Posts Tagged With: tuk tuk

Tuk Tuk Monopoly In Phnom Penh

You had to read that title twice, didn’t you? It is almost like trying to speak a different language. Catching a tuk tuk in Phnom Penh, okay, that makes sense. But Monopoly? Let me slow down.

 

First, you must remember that this is a tuk tuk:

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Second, you must remember that this is Phnom Penh:

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Third, if you have never played Monopoly…

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Now, let’s get started. As a staff ice-breaker and introduction to the city for new teachers, our school held a “tuk tuk Monopoly” race throughout Phnom Penh. We were given a game board, and instead of “Park Place” or “Boardwalk”, we had “Wat Phnom” and “Malis Restaurant”. The team who visited the most locations and racked up the highest points was the winner.

Never one to refuse a challenge, I met with my team at the start time, and we worked with our tuk tuk driver to map out a route of the city.

Our driver was amazing. The best driver I have ever had in Cambodia.

I’m not kidding.

When I first moved here, and had no idea where anything was, I would tell a tuk tuk driver, “Bouchon wine bar, please. Do you know where it is?” And he would politely nod, yes, of course. Then, thirty minutes later, I would be outside the number one night club in Phnom Penh, Pontoon.  I quickly learned that the tuk tuks know every single Wat and pagoda, but if you ask them about some swanky, foreign gastropub, obviously they’re gonna draw a blank. So, I learned to speak Khmer, mapped out the pagodas in my head, and have no more problems.

But this tuk tuk driver, he was in another league.

This guy knew every street, every bar, every cafe, every landmark. And he mapped out our route for us, in complete perfection.

I would mention three or four places we needed to go, and he would say, “Well, first let’s go to the riverside, because we can hit three of those places in order. Then, we’ll head over to the place you mentioned, and then down to the final stop. What else is on the gameboard? Oh, Sorya Mall? We can put that second. But if you want to get a picture of Raffles hotel then we need to go there before we go down to Central Market.”

The best part? His name is Bond. Jame Bond.

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I took one of his cards before he left. With his photo on the back, he makes sure you never forget his name or his face. This guy, he was legendary. If you are ever in Cambodia, do yourself a favor and call Jame Bond.

So, as I was saying, we—and by we, I mean Jame—mapped out our route, jumped onto the tuk tuk, and sped off down the congested streets in quest of first place.

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We had around three hours to check off as many places as possible.  I mapped our journey for you to get a better picture of where we went. I mean, just look at that route! Absolutely no back-tracking, no unnecessary streets, just seamless travel. If you ask me, Mr. Bond should become an urban planner.

0Our team. Meli, next to me, teaches Language Support in the Primary School. Mark, in the blue, is a grade 6 teacher. John, in the white, is our Secondary school guidance counselor. (And is from Wisconsin!) Jame, in the light blue, is navigating the streets. We had a dream team, let me tell you!

1The rule of the game was that we had to get a picture of ourselves in front of each location, with some sort of sign labeling the place. Our first stop, as you can see, is Russian Market. (Toul Tom Poung market, in Khmer.)

 

2

Then we headed over to the newest place in Phnom Penh, Aeon mall. (You can start to see a theme of the photos… from here on out it’s all shots of us standing in front of something.)

3Then, to Malis, a famous Khmer restaurant.

4Metahouse, a popular place to see foreign films. Jame took all of our photos—pretty soon we got into a fluid routine of jumping out of the tuk tuk, snapping the photo, and racing back in.

5One of the “bonus” activities, to win extra points, was to get a photo with a monk. With the help of Jame, that was no problem.

 

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Then it was off to the National Museum.


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And one of the most famous expat places in Phnom Penh, the Foreign Correspondents Club. The most legendary bar in Phnom Penh, you can read the scandalous backstory of the place here.

 

 

 

8

Wat Ounalom.

 

 

 

9The token Irish pub of Cambodia, Paddy Rice. (Where we ran into a teacher from another team who had long given up hope at winning tuk tuk Monopoly. He should have joined Jame Bond.)

 

 

10

A brief stop over at Artisan’s Angkor, a social business where local artists sell their work.

 

 

11Wat Phnom! My favorite wat (temple) in the city.

 

12Doors, known for their live music and great brunch. (Doesn’t this photo look like an album cover?!)
13Funny story about this photo. This is the Elephant Bar at the Raffles Hotel. We were terrified to go inside because there was a rumored “policeman” somewhere in the city for the Monopoly game. (Remember when you played the game and got sent to jail?) If we were caught by the policeman, we had to head straight back to Northbridge, a thirty minute ride, get a signed form, and then head back into the city. So we snapped a quick picture and left as fast as possible!

14

Central Market.

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Sorya shopping center, near Central Market. They’ve got a nice food court on their top level, most memorable for me when I dumped a 16 ounce avocado smoothie down the front of my shirt.

 

16The French cultural center.
17Deco, which has fantastic microbrew beer on tap from Cervisia brewery, an up-and-coming brewery here in Phnom Penh.

18Tabitha foundation. One of the more famous NGO’s, which has built Nokor Tep hospital, a free hospital for women in Cambodia.

And then, the finish line! We rolled in with five minutes to spare. And guess what? Thanks to our diverse team knowledge and Jame Bond’s skills, we actually came in first place!  We earned the most points by means of visiting the most places, getting the most bonus shots, and all showing up in a fancy dress. (I left that photo out though, for the integrity of my lovely coworkers.)

The bottom line? Next time you’re in Cambodia, use this map as a guide for all things local, and call Jame Bond.

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Categories: Cambodia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cambodia: It’s “Phnom”enal!


Here we are—the first official post from Cambodia! It’s currently 1pm on Saturday and I finished a morning of running errands to the market, visiting the bank, and eating the most delicious noodle lunch with a fresh iced coffee. There is so much to share with you, I barely know where to begin. It’s probably best to start with the beginning.

The very beginning.

The flight from Chicago to Phnom Penh that went horribly awry…. but really not that bad.

“Hold up, Kim.” You say. “How do you pronounce that city? Phnom Penh?” Well, that’s a good question. We’ve come to determine that, phonetically spelled, it’s “Puh-nom Pen”, with the “puh” at the beginning being very slight. Got it? Good. Now, to the flight!

The route:
Chicago – Vancouver
Vancouver – Guangzhou, China
Guangzhou – Phnom Penh, Cambodia

We flew to Vancouver, Canada from Chicago on Air Canada without a hitch. Once we got there we found that our flight to Guangzhou was delayed… 9 hours. Due to inbound weather in China.  We would miss our connecting flight to Phnom Penh, and would have to stay in a hotel in China. Not only that, but the China Southern airlines personnel didn’t believe we could fly to Cambodia and stay there for 9 months on a business visa. There were about four hours of intense “if you can fly” conversations happening between us and them. I had to give them scanned pdf copies of our school contracts, emails between me and my principal, and even show them websites that said “Yes, you can purchase a visa on arrival and extend it once it country”. It was certainly an exercise in patience! Regardless, we were allowed to fly. Once we got out of Vancouver, the flight to Guangzhou was seamless.

We arrived in China at around midnight, and were set to fly out at 9am the next morning. After a nauseatingly long wait at passport control—in a corral with the thirty other passengers who had to be put up in a hotel—we were loaded onto a bus with chochet seat covers blaring Chinese pop music and whisked out of the airport into the empty streets of China. I honestly feared we would never make it back to the airport. After a seemingly endless bus ride, we arrived in front of a massive, Las Vegas-esque hotel. At this point, we were beyond confused, and just accepted it all as “Ok. What’s next. It’s all good.” We learned a few valuable lessons in Kuwait to not let the unknown and the nonsensical bother us. Life is much more enjoyable that way!

The hotel was surprisingly luxurious. I have to hand it to China Southern Airlines, they took really good care of us.

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Our hotel in Guangzhou, China. We felt like high rollers in a Vegas casino.

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The early morning view out of our hotel window onto Guangzhou, China. Look at all the green!

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The hotel had a “Western breakfast” that China Southern included in our stay. At this point, we were loving this layover! If you notice my plate though… the idea of a Western breakfast also includes noodles, rice, egg rolls, greens, and savory pastries. Sean played it safe with a banana and hard boiled eggs. Me? I stuffed my face with the unknown. One of my favorite things about the buffet was a large sign that said, “Caution: Do not eat too much spicy food on empty stomach. Will cause sickness.” Didn’t stop me! After thirty hours of transit, it hit the spot.

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Our hotel in Guangzhou. Told you it was large-scale!

At eight in the morning we loaded on the airport shuttle bus. We had no problem checking in, and before we knew it, we were landing in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

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I still love looking outside to the view of tree-lined streets, temples, blue skies, and lots and lots of smiling people. This picture was taken on the roof of our hotel in a nice district of the city. We stayed in a hotel for two nights while we looked for an apartment. I have been glowing ever since.

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Since parts of Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam were once occupied by the French as ‘French Indochina’, there is a lot of French architecture, cuisine, and language that remains.  Many of the government documents are in Khmer and French. (The Cambodian language is Khmer, which is actually pronounced “Kmai”. Check out this fantastic pronunciation website: http://www.forvo.com/word/khmer/#hu ) Anyways, the architecture of our hotel felt very French. Also, most every place makes great espresso, coffee, and pastries. Francophiles, come visit us!

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The patio of our hotel, where we had breakfast. Again, look at all the green!

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The hotel, Anise Hotel, had these pots all over, which I loved. They were floating flowers and tons of iridescent fish!
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After successful apartment hunting, we rewarded ourselves with a smoothie and a beer. You don’t have to guess which of us had the smoothie.

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One of many temples in Phnom Penh. This one is named Wat Langka. Wat means ‘temple’.  It was established in 1442 as a meeting place for Cambodian and Sri Lankan monks, which is how it got its name. It is one of the oldest temples in Phnom Penh.

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Me in front of Independence Monument, a significant landmark of the city. It is the center of a massive roundabout that I dread ever having to navigate when I’m behind the wheel…
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As we were walking around the downtown of Phnom Penh, we jumped inside the nearest cafe to avoid the rain and have a late lunch. I took this photo because I love all of the shrines that are in every establishment you will ever visit. (The small building in the back, surrounded by the flowers.) You will often see food and drinks, like a pastry and a cup of coffee, at the base of the shrine as an offering.

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The food was spectacular. I love Asian food, and Cambodia doesn’t dissappoint. Oh, and the cost? This bowl was $2.50. The beer was $1.

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This is a picture from our neighborhood. We live in the Toul Tom Poung district, which is a quiet neighborhood with a fantastic market named the Russian Market. It is called this because Russians used to frequent it in the 70’s. We found a place with a great price and a lot nicer than the apartments in the other neighborhoods. Let’s take a look at a map of the city…

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We’re not too far from the school, and only a $2.50 tuk tuk ride to the riverside. In Toul Tom Poung there are great markets, spas, cafes, and quiet streets. BKK is really popular with expats, and as a consequence it’s pretty expensive to live there, and there are touristy-shops and foreigners everywhere. I hope that doesn’t make me sound snobby, but one thing I liked about Kuwait was that we were the only Westerners, like, everywhere. It felt so exciting and romantic to walk around the whole country and be surrounded by the unfamiliar!

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A street in our neighborhood. The guy on the right is selling fresh pineapples, already peeled! If you notice his hat and scarf, it’s a popular thing for people to wear here if they are working outside all the time. It prevents sunburn and heat exhaustion.

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The roof of our apartment. Not bad, huh?

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Looking towards the river.

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We spend a lot of time on the roof. Wouldn’t you?

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Sometimes it feels like an infinity pool…
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Here’s the interior of our place. We were just getting settled in when I took these pictures. It came fully furnished!

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The living room and balcony. Every morning I keep waking up and asking Sean, “Is this real?”

My next blog will be about the Russian Market and all it has to offer. The winding passageways, smells, sights, sounds, it is a sensory overload. I can’t wait to share it with you.

Categories: Cambodia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

How To Know When You’ve Fallen In Love (With A Country)

We all know the feeling. The rushing, pulsing of your blood. The grin. That stupid, cotton-candy grin. The wide eyes. The slack jaw. The wonder. The mystery. The fascination. The endless adoration. You’ve fallen in love.

In my life, I have fallen in love with one man, and three countries.

When you fall in love with a country, you go through the same system of shock and awe. You cannot get enough of the country; it courses through your veins. You hate to fall asleep because it will only separate you from spending another day with it. And when you leave, it is a bittersweet flight of tears. You begin a long-distance relationship, bound to return.

What were the three countries, you ask?

1. New Zealand

2. Sri Lanka

3. Thailand

If this has happened to you, you’re probably nodding your head along with me. If this hasn’t happened, to you, visit http://www.skyscanner.com and start looking up some flights!

Anyways, this new-found love of mine is with Thailand. We had to fly to Bangkok in the beginning of January as it was time for our next job fair.

Yes, we have decided to move on from Kuwait. This is our last year here as we had only signed a two-year contract. This means we’ve only got three and a half months to enjoy this, interesting, country left! I better stop blogging about other countries and start blogging about the one I actually live in!

Why have we decided to move on, you ask? Well, it’s not because of the school. We love our school. It is a perfect fit for us. We love our students, we love the people we work with, we love the IB program. We are only moving on because of the climate and geography. We can’t sustain life in the desert. It’s been a nice, sunny, warm two years, but we need more outdoor recreation.

We flew to Bangkok for the recruitment fair, which is a hectic, four day chaotic event. Luckily, we had done our homework, and arrived cool, calm, and collected.

We had quite a few interviews…

Even quite a few job offers… and….

Drumroll please….

We accepted positions in Cambodia!

That’s right, tropical, beautiful, lush, Southeast Asia. Miles of quiet beaches, elephants, monkeys, temples, color, flowers, love, life, smiles, music, dancing, iced coffee on the street and cold beer at night. Cambodia. Angkor Wat. We couldn’t be happier. Further, the school we signed with is also an IB school; check it out at ‘Northbridge International School’ in Phnom Penh. Phnom Penh is the capital. We’ve got family friends who live there and rave about it. We are incredibly excited.

So, maybe you can say I’ve fallen in love with a country I haven’t even been to yet…

But first, Bangkok. We only got to snap a few pictures because we were at the job fair the entire time, then had to fly back to Kuwait to work. We did get out and about a bit, though, which I am excited to share with you.

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Out of the airport, we took the metro all the way downtown Bangkok to our hotel. I loved how clean and organized the city was!

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A street in downtown Bangkok. I loved all the dogs that lounged around! Look at how clean and green it was…. *sigh*

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Just some alley with cool architecture. Yeah, I can’t wait to live in Southeast Asia.

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A tuk tuk. It’s like a taxi, but far more dangerous.

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One afternoon we had free, we decided to walk around a bit. We found this ordeal going on outside a restaurant. I am not sure what kind of animal it is, but everyone sure was excited to cut it open.

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You can tell by the script behind these men that it is a Japanese restaurant, and I even wonder if the picture on the wall is the animal they’re cutting up. What do you think?

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Sean loved this picture of men playing chess on their break. I loved how everyone was socializing with each other! Just relaxing outside, enjoying each other’s company. The whole city made me feel so happy.

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After we signed the contract with Cambodia, we had a free day to enjoy Bangkok. Unfortunately, and most likely due to all of the stress and travel, Sean became quite sick and stayed holed up in the hotel watching television and coughing. I gave him spoonfuls of cough syrup, bought him lunch, hung the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door, and started my own walking tour of Bangkok.

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I loved all the temples (and color!) everywhere.

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I took a water taxi to another part of the city. Look at all these homes built right on the river.

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A view of a temple (that I read was built in Cambodian style) across the river.

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When I got off the boat, I found a street vendor selling pad thai. I sat down at her table and ate the most delicious pad thai of my life. How much did it cost? 60 Thai Baht, or $2. Paradise. (And all you flower lovers, can you spot the orchids sprinkling her kitchen? Love it!)

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Want some dried fish?

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I’m pretty sure this was at the Temple of the Reclining Buddha.

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This guy was creepily life-size. I expected him to turn and look at me!

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Outside a monastery for the Buddhist monks. IMG_4335

Ssssh, I snuck a picture inside the monastery where the monks live!

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I don’t know what concerns me more, the mass amount of people or the massive amount of power lines…
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An intersection in Bangkok.

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A road that I just hated. I had heard that it would be fun to see “Khao San Road”, so I decided to check it out. What a mistake that was. Thank goodness I went during the day and not at night. It was a drunken tourist trap! I can only imagine what else is going on behind closed doors here…IMG_4330

I only stuck around long enough to take a few pictures and laughingly continue on my way. Adios, Khao San Road. No thanks.

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A Chinese school in Bangkok : )IMG_4337

After all this walking around, I decided to grab some fried banana strips. Mmmmm! (I love the middle east for their hummus, but as a vegetarian they really don’t have anything you can eat on a stick. I don’t eat kebab or shawarma, that’s for sure.)

IMG_4340I returned back home to my loving husband, who claimed he was feeling a bit better. I got us some fried rice and we celebrated our successful job fair, and looked forward to an exciting future in Southeast Asia.

Well, there you have it. If you were motivated by the beginning of my blog, and want to travel somewhere new, come see us this fall in the land of palm trees, coconuts, and ancient temples. Hopefully I will speak enough of the language by then, and Sean and I can help you fall in love with a country, like we have…

Categories: Thailand | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Sri Lanka: The Long Walk

Sea

I’m not jealous of the pond
that’s sleeping so quietly
in the middle of the forest.
I’m the sea,
I’m not afraid of the storm.
The sea’s dream is always
turbulence.
If I don’t have waves and storms,
I won’t be the sea anymore.
I’ll be the pond—
and stinking.
– Shafee’e Kadkani (Translated by Ali Maza-heri)

Having encountered this poem today in a compilation of Arabic poetry, it seemed natural to include in my post on a particular adventure Sean and I had in Sri Lanka.

I hope you don’t mind the extent to which I am posting on Sri Lanka, but it such a place of beauty and wonder that I cannot help but dwell on and extend the delight of the senses as we bring our final month in Kuwait to a close. Don’t get me wrong, I am stocking up on some great local photographs for a few concluding Kuwait blog posts, but I just can’t move on from Sri Lanka quite yet!

After leaving Ella, the place where dreams go to live forever, we moved on to Horton’s Plains National Park. Horton’s Plains is known for having a steep escarpment that drops thousands of feet onto a valley floor below. A straight drop—no guard rails, no slope, no nothing. Just a few weeks before we visited Sri Lanka, a German tourist actually tripped on the viewing platform and tumbled off the Plains into the valley below. (If he was lucky, he went to Ella in the afterlife…) Needless to say, I was incredibly excited to visit a National Park in Sri Lanka, so I booked a hotel titled “World’s End Lodge”.  Remember the valley floor where the tourist tumbled hundreds of feet down? That’s where the lodge was. As I said in my last post…

“…any hope of actually hiking in the national park was out of the question. Therefore, we spoke with a man at the hotel…and got a vague idea of a tentative hike for the next day. Little did we know we would gain—and lose—3,000 feet in elevation, walk through a village that has probably never seen white people before in their lives, completely lose the trail, get bitten by leeches, and have the time of our lives.”

Here, ladies and gentlemen, is where I narrate that hike.

We set out early in the morning, on a small path that was not well-trodden. Brushing spiderwebs out of our faces and dew drops off our cheeks, we began to climb upward through the rainforest. The path was not part of any national park, and the man at the hotel said, “It’s very long…” We soldiered on. In the above picture, you can see our hotel as we began to climb the mountain.

Already you can see a fantastic view that we were treated to only twenty minutes into our hike. Here is where the storm began brewing…

While Sean stood near a puddle to take a picture of me, all of a sudden he broke into a writhing spasm, screaming and jerking his arms and legs. I had no idea what to do, and upon looking down at his foot, I realized he was trying to peel off his sock while he shoe was still on. As he pulled the sock away from his skin, I saw a long, wiggling leech stuck onto his skin! When he managed to pull the leech off his skin, he began to bleed. Growing up in Wisconsin, we were used to leeches that thrive in lakes and ponds, not crawling along the ground in wet areas and jump onto any passer by. When the leech was thrown on the ground, it rose up on it’s hind legs and began moving TOWARDS Sean again!

After the leech fiasco, we managed to take a few lovely photographs. As you can see, Horton’s Plains rises in the background behind us. Where we are standing was a “viewpoint” the man at the hotel recommended us to trek to. Here, he said the path ended, and we would begin, in his words, “hiking up mountainside”.

He was not kidding about the “up mountainside” part. When we began to climb, we managed to eke out a lightly trodden path, simply of tamped down leaves through the rainforest. As we climbed, we heard a coughing ahead of us. We eventually gained on a man hiking along the same trail we were traveling on. He was a Sri Lankan man in his… I would estimate… sixties? He was older, and he was all skin and bones. And he was barefoot. And he was carrying a thirty pound bag on his head. He managed to hike at the same pace as us all the way up the mountain, and you can see him in the background of the above photo. We all took a break together, shared crackers and bananas with one another, and appreciated each others’ company. Through the language barrier, we managed to enjoy a fleeting moment of community and understanding. A moment that no National Park could charge admission for.

Another view as we climbed up the mountain. Horton’s Plains was growing closer…

At last, we came to a plateau, with an isolated tea plantation nestled between the hills. Where else to go but into the village?

As we approached the village, children came out to visit us, shouting, “Hi!”, “Hello!” and asking for school pens.

As we walked along the road, we saw beautiful terraced farming.

The path began to wind down to the valley floor again. We were as high as we were going to get on our hike. Our next stop? Bambarakanda falls, the highest waterfall in Sri Lanka! When the guy at our hotel told us we could make a loop, he said we could find a tuk tuk (three-wheeled taxi) at Bambarakanda falls. He said it was a long hike, but as long as we continued to say “Bambarakanda?”, we would be pointed in the right direction by any local. Try saying it, I dare you! It rolls off the tongue rather nicely, “Bam-ba-ra-kanda” (For you linguists out there, all of the “a”s are long, and roll the ‘r’.)

By noon, we had been hiking for four and a half hours. We set out at 7:30am to avoid the afternoon showers. We reached a conundrum when the road we were following ended in a cow pasture. After asking a few local picking tea, “Bambarakanda?”, we were pointed down a slope, through another forest, and through another tea plantation. If you’ve ever seen or read Lord Of The Rings, we were living it. It as at this point that I truly became afraid. We had no idea where Bambarakanda was, and even if we got lost, how would we get out? Sure, we could ask someone with a car to drive us to the nearest town, but these villages (like in the above photo) had only one community car, which was used as a storage shed rather than a mode of transportation. I swore we were doomed.

As doomed as we may have been, finding a tree growing out of a rock made up for my despair. In hindsight, I wish we had spent an hour or two relaxing under the tree and soaking up it’s beauty. Instead, I was fearing that our five hours of walking, thunder clouds rolling in, and complete lack of any trail would turn our paradise vacation into a battle between us and the elements for survival.

But I digress. Honestly, I am sure that if we were in any trouble at all, any one of the local villages would help us immediately. The people we met on our journey were the nicest, friendliest people you could imagine. We were never in any danger. The only danger we truly had were leeches and the likelihood of some nasty post-hike blisters.

After forty switchbacks, we popped out in front of Bambarakanda! Sure enough, there it was, Sri Lanka’s highest waterfall.

As you can see in the above two pictures, the clouds rolled in just as we neared the end of our hike. We didn’t dare venture to the base of the falls—we made it indoors just as we were hit by a torrential rain.

What I find the most awesome about our hike was that we were two or three thousand feet higher in elevation a few hours ago, where the source of the falls began. We saw the mountainside villages, the children playing in the fields, and the valley floor below. Once we left the highlands, all those huts and smiles back up there seemed like a daydream.

If our day couldn’t possibly get any better, I was determined to continue walking until we found a place to sit, eat, and gather our wits about us before finding a tuk tuk. Sure enough, after another forty-five minutes of trekking, we find, “Bambarakanda Lover’s Cafe”. It was the upstairs of someone’s home, which looked to me like a den that highschoolers would put together back in America for weekend poetry readings.

We ordered a big bowl of fried rice, the only thing on the lack-of-a-menu, and rested our aching limbs which it rained cats and dogs outside. We saw the mother of the man who took our order enter her kitchen to prepare our meal, and we were truly amazed by our adventure. You could not put an entry fee on the experience we had. You could not capture it in a single photograph or postcard. It was real, true Sri Lanka. I don’t know if I would do it all over again if I had the chance (we figured it out and we ended up walking twelve miles), but I do know that for the rest of my life I will look back on these photos with a smile.

…I hope I can say the same for Sean 🙂

Categories: Sri Lanka | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Sri Lanka: The Birthplace of Lipton Tea! In which Sean and Kim explore tea plantations, meet a buddhist monk, touch a carnivorous plant, and practice Zumba moves on the side of a mountain.

I truly hope you are not yet bored with my photo montage of Sri Lanka, for there are still more stories to still and highlights to be had. Today I would like to speak to the highlight of the hill country in Sri Lanka, the tea plantations. After our two idyllic days in Ella (which still remain the favorite part of our trip), it was time to travel to Hatton, home of Horton’s Plains National Park and World’s End viewpoint.

We had originally planned to take the train to Hatton, but were having second thoughts around the breakfast table. I knew that our hotel in Hatton was very remote, so we thought we should do some exploring around the area before checking into our hotel. We spoke with Martin and Karen at our Ella homestay, and they recommended we have a guy drive us around in his tuk tuk for the afternoon. They had a friend named Lanka (yes, that is his name) who commonly takes tourists around for a fee. I spoke with Lanka and negotiated a cost of 4,000 rupees for an afternoon tour across the country. 4,000 rupees = $32. A four hour private tour for $32? Yes, please!

We had originally planned on traveling with Lanka for six or seven hours to visit various waterfalls, but realized our plans were too ambitious. It generally clouds up around 3 or so, which meant that less is more. Instead he recommended “Lipton’s Seat” and the tea plantations, along with a tea factory tour. We were happy to oblige.

Lipton’s Seat, to quote Lonely Planet, is where “The Scottish tea baron Sir Thomas Lipton used to survey his burgeoning empire.” Yes, that is correct; the tea being grown in Sri Lanka is grown for all the Lipton iced teas you are drinking back home. It was a wild realization that I came to—that all of the rolling hills of tea plantations I was seeing is the tea that is fueling our consumerist, caffeine-driven society. Every time I walked into a restaurant and ordered an iced tea, every time I pulled a “Brisk” off the shelf in a gas station, every time I served tea to customers at Fairtrade Coffeehouse on State Street, someone had to HAND PICK that tea for my personal satisfaction. All that talk about ‘fair trade’ and ‘organic’ doesn’t remove the fact that there are still human beings on the other side of the world working ten hour shifts filling burlap sacks with tea leaves so that we can have another tasty beverage. It made me feel somewhat selfish…

…But I digress. Onto the photographs!

Our last morning at the bed and breakfast in Ella. Sean is sitting at the outdoor dining table. It is built with a deliberate overhang off the side of the slope, so that you really feel you are suspended in the trees with the monkeys… *sigh*

Before we left to Sri Lanka, Sean and I were nervous about having indigestion due to the change in diet and the cleanliness of the water. A good friend of mine here in Kuwait told me to eat “the local yogurt”. She claimed that while she was in Sri Lanka she had “buffalo curd”, made from the local water buffalo, in which the natural bacteria that is present in Sri Lankan food helped her remain healthy from any illness. Sean responded with, “There is no way on earth I am eating ‘buffalo curd’, Sharon…” Little did he know that buffalo curd is the MOST DELICIOUS thing on the face of the earth! In the photo above, the earthenware pot is filled with fresh buffalo curd. It tasted like a very thick, creamy yogurt. You top it with the syrup made from the local palm trees and a few slices of banana, and you are in heaven. Needless to say, we were free from any bathroom-related illnesses the entire trip!

Before we left Ella, we had one more hike on our itinerary. Named “Little Adam’s Peak”, you reach the summit by walking through private tea plantations. Along the way, we met a guy who was selling handmade jewelry that his parents create. After close inspection, he informed me that the “beads” were actually seeds from the trees that had been sun dried. A friend of mine also told me that the red beads were also what the Sri Lankans used to use for currency. I made a few purchases before continuing on our trek…

You can see the summit of Little Adam’s Peak in the background…

Sean at the top of Little Adam’s Peak.

On our way down, we saw a bearded dragon!

Once we returned back to our homestay, Lanka picked us up and we began our travel through the tea plantations. You can see Lanka’s tuk tuk in the background of the above photo. The first thing he did was to stop on the side of the road to show us this flower. He explained that this flower is carnivorous, and anybody who has taken Botany 100 could see why. (If you were paying attention in class…) The bug is attracted to the sugary liquid in the bowl of the plant, so they make their way into the opening, which is coated with hairs that point in one direction. Once inside, the bug cannot escape due to the hair that has trapped him in! Yum…

Lanka took us on  a *very* scenic route through the hill country…

A family swimming, bathing, and washing their tuk tuk. There is something unspeakably beautiful about seeing human beings living so closely in communion with nature…

On our trip Lanka stopped near a Buddhist monastery. We saw this little boy outside in his saffron robes. We did not see many Buddhist monks while on our trip, so he was very interesting to us!

The stupa at the monastery. A stupa is a mound-like structure containing Buddhist relics and is used as a place of worship.

Then, Lanka’s tuk tuk began to climb. And I mean switchbacks up, up, and UP. We were climbing us the side of a tea plantation on the side of the mountain. The above photo is on a large Ceylon tea plantation.

Sri Lanka is the third largest producer of tea in the world! They export Ceylon tea (black, green, and white), which you can order in any coffee shop around the world. Try it next time you are at your local cafe. Thomas Lipton, founder of Lipton teas, helped Sri Lankan tea grow to it’s international success in the late 1890’s. Sri Lanka actually used to be named “Ceylon” until 1972, which is why Ceylon tea is called what it is today. Any Ceylon tea you order has come from Sri Lanka.

A very Dr. Seuss-like landscape… The humidity, cool temperatures, and rainfall make this region ideal for growing tea.

The bags and bags of tea leaves after an afternoon’s picking…

The Dambatenne Tea Factory gives tours for only a few rupees. Lanka was nice enough to wait for us while we took a tour of the factory!

We had a personal tour of the factory (not many tourists make it into these high-altitude regions where tea plantations are abundant and locals make their living). In the above picture you can see the rows and rows of leaves that are being dried by an air-circulation system.

In the above picture you can see that after the tea has been ground and roasted, it is being sorted by quality in these sorting machines. The machines act as a sifter, where the finest, highest quality teas are pulled by magnets into one part, and the lower quality tea falls through.

After the tea factory, we would up in the town of Haputale, where Lanka bid us a fond farewell. As it was 3pm, we contacted our hotel, and they sent a man in a tuk tuk to pick us up. We were very disappointed upon arriving at the hotel property as it was all covered in clouds. This hotel was in the middle of NOWHERE. The tuk tuk ride took forty five minutes, half of which was on dirt roads through a rainforest. I was very nervous, apprehensive, and upset. I had originally thought, due to the information on their website, that the hotel was on the border of the national park. Well, they might have been, but they were on the BOTTOM of the valley, not on the plateau on the TOP of the valley, where the national park was actually located. I shed a few tears on the tuk tuk ride that kept winding down, down, down into the heart of the valley when I realized that we were likely not going to make it to the national park during our stay…

Determined to enjoy myself, however, I pranced through the fog amusing Sean and taking my mind off the cloudy weather.

Little did I know that once the clouds cleared in the morning, we would be perched on the edge of the most beautiful cliff on the entire island…

This is the same view above, where I am surrounded by clouds. In the morning, my spirits lifted at the prospect of getting to explore such a beautiful landscape. While we may not be able to visit the national park, we still were going to be able to climb a few mountains, play in the rainforests, and enjoy the beauty around us.

The pool at our hotel. I know, what was I complaining about?

The next post will be quite the narrative treat. As I said above, any hope of actually hiking in the national park was out of the question. Therefore, we spoke with a man at the hotel (whose English was VERY limited), and got a vague idea of a tentative hike for the next day. Little did we know we would gain—and lose—3,000 feet in elevation, walk through a village that has probably never seen white people before in their lives, completely lose the trail, get bitten by leeches, and have the time of our lives.

Looking forward to sharing the experience with you…

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