Sri Lanka Part Two

24 04 2013

A selection of further random observations from our Sri Lanka trip:

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Negombo

Now, I don’t wanna start this blog entry on a downer. Consider it more of a warning, perhaps. But Negombo – the first place most visitors will experience as they arrive in Sri Lanka – is an out-n-out shithole.

I won’t be argued with on this point. Here is a town with zero redeeming features. OK, it’s close to the airport. But that’s where it ends.

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Beautiful Negombo

An uninspiring beachside strip of bland hotels and rundown restaurants, a grubby beach and not much else.

A few wandering, confused Euro tourists; an overcast, sullen air. This was a town to leave behind, and fast.

In fact my overwhelming impression of Negombo was a frightening insight into what a post-apocalyptic world might look like.

For one thing the town is overrun by crows. And even if you’ve never seen the Omen movies, crows are creepy as shit. Pecking your eyes out and stuff…

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Ever-present crows. Cover your eyes…!

Throw in some crumbling hotels, a filthy beach littered with dead things, grey skies and a pervading air of hopelessness.

Inner-city canals turned an odd shade of blue by wastewater runoff. A fish market surrounded by enormous rotting fish heads.

And weird, raggedy fishing boats with cloth sails scrounging the seas for whatever is left.

Straight out of the Sri Lankan Mad Max.

Don’t hang about in Negombo, dudes….

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It might not look that rainy. But it was. OK?

A bad day at the office.

Wow, this blog entry is sounding all whiney. We had a good time in Sri Lanka, honest.

But I thought I might relate to you the trials of one of our toughest days, whereby we rode through the rain for eight hours on breaking-down bikes.

Here goes:

We leave our overnight accommodation ‘Little Dream’ and head south toward Mahiyanganya (pronounced Mar-younger-ny-ya). Our route is largely back roads but we have Google Maps.

A man waves us down. “Don’t go that way. Water!’

Whatever, bro. Do you have an iPhone on your bike? No.

Our dirt road rounds a bend and leads straight into a river. Promising start.

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Google Mapped ourselves straight into a river

We stop for what would prove to be the cheapest meal of the trip: tea, short eats, roti and dahl for two for less than AUD$1. There’s hope.

Then it starts to rain. And rain and f**king rain. Hope soon fades.

We begin to pass landslips where mud covers the road. We pass a low bridge where the high water is beginning to bubble up over the road. We no longer lift our feet through puddles. Canvas trainers, jeans and ill-prepared riders are now thoroughly soaked. It is about 10am.

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The Soggy Bottom boys hang out at the store.

Bike problems begin. My blue Baja’s idle-adjust snaps off, so it no longer idles. The electric start also fails. And the headlights. And the blue Baja does not have a kick-start.

Cue an afternoon of Rhys push-starting me when there is no downhill slope.
This gets old very quickly in the pouring rain.

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Dry clothes, warm hotel room and beer. We were happy once.

At one point we decide the rain is getting too heavy.

We stop, take shelter, eat popsicles, laugh at our predicament, hang out with some locals

An hour later, the rain is even heavier and we squelch off down the road, having achieved, well, not very much.

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The author calls his mum for a pair of dry socks, please.

About 2pm we start to get cold. We both have nice waterproof jackets, but they can only hold off so much rain.

And this is serious rain. It stings our faces, obscures our vision, flows orange around our feet and trickles down our necks.

Finally we arrive at our villa. It is warm and dry and they hang our clothes up and pour us tea, then beer. All is well in the world again

Midigama

Since its inception, our trip included a surfing component. We initially tried Mirissa, but this was a bit touristy, a bit crowded and a bit lacking in waves.

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Mirissa beach scene

Twenty minutes down the coast though, we found Midigama. Not a town so much as a collection of homestays and restaurants along the highway, it was still pretty rad.

We set up camp in a homestay on the ‘wrong’ side of the railroad tracks, run by a lovely girl in her family home,

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Legendary hosts!

The surfers and backpackers had the run of the top storey; she lived below with mum, dad, gran, her ever-smiling brother and various uncles.

Thirty minutes after arriving we had rental boars under arms and were heading to the beach.

Out front, three or four breaks beckoned, from shallow, hollow reefs to crumbly points.

Crowds consisted of Euro holiday-makers, learners and couples, with none of the hardcore scene you might see in Indo, mainly as the waves were more fun than epic.

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But Midigama was such a highlight.

Surf early, tuck into a massive brekkie, wander about, surf again at midday as it was too hot to do anything else, go exploring, try to find a cold beer, hang out with new friends. Much fun.

Warm-water waves without much punch meant surfs were relaxing rather than life-threatening but sometimes that’s enough, you know.

Especially when there are few surfers around and you can grab a few waves to yourself.

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Home at the beach

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Possibly the smiling-est kid in Sri Lanka

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Gran.

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A new take on railroad commuting

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What the hell went on in Sri Lanka?

31 03 2013

About two months back, a friend and I spent a couple of weeks exploring Sri Lanka onboard a pair of ageing dirtbikes.

We did a rough clockwise loop from the west coast (Negombo) to Sigiriya in the mid-north, then down through the Hill Country for a few waves on the south coast, covering around 1200km in ten days.

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The Honda Baja 250s were noisy, heavy brutes of things without a single working instrument, but they did the job, proving more or less reliable even when dodging flash-floods and landslides. And dogs. And buses. And tortoises.

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Sri Lanka itself was brilliant. Highly recommended. Friendly, helpful, honest, open people. Delicious, varied, healthy food. Cheap day-to-day costs and accommodation. And a huge variety of landscapes to explore, from steamy surf beaches to mist-shrouded hill-towns to jungles and alpine plains.

I could give you a chronological rundown of our trip but I won’t. So here’s a bunch of random thoughts….

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The Bikes.           My new favourite way to travel. At least in developing nations where I am not required to produce a valid motorcycle licence.

Rhys had an Australian licence, but this won’t save you when 15 tonnes of bus comes careening at you around a blind corner. A quick burst of heel and toe action would often squirt you out of trouble, but every time we did NOT meet a bus on a blind corner was the equivalent of gaining an extra life in a video game. Albeit one that felt all too real.

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Interesting to learn Google Maps does not always know when roads are covered by flooded rivers. We went another way…

The Bajas were four-stroke single-cylinder monsters that came in at around 120kg. A lot of bike. We managed to drop them several times, generally while trying to manoeuvre the cursed things at slow-speed. Each dropped bike meant an hour or two hanging out with a mechanic as the clutch levers inevitably took the brunt of the fall.

They also attracted a lot of attention. The Baja’s distinctive spluttering, farting exhaust noise meant pedestrians heard us coming a long way off. For a day or so, I felt like a bit of celeb, as every male within hearing distance would stop to watch us go past. I soon realised they were not looking at me, but rather the bike – an impossibly exotic, expensive machine to the average Sri Lankan. The bikes were hired from the very helpful Suranga Perera at Sha Lanka:  http://www.negombo-motorcycle-tours.com – highly recommended.

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Equipment for three weeks in the tropics

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Foodstuffs.         After overcoming what might have been caffeine withdrawal on days one and two, we settled into a routine of deliciousness. Single-origin espressos were replaced with several hundred cups of tea and every meal offered some sort of new curried treat. In most cases we skipped the meats and stuck to vege offerings.

Breakfasts normally took place at roadside ‘Hotels’ – small cafes for workers where we would score some sort of baked flatbread, some lentil dahl, a handful of samosas and tea for around $2 each.

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Lunch and dinner inevitably involved curry and rice, or rice and curry, depending on who served us. At buffets we would go heavy on the vege curry with a side of rice. If the staff were dishing it out, we would get a giant plate of rice, with some curry garnish. I can’t remember one bad meal. The food was that good and often, it was outstanding.

Highlights included Tikiri Villa at Mahinganaya where the incredible staff rustled up an outrageous array of fresh curries from their garden – complete with home-grown rice –  for just Rhys and I to enjoy in an enormous deserted dining room. After riding through the rain for six hours, it was well-received.

At Waterfalls Homestay in Ella, Aussie hosts Karen and Martin create nightly curry feasts for guests and patiently explained each dish, showing us all the weird and exotic ingredients they sourced locally.

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Our preferred beachside lunch spot. Wicked.

As someone who now picks travel destinations based on the cuisine he can expect, it’s hard for me to really get across how terrific, fresh and tasty Sri Lankan food was.

Buffalo curd (similar to yoghurt) featured in many memorable breakfasts around the Hill Country and south coast and we also grew fond of what were dubbed ‘beer snacks’ – crunchy chickpeas or fried peanuts mixed with chili and curry leaves and sold everywhere on the side of the road.

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People.               As with any venture, there were a few individuals who really made our trip. Overall, I found the Sri Lankans more open and trusting than say, people in Indo or Thailand, but I suspect that has to do with exposure to tourism.

Suranga, who we hired the bikes from in Negombo was damn helpful. On the first night, we pored over a map and outlined where we wanted to go, while he annotated the highways with places to avoid and advised which routes to take. When the inevitable breakdowns occurred, we got him on the phone to talk various mechanics through the eccentricities of the Hondas.

Beers with Rohan and 'The Night Rider'.

Beers with Rohan and ‘The Night Rider’.

In Mahinganaya, we arrived soaked and grumpy after slogging through six hours of rain and what may have been a flash-flood. Cue hot tea, a spare room to spread out our wet clothes and a fantastic curry dinner. The next day, Rohan – the manager – accompanied us to the mechanic where he translated while we sorted my troublesome bike electrics and then recommended his fave breakfast spot before disappearing off into the rainy mist again. Champ.

Ella, the Hill Country – In need of a sundown beer (again) we waved off the various backpacker cafes in favour of the ‘Local’s Bar’. A dim, seedy den of iniquity. Hopefully. Instead we find ourselves chatting to Rohan, a local who spent two years in Australia in the 1980s on a theatre scholarship. He invited us for lunch at his home the next day, introduced us to his family and explained how he walked a 7km round-trip to work each day so his daughters could learn English at a private school. Wow.

More soon….

Dan did a similar trip on an automatic scooter with limited suspension. Ill-advised? Yes. hardcore? Definitely.

Dan did a similar trip on an automatic scooter with limited suspension. Ill-advised? Yes. hardcore? Definitely.





the surf art of wolfgang bloch

1 08 2011

There’s no question I’ve spent more time looking for waves than riding them.

Apparently, that’s part of the fun.

I’m not so sure, but it is pretty special stumbling onto a good one after driving half the day.

Wolfgang Bloch also knows that moment; when you crest another dusty ridge and first glimpse distant, windswept perfection.

His palette of rocky browns and stormy greys bookend perfect pointbreaks, reeling off unridden in some faraway place.

It’s the sort of art that encourages you to get off the couch and hit the road and that’s very cool.

www.wolfgangbloch.com



 





cabo no es verde

28 02 2010

Once upon a time, long, long ago, the Cape Verde archipelago was covered in a carpet of green. Apparently.

Now, I’m not sure when the drought struck, but at some point, it seems everything died, because there isn’t much you could call green about this little scattering of islands.

My yachting partners assure me there are a few little pockets of lush jungle here and there, but what I’ve seen could be better likened to the surface of the moon.

not at all representative of the other islands

Craggy volcanic rocks stretch skyward from cliff-lined coasts and everything is various shades of brown, grey and black. They’re fierce islands, not the type of spot you’d want to be shipwrecked.

A few fun rocks can be found to climb, but I managed to pick one with an osprey’s nest on top, they seem a little protective of those eggs.

Back on the water, Cape Verdes are quite the watersports mecca.

Islands such as Sal and Boa Vista are world-renowned for kiteboarding and windsurfing, there’s plenty of surf, diving and incredible fishing.

The local fishos roll into the docks each day with giant wahoo and tuna, often having caught them with spearguns. God knows how.

Scrappy little settlements doggedly cling to their slab of land beside the sea on many of the islands, but everything looks half finished; few houses bothering with a final coast of paint.

Apparently, one isn’t required to replay one’s foreign aid loan until one’s house is completed, so why would you finish the job?

surf's up just behind the yacht

looks a lot like west oz actually





the motherland

28 02 2010

Another January, another trip home to Oz.

Pretty much like last year really, ‘cept this time the occasion was for a wedding and this time, Perth’s already over-the-top prices had reached critical mass.

By prices, I mean the cost of everything. But mostly food.

Main courses at decent restaurants are now regularly reaching $40 for say, fish of the day (Barramundi? Really?) but even a coffee is around four bucks.

One pub has also famously begun charging $18 for a pint of Hoegaarden beer. That’s for one pint…

And yes, I know when you convert it to pounds or euros, it’s roughly halved, but no one is earning euro currency. How many European restaurants charge €40 for a main meal? Not many I know of.

But whatever. Let the rich miners have Perth. It’s still lovely and leafy and sun-baked  most of the time, but finally a few kooky bars are breathing new life into forgotten corners of the city.

view across the city

at rotto

A couple of trips further afield also confirmed what I’ve long suspected: although the Perth metro area is okaaay, it’s the destinations nearby that make WA worthwhile.

The emerald waters of Rottnest Island are just a ferry ride away, but you could be in another land.

A land with no cars, rampant wildlife, deserted beaches and long bike rides, where your most pressing concern is what to barbecue for dinner that night and how many beers are left in the Esky.

Even in the south-west, developers haven’t gotten all over the cape just yet and there are quiet corners where you can pull over the truck, unfold a hammock and watch the sun sink below a rocky outcrop with no one around. Good stuff.

rottnest waters





mexican photo business

22 09 2009

shots from a fabulous country.

mex lomo doors

'downtown' beach. puerto

'downtown' beach. puerto

"who wants an alcoholic kid?" - i love the happy skull.

"who wants an alcoholic kid?" - i love the happy skull.

LOVE the taco girls

LOVE the taco girls

monte albarn ruins. excuse the crap stitching.

monte albarn ruins. excuse the crap stitching.

now THAT'S a stacked bbq... check the smiles.

now THAT'S a stacked bbq... check the smiles.

mex fence

colourful oaxaqueno church addition

colourful oaxaqueno church addition

a lot of volkswagens in mexico. rad.

a lot of volkswagens in mexico. rad.

mex oaxaca mkt

monte albarn -aztec ruins near oaxaca

monte albarn -aztec ruins near oaxaca





Mex2: Chacahua y Oaxaca

22 09 2009
cruising thru the mangroves en route to chacahua

cruising thru the mangroves en route to chacahua

chacahua overview from the lighthouse

chacahua lineup

Cha-Cha-Chacahua

Walk 10 minutes to the collectivo taxi.

Hop a cab to Rio Grande.

Public bus to Zapotolito.

Fishing boat thru the mangroves to the rivermouth.

Bienvenido a Chacahua.
Chacahua is where I go to get away from the hectic pace of Puerto Escondido.

A national park situated on a thin strip of palm-strewn coast, the ‘town’ is best accessed by boat which dumps you right at the entrance to the tidal lagoon – clear waters filled with boas, crocs and more.

It’s also home to the hollowest, funnest, least-crowded right-hand point break I know of, and it’s offshore ALL DAY. Dios mio.

right-handers over sand. fun, much?

right-handers over sand. fun, much?

This year did see a few more people (fleeing the comp also) and funky banks, but warm water barrels in board shorts with a bunch of your mates while Mexican fisherman zip past thru the rivermouth still takes some beating.

The sealife there is incredible – turtles bobbing round the lineup, schools of baitfish being harassed by seabirds all day every day, long toms (big garfish) apparently spearing the odd local in the neck. Nuts.

Swim across the river and walk round the cliffs and there is also 50-odd kms of beachbreaks to explore, usually bigger and less perfect, but absolutely deserted.

When it’s flat, it’s hotter than hell and dull dull dull, but we raided some the fish market for a bbq, climbed some hills, had some fun.

One of my fave spots in the world.

our barbeque crew - aus, finnish, hawaiian, polish, venezuelan. ha!

our barbeque crew - aus, finnish, hawaiian, polish, venezuelan. ha!

Oaxaca City

There’s a lot to like about Oaxaca.

For one thing its 1500m elevation makes it nice and cool, and thus easy to trot around during the day.

It’s also pretty compact and simple to negotiate using the many churches as landmarks – easy to spot as nothing in town is built more than two stories high – earthquakes!

mex kidThe state capital is an artistic hub for the many creative types in nearby villages so art cafes and galleries abound, alongside the usual random street processions and brass bands that seem to spring up everywhere in Mexico.

The city itself was founded by Spanish settlers not long after Cortes’ conquest but there are ruins nearby at Monte Albarn and Mitla, dating back to about 500AD.

I also discovered the world’s maddest antique shop, a dusty maze of crazy artworks, ancient wooden masks, mouldy books and a couple of bowling pins. Too good.

shoeshine dudes, oax.

shoeshine dudes, oax.

Poetas de la poes.

On the second night in Oaxaca I headed out with Jesse and a bunch of his mates from Spanish school (the teachers, fortuitously).

We hit a cool-looking café that was hosting a ‘jam night’, but just two songs in, it became apparent there would also be some poetry reading. Fuck.

The first twat, sorry, poet, was more than a little obsessed with sex, so I learned a few choice erotic terms, although even the Spanish maestros said his poems made little sense.

At least he projected his word-porn on the wall so I could read along.

Next up though, were a procession of floppy-haired 40-something pseudo intellectuals who had the audacity to read from various books.

Now, I’m no poetry-reading expert, but isn’t the idea to present your own work?

Any fool can get up there and read some Keats or a bit of AB Patterson.

Needless to say there wasn’t enough Indio beer in all of Mexico to make me enjoy the experience, even if I were somehow able to understand these chumps.

It did remind me of when I attended an algebra class in Laos – vaguely interesting for about eight seconds but ultimately kind of stupid.

i would have happily purchased every item in this amazing store

i would have happily purchased every item in this amazing store