My nomadic author adventures!
We are fresh back from vacation and I wanted to share the experience with you. Usually I take my laptop with me when we travel, but this time I didn't...and I missed it! I still managed to get some writing in by rigging up my bluetooth keyboard with my phone and using Google Docs, now I just need to stitch those new words into my current work in progress. But also, I didn't share my adventures as they were happening, and I discovered I missed doing that...so here we go, a blog post to make up for it.
Sri Lanka and the Maldives
Sounds super expensive, right? Especially the Maldives! Truth is, we got a really good deal. If you want a really good deal too, then check out Trip-A-Deal. This was our first tour with them - it was my first tour ever - and the idea of having someone else organize everything was super appealing. I'll give you my overall thoughts at the end of this post.
All Australian flights to Sri Lanka leave from Melbourne, so first it was a quick flight in the wrong direction before we all piled on our ten hour flight. I was traveling with friends and we soon discovered other Trip-A-Deal travelers on our flight and promptly made them question what they'd let themselves in for!
It was around nine-thirty in the evening when we landed in Colombo. That's local time. In my home time zone it was about one-thirty in the morning, but despite fatigue pulling at us, everyone was excited to begin this new adventure. We discovered there were twenty-six of us in this tour, more than we expected since we'd been told the tours capped at twenty. Piling onto a blessed air-conditioned bus (very comfy) that was going to be our home-away-from-home for the next seven days, we headed to our accommodation for the night in Negombo.
We were up early the following morning for breakfast (this was the beginning of our buffet breakfast adventures!) and then it was on the road again with no time to actually explore our hotel or surroundings much. I did spot my first ever chipmunk. Or possibly a squirrel. Either way I had not expected them in Sri Lanka, so I enjoyed watching this tiny little critter take on a bird and steal his food! We also found a local cat and her kitten (of course!).
Then it was back on the bus where we headed off for the Sigiriya Rock Fortress. On the way we stopped off at the fish market (the SMELL!) and also a cooking demonstration, which would have been wonderful if cuisine was your thing. Unfortunately for me, it was not, and I was itching to get to the rock fortress and go exploring. We eventually made it at four in the afternoon, and with sunset looming at six, we had to hustle, but it was worth it, I really loved it and could easily have spent an entire day poking around this place (and not just climbing the big rock).
Sigiriya is a World Heritage Site and is the 5th century rock citadel of King Kasyapa. The grounds were massive with symmetrical royal gardens and it wasn't difficult to imagine the splendor that dominated this rock fortress! Surrounded by ramparts and moats, the Lion Rock is coated by frescoes that relate to Gupta style paintings found in the Ajanta caves of India. The citadel 'floated' above, with advanced ponds and irrigation that pumped water right onto its summit through an ingenious hydraulic system. (I totally copied this bit from our itinerary FYI, giving copyright where it's due)
The citadel (palace) was at the top of the rock, all that is left now is basically an outline of its walls (bottom right picture). There are also a lot of dogs in Sri Lanka ~ although they all seem to be pretty well behaved. The dogs here are fed and cared for (I say cared for in the loosest sense) by park employees.
We spent the next two nights at Kassapa Lions Rock Hotel - we had our own cute little bungalow type cottages and it had a feel of wide open spaces rather than modern hotels. Open roof showers! A swimming pool where we took an after dinner dip in the moonlight. The following morning was spent lazing by the pool drinking cocktails before we were off on a jeep safari in Minneriya National Park. It felt like we were entering Jurassic Park - I loved every second of it. The elephants were amazing but so was the entire experience. This was, by far, my highlight from Sri Lanka!
If you ever need a pic of an elephant...I have thousands! These guys were obviously very happy, with lots of babies in the herd. Watching them tear up the grass was eye opening, I'd only ever seen them eat in zoos before. They also came VERY close to our jeep and we have some amazing video footage (too large to post here unfortunately).
The next day we were off to Kandy! How exciting, a city called Kandy. It was not, however, made of sweets. We stopped off to visit some temples, a spice garden (I think - the days started to blur) and that evening a cultural dance.
Below are pics from Dambulla Rock Cave Temple. It's a series of five cave temples with cave painting alongs walls that shelter 140 statues of Buddha. It was amazing to think how they constructed all of this. Also, interesting to watch the monks taking photos, and videoing the temples on their phones! Vows of silence are kinda negated with the introduction of technology eh?
In the evening we watched a cultural show full of dancing and singing. Entertaining and colorful, although I had no idea what was going on. A lot of spinning around, made me dizzy just watching.
The following day we were road tripping to Galle (prounounced Gull - as in seagull). It was a long day on the bus and *gasp* some of our travelers had contracted germs! Coughs and sniffles were starting to fill the bus and calls for pharmacies and drugs started to filter into daily conversations.
We valiantly soldiered on. Stopping at a tea factory which was fascinating! FYI, if you're a tea drinker and use tea-bags? The tea bag is dust. One step up from compost! I am not a tea drinker but, not wanting to be rude, accepted the beautiful cup of tea prepared for me and managed to drink half of it before handing it over to the man to finish.
And finally we are in Galle, where our guide told us not to use/take the tuk tuks as he felt they were too dangerous, one bump and we'd be sprawled over the road. We all ignored him and took the tuk tuks! They were great except for the tourist scam they have going on. You tell them where you want to go, haggle over a price, reach agreement, and they promptly take you to a gem store and/or a designated souvenir store. We did, however, safely reach our destination(s) in the end.
Galle is dutch influenced, with the Galle Dutch Fortress still in place, complete with lighthouse. You know I love lighthouses, right? Seems I was the only one in our group who was remotely interested, so I did a mad dash to snap some pics. I regret that I didn't linger and enjoy this glorious lighthouse longer.
Cricket is big in Sri Lanka, apparently. There was a game on while we were in Galle, Sri Lanka versus New Zealand. The locals stand on the walls of the Fortress so they can watch the game! Needless to say, people EVERYWHERE! Don't ask me who won, I've no idea.
Our final day in Sri Lanka dawns! We're off on the bus from Galle back to Colombo. On the way we stopped at a Mask Factory and then the Lunuganga Estate which was the country home of Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa. The gardens were huge and beautiful. I made friends with a local dog but sadly didn't get a photo!
There were plenty of these guys throughout Sri Lanka...
Colombo city streets.
This wraps up the Sri Lankan leg of our tour and where we say goodbye to our guide, Sam, the driver (who I'm sad to say I can't remember his name) and our other helper, head counter, water give-er-out-erer, and help us out of the bus so we don't fall flat on our faces, who we called Bob (I'm sure he was incredibly confused as to why we called him that since it wasn't his name).
Sri Lanka is a developing country and it shows. What we have to remember is that their war only ended ten years ago! Considering that, I think they have come a long way, and they are doing their best. They are working hard at tourism and if you are thinking of visiting, leave your white privilege at the border and you'll enjoy the experience more. They also had the nasty 'incident' of the terrorist bombings to deal with that severely damaged their tourism appeal. Litter appears to be a problem.
The temples and ruins we visited were amazing and my mind was blown, not only how old these places were, but how on earth they constructed them in the first place. It has to be seen to be believed. They have a lot of places of historical interest, but honestly, Sigiriya Rock Fortress and the Minneriya National Park were my top two favorites.
The next day we are on our way to the Maldives! Everyone is a little weary at this stage and looking forward to five days of doing very little but lounging around on a tropical island! First we fly from Colombo to Male (one hour), then jump on a speedboat from Male to our island, the Adaaran Maldives Resort. The wharf is literally right outside the airport...no transportation needed. Grab your suitcase, wheel it across the road and you're there!
I'm just going to dump some photo's here because there's not much more to say about the Maldives other than it is as beautiful as every single picture depicts. The water is warm, the coral and fish are plentiful. We basically had a free ride in the Maldives. All meals and drinks paid for. A BIG buffet breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Morning and afternoon tea daily, a pretty good choice of cocktails, beer, wine, and soft drinks. We could upgrade and buy more expensive drinks, but there was no need.
Live entertainment nightly. Snorkeling daily. I was holidaying with the man (obvs) and two other couples and they did an island hopping day trip but I elected to stay behind and I had the BEST. DAY. EVER. Lol. I finally got time for writing, I snorkeled, I had a massage, I chatted with my fellow travelers about writing - we started tossing around ideas for a tropical cozy mystery series (Sri Lankan Shenanigans and Murder in the Maldives are tentative titles). I had a nap. I re-charged my introvert batteries and it was very much needed.
We stayed on the island itself, not in one of the huts over the water. While the huts look gorgeous, and it would have been nice to jump into the water right out your back door, they were a long walk to the bar and restaurant!
I thoroughly, THOROUGHLY, enjoyed the Maldives! Incredibly relaxing. The weather held, we only had a couple of showers and the resort provides umbrellas, but really, a little bit of rain isn't much of a deterrent to have a good time. Having said that, I probably wouldn't return - purely because there are other tropical islands to explore, and if you were to visit the Maldives on your own, it's over $800 per night USD. (It didn't cost us that much since we were part of a tour.)
My overall thoughts of the Trip-A-Deal tour?
Very well managed. We had no hiccups with accommodation or flights. The man is a fussy eater but there was plenty of food (banquet style) for him to pick and choose from, so going hungry wasn't an issue. The beds were comfy but I found it odd that the beds were all single beds. Don't couples sleep together (in one bed) in Sri Lanka? We did eventually hit on some hotels that provided Queen beds.
From my own personal perspective some of the days were too long. A twelve hour day being out and about is exhausting and it sucked some of the enjoyment out of it. Originally the cooking demonstration was meant to be an optional extra that you paid to do. I guess they had no takers because suddenly it became a compulsory (free) activity - that annoyed me more than it should have - probably because I wanted to get to Sigiriya Rock Fortress and not waste hours on something I wasn't interested in.
I'm an author so it goes without saying that I'm an introvert. I suffered overload. It was too much. By the third day I was grumpy and needing space. If you're an extrovert then you'd LOVE it lol.
I'm undecided if I'd ever do a tour again. I liked that it was planned out, but I also got the feeling they were cramming a lot in. There was a lot of driving involved, seems like the places of interest in Sri Lanka are not close together. I would have liked more free time factored in, even if it was a morning or afternoon as opposed to a full day. This is especially important to an introverted person like me who finds being constantly around people an energy drain. It's not that we don't like people...we just get exhausted in the company of others easily.
I should add, the Maldives was ALL free time. The 'tour' component ended in Sri Lanka. We were delivered to the island and left to our own devices and it was the perfect way to end our holiday. I fully decompressed and it was exactly what I needed.
PS: Photo credits: I did not take all of these photos. I blatantly ripped them off from my fellow travelers. I took the lighthouse one and that's about it lol. Thanks to my man who did take a lot of pics, he's a much better photographer than I. Now if I could just get him to stop wandering off...