Sunday, February 28, 2010

You put the lime in the coconut

One of the many local food treats we get to enjoy is coconuts. Now where you are probably picturing the classic round brown coconut with thick white meat we get the coconuts before they reach this point, called a king coconut here. They are for sale everywhere, around $.18 each, sold in bunches. They are heavy. Our faithful trishaw driver brought us some yesterday and the bunch of around 9 coconuts must have weighed almost 100 pounds! They are also difficult to open, without the correct tool, that being a machete'. Chris makes good use of her sharper kitchen knives to slice them open, then usually banging them against the patio to split them and get to the meat.

The coconut water is very refreshing, you can Google the many medicinal uses for it. We enjoy drinking one after a workout. A nice treat is to pour the water into a container then put it in the refrigerator to cool.

After drinking the water we split the coconut and spoon out the meat, very delicious.

We also buy virgin coconut oil and Chris makes good use of this in pretty much all of her cooking, the flavor infuses itself into whatever you are cooking, wonderful. Great with salads as well. You can also take it for health reasons.

I'll take a picture of the oil we purchase and post it soon.

Book Corner - Finished Reading

2nd Chance by James Patterson
Paperback 400 pages
Detective thriller

I swear up and down that I wasn't going to get into a James Patterson rut, but Chris picked up the book at the lending library for me and after the last book I read I was looking forward to a quick read. I call Patterson books cheat reading as he does have the many very small chapters.
I enjoyed this book.

It was not from the Alex Cross series.

Nawam Maha Perahera aka The Big Elephant Festival

The end of February brings the big elephant festival to town. The elephants are walked down "elephant pass" (Kandy Road) from Kandy, this is about a two week journey for the elephants. I happened to have seen one the elephants taking this journey with its handlers. Along with the elephants the tooth of the holy prophet (Buddha) is also brought down, this is a pretty big deal here.

Having a fairly good idea but not knowing exactly where the festival was taking place we left the apartment. By chance we bumped into our neighbor who gave us some round about directions to the festival and we were on our way.

I was expecting to see crowds of people walking towards the festival and no trishaws to be found, but neither was the case, no crowds of people flowing in any one direction and if we needed a trishaw it was just a matter of hailing one.

After a good walk we reached a point where we needed directions, one trishaw driver told us we were in the wrong part of town and another trishaw driver told us to turn right on the street we were approaching which we did.

As we walked down the road we could see the walls of a stadium and voices over a loudspeaker, could this be it? We were able to sneak a look inside the stadium, no, this wasn't it, that and there were to be seats for one million people!

We followed a curve around a bend when I could see trees with lights, police and lots of Buddhist flags, I think we found in.

As we got closer I could see lots of seat cushions lining the streets, thus one millions seats. Wish I had taken a picture.

We walked a bit further and we could see makeshift viewing stands, the word "Tourists" was painted in the ground. Someone from work mentioned there was VIP seating, we wondered how we could get a seat there, so Chris asked one of the attendants, he walked us over to one of the other viewing stands and there one of the attendants asked us for tickets, Chris told the attendant that we were with "The company" to which the attendant gladly escorted us to another viewing stand, the best seats in the house complete with red carpet and a roof! Also there was just a handful of people there so we sat in the front row. Later we were joined by other people from work.

The elephant that carried the tooth was wearing this big Elvis outfit, lighted and everything.
The parade went on for almost two hours. Dancers then an elephant, each elephant had its own unique dance or acrobatic troupe. Wish I could go on about any particular one but it did begin to turn into one big blur after awhile. All in all glad I went though.

Note: It was difficult to take pictures in the dark, some turned out all right, others not so well. I will upload them and the videos (Turned out better) and post the links.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Korean Food in Colombo

Just returned from Han Gook Gawan, and we are stuffed! I had seen this Korean restaurant on of my trips and it had been recommended by a Korean gentleman I had met.
We were trying to decide where to eat when I remembered it.

Now take a trip through memory lane if you will and join me on a like visit to the Korean restaurant in Uruguay, a very disappointing adventure and we both ended up sick.

What I like to see at a Korean restaurant are lots and lots of bowls! Bowls of different kim chi's!

As we browsed the menu t Han Gook Gawan we knew already we were off to a good start, that and they had the small gas barbeque grill on the table for cookinh bulgogi (Korean for firey beef).

The last page of the menu was a picture of lots of bowls of kim chi, we both exclaimed that this is what we wanted so when we ordered I showed the waiter the picture and asked how could we get this, to our delight he said it came with the meal.

We placed our orders and our waiter later returned with the bowls, lots of bowls and a cold hand and face towel, nice touch!

My bulgogi was brought out and the waiter got it started on the table grill. Chris had ordered a cold soup and it was delicious.

The kim chi's were great, the bulgogi was great, soup was great and they had he hot sauce that I have been craving since who knows when.

Korean news was playing on the television, of course the Olympics and Kim Yu-Na was the only thing on the news almost the entire time we were there! It is cool she won!

The bill came to under $30 with tip. Not bad. We are thinking about ordering the same but getting it all to go and cooking the bulgogi at the apartment.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Worst Drivers in The World

Without a doubt, Colombo, Sri Lanka. Once upon a time I would have said Tidewater, Virginia drivers, snort laugh, till I visited Atlanta, but that was nothing till I went to Boston, the New York.
Certainly these had to be the worst drivers in the world, until I visited Jarkarta, Indonesia. Yes, terrible traffic, but worst drivers? Maybe not. Until I visited Istanbul, Turkey. My mind was made up, yes, this is it, the winners, the worst drivers in the world, until I came here.

I have to say that the streets here are very scary! Especially the buses. There are two kinds, colorful unmaintained private buses and red government Sri Lankan Transportation buses. It's not uncommon to see one of these buses traveling at dangerous speeds weaving in and out of traffic. Add the motorcycles and trishaws and it's a constant soup of wheels.

Now I know that there are some folks reading this shaking their heads saying, no, the worst drivers in the world are (Your city and country here), well do post a comment and lets hear about it!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Outside of the Colombo Hilton

My wife and I outside of the Hilton after a yummu brunch there. Not seen is the awful sunburn peelings we are noth enduring! Certainly the worst sunburn I have had in decades!
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Saturday, February 20, 2010

One Last Thing About The Train

"Please allow the departing passengers to exit the train" Friendly recorded woman's voice that plays in the Washington Metro trains.

Arriving at the station I could see the crowds. Judging by the group building up in back of me both the departing passengers and those awaiting to get on board were anticipating a quick turnover.

As the train slowed down to a safe speed I grabbed by bags and stepped down from the train, that's about as far as I got. The crowd at the station was attempting to board the train, of course hardly a soul had left the train. It was mayhem. I thought Chris would turn to fist a cuffs but she just pushed through as did I.

On a small note when you reach the exit there are two men who take your ticket, which results in a traffic jam of sorts as tourists start digging through purses and pockets looking for tickets that they never though they would need anymore.

What fun!

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Train Experience

sri lanka train to hikkaduwa
As promised I would post a little bit more about the train trip south. We have found the trains to be a very affordable mode of transportation to near most any part of the island. There was some hesitation at first, mostly how confusing it might be to purchase the tickets and figure out the schedules etc, but as it turns out there was nothing to worry about. Purchasing the tickets is easy enough as it's just a matter of deciding what class seat you want, and even the, that doesn't matter (More on that). And regarding the train schedule, pretty much anyone you ask has a little bit of knowledge of when the train is coming or going. There are some web sites with the schedules but we find them kind of questionable.

So after you buy the ticket you head for the train. At smaller stations that could be just a matter of heading towards the one and only track, but at the bigger stations like Colombo Fort you have to know which track to go to which usually means dragging your bags up and down a flight of stairs that goes over the other tracks, did that make sense? I really need to take pictures.

There is no one to take your tickets or show you what car to get into, it's pretty much spelled out for you in big numbers on the door, 2 and 3, 2nd and 3rd class. Thus, anyone with a 3rd class ticket can enjoy the comfort (sic) of the 2nd class cars.

Comfort? Hardly. Think Washington Metro, more dirty, no climate control and open windows. The2nd class car has 2 seats per row the 3rd class car has a bench seat on each side. The cars get very filled, 2nd and 3rd. Standing (Squeezing) room only.
When the whistle blows and the train starts rolling people will jump on board and fill in and nook and cranny on the train.

I have found the best spot to be is in the doorway, just sit down with my legs on the stairs, grab a hold of one of the hand rails and enjoy the breeze.

Now I'm not the only one who knows about sitting in the doors, in fact, it's a coveted spot. So if we get on the train when it's crowded I have to wait for the cars to thin out before getting a seat, until then it's sweat and be miserable.

Of course getting to the station early will afford us a seat and we do plan on that next time.

The nest thing about sitting in the door is I get to take it all in. Listening to the train increase in speed, seeing all of the cars as the train goes round a bend, waving at the children along the tracks, occasionally smelling food being cooked, watching orange peels being thrown out the windows of the train (Men go through the cars selling oranges, water and other snacks).

The sad thing is seeing all of the tsunami damage and people living in shacks or barely that. I often gripe about the sounds of the rains that go past our apartment, we are 5 floors up (4th floor apartment + ground floor) and the sound of the trains can rattle my nerves sometimes. Well the train was passing by a shanty-ville and I realized that some of these shacks were less than 10 feet from the tracks! Actually it seemed I could just reach out and touch some of them. I could hardly even fathom what it much be like to live in them. That pretty much humbled me.

Beautiful Beaches Around Sri Lanka

I stumbled on this forum with great pictures of some of the beaches here in Sri Lanka:

Hope we get a chance to visit all of them during a time here.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Hikkaduwa Mini-vacation

Beaches, palm trees and sunshine, well maybe too much sunshine. So was our weekend in Hikkaduwa. Hikkaduwa is about 2 hours south of Colombo by train, probably get there faster by car. It caters to two types of people, surfers first and foremost and then German's.
We were able to stay at a nice guest house that totally surpassed our expectations. Guest houses are a cross between a room for rent and a hotel. This one had just recently opened and everything was new to include a rain shower head in the bathroom, king sized four poster bed, hot water, a/c, free wifi and breakfast served on the beach all for a tidy sum of less than $34USD per night (Everything except for the breakfast is pretty much unheard of at most guest houses). Mind you this wasn't the Hilton and there is no TV, radio or carpet but its sole purpose is a place to crash after a day on the beach.

Thankfully our guest house was right on the beach, but just about all of them are. Hikkaduwa is one BIG guest house, they are there one after the other with colorful names, of course I can't
remember a one.

On our first morning out we walked along the road then went through a beach access road to the beach. While walking we came across some fishermen waiting by their big wooden boat.
They waved us over and asked us to help move it up the beach. So we both turned around
and grabbed the outriggers and lifted and pushed backwards when the shouts of the men
reached a crescendo. I wish I had pictures of the fishermen and their boat, but we didn't
take many or any photos. I was breathing rather hard when we finally got the boat to a point where it wouldn't move any further,

Aaah, the beach. After the tourist filled beaches of Berewula and the man crushing waves
of Matara we found the perfect medium. Long expanses of mostly uncrowded beaches as
all of the (German) tourists are hiding under shady cabanas.
My goal was to boogie board and there are two surf breaks, one was for the surfers as I found
out through much intimidation by one of them as I rode the waves (Tried to crash into me a few times on purpose) so I relegated myself to the other surf break where surfing lessons were being taught. Not as much fun as the other surf break but wasn't going to get clocked by a surfboard either.

We visited a rotti stand that there are many of here in Colombo but this one served banana chocolate and pineapple coconut rotti's. Would help is I had a picture but we didn't take any! DOH!

You know I couldn't find one picture of what we ate via Google, tag people, tag! LOL
We both enjoyed vegetable rottis and a desert rotti, Chris banana and chocolate, me the pineapple. With drinks it was all under $6USD. Great deal! And a yummy and filling one at that!

We enjoyed a long conversation with a Brit traveling through Sri Lanka while at the rotti stand.

Nights were punctuated with fireworks and star filled sky's with the occasional tourist bus driving dangerously fast down the narrow main road.

We returned on the 11:20 train to Colombo with many, many German tourists.

I should and will blog about the train ride.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Catching Up and Crying Cricket Cat

I really need to catch up on my blogging, way behind! Promise to write an update soon.
This Friday I have to work a new schedule, 12:00PM to 4:00PM, can we say YUCK!
But probably makes for a good opportunity to write a long blog post about our trip south to Hikkaduwa.

It has been getting much hotter here, I thought it was my imagination but the sun has just beating down lately.

Did I mention our older cat, "Cricket" has a habit of crying when we go to sleep, or just sometimes in the middle of the night? I'm no cat whisperer but it doesn't sound like she's in pain, it sounds like she is trying to wake us up and feed her. I have darted out of the bedroom a couple of times only to find her sitting in the living room looking at me, or sometimes running under the dining room table. I don't think there has been a single night she hasn't done this! Wait, one night. I sprinkled some cat nip on her scratch toys and that seemed to have kept her quiet all night.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Scenes from Kandy

I had meant to mention a few of the things that I saw in Kandy, but as time goes by, so does my recollection, except for one thing or should I say furry things? That would be monkeys!

Kandy is famous for its elephant orphanage and Temple of the Tooth as mentioned earlier, but one thing they have that Colombo doesn't is monkeys. There are two types and honestly couldn't tell you much about them, except they do seem to leave you alone. I didn't try feeding them.

I also saw very colorful birds and a about a 1 1/2 foot water monitor (Lizard) at the lake,

I was approached by one tout while walking around the lake, but he knew that I knew what he was up to (Try to talk me into a tour etc) and turned right around and left me alone.

On our way back from Kandy we saw a huge elephant being walked down the main road (Actually called The Kandy Road) on its way to Colombo for a festival at the end of the month.

Train Songs

While riding the train to Hikkaduwa we started naming all of the train songs we could think of.
The challenge was for whoever guessed a song to have the other try to guess it with as few clues as possible. We both had some great stumpers.
The songs had to have either trains in the title or mentioned in the song.
Here are a few we came up with.

(Under duress I had to publicly announce that Chris completely whipped my behind in this game coming up with most of the songs for almost 36 hours +)

Plain White T's - Hey there Delilah
Bachman Turner Overdrive - Taking care of business
Cat Stevens - Peace Train
Ozzy Osbourne - Crazy Train
Berlin - Metro
Arlo Guthrie - City of New Orleans
Molly Hatchet - Train Train
Johnny Cash - Folsom Prison
Kenny Rogers - The Gambler
Janis Joplin - Me and Bobby McGhee (Written by Kris Kristofferson)
Greatful Dead - Casey Jones
Blondie - Rapture
Jethro Tull - Locomotive Breath
Crosby Stills and Nash - Marrakesh Express
Creedence Clearwater Revival - Midnight Special
Gladys Night and the Pips - Midnight Train to Georgia
The O'Jays - Love Train
Marshall Tucker Band - Can't You See
Rod Stewart - People Get Ready

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Kandy Visit

Greetings from Kandy, Sri Lanka! Where? It's in the interior of the country, used to be the old capitol when the country still had a king.

Let early Monday morning with an overly ambitious driver that got me here in what must have been record time. It was very neat to see the landscape change so much, especially to see the presence of mountains.

The company put me up in one of the older colonial era hotels here, The Hotel Suisse. The room is somewhat locked in the 70's, it even has an rotary dial phone!

I am working at a trade show of sorts. I was told 4 million people would pass through and judging by the crowds I certainly believe it. The line of people entering and leaving stretches for what seems like miles, although I'm sure it's not.

I am working the evening shift and after our first night we went to a hole in the wall restaurant for traditional Sri Lankan fair, egg hoppers, rotti and of course curry. It was SO spicy and good!
There was a TV in the corner and I saw people get up and pay attention to something being said on the TV. The general who was opposing the president in the recent election had been arrested.
I won't make any comments about that.

Today the driver took me to the Temple of the Sacred Tooth which is probably the most famous thing here in Kandy. Basically it is a huge temple that holds what is supposed to be a tooth of Buddah. You can read about it here:
it's a pretty big deal here as people from all over the world come to the temple for all sorts of things, mostly healing. There are Buddhist monks everywhere.

I'll post more about the visit soon. I have one more night here.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

February - A Good Month

Besides the fact that there are only 28 days in the month it started off with a the Sri Lanka National Day on the 4th that I had off, worked 1/2 day Friday as usual and now the weekend starts.

Monday I get to go to Kandy which is in the interior of the country as part of a trade show that the company is taking part in. Usually this is not something that I would get to be involved in but the call went out for volunteers. We leave very early Monday morning and return Thursday. Looks like I'll get to stay at a nice place as well. Chris will join me.

We return Thursday and then I am taking that following Friday off and we have Monday off for Presidents Day. So we get in a mini-vacation. I think we are going to Hikkaduwa.

I'm on call for the entire month which isn't s bad, I just have to check my BlackBerry more often.

Book Corner - Finished Reading

Dark Horse by Tami Hoag
Paperback 592 pages
Detective thriller
Published 1 June 2004

It took me forever to finish reading this book! Part of me liked it, part of me didn't. Just when you get confused the author ties everything in. The end was pretty good and unexpected.
All in all, I'll have to say it's a good read.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Pretend Milk

Yum, powder milk, double yum, powdered skim milk!

Our milk choices are limited here. You don't exactly think of fields of grazing dairy cows when you think of Sri Lanka.

The supermarket sells long life milk that doesn't need to be refrigerated in one liter sizes, about 150 Rupees per box. It comes in all different varieties. It seems strange at first buying unrefrigerated milk, but it tastes the same.

They do sell what I guess is pasteurized milk, but it's a bit more expensive.

What is more popular here is powdered milk, big selection of it. I can make the same amount of milk for about 1/3 the price of the long life milk.

I didn't think I would like it, but I use it for cereal and drink it occasionally and overall it's not bad. There is a vanilla flavored powdered skim milk that we buy sometimes and mix in with the other powdered milk to add a hint of flavor.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Irony - Tango

Just returned from a Valentines Day party of sorts. While there we were entertained by a couple that performed several tango dances for the party goers with an explanation of the history of the dances.

The irony? We lived two years in Montevideo, Uruguay. Maybe not exactly home to the tango, but pretty much it's twin sister to its birthplace of Buenos Aires. Never once saw a tango show and never once went "across the river" to Buenos Aires!

We come halfway across the world and we see a tango dance performed by a diplomatic couple that was stationed in Buenos Aires.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Matara the Train Ride

Talk about catching up! Lest I forget I meant to blog a little about the train ride back. We see (And hear) the trains on a daily basis, not hard to miss right under our window. The train track below us is the North-South route, the only one.

When we left Matara we had the driver take us to the train station. We never rode the train so this was going to be a new experience. To make it easier on us Matara was the end of the line.

The driver pointed out the ticket counter and things already started off easy, one ticket window for 3rd class tickets, one for 2nd class. There was a handwritten sign with the departure times.
I purchased two 2nd class tickets for 230 Rupees apiece, about $2USD.

We went to the passenger platform and was directed to a bridge that went over the tracks to the other side. I'm not sure what, if any accommodations there are for handicapped people. It was fun carrying our bags up the stairs.

It was easy enough to figure out where to sit as the doors of the train are painted with a 3 or a 2. Being that it was very early in the morning there was practically nobody on the train.

We grabbed our seats, initially sitting in seats that faced backwards, but before the train departed we found another car with seats facing towards the front.

After a blast of the horn the train left the station.

The best that I can describe the trip would be a very low tech, noisy, dirtier version of the Washington Metro. The train stopped at many stations heading towards Colombo and it became more and more filled up.

Vendors walked throughout the passenger cars selling different snacks which was a nice treat.

It was interesting to see the flora of the countryside, but sad to see all of the tsunami damage and the slums.

A little over two hours later we were passing our apartment building on the left hand side, we could see our cats waving hello (Just checking to see if your still reading, LOL).

The train arrived at Colombo Fort station. I had lost my ticket stub somehow and they checked for them as you left the station, Chris explained the situation and there wasn't any problem.

As we exited the station there was a small army of trishaw drivers vying for our business. We negotiated a price with one of them, don't give us the tourist price we live here!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Recent comments - Accidentally Rejected

I have done it twice this week. Whats that? Accidentally rejected friendly comments sent to my blog!

I almost mechanically press the "Reject" link when I get a comment sent to my blog as I usually only get spam.

Well I rejected a comment yesterday, and kicked myself, then a minute ago, did it again!

My apologies to the nice folks who have sent me comments that I have rejected. Nothing wrong with your comments, something wrong with my knee jerk reaction to them : )