Why House Sitting and World Schooling Can Go Hand-in-Hand

We recently wrote a piece on our experience with house and pet sitting for worldschoolerexchange.com to share a bit more details about our great experiences with pets around the world and hopefully inspire other families to try it out! We’re sharing the link with you along with some photos below of our latest house sit with Rocky and the chickens in tropical Cairns, Australia!

https://worldschoolerexchange.com/meet-m4-travels-mike-marianne-maelle-and-maxine/

A Maldivian Escape from Travelling

Travelling is work. I know that sounds hard to believe, but travelling, not just vacationing, can be as hard as sitting in a stuffy air conditioned building pounding away on the plastic keyboard in front of you. Well, the best way to describe it is that travelling is a different kind of hard and not always the life of leisure that is portrayed in many of the Instagram and Facebook posts that bombard us during our average day.

Those things that make travelling hard, are the ones that are rarely talked about until the afterwards, where the memories make it seem less stressful than it was at the time. Jetlag (gah!), lugging bags up and down stairs (double gah!), dealing with changing weather (the heat!!), sweating through three shirts a day, transportation issues, constantly being surrounded by people that often speak other languages and constantly being in a new culture where you don’t know all the customs or rules of etiquette are hard at the best of times, but do that over and over again and have kids with you, and well, it is work. We are not complaining – don’t be mistaken to think that because we find it hard at times that wish we wouldn’t have travelled – no, absolutely not, it is just that sometimes, even on a supposed ‘vacation’ you need a vacation!

Enter the Maldives. For us, the Maldives was our vacation from our travels. Sure it was travelling, but it was our ‘splurge’ for this trip. We had been travelling since the end of July, and now it was January, and we needed a couple of weeks of easy travel. No this wasn’t a preposterously easy adventure that required no more than our open wallets to be satiated in our relaxiousness (not a word… don’t care), but it was one where we had fewer expectations of ourselves and the country being visited. [Note: I am sure the Maldives has lots more to offer than just beaches, but we weren’t searching for it this time!] Also, we wanted to see the Maldives while we still could. With the potential for sea level rise increasing every second that we don’t do anything to prevent it, the Maldives might not have long – an increase of 2 m in sea level would see almost the entire country under water. The other reason we chose the Maldives was because of the location. It is a mere 1.5 hour flight from Sri Lanka (and a reasonable price too), and we needed to leave Sri Lanka after 30 days, or pay to renew our visa, so why not? It is supposed to be one of the most amazing places on the planet!

Despite the ominous future for this country, we ended up spending a marvelous 21 days on two drastically different islands in the sun-baked nation, soaking up as much sun and sand as we could handle. Nothing more was expected from our visit than mellow days and quiet nights – but anything on top of that was a cherry on our proverbial cake.

For those that don’t know, the Maldives is composed of islands spread over a 300 km2 area of the Indian Ocean, between Sri Lanka / India and Africa, but closer to Sri Lanka. It has numerous inhabited islands and likely more resort islands spread over 26 atolls with a maximum above sea level elevation of about 2-3 m. The only way to reach most islands is by slow ferry, speedboat, or sea plane; the latter being the priciest. Also it is a 100% Muslim nation and finding a cold beer to sit on the beach with and enjoy while watching the sunset is near impossible outside of the resort islands. You can’t even bring it in with you!

So our adventure in the Maldives began in early January. We had just spent the last month of our travels in Sri Lanka in a one bedroom ‘cozy’ rental house, and we were starting on month 6 of our full time travels – and definitely were wearing out a bit. Sri Lanka was/is full-on travel. The travel blogs show you the idyllic side of Sri Lanka, cool train rides where you can hang completely (and irresponsibly) out of the train, amazing beaches where you can be appear to be completely alone, and (the required third item in a list) huge temples at sunset where you can be at one with the world. Sure – those exist, but getting there involves a lot of sweat, dubious and somewhat sketchy car or tuk-tuk rides, guides with little to no actual useful knowledge of the area, and numerous other obstacles that take a 40 km journey and turn it into a seemingly endless trudge through the directionless countryside. Having been through all of that for the last month, we needed to get some quiet and hopefully this beautiful, paradise to the west of Sri Lanka was going to be it.

Departure from Sri Lanka

When asked what would be the ideal time to take a flight, I’m pretty sure almost no one will say 6 am; especially an international flight, but you can guess what time our flight from Colombo to Malé, Maldives was at on January 8th. Yep, 06:00. Gah! Double Gah! Triple Gah!

Our last night in Sri Lanka was spent at a cool little guesthouse, where the owners rescue animals from around Sri Lanka. There were too many cats or dogs to keep track of wandering the yard, but all turned out to be extremely friendly. The girls were of course enamored with their new found furry friends and proceeded to deal out belly rubs and back scratches by the boat load to the eagerly waiting animal population. Our location was ideal for our early morning flight, a short 10 minute drive to the airport, and for the first time ever in Sri Lanka the advertised time for the drive was right on!

A 6 am flight requires a ridiculously early wake up time – 3 am. Luckily the anticipation for all of us to see that world famous turquoise water was enough motivation to get up and get moving right on schedule.

Luckily the check-in, customs, and flight were uneventful, and a short 1.5 hours after take off we were calmly descending aboard the huge Korean Air A330 into paradise.

Arrival in Paradise

Exiting the airport after a lengthy customs delay we were hit by the blast of hot, humid air as the airport, as to be expected, is on an island and right beside the water! The entire arrivals area is open and just outside of the airport, across the street from the arrivals is a port, essentially filled with dozens of waiting boats – soon to take their eager guests to the multitude of resort islands. A few of the luckier people hop on a sea plane and jet off quickly to distant resorts and islands in search of their own private paradise.

While our appetite for a glimpse of the famed turquoise waters was soon fulfilled, as it surrounds the airport, our desire for relaxation was going to have to hold on a bit longer, as our pre-arranged speedboat from Malé (the capital city) to our guesthouse on Dhigurah (1.5 – 2 hour journey) was not leaving until 4 pm (16:00). Seeing as though it was only about 9 am at this point, the next 7 hours were going to be long. We stored our luggage at the small bag drop place at the airport and took only the essentials to town with us. We shopped for a few necessities that weren’t easily found in Sri Lanka, as well as a few other must haves for the tropics (e.g. fins), ate some lunch, found a cool playground / park for the girls to run around in, and then still had about 2 hours to wait for the boat.

When we finally got on the boat, a medium sized speedboat that held about 50 people, a couple of the travellers in our group were done. We had been up for over 12 hours at this point and had wandered around in the sun – and now sitting in a sweltering boat waiting for departure, it was too much. A little bit of gravol for the upcoming choppy ride, and with the sweat pouring down their little bodies, Maelle and Maxine fell asleep. It was way too hot to actually sleep, but when you are done, you are done – and each girl didn’t complain, they just leaned over and hit the snooze button.

We arrived around 2 hours later after a mildly choppy ride between the airport and Dhigurah to a waiting ride from our guesthouse. Finally, we were almost there. A short truck ride to the hotel and we now in paradise. Greeted warmly by our host with a cool towel and a fresh coconut we felt instantly at ease and at home. Our home for the next 11 days was going to be this little piece of paradise – Bliss, Dhigurah.

It will be hard to talk about Bliss without sounding like some kind of advertisement for them, as we found everything to be amazing, and the location to be perfect for what we wanted and needed for a vacation! Anne, the owner, was an amazing host and went out of her way to make us feel welcome and at home, as did the majority of the staff (special thanks to Brechtje!) The guesthouse felt new, modern, beachy (is that a term?), clean, and with a location so close to the beach we always left our sandals in our rooms instead of dragging them along. It was perfect for our stay and the bonus was that because we booked a family room it was two adjoining rooms, with the girls having their own room and separate beds! Having that bit of separation was perfect for all of us!

Bliss was as its name implies – total serenity and relaxation. The beach was an amazing shade of white, although not the sugary soft that it looks to be, but was more than adequate for our tastes. The next 11 days flew by at Bliss. Delicious food, snorkeling, a couple of boat trips in hunt of the elusive (to us anyway) whale sharks that are supposed to frequent the area, more beach, wandering around in search of hermit crabs (hint – go just after sunset, they are everywhere!), and just doing nothing – as much as possible with kids that is!

Over those 11 days we saw huge changes in the girls in how comfortable they were in the water. They had been snorkeling a bit before, but never really got into it. They would give it about 2 minutes and say that was enough – but here with the crystal clear ocean and the multitude of colourful fish, the girls gave it another shot and stuck with it! They became awesome little snorkelers in such a short period of time. We found that all it took was staying with them, being patient and letting them explore at their own speed at first, but really just letting them play around and get comfortable with the mask and snorkle. Once they were good with that, they wanted to explore more. Each one of them usually snorkeled right beside us, occasionally climbing on our backs for a bit of rest, but they were there in the waves, on the reefs, in the deep – they loved it! Maxine would get excited whenever she saw something colourful move, a gentle tap on the shoulder would amplify into a series of whaps on the side of the shoulder or head if the creature in question was big, very colourful, or in the opposite direction we were looking. These two little ones held their own out there on the water and were rewarded with seeing manta rays, black tip reef sharks, white tip sharks, huge trigger fish, turtles and countless other creatures of the reef.

At one point, while on the hunt for the whale sharks, the boat saw a large manta ray in the water – everyone jumped in to get a good look. Maxine and I (Mike) were the last ones in the water, but by the time we hopped in, the manta had left the rest of the other snorkelers and was swimming right in front of us. We were all alone with this magnificent ocean dweller. Its ~2 m wide wing span stretched out in front of us as it approached, mouth agape feeding, and swam less than 2 m away from us, effortlessly gliding just below us before circling and returning immediately beside us. We had a front row view of one of mother nature’s most breathtaking creations and it wanted us to remember it. It is always a humbling experience to be in the water with one of the wonders of the ocean – they make us look so helpless and immobile while they cruise past like the breeze. Maxine was calm and loved it – she really is super comfortable in the water!

While we knew that the first 11 days at Bliss was our real vacation, the next 10 days were to be spent in a reasonably nice guesthouse as well – but this time on the island of Rasdhoo, in a different Atoll. Another 2 speed boat transfers (3.5 hours total) – this time with less waiting, and we were there.

Rasdhoo provided a much different experience to that of Dhigurah. Dhigurah is a long island with clean beaches, lots of trees and jungle, and a relatively small town and small population. Rasdhoo, by contrast, is a smaller round island, and more densely populated – with little natural vegetation left. Rasdhoo seemed to have a mini mart on every corner and a souvenir shop in between, leaving room for few other types of businesses besides dive shops and hotels. On Rasdhoo the beaches do not completely encircle the island, but the section designated as the ‘bikini beach’ where foreigners are expected to stay, was relatively nice.

Oh yes, the ‘bikini beach’ – as you may or may not know, in Muslim countries (and I’m not an expert by any means on it) you are expected to maintain a level of modesty with your dress – especially if you are female, so wearing a bikini is totally out of the question. The bikini beach is essentially the only place on the island where it is deemed to be acceptable to be in, well, a bikini. It is mandatory here – so prepare for the mankini shots! (Kidding!) Each island seemed to have a designated bikini beach, but it was right beside the regular beach, so I’m not sure if anyone actually cared as we also saw many locals hanging out on this section of the beach on each island.

Our 10 days on Rasdhoo involved a lot of beach time. We snorkeled almost everyday, and even went to a couple of other islands in the atoll for snorkeling, including one with impossibly white sand, ethereal turquoise waters, and an incessant techno beat from the oversized portable speaker from the multitude of European daytrippers.

We did get one off shore snorkelling trip in, and Marianne did sneak in one early morning dive where she saw a ridiculous number of sharks (check the instagram page). Rasdhoo turned out to be a good place for snorkelling and seeing sharks, as the lagoon just off the bikini beach was shallow and easy for us and the girls and was the home to at least 3 juvenile black tip sharks. The sharks would patrol the shallows in search of their next snack. Also, of course Marianne spotted a moray eel on her first snorkel! She just can’t not find them now! In general the beach on Rasdhoo was smaller, and not as nice as Dhigurah – but it was still the crazy clear waters and beautiful sunsets – so nothing to complain about.

Those last 10 days went even faster than the first 11, and soon our time in the Maldives was up. We enjoyed the time we had there and definitely never thought it was possible to get there without breaking the bank, but the change in tourism in the last decade has made it easier. Maldives is highly recommended but be sure to bring plenty of sunscreen/sunblock (as it is expensive there), drink lots of water, help keep the islands clean, and enjoy yourself. Oh, and we did end up sneaking in a bit of geocaching while there. We found a couple caches around Malé and even one on Rasdhoo; Maxine found this cache all by herself and said asked if Grampy would be proud of her! Of course he would be, right Grampy?!

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I would love to tell you about all the amazing adventures we had in the Maldives, but alas, as I eluded to in the opening paragraph, we needed a vacation from travelling, and here we did little other than relax! Of course after Maldives it was back to Sri Lanka! This time with 200% more adventure – more tuk-tuk rides, more lengthy car rides, a couple of cool train rides, surfing, elephants, meeting lots of local people, and generally just exploring some of what Sri Lanka had to offer. After the 3 weeks in vacation mode we were ready again to get back to work and travel.

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Until the next episode…

M (co-founder of the M4 corporation and family)

 

 

Sri Lanka – It’s a Go!

Welcome to the island nation known as the Pearl of the Orient. The tiny but fierce island will challenge you to explore its rich history, its modern side, its seemingly endless beaches, and even more endless twisty roads. You will be immersed into a culture that on the surface resembles that of India, but has its own indelible history that will separate it, in your mind and heart, from the rest of the world. Food will be a pervasive theme on your voyage to find your reason d’etre in Sri Lanka. You will find few of the island delicacies pass your pallet with a whimper as they either excite or surprise you, but rarely disappoint. Vegetarians and vegans can delight in the variety of fruits and vegetables available at even the humblest of stands in the remote corners of the country. Eating your way around Sri Lanka is certainly one way to explore this country of ten thousand temples.

Sri Lanka, a place that has been known by many names, Ceylon, Serendip, Eelan, does not do anything quietly. It may be a small player on the world stage, but the 20+ million inhabitants of this island all have their part to play in the chaos and symphony of this nation – and certainly their influence on us travellers allows them to reach much further than their own shores.

We aim only to give a high level view of our travels of Sri Lanka, as we spent 6 weeks (during 2 visits) exploring and living in the communities around the island, as we could not do justice to a full post on the entire nation without writing a novel few of you would read! The M’s had many adventures in Sri Lanka, from safaris (yes we did 2!), to beaches, to markets, to hikes to scenic vistas, to just sitting back and talking with people who were from there. We experienced a lot of what Sri Lanka had to offer, but there was so much more. Six weeks in Sri Lanka is probably only akin to listening to the first track on a box LP set – but it was a start for us and gave us a great taste of life in the Indian Ocean.

The First Week

Our arrival in Sri Lanka was as the sun was setting and the evening ritual for the animal and human inhabitants of the island began. The cacophony of birds echoed around the airport tarmack as airplane door opened and the jungle surrounding us made it seem like we landed back in time. A blast of heat after exiting the over chilled air plane left us with lungs gasping ever so slightly for breath, but eyes and minds already filled with wonder and anticipation. Naively we were descending into the heart of the empire, the centre of the island nation’s chaos – Colombo, with nary an idea of what to expect.

The exit from the airport was smooth, but not quick. The customs agents, as per the usual, seemed to relish in watching the masses languish in lines snaking along the smooth tiled corridor. They moved with the urgency of a snake digesting its latest dinner, knowing that the line was never ending; always replenished by plane load after plane load of wide eyed foreigners in search of their self or, at the least, a few dozen Instagram worthy photos to make their friends or mates back home jealous.

After being spit out into the arrivals hall after collecting our baggage, we did the usual dance of avoiding the taxi touts and money exchange booths, searching for the required ATM to dispense to us our saved up cash for the highly anticipated visit. An hour or so later, cash and new mobile sim card in hand, we negotiated our way into a taxi to our guesthouse. The guesthouse was on the south side of Colombo, near the other airport, while the airport we just arrived into was on the north side. A seasoned veteran of Sri Lankan travel would have probably avoided this situation, but alas, we were but a new born into the world of Ceylon, and knew not of what awaited. Our previous journeys in India had prepared us for the potentials – but we had been assured that this would not be the same. We hoped, and then jumped in and waited to see what would happen. The first hour of our voyage of approximately 45 km to the guesthouse was spent mostly staring at the dark and watching as pedestrians passed our barely moving van. Hour two was spent mostly doing the same – with the youngest of our daughters finally succumbing to her requirement for sleep, and passing out gently in the backseat of the overheated, slightly dilapidated (ok, who am I kidding – barely roadworthy) taxi van. The constant hum of the motor at idle and the harmonious and incessant sounding of the car horns were more than she could handle after a long day of flying. Luckily we only flew for 4.5 hours from Dubai to get to Sri Lanka, but it was too much for a 4 year old to handle without much sleep. Hour three – will we even get there? I think I saw the same man with a cane who was walking back near the airport pass us. Hour four – yes, seriously, we finally arrive. A 45 km ride taking almost 4 hours was not an anomaly, but a foreshadow of our road adventures to come.

Our first sampling of the local hospitality left us with high hopes that our family adventures here in the jewel of Asia were going to be epic. The first host was inviting and thoughtful, as he had prepared a light snack for us on arrival. Of course it was way too spicy for our daughters to even look at, but the thought was there. With a rejuvenated spirit we quickly checked out our accommodations for the first two nights of our stay in Sri Lanka and then headed off to find some additional sustenance to allow us to survive til morning. Luckily a great local place, just across the rail tracks, on the beach was still open and happily serving the hungry locals and tourists alike.

The first two days were calm – beach, food, relax, repeat. Oh, and more food in there somewhere. We tried new and exciting dishes, things we didn’t know existed like kottu roti. The smells and textures had us eager for more; but soon it was off to our next location, one that we booked the night before and that was to be our home for the next month – the eco-house on the northwest coast; a mere 150 km up the coast.

Arrival at the Eco-House

The Uber driver pulled over about 1 km down the dirt road leading to our next destination. The car, a slightly larger Honda Fit than available in North America, couldn’t make it any further. The ruts and pot holes (although that isn’t really a fitting description, as they were more like mini road lakes) were too much for the little Japanese import and its 5 cm of ground clearance when fully loaded with 4 travellers and their bags. The driver had gotten us the 150 km from our last place to here in a non-record setting 5.5 hours. It was a long, long ride. Luckily our last kilometer was a track well known by a local tuk-tuk driver, Ali, who had been coordinated by the home owner to meet us and guide us to the place, as it was not easy to find. Ali, who did his absolute best in trying to communicate with us, often resulting in both sides laughing a bit as we tried to figure out what each meant, did a couple trips to grab us and our bags, ferrying them and us to the house. Our Uber driver seemed slightly less than pleased about our location, but did the normal Sri Lankan thing and slightly nodded his head to the side, then was off, back to Colombo.

The first glimpse of the eco-house was through the open side of the tuk-tuk as it puttered its way into the gated yard. A small concrete structure dotted with what appeared to be plastic bottles embedded in the concrete stood off to one side of a decent sized yard, mostly filled with what seemed like crops, with not much else filling in the gaps around. A large beach dune imposed itself into the horizon 100 m or so to the west, a small line of dense jungle vegetation separating us from that dune. We came to love and hate that dune over the next few weeks, as it signified both a healthy beach environment but an obstacle to conquer each time we ventured forth to enjoy the coast. Our oldest daughter came to name it the ‘dune of doom’ as it was our routine to often voyage over the dune some time during the heat of day – a journey filled with sweat, sand, and mosquitos, and for her, the potential for the encounters with spiders made it that much worse!

The interior of the eco-house was not exactly completely spartan of amenities, I mean it had a bed (yes, one, big enough for 4), a bench, a bookshelf, a huge spider, a fridge, and a huge overhead fan, that did little but move the dust around – as we would, with great despair, find out on our first night, but it most certainly was not luxury. A basic life was to be had here and we were in for it. The sleeping situation became one of a large family style bed – we all shared and sweated equally, passing into the sleep each night after reaching a point of heat exhaustion.

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Our family bed in the eco-house.

An outdoor kitchen and bathroom rounded out the experience, with a lanai/porch area available for both eating and entertaining. Our adventure began at the eco-house in early December, continued through Christmas and New Years, and included many a day spent traversing the dune of doom to the beach and writing a few of the precursors to this blog. A trip to town here and there, oh and a trip to the hospital were also part of the eco-house experience; as we learned soon after arriving that the no-see-ums certainly do like to bite – and infection sets in easy in the humidity! All is well now, so no worries there! So after this experience we learned that our daily routine required change, so each day we applied a liberal amount of sunscreen and insect repellent before venturing forth out of the house – it was a must! Spending time outside also included the use of a stand up fan and mosquito coils at all times.

We honestly only made it through the weeks in the house because of the help of Sureka. Sureka, a local woman hired to help cook, get food and run errands, and clean around the house was a savior. She helped us figure out how things worked in the area, told us not to expect too much to happen around Poya, and helped us to develop a taste for real Sri Lankan cooking and food. Every breakfast and dinner she made was painstakingly thought out and prepared with care. Curries, dahls, papadams, naan, fish, veggies, rice, chapatti, coconut pancakes, pastas, everything for us and our kids was fresh and ready when we asked. It was a veritable selection of Sri Lankan delicacies that adorned the table each day, with favourites on repeat on request. A favourite of one of us, not to be named, was a dahl that showed up day in and out on the breakfast menu. It was delicious the first few times, but wore its way off the must-have list for the rest of us after a few days; either way, the effort to accommodate us whenever we asked was there, and she was an absolute necessity for staying, and worth every penny we paid to her. She was also lovely and brought her youngest son with her several times. Though he did not speak any English, he really liked playing with the girls and it was fun to watch them run around.

Christmas and New Years (and a birthday!)

A tropical Christmas was a new experience for the girls. They knew little outside of rain and cold at Christmas, except a couple of years ago where the white stuff made a rare appearance at this time of year. We did our best to prepare our daughters for the Christmas away and in the remote location – as it wasn’t going to be the usual present filled experience they have seen so far. We have always emphasized the importance of family time over presents, but we certainly weren’t going to completely eliminate the experience for them this year. Santa made his requisite visit and left a few small toys to delight the kiddos; however, the bigger part of this was spending time making and decorating the few ornaments we hung on a small tropical bush growing in front of the house. Of course we may have now implemented a new Christmas time tradition. The house had a pole on the patio in front which caused many an impromptu pole dancing party. Pole dancing to Christmas music while wearing Christmas hats in the heat will certainly be something we won’t forget.

Christmas day was actually spent at a local resort, a 45 min walk down the beach. Here the girls enjoyed the pool while sampling some rarely found western cuisine. One of us was confined to pants in this heat because of the infected insect bites and was not able to partake in the aquatic Christmas festivities. Another part of our December was the birthday of our eldest daughter. She knew her present, but none-the-less squealed with joy upon receiving her most anticipated gift yet – a mermaid outfit and mermaid fin! She could now swim with the mermaids and other sea creatures, as she clearly was ready to do so! The weather held that day, despite the previous days of rain, and she frolicked away in the waves for much of the afternoon. Rare to see her happier than that day! Made it worth it for all of us.

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New Years came and went with little celebration outside of a small tip of the cup with Mr. Gordons and his friend Ms. Tonic. Side note to everyone reading: finding tonic outside of a major grocery store is not easy in the northwest part of Sri Lanka. In fact, it was a difficult beverage to acquire in most areas, so if you have a need for Mr. Gordons, Mr. Bombay, or Ms. Tanqueray to have a companion to mix it up with, stock up when you find it!

Cleaning the Beach

Our oceans are in trouble. Those who doubt that can stop reading this blog right now and google any number of articles on the plastic problem in our ocean and all over the planet. Seriously, stop reading and get educated. Go… then come back!

Our first glimpse of the coast was one of utter shock and then awe. We couldn’t believe that this vast expanse of reddish-brown sand was practically deserted, save for a few fishers, but was absolutely covered in plastic waste. It was an unimaginable sight – to stand on a remote beach, in a relatively sparsely populated area of an island in the Indian Ocean and have to pick your way through plastic to get to the sand on the beach. We were honestly both saddened and motivated to not let this stay as it was.

Marianne organized a clean up, and just after new years, after spending weeks picking at the trash here and there by ourselves, a group of locals joined our cause to clean this section of the beach and adjacent dune. A brief bit of education about plastic along with the physical labour of the clean-up crew (mostly kids) resulted in a 200 m section of beach going mostly plastic free in just over an hour and a half. A great start for this beach, but unfortunately, likely to be one of many efforts required to keep it clean. Turning our back on the problem isn’t our way and Marianne has the drive to get these things going, and hopefully has started the spark in the locals to keep it that way. The owner, though away, helped us organize this initiative and hopes to continue doing regular clean-ups.

Wilpattu National Park

A to do list of Sri Lanka, or a bucket list for those so inclined to enjoy the cliche, must include a safari. The typical safaris are those in the south, Yala National Park or Udawalawe National Park, as they have been widely spread over social media, and rightly so for their bountiful and extraordinary wildlife. However, Wilpattu NP is a national park not to be missed! We will compare safaris on a later blog, as we were fortunate to have the chance to do two of the three NPs mentioned above. No spoilers here however, but we will let you know the details!

So our New Years Day started early, as there was little fan-fare or ball-dropping going on the night before, except a few minutes of fireworks around midnight in sleepy northwest Sri Lanka, and sleeping in with the heat was not really an option. So with a two-hour tuk-tuk ride with Ali planned, we weaved our way through the crowded streets of Puttalam and along the elephant frequented road that led to Wilpattu. This was our first real adventure tourism in Sri Lanka. A single stop for a cold ice cream to break up the tuk-tuk ride was our only respite for that arduous journey. Anyone who has ridden in the back of a tuk-tuk will attest that it is not the most comfortable, nor the coolest ride. This stop also provided us with a highlight from that trip. During the ice cream break, while the 4 Ms were thoroughly enjoying their frozen treat in the 30+ C heat, Ali proclaimed, quite loudly and seemingly out of nowhere, “Bathroom. It’s a go!!” and off he rushed. Sensing an urgency behind his words we assumed that he had proclaimed his intentions to keep us from wondering about his sudden lack of presence. Ten minutes or so later, looking sweaty and disheveled, he emerged from the back of the poorly lit store, wiping his brow furiously with a well used handkerchief, he quietly indicated he was ready to proceed with the journey. That bathroom break nearly did him in and none of us wanted to repeat his bathroom journey for fear of appearing as though we had barely survived that trip to the porcelain throne. The rest of the trip to the park was as the first part, hot, sweaty, and filled with the monotonous hum of the tuk-tuk’s severely under powered 4-stroke engine. We did actually love tuk-tuk rides!

Bright and early the next day, we piled into the modified pick-up truck (aka the jeep) and headed into the park in search of the elusive and majestic leopards, along with the hope of spotting an equally sight-worthy elephant. The guesthouse we stayed at had a reception and dining area lined with spectacularly close-up shots of the many leopards of the adjacent national park, wetting our appetite and filling our dreams with the chance meeting of an apex predator on its own turf. Our safari was a 5 hour ride through the bumpy dirt roads of the park searching for leopards, elephants, iguanas, peacocks and all sorts of other wild creatures. We saw our fair share thanks to our jeep driver / guide with his more than impressive sight, but the elusive leopard, the spotted ninja of the park, was just that, and never showed a hint, outside of a few footprints in the sand, that s/he even existed. No matter, as we knew that was the cherry on the icing to see a leopard, we left fulfilled with our current roster of Sri Lankan wildlife in the memory banks and on the memory cards.

The last week of our first visit

Our next week there was our last of our first visit, and we spent most of it in Kandy. Unfortunately, even the most careful of us can succumb to any number of the germs out to get us, and in Kandy the youngest of our brood spent the better part of 4 days battling a stomach bug that jumped up and got her, and only her, seemingly from out of nowhere. A calm, hotel bound final few days in Sri Lanka went by quickly, and except for our visit to the very entertaining traditional dance / cultural show the majority of Kandy’s culture and temples were left for another visit. Fortunately our little one healed up completely, just in time for another harrowing ride through the narrow, over crowded streets of this tear drop shaped nation – the last before heading to another type of paradise surrounded by turquoise.

So, Sri Lanka… there is so much we didn’t say about you. How could I accurately describe the feeling you give people when they arrive completely unaware of the full-on experience they are going to get. Your tuk-tuk and car rides could be a video game, but with many lives, as getting through unscathed is almost impossible! Your food both assaults and delights your senses, as the spices sneak up on you and overtake the other tastes and linger like a friend that just won’t leave after the party is over. Every bit of the country is alive at seemingly every minute of the day and night, except that one time we rode to the airport at 3 am, and we only saw about 5 people on bikes and 2 people standing randomly staring at the side of the road. All of your beauty and faults come front and center for every local, tourist, and traveller to see – and love them or hate them, they are what make your country unique and a can’t miss place to visit.

This was but our first of two visits, as we came back for more, which will be continued in another blog.

Written by M (sub-inspector of hand cleanliness and teeth brushing)