Thursday, March 19, 2020

Quarantined in MN/Sri Lanka Top 10

No, I'm not on some exotic adventure now. I'm stuck at home in Minneapolis, Minnesota during COVID-19 outbreak practicing my #socialdistancing and debating how to have a #virtualbirthdayparty. And while it sucks that life isn't normal and I'm not supposed to leave the house except for necessities, I've actually done quite a few things I haven't done in a long time: played guitar (I'm amazed how much I remember), done artwork, cooked real, full meals multiple days in a row, and talked to friends I haven't in awhile. I want to elaborate a little more on playing guitar because it was the first time in AT LEAST six years that I've picked up an instrument without any intention of rehearsing, performing, or having to be good. I played because it was healing, enjoyable, and needed at this time. Sadly, like most professionals in our field, music hasn't always been that to me and can be full of rejection, feeling not good enough, or downright exclusive. I'm finally able to separate the action of music-making from what we as humans, namely music professionals, have ascribed it to. It felt so good to use my musical ear to tune the guitar and then *ahem figure out the riff in Bieber's Love Myself rather than look it up. I even dropped out of a choral project yesterday because it wasn't giving me joy (I didn't like the music). I don't have to prove my musical worth anymore-I've found enough ensembles that do that without trying-shout out to Common Ground Voices La Frontera and See Change Treble Choir! And now every night at 7p I am trying to get as many people as possible to go out on their porches/front stoops and sing Lennon's "Imagine" to keep us all in a mood of hope, community, and hopefully our world can be as one soon enough!

And on that note, I'm now finally writing about my amazing two weeks in Sri Lanka! Huge thanks to #GLT, Lonely Planet, and many Travel blogs for all their recs!

I want to give a top 10 list for Sri Lanka for when this ends and you can travel (which will happen!) because Sri Lanka was an amazing country and not tourist-ridden-we didn't see one American!

1) Talk to locals-most of them speak at least broken English and aside from tuk tuk drivers won't treat you as a tourist. One of my favorite memories was asking my guesthouse mama to show me some Sri Lankan cooking. She showed me how to make coconut sambal and coconut roti, and yes that includes peeling the coconut with a machine dedicated to doing so! Curry leaves are key! Also almost every guesthouse we went to had an option of a cheap dinner/breakfast-say yes, food is amazing and street food isn't really a thing.

2) PickMe the app saved us driver fees and was far cheaper than Uber almost always. Beware of distances. 25 miles can take 2.5 hours because there is only one highway so if you're not on that route, you're going through villages etc. But so worth it to go see elephants in Pinnawala! Hotel Elephant Park you can wake up to elephants right outside your $40 hotel room balcony for an all-inclusive $5 breakfast buffet! Also there are no driving rules so I wouldn't recommend driving or getting out of the car on the right side (British driving on left side of road).

3) Buy your Kandy-Ella ticket early if you want a seat. You will get on the train, but could be standing. Granted, everyone was vying for the door anyway to take the legendary hanging off the train photo (see below). You won't go over Nine Arch Bridge unless you pass Ella so don't let photos fool you.

4) Ambulawa Temple-not on the tourist path, but not too far out of your way from Kandy to Nuware Eliya. Crazy Dr. Seuss looking temple with a winding staircase up to the stuppa. It is the first multi-faith centre in SL! You can take an overpriced tuk tuk to the top that will wait for you or you can hike up yourself. Your choice, but it is quite a hike!

5) Knuckles Mountains-I can't recommend Gamani from Sri Lanka Adventure Trekking enough. As he described himself, he's a senior guide, knew all the locals of the villages we passed through, knew a hidden lookout (so was the path to get there!), and showed us a natural spice garden so no need to stop at one of the many tourist traps when you're chewing cinnamon from the wild (and it tastes like a natural Hot Tamale)! Definitely recommend the SkyCamp stay and going through Corbett's Gap. Just ensure you have a bottle of Dettol and socks/shoes you don't care about because you WILL get leeches, yes plural, and if you don't get 'em right away they will suck right through your shoe/sock. So worth it though! Rice paddies, centennials, waterfalls, natural spring water, beautiful views, and lots of hiking through cloud forests.

6) There's A LOT of temples, which we personally were satisfied without trying. Some highlights: Dambulla Cave temples and Temple of the Sacred Tooth in Kandy-Go see the puja offering (offering) that happens 3 times a day. The other temple towns we skipped-it was hot, they were expensive, and after awhile they all feel the same.

7) A cheaper version of Sigiriya Rock is Pidirungala. A bit of off-path bouldering is required, but well worth the view of Sigiriya Rock and far fewer people. Don't listen to the 20 min timeframe. We were booking it up the stairs and it took 25 mins to get up and an hour total to take pics and descend. Also if your tuk tuk driver isn't there, he didn't run off with your stuff, probably just went up the road for tea time (speaking from real experience). Strongly recommend getting his (didn't see any lady tuk tuks) number so you can communicate if you have a change in plan.

8) Whatever you do, DON'T have a layover in Mumbai Airport. Yes, tickets are cheap from there, but just don't unless you want SEVEN security checks and no time to enjoy the layover. If you have a bag over 7 kg you have to check it and you'll have to leave the secure area which a) requires a visa b) requires a lot of security checks and c) once you re-enter the airport you can't go through security until 3 hours before your flight and you can't leave the airport. Just don't do it-trust me.

 9) Spoil yourself with an Ayurveda resort for a very cheap price. Jasmin Villa in Negombo was <$20 for a 75 min full body massage and pedicure! Beware of oil-they're generous to say the least!

10) I'm almost hesitant to say this last one, but we read Hirikiteya Beach was the perfect mix of nightlife and calm and no one was there (2018 Lonely Planet)-WRONG. When we went to check it out it was people everywhere-no spare room, full of hawkers and tourists everywhere. Meanwhile, a 20 min tuk tuk ride (~8 km) there was a beach full of paradise called Talalla where we found Onchillawa, a tent for $5 on the beach, greeted with fresh coconut water w/ reusable straws, turtle laying her eggs, no hawkers, and very few people outside the beach bar we were at, which had AMAZING sea food and only people at night who were all very cool. Don't expect much from the town, but what do you need anyway when you go on a beach vacation? Swings, beach chairs, umbrellas, ocean waves, and a long coastline-check. You do need to get cash before arrival because there are no ATMs, but Matara or Dikwella aren't far. Dikwella was another more local beach more in the city but still felt the remote feeling. Would've explored more had we had more time.

Bonus 11) If you do a safari at Wilpattu (way fewer people than Yala!), commit to a whole day. Everyone that saw a leopard (we did not) did a full day and saw them in the afternoon. But we saw some really cool birds, including a wild peacock mating dance with its full cloak! It's pretty rare to see a sloth bear as much as we wanted to see one.

Random things: Incense is everywhere, even in the market fish and the taxis!

See below for some pics (many more on Facebook!):
the famous Nine Arch Bridge in Ella

Homemade coconut roti we cooked!

Yes, that is the village road (note the droves of school children!
View of Talalla Beach from our tent, no more words needed

On the train to Ella!

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