Returning Westward

February 6 to February 12, 2019

Port Blair

The ship left Yangon, Myanmar, early evening on Monday, Feb. 4, spent a day at sea then docked in Port Blair, Andaman Islands, at 8 a.m. on Wednesday

Throughout this 130-day journey, passengers left the ship and new ones boarded.  Only a small core of about twenty of us have been on the ship since it sailed from Piraeus, Greece, on December 9. We’d already visited Port Blair on our way to Malaysia so we skipped the formal excursion this time and Felicia and I went exploring on our own.

It was too far to walk from the pier into the market area in town. We hired a tuk-tuk, which required fine negotiating skills so as not to get fleeced by one of the hoards of eager tuk-tuk drivers that descended on us exited at the port. We’d been told by people who’d been there before the relatively short ride should cost no more than a couple of American dollars, the amount the locals would pay.

The first driver we approached wanted $10.  We moved on until one of them agreed to the fair price.

In the market area, the two of us ambled along in the blistering heat, going in and out of shops for hours. I bought a cheap watch since the strap of the one I’d brought with me had broken.  (True to the motto that you get what you pay for, this new watch lasted about a week and I ended up buying another cheap one from the ship’s gift store, which still works.

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On the way to the market area of Port Blair

After another long negotiation with the tuk-tuk driver we returned to the ship, damp as wet dig rags.

After the ship quit Port Blair we spent three days at sea for a return visit to Colombo.  By the third day I felt listless and bored.  We had good weather but I’m not one to sit by the pool, the hot shady decks held little appeal, and I couldn’t concentrate long enough to read, in spite of the ship’s well-stocked library.

We’d lost satellite connection so we there was no TV in our rooms, except for the daily roster of so-so movies.  Yes, we had daily lectures but the subjects didn’t always interest me (geology, in particular).  Our days revolved around food:  three ample meals, and  desultory conversations.

They gym saved me, and I went often.

Colombo

February 10, 2017

We arrived in Colombo, Sri Lanka, in the early morning of February 10.  While the  passengers who’d boarded recently occupied themselves with the listed excursions, we Grand Voyage travelers spent three days, two nights on land, away vast expanse of water surrounding me, and the endless sound of waves slapping against the ship, even when I lay in bed in my cabin.  I wanted to get moving.

As the old saying goes, take care what you wish for because the universe could well give it to you. The next three days passed in gusts of frantic activity.

Pinnawala and Kandy

February 10, 2019

The ship docked in Colombo at 7 a.m., and we were on the coach for the 2.5 hour ride to the elephant orphanage in Pinnawala. The coach trip was advertised as taking us past charming, past colourful towns and villages. It’s possible that was the case but I didn’t notice. I was too busy worrying about whether we’d arrive in one piece. The driver of our coach, a real cowboy at the wheel, had us hanging on to our seats for our lives.

We got to the elephant sanctuary in Pinnawala (in one piece) at around 11 a.m. We were allotted an hour at the sanctuary, then came lunch and later a brief walk along the nearby shops. where Felicia bought a note pad made from recycled elephant poop.

The elephant orphanage was founded in 1975 by the Department of Wildlife conservation starting with a handful of baby elephants. It is now home to the largest herd of captive elephants.

The animals looked well-cared for but there is controversy surrounding the place, now that it has a breeding program—more like a zoo than a sanctuary.  Some of the males were chained as they can get aggressive with the other animals when they’re in musth, a time when testosterone levels are at a peak in musth males and probably regulate this extreme form of reproductive behavior.

We were told the sanctuary chains all the elephants in their pens at night, rather than letting them roam within the enclosures but got no satisfactory answer as to why this was necessary.

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This bull elephant tried and tried but got nowhere with the female, who wasn’t ready to mate. .Eventually, she just walked away, and since the male was chained he couldn’t follow her. 

By 2 p.m. we back on the bus and racing to the city of Kandy, a two-hour trek with the unrelenting cowboy at the wheel. (Kandy, situated in western Sri Lanka, is known as the “independent kingdom in the mountains” because it held out against colonial rule for two centuries. It fell to British in 1818.)

On the way to Kandy we stopped at a spice garden where one of the owners took us around to show us a variety of plants: sandalwood, nutmeg, cinnamon, and many more. Then he sat us down in a covered area to explain their various uses in cooking and for medicinal purposes. Naturally, after the talk he led us to the attached store.

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The New Paradise spice and herb garden  near Kandy, Sri Lanka

Soon we were hustled onto the coach and off we flew to Kandy for a stop at the Temple of the Tooth, home of the sacred relic of a tooth of the Buddha.  The temple complex once housed the palatial seat of Sinhalese monarchs.

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Entrance to the Temple of the Tooth, Kandy, Sri Lanka

Temples and mosques have strict rules pertaining to attire.  Both men and women must have shoulders and knees covered.  My friend, Don, was refused entry because his walking shorts didn’t ompletely cover his knees. Our enterprising guide disappeared and returned with some sort of sarong, which Don, a shy man, wrapped around his waist like a skirt and so was allowed in. (We’ve never let him forget that we witnessed him wearing “frock,” as Felicia calls dresses.)

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Devotees offer flowers to Buddha.  Though the gift is one of beauty it is also a reminder that  things of the world, like the flowers, also fade.  

On the heels of the visit to the temple came a traditional cultural performance at a local theatre, mostly dancing but also fire eaters and people walking on hot coals. Tired from the hours of jostling on the bus, we had another half-hour drive to get to our hotel.

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The cultural show  featured ethnic dancing, fire swallowing and walking on coals 

The buffet dinner was superb, particularly the array of local dishes, although the western fare was ample and good.  After dinner I fell exhausted into the big king size bed and passed out.

We were back on the bus by 8:30 the following morning on our way to the next stop: the exquisite Royal Botanic Gardens in Peradeniya. We got there at 10 a.m., after a “panoramic” drive through Kandy.

The garden dates to 1821.  Among other things, it has a lovely orchid house, a spice garden, a medicinal plant garden, a fernery, an avenue of palms, cacti, and a bamboo collection on 60 hectares (147 acres). We were allocated a measly hour to enjoy all this bounty.

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The orchid pavilion had dozens of varieties of blooms
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The inside of this tree trunk in Royal Botanic Gardens in Peradeniya had room  for two people

We hauled ourselves on the bus at 11 a.m. en route to the seaside town of Negambo where, after a hurried stop for lunch, we arrived at our hotel, a beach resort, around 4 p.m. The hotel’s restaurant faced the white-sand beach, patrolled by guards with sticks to keep out dogs and other riff-raff.

Because Negambo is a beach resort, it’s tourist friendly.

Several of us strolled up and down the long main street, chock-full of shops, restaurants, cafes and hotels. It felt so good to be walking after so many hours on the coach.  (The only sustained walking I can do on the ship is the treadmill in the gym, which isn’t quite as satisfying as exploring a new city.)

I had looked forward to having high-speed internet that night so I could upload pictures to this blog. Alas, my room was too far from the router and they would have had to scare up a technician to fix it so I let it go.

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Sunset from my room in Negambo. Behind the palms i nothing but white sand and sea

We quit Negambo around 2 p.m. on Feb. 12, and after several near accidents (or so it seemed to me) we arrived in Colombo, where gridlocked traffic awaited.

I climbed the gangway up into the ship with a tired sigh of gratitude to be back.

Next stop:  Uligan, Maldives

 

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