(Day eleven + nothing, eleven is long enough for one post)
It’s 8am and I’m sitting in a local cafe. It’s perfect, I can see the street through the window and watch people while I try and think of the right word, which means I look out the window quite a bit. The coffee here is the real deal and I need it. After turning out the light at 1am and getting up to my alarm at 5am this mug of caffeinated goodness is going to help me recall days past and with any luck with some semblance of order. There are a table of Chinese in the next booth, their bus has just pulled to the curb outside to pick them up. As they rush to get onto the bus one man slams his head hard as he misjudges the height of the doorway, there is an immediate look of concern and surprise on the other passengers' faces before the whole bus load erupt in laughter. I laugh too and I’ve completely forgotten what I was writing about.
Content. That’s how I feel about travelling alone.
I met the group next door for breakfast. With so much to choose from each morning it’s little wonder I eat a day’s worth of food in one sitting. I mean really, what’s wrong with entree, main and dessert for breakfast when it’s this good!
Later, the porter from my hotel walked with me hauling my pack along behind him to the bus. He’d have fit in it I think. I was moving house after lunch so my pack would travel with us for the morning until afternoon when I could check-in.
And so to the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic! This golden-roofed Temple houses Sri Lanka’s most important Buddhist relic – a tooth of the Buddha. During puja (offerings or prayers), the heavily guarded room housing the tooth is open to devotees and tourists. However, you don’t actually see the tooth. It’s kept in a gold casket shaped like a stupa (weighing a whopping 3500 kilograms and made from 320 kilograms of gold, of which 234 kilograms were donated by devotees), which contains a series of six dagoba caskets of diminishing size.
The temple, one of the most sacred for Buddhists the world over was attacked by terrorists using a truck bomb on the 25th January in 1998 killing 8 people and injuring 15, but to be there on this morning was to be among thousands of chilled white-clad pilgrims, bearing lotus blossoms and frangipanis and, apparently it’s like this every day.
Despite the number of people there is a palpable sense of calm and this calm remained even as we squeezed and inched our way up the staircase to an inner shrine. It reminded me of a visit to the Vatican - body to body, sweltering heat, can’t see a thing (although you could at the Vatican since the big deal was on the ceiling) and hanging on to the backpack of whomever you knew in front of you so you could worm your way as one across the room and out the other door. At least we were all barefoot, this put us all on more of even keel if we trod on someone by mistake.
Next, the bustling Kandy Fruit Market. After emerging red faced from the underpass having held my breath for the most part (it smelt like a mix of seafood gone bad and rotten fruit) the fresh 37 degree air was a relief. But - the short exposure to stench was worth it to try; wood apple (looks terrible but is amazing), wild olives (sour AF), red banana (best), mangos (better than home), pink apple (crisp and crunchy if you get a good one, floury if you don’t), watermelon (is watermelon) and jackfruit (I had textural issues but it tasted great). The sellers cut these up for us to try - watching that was half the fun.
The group stayed in town to wander and tuk tuk back to the hotel. I had seen enough and wanted to write so I had a cup of tea with the guide while we waited for the bus to collect us. Back at the hotel I ate lunch in an open air restaurant overlooking the hillside and made some calls - I was working on a side project that required a bit of coordination but more on that as the days go on.
I checked into the hotel where my group had stayed at the previous night - my room was huge. I climbed up on the entertainment unit to take a photo - it was the only way I could fit the width of the room in. While I was up there I heard a loud rumbling noise. I thought the whole thing was about to come crashing down but it turned out it housed a small, rather unhappy refrigerator. I unplugged it so I could charge my phone. In Sri Lanka the hotels have two types of powerpoints generally - the ones with the three round pins and the three rectangular pins. I had both but I had my camera battery charging in the other one. Sometimes powerpoints are hard to come by which explains why I'd missed the wake up call in a previous hotel. I'd unplugged the phone.
We were going to visit a local family for dinner and on the way stop at a local wooden artefacts shop for those that wanted authentic souvenirs. It certainly wasn’t your typical souvenir shop. It was sprawling and over two levels. Buddha was well represented, as was the elephant and while you could have either in every size imaginable in around eight different timber varieties, I have to say the craftsmanship was admirable. We did learn a lot about this and the paint colours derived from natural sources on our way in.
I walked away with a handful of postcards, a small elephant and a serving platter embedded with real cinnamon pieces which smells as good as it looks. Then I found that this shop co-joined with a silk shop so I also have a new cashmere scarf.
By this stage it felt like midnight but it was only 6pm. We weren’t far off leaving but the New Zealand couple on the tour decided to purchase their very own Buddha, and not one the size of the elephant I had bought. They got a Buddha the size of a small REAL elephant. I watched them from the second floor as the deal was done at a round table with our guide and the shop owner. It was a rather striking piece so I don’t blame them, though back on the bus en route to dinner they both looked rather lost in thought, as it turns out they were busy trying to figure out exactly where in their home they might be able to put it!
Dinner was at Kolitha’s family home. We helped made a number of traditional desserts; Kokis, a classic Sri Lankan festive sweet, more savoury than sweet which was a good thing, they’re great fresh, chewy if they’re not and Konda Keum (oil cake, also good fresh but chewy later).
Complicated is the best way to describe my relationship with Sri Lankan desserts, made more complicated by these two; Peni Walalu, a treacle filled spiral tube and Wattalapam, a thicker, richer version of creme caramel using coconut milk and jaggery, the solidified sap of the Kitul Palm Flower. This dessert was introduced to Sri Lanka by Malay slaves. I’ve tried it three times to be sure since this first night and I can say I can appreciate it enough to swallow it as long as it is accompanied by something else because otherwise, well, otherwise I’m just being polite.
Polite is also why I’m rather heavy at the moment, that and a complete lack of self control around endless portions of good food. These desserts were also accompanied by Mung Kawum which is traditionally prepared for special occasions like New Year celebrations (we were now at the tail end of their New Year celebrations - that seem to go for at least a week or more). The name comes from the main ingredient – the mung bean, I’m not totally sold on this one either. The best dessert for me on this night was the toasted sesame, treacle and coconut balls. I could have eaten twelve. But here’s the kicker, *dessert was served first.
*picture B, 625ml of Lion Larger in, the above selection of desserts, being polite about those plus seconds of the sesame balls and understand this; recalling the eight dishes that appeared on the table for main course is not possible. Not without sourcing the photo and my camera has since overheated and fried rather critical components but that’s another story.
Can we do toilet jokes? We're eating a LOT of curry, but no one has been so game as to disappear off to the loo in a host's home. Not until, well let's call him Kevin. Kevin asked where the bathroom was and was gone so long I'd forgotten he'd left. When he returned we all turned to see who had arrived. I couldn't help myself. "Welcome back Kevin, we've missed you!" It's okay though, Kevin was a tour favourite of mine, he gave as good as he got.
The group rolled home at 9pm with a new saying, “no banana.” Sri Lankans like to eat their desserts with a banana, a bite of dessert a bite of banana and fair enough, they’re really good here. They’re more like the lady finger ones we get at home, not the standard issue ones that are either not ripe or over ripe. Point is, when the bananas appear at the end of a meal - there is NEVER room. “No banana.” It's our adopted term for being full.
Tip: When you say you will meet the group for a beer but then decide to go elsewhere first check the elevator has a back in it. This hotel elevator had a glass back so as I was riding from level four to ground they all waved at me from the outdoor bar on level one. I met them an hour later.