Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Madu Ganga River

Spent a day out along the coast, particularly looking at the sea turtle rescue organizations.
Arun holding a rather agitated turtle.

Tiny little turtle - didn't even cover
my palm - about 1 week old

There are quite a few of them, all working to rescue, rehabilitate, and increase the numbers of the sea turtles.  I went to one where a young boy, Arum, showed me around...from harvesting the eggs to keeping them in the sand (they're very liquids inside and the shells are very soft and pliable at only a couple of days). They watch the turtles come to shore and when they finish laying, they carefully dig up a nest to bring to a protected area. As the turtles hatch they are kept in large enclosures and then released when they're large enough to hopefully survive the trials of the ocean.  
This turtle had a healing crack in
his shell

They also rescue turtles that have been injured or caught in nets. Once the injury is healed, they are released.  They have a fe turtles that they've kept, mostly because they couldn't be returned and survive but those turtles are the ones they use to talk to the school kids about the plight of the sea turtles.  Apparently they are fished for and the eggs harvested for people to eat, threatening the population.

Took a trip one day down to the Madu Ganga river, towards Galle. It is a coastal ecosystem of mangroves and islands and is thought to be one of the few remaining 'pristine' forests in Sri Lanka. It is against the law to cut the forests...and the people who live there are quite proud of what they have.

I went early in the morning and while. Must admit to wondering why I was getting up so early, it was a great call by the owner of the hotel.  I was on the river for two hours with only one other boat exploring the region. By the end of our time, heading back for the dock, the river was swamped with tourists in huge boats filled with people. I loved having it so quiet and peaceful.

My driver had the eyes of an eagle. I absolutely did not see the vast majority if the animals before he pointed them out. While I know he knows what he's looking for, I suspect a few of the monitor lizards have their favorite haunts so he knows where to look, however, he did a great job finding if my pictures came out...

Hindu Shrine
Found a kingfisher perched on a pole...and he stayed there while the driver jockeyed the boat around to help me get a picture...we shall see how they came out.

They had some interesting building, little stores right on the water, a Hindu shrine on its own tiny island, a 1000 year old Buddhist temple with a 100 year old book made out of palm leaves.  The writing is in an old language and really tiny! One of the islands is connected to the mainland with a very long bridge! 
One of the higher bridges
Local store

Now...this place is in trouble if the water level rises. The walking and train bridges that cross the river are not very high. In fact, anything taller than a basic motor. Oat would not find under it. You are literally scrunched down in the boat and can feel the bridge woosh above your head as the boat traveled under it. 

Hand peeling the cinnamon
We also got to see a family that has a cinnamon plantation...though that seems like a grandiose word for it. He demonstrated how they harvest the cinnamon, scraping the bark off the long stalk and then hand peeling the cinnamon off of it, and the drying the pieces up in the rafters where they finally take on the look of cinnamon sticks we would recognize. It seems strange;  fresh cut cinnamon does not have the deep smell that the dried cinnamon takes on.  

I didn't go back for the nighttime prawn fishing but I did get to see the various trap systems they have in place. The lanterns they light attract the shellfish (apparently they don't see too good) and they become trapped, allowing the fishermen to pull them up. Don't really think watching that would have appealed to me.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Buddhist Temple

To get an idea of the size...note
the people standing on the
lower platform...
In the area…the Villa is located a bit of a trip away from the ocean – it’s great because you are walking through the local streets. It’s a perfect opportunity to see life here in Sri Lanka but also to appreciate the drivers in your respective countries. These people are quite skilled at weaving, passing on curves, cutting in quickly, and generally giving others lots of shortness of breath (either that or you just don’t look).

It looks like wood but
it's concrete!
Closer in (not requiring any vehicles), there's a huge statue of the Buddha – actually just around the corner from the villa. Inside there are some gorgeous pictures of the many stories of the Buddha's life. I recognize a few of them but most are lost on me. The pictures were important because in the past so many people couldn’t read so the pictures told the tale without the need for the written word. 
The colors are striking and the wood carvings gorgeous...until I realized the wood carvings were actually done in concrete! The interior of the Buddha is a work in progress. It looks like the first three floors are complete and now they are working on the next one. The stairs are there but the paintings are still being worked on.

Bougain Villa - Sri Lanka

Call me crazy, but I just wasn't into sitting in Doha, in the blistering heat, waiting for work to start in a week...or more. Fortunately, I happily took off to Sri Lanka for the week, leaving Jeff behind to go to advantage to NOT being admin. 
I am so glad that the Bougain Villa was recommended to us! This was an absolutely fabulous place to
A bit of the garden!
just relax, hangout and enjoy. The people who work here are fantastic,, taking care of everything right away. They go out of their way to make sure things are the way you want it.

My balcony overlooking the garden
I have a great room with a balcony overlooking the grass and walkways. The coolest me all the bats that come out at night! They are at least in the Flying Fox family (one flew really close) and there are lots of them out at sunset. Took some pictures...have to see if any came out.

The food is fabulous – different curries every night – heavenly! There’s just way too much of it to eat it all! Breakfast has a wonderful selection of fruits, with lots of fresh papaya. Since I never can get really fresh, ripe papaya anywhere besides the tropics, I always enjoy every bit of it. 

We were slowly wending our way along the beach, heading back for the Bougain Villa (tuk-tuks have only one speed - slow) when we happened upon an incredible site. There was  an old car rally or convention or something. Parked alongside the road was a row of antique, vintage cars, all in pristine condition. People were stopping to gawk at the cars, look inside, marvel and the beauty, and take lots of pictures! Dirk Pitt would have been right at home...actually, probably would have jumped into one for a wild ride against the bad guys!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond

Loch Lomond - in the sun!
Our final day was spent on the bonnie bonnie banks of Loch Lomond. We didn’t stay just anywhere, in any village. No, we were at the hikers delight, wishing we had planned at least 2 nights instead of only one. There were far more trails available than we could ever take advantage of in a single afternoon. (it wasn’t a quick place to get to either.)
We walked along various trails, around the lake, heading part way up the mountain, snapping pictures, hiding under the trees in the rain storms, and just relaxing. We had traditional NW weather…if you don’t like it just way a few minutes, it’ll change. Raining one minute, beautiful sunshine the next.
Our little bird...
We had hoped to climb the mountain, Ben Lomond, but we arrived in the early afternoon and between the rain and the concern about darkness catching us, we stayed on the lower slopes. Still had a great chance to get some pictures and visit with a number of people. You’ll see the variety of skies – all taken on the same afternoon. Good thing we did because the next morning all it did was rain buckets!

Had to include this little bird – he was just fearless, hopping along in front of us, coming up right to Jeff’s leg, posing for us to take LOTS of pictures of him.

Loch Ness

Loch Ness
Loch Ness...most famous, of course for the famed monster that lives in its depths. While a number of stories were told of it beginning in 1933 and although people have claimed numerous views and pictures, we, however, never saw the fabled monster at all. However, there are indeed numerous places that still hawk it, appealing mostly to the kiddies...
It begins at the River Oich and extends for 23 miles or so (on a side note, they use miles rather than km in the UK - I never knew).  It's one of the deeper lochs - being around 750 feet deep. The area was scoured out by a glacier, leaving a natural canal across the country. 
We decided to circle Loch Ness…to do that required driving on a very Japanese road - minus the deep ditches but including some rather touchy, soggy, boggy, edges of the road! The trip was amazing, the landscape changed in seconds (and so did the weather). We went from wide-open fields with local vegetation to suddenly being in the middle of a wooded forest. 


Culloden Monument
Near Inverness is the famous battlefield Culloden, from the Jacobite rebellion. (We’re back to the Outlander series now – and the author did her homework well.) So much was happening between Britain and and Scotland (as well as other countries), civil war was a constant fear, religious differences fueled fighting, everyone was trying to survive. Scotland Highlanders threw in their support for the Bonnie Prince Charles, son of the exiled Stuart King, the man who, with France's help, would win the day, defeat Britain and return Scotland to its rightful place in the world. Unfortunately, it didn't work out that way. Culloden was the deciding battle...and for such a short battle (lasted about an hour), it was horrific in the toll of lives.The visitor’s center was very well done but walking the field was incredible. 

Urquhart Castle

View of the extended to the loch below

Bloody country…the next stop was Urquhart Castle, another location of war and death, though for part of its history it was a home for the wealthy owners / landlords of the time. The ruins shared a portion of their lives, including kitchens and food processing areas, stables for the animals, meeting halls, and even one room that had its own toilet (that of course dumped into the outside courtyard). There were some great views from the top of the standing walls and it covered quite a large area. Many of the community primarily lived inside the walls but any smelly or noisy business (tanning, blacksmiths, undertakers) were located outside the castle walls. Even though bathing was optional in those days, I suppose some activities were just over the top!
Tower remains

The community that held the castle in the days of the Jacobite rebellion were particularly anti-Jacobites. They watched the battles and saw the Jacobites being victorious and so decided to blast away the castle and leave, rather than leave it for the Jacobites to capture and use. It was quite impressive what could be done with enough gunpowder in a small area!

Canals and Lochs

Car & Train bridge open for
the boats

There is a natural canal across Scotland, running through the Lochs on a natural fault line here, called the Caledonian Fault. Between the fault line and the glacier that scoured it out years (MANY years) ago, there is a natural canal connecting the Atlantic Ocean to the English Channel in the North Sea, avoiding the long trip around the western portion of Scotland. We stopped by one of the locks that ships travel through on their voyage.

Budding Sailors!
The voyage down the locks takes about 1.5 hours to finish. The boats enter at the top, wait for the water to equalize, then they’re hand walked through to the next section. This particular lock had both a train and a car bridge to open. When the car bridge wouldn’t be a very big deal to just open, the train bridge had to be carefully timed to avoid any traffic. One of the ships was coming through with a group of teenagers on it. They were headed up north on the ship, doing all of the work required to sail a ship, sorta like a sailing school trip. They seemed to be really enjoying themselves, having fun but taking the job seriously when something had to be done. Looked like a great trip!

Bridge of Oich

Bridge of Oich
Heading out towards Inverness, we came across the Bridge of Oich, a rather picturesque bridge that once straddled the loch. It was an early cantilever bridge that proved to be quite strong and has stood the test of time (built in the 1800’s if I remember correctly).

Around Fort Williams

Ben Nevis peaking up behind the
ruins of Inverlochy Castle
While it wasn’t the Isle of Skye or Islay, Jeff’s favored Scotch distilleries, we did get to take a tour of the Ben Nevis distillery, complete with Ben Nevis in the background. This particular distillery does not complete every step, the hops are fermented elsewhere, but they do complete the process for distilling the scotch and barreling it for the many years until it is ready to be bottled and sold – generally between 3 and…pick a number.  I did learn that since in America, you can only use a barrel once, many of the barrels they use came from wineries and such in America – and whatever was in it the first time “flavored” the barrel and thus the scotch.
Inverlochy Castle

After the tour, we decided to walk back to Fort Williams. They have wonderful walking paths here and generally off the main road so you don’t have to breath car fumes all the way. We quite accidentally walked into a castle. Inverlochy Castle is one of the many ruins scattered across Scotland. It was originally built around 1280 but, of course, saw its way through a number of battles and restructures until we have indeed the ruins here today. It is still used – there was some kind of a reception going on so we primarily took in the outside of the remaining castle, picturesquely located on yet another loch.