Falls ihr es noch nicht wissen sollted -

For those who don't know yet: We both finished our studies. Mascha got a ingeneering degree and Matteo his PhD in chemistry. But, as we will have work enough in the next years, we decided to postpone (as long as our savings last) this beginning. The FIAT Uno project was not practicable. We will try by bicycle.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Small stories in Sri Lanka

Winding road
After telling you roughly the five reasons why we like Sri Lanka so much, her you can read an handfull of small stories that happened there!

The street on the right looked already interesting when we took the picture. But only shortly afterwards something strange happened: a man dressed all in blue walked out of his garden and onto the street, laid down in the middle of if and blocked the traffic. It seemed to have been some kind of family dispute. We were bewildered, but the local car drivers didn’t care much. They didn’t even bother to honk, but just drove around him.

Most southern point of the island
Singhalese dog
We couldn’t figure out why, but Sri Lanka is definitively home to the ugliest dogs on the planet. Maybe it is some kind of skin disease, maybe it is the result of too many flees, maybe of a long tradition of inbreeding on the island…
As you can see on the picture they haven’t got much fur left and the skin is crusty. There seems to be too much skin anyway forming a lot of wrinkles as if the dogs were dressed in a costume too big form them. For the first time during this journey Mascha didn’t have to resist the impulse to pat the dogs.

Encounter with an elephant
We also observed an immense interest of the male Singhalese (but Indian as well) population in various kinds of porns. We checked-in in the least shabby and least dubious hostel in Kalmunai (altogether a very strange place), just to find out that the garden in front of our room was populated with male-only guests, drinking arrak (local spirit) and watching a soft porn on a small television. Harder versions can be seen in almost every internet cafĂ©, if a man is sitting next to you. During one lunch brake Matteo even got invited to watch a porn movie on the owner’s mobile phone.

Maybe he mixed something up,
it's the by-boat for the caught fish
Look at the difference of size!
On this journey Matteo discovered not only his love for donkeys and Iranian carpets, but also for fish. Eating a lot of it wasn’t enough for him. He had various encounters with local fishermen where he tried to learn as much as possible about their techniques. The first approach to the local fishery was in the old city of Galle, when Matteo met Udaya and his crew. Unfortunately this year the monsoon came earlier than usual on the west coast and the strong wind did not allow them to leave the harbor. They usually fish tunas 25 km out the coast at night and it would have been too dangerous for them. They then spend the hot afternoons talking about fishing and politics and drinking tee with the other fishermen. After leaving Galle, Matteo met some fishermen in Mirissa, who fish during the day. One morning he finally managed to went out with one of their catamarans, while Mascha opted to go wale-watching (with success – indeen very impressive!). Matteo’s journey was really interesting at the beginning, but not comfortable after a certain point, because of heavy seasickness. They didn’t even catch any fish, although Matteo kept on “feeding the fish” almost constantly…He had a second chance a couple of days later close to Passekudah’s coral reef. This time the technique was much different: the fishermen walked in the shallow waters and search for small fishes, when they see them, they throw the net upon them. The result after two hours: 100 caught fish. We were explained that each one can be sold for 3 Rupees to a “businessman”. A businessman is someone with a wooden box on the back of his cycle, who cycles through villages and sells the fish for 5 Rupees. Considering that 1 Euro equals 156 Rupees at the moment it is quite a hard way of earning money. In this occasion Matteo also invented a technique to save “useless” fish and so throw them back to the sea after a forced reanimation.

Riding in the rain
We had another experience connected to the sea, when we first went for a swim and were directly caught by an undertow, which drag us out into the open waters. A wired feeling if you swim with all your force just to stay in one place. Fortunately Mascha has been told how to behave in a case like this during her stay in Australia: don’t panic and try to swim back to the beach indirectly. After our first swim we were more carefully, but we still had a lot of fun playing with the great waves.

Our stay in Sri Lanka is almost over, but we have the feeling that we have to come back here soon. We didn’t visit the far north at all and we’ve seen not enough of the hill country – just to name two reasons. But we should also visit and check one special project: Shiparama smart crafts (www.shiparamacrafts.com). A place where we stopped one evening, because we thought it was a guesthouse. It was not, instead it was an incredible art project with extremely nice people and the most stylish interior (high class design mixed with recycling elements and traditional elements) we’ve seen in Sri Lanka. The big opening party was 4 days after we’ve been there, but still they found time to chat with us. The whole project is new, innovative and highly interesting. Providing rooms for artists to work and do research and also possibilities for people and families to stay and spent time experimenting with arts.  

The crowded top of Adam'a Peak
The hill country's beauties
More than half the Singhalese are Buddhists, but there’s a huge Hindu population as well and also many Christians and Muslims. To all those faiths one of Sri Lanka’s highest mountain (2243m) is a sacred pilgrim’s site. Buddhists call it Sri Padra and believe the footprint on the top is left from Buddha himself, Hindus think it was Shiva who left his mark. Christians and Muslims call it Adam’s Reak, because they believe this was where Adam first set his foot on earth after being thrown out of paradise. Our visit to Adam’s Peak had not religious background, but was rather a spontaneous decision; not do go right and back to Colombo, but left doing more than 80km and 2000 meters altitude in addition. Placed in the idyllic and chilled highlands of the island and
 surrounded by tea plantations Adam’s Peak turned out to be a quite nice place to visit and we did not regret our decision. We started to hike up there at 2 o’clock in the night as we were told to make it to the top until sunrise. We should have known that we are faster 
After 1,5 hours of waiting: sunrise
than the average, and ended up waiting 1,5 hours on the top for the sun to rise at 05:55. You think we are crazy? No, THEY are crazy! They built steps all the way up to the top. Over 5000 steps! On the way up we saw thousands of pilgrims going in both directions. We saw scenes of real desperation and true pain within the people.. A lot of them preferred to sleep in the cold night (with only flip-flops, shorts and T-shirts) right on the steps rather than to continue. What is even stranger is that many locals arrived in the evening and started to climb the mountain right away (to avoid paying for a hotel?). In this manner they are at the peak in the middle of the night just to see that it’s f*** cold and to return to the busses without having seen anything of the landscape. Amazing what crazy things religion makes some people do.       
If you are looking for morning silence and loneliness during a hike, your definitely shouldn’t go on a full moon day and specially not at Vessak, a big Buddhist feast and official end of the pilgrim’s time.

The fly-killer
Religiosity can also contaminate some westerners like our neighbor in the guesthouse in Kandy, who spent one month there to focus only on meditation (Kandy is famous for that). One night Matteo was sitting until late on the balcony, when he saw the other guy’s door opening, a fist coming out and opening and then returning to the room. This scene was repeated a couple of times before Matteo realized that the guy was catching mosquitoes in his room and releasing them into the garden, where they were eventually killed by Matteo. That man obviously understood the Buddhist teachings and reincarnation too literally and acted definitely stricter than most of the Singhalese population!
Matteo in contrary wasn’t very spiritually influenced as you can see on this picture taken a few days before, just some seconds after he had killed 6 flies (not mosquitoes, flies!!!) with only ONE stroke of his hand. (He believes it should be a sort of world record or so...)   

A minute before our first step back home
Our climb to Adam’s Peak, as described before, was the physical and metaphysical climax of our trip. As we set our food on the first step downwards, we also did our first step towards home. Yes, we have good news for those who are waiting for us back home: After some discussions Mascha could convince Matteo not to book a flight to Africa or Tonga-Island, but back to Europe. To soften the end of our cycle adventure we will fly to Amsterdam from where we plan to make the last bit of our journey by bike. Europe, we are back on the 20th of may, by chance exactly 6 months after we left Padua (on the 20th of novermber). 

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Finally: Sri Lanka

some of the wonderful trees
Dear Readers, friends and family,

our post on Sri Lanka is rather delayed and we apologies for that. But this country is simply too fantastic and there is so much to see, that we hardly manage to sit in the internet cafes. One month is far too short to visit this island, although it is rather small by Indian standards. When we decided to continue our journey to Sri Lanka, we though it would be quite similar to India. Bus as we arrived, we were fairly surprised by the fact that although the island lies quite close to the Indian subcontinent, it is rather different.

But one thing is sure: Sri Lanka is our favorite country on this trip. There are five main factors four our decision.
Indrani's family
The first one is: People are great. It started when we first arrived in Colombo and were picked up from the airport by Indrani (a woman Mascha met during the Off-grid power conference in Munich last year) and her husband Lakshman. Although we hardly new each other, they came to the airport to welcome us and to drive us to their home. Fortunately our bikes were well packed and could be stored on the roof of the car. After on night at the airport (see last post) nobody of us fancied a 60km cycle ride in the midday heat and we were happy to enjoy a bit of luxury in the car. But that was not the end of our first pleasant impressions: finally we stayed 5 days with Indrani's nice family during which we could also taste real homemade Singhales food - the second factor for our love to Sri Lanka. 
our daily rice and curry
Most of the meals are Rice and Curry, what might sound boring at first sight. But be sure: it's not! There are varieties of rice and a huge variety of different curries. Each meal is accompanied by at least 3 different curries, dhal or vegetable and of cause papadham. Singhales cuisine is highly spicy (much hotter than the Indian) but they also use a lot of coconut, which softens the taste. Pollos (jackfruit curry) tastes almost like meat-Gulasch and is one of our favorites together with hoppos (a kind of rice pancake prepared in a bowl).

The third factor is a culture dating back almost 2500 years. Some of the old capitals survived over time. They where forgotten and covered in the jungle until the 1880th where first excarvations by the British began. We've visited the second capital Pollonaruwa, the third Sigiriya, as well as the old Hindu influenced temple in Nalanda and the most impressive monastery of Aluvihara built in and between huge boulders, the place where the first buddhist texts were written down.

a bay on the most southern point of Sri Lanka
tropical rain
The fourth factor is nature. Sri Lanka is quite small, only 432km from north to south and even narrower from east to west. But despite of that is has got two different monsoons and at least 4 different "climate zones". We arrived in the tropical and rather wet west and southwest, where Matteo had the pleasure to experience his first tropical rain showers. Air was quite humid and nature seemed to be exploded. There are simply plants everywhere, and a lot of them have impressively huge leaves. It was like cycling through one big tropical hous in the botanic garden. While cycling along the south coast we suddenly seemed to pass a kind of boarder and arrived in the much dryer savanna of the southeast and east. Here we found immense areas covered with rice paddies or just very dry and very hot savanna with little trees. As we were cycling north along the east coast and the land inwards approaching the cultural triangle, the air became even dryer and hotter. And then, in the middle of the island a bit to the south, there is the hill country with altitudes over 2000m with a much fresher climate and completely different vegetation. The county's famous Ceylon tea plantations can be found here as well as incredible scenery rough cliffs and impressive waterfalls. It is incredible that all these different landscapes are found within a distance of a couple of hundred kilometers.
rain - a completely new factor on our journey
curious elefants  
one of the many crocodiles
But the fifth and maybe best factor are all the wild animals that you can see here. The island is densely populated with all kind of mammals reptiles and birds, hosting  a lot of really rare species. Especially birds can be found in huge amounts: cormoran, painted stork, pelicans, eagles, peacocks, ibis, green bee eaters, kingfishers and many more we did not know. A lot live permanently on Sri Lanka, but the are also a lot of them coming during the winter in the northern part of the earth or during the cold season in the southern part of the world. We've seen some nice mammals as well. Most spectacular: three leopards in Yala National Park. We also passed some elephants while cycling though National Parks on our way around the island. First we were a bit scared, but the giants where more concerned with their food than with us. What else did we see? Water buffaloes,  spotted deers, sambar deers, flying foxes, wild pigs, different monkeys,  mangoes, 
One the reptile side, there were some snakes (sparkling green or brown) passed the streets or crossed the roads just in front of us, as did various kinds of lizards, and even some very impressive land monitors and water monitors (they can be huge! Almost 2 meters) as well as crocodiles. We also crawled through the sand on a beach at night to see an enormous green sea turtle (over 1m) dig a hole in the sand and lay her eggs.

some areas are still affected after 30 years of civil war
Altogether we did not manage to see enough, although we moved on almost every day. We will see only very little of the hill country, but maybe this part of the Island is better to visit without bikes.... Also the eastern and especially the northern regions are well worth a visit in the closer future. These regions were not accessible for tourists until the end of the civil war two years ago and are still very underdeveloped and unspoiled by tourists.