24 February 2017

a treehouse, a rock fortress, a cave temple,
and saying goodbye to sensational sri lanka

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we went to sri lanka because we were going to the maldives – it really started out as a bonus tack-on (since we were going so far around the world anyway…) – but by the time we left that incredible island nation, it was so so so much more. we experienced such a huge dose of unique and striking beauty in the landscape, people, history and culture of sri lanka. it is a jewel of wonder in the indian ocean, and even though we only saw a tiny bit of the awesomeness, i’m so very glad we went!

on our last night in sri lanka, we slept in a treehouse in the middle of the jungle. on our last day in sri lanka, we climbed to the top of an ancient rock fortress, visited an amazing buddhist temple built into a cave, and drove through beautiful and fascinating nature and towns on the way to the airport. here’s some photos … and at the bottom of this post i’ve included some details about how we planned this trip and got around, for those who asked and/or are interested!

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sigiriya rock is both a god-made and man-made wonder. it juts up out out of the jungle and a palace was somehow built on top about 1500 years ago. climbing the rock and exploring the ruins was thrilling.
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^^ i thought this sign was pretty entertaining. watch out for monkeys, wasps, elephants, and crocodiles … oh, and handcuffs! and no high-fives? definitely no singing through a megaphone.^^
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^^ at the base of the rock, there’s remnants of ancient gardens. sigiriya is one of the best preserved examples of ancient urban planning. ^^
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^^ we didn’t realize how gnarly the climb to the top would be. ian is really afraid of heights, and normally they don’t bother me at all. but this was pretty scary at times! rickety metal stairs just bolted into the side of the rock and hanging over the cliff – it was kind of wild! that tan wall is called the “mirror wall” and was polished so finely in ancient times that it was reflective! there are also some incredibly well preserved frescoes at the top of that spiral staircase. ^^
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^^ the view over the jungle, half way up. ^^
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^^ sigiriya means “lion rock” and this last pathway to the tippy top used to have a huge lion’s bust entrance. today, only the two lion paws remain. ^^
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^^ almost to the top! ^^
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^^ this sweet man noticed ian was going really slow (fear of heights are exacerbated when you’re wearing your infant son on your chest!) and held his hand all the way to the top (and then asked for money :) ) // we were excited to finally be on top! ^^
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^^ can you make out those magical mountains in the distance? the views from the top were aaaaamazing, and difficult to capture with a camera. ^^
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^^ this kid! he was such a trooper, not only through this gnarly hike, but through all the plane and car rides and hotel rooms and adventures of our trip. he was almost always smiling, and making others smile. what a good little traveler! we love him so much. ^^
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^^ one last view from the top, and then popsicles back down at the bottom! ^^
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^^ on the way to the airport, we stopped at dambulla cave temple, which was seriously cool. this is the modern golden temple built at the bottom of the hill. from here, we climbed stairs to the caves. ^^
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^^ we went inside several different cave rooms filled with buddha statues and brilliantly painted, every inch. ^^
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^^ reclining buddhas are my favourite. check out the bottom of this one’s feet! gorgeous. ^^
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we grabbed some yummy curry lunch at a roadside restaurant before beelining to the airport to catch our flight to the maldives. our wonderful driver koshala got in some last play time with moses (he was so cute with him our entire trip – they became great buddies)…
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…and moses made some final sri lankan friends. seeing moses interact with so many kind people in sri lanka convinced me that traveling with a baby is the best! having little mo along was an icebreaker that allowed us to meet really awesome people and share in some true joy across any language or cultural barrier. we loved how people delighted in seeing our little boy, and it was particularly refreshing to see so many men dote on him and want to hold him and make him smile.
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at this last restaurant, two of the teenage boy workers held moses the entire time we at our lunch. they made him giggle honestly harder than i’ve ever heard him laugh. they were taking selfies with him and videos of him and seriously having such a great time. it was so dang heartwarming and wonderful – a great reminder that we are all part of the same human family.
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i tried to capture some of the intense beauty whipping by us as we drove to the airport, but failed pretty miserably…
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since the camera wasn’t cutting it, i decided to write down a list of things i saw on our drives around sri lanka, so i could always remember them. along the side of the road, we saw…
school girls in all white with braids down their backs / colourful houses buried in the jungle / fruit stands with thatched roofs and looooads of mangos and orange coconuts / fires and piles of corn cobs to roast / palm forests as far as the eye can see / junctions teeming with humanity / motorbikes (sometimes piled 3-4 humans deep) and tuktuks / inflatable things (pools, floaty toys, etc) blown up and hanging for sale / little shops with hanging bags of chips and sweets and huge bunches of bananas / women walking with colourful saris and umbrellas for shade / green so green it hurts your eyes, both in flat rice paddies and hilly tea plantations / crowds at school sports events / bright pink bougainvillea pouring over buildings or trees / huge statues of buddha and big stupas and temples surrounded in palms

indeed, sri lanka is such a crazy cool jewel of a place. there is so much to see and do there, so it was tricky for us to decide which parts of the country we would explore. since we were going to get lots of beach time in the maldives, we opted to skip the sri lankan beaches (although i hear they are amazing!) and focus on culture/history/wildlife. if i went to sri lanka again, i would hike adam’s peak for sunrise (a fascinating pilgrimage trek), spend more time in the tea plantations (ella is just past nuwara eliya where we went, and it looks incredibly beautiful), and try to see leopards in yala national park. oh, and i would take a train through the hill country! hopefully there will be a next time!

hiring a driver in sri lanka was hugely helpful – both for our time actually in country and for planning our trip. we contacted the company genuine sri lankans and they helped us craft an itinerary for our four days. i emailed back and forth with a member of their staff about lots of different options and she promptly answered any and all of my questions. our driver koshala was always on time, spoke fantastic english, and was amazingly perceptive in gathering our preferences and then providing just the right amount of information and just the right recommendations. as i mentioned before, we became good friends with him and he was wonderful to have around. it was sooo nice to not have to worry about driving or directions, to have someone to bring us to good restaurants and answer our questions and make sure we got to places at the right times of day.

we were definitely sad to leave sri lanka, but soooooo excited to go to the maldives.
to be continued…!

22 February 2017

surrounded by elephants!

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the short jeep safari we took in minneriya national park was probably the highlight of our time in sri lanka. (i say probably because we took in so much beauty and wonder on that magical island – it’s hard to pick a favourite!) we saw nearly one hundred elephants during the two twilight hours we were in the park - brand new babies (our driver guessed that one of them was less than a month old!), really gigantic males, and every size in between (we even saw a pregnant elephant!). 

and at one point our jeep was completely surrounded – all the way around, three hundred and sixty degrees - by those marvelous creatures, some no more than ten feet away from us. while we quietly watched them eat, play and move, all the other jeeps gradually left until we were the only humans around (just the three of us, our driver koshala, and our jeep driver), encompassed by elephants on every side. it was a really, really awesome experience – as in actually generating genuine and rich awe – a spiritual and beautiful slice of time that i will never forget.

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^^ the jeep ride deep into the national park was very, very bumpy, but moses just kept smiling. what a champ! ^^IMG_8990IMG_8993IMG_8979 IMG_8984IMG_8999IMG_9006IMG_9021IMG_9031IMG_9040IMG_9048
^^ little mo had a little snooze while we were hanging with all those elephants. ^^
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several times, a huuuuge elephant would start approaching our jeep. our driver would say “down, down!” and we’d sit and the elephant would retreat. it was pretty exhilarating…
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^^ can you spot the pregnant elephant? ^^
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^^ after moses woke up, he was mesmerized by the elephants all around. ^^IMG_9114
^^ this is not a great photo, but it gives a little perspective on how close we were to the elephants. they got close enough that we could almost reach out and touch them. ^^
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those couple of golden hours were just so cool!!
after we got back to our car, koshala drove us to sigiriya, where we were spending the night (in a treehouse!). on the way, we stopped for what koshala called “sri lankan fast food” at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant off the side of the road. i don’t remember what this stuff is called (it’s chicken, vegetables and bread seasoned and chopped up small), but it was suuuuper delicious, and we were definitely the only non sri lankans there.

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^^ we became great friends with koshala during our time in sri lanka. he’s such a good guy and was our perfect guide. i love this live photo of him eating with his hands, multitasking on his phone, and shooting us a smile :) ^^

surrounded by elephants! such an awesome and memoriable experience.
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