Blog hopping

At the moment (March – Nov 2015), My husband and I are travelling by bike from Greece to China.

We have another blog telling this tale, so please visit http://www.towardtherisingsun.wordpress.com to follow.

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3) Bicycling: Tsunamis, Civil War and Elephants

Leaving my castle in the sky – the ethereal, cool, meandering trails through tea plantations in the Sri Lankan Highlands, I decided to head down and East, to the surfer hangout of Aragum Bay, and then beach hop my way around the Southern Coast back to Colombo.

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My tree hugging Curly Monkey

Sri Lanka is about the size of Otago and Southland, with a population of 20 million. It seemed to me to be a bountiful paradise. Fresh produce stalls dot the roadsides in a rainbow kaleidoscope of color. I’m sure there is an element of poverty, but in the areas I visited, by and large people seemed relaxed and to have a pretty good standard of living. The gap between the rich and poor in rural areas didn’t seem too vast, especially compared with the rude shock of northern India to come. Due to the high population, I was never far from anyone, houses, or roadside stalls. Except through the national parks.

Bountiful Paradise

Bountiful Paradise

Apparently 50 people die each year by Elephants. AND Adrenalin is a good cure for Sri Lankan coconut rum hangovers.

I had happily coasted down from the highlands towards the East Coast. I got quite a shock as I left the last few villages which were fortified with 10ft high barbed wire fences, and rolled through an eerie National Park. There were ‘Caution, Elephant’ signs, but all I saw was the occasional steaming mountain of elephant shit in the middle of the road. Eek, I understand cows, dogs, earthquakes, avalanches and even penguins, but not elephants.

From my Diary: Anyway my current problem is that Aragum Bay is a one way in, one way out kinda place, so today is devoted to finding out:

1) How dangerous are wild elephants?

2) How easy is it to get me and my bike on the back of a truck?

After considerable talk with the locals who mostly were adamant that I would see Elephants (as they were trying to sell me a tour), I was assured that Elephants are not out in the morning. So I decided to ride – AND SAW 2 WILD ELEPHANTS about 50m from the road! They weren’t bothered by me at all, just kept munching and spraying themselves! My legs were a blur, and my hangover momentarily cured!

Eek

Eek

The area around Aragum Bay had been heavily affected by the civil war, and only recently had tourists started to trickle back in – primarily eclectic surfers hunting for waves and cheap living. The East Coast had also been hit hard by the Boxing Day Tsunami. It seemed that the harder the civil war hit, the slower the recovery after the Tsunami, and there was a considerable legacy of abandoned flattened houses. Disaster recovery is so complex (speaking from post quake Christchurch), but add Civil war to the mix and well……

Tsunami Legacy

Tsunami Legacy

Beyond my wild elephant run-ins (there was more than one), life was real tough. I beach hoped my way around the coast back to Colombo. I’d cycle in the morning, and swim in the afternoon. I’ve never been to Europe, but spending a few days in Galle which was my slice of Europe. Galle is a beautiful 16th century  Portuguese fort city, full of expats, art, coffee and dotted with Buddhist temples, lighthouses and mosques. I’m sure I could have become the muse of some expat artist and sipped wine in a hammock under palm fronds for the rest of my days. Ahhh too much time in the imagination of my brain while peddling a bicycle…

Galle: Buddhism mixed with  a slice of the Mediterranean

Galle: Buddhism mixed with a slice of the Mediterranean

Tough Life. Lying at the southern tip of Sri Lanka, with nothing but ocean separating me from Antarctica.

Tough Life. Lying at the southern tip of Sri Lanka, gazing out to Antarctica.

2) Bicycling: A Meltdown to a Temple on the Moon

So I bought a Surly Long Haul Trucker. And rode it from Wanaka to Hokitika. It was a practice run, a wee test. Could I cope in my own company. Turns out, I talked a lot to my bike, her name is Curly Monkey and we are pretty good mates.

The west coast was one thing – Sri Lanka was another.

Curly Monkey meets my Sri Lankan Grandmother Brenda

Curly Monkey meets my Sri Lankan Grandmother Brenda

I had a woper meltdown on day two. Digging back to the rawness of that day. I was in the safety of a lackluster backpackers, it was hot, so so hot. The beach was ok, but I was uninspired to swim due to my new awareness of being a loan blond in Asia. I was exhausted, alone and didn’t quite know what to do next. Six weeks without a plan, just me and a bike, and it was just too hot. I rang my boyfriend at the time and balled my eyes out “Who’s stupid idea was this? What the hell am I doing in Sri Lanka, by myself with a bike?”. He was settling into an Antarctic winter and the temperature was dropping. Every time it dipped below -42°C the crew would stop and have a Vodka shot of 42 Below. There was no way on or off the icy continent until October. It was April.

Getting to this meltdown, I’d had two nights of very little sleep in transit. I eventually arrived into Colombo airport, frazzled and attempted to find a quiet corner. A head waggling male audience immerged out of nowhere to watch the spectacle. Pretending it was all perfectly normal, I reconstructed my bike. My chain broke. I fixed it. Realizing I had threaded it backwards through my derailer. I rebroke it, rethreaded it and refixed it. Grease everywhere. I asked a few directions to Negombo beach, 15km away and tentatively rolled out the gate. I suppose it was like the comedown from any drug. In my case the drugs of Adrenaline, and Necessity. Once in the safety of the backpackers it all came tumbling down.

View for a meltdown

View for a meltdown

The only way from this point was up, both emotionally and geographically. It was too hot and too stressful to stay “down”. I wound a path through inland paddy fields, and headed up. I cycled off the main roads and meandering through the Ceylon tea plantations, rubbing shoulders with Mr Dilmer and the like. The greens of Sri Lanka are psychedelic.  My eyes couldn’t absorb enough – it was a more vibrant and saturated concoction of green than Id ever seen before.

Greener than green

Greener than green – Tea, Mr Dilmer?

From my Diary: Well, I’m about as far away from Antarctica as you can get. Its hot and humid, and I can just about see the insects multiplying and the jungle spreading!

Eventually after a couple of weeks in the central highlands of Sri Lanka I joined thousands of pilgrims to climb and watch the sunrise from the top of Sri Pada, a 2200m, Matterhorn-esk peak. The experience was an assault on the senses. The air smelt a mix of incense, citronella, sweat, rubbish and sewage. Loud speakers blared, women sang throaty mantras, kids cried and young me yelled their insistent “Hello, where are you going?” at me, of which I replied “To the moon”. Clearly we were all walking up the only mountain track that wound its way steeper and narrower, until a complete human bottleneck brought us almost to the moon, to the temple on the peak. We all elbowed for a sunrise viewpoint and then the Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, and Christians began to worship. Sri Pada means sacred footprint, named after a large indentation resembling a footprint near the summit. For Buddhists, this is the footprint of Buddha. Incidentally the Hindus believe this to be the footprint of Shiva, and the Muslims and Christians, Adam. Fascinating that everyone decided that this one indentation is sacred, but regardless it was an impressive display of religions peacefully sharing a sacred site.

Sri Pada, the Temple in the Sky

Sri Pada, the Temple in the Sky

Human bottle neck heading back down at first light

Human bottle neck heading back down at first light

 

1) Bicycling: Why India and Sri Lanka?

In February 2011 I finished my first season on The Ice, my dream had come true to work at Scott Base, Antarctica. I was in need of escaping anything remotely institutional and needed to remedy my Antarctic tan. I was cashed up and free.

I’m not entirely sure how I came up with my plan to cycle through Sri Lanka and India alone for 4 months. I knew my travel either needed to be a journey of sorts, or it required a robust purpose. If not, I was quickly going to become bored and disillusioned. When I spun the globe, my finger miraculously always landed on India and I would drift off into dreams filled with chaotic color. I was tossing up ideas about finding aid work in Asia, when I got highly sidetracked by a book a friend loaned me, called Himalaya by Bike.

Kaleidoscope of Colour

Dreams of my imagination

So that was that.

I knew how impossible it was to organize friends to take such a long amount of time off work, especially to go ride a bicycle around Asia, so I figured I’d have to be prepared to go alone. If people came with me, well that would be a bonus. And well, Laura Stone did it (the author of Himalaya by Bike), so why couldn’t I? I must admit, I was pretty stoked when my mate Steph said she would come along for the second half of the trip.

IMG_4764

1940’s England? No, modern India.

Since returning I have discovered Dervla Murphy . She is hands down, my hero. She is a complete legend. An understated powerhouse of awesomeness! Read Full Tilt – Ireland to India with a bicycle. Dervla, 1963, alone, with a revolver….. Read it!

My Hero - Dervla Murphy

Wicked – Dervla Murphy (in 1994)

Anyway these blog entries are written post event. I’m trying to improve my writing skills, and the entire story will be slowly drip fed here. There is no particular purpose, but if you read them, I hope you enjoy them.

In love with India

In love with India