Sri Lanka: Final Days

A couple days before we climbed Adam's Peak we returned to the hill country around Haputale and wandered around the tea plantations. After the climb we beelined it to the west and south coast beaches once more to give our legs a well-deserved rest. One month before we were on the same beaches and enjoyed nearly deserted towns and sands, but this time they were packed with holidaying tourists. The rooms where we once paid 1000 rupees for the night were now asking 10,000, but luckily we made some good friends on our first visit who gave us a sweet room at a bargain price. We rented a motorbike again and toured around the coast from Hikkaduwa to the beaches near Koggala where we watched the famous stilt fishermen perform their craft (which evidently is now posing for pictures for tourists). Nonetheless, it was nice to see and the setting was beautiful. We then followed the fringe of the southern coast before heading north back into the hill country yet again. Our third time in the hill country was much the same as the previous two in terms of crap weather. The monsoon rains and winds returned for a second round of destruction. We stayed one night in Haputale and were forced to evacuate the next morning. The town was getting pounded with sustained 100 kilometer per hour winds and could have blown off the mountainside at any moment. Nuwara Eliya was where we ended up that afternoon and from there we organized transport to take us to the Horton Plains early the next morning. Horton Plains is both a national park and an Unesco World Heritage site which means that the entrance fees are grossly overpriced. The 9.5 km “World's End” circuit is a scenic hike though, even if the views from World's End might not blow your mind. We were lucky enough to have perfect weather on our hike which is highly unusual even at the best of times. The park is home to purple face leaf monkeys (a.k.a. bear monkeys), sambar deer, and even a few leopards. We didn't see any leopards, but we did see plenty of sambar grazing on the plains, a few bear monkeys, a pair of giant squirrels, and even a pissed-off civet cat who had trapped itself in a garbage bin. After we got back to Nuwara Eliya, we grabbed our packs and took the next bus back to Kandy. There we spent the next four days- our last four days in Sri Lanka. We got our India visas, booked our onward flight and generally got stuff sorted out. Despite what everyone is saying on the Internet, it is possible to get a six month India visa when applying in Sri Lanka- we got ours! But, our time in Kandy wasn't all business. We did take in a Kandyan dance performance and wandered around the surreal corridors and rooms of one of the most bizarre hotels of the world- Helga's Folly. Nearly every square inch of its walls are decorated with colorful murals, vintage family photos, magazine and newspaper articles, and mirrors reflecting the rooms general hodgepodge and mishmash. Salvador Dali would feel right at home here! Eclectic, eccentric, surreal, inspiring, and at times, even creepy, Helga's Folly is by far one of the most interesting, and no doubt the most unique, sights in Kandy.

So then, in pictures, this is what our final week in Sri Lanka looked like…

Tamil tea plucker near Talawakelle

Portrait of a Tamil tea plucker

Stilt fisherman near Koggala

The beach at Koggala

On the Horton Plains

The crazy world of Helga's Folly, Kandy

Self portrait(s), Helga's Folly

 

So, our 42 days in Sri Lanka have come to a close. Here are some final observations on our time spent here. For such a small country we were amazed to find such diversity in landscapes and abundance of wildlife. Golden beaches, lush jungles, rugged mountains, hundreds of square kilometers of tea covered hills, grassy plains and dense forests- Sri Lanka has it all. And again, for such a small nation, they have a very rich and proud history and the ancient sites scattered throughout the island prove this well. The Sri Lankan people are as friendly and welcoming as they come and we made some wonderful connections with the people over here. This is an extremely easy and safe country to travel in and offers such a variety of things to see and do. We loved every minute of our time here and I know already that there will come a day when Sri Lanka calls us back.

 

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Adam’s Peak: First Sunrise

Returning from a day trip in the tea country around Talawakelle, our train broke down somewhere between the highest and second highest train stations in Sri Lanka. Stranded and freezing on a pitch black mountain railway, we sat in our solitary passenger car (with just one other person) wondering if we were going to make it home that night. We had plans for New Year's Eve the next day and it was quickly looking like they would fall through. After waiting for a couple more hours on the track, our train was once again inching its way closer to our home in Haputale. Our plan was back on. We woke early after a near sleepless night of shivering in our damp bed to catch the 7:45 train to Hatton where we would then catch a bus to our final destination of Dalhousie- the starting point to climb Sri Lanka's holiest mountain, Sri Pada (Adam's Peak). We thought it would be pretty cool to watch the first sunrise of the new year in such a spiritually important place. We had originally intended to climb the peak a couple weeks earlier when we were first in the hill country, but the relentless rain altered our plans. Climbing the mountain in the opening hours of 2013, seemed like the next natural choice. We only were able to catch a short couple hours of sleep before we woke again just before midnight to watch the locals shoot fireworks from the rooftops over their village- Adam's Peak with its illuminated path to the summit off in the distance.

The illuminated pilgrim's path up Sri Pada

At around 2:15 a.m. we began our climb. The weather was perfect. It was a clear and calm night and the moon was bright- only four days since the last poya and the kick-off to the Adam's Peak pilgrimage season. The first kilometer was a leisurely stroll through the village- past kiosks and vendors of all things kitsch (stuffed animals, plastic toys, cheap religious trinkets and statuettes, and everything else useful when climbing a mountain). Then the relentless stairs begin. Just under 6000 of them and in varying sizes and condition. After about 2 1/2 hours on the stairclimber, we reached the top. It was about 4:45 a.m.- we were sweaty, and it was freakin' cold on that peak. The worst part was that we still had an hour and a half wait until the sun came up. We put on every warm layer we brought, wrapped ourselves in our sarongs, and waited, shivering, for the first sunrise of the new year. By 6 a.m., the top of the mountain and the temple perched upon it was packed with worshippers and sunrise spectators.

View from Adam's Peak just before sunrise

Just before sunrise the clouds started to roll in, which obscured the actual sunrise itself but made for a more spectacular scene. By about 6:45 we were well cold and it was time to get moving. 6000 stairs down. To be honest, we never found the climb up all that difficult at all- the real challenge was the descent. After about 4000 stairs our legs were losing their integrity and the knee-wobble started to set in. It was pretty cool however to see the scenery that we didn't get to see during the darkness of the night. It was still clear and you could see for twenty kilometers in every direction. By the time we reached our guesthouse though, we were exhausted. We quickly made the decision to move to warmer climes and to a place where we could wait out the inevitable pain coming to our legs, so we packed our bags once more and took the next bus out of town. Three buses and eight hours later, we watched the first sun of 2013 set over the Indian Ocean. We were back on the beach… for a few days anyways.

View on the way down

 

The Cultural Triangle

When the rains came they came with a vengeance. There were landslides and, sadly, some people lost their lives. But just when it seemed the Mayan prophecies were being realized, the clouds parted and the sun shone again… for a while anyways. We enjoyed such perfect weather for the first few weeks in Sri Lanka but the rains pushed us off course and out of the hill country. There's not a lot to do up in the high mountains in the ceaseless rain. So we went to Colombo to get an extension on our visas and waited out the rain in Lanka's second largest city, Kandy. At least there we could give our taste buds a break from rice and curry and escape the patches of inclement weather in cafes, bookshops and the like. After a couple days there we once again felt the urge to move on, so we headed north to the ancient sites and cities of Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Sigiriya, and Dambulla. The circuit took us five days to complete.

Women praying at the Ruvanelisaya Dagoba, Anuradhapura

First was Anuradhapura, an ancient capital of Sri Lanka some 2000 years ago. For the most part Anuradhapura is a city of ruins save for a few dagobas and temples which are in remarkably good condition due to their quality construction and some modern restorations- and it is home to the world's oldest tree. After visiting some of the greatest ancient sites in Asia such as Cambodia's temples of Angkor, Bagan in Myanmar, Borobudur in Indonesia, or even Sukhothai in Thailand, Anuradhapura doesn't quite measure up, but it remains a nice place to wander around for a day. We toured around the expanse of Anuradhapura by tuk-tuk complete with one despotic driver. Throughout the day we strayed away from where the driver wanted us to go and just lost ourselves in the forested areas between the major sites and obligatory tourist stops. When you get out into these areas your imagination can just go crazy visualizing how grand and massive this city once was. For us, that was the whole charm of Anuradhapura. There are overgrown foundations, statues, bathing pools, and ruins of varying conditions scattered everywhere out there. There is however a hefty, and arguably unjustified, $25 premium (per person) to visit this ancient site (free if you're Sri Lankan and half price if you're of South Asia decent).

The intricate stone carvings at Gal Vihara

Next we took the bus to Polonnaruwa- the second most ancient kingdom of Sri Lanka. As with Anuradhapura, most of this ancient city is also in ruins and consumed by the jungle surrounding it. There are however a few exceptions once more, especially in the areas of the Quadrangle and Gal Vihara. These two places alone make Polonnaruwa a must-visit. But again there is more to Polonnaruwa than just it's must-see stops. Following the narrow paths that meander through the jungle, we saw so much incredible bird life. But for us, the highlight was still the immaculate rock carvings at Gal Vihara- an ancient site that has been on my list for quite a few years now. It will cost you another $25 per person to see the wonders of Polonnaruwa and the same exceptions apply.

Sigiriya was just altogether awesome. This rock fortress itself dates back to the 5th century and the star of the show (if constructing a major palace/monastery complex on a prehistoric volcanic lava plug isn't cool enough) has to be awarded to the amazing frescos that survive, nearly intact, on the cliff face. The views from on top of Sigiriya (Lion's Paw Mountain) and the rock and water gardens that surround the rock make this place the complete package. At either side of the base of the upper stairway are beautifully carved lion paws (which look more like dragon claws to me). In its glory days, the complete carved lion adorned the whole side of the upper half of the mountain and passing through its open mouth led you to the palace buildings on the peak's summit. The only thing keeping your imagination from running wild here is the very real $30 entrance fee to get in.

The detailed apsaras frescos, Sigiriya

Later that same day we returned to Dambulla where we were based out of and took in its famous cave temples. The statues and paintings in these caves date back as far as the 1st century A.D. but have gone through a series of repairs and renovations over the ages. Maybe it's because we've seen the incredible paintings in Ajanta in India, or just had witnessed the skilled artistry of the frescos in Sigiriya, or maybe it was the fact that they had gone through some more recent touch-ups, but Dambulla just didn't hold my attention the way Polonnaruwa or Sigiriya did. With that said, there are still some fine statues and paintings to be admired, and if you're not ancient-sited out, Dambulla may be well worth it's $10 admission fee for you.

Inside Cave II (Maharaja Viharaya), Dambulla

All-in-all, the ancient cities delivered an awesome 5-day trip. For the most part the weather cooperated and it seemed that the worst of the monsoon rains were over. If you only had time for just a couple of the sites though, I would recommend not leaving Sri Lanka without seeing at least Polonnaruwa and Sigiriya. Nowhere else in Sri Lanka will the government take so much of your money and run- altogether they took a total of $180 of our precious backpacking dollars, but we are glad that we had the opportunity to see it all.

 

Sri Lanka: Ins and Outs

The weather here in Sri Lanka has been dismal for the past week. As a result we have been forced to stray from our planned course and slow our pace a little. We intend to backtrack and return to the central highlands once the weather lifts a bit. I thought that rather than write about our incomplete travels through the hill country, I would blog instead about traveling through Sri Lanka in general. Hopefully some will find the following information useful.

We've been here for over three weeks now and still have at least a couple more to go. That means that we will be staying longer than our originally allotted 30 days. If you have similar plans to travel longer than 30 days in Sri Lanka, it makes good sense to apply for a visa extension as soon as you arrive as they can only be obtained at the main immigration office in Colombo. The process is straightforward enough and if you get to the office before 10 a.m., then you should have your extension in about two hours. Be prepared to pay at least twice the amount as your original e-visa though.

Sri Lanka is a cheap country to travel in by Western standards, but when you compare it to other countries in Southeast Asia, you will find that your dollars just won't last you nearly as long. There are however a few ways to get the most out of your precious rupees.

Many people hire a private car and driver when they visit Sri Lanka. If you only have a week or 10 days and want to see as much as you can within that tight timeframe, then this option is the sensible choice. But we are backpackers and we have more time than money. Since we arrived we have taken nothing but public transportation. This tends to scare some people but rest assured… it's not that bad. In fact, with the right attitude it's a lot of fun, and, the best part is, it's incredibly cheap. A 100-kilometer bus trip will cost you less than $2. Buses are frequent and if you're traveling along the coast it's easy just to flag down a bus heading in the direction you want to go. If one is too crowded for your liking, wave it through, and another will come in a few minutes. There is usually space in the front of the bus next to the driver where you can store your backpacks. Some bus attendants at some stations ask to store your bags in the boot. If you are uncomfortable with this and would rather keep an eye on your impedimenta, then you can offer to purchase an extra seat for it (for a dollar or two why not right?). Even though it's Sri Lanka, and it's hot out there, air conditioned buses are not a necessity. Even non-airconditioned buses keep cool enough as there is always a refreshing draft coming through the doors and windows thus keeping the temperature down. The seats directly behind the driver are reserved for members of the clergy. If no one is sitting in these seats then by all means use them, but keep in mind that if a monk should happen to come aboard, then you will be obligated to give up your seat for him. Men are permitted to sit next to a monk on a bus, but it is prohibited for a woman to do the same. There are a couple downsides to traveling by bus though. Sri Lankan bus drivers are apart of the gas-brake, gas-brake league of masochistic drivers and often possess the mind frame that their speedometer is in some way related to their rate of pay. Be prepared for some serious testing of the nerves. As a passenger on a public bus, you are also at the mercy of your driver's musical preferences. It is wise to try and secure a seat as far away from the speakers as you can. It's for these reasons that many travelers prefer to take the train whenever possible.

The train as it passes over Nine Arch Bridge near Ella

The trains in Sri Lanka are an absolute pleasure and are an integral part of the Sri Lankan experience. They are calm, convenient, and pass through some seriously scenic landscapes. If you are not in a huge rush, and providing that the train goes to the same destination as the bus, I would recommend the train. You will no doubt have some memorable interactions with locals on the train. You are able to book seats in advance, but we haven't done that yet and have had no problems getting a seat. Tourists will always be sold a second class seat unless you specifically specify something else. Second class is a good choice though as you have a greater chance of getting a window seat to enjoy the views as well there is room to store your luggage in the overhead racks. Trains and buses are nearly identical in price.

For short distances you will inevitably hire a few “three-wheelers” (tuk-tuks). These guys will always try to separate you from as much of your money as possible. Try and know how far it is to your destination and ask a local how much the ride should cost. You may never get the same price as a local, but at least you can try to get it as close to that figure as possible. Tuk-tuk rates differ greatly from one region of the country to another though so it can be a little difficult trying to negotiate a mutually fair rate.

Riding the Sri Lankan rails

Sri Lanka can be a tricky destination to eat on the cheap. There are well-defined traveler enclaves throughout Sri Lanka and these are where the majority of tourists will go. When in these places, you are forced to eat in tourist restaurants and pay tourist prices. Sometimes there is no choice as you are so far removed from local neighborhoods. But it does pay-off to walk the distance, get out of your tourist zone, and eat in truly local restaurants. Try to find one where business is buzzing and you should be alright. It's also a good way to find out what an authentic rice and curry tastes like too. For all you booze hounds out there- an average price for a bottle of Lion is about 300 rupees (about $2.50) which isn't all that cheap and can seriously add up if you have a problem. Well there is a way around that too. In almost every town you will find what's called a “Wine Store” (not in the tourist zones though)- look for the big green sign over a shop front and bars over the front window. There you will pay about 150 rupees for the same beer and about 20 rupees more if you get one from the cooler. I just saved you about $200 a week!

Accommodation in Sri Lanka is a mixed bag and prices fluctuate drastically from one town to another. We've paid as low as 1000 rupees on a few occasions and as much as $35 at other times. Quality and cleanliness is also a hit-and-miss affair. Using websites such as Agoda, HostelWorld, and Trip Advisor are a good way to find out which are clean and of reasonable quality, but often you can get cheaper rates at the hotels themselves. Even accommodation in Sri Lanka is negotiable.

The people of Sri Lanka are extremely friendly and are generally very trustworthy. They enjoy striking-up sincere conversations with you and are always willing to help. It is a very beautiful, easy, and safe place to travel in. We're looking forward to what the next two weeks have in store for us.

 

Yala and Bundala N.P.

After we were finished exploring the beaches and sights of the western and southern coasts, we headed inland (slightly) to visit a couple of Sri Lanka's spectacular national parks- Yala and Bundala. From Tangalla we caught the bus to Tissamaharama (Tissa)- a convenient base to reach the parks and a pleasant town in its own right. You knew upon arrival in Tissa that you were wedged between a couple of Sri Lanka's best parks. Mongooses and monitor lizards cross the roads among the throngs of three-wheeled rickshaws, the cries of spotted deer trump the horns of buses, kingfishers and parakeets share power line real estate, and monkeys monkey-around in the trees overhead. A short walk from our guesthouse brought you to a small lake with impressive granite outcrops off in the distance. The lake is home to crocodiles and serves as an important stopover for migratory birdlife. On the cultural side of things, Tissa hosts a lively market twice weekly (Sundays and Thursdays) where you can get your fill of delicious Sri Lankan “short eats”, and, Tissa is also home to a couple of massive 2000-year-old dagobas (stupas).

A Scene in Yala National Park

However, people come for the national parks that encircle Tissa, and we were no different. Yala is known for its prized big game such as elephants, wild bore, sambar, spotted deer, water buffalo, and with any luck, Yala remains the best place in the world to spot a leopard. Bundala is more renowned for its diverse birdlife but that's not to say that there isn't anything else lurking amongst the lakes, plains, and forests of the park.

But Yala National Park was first on our itinerary. The day before our 'safari' we hand-picked our own jeep and driver in town. Doing this affords you more control over the quality of vehicle you're getting and you can also assess your driver/guide's proficiency in both English and wildlife knowledge- but for the most part, I'm sure they are all reasonably competent. Half-day safaris in the park is by far the most popular choice but we opted for a full-day out and shared the expenses with another couple.

Our safari jeep

Right from the get-go there were animals everywhere. Peacocks by the dozens, many mongooses and monitors, lots of spotted deer, sambar deer and wild boar, and too many water buffaloes to count. The birdlife in the park was crazy too. We came across a tree at one point that had about 50 or 60 yellow hornbills in it. As well we saw eagles, storks, parakeets, an owl, and many others that I don't have the knowledge to name. Of course we saw plenty more crocodiles as well. By the day's end we probably saw at least a dozen elephants- a couple of them within a few meters distance from our jeep.

Our close encounter with an elephant

But the undeniable main attraction are the leopards. We were fortunate enough to see two. The first one was a little disappointing. Our guide and driver got the call as to where the leopard was spotted. When we arrived at the location there were many other jeeps clogging-up the road. Everyone was squinting and straining to see the cat high up on a branch in a massive tree and wondering why they were unable to see what was so obvious to the guides. Yet nobody really could. That was the only leopard sighting that most guests in the park got that day.

Up close with our leopard

The second leopard we saw came about an hour later, after all the half-day safari goers were already out of the park. Our lone jeep turned a bend in the road and there, lying in the shadow of a tree, was the leopard. We switched off the ignition and just sat there parked a few meters away and watched. The leopard watched us back. After about 10 minutes, it got up, stretched, and wondered off into the trees. We found it again a minute later up on a low branch with its eyes still fixed on us. We were the only people in the park that day to have such a personal interaction with a leopard. It was amazing.

After retreating to its tree

Regardless of the incredible array of wildlife, Yala is simply a stunning park. Even without seeing any animals, Yala is a feast for the eyes. There are so many diverse ecosystems packed into such a relatively small area: jungle, lakes, swamps, beaches, mountains, savannah, and massive granite monoliths all make up the collective Yala landscape. It was a spectacular day and definitely a highlight of our trip so far.

Birds of Bundala

The next day we took a half-day safari to Bundala National Park. The focus in this park is on the birdlife, but in addition to hundreds of birds, we saw wild boar, tonnes of grey langurs, crocodiles, and water buffalo. We even had the chance to see a few male peacocks performing their mating ritual dance- an awesome sight to see. Bundala is a gorgeous park that's worth a visit, even if you're like us- not the birder type.

The peacock dance and some grey langurs

 

The Best Beach in Sri Lanka?

Just a quick post this time. I thought I'd talk a bit about Sri Lankan beaches. By now I'm pretty sure that you've all figured out that Hyo Jin and myself are not 'true' beach people. By that I mean we're not the kind of people who while our days away by working on our tans and sipping overpriced drinks on beach beds. In fact, we really aren't the kind of people who can lay dormant for very long at all. We love swimming and snorkeling and seeing the creatures that flourish below the surface, but that just isn't the typical Sri Lankan beach. As I've mentioned in prior posts, most of the more popular beaches in Sri Lanka are just narrow tracts of sand, mainly due to poor decisions by local beachside businesses. This makes a leisurely stroll on the beach difficult at times and not the most enjoyable most of the time. The other thing concerning Sri Lankan beaches is their surf and currents. Many of the popular beaches have pounding waves and treacherous rip currents- not ideal for swimming. However, there are a few exceptions (including Unawatuna and Mirissa for example)- you just have to go out and find them. If you are a beach person though, then none of this really matters and you will likely be happy on any of the beaches you hit up. With all this said, we do enjoy a beautiful beach, a scenic beach (a beach with calm turquoise waters, thriving corals and bountiful marine life would be nice, but this is Sri Lanka, and sadly, that doesn't exist). The good news is I think we found one for you on the southern beaches, just a few kilometers west of popular Tangalla. This one is also not ideal for swimming or snorkeling, but it does check all the other boxes. It's definitely the nicest we've found in Sri Lanka to date. But everyone has their own criteria as to what constitutes the perfect beach. This is merely our recommendation.

Hyo Jin taking in Amanwella Beach

It's called Amanwella. If you're staying on Tangalla then you can ask any tuk-tuk driver to take you there and they should know the way. If you're staying in Goyambokka as we did (also a nice small beach), then it's about a 20-minute walk. Ask locals for directions. There is a large resort on Amanwella by the same name, but it is a public beach so you shouldn't get any flack for enjoying it. When we were there the resort was closed but preparing for its opening at Christmas time, which meant that we had the whole beach to ourselves. But even when the tourists do pour in, there is plenty of beach to go around. Very few tourists (other than the ones booked into the resort) know about this place… so enjoy it while you still can.

 

The Krait, The Peacock… and Anula

Our day in Mirissa deserves a post of its own- not because of the beach that attracts tourists by the scores, but because of our surreal experience there, and a colourful character named Anula. We left Unawatuna that morning at around 10am and by 12 o'clock we were already in Mirissa. When we got off the bus and started walking towards town, we were greeted, or rather intercepted, by a woman named 'Anula' who said she had a room in her home that we could have for 1000 rupees. She said it was just a couple of minutes away. After walking for about 20 minutes we were relieved when she took a hard right off the dirt road and continued down a narrow path through the forest which led to her home. The house was in a very secluded and very beautiful location surrounded nearly entirely by jungle. In front of the house she had cleared away some of the dense vegetation to plant an amazing garden full of exotic (to us) plants and flowers. Within minutes of being there we saw many incredibly colorful birds and could hear the calls of peacocks coming from the jungle just behind her garden. Then she took us to our room. It was obvious that she hadn't had guests in a quite while (actually more than two months according to her guest registry) as the bed sheets were covered with insect exoskeletons and enough dirt to plant a reasonably decent garden on them. The floor was just as gritty and had the scat of various small creatures on it. The first thing we saw when we entered the washroom was a gecko on the floor that had been dead for quite some time. We both looked at each other like we wanted to get the hell out of there, but we didn't want to disappoint Anula, and hey, it was only 1000 Rs! So we agreed to stay there for the night. Anula then asked us if we would like some tea. We said we would. After a few minutes of much-needed room cleaning and the unpacking of a few things, Anula returned with our teas which we took in the next room. Over tea Anula complained to us about how expensive things like water, electricity, tea, sugar and toilet paper were for her. By the time we were finished our tea, we knew a lot more about the slightly eccentric Sri Lankan spinster named Anula. She then asked us for 100 rupees for the tea! After tea we wanted to check out the Mirissa beach which is the main reason why people come here (along with whale watching). Before we left, Anula imposed an 8 o'clock curfew on us and said the gate to the path would be locked after that. Awesome! On our way up the forest path leading to the gate and dirt road I nearly stepped on the deadliest snake on the Indian subcontinent- a common krait. It was a big one too- about six feet long and well camouflaged in the dry leaves on the forest floor. Apparently its about 15 times more venomous than a cobra and the most deadly snake not only because of its potent poison but because of their bad habit of hanging around in leaves and brush in populated areas. A lot of people in India and Sri Lanka step on these things and the snakes don't like it! Luckily it saw me before I could step on it and repositioned itself away from my feet. It then slithered off into the forest. I''m not even going to lie- I nearly shat my shorts! So we got some lunch and checked out the beach. Within an hour, we were bored of the beach and headed back to our home in the jungle. It didn't take long before Anula found us and took us on another path through the jungle behind her house to show us her vegetable patch. It was there in her vegetable garden that we saw our first peacock. It was on top of a tree next to a river almost posing for us. I went back to our room to get my camera. The peacock was still in the tree when I returned. To get a clearer and closer shot we had to jump over a swampy creek that separated the vegetable garden from a river bank that offered a good vantage point. Hyo Jin didn't quite make it though and she sank to her knees in dank swamp muck. As I was snapping pictures of the peacock, a giant water monitor lizard swam across the river. The whole scene was surreal. About a half hour later Anula returned and called out to us to get away from the river bank because there were snakes and crocodiles about. On the way back it was my turn to go knee-deep into the swamp. We cleaned ourselves up and went for dinner- all the while well aware of our eight o'clock curfew.

Shot of the peacock scene taken @ 70mm

When we got back to the house it was a quarter past eight and Anula was waiting for us by the gate none to impressed. She asked us how much we paid for dinner. It was pitch dark outside her house (electricity is expensive you know) and from her garden you could see every star in the sky. Closer to the ground hundreds of fireflies illuminated the trees around us. With it still being so early and not much else to do in the middle of nowhere, we crawled under our mosquito netting and finished off the last two episodes of “The Walking Dead” (Season 2) on the iPad. We fell asleep with a dozen or so fireflies clinging to our mosquito nets and all the sounds of the jungle outside our door. Maybe it was the fresh zombie gore in her head, or maybe it was the grit in her bed, or perhaps it was the fear that Anula was watching her through the crack in the door, but Hyo Jin barely slept at all that night. By 7am Anula was knocking on our door telling us it was time to get up. When we finally did she told us that the room price of 1000 Rs was just for one person and that we needed to pay an additional 500 rupees. I told her to forget about that idea and we quickly packed our things and got out of Dodge. Before we said our last goodbyes, she handed me a piece of paper with her contact info on it and told us to come back again in the future and to spread the good word about her lovely guesthouse in the jungle.

Shot of peacock taken @ 200mm

Just another day at the beach!