Aggie, Katherine & Alex go on a spiritual journey

Things We Have Learnt In India and Sri Lanka

You should only beep your horn when: turning left, turning right, overtaking, being overtaken, undertaking, being undertaken, going round a blind corner, going round any corner, upon sighting of a pedestrian and every time a breath is taken.

For every designated lane on the road, 3 supplementary lanes of traffic must be formed despite lack of space and/or road markings.

When having difficulty turning right it is perfectly ok to travel along the wrong side of the road until a suitable gap becomes available to change to the right side of the road.

Attempting to overtake 3 lorries, a people carrier and a tuk-tuk on a mountain road, going round a blind corner is standard practice.

Killing a man with your bus is fine.

Indian children are scarlily well behaved, only crying 5 minutes before vomming all over their mum. 

Never take a child on a winding country road. It will vomit.

A shake of the head is a positive sign, a nodding head is non-existent. This can be very confusing for westerners.

Never point when asking for directions. People will only agree with you and send you in the wrong direction.

No need to pay for an a/c car when tuk-tuks have no windows.

Cutlery isn’t an option, it just isn’t available.

Never say anything is nice or compliment someone’s wares in a market, you will be stuck talking to them forever.

Spellcheck doesn’t exist for shop signs.

Each city has a minimum of 3 different ways to spell and pronounce its name.

Snorting tea sorts the sinuses right out.

Trust no one. 

Don’t wear your sunglasses in the sea/near a squat toilet. 

Never get sunburnt shoulders when you have to carry your backpack for another 5 days.

Never use earphones, everyone on the bus wants to listen to your music, even at 2am.

All the advice people tell you before coming here is utter shite. You won’t get that ill, you won’t get raped, your possessions won’t get stolen and it’s easy to avoid being ripped off.

"this turtle"… "she deformed"

Galle lighthouse

Galle lighthouse

we heart elephant riding

we heart elephant riding

Elephant festival

Elephant festival

to quote Bend it Like Beckham (high-brow, we know!) “The moment you put on your first Sari, is the moment you become a woman”

to quote Bend it Like Beckham (high-brow, we know!) “The moment you put on your first Sari, is the moment you become a woman”

Aaaaand We Found Ourselves.

The other night, we found ourselves. We were in a restaurant called Fun and Joy with a man named Max who fully embodied the name of the place by spending his whole life on a permanent high. He bleshed us and bleshed our Mamas (big shout out to Diane, Michelle and Sue) was just generally full of inspirational, life affirming mantras.

After dinner, Max, the owner and a feeble their friends offered us some local coconut spirit and, upon hearing it was free, truly indulged. When we finally wanted to leave we realised there may have been some ulterior motives and that another method of payment may have been expected. Our quick wave goodbye and swift exit may have ruffled some feathers as the owner of the restaurant came rushing down the street telling us that we’d been very rude and should never leave like that in any country. Ever. 

Ten minutes later we found ourselves locked out of the hostel quite a few hours after curfew. Aggie gave Alex a leg up over the wall and seconds later, the gate was open.

Aggie got her iPod back!! After leaving it in a hostel in Kandy a few days ago she took some shanty local bus across the city and, helped along by the directions of an army of tuk-tuk drivers, met a man who returned it to her in one piece. They’ll be getting a great review on hostelbookers.

Thursday started with a 4am wake-up call in order to take a tuk-tuk to the airport. We could’ve taken a car which would have been quicker and infinitely more comfortable but thought it was only fitting to do our last ride in an auto rickshaw.

Check-in was, yet again, a pissing nightmare. The system crashed, Katherine’s ticket had deactivated and the guy behind the desk was looking increasingly nervous. After forty minutes we were all slumped across the check-in desk with Aggie leaning over to see the computer screen to check on progress. To her dismay, all that was there was a screensaver of a plane… Eventually the boarding passes came out and the guy breathed a sigh of relief and literally wiped his brow. 

We’re writing this in Muscat airport whilst waiting for our next flight and will be home in about ten hours. We’re very sad. And tired.

See you soon.

Naughty Brenda

It turns out we (Alex) aren’t as invincible as we thought. She came down with a cold. It was such an extreme cold that a waiter noticed her sniffling over her lunch and came over to help. He proceeded to offer his home remedies which apparently is washing your face in tea then snorting the remaining powder at the bottom of the cup. After two trips to the sink which he deemed unsuccessful, he, along with Katherine and Aggie, followed her in to make sure she thoroughly washed her face in boiling hot liquid and got the tea leaves well up her snout.

We’ve also had six casualties in the last few days. Firstly, Aggie’s sunglasses took an unfortunate tumble down the long drop of a squat toilet, never to be seen again. Katherine’s sunglasses, which had been hobbling along with a broken lens, eventually admitted defeat despite desperate attempts with the surgical tape. The two pairs of substitute sunglasses were then martyred to the high seas when an unexpectedly large tidal wave crashed onto our unsuspecting heads (almost taking Alex’s bikini and dignity with it). A little while later, a man strolling down the beach with a monkey named Michael in a skirt AND trousers (no top) and an unnamed, naked python happened upon a solitary lens washed up by the unforgiving sea. He soon lost interest in the remains however when Michael and the python had an altercation on his shoulder in a seemingly long standing territory war. The sea left further devastation in it’s wake when it took it’s third victim of the day. We’d been lying on the beach, unaware of the fast approaching tide, when all of a sudden it came upon us soaking our towels, clothes and, most upsettingly, Katherine’s camera. This was only half a casualty as it still takes pictures, it’s just that nobody knows what of. This has made for a great picture of Aggie and Alex, moments after the event, looking very worried and somewhat soggy. The fifth and final casualty may still survive. Aggie left her iPod in a hostel and has been in some rather one sided contact with the hostel owner who has given the impression that the iPod will be meeting us in Colombo on our last day….for now though it is stuck in limbo.

Other than losing and breaking things, we’ve been spending our last few days chillin’, maxin’ relaxin’ and drinkin’ Sri Lankan spirits on some of their lovely beaches. 

On Monday, we tore ourselves away from the shore to visit a turtle hatchery where, minutes after walking through the door, we had a dead turtle egg thrust into our hands. The show and tell gradually escalated from holding one day old baby turtles to a 20kg heffer and everything in between, including our favourite one who was called Naughty Brenda, an albino called Michael Jackson and a disabled one stuck in a corner due to its lack if limbs. If ever there was an argument for euthanasia the fact that he has 200 more years ahead of him, staring at the same corner, is pretty compelling. 

We plan to spend our last couple of days on yet another beach, this time near Colombo so that we’re less inclined to accidentally on purpose miss our flight home.

ELEPHAAAANNNTTTSSSSSS

Rather at odds with the threatening signs saying “passage of illegal drugs carries the death sentence” and “could all passengers arriving from Africa and South America please report to the health desk,” the immigration staff were actually rather agreeable in Sri Lanka. They asked if we’d come to their country looking for boyfriends and when we said we hadn’t they just asked us for chocolate and cigarettes. 

Our whole reason for being in Sri Lanka was for the Elephant Festival which isn’t called that and isn’t really meant to be about elephants. It’s where Buddha’s (supposedly real) tooth is paraded around the streets - it’s just accompanied by lots of elephants and dancers and fire throwers, the youngest of which cannot have been more than 6 years old. 

We later learned that the elephant given the prestigious job of tooth-carrier must meet certain physical criteria, one of these criteria is that it’s penis must touch the floor. SAY WHUUUT?

Elephants are quite tall….

We were told that it started at half 7  but we’d need to claim a space on the street by about 3pm. At 10.30am when we were just heading for breakfast the streets were already packed with eager Sri Lankan families. We caved and just paid a man who owned a juice bar on the route to let us watch from his shop.

The festival itself was incredible. Lots of elephants with LED adorned trunks and topless dancers wearing costumes that would make many a drag queen green with envy.

We’d not quite had our fill of elephants and so went for a ride on one the day after. Our mahout had a pretty bad limp and even worse English. He explained to us, through the medium of mime (and a few grunts), how his foot had been injured when an elephant took a bit of a tumble and landed on him. We were reassured that it wasnt the elephant we were currently on.

A lovely man who worked there offered to take pictures of the ride and went all David Bailey on it making us wave and do peace signs and whatnot. Unfortunately, Alex is looking the other way in most of the pictures but there are a few good ones.

The hotel we stayed in on our first couple of nights was rather luxurious (it was the only one left given that the festival was on) so we decided to move somewhere that suited our budgets a little better. In hindsight, we should’ve looked at a map of where this new place was. We’ve now taken 3 rickshaws between there and the centre and each time has been a painful experience. The first was by far the worst as it took an hour and a half to do a 20 minute journey. Halfway through our driver parked on and incredibly steep, rocky hill and left us sat in the tuk-tuk, while he went to get directions, listening to the sound of the handbrake failing and calculating if the time to throw our bags out and get to the brake was more or less than the time it would take to roll off the edge of the cliff. Then it started monsooning.

On Thursday Alex and Katherine went to Sigiriya, a giant rock which could apparently be described as Asia’s Machu Picchu (by Katherine……who’s never seen Machu Picchu). A huge rock that you can climb to terrifying heights on rickety planks which is surrounded by jungle giving very impressive views and, it turns out, very wobbly legs (due to either exertion or fear…it’s unclear which).

On the way home, just as the bus broke down, they made a pen-friend who made them hold her vegetables as she noted down their adresses. She was 58 and thought Katherine was Alex’s daughter. Upon finding that this was not the case, she apologised profusely…to Katherine, not Alex.

Aggie didn’t want to pay 30 dollars or get up at 6am to see a big rock and so hung out with a Polish girl instead (power in numbers). After waiting for 30 minutes for a bus in to the city an old Sri Lankan man informed us that the buses were broken and we’d have to follow him through the jungle to get another town where we could catch a different bus. We eventually got there, alive and unharmed, and had a nice little day by the lake before meeting Katherine and Alex for tea.

Tomorrow morning we leave Kandy in a chauffeur driven car to the coast where we plan to spend the remainder of our time maxin’ relaxin’ on the shore  with some turtles.

Think we better leave right now…

We took our last night train of the trip and it turned out to be the worst. There was some guy being shady about where our blankets were so we took an instant disliking to him. This dislike escalated to hatred when we heard just how loudly he snored. For all seven hours. The only respite was when he woke up to us complaining about the lack of sleep and proceeded to ask us if there was a problem whilst looking miffed about the interruption of his slumber. Don’t worry though he soon got back to his thunderous sleep.

Naturally, we decided to spend our last day in India at the temple. Upon arrival we were told that it was closed because there was a festival in a neighbouring town and so the Gods had gone to that. Much to our good fortune the markets surrounded the temple and se we went to spend our last rupees. We are now the proud owners of 3 exquisite sarees and tailor-made matching tops. The tailor-made aspect is rather questionable however. We were measured by a tailor and he did do some sewing but they ended up a little on the tight side. Alex’s arms especially to the extent that she can’t wear it for too long in case her hands go blue. 

As it was our last day of India, there was much talk of our invincibility in the face of apparently inevitable illness. We’ve been drinking milkshakes, had (accidental) ice in our drinks, a bit of chicken, we’ve eaten with our hands on numerous occasions without washing them first and often after having shaken the hands of many over-excited Indians. After meeting a family whose two sons were hospitalised and the mother had been confined to a hotel room for the week we thought maybe we’re not invincible, we’re just really bloody lucky. Just like the sign in the wildlife park - animal sighting is luck….maybe Alex did see a bear after all.

We’ve absolutely loved India and we’re really sad to leave but this is cushioned somewhat by the huge amounts of excitement for Sri Lanka. 

Namaste, Bitches!

The railway children

On Wednesday we arrived in a hill station with such an impossible name that everyone just calls it Ooty and everyone there is just. so. nice. We almost forgive them for the considerably colder temperatures and the distinct lack of masala chai (despite being in the middle of a bloody tea plantation). And internet. They don’t have that either.

We booked ourselves on a little tour of the area and, given the fact that we seemto be the only white people in a hundred mile radius, we were convinced that we’d be the only ones maxin’ relaxin’ with a whole minibus to ourselves. We were sorely mistaken. In fact, the tour was so popular with the Indian tourists that there weren’t enough seats for everyone on the bus. Aggie had to sit right at the front, inches from the windscreen, in the tour guide’s place while he stood on the stairs hanging out of the door. This gave an incredible view of the hairpin bends on the mountains and first hand experience of terrible, terrible driving. It could have been worse, another guy had to sit on a cushion on the floor next to the gear stick. 

Ours was not the only tour and we were one of a whole fleet of minibuses driving in convoy to the popular spots. This meant that every time we got off the minibus we were pointed at, shouted at, asked for photos etc by the hundreds of Indian tourists from other buses. Once one person asked for a photo though,  everyone took their chance to either get their own or be in someone elses with us left standing in the middle of a bus load of Indians laughing at how ridiculous the whole situation has become. This happened at every stop. We’ve been photgraphed in the middle of tea bushes, on the edge of a cliff, next to a bus, standing on walls, in gardens. It never ends.

Amidst all this photography, we also entangled ourselves in a web of lies. It being Independence Day we felt a bit uneasy telling people we’re English and so decided American would be pretty neutral in their eyes and we wouldn’t have to speak another language or even change our accents because they really don’t have a clue. Aggie thought this had been a joke and therefore told the plain and simple truth, later smoothly covering it by saying they’d misheard. We’re actually from New England. And so, the web was spun.

Alex has had her heart set on taking the Nilgiri Blue Mountain Steam Train since she read it in the guidebook last year. We got to the booking office to find that you have to reserve seats 60 days in advance or otherwise turn up 3 hours before the train and stand in a multitude of stressful queues (in which you don’t really know what you’re queueing for) in the hopes of scoring a window seat in a cramped, unreserved coach. Oh, shit. 

Feeling our (Alex’s) train ride dreams slipping away we thought we might as well brave the queues anyway. Keen as we are, we managed to secure a pretty prominent spot in the second of the unexplained queues where  we befriended the Station Master who did indeed get us a nice window seat in a cramped unreserved coach. When he asked where we were from (we said England, we’ve decided to untangle ourselves from the web of Independence Day lies) he informed us it was our grandfathers who had built the railway. Doubt Agnieszka’s did…

A railway through a mountain naturally has quite a few tunnels going through the rocks. The first of these came as quite a shock as all the Indians on the train (ie. everybody except us) started to whoop and scream and cheer and whistle as though they were witnessing a Glastonbury headliner. Apparently, this is Indian protocol as it happened in every single subsequent tunnel of the four hour journey. They even began to add waterfalls, big drops, particularly deep gorges and bridges to their whooping repertoire. 

We arrived in Coimbatore which is basically a stop off until we take our last night train to Madurai where we’ll then fly to Sri Lanka and so we’re spending the day in cafés drinking masala chai and playing cards.

The Nilgiri Blue Mountain Railway

A prime example of the many Indians who want to have photos with us and our reactions…

A prime example of the many Indians who want to have photos with us and our reactions…

Us and Some Tea.

Us and Some Tea.

Feeding time at the zoo…