Feb 23 - Hiking and leeches in Ella

The day started off cloudless with blue skies and we hiked to Little Adam's Peak for beautiful views of the surrounding countryside. We returned to town and had A cappuccino at the Dream Cafe, rested a bit and then walked to the Nine Arches Bridge. This was built during the British Colonial period and finally completed in 1921. Being a big tourist attraction in Ella, it's necessary to know the train schedule since you're walking down the train tracks to get to the bridge. Hmmm. Not quite the safest game in town, but fun nevertheless. The rain started coming down but there's a short tunnel to stand under just before the bridge. Bats were flying all around the tunnel; we had disturbed their nesting area. Finally, the train arrived and lots of pictures were taken. Going back to Ella, we chose to take the forest short-cut, not realizing at the time what that entailed. It was pouring pretty heavily, and we ended up wading thru the muddy path. Unfortunately, the leeches were wading also besides waiting on the low lying branches and plants, so all of us picked up a bunch of them. I took the first place prize, having about 10 on my feet and ankles. The fun really began when we got back to our hotel and started to remove the leeches. Pouring salt on them seemed to do the trick, as they let go and just left a small bleeding wound. My multiple punctures wouldn't stop bleeding, and I recalled I took my daily dose of baby aspirin in the morning and the leech secretes an anticoagulant into the wound area; not a good thing when you're trying to stop bleeding. Final tally was a medicated plaster (bandaid at 5 rupees each), between each toe of my right foot and 3 more areas on my left foot! The areas above my ankles seemed to stop bleeding more quickly, so that was a good thing. Fun in the woods in the pouring rain....
Pic: Great views on our hike to Little Adams Peak

Feb 22 - Ella

Breakfast was at 0700, followed by a short drive to the Pedro Tea Estate. Established in 1885, this is a working tea plantation that has tours thru its factory and serves a cuppa also. Our guide was very informative, answering our many questions succinctly. Of note is that the machinery is original, from 1885, of Scottish manufacture, and in good working order (with an occasional over-haul), almost 120 years old! The valleys of Nuwara Eliya are beautiful, full of tea, and probably not much changed from 100 years ago. After a cuppa, our driver took us to the train station where we took the train to Ella. The train was late (what a surprise...), but the ride from Nanu Oya to Ella is really picturesque, with new vistas around every corner. We stood up for most of the 3 hour ride, arriving at our hotel after 4 PM. Dinner was at the Dream Cafe and we walked the main street of Ella for a bit before retiring for the evening. We all feel a bit beat up, having been on the go for long enough to feel we want to rest our bodies for a couple of days here in Ella.
Pic: The views from the train in the highlands were fantastic.

Feb 20 - Sigiriya and Polonnaruwa

We arranged an early breakfast at our Sundaras Resort (more about the hotel in a bit), and took a rented van to see the ancient city of Sigiriya. Entry cost was $35USD pp, but well worth it. We enjoyed hours of archeological wonders, explained to us by our very knowledgable guide. The paintings of the damsels and the mirror wall were just amazing considering the complex was begun in the 3rd century BC! The terraced gardens, pools and view from the summit were absolutely amazing, and a unique UNESCO Heritage site. Although tired, we had barely begun...next stop was Polonnaruwa, another ancient capital city of Sri Lanka. Again, the sculptures and frescoes, many dating from the 12th century, were amazing. The Polonnaruwa ruins are so vast that some people rode bicycles around! Our van driver would stop, drop our guide and ourselves off, and pick us up to take us to the next area to explore. This UNESCO site has a $30USD pp entry fee, but, again, is well worth the cost of admission. By late afternoon, we returned to the Sundaras, which has the coldest beers in town. The rooms are clean, the food really good, and the staff friendly and helpful. Laundry can be done, but is expensive. Free wifi is available, but a bit slow. A car or van is available for hire, and the hotel is conveniently located (a 10-15 min walk) to the Golden Temple nearby. This morning, we took the bus to Kandy. Bus rides (and tuk-tuk rides for that matter) are always an adventure. There is, I think, a genetic predisposition against anyone driving in front of you. Passing on curves, especially blind curves, or in crowded areas, or just about anywhere, anytime, is the normal scheme of things. It is advised to hold on to your seat....
Pic: We're still fresh; ready to climb to the top (I've named it the tooth rock) to see the ruins of one of two palaces. Amazing history....Check out: http://www.srilankaview.com/sigiriya.htm.

Feb 19 - Dambulla

The bus from Kandy to Dambulla took about three hours. The A/C wasn't working full time so it got a bit stuffy with closed windows and a packed bus; some folks stood up in the isle for most of the trip. We dropped our luggage off at our hotel and went to the Golden Temple. Having missed the sign to purchase tickets near the entrance, we climbed all the stairs and then had to send a volunteer (Sue) back down to buy the entry tickets and come back up. A guide came up to us (we're getting wise to that game), but in this instance, we agreed to hire his service for a small donation (to him) in order to better understand the caves which make this temple so special. There are 5 caves carved into the rock, several of which are 2100 years old, the largest of which houses 157 Buddha statues. Much of the original painting is said to be original, with the guide pointing out areas which were re-painted 300 years ago. Don't know how accurate he was, but the overall ambiance is definitely special and worth viewing. It took us a few hours to view everything, and we returned to our hotel to relax. Dinner was a very good chicken curry; the chef here at the Sundaras Hotel did a nice presentation and the meal was good value.
Check out www.goldentemple.lk/‎

Feb 18 - Kandy

The train departed late from Columbo, but the 1st class air conditioned cabin was quite comfortable. The scenery was beautiful, with mountain and valley vistas visible from both sides. We arrived mid-afternoon, too late to go sight-seeing, so we got organized and went to dinner at The Slightly Chilled Lounge Bar at the Bamboo Gardens. First rate views and food; highly recommended. This morning, Stuart & Sheila were off to see the elephants; we chose to walk around Kandy and get a taste of the city. Kandy is a lot bigger and is more crowded than we had thought. We walked around the lake and stopped into a few shops. By noon, we had met up with S & S, and went to lunch before being dropped off at the Botanical gardens. This 147 acre area was established in 1838, and we enjoyed our time walking around. The late afternoon found us at the Mallawarchchi Cultural Show, where a very nice traditional presentation of dancing, acrobatics, and drums was performed. Dinner was at the traditional Sri Lankan restaurant Pizza Hut, where we discussed our plans going forward before returning to our hotel about 2100 hours.

Feb 16 - Columbo

Ekka and Batu picked the four of us and our bags up at 0630 and we bought tickets at the train station to go to Columbo. The second class seats were comfortable and the ride, the tracks parallel to the ocean heading north, took about 2.5 hours. Not knowing about metered taxis, we were ripped off by two tuk-tuk drivers, paying 600 rupees per couple for a ride we later found out should have cost 200 rupees. We're learning fast. Our hotel was right off the beach, and we dropped off our bags and went exploring. First stop was the Dutch Museum, which houses a little bit of history, a little bit of period furniture, and a hell of a lot of dust. In spite of the latter, it was pleasant enough, and prepared us for our next stop, the National Museum. The displays are very well labeled in English, and were very educational. The second floor was closed for renovation, which none of us objected to as we were near collapse just walking around the vast expanse of first floor treasures. By that time, it was about 3:45, so we returned to the hotel for a much needed shower and discussed dinner plans. For those who enjoy Indian food, we decided to go to the Mango Tree Restaurant, and it was an excellent choice. Prices were reasonable, and the food and service were first rate. A full day, well spent.
Pic: Colombo's busy Railway Station. We booked 1st class on the second leg of our trip. Since it was air conditioned we couldn't open the windows to take pictures. 2nd class is fine...the fans and open windows do a good job of keeping you cool.

Feb 12 - Leopard spotting

Yala National Park was established in 1938 and comprises about 378 square miles. Our guide from Ajith Safari Jeep Tours picked us up at 0500 and the six of us fitted into a specially designed diesel, 4X4 Jeep, with the front two seats being just a bit lower than the second row, which was just a bit lower than the third row; there was very good visibility in all directions. We entered the Park and had to wait while our guide paid the entry fee at the front office. Sunrise found us surrounded by about 100 other jeeps; some folks were on a half day tour, we booked the whole day tour, 0500-1800, inclusive of breakfast and lunch. When the Park opened, the race was on; everybody was going down the numerous dirt roads trying to position themselves for wildlife viewing. Since sunrise and sunset are the times to see the most critters and birds, I kept a logbook of our sightings and, at times, had to struggle to keep up with the new entries. The birds we spotted were so colorful, and an occasional rare species was sighted. There are no structures in the Park, so we were all happy to finish a breakfast at the designated stopping area near the beach and stretch our legs. The road was uneven thruout, and a 4X4 was a necessity. After a few hours, our bodies felt the jarring. There's no stopping anywhere, and you're not allowed to get out of the Jeep until there is a stop, so it's a long day. Several highlights of the morning included seeing some elephants close up (like 10' away) and witnessing mongoose behavior directly in front of us. A delicious curry lunch was provided, and once again, we boarded the Jeep to circle around to attempt to spot a leopard. What were the odds? Finally, we pulled next to another Jeep...and there he was! He was a large male, probably 85-90kg, lying under the shade of a Tamarind tree. Our friends with telephoto lens cameras got great photos, and we'll post them when we get those files. Within minutes, about 20 other Jeeps were on the road, and the leopard, being about 250 yards away, took it in his stride. He turned over on his back (we used binoculars), put his paws in the air, and scratched his back! After, he was up and away. All the jeeps were after him, staying on the roads, but trying to position their occupants at the next area to sight him. We stayed with him awhile, but felt so fortunate to actually see one of the few remaining leopards in his natural habitat. We still had a few hours to drive around the Park, and departed at sunset. The following is our list of birds and critters seen by one or more of our group; some of the sightings are common ones, some are rare in the Park. We had a wonderful day and returned back to a different hotel (Serene Park Hotel across from Lake Tissa), where we enjoyed a delicious dinner and first rate accommodations. Sighted: blue tailed bee eater, hornbill, yellow water lassie, gray headed fish eagle, egret, painted stork, white coated kingfisher, peacock, dove, brown eagle, green parrot, spoonbill, black wing, gray heron, green bee eater, Indian pond heron, Indian roller, chestnut headed bee eater, Agitant stork, common eagle, kite, purple sunbird, common kingfisher, Bahamin kite, black headed ibis, black winged stilt, crow, indigo kingfisher, weaver bird, sparrow, black neck stork, visiting duck, changeable hawk eagle, orange breasted green pidgeon, serpent eagle, water buffalo, deer, crocodile, domestic buffalo, monitor lizard, wild boar, cow, mongoose, elephant, samba deer, spotted deer, gray lanker monkey, jackal, tusker elephant, LEOPARD, turtle. Apologies for any spelling errors; they are my own.
Pic: The green bee-eater's were flitting everywhere along the road. By the end of the day, they seemed as common to us as the sparrows are back home.

Feb 11 - Road Trip

The six of us piled into Ekka's van with Batu and a driver for the several hour trip to our hotel outside Yala National Park. We figured we'd see some sights along the way, and stoppd at Weherahena Temple outside Matara. This large tunnel temple complex is interesting in that it houses thousands of wall paintings which depict the life and times of Buddha, and there are devotionals and statues all around, including a very large statue outside which can be viewed from many terraces; the views of the surrounding countryside are beautiful. We arrived at our small hotel in the late afternoon and took a long walk around the lake which fronted it. It was an early evening, as wakeup was 0400 for the 0500 pick up to get to the Park.
Pic: We saw a lot of birds, crocs, and monitor lizards on our scenic walk by the lake. The friendly locals always wave or say hello.

Feb 8 - Another busy day

I hadn't finished my first cup of coffee before diving into the engine room to change the alternator belts. The old belts probably had a lot of miles left on them, but I figured the Balmar Dual Delta Stator 165A alternator would appreciate new ones anyway. Before I could finish any more coffee, we were off to the dinghy tie up area to fill up a few buckets of fresh water so Sue could do a bit of laundry. I had dropped off our large bag of laundry to Batu, as he and Ekka have arrangements for some locals to do the washing and ironing for us. In the late afternoon, we all went over to Ekka's house for dinner. We met his wife, daughter and two sons, and enjoyed a wonderful meal that we were told was "toned down" for our Western taste buds. I also picked up our propane tank, which had gone out for refill. We're refining plans for our visit to Yala National Park; more on that later.

Feb 7 - Exploring Galle

Ekka and Batu drove us around to see some of the sights of Galle. The morning started with a visit to Yatagala Temple in Unawatuna. (Check out: http://lanka-houses.com/sightseeing/yatagala-temple-raja-maha-viharaya.html) There, we learned a bit of the history of the place, and enjoyed watching a group of young school children all dressed up visiting on their first day of school. We then went to the Ayurvedic Village Garden where we walked around the herb garden and were instructed about their medicinal uses by the owner, Raju. A lovely massage was then provided to all of us by the intern students there, and we ended our visit by a tour of the pharmacy where local herbal products are sold. After lunch at a local roadside restaurant (very spicey food), we then went to the Handunugoda Estate in Ahangama. This is a small working tea plantation, 200 acres, where we were shown the process of how tea is harvested, dried and sorted. We enjoyed sampling a few of the blends and bought a bit for our future enjoyment. The afternoon wound down with a visit to one of the local mines, where we were shown gem stone polishing and hand made jewelry. The fact that Valentine's Day is coming up did not escape our notice.

Feb 5 - Galle

The three boats (Imagine, Mr John and Infini) and six crew arranged with Ekka Tours (94-72 337 1116) for two tuk-tuks to take us around town. First stop was the bank, where we used the ATM to get Sri Lankan rupees, 130 per US dollar. Next was the internet/SIM card shop, where we hooked up again with the world. Then we walked the wall of the Galle Fort, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. (Check out: http://amazinglanka.com/wp/galle-fort/) After, we ate an early lunch at a local place. My direction to Ekka was "hot (spicy) food, cold beer" but the restaurant didn't serve beer so we settled for chicken curry, fish curry, rice, dall, roti, and a few dishes I can't recall the names of: a potato one, a chicken gizzard-egg one, and a spicy grated coconut one. We were all stuffed. After a quick stop at a hardware and then a grocery store, we returned to the port area and were stopped by the guards because we weren't carrying that Port Security paperwork I spoke about yesterday. Sue went back to the boat with Mr John (he had his) to get ours, and all's well. Pics: at the internet/SIM store. In the tuk-tuk.

Feb 4 - Galle, Sri Lanka

We departed our comfortable anchorage at 0630 and checked in with (Galle) Port Control immediately, as the authorities want to know what boats are around and where they are. It's a good thing we did as the Sri Lankan Coast Guard came zooming up to us (in their high speed RIB) shortly afterwards and asked who we were. No worries. There was essentially no wind, but lots of current, so the Perkins took us the entire 14 nm to Galle Harbor. Port Control instructed us to drop anchor near the breakwater (huh?) and await the Navy. We managed to find what we thought was a breakwater (check the charts...no breakwater is delineated), and anchored at 1000. By 1400 I was getting a bit concerned, as the afternoon sea breeze had picked up and we had thought the inner harbor (where we were to anchor) was closed at night. Nope, they've changed all that, and boat traffic is allowed entry (with proper clearance) at any time, day or night. The Navy officials showed up at 1530, checked our paperwork, and directed us to up-anchor and go into the inner harbor where we were to anchor, med-moor style, next to Mr John. Again, wind and current were from the stern, and I had to judge where and when to drop the anchor, spin the boat around, have Sue keep dropping enough chain to, hopefully, keep us off the floating pontoon dock if a storm surge or really strong winds came in, and thankfully with Stuart (sv Imagine) taking our two stern lines to John (sv Mr John) to tie us up astern, and shoving the boat around where needed, I maneuvered the boat around enough to not be court-martialled by the two Navy officials who stayed aboard thru out all this monitoring of our efforts, and finally settled in with about 300' of chain off the bow and two large stern lines to the floating pontoon astern, with about 3' between us and Mr John. Hmmm. Things are tight here. At that point, the procession began, with our Yacht Agent (Windsor Reef), Immigration, Customs and Port Control all taking turns being ferried back and forth to us by Stuart (thanks, bro). By 1730 the entire process was over - yea!...except, our Passports still needed to be stamped by Immigration in their office and our Yacht Agent told us he'd bring them back "later...." He was as good as his word, and, once again, Stuart ferried me a couple of minutes to the pier where the agent handed off our passports and Port Security Admittance paperwork (for those following us: the latter documents must be carried with you at all times you leave the port area in order to get back in the guarded entrance). Done! We're cleared in and ready to party...right...more like ready to get a good night's sleep. We had Happy Hour aboard Infini and Sheila surprised me with a beautiful hand painted 1st Place Fishing Tournement Award (this was for bagging that 4' wahoo; the other boats got a 3" and 5" flying fish respectively); what a great way to catch up with friends!

Feb 3 - Safe Arrival Sri Lanka

Pos: N05deg57.028min/ E080deg26.661min. We tried our best to arrive to Galle during the daylight, but it was not to be. The problem was how to slow the boat down with 22-25 knots of wind directly behind us pushing us down the rhumb line, along with a 3-4 knot current from the stern pushing us as well! We were doing 4-5 knots under bare poles, when we needed to go 3-3.5 knots in order to arrive in the morning. We were turned 80 degrees to the course, scudding along with a small drogue attached to the stern, and the best we could slow down to was around 4 knots directly down the course line! This is serious current here! We spotted a pod of whales, with one being nearly as long as Infini, but haven't been able to identify the species yet. After a few hours of crabbing along, we changed our strategy and decided to just anchor for the night in one of the many bays which dot the SW coast. In came the drogue, out went the headsail, and we were making 6-7 knots speed without the mainsail up (me lazy). I had gotten the AIS working by substituting a spare GPS antennae, and it came in handy as there is a lot of shipping along the coast. Otto did a great job steering in moderate NE trade winds and 2 meter seas. By nightfall we had to dodge the squid fishing fleet as we turned the SW corner of Sri Lanka, but entering the small bay we had chosen to anchor in was no problem (we use CM93 as well as Navionics charts), and the anchor was down in 35 feet at 2300 hours. We'll clear into Galle first thing tomorrow morning. All's well aboard.

Feb 2 - Enroute

Position: N06deg38.9min/ E084deg01.6min. Day 6 saw our best run yet: 156 nm. Days have been beautiful, winds have been brisk, wind direction has been (relatively) constant, and the sailing wonderful. Today we saw our first fishing boat, anchored in the middle of the ocean 200 nm from Sri Lanka! Also of note, we had a couple of pygmy dolphins jump around us for a few minutes; they didn't stay long. Distance is less than 200 nm to Galle Harbor.

Feb 1 - Enroute

Position: N07deg03min/E085deg53min. Day 4 - 151 nm; day 5 - 130 nm. Same course, pretty much same conditions with some slight variation in wind direction and strength; all's well aboard.