#2  Vacationing Amid a Civil War

This Checkpoint Brought to YOu By Solex


Dressed for Leech Avoidance


Lizard 'Tude


I have to admit to being a tad bit apprehensive about going on vacation in a country having a civil war (see susiesilver.com for State Dept warning, the Rebel Leader's 27 Nov speech, my itinerary, etc).  Fortunately, I've seen little evidence of it here.  In fact, I was surprised at how few gun toting soldiers there even were in the airport, especially compared to other countries.

And I was even more surprised to see that the checkpoint stops (prevalent in the mid-north but not many other places I've been) are, swear to god, *sponsored* by a local water pump company, Solex.  As a marketing person, I am fascinated, yet conflicted...

It's also hard to glean much from the radio news (Mr Romal and I have been listening to the radio as we drive around the country).  Based on what I've read, it's state-sponsored, so I"m sure it's incredibly biased.  I'm looking forward to reading the real news stories once I"m home. There are 6 English language stations here, and I've caught bits and pieces of all of them at this point.  One thing I know for sure:  Sri Lankans have awful and bizarre musical taste.  (recognizing, of course, that Mr R's love of American country music, especially Dolly Parton, helps to explain at least part of what I've been subjected to).  This is bad 70's music nirvana, but with completely random non-sequitor stuff like Kate Bush's "Babushka" thrown in.

And then, add in tons of never-ending horrible xmas music to the mix - forget about leeches, here, it's all about the earworm.  I swear if I ever hear Blue xmas again, I will stab myself.  At one point I said, hopefully, to Mr R "Gosh, what do the stations play once xmas is over?"  He happily reassured me that they'll play xmas songs until New Year's Eve.  Oh yay.....

I'm currently staying at an eco-resort called Boulder Gardens (bouldergardens.com?).  It is tucked scenically and very peacefully into a steep, boulder and cave-strewn hillside.  Two of the rooms are actually set into caves (not mine, but I am totally ok with that).  I'm beginning to think that calling a place an eco-resort is really an excuse to not have hot water, or maybe no a/c or, as here at Boulder Gardens, lines of ants marching down the beautiful stone walls of my room.  But it is truly beautiful, ant spray took care of the ants temporarily, and I've just heard the purple-faced something something monkey making his monkey noises in a nearby tree.  Very cool.

I'm in this part of the country to visit the Sinharaja Rain Forest, a UNESCO world heritage site.  I wanted to hike through one of the last remaining stands of virgin rainforest.  I must admit, I'd been dreading the leeches on the hike, which someone had told me were as big as your finger (I'm picturing African Queen size engorged ones) and which the Lonely Planet said hikers rarely avoid.  Happily, the leeches were of the teensy variety, and, regardless, I did not acquire any on my hike.  Of course, I also tucked my pants into high socks and stomped around looking awfully silly while my guide wore plain old flip flops and just oh-so-casually periodically reached down and nicked the leeches off of his feet (ewwww....).

The forest was gorgeous - tons of cool lizards, birds, orchids and even one of my personal favorites, the carnivorous pitcher plants.  Saw no snakes in the forest, altho did get to see a baby flying snake (yellow and black and about a foot long - only "mildly venomous") at the last eco-resort I stayed at in Yala Nat'l Park.  That'd be the eco resort without the hot water and the occasional nuisance snake in the guest room (typically grown up flying snakes, which can be up to 4 feet long).  They come into the rooms in search of tasty gekkos.  While I did have a big fat one behind my bathroom door one morning, fortunately, no snakes.

I was visiting Yala to go on safari and more hikes.  It runs all the way down to the southern coast of the country, and I could see the ocean from my hotel's rooftop bar.  I saw lots of land monitors, wild boar, spotted deer, peacocks (peafowl?) and the ubiquitous, but very cool, elephants.  Even got to see a wild elephant on the grounds of the hotel (the only hotel actually in the nat'l park).  He was an aggressive, relatively dangerous one, which happened to also be in musk.  I got to watch him up close with the hotel naturalist after promising to dive under the nearest guest room porch should the elephant charge...

There were also, of course, a ton of monkeys.  In this case, grey-faced langurs (which have black faces, black ears and fluffy grey fur with big long tails that look like question marks).  They're kind of shy, but clearly loved hanging out in the trees right by the porch of my room.  Tons of fun to watch.

I also went on a couple of nature hikes with the naturalist while I was at Yala.  I must admit that I never dreamed that my rock climbing classes would come in handy on this trip, but he had us (on one hike I was with a nice British family of 4 - the two little boys were 6 and 9) doing all sorts of crazy are-you-kidding-me kind of things like walking across small ravines on tree trunks, sliding down vines to get to rocks below, etc.

On a more sobering note, Yala was one of the places hit by the tsunami, and I was actually there on the 2-year anniversary.  It was really moving/scary/amazing to see the destruction and how far in the sea came (2 km).  47 people from Yala died, and 45,000 from Sri Lanka overall.

Tomorrow morning I head to the beach to finish up the last few days of my trip.  A few things left on the agenda (as well as plenty of fruity drink time), and I"m hoping to squeeze in one final email before retuning to Chicago.  It may e from Tokyo, though, as the email i Sri Laka is the pits.  I am absolutely coviced that somewhere i the center of the country there's a huge server room powered y hundreds of SL gerbils scampering side y side o their little wheels.  The coectios are horrile, whe they exist at all.  This is oe of the reasons there are o photos attached.  I will, however, post the links to them o susiesilver.com when I return (ca you tell which two keys have stopped working o this keyoard...).

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