We’ve only been in this country for three or four days, but it’s an easy country to love so far. Women in brilliant gold embellished saris walk under the shade of parasols. Piles of tropical fruits and bright fabrics line the market stalls while hawkers yell and ring bells to entice you into their shops. Tuk-tuks putter past tangerine robed monks and Buddha statues. Heavy wood furniture and antiques line restaurant walls while a tiny Sri Lankan waiter impeccably dressed in white polishes china for $3 meals. Curry and spice smells emanate from every corner. It is truly candy for the senses.
After a very delayed flight from Jakarta, we landed near the capitol city of Colombo at 11pm in a sleepy haze, found a guest house nearby and early the next morning made our way to the train station via a combination of tuk-tuks and busses. Sri Lanka with its Dutch and English colonial past, retained a very impressive railway infrastructure for such a small developing country. We were hoping for first class tickets for the train from Colombo to Kandy, but alas, only second class was available so this made for a very exciting entry to the train.
Standing on the platform, before we could even see the train, the crowd became oddly agitated and within seconds the rail platform was transformed as dozens of Sri Lankans vied to be first onto the train, as there is no assigned seating. Of course we suspected something like this would occur, but the speed and the magnitude of the transformation still surprised us. We thought our plan was solid, with Katy using her excellent strength to size ratio as our lead to grab us a pair of seats, while Chris dealt with the surfboards. However, despite Katy’s best efforts, tiny grandmothers, kids, gentlemen in suits and women in saris pushed and shoved their way past her and into the train and we were left laughing with small shelf to lean on in the galley. The scenery is quite spectacular, of course we are still in the tropics so it is very green but much more rugged and untamed than we expected. It was a great experience, hanging out the door of the moving train with the locals, as we flew down the tracks into a beautiful country, images from an exotic movie imprinted on us.
We arrived in the bustling hill town of Kandy, loaded our luggage into and onto a little three wheeled tuk-tuk, destination: lunch. After a delicious lunch of all things, Chinese food, we set up at an inexpensive guesthouse for $7/night, instantly welcomed by kids, grandmothers, cousins and a friendly mop looking dog named Bruno. Apparently Bruno is well loved by the monks and has been known to attend evening prayers at the temple.
Sri Lanka is a primarily Buddhist country and Kandy houses several temples including the main attraction which is the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic. Yep, the left canine of the Buddha is housed in the sprawling temple, and no you don’t actually get to see it because it is housed in an altar in a closed gilded room guarded by monks. Nonetheless, we enjoyed strolling the grounds with our audio guides (love those) with the hordes of school children on field trips and the devote pilgrims. This is an important pilgrimage for Sri Lankan buddhists and a very important part of Sri Lankan history and culture. For dinner we enjoyed our first real Sri Lankan meal which means, you guessed it – curry. Yep, it was spicy and good, and pretty much lit Chris on fire.
Kandy is quite refreshing. After two months in Indo its great to be back in a country that values pedestrian friendly avenues and the aesthetically pleasing city with a small picturesque lake is much appreciated. The climate is also very enjoyable with mild temperatures and near constant breezes. When we tire of walking, the tuk-tuk rides are just a blast, an open air combo of motorcycle and very small car. They are the perfect taxi vehicle, and impressively 1 out of 7 of all Sri Lankans own one. And for a reported $3500 USD, its Chris’ big ticket item on his Christmas list for this year.
An unusual hazard in Kandy are the cheeky monkeys which stalk the tourist path around the lake. Again lucky for Chris, he has Katy here to protect him. What a sight, watching Katy swing our bag of lunch goodies at the “attacking” monkeys. She transformed into an aggressive and ominous sight, tucked low, swinging the bag of groceries with both arms extended, all the while the monkeys scrambling and squawking. True this is the same woman and same species that posed for cute dinner photos just a few days ago, but how quickly that can change. Luckily all involved avoided injuries, we did not lose any of our groceries, and entertainment was enjoyed by everyone, including the locals.
We are in our final days in Indonesia, and the last two weeks or so were spent in a quiet little village at an “end of the road” spot in West Java. It was a real treat that on most days, it was very peaceful with minimal traffic and not many people other than a fantastic bunch of local surfers. However, weekends quickly transformed into mayhem. One thing is for sure; Indonesians are keen on getting out of the city and enjoying some beach time on the weekends and they come in by the busloads. Rolling in the gentle surf getting covered in sand, these people know how to have good, wholesome fun… sans alcohol. Being a Muslim country, there is virtually no alcohol consumption by the locals, save for a few young locals, who might enjoy a Bintang every once in while. We feel like heathens.
We enjoyed the surf on the weekdays and embraced the weekend chaos. Last weekend, the surf conditions were not very good, so we took the motorbike out on a surf mission to find good waves. We didn’t find any waves, but we did stumble into the 2012 Indonesian Motocross Championships. Yes, we are the hipster, tree hugging surfers, but we are game for anything, and find that going to sporting events in other countries can result in some fabulous people watching and cultural experiences. From rugby tournaments in Fiji to rodeos in Mexico, we’ve seen some interesting stuff. So we arrive at the Motocross track fairly early, which is, by the way, in the middle of nowhere, over looking a beautiful stretch of coastline, and score a spot up on a rickety platform in a rubber tree. A perfect vantage point for the day.
Now in the US, professional sports usually involve a fair amount of revelry, fan antics and of course, some drinking. Not here. Indonesians, being the most quiet, polite, gentle beings, make us we feel like we are the rowdies, cheering for the riders and clapping for the winners. The place is packed, and clearly most of the spectators have come from hours away to be here, but it’s almost dead quiet, calm and orderly. Only when a rider crashes do we hear a “ohhhhh” from the crowd. From what we could tell, we were the only white people among thousands of Indonesians. When we walked through the “pit” area where the racers were set up, they all wanted to talk to us and pose with us for photos.
Our last day at the beach had small waves, so we rented inner tubes for $1 each and rolled around in the playful surf with the kids and families. Really good fun, playing with the locals in the surf even though they appear that they are indanger of sinking due to the weight of all of their clothing, including jilbabs on the girls (Muslim head scarf). West meets East with Katy in her bikini, sharing a wave with a girl in a “Burkini”. Awesome!
Yesterday as we began our multi-day overland travels to get to the Jakarta International Airport we had a layover at quite unattractive bus station along a typical busy roadway. We loaded our stuff into the bus and walked out to the highway looking for something that might help entertain us for the next two hours. After a short stroll down a motorbike path, we ended up in a little village of sorts with everyone gathered around a friendly neighborhood bout of badminton. Badminton is THE national sport here (the only athletes they send to the Olympics) and we quickly found ourselves in a heated doubles match with the owner of the badminton court and his son. Thankfully for all, they (and we) were laughing too hard to keep score. After making many new friends and working up a good sweat, we had to say goodbye and catch our bus for our next journey.
We’ve also perhaps aligned our priorities a bit better for three more months of travel. Actually, its more like we found another surfboard we just HAD to have. Katy is the proud new owner of an Indo-made 5′ 4″ surfboard that she affectionately calls “The Peanut”. She claims it called her name as she walked by. The board is tiny, suits her perfectly and she is looking forward to her getting a lot of fun waves on it in Sri Lanka. In light of this extra luggage we were able to downsize the rest of our belongings into one travel bag. With only three months left, guess we don’t really need those few extra t-shirts.
Indo has been a blast! The people really are nothing short of amazing and are some of the nicest we’ve ever met, thankfully because there sure are a ton of them. The beaches and waves lived up to our expectations and then some. When we do get back to the US, we will never take for granted our bike lanes, our parks and our quiet places, but we will surely miss the Indonesian hospitality, the “hello misters”, and the smiling faces everywhere.
We’re off to Sri Lanka to surf with the elephants!