really compete with each other since one would have just doors, another front ends, another bumpers, etc.  Other villages specialized in vegetable stands, and others with many clothing stores.  At one point we stopped and purchased cashews’ from a road side stand.
As we approached the city of Kurunegala we saw a huge white sitting Buddha statute on top of a mountain overlooking the city.  Past the city we stopped for a break at Saruketha, a Trip Advisor tourist stop, where we were encouraged to purchase a fruit drink and sit in a rustic setting were we were joined by other tour bus groups.  I had a mix fruit drink which was banana based and very tasty.

We continued riding through farm land and groves of various trees.  We saw our first elephants at a tourist stop where you could take a ride on an elephant.  We didn’t stop but continued on to the Rukmali Hotel & Restaurant near Habarana Lake to have lunch.  It was a buffet lunch and we were surprised that there was plenty to eat that wasn’t too spicy.  The dining area was outside, set in a grove of coconut trees, with a corrugated tin roof.  At one point a coconut fell from a tree on to the tin roof.  The sudden load bang sounded like a bomb had gone off.  Even the restaurant help was startled by the noise.

In Habarana we turned off Route 6 to Route 11 stopped by Lake Minneriya in a Nature Preserve were we took photographs of a large standing Buddha.  A few minutes later we entered the city of Polonnaruwa Archaeological Sites and UNESCO World Heritage Site.  It was a huge complex.  We first stopped at the city center which was fortified by wide and high brick ramparts on all four sides.  We visited ruins of the Royal Palace, the council chamber and several other buildings.  The palace was once seven stories high, built by King Parakramabahu the Great during the period 1153 to 1186 AD.  East of the palace was the stone pillars of the council chamber.  Outside the city wall was the remains of the royal bath.

I walked around the grounds and ruins with a large group of school children dressed in blue and white uniforms and then it started to rain.  I quickly returned to the van and retrieved my rain jacket and continued on my tour of the site.  The other members of our group had returned to the van so I quickly finished seeing all the ruins and joined them.

We rode through the large complex and stopped to take pictures of ruins from the vehicle.  When the rain stopped we visited a site which had a number of monkeys running around.  Leaning against a tree was a bicycle and one of the monkeys was having a grand time sitting on the handle bars.  I took one picture which looked like he was steering the bike and another with him balancing on the end of the handle bars.
We continued on our tour of the site passing a troop of school girls in white dresses and blue neckties marching back to their bus from the Gal-Vihara site.  The site contains three Buddha’s carved in the stone of a hill site cave.  They display a standing, sitting and a Buddha lying down.  It was believed that at one time the images were in individual shrine rooms but now they are in one connected display.  The standing Buddha had an unusual position of his hands.

Walking back to our vehicle from the site we were surrounded by playful monkeys.  Our next stop was the Tivanka Imagae House.  The word Tivanka means three bends and the Buddha image inside  was bent in three positions at the shoulder, hip and knee.

The next stop was at the Lotus Pond, built in the form of a full blown lotus flower.  Documentation of the area states that eight Lotus Ponds were built but not all of them have been excavated.  That was our last stop in the Polonnaruwa World Heritage Site.

We then rode back to Habarana and stopped at the Cinnamon Lodge to spend the night.  Along the way we passed a number of military camps.

The Cinnamon Lodge was a large complex of buildings and I found it a challenge to find the building with our room in it within the maze of buildings in the complex.

Dinner was a buffet and I am not sure what I ate but as with the previous meals I sampled many different dishes to test for how hot the spice sauce was in each dish.  Again the chicken pieces had bones in them.
After dinner we returned to our room once I found the correct building, wash clothes and retired.

Saturday, April, 05, 2014: Tour UNESCO World Heritage Sites

I rose at 06:00, showed, shaved and we went to breakfast at 07:00 and once I found my building, I set my packed check-in bag outside my door and then returned to pack up my carry-on.  When I left the room my bag had already been picked up by a bellman.  I checked out and we boarded the bus at 08:00.
We rode south from Habarana on Route 6 and then turned off to take a road to Sigiriya Rock, a UNESCO World Heritage site, built by King Kassapa in the 5th century AD.  It’s also called 'the Lion Rock' or the 'Rock Fortress'.  lt rises more than 1000 ft from the jungle and the area is surrounded by a moat and we observed that there is active archaeological digging in the area.

We didn’t stay long and returned to the main highway and stopped at a Gem Store where we were shown how they mine gems in Sir Lanka.  Inside the store they had recreated a mine shaft and tunnel and after showing us a film on the gem mining we waked through a mine tunnel into the area where craftsmen were cutting, polishing and creating jewelry.  Then we entered the showroom where they sold the gems and jewelry.

Next door was a store that produced silk clothes.  They had a rack of beautiful ties with little elephant figures on them.  I thought of buying one for a Democratic friend but I figured it would not be appreciated.
Back on the highway we rode past a huge wholesale vegetable market with trucks than must supply the small roadside stands with vegetables that were not grown by the family running the stand.

Our next stop was in Dambulla at the UNESCO World Heritage site, the Golden Rock Cave Temple of Dambulla, dating back to the first century BC.  The temple consists of a series of 5 caves containing many statues and paintings including a 47 ft. long statue of Buddha.  On top of the caves is a huge gold Buddha.  The group decided to not climb the stairs to visit the caves.  The area had a lot of cute monkeys.

About twenty minutes down the road we stopped at a Spice Garden at Matale where we were given a tour of different Sri Lanka spices and given samples of the products made from the spices.

Our last stop of the day was at a huge Hindu shrine in Kandy.  I could not believe the number of colorful figures affixed to the towering structure and on the roofs of the buildings at the base of the structure.  It was a great photo shoot.

We finished the day early because of the shorten stay at Sigiriya Rock where the group didn’t want to spend the effort to climb the rock and at the Golden Rock Cave Temple for the same reason and checked into the Kandy, Cinnamon Citadel.  The room was nice and I tried to catch up on my journal.  We had a buffet dinner at 19:30 and retired early.

Sunday, April, 06, 2014: Tour UNESCO World Heritage Sites

We elected to start our tour at 08:30.  I arose at 06:00 and Steve and I went to breakfast at 07:30.  It was a full buffet but no whole oranges, so I had a single egg, bacon and some fruit.  WE sat on the terrace overlooking the river.  It was a beautiful tranquil scene with a single boat ferrying a passenger across the river.

When I returned to my room I was able to call Judy on Vonage.  I packed my bags and was closing down my laptop when I discovered the Red Sox were tied in a game against the Milwaukee Bucks.  I listened to WEEI as David Ortiz pinch hit to no avail and two pitchers struck the Bucks and then I had to go.  We departed the hotel at 08:30 and ten minutes out I realized I had left my light weight vest in the room’s closet so we returned to the hotel, I retrieved the vest and we were back on the road by 08:55.

We rode into the heart of the city of Kandy, past the large Queen’s Hotel and parked at the Sri Dalada Maligawa Sacred Grounds.  As we walked to the entrance we passed a Christian Church which was conducting Sunday service.  It was interesting to hear the organ and choir singing a Christian hymn so close to a Buddhist temple.  Just past the entrance to the church I took a picture of a white roster standing on the passenger’s seat of a tuk-tuk as though he was waiting the driver to return and drive him to his destination.
Inside the sacred grounds we walked a long path to a cluster of buildings.  The main building was the “Temple of the Tooth Relic of Buddha”.

“Since ancient times, the relic has played an important role in local politics because it is believed that whoever holds the relic holds the governance of the country. Kandy was the last capital of the Sri Lankan kings and is a UNESCO world heritage site partly due to the temple.”

After removing our shoes (I put on airline socks) we entered the temple and found a large crowd.  They had separate lines for Foreign Tourists from the locals and we passed through the various rooms.  It was difficult to get good pictures of the relic and the Buddha statues because of the crowd.  One interesting scene was a Buddha carved from a clear gem.  Next door to the Temple were a museum and the King’s Palace at Kandy.  We visited the museum and the three-story Alut Maligawa, a newer and larger shrine hall displaying dozens of sitting Buddha’s.  Along the ceiling were pictures documenting the life of Buddha.

Outside the shrine we walked past the 19th-century Audience Hall, an open-air pavilion with stone columns carved to look like wooden pillars.  From there we entered the Rajah Tusker Hall which houses the stuffed remains of Rajah, the Maligawa tusker (elephant) who died in 1988.  The description of the elephant is as follows:
Rajah, a Sri Lankan tusker belonged to the Sri Dalada Maligawa, Kandy.  He participated at the annual Esala procession in Kandy for about 50 years and carried the sacred casket in the final Randoli perehera from 1950 to 1987.  On August 20, 1986 former Sri Lankan President J. R. Jayewardene declared Raja as a national treasure, in recognition of his valuable services to the religion and culture of Sri Lanka.

We returned to the vehicle and rode to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Paradeniya.  It was used as a pleasure garden by ancient kings and was proclaimed as a Royal Garden in 1780.  In 1821 it was established by the British as the introduction of economically important plants to Sri Lanka.  We spent about an hour and one half walking around the garden and stopping for a cold drink.  Steve demonstrated his talent in Origami by making a ring out of a one dollar bill that has the face of George Washington in place of a ring stone.  He gave it to our waiter as a tip.

From the Gardens we rode up the mountains on a winding road with panoramic views of the valley and the vegetable farms that covered the terrain.  At one point we stopped to purchase a bag of Jack Fruit from a roadside stall.  It was delicious to eat the membrane around the nut (but not the nut).  As we rode higher we started to see tea plantations and soon the hills were covered with just tea plants and tea factories.
We stopped at the Glenloch Tea Factory and had a tour of the factory, an explanation of the process and a cup of black tea and a cup of green tea.  I was surprised to learn the details of the leaf picking and the process, especially the fact that Green Tea is naturally 98% decaffeinated because it does not go through a fermentation process.

Leaving the factory we rode to a restaurant with a panoramic view of the valley and a series of waterfalls.  We had a buffet lunch for $9.  I am not sure what I exactly ate but it satisfied my appetite and was not too spicy.

We were in the mountains over 6,000 feet at some points.  After lunch we rode on to the Heritance Tea Factory, Kandapola, Nuwara Eliya.  It was accessible off the main highway on a single lane 4km drive up a mountain.  It was a challenge to allow the buses and other vehicles coming down the mountain to pass.  The factory was converted into a hotel with nice rooms with balconies overlooking the hills of tea plants.

The air was clear but the hills had a lot of fog and we were greeted at the hotel reservation with a warm face cloth rather than cold face cloths that were given us at the hotels the previous days.  They also served us hot tea rather than the cold fruit juices we had experienced at previous registrations.

The elevator to our floor was an open cage freight elevator and the atrium in the middle of the hotel had a massive pulley system demonstrating the equipment used in the processing of tea.

Our assigned room was not large and had no electrical outlets on the wall of the bed headboards.  There was actually only one available outlet in the room and that was under the desk so I had to use my power strip at the outlet and then string an extension cord across the room and between the beds to provide outlets for our CPAP machines.

We had a heavy afternoon rain so I didn’t get to explore the hotel grounds or use the large balcony outside the room.  The room had no air conditioning unit and just opening the balcony doors provided ample cooling.  Steve knapped while I wrote in my journal until dinner time at 19:30.

We joined Lynn and Mary for a buffet dinner.  The main attraction at the buffet was a roast pig in pineapple.  The salad bar was great and I made my own and after eating the salad had a sampling of the various meat and fish in various sauces and curry.  A slice of pig was delicious.  The dessert table had small servings of cakes and ice cream.  Overall it was a nice dinner and I didn’t over indulge.

When I returned to my room I was able to call Judy on Vonage and I retired at 21:00.

Monday, April, 07, 2014: Visit "The Bridge on the River Kwai" film location and return to Colombo

We arose early and went to breakfast at 06:30 when it opened.  It was a buffet, but slightly different than the previous hotels.  I was able to get a whole orange and my usual one egg over.  The breads were different and a lot of Indian food and spices were offered.

Back in our room I was able to connect with Judy and then took pictures from the balcony.  The air was clear and I had some good shots of the valley below and the mountains above.  We departed the hotel at 08:00.  The narrow road down the mountain was a challenge every time we encountered a vehicle driving up the mountain.  At one point we had to back up to allow a truck to pass so close a passenger in the middle of the front seat of the truck was able to shake my hand.

The tea pickers were starting to work and several hill sides were dotted with the large white bags the pickers carry on their backs.  Eventually we reached the two lane road and rode past Tea Factories into Nuwara Eliya and past the golf course to a gas station were Chandana refueled the van.  Leaving the gas station we rode past the Grand Hotel which was once the President’s Palace.  We then started to ride down the mountains on a switch back road.  The views of the farms below were impressive.  The gardens were very neatly terraced with straight rows between the growing crops.  Even the cow pastures were terraced very neatly.

We passed not only vegetable farms but many more tea plantations and several large tea factory complexes and of course many road side vegetable stands.  It appeared that at every wide switch back curve there was a vegetable stand.  The Mackwoods properties were the largest and they had a Museum and a Factory under the name Mackwoods Labookellie Tea Centre, est. 1841.

Around 09:15 a young man tried to flag us down to purchase flowers he held in his hand.  We rode on without stopped and rounded several curves and he appeared again and we rode past and after another set of curves he was there and another set of curves he was there.  Finally the fifth time he appeared in front of us Steve had Chandana stop and he gave the young man $5 for persistence.  It was one of the most remarkable road side sales pitches I had ever witness.  Steve didn’t take the flowers.

At the town of Kothmale, Chandana decided to take a short cut and we rode down more winding roads but with less traffic, past the Kothmale Reservoir, the Sri Lankan Military Joint Services Language Training Institute, across a narrow bridge to Nawalapitiya and finaly to our first stop at Kitulgala, the location of the film “Bridge On The River Kwai”.  There we walked down a step path through the woods and past several homes to first the spot where the film crew constructed a road to bring in the equipment to build the bridge and the railroad.  From that point we walked on along the river to the point where the bridge had been constructed and blown up.  I climbed down the steep stone steps and path to edge of the river and the remains of the bridge foundation.  The water was low but I could picture were William Holden swam out to set off the dynamite.  The old lady guide explained that a tunnel was built on the other side that allowed the train engineer to escape but 100 locals dressed in Japanese Army uniforms had to fall into the river.  No one was hurt.

After we returned to the van we rode a short distance to the Kithulgala Rest House to have lunch.  For the first time in the country we had an a’ la carte meal.  I had a tuna sandwich and ice tea.

We departed the Rest House at 13:00 and rode for three uneventful hours back to Colombo and The Kingsbury Hotel.  The ride was a lot different approaching the city from the southeast and the mountainous terrain than the ride on Friday when we rode on rather flat terrain northeast of the city.
The closer we got to the city the more the business looked the same on both routes there were numerous auto parts stores with displays of the frontends of Japanese cars at one shop, bumpers at another, seats at another, wheels and hubcaps, rear doors, side doors, and truck cabs.

Even though we thought the people drove dangerously we saw only one accident in our ride around the country and few vehicles with dents or scratches.  I was amazed!

We checked into the hotel at 16:00 and they had a room with twin beds for Steve and I instead of the King size bed with a rollaway we had on the previous visit.  I was able to print out the Lakshadweep Entry Permit that Cathy had sent me in case the airline question our approval to fly to Agatti Island on the 11th.
In my room I rearranged my luggage and carry-on for flying and wrote in my journal.  We had dinner at 19:30 and helped Steve complete a questionnaire for the Sri Lankan Tour Agency.  We remarked on the form that Chandana was too soft spoken and didn’t volunteer information.  He appeared to know the facts but we had to ask him to explain things.  He was an excellent driver.

After helping Steve fill out the form I made myself a salad and had to asked for balsamic vinegar ey did deliver to my table.  For the main I had sweet and sour chicken.  They had a taco bar set up and Lynn had them make several.  He reported that they were very good and had the best taco meat he had ever had.  The dessert bar was extensive but didn’t offer anything unusual and only one flavor of ice cream.

When I returned to my room I found that the Wi-Fi would not allow me to call on Vonage or access any videos.  I remember that on the previous stay I had selected the high speed offering for a $10 fee which the desk clerk waived because of the twin bed foul up on the room.  I decided to not trust that it would be waived again so I accepted the email only option.  Judy would have been with her student any way.  I retired at 21:00.

Tuesday, April, 08, 2014: Fly Colombo to Male, Maldives

At 01:20 I was awaken by a phone call and I thought it was my alarm and hung up on the caller.  The area code indicated that it was a call from the New Brunswick area of New Jersey and I figured it was a recruiter so I didn’t return the call.  I went back to sleep and awoke to my alarm at 02:00 to shower shave and pack for our 03:30 departure for the airport.

Chandana arrived on time and it didn’t take us long to ride to the Bandaranaike International Airport which was 21 miles north of the city.  We checked in without any problems and passed through Immigration with a short wait.  Security was at the gate.  We were so early the gate was not open and we sat in the hallway to wait until an hour before departure.  There were kiosks throughout the terminal with free internet email service but no free Wi-Fi.  I checked my mail while we waited.

When the gate security check point opened I had to remove my watch and shoes but not my laptop or belt.  After setting off the alarm I was given a quick pat down and checked in for the flight.  We waited in the gate area because the seats were more comfortable than in the hall.

The called the boarding by blocks of rows with those in the back called first.  The plane was an A-340-300 which has double isles and I was assigned 25D in back of Steve.  No one was assigned the seat next to me.  I watched some TV shows and a breakfast was served.  The flight only took an hour and fifteen minutes.  We had to walk across the ramp from the aircraft to the Arrival Hall.  Immigration processing took some time due to the large number of passengers on the plane.  No visa was required and it didn’t take long for me to process once my turn came.  Still as long as I took to process my bag had not arrived on the carousel.  Two carousels were being used and one shut down without my bag coming through.  I walked over to the entry point on the other carousel and my bag was one of the last to arrive.  I then had to stand in line to get the bag x-rayed.  I picked the wrong line because the belt kept stopping as customs agents kept asking the x-ray monitor to come look at items that were being retrieved from a passenger’s suitcase.

When I finally exited the Baggage Claim I saw the group had already been greeted by a hotel representative and they were waiting for me.  My bag was loaded on a cart with the others and we exited the terminal to a dock and boarded a small ship that ferried us from Hulhule Island with the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport to Male Island where the Trader Hotel was located.

The high speed ship took less than five minutes to reach Male Island and less than five minutes to walk to the Traders Hotel.  We registered at 09:00 and were told our rooms would not be ready until 14:00.  They served us drinks (no alcohol is allowed on the islands) and we sat in the lobby.  I was attempting to call Judy.  I was able to connect but the connection was poor and Judy couldn’t hear half off what I was saying so we terminated the call and I emailed what I wanted to say.

At 10:00 I suggested that we walk around town.  The hotel was on the north side of the island, one short block from Boduthakurufaanu Magu, the street that circles the island along the water front.  We exited the hotel and walked south to Medhuziyaarai Magu to the People's Majlis (the unicameral legislative body of the Maldives) building and then turned west past the Hukuru Miskiy, (the Friday Mosque).  We entered a Stationary Store to see if they sold paper that Steve could use to make origami figures.  Exiting the store we walked past the Presidents Residence; the National Library; the Prison; the Islamic Center; and turned into the Sultan Park.  The park had two very large groups of school children on two sides so we exited and walked to Chaandhanee Magu, which we were told had numerous tourist shops.  At the corner Steve was approached by a local shop owner attempting to get us to visit his shop which was north on the street.  We turned south on our plan to see Majeedhee Magu, the main street that ran east-west across the middle of the island.

Lynn and Mary decided to return to the hotel and Steve and I entered a book store where he found pads of colorful paper designed to be used for origami.  We past the National Museum and past a fire truck extinguishing a fire in a pile of rubble in a vacant lot.  When we reached Majeedhee Magu, we turned around and walked north on Chaandhanee Magu, past the tourist shops, to the water front where we turned west to the markets.  We entered the vegetable and were offered a sample of a coconut candy that is wrapped in dried leaf to look like a cigar.  It was very tasty.

We walked all the isles in the market including ones with dried fish and then crossed the street to the fish market were rows of fresh caught tuna were on display for sale.  The tuna was in many sizes from a foot to three feet long.  Some of the vendors were selling the raw meat rather than the whole fish.  A few vendors sold other species of fish.

Leaving the fish market we returned to the vegetable market and I bought a roll of the coconut candy and Steve a bag of nuts that tasted like almonds.  Following our purchases we walked back to the hotel.  It was noon and we decided to eat lunch.  Lynn and Mary thought the lunch was going to be served on the top floor so we took an elevator up to the 12th level only to discover that lunch would be served in the Lime Dining Room on the 1st floor.  We rode the elevator back to the Lime Dining Room and found that the buffet had not yet been set up but the drinks were set up so we had a drink and waited until the buffet was ready only to be trumped by a large group coming in from a conference.  After they got their food we got ours.  I was able to make a big salad and had a few pieces of beef on rice and two small pieces of fried fish.

After lunch we returned to the lobby to see if our rooms were available.  Steve and my room was available so before 14:00 we finally were able to unpack and rest in our room.  It was of fair size with twin beds and an outlet on the wall between the beds.  I plugged in my power strip and we both were able to connect our CPAP machines.

Steve washed his clothes while I wrote in my journal.  He then took a nap and I took a walk around the island.  I turned west out of the front door of the hotel on Ameer Ahmed Magu and then turned north on Lotus Goalhi to Boduthakurufaanu Magu and then followed it all the way to the south east end of the island.  Along the way I passed many small ferry boats, the ferry terminal, several parks, and stopped at the Artificial Beach where I observed Muslim ladies in the water in full black headdress.  Crazy!

At one park there was a soccer game and in another volleyball games.  The girls were wearing black headdresses with bright orange tops.  It was a very colorful scene.  The next beach I can upon was Varunulaa Raalhugandu at the southwest tip of the island.  It was getting dark so I headed backon Moonlight Hingun and some back alleys until I reached Majeedhee Magu and turned west and then took some alleys to get back to Ameer Ahmed Magu and eventually the hotel.

The four of us went to dinner to a restaurant recommended by the Concierge.  It was the Aioli Restaurant, just a short walk from the hotel.  The group wanted Pizza.  I had a Bolognese Pizza.  It was the first time and it wasn’t bad.  The service was not timely and it took a long time for us to get the bill.

We returned to the hotel after dinner and I called Judy and then washed some clothes and went to bed.

Wednesday, April, 09, 2014: Tour Male, Maldives

I slept soundly until after 09:00.  The short nights had caught up with me.  After taking a shower I discovered that my clothes had not completely dried hanging in the closet.  I plugged in the hair dryer and finished drying them.

At 09:45 I joined Steve, Mary and Lynn for breakfast.  They had already finished and were conversing with one of the waiters who spoke excellent English.  He was a native of one of the outer islands but had lived on Male for over ten years.  Steve showed him pictures of some of the fruits we had seen in the market and he explained what they were and how they were eaten.

We returned to our room at 10:30 and after straitening up Steve and I decided to take a walk around the island.  We left the hotel at 11:10 and headed west on Ameer Ahmed Magu until it ended at Majeedhee Magu which we then walked until it reached the sea wall and Boduthakurufaanu Magu.  After some picture taking we walked south until Boduthakurufaanu Magu ended at the commercial area.  We encountered a Driving School and watched the student drivers drive a sort of obstacle course in small cars while those learning to drive Honda motor bikes weaved around them.

We walked around the ferry terminal and down an alley to the Football Association’s practice fields.  There we walked south to Boduthakurufaanu Magu and continued to circle the island walking past the beaches and parks I had walked past the day before.  At Artificial Beach we saw a woman in black Muslim in the water with her children.  We completed the walk at 12:45.  I was soaking wet with perspiration and when I returned to my room I washed out my clothes again.

At 14:00 we rendezvoused with Mary and Lynn for lunch.  I had our new found friendly waiter make me a pot of ice tea.  Here to fore when I have ordered ice tea it came in a glass half filled with liquid surgar and slices of limes.  This time I got a full pot of tea with a tall glass of ice.  It was great!  For lunch I made a salad to my liking with balsamic dressing and then had a few pieces of beef in a sauce over rice and two pieces of deep fried chicken with a spicy coating.  Thank God for the ice tea!

We were the last to eat lunch and they started to set up for dinner so we returned to our rooms for a 16:00 scheduled tour.  We met our local guide, Yasaar, in the lobby at 16:00.  Lynn skipped the tour.  Yasaar spoke excellent English and provided detail commentary on the sites we visited.  He described the People's Majlis building and then the Medhuziyaaraiy which is the tomb of Maulana Al-Hafiz Abul Barakaath Yoosuf Al-Barbari of Morocco who converted Maldives into Islam in 1153.  It is a small building in front of the President’s Residence.  We then entered the grounds of the Hukuru Miskiy, (the Friday Mosque) which was constructed of coral blocks and is the only known building of that construction in the world.

On the grounds of the Mosque was the grave yard of the kings and their families.  The size of the stones represented the relative age of the buried person (the taller the stone the older the person was at their death).  From Hukuru Miskiy we visited the Sultan Park and Yasaar described the buildings and pointed out Fruit Bats hanging in the trees.

Across the street we visited the November 3rd Memorial that commemorates the soldiers and civilians killed when a group of eighty Tamil mercenaries, hired by two Maldivian businessmen disgruntled with the President Gayoom, landed on Male’ on November 3, 1988, and quickly took over the airport.  They were caught in a shootout with military forces in Male’ and were forced to retreat after India deployed 1600 paratroopers to the Maldives on Gayoom’s request.  They blew a hole in the side of the wall that surrounds the Police Headquarters.  That hole now frames a beautiful symbol of the event and is flanked by flags on both sides of the hole.  At the same location was a traffic circle with the Republican Monument, a large aluminum sculpture that is the symbol of the country.  It represents different key historical events when viewed from different sides.  It is difficult to describe in this journal.  Northwest of the monument was the Islamic Center which was the largest Mosque on the island with a capacity of 5,000 worshipers.

From the Mosque we walked across Republican Square where Yasaar explained that a large at the end of the square was named after an 18 year old who was the first one killed in the November 3rd attack.

We crossed the square and walked along the waterfront to the vegetable market and entered were Steve and I had purchased items the day before.  Yasaar provided us with more details on several of the fruits, nuts and honey than we had been able to obtain the day before.  We walked down the aisle and exited at the west end of the building and then crossed the street to enter the fish market.  Again Yasaar was able to provide more detail on the various types of fish on display.  He told me that if the fish is not sold in one day it is packed up and send to one of the islands that specializes in producing dried fish.  None of the fish goes to waste.  We got a kick out of watching one of the men gutting fish with a cigarette with a half inch ash in his mouth.  He managed to finish a stack of fish before the ash fell.

We walked out the south side of the fish market past a Mosque to an ornate building that houses the Supreme Court of the Maldives.  The building was built by one of the Presidents that behaved as a dictator and spend lavishly on himself.  His replacement would not live in the building and it became the Supreme Court of the Maldives.  That was the last attraction on the tour.  We thanked Yasaar for his excellent tour and commentary and walked back to the hotel.

At 19:00 we returned to the Aioli Restaurant for dinner.  I had the catch of the day, a tasty grilled white fish.  After dinner we returned to the hotel and I called Judy and packed for the next morning departure.

It had been an interesting experience to visit the two countries and I then was looking forward to touring parts of India.

No comments: