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Supporters Diaries

We welcome anyone's pictures and memories of their visit to Sri Lanka. Please email us with them with a short descriptive and we will feature them here. Unsuitable material will not be published.

Nicki & Jonathan -July and August 2009

Steve's return trip -March and April 2007

Dave and Deb Mar 2006 - Some pictures from Bentota and surrounding area.

Rowans trip Jan 2006 - a extensive diary account of  4 weeks in Sri Lanka as a volunteer at the Millennium Elephant Foundation.

 


Our third trip to ‘The Jewel in the Indian Ocean’  26th July – 6th August 2009

By Nicki Farthing – Founder and Trustee of Support Sri Lanka Foundation

The Week before the trip

I wish I was able to travel light!  I look with envy at the departure queues at people carrying just a rucksack!  I justify my failure at being able to do so by telling myself that they are not taking over aid!  I am of course right.  The first time Jonathan and I travelled to Sri Lanka was just five months after the terrible Boxing Day Tsunami in May 2005 between us we had 11 items of luggage which equated to £800 in excess baggage!!  That is another story but to cut out the middle bit we were eventually able to take the whole lot at no charge thanks to the generosity of the Manager at Sri Lankan Airlines but I think in the end he was so sick of my tears of frustration and pleas of “it is aid for your needy people” that he eventually let us go but ‘in exceptional circumstances’!

Anyway I have again put items aside and been shopping to take things over for our ever increasing ‘family’!  Poor Jonathan was warned that I would double check his suitcase in case he has packed one too many a T shirt!  After all I had aid for his suitcase too!

The departure desk at terminal 4 – Heathrow Airport - 26th July 2009

The most awkward thing about this terminal is that the hotels airport hopper service does not take you to terminal 4 so we have to pay £15 for a taxi to travel approx 3 to 4 mile!  We travelled up last night to cut down the stress!  We stay at the Sheraton Heathrow for one night and pay them to look after our car for the fifteen nights we will be in Sri Lanka.  It’s worth remembering this because it is very good value for money.  £118 for one night luxury room and secure parking for two weeks.

Our suitcases for the first time ever are not overweight yet I was still worried that the 5kg of lollypops and sweets in my hand luggage might be seen as a weapon (all those sticks on the lollies!)  They hurriedly got pushed into one of our two suitcases when I discovered we were underweight!

You can’t fault Sri Lankan Airlines, they are very helpful and the food is not bad considering it is airline food!  We take off on time and settle in for a 10 1/2 hour flight and arrive at Bandaranaike International Airport, some 30 Kilometres north of Colombo the capital of  Sri Lanka at 2 am

The Lighthouse Hotel, Galle 27th – 31st July

Our drive down from the airport took 4 hours and although it was still dark at 5 am the coastal villages were waking up and getting ready for their day’s work.  This is our third trip to Sri Lanka and our third visit to this hotel.  It stands on top of a rock formation which protected a lot of the hotel from the tsunami water although the reception and grounds were damaged.  This hotel has a lot of concrete which I suppose was meant to make it look modern but it is beginning to look a bit tired in places.  Having said that you cannot fault the service you receive here it is excellent.  We were warmly met at the reception by a young man who four years previously had helped us pack over a hundred food parcels which we handed out to refugees.

We had a lot of charity work to do in Matara and the Lighthouse Hotel was a good base particularly for us who have to have our mod cons around us. As our trips are self funded by Jonathan & I the time spent in Sri Lanka is taken as holiday so we need to be comfortable.  If you can settle for a lesser grade there are other hotels around which would be cheaper per night.  Always ask to have a look at a room before committing yourself to a stay in any hotel in Sri Lanka.  You will be surprised at the different standards.  Their three/four star hotels are not to the standards we expect over here in the UK but the Lighthouse is very nice and at breakfast appeared much busier than in previous years.  We usually stay in May but are here a little later in the year because I want to visit the Perahara which is on for 10 days in Kandy at the moment.  It is still monsoon season which makes the sea very rough, and whilst it is apparently a little cooler we do not notice the effect  – it’s still too hot!!! (late 80’s early 90’s)

Gamini our driver, guide and good friend

One thing about Sri Lanka is that you will leave at the end of your stay making a whole lot of new friends, whether they are other tourists or Sri Lankan it is guaranteed.  Gamini has become a good friend of ours and for around £35 a day* (that’s not each but for the day no matter how many people there are) he will take you in an air conditioned multi people carrier to where ever you want to go.  He can organise trips all over the country and he will look after you very well.  Check out his details in our page Visit Sri Lanka.  * depending on cost of fuel and size of vehicle.  Make sure to take him your old working mobile phone and charger, he will be so grateful.  They are called ‘handies’ over there.

Gamini is a survivor of the tsunami.  The huge wave stripped him of his clothes as he hung onto a telephone post and managed to climb onto the top of the shopping arcade in Hikkaduwa.  He was a tour guide before then and since has struggled to find work as the tourists “stopped coming”.  We help him whenever we can.  It was good to see him sitting in the hotel lounge in his instantly recognisable pure white shirt.  He looked well although appeared to have lost a little weight which is more than I can say for myself.  God seeing myself in these photos I share with you has really shocked me so I apologise in advance for my chubbiness!

Urubokka Primary School

Our first visit was with Manel our good friend and Director/Founder of Wecare Sri Lanka to one of the schools we have provided outdoor playground equipment for in the Matara District.  We were delighted to have met up with Manel beforehand; we have been in constant touch by emails and phone but hadn’t seen each other since our last visit in 2006.  She is such a kind and compassionate lady and we share her thoughts and feelings which is why we work with her and trust her completely.  It was a long drive to Urubokka Primary School and on the way we couldn’t help notice that so many of the beach side homes/shops have been patched up/repaired and people were living/working in them again.  It was incredible.  These people have had the strength to overcome their fear of the sea and to ignore the instructions of the government which was to not rebuild these properties and were going about their everyday things – it was touching to see.

What was also touching and totally unexpected was to turn the corner approaching the school to see a sea of white uniforms and the distinct colours of the Sri Lankan flag being waved either side of the school driveway!  Over 400 pupils were waiting in the morning heat to welcome us to their school.  We were (Jonathan and I) overwhelmed at this sight and I had to compose myself before getting out of the vehicle.  The rhythmical sound of the Sri Lankan drum sounded as a little 6 year old girl in traditional costume danced in front of us as we walked in-between the two lines of cheering schoolchildren was breath taking – all for us.  This was to show their appreciation for the school playground equipment we had provided with Manel overseeing the project.  We toured the playground as the excited kids played on the equipment.  Around the play area were wonderful murals painted in her own time by one of the teachers.  I am sure you can agree they are wonderful and add such colour to what would be a dreary area.  We spent a good hour talking with the teachers, playing and singing with the kids who took great delight in crowding around us like they hadn’t seen westerners before!  The digital camera was the reason as they screamed and giggled with delight when I kept showing themselves on the screen!  What a delightful experience – such adorable children.  We have to thank all involved with this visit – Rasika, Chamali, Priyangani and The Principal Mrs Malini.

What you couldn’t miss in the back ground (and also smell) was the sight of the toilet block with no roof.  The teachers asked if we could help provide a new toilet block as the present one is not finished and the little children aged 5 – 7 have to run several hundred yards up to the middle school to use theirs which are more suitable and it is often too late and their little bladders have given up hanging on!  Sitting in the Head teacher’s office we were offered delightful ginger tea and nibbles and again were asked about whether we could help with the toilets.  We did have a look at the toilet block which was so basic – no roof, no doors, no running water, no porcelain and even no hole!!  Just a small channel that ran into an open cesspit!  The government will do no more as they expect the kids to use the other facilities in the next door secondary school.  They need approximately £2000 to do a proper job.  It does sound a lot of money but sadly building materials have increased immensely over there and it is a big job as a new deeper cesspit needs to also be dug.  If you are interested in helping please contact me. If you are a builder and fancy a working holiday and will make such a difference to these children please do get in touch.  We can provide you with all the help you would need.  For other pictures of Urobboka School please visit our projects page.  The Principal Mrs Malini then took us to her home for a delightful meal, such a lot of trouble was taken on our behalf we were very touched.

An amazing sight of white uniforms and Sri Lankan flags greet us outside the school

Chamali with art teacher who painted the murals with some of the children

 

Jonathan with his Cheshire cat smile and just some of the adorable children.  You too can make a difference to children just like these if you can donate to us today – please think about it.

The toilet block in dire need of upgrading – can you help us do this?

When we left the school we made a brief stop at a tea factory which grows tea in the lowlands.  Lions Tea Factory has manufactured quality tea for over 100 years.  Although it does not sell to the general public the Managing Director Mr. Gunasekara was kind enough to show us around his immaculate factory.  The smell of tea was superb and it is very interesting seeing the painstaking work which goes into our much moved daily cuppa.  After the tour we sat down in his grand meeting room and were served a cup of tea poured into a bone china cup poured from a bone chine tea pot – pure heaven!  Have I got your taste buds going?  I’ll forgive you if you want to stop and make a cuppa – make sure it’s Ceylon tea mind you!

Managing Director Mr. Gunasekara with Manel enjoying a Ceylon Cuppa

 

Polhena Nursery School

 The next day we meet Manel again and visit Polhena Nursery School. We (Support Sri Lanka Foundation) provided all the inside and outside equipment here, also items from one of our containers came here.  The newly rebuilt school building which was damaged by the tsunami was funded by the Dubai Round Table, Hawker Pacific, Dubai St.Georges Society and The Image Works. The person instrumental in obtaining the funds was Alan Rooke from Dubai 41 Club.  Here a small amount of tsunami affected children aged 4 or 5 come daily for 4 hours before they are old enough to go to infant school.  They all say a prayer at the start of the morning and then settle down to playing with toys we had supplied and then a little sing song.  Child size tables and chairs and an array of children’s drawings and paintings were hung on the walls.  They enjoyed the balloons I took and some of the 5 kg of sweets and lollies!  These children then went to play outside on the play equipment we had also provided.  Again this project was facilitated by Manel.  See Our Projects page for more photos.

Children praying before they start playing

 

How sweet is that?

 

All the equipment has been provided by us.  The little child to the left has just joined the nursery which is why she is not in uniform

Paramulla Family Clinic/Medical Centre

We then drove onto the Family Clinic/Medical Centre close by which has only been opened for six months.  Again this building was provided by the Dubai Round Table (Alan Rooke), Hawker Pacific, Dubai St.Georges Society and The Image Works and we (Support Sri Lanka Foundation) have provided all the equipment which ranges from waiting room chairs to office tables and desks, fans, examination table, lamp, scales, overhead projector and screen and computer.  The list goes on but I think you get the idea!  This centre services eight remote villages and it was clear to see it was needed and well used.  When we arrived it was heaving with pregnant ladies receiving a laptop presentation on looking after a baby and in the next room over 50 year old ladies in a healthy women session receiving health care advice and blood tests.  We were very impressed with this project and have to thank Manel for all her hard work in managing this project.

Nicki and Jonathan presenting six gift packs.  212 packs were given to expectant mothers by us.  Each pack contained a mosquito net, shampoo, soap, baby lotion and a hair brush. 206 ladies received theirs at the opening. 

 

blood being taken from a patient

Hikkaduwa Beach Fest 2009 ( www.hikkafest.com )

In an attempt to lure tourists back to Hikkaduwa area the Sri Lankan Tourist board have organised the Hikkaduwa Beach Festival.  A huge stage built on the beach with an array of food and craft stands stretched along the sea front.  The first night was the Drum Festival and as I like drums of any sort we decided to go.  Hikkaduwa is about a 15 drive from Galle so we arranged for Gamini to pick us up.  It had been a very wet day and as a result the organisers were running an hour late but when all the sound checks had finished the show began.  It had lined up percussion bands from around the world including Hikadduwa’s own percussion group named ‘Elephant Foot’.  We were so looking forward to a great night’s entertainment but 10 minutes into the start of the show the heavens opened again!!  The stage was under cover but our seats were not so as the rain through it down everyone ran for cover and those not lucky enough to find cover stood on the beach with their plastic chairs over their heads for some protection!!  We got soaked but with it being so warm we didn’t get cold.  Sadly we had to leave before it really got going as we had an early start the following morning – little did we know our night was to become a bit of a nightmare (for Gamini in particular!)  It appeared to be a well organised event and the following three nights were packed with music of all sorts.  Check out the website and also U-tube for clips of the event.  It is planned to hold the event again next year.  It’s a little pricey, in fact the local people couldn’t afford to go which I felt unhappy about, it was £33 for the four days, and we paid £12 each for the one night.  While we were in Hikkaduwa we had a look at a new hotel The Amaya Reef. A good 4/5 star hotel with very nice rooms and surroundings – well recommended. www.amayaresorts.com/srilanka/reef/amayareef.htm

We had arranged to meet Gamini outside the Imperial Hotel and for the first time ever we were to be driven home in his Tuk Tuk!  He figured we would enjoy a Tuk Tuk ride as it was late and therefore not much traffic but he hadn’t accounted for a thunder storm and subsequent engine failure and then to make matters even worse a power cut leaving us in the middle of nowhere in the pitch dark!!  Just our luck!  Up until the engine failure we were to our surprise enjoying our Tuk Tuk ride, they look far more uncomfortable than they actually are.  Poor Gamini had to walk back towards Hikkaduwa to find help and in the mean time a young man appeared from nowhere who kindly stood in the pouring rain to watch over us!  How kind was that – you wouldn’t find such kindness in the UK I’m sure.  After about 15 minutes we heard the sound of a Tuk Tuk approaching us and there was a familiar sight if Gamini.  After safely dropping us off at our Hotel he had to return to his abandoned Tuk Tuk (now about 1.15 am) push it to safety and then get himself home.  Poor guy, he only had 3 hours sleep because he had to pick us up at 6.00 am for tomorrows meeting in Tangalle.

Deepankara Model Primary School in Tangalle

Mr Piyathissa from Wanasarana Thurulatha Swechcha Society (WTSS) (don't ask me to pronounce that!) met us at the Blue Horizon Hotel and Restaurant in Tangalle at 8.00 am for breakfast.  The idyllic restaurant sat right on a glorious sandy beach and we enjoyed the usual fabulous cup of Ceylon tea and a very tasty breakfast.  If you haven’t tried it please do.  Ceylon tea doesn’t cost much more than your bog standard tea yet tastes far superior.  If you change to drinking Ceylon Tea you will be helping Sri Lanka’s tea export market. (email bluehorizonhotel@live.com for more hotel info, prices etc)

A short drive and we were at Deepankara Primary School in Tangalle.  We have been approached by this society and Mr. Piyathissa who have done several Tsunami Rehabilitation projects and have recently planted young saplings along the Madilla beach which had been damaged by the tsunami.  He wants us to help fund the school children in this school.  Several children had been identified as suffering from post tsunami stress which was affecting their behaviour and education.  He wants to be able to provide special teachers to help these kids and also improve the facilities for them.  These children are from poor fishing families, the fishermen barely making enough to live on.  We are currently working on this project to make a difference.  We will be providing books, school equipment, uniforms, and healthy eating programs to ensure these children get the diet they need to continue to grow healthily.  We were very impressed with the teachers who seem very dedicated.  We were welcomed at the school with children offering us lotus flowers and leaves.  We were then entertained to over an hours worth of  singing and dancing from the pupils who have worked hard to put on this wonderful performance for us.  The children range from 5 – 10 years old and we were amazed how confident these children were standing up of the stage holding onto a microphone totally not phased.  It was lovely to watch and very touching.  Watch Our Projects page for updates about this.

Children eagerly await a sweet – look at their faces!

some of the children performing for us

 

Driving back from here we stopped off at The Blue Horizon Guest House and Restaurant for refreshments and then visited the Neptune Resort in Weligama.  The Neptune looked superb with it’s freshly painted white and blue buildings set in beautiful manicured gardens right on the beach front.  For £30 a night you can have a very nice stay here – we would recommend it.  It is very clean and the staff very friendly.  www.neptune-resort.com

Beautifully manicured gardens and immaculately clean accommodation at The Neptune

 

Interior of one of the Neptunes lovely rooms

I must just mention another very nice hotel we stopped at for lunch which is The Paradise Beach Club, Mirrisa which is near to Matara.  Set on a beautiful stretch of beach this very nice newly built hotel can offer you comfort and great food.  In fact we ate there twice as we enjoyed it so much.  The restaurant is right on the beach offering very reasonably priced food.  Stay here for about £40* per night per room on a dinner, bed and breakfast basis.  Very good value.  Contact Ananda the Proprietor on 041 2251206 or email mirissa@sltnet.lk  * monsoon season price, increases slightly in high season

The beach at Paradise Beach Club Mirrissa

 

Having a fabulous meal at the Paradise Beach Club

 

Colombo – Galle Face Hotel

We say goodbye to the Lighthouse and move up to Colombo to visit friends and do some shopping!  You have to visit Colombo at least once.  On route to Colombo we travel along the coastal road and when we approached Colombo we drive along the side of the railway line and timber merchants who are right by the beach front.  All these businesses and premises were destroyed by the tsunami but they have restarted again and business appears to be good.  It is along this area you can still see the damaged homes which have not been rebuilt.

View from rooms at front of Galle Face Hotel

Galle Face Hotel is situated right on the sea front in the centre of the capital.  This regency hotel would have been very grand in its hay day; in fact it still is but just very tired.  They have just renovated the East wing and renamed it The Regency which is what you expect for 5 star luxury.  Our room was £50 a night for two on a B & B basis; expect to pay a little more if you want to stay in The Regency.  The facilities are excellent with outside swimming pool and luxury health spa treatments and pools.  The restaurants are very good and very reasonable but expect to pay U.K. prices.  I highly recommend you to have ‘afternoon tea’ on the terrace.  You can watch the bird scarer with catapult at the ready chasing away any bird brave enough to venture near to the guests!  Afternoon tea consists of everything – you name it, it will be there, from sandwiches made to order to a curry, freshly baked cakes and pancakes.  Completely yummy, you will have to forget about your diet!  It was at afternoon tea we meet up with friends Messer’s Wazeer who have helped us with projects.  It was very nice to see them and to catch up on gossip.  They own JNW Tours a travel agency based in Colombo and are very helpful contacts. www.jnwtours.com  Our friend Mr Hizbullah who also does a lot of charity work is now a leading politician but was unable to join us, he sent his best wishes.

Colombo is a thriving city and very westernised.  It is amazing that in a minute you might pass a very poor market type stall selling king coconuts which is next door to a new internet café.  Outside there may be a very old bicycle, tuk tuk, Mercedes car and an elephant!  There are plenty of shops and for those who love shopping for clothes you must go to House of Fashion (House of Fashion, 28 Duplication Road Colombo 5) and Fashion Bug (Fashion Bug, 415, Duplication Road, Colombo 03).  Both these outlets are full of clothes made for Europe but at ridiculously cheap prices i.e. a Burtons mens shirt for £2.50 or a River Island pair of trousers for £3.00?  Incredibly cheap! Also take a look at (Majestic City Galle Road Colombo 4 or Liberty Plaza Duplication Road Colombo 1)  There is also Odels (Odels 5 Alexandra Place Colombo 7)  for the tourist, which is a very upmarket type department store selling everything from T shirts to settees.  Here you can even bring back for your pet cat or dog a collar or lead or other pet accessories with a percentage going to help needy animals in Sri Lanka.  I must not forget to tell you about Laksala (http://www.laksala.lk/english/index.asp) which is a government run chain of shops selling Sri Lankan produced items such as batiks and brassware for very reasonable prices.  Here you can buy all your souvenirs including Ceylon Tea which is a must to bring home with you.

Odels, House of Fashion and Laksala are must visits while in Colombo.

Kandy Esala Perahera

We usually visit Sri Lanka in May but in order to see the Perahera we had to go later this time.  We always go in the monsoon season as it is slightly cooler and the rain doesn’t usually cause too much upset in fact it cools the place down slightly.  The only draw back is that is it very humid and the sea is very rough.  Kandy from Colombo took about 3 hours and once we arrived we went straight to see Champa Fernando at KACPAW in the grounds of Peradeniya University.  She has 80 homeless dogs there at the kennels at the moment.  (See Index page and our projects for more about our trip there)

Champa and Nicki at KACPAW

Jonathan and Champa

Our hotel in Kandy was the magnificent Earls Regency set in the hill side about 10 minutes drive from the Temple of the Tooth.  On route we couldn’t help but notice the large amount of elephants walking at the side of the road, tethered under trees or being transported in elephant transporters.  It is truly amazing how these massive animals stand in the back of an open top lorry being driven to their destination!!  Of course these elephants were to take part in the annual Perahera (Festival) held over 10 days July/August time.  We had only a short amount of time in the very smart hotel before we had to leave to take our seat in Kandy to watch the Parade.  Unfortunately as we arrived for the parade  Jonathan started to feel ill and became so ill he had to return to the Hotel to spend the evening in the loo!!  Poor guy!  I met up with another friend of ours Saminda who looked after me very well.

The streets were full of people.  They were crammed onto the pavements six deep.  All waiting very patiently in fact for many hours before the procession started.  I actually had a look around the elephants to kill some time.  I counted at least 40 all tethered and feeding in the grounds of the Temple of the Tooth.  As darkness fell the procession started.  It started with men and whips making the sound of thunder and lightening which was to mimic a storm, followed by rows of flag bearers and drummers.  The smell of paraffin was incredibly strong as the procession was lit with burning coconut shells soaked in paraffin.  Then followed the brightly dressed elephants, some with LED lights sewn into their head dresses.  The procession went on for over 4 hours but I left before it ended to head back to the hotel to see how the patient was.   Little did I know I was to also become ill!

It was now 11.30 pm and poor Jonathan had been ill with sickness and diarrhoea for over 6 hours.  I did the best I could to nurse him and then tried to get some sleep but it was very difficult as he kept on being sick in the en-suite!  At 2.30am I became ill!  I don’t know what caused us both to be ill but it was with military precision us both needing to use the bathroom with urgency!  We had to ring room service for more loo roll!  Anyway to cut a long story short by 12.00 noon I was feeling better just fragile but Jonathan was still being sick so I called for a doctor as I was worried he would become dehydrated.  Everything he tried to drink just came back up minutes later. The hotel arranged for a doctor who asked me to make him half a cup of black coffee with lime juice squeezed into it with a little sugar and to our amazement he drank it and did not bring it back up!  So there you go the magic formula for a bad stomach upset!

Sadly our brief stay at the Earls Regency had come to an end but we really recommend this place and you do receive 5 star luxury about £80 per room per night inc breakfast (although we were too ill to try it!) www.aitkenspencehotels.com/earls Youtube have a superb clip of the Earls Regency – have a look.

an elephant transport!  Have you seen anything like this before?!

One of the 50 or so elephants in the parade (photo quality not good – sorry)

The Hemachandra Family

If you have viewed our website you will recognise this family.  I don’t want to repeat myself so please visit Our Projects for the background on this family.  I couldn’t visit Sri Lanka without saying hello to Mr. Hemachandra and his gorgeous three boys - Asanka, Hasanka and Lasantha.  I had brought over several gifts for them and also purchased some more whilst shopping in Colombo.  They greeted us with handful of leaves (as before at the school).  I couldn’t believe how tall they all were and how well they looked.  They showed us around their new home which was facilitated by us.  It is not quite finished and needs £300 to complete the kitchen but it is far better than what they had lived in for two years – a shed!  We treated them to a meal and met up with Gamini and his family at a beach front restaurant in Hikkaduwa.

hemechandra family

The Eden Spa Resort, Beruwella

After an exhausting 6 hour drive to Beruwella from Kandy (having to stop for Jonathan to be sick again twice!) we arrive at The Eden Hotel.  This is our second stay here and you may recognize it as it is the hotel many news stations show with the tsunami wave going straight through the glass restaurant window.  It is a very smart hotel but this time very busy.  If you go in May it is much quieter and therefore so much nicer.  With it being so busy it took the edge of it as we felt the staff particularly in the restaurant could not deal with the amount of people, never the less the food is very good with plenty of choice. www.confifihotels.net

We stayed here for four days to relax before leaving to come back home.  We had an early flight back so left Beruwella the day before and spent the afternoon and night at the very impressive Taj Airport Garden Hotel about 10 minutes drive from the airport.  It is situated on the edge of Lake Negombo and is in a nature reserve.  You can sit in the lakeside restaurant watching the birds going about their day, it was lovely. That evening we enjoyed a gorgeous Chinese meal in the Chinese restaurant. www.tajairportgardensrilanka.com

I hope you have enjoyed my diary and if you do visit Sri Lanka we look forward to receiving your dairies which we can share with you all.  I don’t think you can go to Sri Lanka and not be touched by these people, not only will you come away having experienced fabulous food, amazing scenery and culture you will come away with unforgettable memories and long lasting friendships.

Nicki Farthing – 23rd August 2009

Beach at Madilla, Near Matara. From the Blue Horizon Restaurant

Looking the other way from the Blue Horizon Restaurant

Beach at Weligama taken from The Neptune.

*----------*

 

SRI LANKA VISIT - STEVE TURNER – MARCH AND APRIL 2007  

I was recently lucky enough to make my second visit to Sri Lanka since the tsunami in December 2004. It was mainly a holiday and a chance to catch up with some of the friends I have made over the years on previous visits, but I was also able to do some visits on behalf of the Support Sri Lanka Foundation and on behalf of my colleagues at the Local Government Ombudsman’s office in Coventry who had contributed to a collection for a local charity in Kandy.

I flew into Bandaranayake International Airport on 22 March, a day before the LTTE decided to carry out their first ever air raid on the Air Force base next to the airport. Sadly this, together with the attack on an oil refinery near Colombo during the World Cup Final, has been another hammer blow to the tourist industry which I was told everywhere had undergone the worst season ever known.

I have to say that, as ever, I felt completely safe throughout my visit. The idea that Sri Lanka is a high risk destination seems farcical when you get there; it is safe and calm, as it was in most places even during the height of the Civil War.

I spent a couple of days in Negombo and I visited the Don Bosco Centre. This is run by a Catholic charity which operates world-wide and it has provided new homes for 204 families left homeless by the tsunami. Some good friends of mine are amongst those and I visited their new flat for the first time. It is in one of seven blocks, four storeys high, and with facilities they never had in their beach shack. Despite that they still wish they were on the beach, where life was quieter and there was space around them.

I took a bus up to Kandy and stayed for 3 days with my oldest friends in Sri Lanka, in their simple house near the station. I visited an organisation called SOFA which stands for Save Our Friends Association. This was set up by two ladies to look after stray dogs in the city which had previously been rounded up every now and then and gassed. Padma is the lady in charge. She managed to persuade a wealthy European visitor to help her buy the city’s dog pound and she then persuaded the Mayor to let her run a “no kill” programme for the dogs, most of which fill a little niche in Kandy’s street life. She now has a team of seven staff who collect dogs off the street, neuter them, give them a rabies course and put them back where they found them with a red collar on. This tells everyone they are not a rabies threat. So far they have treated almost 2,000 dogs. Other unwanted dogs are offered for rehoming, especially puppies, and the old lags that nobody wants are looked after at the centre as long as they live without a care in the world. It was an inspiring visit and I was delighted to present Padma with almost £300 from my work colleagues.

While in Kandy I also spent a fabulous day trekking in the Knuckles Range, north east of the city. These mountains are spectacular and rise to over 5,000 feet but are not on the normal tourist circuit. The views were stunning and we even found leopard footprints on the path we were walking along.

I then moved on to stay with some other friends near a little town called Kitulgale. They live in a bungalow in a forest, ten minutes walk from the road. What a lovely, tranquil spot, wonderful for a birdwatcher like me. I even went white water rafting there, something I never dreamt I’d do as I can’t even swim, but what a thrill!  We went through three sets of rapids and also passed the remains of the Bridge on the River Kwai (the film version that is…it was filmed there by David Lean and the bridge was blown up at the end of the film.)

Later that day I travelled to Adam’s Peak, one of the major pilgrimage centres for the Buddhist population. It is 7,300 feet high and it has steps all the way up. Apparently there are 5,200 but I did not count. We started climbing just after midnight and got close to the top by 5 am. During the pilgrimage season (December to April) the path is lit by electric lights and there are several tea stalls on the way up, which are very welcome. At 6:05, along with around 150 pilgrims, we watched the sun rise and then project the shadow of the mountain onto the landscape below – a quite extraordinary experience. We then went into the temple at the summit and made an offering and rang the bell, which you should ring once for each ascent you have made. I’ll settle for one!  Then back down again, which was painful. By the time I got back to my friend’s car (he had kindly waited all night for us) I was more exhausted than I have ever been. But I was also bursting with pride at having done the climb. Fittingly my companion was Saminda, who I first met in Kandy in1998 and now regards me as his second father.  It was very special that we both made our first climb together.

After a day resting we travelled down to the coast at Hikkaduwa. This is usually a busy resort but it was devastated in the tsunami. Now everywhere in the town is rebuilt and around it are a number of new villages, built by China, Japan, South Korea and all sorts of other countries and organisations. These new settlements are not without problems, as fishing communities have been moved inland and put in houses they are not used to. Community development is a real need now and I met several westerners working over there in that field. Lots of schools down the coast also have signs saying who rebuilt them, and the picture is much better than on my last visit, at Christmas 2005. Nevertheless there are still plenty of people living in shacks and tents, but it is important to realise that this was also the case before the tsunami.

I spent a couple of days with the Hemachandra family in nearby Ambalangoda. The Foundation helped to build them a new house after the tsunami and they have been on the website for a while now. Last time I met them they had no home and no help at all and were ready to give up hope. Now the new house is virtually finished and I took part in a small ceremony with Mr Hemachandra and his three sons to bless the home. It was very emotional for me because last time I was there they had asked me if I could help them and through knowing some generous people I am happy to say I did. It was a very special couple of days.

From there I took the train back to Colombo. Just outside Hikkaduwa Station we passed the ruined train that was caught in the tsunami and in which 1,500 people died. It has been placed there as a memorial, without any restoration or anything. It is a stark and stunning reminder of that terrible day.  Last time I had visited the site where it had come to rest and seen the bent and twisted tracks. That had been equally emotional then.

I spent one night in the luxurious Galle Face Hotel in Colombo after ringing to see what deals they could do and being offered a room with breakfast for the equivalent of £25. In contrast I had been staying with friends for nothing and in small hotels and guest houses, none of which cost more than £4.50 a night (for a double room!)  I always love to stay at the Galle Face for a night if I can, and I watched Sri Lanka beat England there on the big screen TV. Next morning a crow stole the bacon off my breakfast plate but it did not spoil my stay. The hotel has a big plaque with the names of all the kings, queens, presidents etc who have stayed there.  I wonder if they had their bacon stolen.

Then it was back to Negombo for a day and a half with my friends and two more nights at the Silver Sands Hotel, a place that feels like a second home to me (and many other regular visitors that I have met there.)  Then sadly I was on the plane home with a lot more memories.

My strongest impression from this trip was that times are hard due to the big drop in tourist numbers, but the country looked stronger in many ways. People seem determined to get by and they seem to be managing. I was amazed at the number of mobile phones around – like here, every teenager has one. But  life is still tough for most people. Petrol prices keep going up, jobs are in short supply for young people and the continuing troubles have taken a new turn, making some tourists feel under threat. This has decimated the 2007 tourist season for many people who need the foreign money to survive – yet several luxurious new hotels have opened in the last year, most notably one in Galle, charging $550 a night for a room and doing very nicely.

But most of all, I want to go back. I love the country too much to stay away for long. The Support Sri Lanka Foundation continues to help very poor people in this beautiful country but it relies on the kindness of people like you to do so. Can you spare a donation to help continue the wonderful work that Nicki and Jonathan have started?   Please?

Steve Turner

Volunteer worker with SSLF

 

 

Steve with a new friend and other dogs at SOFA.  See our link page for more details about SOFA

 

 


 

Dave and Deb

Hi,

We have just got back from Sri Lanka a couple of days a go ( March 2006) during our stay we visited Bentota and the tsunami area I have taken many photos of the area and thought we would like to share them with you or use for your web site.

We made many friends on our trip and saw the good work being done for the Sri Lankan people with help by people like yourself keep the good work up.

Dave and Deb 

Picture 1 is a little boy who lost his parents we called him little Oliver. 

Picture 2 people carry with their every day life.

Picture 3 Turtle farm.

Picture 4 A memorial to the people who lost their lives, which was opened February 2006.

Picture 5 Close up of memorial.

Picture 6 Fishermen on Bentota beach, see one of many donated fishing boats.


 

Rowen Wilde

This is Rowen Wilde’s account of her volunteering stay at the Millennium Elephant Foundation at Randeniya near Kegalle, during January 2006.

 

SRI LANKA  -  PART 1

 

For those of you that don’t know, I’m here on holiday for 4 wks in Sri Lanka – well maybe ‘holiday’ is not quite the right word…I’m on a volunteer program for 3 weeks working with elephants!

 

I was met at the airport with the big smiles & friendly face of Ruan – a

guide at The Millennium Elephant Foundation (MEF) & my home for 3 weeks. Located in the small village of Randeniya about 2hrs inland from the capital Colombo, the elephant home is set on a 15 acre estate…the beautiful grounds of the home of it’s founders the Samarasinghe family…. coconut trees, palm trees, bushes with colourful exotic flowers…. manicured lawns, swept sandy walkways & the central essential feature -the river & it’s lovely shady banks.

 

The Foundation is home to 9 elephants…6 females & 3 males – 1 with long tusks known as a tuska & 2 without - known as a tush.

The elephants cared for here are either retired from logging , tourist or

temple work or have been rescued after being orphaned in the wild or rescued because of abuse or poor health or old age.

 

On arrival I was introduced to the other 2 volunteers – Roger & Becky, both from the UK. Since the tsunami, volunteer numbers here have dropped considerably –usually there’s around 6-8 staying on average 1-2 months. Every volunteer is assigned an elephant & works alongside it’s mahout (elephant handler) throughout  their stay. Soon I was to meet my elephant Rani & her mahout Chandana who’s 31 yrs old.

 

Some info about Rani.

She’s a 23 yr old female who’s been at MEF for 3.5yrs. Her name means

“Queen”, she has long legs & is one of the tallest elephants here at 9ft.

She was orphaned in the jungle at a young age & was rescued & presented by the former President of Sri Lanka as a gift to a Hindu Temple. She was well looked after & not overworked but her owner found it difficult & expensive to look after her. She then joined MEF.

She is friendly & has a good temperament, loves people & is inquisitive & in good health. She is easily identified, as she is the only elephant who sways from side to side….i love when she does this & from the first day I called her the ‘Dancing Queen’!

More about Rani later.

 

My home at the MEF is very basic, it is a tiny dark wooden ‘cabin’…. Furnished with little more than a bed that isn’t quite long enough, (Sri Lankan folk are tiny!), complete with the essential and ‘much loved by me’ mosquito net, the ‘not much good’ but ‘gratefully appreciated’ squeaky rickety fan that precariously hangs from the ceiling. A few clothes hooks & a rusty old cupboard completes my space! 

I share my room with a few cobwebs & resident spiders (thankfully all small & non-poisonous) that come & go (as dinner) thanks to the little brown geckos that silently run around the walls and then there’s the hundreds of ants that trespass on their way to work! 

How I dream of the luxury of a Sri Lankan tourist hotel!!

 

7am- my first morning…the sun is slowly burning the dawn mist…my approach to the river bridge is carpeted with beautiful flowers –orange, purple & white…the gorgeous aroma of my favourite flower –the frangipani scents the air…

7.15am (before breakfast) my working day begins …& Rani’s bed needs

cleaning…first all the remains of her food –coconut tree leaves, sometimes kittel & jack leaves also, are thrown onto an ever-growing mountain that now walls her bed space….then there’s the mountain of ellie pooh!! & to which I’m now an expert!…there’s the brick shaped pooh, the rugby ball shaped ones & the cricket ball pooh…each weighing a large cannon ball!

The past 2 wks has seen me in training for the Olympic shot-put as I hurl it into the river below…an interesting sight when you’re wearing blue

Marigolds!

 

Next it’s down to the river for her daily bath… the mahout commands her to lie down, creating a mini tsunami when her head hits the water…we splash her with water & scrub her skin really hard for an hour, with a coconut husk. On command she lifts her ears, trunk & feet to be washed.

Meanwhile she sticks her trunk into the stony river bed & blows bubbles.

It’s an incredible experience to be touching her thick strong ‘indescribable’ skin which is surprisingly covered with thick wiry hairs

several inches long.

 

It’s hard work & breakfast at 8.30 is well earned…scrambled or fried eggs, toast or the volunteers favourite ‘rotis’ –warm round thick doughy pancakes with coconut chunks…topped with pineapple jam makes for a filling start to the day.

We’re fed 3 meals a day at the Foundation’s restaurant Club Concept across the road…the staff are friendly & speak some English, well enough to get us a meal…but getting it right is another story! There’s a good choice of western dishes (thankfully) as well as Sri Lankan food, which is either hot curry or even hotter curries!

 

After breakfast its Vets Inspection…the elephants here are certainly the

best cared for in the country…each receiving daily vitamin & mineral

supplements appropriate to their individual needs…and western medicine & treatments are always used.

Like our own pets we have to disguise the tablets…in big dough balls….mixing together in a very large bowl, loads of flour, salt & water…but they love them….but not before we have to brush the bottoms of their feet (standing well back!) checking for lodged stones or foot rot… sadly a common & painful problem for elephants that have been worked too hard & not cared for properly.

Their skin is inspected for cuts or wounds & suitably treated……it’s truly

amazing to watch these huge strong beasts that can kill you with a swipe of their trunk, just twitch & sway about when a pair of forceps with ointment soaked cotton wool is stuck deep inside a wound or abscess & which clearly pains them.

Finally their dough ball treat….on command they raise their trunks & open

their surprisingly tiny mouth & take it gently with a big wet pink tongue.

If you’re lucky & they open their mouth wide enough, you can see maybe 2 of their 4 enormous teeth…each the size of 1.5 house bricks & a similar weight!

 

Fact: elephants only have 4 teeth but will get 6 sets throughout their

lives.

 

Following Vets inspection on Mon to Weds, it’s off to work in the

Eco-garden.

Established about 18mths ago it now grows fodder for the elephants &

vegetables & herbs for the restaurant that feeds us. The head gardener Mr Karu is an interesting character & I like him a lot…very knowledgeable, speaks excellent English & is very enthusiastic about his garden.

Mr Karu may get us to clear an area of ground & clear the weeds with a large hoe type tool called a ‘mamatee’, or dig & turn over the soil ready for planting.

Some vegetables currently growing are okra, aubergines, & green beans.

After 2hrs in the garden we’re dripping with sweat from the heat of the

noonday sun & humidity of 85%!…..it’s time for lunch but not before the

welcome relief of a cold shower (not that there’s an option for a warm one anyway!)

 

Most weekday afternoons are our own….lazing or reading on the deck under the shady roof of woven dried coconut leaves & overlooking the river, watching the elephants bathe, play & eat….or a spot of  sunbathing…or the tedious task of hand washing your sweaty pooh or mud stained clothes under a cold tap outside the cabins.

There’s also lots of office stuff to get involved with, such as updating

notices for volunteers, downloading your photos, writing an article for the quarterly Newsletter & sending out to members who adopt an elephant to raise funds for the charity etc.

 

On Tues or Weds afternoon the volunteers can spend time at a local boys orphanage…the dozen boys aged 8-14yrs are all so sweet, loving the volunteer visits… they hold our hands & greet us with gleaming white teeth beaming smiles. Speaking a few words of English we get by with smiles & laughs, they love it when we take our cameras, wanting to take lots of pics of us & each other.

The orphanage is run by a young Buddhist Monk who loves western pop music & plays Madonna & Ricky Martin!

Our parting with the boys is not so special…we’re barely noticed leaving…

they’re all glued to the barely viewable & very fuzzy scenes of the latest

episode of Scooby Doo…the opening soundtrack sung with a Sinhalese voice is hilarious!

 

Thursdays are dedicated to the elephant census. Initiated here at MEF about a year ago, it’s the first of its kind in Sri Lanka, with the aim of

compiling & maintaining a national list of all the captive elephants in the

country. Hopefully the information when finally collated will attract

funding to initiate a teaching program & aid greater awareness for better

elephant management for owners & handlers across the country.

It’s always a long day as we’re on the road very early & spend most of the day driving & waiting about. First you find the address of the owner & ask lots of questions about their elephant & get permission to take measurements & photos & record the details etc. Often the elephant is kept elsewhere or is working somewhere else so it’s more driving to find the elephant & our journey may then be in vain if the mahout is not about. No elephant is ever approached without it’s mahout.

 

In my first week we were lucky…observing & recording details of 2 elephants.

One was well looked after but the other had no food about & didn’t look like it had been fed at all that day. It’s not an easy task…seeing an unhealthy, uncared for or badly treated elephant is upsetting.

 

And after such a busy week, the weekends are own to hang out & relax or go sightseeing or shopping. More about my trip to the town of Kandy next time.

 

Well that’s the end of my mammoth email…hope you enjoy reading it. For those that would like to find out more about MEF & the elephants here, check out their website www.eureka.lk/elefound.

 

My apologies for the delay in sending my first email of my adventures so

far, but the computer is oh sooooo slow…and that’s not when the system is crashing frequently or when there’s a power cut – also a regular occurrence in Sri Lanka….or when the computer is not being used by the office staff or other volunteers.

 

SRI LANKA  - PART 2

 

8am…..torrential rain is flooding through the central atrium in the roof 

onto the exotic flowering plants in terracotta pots…I’m seated near the open windows eating rotis with jam for breakfast, listening to the rain &….’I’d like to Teach the World to Sing’ sung in Sinhalese on the radio!

 

The weather finally turned a few days ago after almost 2 weeks of cloudy days & torrential rain every afternoon & evening…very unusual for this time of year….the other night was the first time I’d seen the stars & a beautiful sight as there’s very little light pollution here.

Despite the rain the air was still very humid & only caused problems in

getting our clothes dry – after a week & still not dry, we resorted to using the ceiling fan!

The rain also increased the mosquito activity & I was a frenzied scratching maniac for weeks…..but the elephants loved all the rain & the river rose by several feet.

 

The initial shyness of Chandena the mahout has gone & we’re starting to have a laugh. My relationship with Rani is also developing into a nice

friendship….she has taken to recognizing me and she greets me each morning with ‘on cue’ steaming piss & hot bricks of ellie pooh when I’m just about to start cleaning her bed…I’m reliably informed this means she likes me!??

Sometimes when I’m splashing water over her head she thinks its fair game to fill her trunk & give me a jet wash in return!

Rani’s playfulness is kept under control with an ancus – a large stick with

a metal hook at one end – all the mahouts have one & will use on one of the nearly 90 pressure points across their body. It’s not nice watching it being used as sometimes if the mahout is too careless or heavy handed with the ancus, it causes a small wound.

 

In the river on occasions  Rani will freeze as if spooked by something….just a water monitor (like a small harmless crocodile about 3-4ft long) swimming by slowly hugging the bank & keeping their distance.

Shame my relationship with the local fish is not so friendly…the little

silver tiddlers try to suck of bite your legs when I’m washing Rani – I

figured they don’t like my insect repellent now as I’m the only one being

left alone!

 

But my other new friends here are the 3 dogs who have been adopted by

everyone at the Foundation…there’s Colin the leader of the pack – he’s the cheeky one that this morning stole my socks & ran off with them….the one who chews your boots if you leave them out at night. He’s also the jealous one that pushes his way in, if you’re fussing the others.

Colin’s always getting ticks on his ears as he chases the stray dogs through the long grasses & rice fields that surround the estate.

Then there’s Gwyneth or Winnie or Tuti (no idea how she ended up with 3 names) but she answers to them all – and my favourite of the bunch. She’s so chilled out & loves to be rocked in my arms like a baby!

To complete the pack there’s the adorable Stumpy, alternatively known as ‘3 wheeler’, but despite only having 3 legs after losing one in an accident with bizarrely a tuk-tuk – a 3 wheeler taxi & familiar sight everywhere in Sri Lanka, Stumpy can still outrun the others & loves to be cuddled & rest his only front leg on your lap.

The 3 of them are great mates, always play fighting & are well fed by us the volunteers, the mahouts & the restaurant.

 

Now, stroking dogs is not a pastime you would consider anywhere else here as rabies is a big problem & it’s so upsetting to see most of the dogs so skinny, unloved & almost hairless with parasites or the disease mange.

 

Water monitors though are just one of the many wonderful animals & birds I’ve seen here – some for the first time.

A strange sight on the way to the local town, are porcupines on leashes – one local man’s way of earning a living from tourists.

Another cute but quite secretive little fella is the mongoose that darts

across the path & into the bushes too quickly for me to get a closer look or a photo opportunity.

 

Unfortunately not all my encounters with the wildlife have been so

pleasant…..sitting on the cabin porch with the other volunteers drinking a large bottle of  the very nice 3Coins Sri Lankan beer, on one of the many rainy evenings….a scream & a pointed finger was enough for us all to jump up – a 3” long black scorpion….a broom was fetched & we swept it into the small moat that was now surrounding us… to our horror the damn thing glided quite at ease through the water – we didn’t know they could swim!

20 mins later – another scream….something had dropped down Jo’s neck…the most horrendous looking 2” long green bug with big black bulging eyes, weird wings, legs like a grasshopper & a stripy helmet body….we all escorted each other to bed that night armed with torches to search our rooms!

 

Now if the close encounters the night before unnerved us all , then the

following day was enough for poor Becky, when I spotted a silvery/grey snake that hung about for some time & then slithered up into a palm tree.

 

With all these creepy rawlies about,  also took to wearing my boots in the eco-garden after the others told me about their encounters with leeches – thankfully not seen one myself yet.

Work with Mr Karu revealed a new use for elephant pooh – in the art of

creating a compost heap….we had to pull apart & break up dried ellie pooh bricks & mix it in a bucket of water – making a kind of pooh soup….we poured

this onto layers of weeds, leaves & soil until it was 4ft high…6wks time –

homegrown compost!

 

Now the vegetable soup at the restaurant although it’s watery as the pooh soup in the garden, it’s pretty good & full of veggies, but sometimes the waiters just don’t get it quite right…if you forget to write ‘not spicy’ – be prepared to have your mouth blown off!

I asked for a plate of vegetables & got a veggie curry with the omelette & chips.

Despite these little communication hiccups the food is good especially their dhal & veggie curries…they also make a gorgeous dish with the aubergines we pick from the garden.

 

Last week saw the arrival of 2 new volunteers Chloe & Mayla - young students from UK.

They loved meeting the boys at the orphanage – the boys were all playing cricket  when we arrived – a game very much loved by most Sri Lankan boys & those of you who are also cricket fans will know that the country is currently playing S. Africa & Australia….the workers & mahouts here are often glued to the TV on the deck, during their breaks.

Anyway the volunteers had chipped in to buy some art materials & we all had fun blowing up balloons & getting sticky & making paper mache sculptures.

Tomorrow we will be painting them.

 

 

SRI LANKA  - PART 3

 

Each morning I awake to many different and beautiful birdsongs…there’s the unusual clicking sound of one bird that sounds exactly like it’s tapping it’s beak on a window…but I never see this bird…on the first few days I wondered who was knocking on the window!.....but this morning I was treated to a very funny & captivating scenario….

I was watching a pair of parrots poking their heads out of a hole halfway up a coconut tree & what must be their nest…suddenly I heard a noise ….a large iguana creeping through the undergrowth….then my buddies Stumpy, Colin & Tuti came bounding over to greet me…they spotted the iguana & chased it….the iguana taking refuge in the nearest tree, but unfortunately it picked the wrong tree…the parrots now stressed for the safety of their eggs (a favourite snack for iguanas!)…started squawking & attacking it….a very noisy scene ensued…the poor iguana didn’t know what to do…the dogs at the base of the tree barking & jumping up & the paranoid parrots flying around it’s head!

The tale ended happily when the iguana just made a dash for it down the tree chased by the dogs into the paddy fields!

 

Now I know I’ve been talking a lot of shit in my emails but pooh really is

almost as special as the elephants here… as well as the uses I’ve already

previously described ellie pooh is also a money spinner….next door to the

Foundation is the pooh paper factory!

Ellie pooh is mixed with paper pulp & water in a concrete type mixer

machine…once broken down it’s tipped into large vats & dye is added. 2

ladies wearing Wellington boots sift the pulp into a silkscreen frame,

turning it over to produce a wet sheet of pooh paper where it’s left to dry in the sun.

The many different coloured handmade papers are turned into notebooks, photoframes & gift boxes & sold all over Sri Lanka & exported to a few countries.

 

Wednesdays is Orphanage day & all the boys are well…last week we had a lot of fun completing the paper mache models by covering them with paint & glitter.

On my last visit there were smiles all round as I made them balloon animals & swords!

 

Thursdays at the Foundation are dedicated to compiling the elephant census.

I was very fortunate to be here in January for the full moon or ‘poya day’

in which the 2nd biggest Buddhist religious festival in Sri Lanka takes

place in the town of Kelaniya near the capital Colombo. These festivals are called ‘peraheras’ and involve many elephants sometimes over many days…up to 50 ellies at the biggest perahera in Kandy held in July.

With so many elephants in one place, it’s the ideal opportunity for adding

to the census.

It was to be along day…on the road at 7am with a 3hrs drive ahead of us.

 

When we arrived we were taken around the temple…this is Colombo’s most important Buddhist shrine …the dagoba temple houses an enormous reclining Buddha & the walls are adorned with stone carvings & inside the walls are beautiful, detailed & elaborate painted murals.

We made offerings of lotus flowers & lit joss sticks beside a large sacred

bo tree. Then we were taken to meet the head monk & informed him of our census plans…he offered us front row seats to watch the perahera

later….lucky us!

Then it was off to start the census…the elephants were kept in the large

grounds surrounding the temple….some arriving by truck! And others having walked with their mahouts for many days or weeks to have the honour of being invited to take part in the procession.

We could see ellies everywhere….unfortunately many of the mahouts were nowhere to be seen….(a perahera is the opportunity for the mahouts to get together & drink themselves stupid with Arrack in the local bars)…..but nonetheless despite all the hanging about we did extremely well in completing 8 elephants for the census. Fortunately most of them are in very good health & well looked after as most are owned by other temples.

We were very lucky to get to complete the forms on an amazing male with tusks almost touching the ground & had grown so long they crossed each other! We had bets on not ‘whether this tuska had killed anyone’ but ‘how many & by what method!’….Death by impaling was 2:1 favourite!.

Despite the seemingly gentle slow & placid nature of these captive trained beasts, we must not forget they are wild & very strong…they can crush your insides to pulp with one swipe of their trunk….many mahouts are killed by the elephant they may have looked after for decades….and yes we were all right – the tuska was a killer!

 

As the sun started to set we took our seats with thousands of others, to

watch the procession that started at 9.30pm.Lasting almost 3hrs it was

spectacular….the 35 elephants were extravagantly dressed with colourful & glittering head &  trunk pieces, body coats with tassels & some with flashing lights (a guy walking behind with a small generator!) and some carried canopied seats carrying up to 3 men…..there were groups of Buddhist monks with pretty tasselled parasols, dancers with elaborately decorated traditional costumes, some wearing masks & others dressed as monkeys….some dances incorporating brilliant acrobatic displays …. talented plate spinners balancing long sticks in their ears…and  many drummers keeping a beat… 

Very tired we arrived  back at the Foundation at 4.30am….2,5 hrs sleep & awake again to throw some pooh at 7am!

 

My last week here was a busy one with lots of extra ellie care.

One of our ellies Lakshmi was the first captive lady to give birth in Sri

Lanka back in 1986 – her daughter Pooja is also with us here. It’s lovely to see them in the river gently touching each other with their trunks.

Pooja has even adopted her mum’s unusual characteristic of bobbing her head up & down.

Some of you may already know that elephants live in the wild within a

matriarchal society, kicking out of the herd, the young males when they

reach maturity. Now despite there is no definitive matriarchal set-up

amongst the females here, Lakshmi takes on the role of ‘head mama’ & the others are afraid of her….and it’s not only the ellies that are wary of

her…she likes to show us volunteers who’s boss, by throwing coconut bark & leaves at us in the morning.

Despite being a tough lady, she’s a good mother & about 6mths ago she was artificially inseminated with the semen of one of the males here…everyone is very hopeful she is pregnant again & as the gestation period is 22-24mths, it can be a long wait of a year before she may start to show.

Eager to know, the vets were sent for to get a blood sample….now finding a vein & sticking a needle into an elephant is no easy task especially when it’s feisty Lakshmi!...she lay down in the river & the vets found a vein in her ear…but she clearly did not like it….an incredible sight to see her mahout doing a great job to control her with his ancus & 3 men holding her still as possible & the vets unfortunately having to draw blood 3 times before they could get enough….and knowing this elephant could quite easily sweep them all aside like dolls!….needless to say she was in a foul mood the rest of the day, thrusting & splashing her trunk about!

 

The same week all the ellies were due to be tested for some disease & this involved taking eye swabs….once again jabbing a cotton wool bud soaked in a solution, into the corner of their eyes is a remarkable testimony to the patience & dedication of the MEF staff.

 

Then there’s the additional care for my 2 favorite ellies here….as much as I love Rani I hold special affections for Baby & Menike.

Baby, the oldest ellie here – in her 80’s, is just like your grandma…she

takes her time in doing everything….we make her dough balls small as she has trouble chewing & swallowing them….her skin is very wrinkled & because it’s papery thin & very dry, it regularly splits & we treat her many cuts.

Baby doesn’t  like going into the water now….we think it’s because she fears she may not get back on her feet again….she’s kept in the shade, fed a special diet & she likes to throw dirt & leaves over herself to keep cool…so she always looks messy!

Lately her energy has been low, so every few weeks the vets arrive & she’s very good as the vets find the vein in her ear to give her intravenously 5 bottles of energy boosting saline solution!

Baby is beautifully placid & has deep eyes…I was thrilled to be given the

opportunity to feed her a plate of fruit on my Birthday…I sat on a high wall where she rests her trunk, her single trunk finger gently smelling, touching & checking me out…at times I had to push the fruit right into her mouth feeling her tongue….it was a wonderful experience & I was touched to be so close to her for so long.

 

Fact: Asian ellies have only one trunk finger but African ellies have 2

fingers.

 

The finger is the most incredible part of their body & very powerful…they

use it like an eye & is quite comical when they’re lying with their head

under water & they move it about like a submarine periscope….they feel their food, it rips up the coconut leaves- it’s their knife, fork & spoon…..they navigate their way with it, as they feel the edge of the steps to the river & feeling the depth of the stones.

 

My other favourite is Menike…she’s also getting on in years – now in her

60’s, but unlike Bbay who is reasonably healthy but just old, Menike had

been overworked & not looked after previously. She worked long hours logging & now suffers terribly from foot rot & arthritis. The treatment & care here has improved her arthritis tremendously but foot rot cannot be reversed… so we bathe her feet every few days in a special solution. Her nails are black & rotten as her mahout shows us by sticking his knife right through her hollow rotten nails!.

Over the past month Menike has also developed a large abscess on her knee which is drained and treated daily…she walks awkwardly & painfully slowly but her mahout is patient & she’s very good when her abscess is treated despite clearly indicating she’s in pain.

 

Jan 24…my Birthday….the restaurant has cooked some delicious pancakes made with coconut & topped with a sweet honey type syrup. It’s my last day with the elephants….

A sad but exciting day as I get to take my first ride on Rani…..

…..climbing onto her from a wall, I sit astride her bare wide back & hold

onto a rope tied round her neck…..her walk is slow & steady… they are such graceful creatures despite their bulk & I feel honoured.

We walk for a while along the road…she’s not distracted by the traffic

passing so close by….up a dirt track & I realize how high I am as I have to duck under some trees…we pass some grazing water buffalo & their faithful friends – the elegant long necked white egrets…as we approach the lower bank of the river crossing, I hang on tightly & lean back as Rani carefully & slowly feels her way down with her trunk….it is pretty scary as I slip down her back towards her neck. Walking up the opposite bank was thankfully much easier. Back through the peaceful MEF gardens & then scarily down the huge stone steps to their bathing area where Rani promptly soaks me by showering me with trunkfuls of water!

My incredible experience came to an end as Rani slowly went down on her knees & lay down on her side allowing me to slide off her.

 

Chloe & Mayla were so sweet & presented me with a hand made Birthday card made from what else but… ellie pooh paper & showing a photo of Rani & Chandena.

Chandena gave me a very special gift for my birthday…one of Rani’s tail

hairs…they are often made into bracelets here & are expensive to buy…they look like thick plastic wire.

 

I spent the afternoon relaxing in the shade watching my ellie friends in the river, and the colourful  pretty blue & green kingfishers darting from tree to tree along the bank and the green parrots sharing the mahouts’ leftovers on the bird table with the many little stripy tailed Sri Lankan squirrels that look like chipmunks.

 

My Birthday evening was a quiet affair….we all enjoyed a big food feast of curry, ice-cream & cake, some beer & several glasses of Arrack – the

country’s favourite tipple – made from coconut & tastes a bit like whisky,

but mixed with coke had us giggling like schoolgirls!

 

 

SRI LANKA  -  PART 4

 

This is my final email about my adventures in Sri Lanka…describing a little

about the country, it’s people & some of the places I’ve visited.

 

I was really lucky to be working at the Elephant Foundation when 4 Aussie trainee vets arrived for 5 days & a busy program of events was organised for them & involved considerable travel up & down the country.

 

But our organised trip was not so far away…only a few miles up the road & Sri Lanka’s most popular tourist attraction…..Pinnewala Elephant

Orphanage….the world’s largest collection of captive elephants……run by the government & set up in 1975, it now has about 75 ellies. We were very fortunate to get a private meeting with the head Vet here & it was

fascinating how much we learnt.

The place is run very differently from the Foundation…there is a matriarchal system in place….the top lady is easily recognized as she is the only ellie with chains.

The elephants are all ages & include orphaned & abandoned ones & those

injured in the wild (often in conflict with farmers)…..there’s lots of cute

baby ones…..then there’s Sama – she’s the 3 legged one, losing her leg when she stood on a landmine.

At Pinnewala you can see one of their 3 daily feeding sessions….it’s a big

‘aaaarrrrr’ factor to see a couple of the youngsters guzzling huge

quantities of milk from very big baby bottles!

….you can observe the elephants in the river for a few hours….it’s adorable to watch the young ones hide under their mums & how they play & jump on each other’s heads to duck them under the water.

Sometimes the mahouts will let you come down to the river’s edge & get close to the babies….oh sooooo cute!

 

Our next excursion was not so local – a day trip to the small village of

Harbarana…on the road at 6.30am….most of the roads here are nothing more than narrow potholed dirt tracks so travel is very slow, bumpy, tiring & hot especially when the van has no air conditioning!

 

….wooden shacks, ramshackle stalls, shops & concrete houses muddle alongside every inch of the roadside…..scabby & pitifully thin dogs lie asleep in the dust oblivious to the continuous beeping of horns & the rumbling of tyres inches away from them…..the countryside beyond is lush & green…this is a land reminiscent of my travels in Vietnam…of coconut palm & rice fields…of jungles full of small sweet bananas, mangos & pineapples…of trees holding cups in rubber plantations…of water buffaloes & their fly catching shadows –

their white feathered friends – the egrets….

 

Around 9am as we started to climb, the scenery changed to one of a denser forest….we could feel the air cooling….we stopped for breakfast at one of the many roadside stalls…. small smoking fires cooking corn on the cobs – harder & not as sweet or pleasant as those we’re familiar with….throwing the half eaten ones to the dozens of chattering monkeys in the trees behind us.

 

Back on the road & after another 2 hours, the scene around us changed

again….the land flatter & open savannahs could be glimpsed between the

trees…this is wild elephant country & the reason for our visit….the small

village of Harbarana lies in the middle of an elephant corridor & for 20

years – a human/elephant conflict……often raiding homes & shops looking for easy food, the elephants damage property & many people have been injured or killed…previously elephants were shot, but now illegal, the Foundation & the Department of Wildlife & Conservation are working with the local people to protect both elephant & man.

 

…walking through the village…some homes made from the red mud beneath our feet…pretty gardens with pots & flowers…allotments with healthy growing shoots….everyone out to welcome us…big smiles & shy waves as we handed out sweets to the children….living such simple lives – my donation of an empty plastic water bottle was greeted with a huge smile  as she ran into her home chattering about her precious gift to her family!…

….perched high in the trees….interesting treehouses housing 1-8 men, built as overnight shelters & watchtowers…..when an elephant is sighted, a brass bell attached to a rope in the nearby trees is rung to alarm the residents, who light firecrackers or fires to keep the elephants away.

A simple but effective solution but many homes have yet to given a

bell…..but this day was special for one local man to whom we presented a bell…he works deep in the jungle & often has close contact with the wild elephants.

The Foundation donates some of it’s own funds to help the cause & visits the villages monthly for updates on the elephant activity.

 

Stopping for a delicious lunch of curry, rice & fruit at a family’s

home….served on a plate made from the lily pads we had watched being

collected by a villager wading up to his neck in a huge lake.

 

Fact : there are no natural lakes in Sri Lanka but over 11,000 manmade ones.

 

Our journey back home took us via 2 incredible sights – one manmade, the other created by nature’s power…..

…..as we approached a road bridge….dozens of people & bicycles lining both sides as we stopped to see the cause of the excitement… the powerful surging of water over a distant dam…drowning the many trees & boulders in it’s path….at first not an unusual sight until we discovered  we were witnessing the result of the very unusually high rainfall of the past few weeks…for the first time in over 20 years the dam was opened to release the overflowing lake into the normally trickle of a  riverbed…..below fishermen were casting their nets & filling the wooden boxes strapped to their bikes.

 

Not far from the river at the village of Aukana stands a magnificent 12 metre high statue of a standing Buddha…cut into the enormous rockface…incredibly it looks like it could have been created recently yet remarkably was carved around the 8th or 9th century.

 

The following day we headed to the other end of the country…southwest to the coast travelling as the Mobile Vet Unit (MVU)….on call to examine & diagnose & hopefully treat a very sick elephant…..typically the roads are much better as you head towards the west coast but our blessings were short-lived….the crazy driver who must have interpreted the Mobile Vet Unit as an Emergency vehicle attending a sick elephant in a life or death situation!…..

….the roads winded down to the coast as we were thrown about & after 4 hours we were gratefully relieved to get there in one piece!

Sadly the day did not get any better….i nearly cried when I saw the state of the elephant…and even more upset when I heard she was owned by a very wealthy man who owns a chain of hotels……despite Kapuree being in her 30’s her overall condition was very poor…she looked as old as our dear Baby in her 80’s…..but worse still was the enormous swelling below her belly… oozing & raw…and the reason for our visit.

The vet took blood, urine & pooh samples…initially he thought it may be a tumour but after further observation & questioning the mahout, it was felt to be less serious, possibly caused by a parasite infecting her vulva… but also she was very deficient in vitamins & probably the cause of her poor condition.

This particular case also highlighted a common & major issue for both Vets & the Foundation….the conflict between traditional & modern treatments….many Sri Lankans  either don’t believe in or don’t like to see the use of modern medicine….many still preferring the use of traditional herbal remedies…this poor girl was being treated traditionally & only after weeks of her condition worsening, the owner reluctantly succumbed to calling in a Vet…then spent several days deliberating if the Vet could go ahead with the treatment!

I was pleased to hear Kapuree was responding well & I can only hope that the owner will now take the advice from Vets & MEF with regards to ongoing care to restore her overall health.

 

At the Foundation modern treatments are never in question but traditional medicine is still valued particularly by the mahouts….one afternoon I was given the opportunity to help them make one such remedy….about once a month all kinds of ingredients are purchased & collected from the wild….including leaves & herbs, garlic & peppercorns……pounding the stuff down into a sticky pulp in a huge stone mortar with a heavy stick….it was divided up & despite being disguised inside half loaves of bread, 2 of our ellies did not like their medicine…preferring to play with it…trying to get the bread on it’s

own!

 

Traditions in this country are very much alive and once again I had the

fortune to experience a special ritual early one morning.

The Foundation have been planning to start building an animal clinic within the grounds for sometime……planetary charts were consulted & drawn up & auspicious times determined…..coconut palm leaves were woven into 5 beautiful vessels….inside an arrangement of candles & fragrant flowers….small temples representing the 5 Gods…. atop tall stakes that marked the centre & outer boundaries of the planned building…..

…7.11am - candles were lit….7.31am – the first piece of soil was dug….9.15am – chanting…all our elephants lined up as Lakshmi was chosen to carry in her trunk..wrapped with string like a boxed present, she carefully laid the foundation stone into the ground…each of us invited to add a trowel of cement to set the stone…..

 

It will be wonderful to  go back in 2 years to see the clinic built &

operational…the employment of many unemployed trained Vets…supporting the local people & treating all other animals….i’m keeping my fingers crossed that Lakshmi is pregnant & that they’re be a new baby ellie for me to meet!

With these thoughts I’m saying my goodbyes to all my ellie friends & the

lovely people at MEF & I head for Colombo…..hire a driver & air-con van to take me down the south west coast to spend my last 5 days at the beach….

 

….3 hours south of Colombo…an upsetting reminder of the tsunami’s

destruction…one after another –square areas of concrete & floor tiles…all

that remains of so many homes along the seafront…other homes with half their walls or roofs missing….mangled steel & broken chunks of concrete…plastic sheeting serving as the roof covering or wall of a store….Aid tents – a year later, still the home for some families….broken fishermen’s boats upturned & rooted as if sprouting from the land….Aid water tanks still in use….Red Cross symbols & newly erected steel signs declaring different world nations & their pledges of reconstruction & rebuilt roads….but yet still so much still to be done to help these people rebuild their lives…..

 

….4 hours from Colombo….i arrive at the small intimate beach resort of

Unawatuna…a favorite with young independent travelers….my hotel room with a balcony overlooking the rocky headland at one end of this perfectly picturesque semi-circular sheltered bay…it’s idyllic…clear turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean…a lovely sandy beach, cleaned & swept daily of leaves dropped from the few remaining trees that survived the tsunami here….a pathway at the end of the bay climbs to a pretty white painted Buddhist temple that pokes through the treetops……..charming beachside bars & cafes…all now rebuilt…the village behind full of wonderful craft shops, small hotels & cafes & places for ayurvedic massages…..

….i was joined over the weekend by elephant volunteers Chloe & Mayla & 12 other English teaching volunteers from England & Ireland…..Saturday night was party time….cocktails at Happy Hour….a meal as the sun went down then we danced till 4am with lots of other travelers & locals at a wicked beach bar party which included some fabulous drummers….

 

….oh yes…don’t mention the hmmmm ‘interesting’ ayurvedic massage I booked on my last day at the beach….don’t mention the little room, the old man with his smelly oils & not so discreet massage….don’t mention the open bare window…the relaxing sounds of…..chanting – blaring through the public loudspeakers right outside the window….don’t mention the crowd of people & Buddhist Monks below the window gathered for a ceremony in preparation for rebuilding the tsunami destroyed temple…and especially don’t mention the fact that I was stood there naked!!….

 

…..so the rest of my time here in Unawatuna I sat in the shade of a tree on the beach for 4 days…reading my book…drinking fresh mango & pineapple juices in the cafes…smiling at the beach sellers with their colourful sarongs, coconut jewellery, wooden carvings & marionettes…..thinking about how truly blessed I am to have worked & played with elephants….how much I love Sri Lanka & it’s people….so friendly & polite…the huge warm smiles from everyone

you pass or meet…their genuine desire to chat & their endearing charm….as I dream of my return…..

 


 

 

 

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