In Colombo, Sri Lanka today. Our excursion was a walking tour of old Colombo. First stop was the Pettah market. Our guide had prepared us for what we were likely to encounter and by now we know the routine (unusual smells, crowds, not-so-sanitary conditions). A new wrinkle however was his instruction for us to be on the lookout for small guys towing impossibly large loads who would come barreling down the aisles shouting "Side, side" which would be our cue to step out of the way -- quickly -- or else! So, with this in mind we entered the market. To be honest it wasn't as traumatic as the market we visited in Cambodia however the smell of dried fish in the hot, moist air was none too appealing.
Speaking of hot, moist air, can we talk? Oh my goodness was it ever hot and humid. The thermometer said 88 degrees but with the humidity it felt like 96. And our tour guide said that it wasn't nearly as bad as last week when it was "really hot". I had thought that my all cotton T-shirt was a wise apparel choice but quickly discovered how wrong I was when the shirt instantly became saturated and stuck to me for the rest of the day mercilessly. I am not sure any choice of clothing would have worked. The locals of course were not sweating but clearly they have a warped sense of acceptable temperatures.
After the market we took a long walk down Main Street to the old fort area (the fort no longer exists). We passed a mosque as well as a Hindu temple plus numerous statues of Buddah so clearly we are talking about a multi-cultural city here. Second stop was the Grand Oriental Hotel which our guide described as the Titanic of local hotels. Apparently at one time it was the place to stay. That was a long time ago. The place now while perhaps deserving a kinder moniker than the Titanic is nevertheless more than a little bit tatty and run-down. Still it had air conditioning and water (and cookies!) so who cares?
After an inexplicably prolonged break we continued with the rest of the tour. This second half took us past some terrific buildings mostly in disrepair but a few were fixed up and re-purposed. Probably the most impressive renovation was the Dutch Hospital which contained a number of fancy restaurants and shops and where we had some free time to explore.
Back at the ship I changed clothes (all my clothes if you know what I mean) before lunch. The afternoon was spent in part packing for our excursion to India which begins tomorrow morning. I've packed as much light clothing as I could find as the temps there seem to be pretty high -- but "it's a dry heat" or so they tell me. We shall see. Needless to say we are both very excited.
In my haste to tell you about today I neglected to mention yesterday when we docked in Hamanbota, Sri Lanka. Not too much going on in Hamanbota. Seems that it is most "famous" for having lost 30,000 people in the 2004 tsunami. Saw no evidence of that devastation unless of course you count the new port (apparently built with Chinese money) and all the new buildings.
We had an excursion here to Yala National Park. The bus ride to the park was over an hour so we had a chance to see the landscape which is dry and scrubby. It wouldn't take a genius to figure out they are approaching the end of their dry season. I imagine the scenery would be very much different during the wet season when all the rice fields would be up and running. What we saw was a lot of dirt and fields of brown grass that were mostly being burned off in preparation for the upcoming season while in a few places they were also harvesting late season rice.
The houses I saw seemed "better" than what we saw in Cambodia which surprised me a bit as I think of Sri Lanka as being a very poor country. Having visited the countryside I would probably leave the "very" out. It seemed more peaceful than poor to me but I might just have been in a charitable mood (rare but it happens).
Before we entered the park we transferred from our air conditioned "Super Luxury Tourist Bus" to open-air 4 X 4's which consisted of pick-up trucks outfitted in their beds with six car seats (3 rows of 2) and a windshield plus a canvas roof. Interesting. After waiting at the park entrance for several unexplained minutes it was a free-for-all to get in once the gate attendees allowed it. Our driver was good -- young but good. The roads were quite dusty and rutted so it was definitely an experience. I would not go so far as to call it a safari as these vehicles proudly proclaimed in the adverts on their exteriors but "off-road" is probably pretty close to the truth.
We were visiting the park in the middle of the day and it was quite hot so I had relatively low expectations regarding potential wildlife sightings. I was however pleasantly surprised as we saw numerous birds (including a pair that were literally within arm's reach of us and two others that were "lifers" for me) plus a mongoose, monkey, water buffalo (lots), deer (also a considerable number) and a couple of other things that I am blanking out on right now. It was a respectable haul I thought but the others in our car were disappointed that we didn't see an elephant nor did we see a leopard (really? a leopard?)
This brings up an interesting point. So much of travel is in your attitude. If your attitude sucks, I hate to tell you but nothing (and I do mean nothing) is going to impress, please or excite you. And, conversely, if you have a good, positive attitude absolutely anyplace can be interesting and enjoyable. And I do mean anyplace though I have certainly found a few places/situations that were definitely a challenge to think positively about at the time. Of course those times can make for the best stories later when you get home so really no experience is wasted when you travel. But this group of Connie Complainers couldn't see the bright side of anything and when they heard over lunch that other groups had seen an elephant (one) and a leopard (unconfirmed by photographic evidence) well they were even more disappointed. R and I tried to stay positive but it was hard especially when someone sat down at our table at lunch and quickly complained about the foul smell of the food and wondered aloud why she was even there to which Russell replied "I think we are here for lunch". Ah, sarcasm -- you got to love it.
I understand that these around-the-world cruises have definite highs and lows in terms of the group's attitude. Right now it would seem we are in a bit of a low period as I have heard lots of complaints about how the trip is too long and the ports too obscure. While I certainly appreciate the complaints regarding some of the ports of call a few of which would not be on anyone's bucket list I remain a firm subscriber to the aforementioned "any place can be interesting with the right attitude and a little knowledge" theory. I also have not found this trip to be too long either. I've been enjoying the days at sea and while I have on rare occasions thought to myself "More of the same?" the blame for this feeling is most properly assigned to me and my over-fondness for routine. If I would just mix things up a little bit and go to a lecture or to the pool I likely wouldn't feel that way. It's all about taking responsibility people. There is always more than one way to view a situation, why choose the worst one? And with that Polly Anna-ish thought I will leave you. No charge. And you don't even need to write me a "thank you" note either. Really. I mean it. Not that you were going to. I mean I know you people. A "thank you" note was the furthest thing from your mind. But hey I just thought I would let you know. A "thank you" note I do not from you expect. Really.