Thursday, November 26, 2015

Elephantine Rock

Dear Daniel,

I woke up to see the sun rising directly in front of my window and I breathed gratitude for all of the people in my life, the things I don't have to think twice about, and the people who ground me and inspire me. I am grateful for you. Your love, your belief in me, your caring support, your leaps of risk-taking that you continue to take every day that you choose to be with me. Thank you.

After a delicious sunrise and then breakfast, we headed for Sigiriya Rock. Climbing it in the heat of 9am was out of the question, so we stood from afar and admired. Then, we headed to an elephant orphanage in Pinnawala. The original intent of this orphanage was to rescue elephant orphans from human infiltration and give them a temporary shelter, study them, and then send them off to the wild. Most of them get abandoned because us humans are at it again - deforesting, clearing out habitats and ecosystems so we can have more places to plant our seeds and factories. Some baby elephants fall into wells or become aggressive when threatened by humans. So they find themselves at this government operated "sanctuary" at Pinnawala. The trouble is, they're kept like zoo elephants. Trained and tamed to entertain people and when not being entertained - terrorized into compliance. It was upsetting.

I watched, stared, and pondered. They were majestic and yet so afraid of the sharp call of the little boy taming them.

What are we humans capable of?

After a quick cold drink stop, we headed back on the road for our final stop - Negombo. Actually, we're a little outside of Negombo in a town called Waikkal. We watched the sun set at 5:49pm from our swimming pool connected to the beach, as dogs silhouetted themselves against a fuchsia draped sky. I sipped on my martini rosso and said goodbye to the sun, good night to Sri Lanka, and thank you to the people and moments in my life that got me here and make me want to keep moving along.

I love you, my most precious person,

I am the cinnamon peeler’s wife. Smell me.

Dear Dan,

Today has been a fun fun day filled with so much variety!

We began the day with a scrumptious breakfast and I’m really excited to try and make egg hoppers with you! After this, we left Kandy for Dembulla. On the way, on my annoying requests, we stopped at a spice plantation. The gardens there were full of spices. My initial contact with this beautiful landscape of spice trees, was through the words of Michael Ondaatje. In The Cinnamon Peeler, he took me to a place with the sweet smell of cinnamon oils on my skin and the fibers of cinnamon bark stuck between my incisors, without having left my room in Delhi. Didi brought back his book – Running in the Family – one vacation when she was home from college. I had eyed it suspiciously  for a while before shyly flitting through a few pages and soon after falling heavily in love with his words. I loved (of course) that the book was small – it would fit in one hand so I could lie down and hold it in my right hand while my left stayed warm and tucked away. I loved (of course) that it told a story of his formative years in Sri Lanka through words weaved in a tapestry of poems. And I loved (of course) that he used smell and touch in his poems. Senses I couldn’t get enough of. And can’t.

I was so so excited to visit a spice garden! I woke up from my partial drugged stupor (so as to avoid vomiting and what not) to a heady sensory input from trees of cardamom, cloves, ginger, turmeric, cocoa, nutmeg, asparagus, citron, vanilla, aloe vera, avocado, sapota, mango, jackfruit and more! It was heavenly! But you should’ve seen me when we got to the cinnamon plant. Bua announced with solemn hilarity: “Aa gaya tumhara cinnamon.” And that was all I needed to plant myself at its roots and analyze it all I could. Mostly though I pictured a cinnamon peeler – his hands orangish-yellow with a lackluster morbidity embedded into his fingerprints that comes with prolonged use. I imagined the smell of his hands, and the smell of his wife’s body. And I imagined Ondaatje watching cinnamon peeler after cinnamon peeler (or perhaps smelling their wives?) before he wrote the words that planted this dream of visiting Sri Lanka in me.

“You touched
your belly to my hands
in the dry air and said
I am the cinnamon
peeler’s wife. Smell me.”

Turmeric - ginger's cousin

Sri Lanka for me

It's so cool how cardamom grows!

Nutmeg - the fruit, the seed, and the flower.

A vine tree!

Life's problems getting fixed with this awesome balm of power.
After this sensory experience, we headed to another amazing one, which in addition to being historically rich and charming, was also a very sweat-inducing one. Well, that’s what happens when you climb up a steep hill to go explore caves from the 2nd century (B.C.) with relics of Buddha preserved under a sky of cave paintings as old as the caves! It was such an important piece of history, and I’m glad we got to experience it. I wasn’t glad about how hot it was, how many mosquitoes were buzzing around us, and how I had to cover my shoulders with a sweater in that heat. But those were small matters. The breath-taking views, the fascinating monkeys on our trek up, the beautifully preserved pieces of history, and the inspiring company made up for the discomfort of sweating a liter of sweat.

The golden stupa outside

Buddha and Mangoes

It was quite the experience watching the clouds floating by above his powering figure.

Many steps to climb up this hill!

Much sweat to drip!

Many monkeys to observe

Until finally!

We get blue skies, a steady breeze, and...

...the entrance of this enchanting cave temple!

2nd century statues in caves discovered in the 12th!

Cave paintings in their original form

Family portrait

Strong Team!

Why, humans, why?

After Dembulla, we debated whether or not to head to the elephant sanctuary and national park and with the help of some insider information about the location of the elephant herd, decided against it and fitted it into our plans for tomorrow, and headed for our hotel in Sigiriya. Once at our hotel, the first sight that greeted us was, as Phuphaji aptly put it, dramatic. I mean all we needed was some LOTR music, and we would’ve been set. We climbed up these Pyramid like steps to get to the main lobby, which overlooked a gorgeous infinity pool set in the middle of a paddy field with trees surrounding it. Right ahead, we could see the super dramatic Sigiriya Rock – home of lore, solace, and shelter. Around us, paddy fields with straw huts everywhere. In the lobby, there were gigantic art pieces with elephantine themes. One painting, the size of our entire apartment, had a dinky looking string in front of it and a demure sign warning admirers of large elephant heads to keep out in order to avoid electric shock. I was quite confused by this consequence of touching a piece of art. Of course, as a teacher of children, I thought - what a terrible idea! And of course, as a lover of touching art work, I was cross at possibly being electrocuted for following my passion of touching art.

The dramatic view that greeted us - that's Sigiriya Rock in the far background

Rat shaped coconut?? I don't mind me some!

Elephant or women in harmony?

Umm...don't touch that painting!

Seriously! Don't!
Anyhow, our room is very sweet and the hotel is gorgeous! Today is Poya Day (full moon day) and it is very auspicious for Buddhists here who believe that today is the day to practice 10 precepts of Buddhism, unlike other days, when they just have to practice 5. Our driver and guide, Sampath Hemant is very learned in these matters (also in history, geography, trees, birds, flowers, politics, and  economics - to name a few) and gave us the low down. However, he did not prepare us to not be able to have a pina colada by the pool (Poya Day = Dry Day). It turned out fine though – we got delicious fresh king coconut water and I pestered the swimming pool helping man to cut it open for us so we could eat the yummy insides of the coconut. From the refreshing pool, we saw some pretty birds (they were equally likely and unlikely finches and pelicans) and we definitely saw 3 bats hanging from a tree. We heard a saxophonist serenade us and I saw a very sweet old couple waltzing with silent knowing smiles as though no one was watching to a song as they walked back to their room.

A beautiful relaxing intense fun day.

You would’ve loved it all.

And I love you,


Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Kandy Diabetic Center

Dear Dannu,

I snuck in a little light this morning to catch a glimpse of sunrise over the mountains.

How can this not bring peace...
Today, we had a yummy yummy breakfast and then headed to the Perideniya Botanic Gardens to see some gorgeous trees, plants, shrubs, ferns, bats, cows, monkeys, suspension bridges, and rivers! The amount of diversity in this world fascinates me. In the gardens, they had a "memorial tree walk" if trees planted by famous politicians and diplomats. The saddest looking tree was planted by Indira Gandhi - India's first female prime minister. Also in the garden were lovers everywhere! Every single bench, as Bua rightfully pointed, was occupied by hormonal desperate young heterosexual couples. I also saw bats!! Of course I thought of my favorite - Stellaluna and got so excited when I saw one flying. I also got approached by a group of men to take their photograph and then they asked me if they could take one with me and I was like, Heck No! Well, I actually said no thank you and walked away in a huff.

Candle Fruit!


My favorite Burmese tree in the whole garden!

Bua sharing the bench with desperate lovers

It's a fruit! It's a branch!

It's a bat!!!!!

So many leaves on one trunk!

After the pretty gardens, we went to Kandy City Center, a mall with fascinating shops (including McDonalds and Burger King - not so fascinating in and of themselves - but with fascinating menus I thought you would enjoy seeing ; ) and then to a Buddhist temple to see where his supposed tooth is supposedly enshrined (I wish I could bring back the calming smells of jasmine from the flowers in this temple). The history in that temple was mindblowing! We also drove around a gorgeous lake and I saw many types of cool birds and fed fish popcorn (all in a day's work!) After that we visited an art center, a gem museum (where we were subjected to a highly informational powerpoint presentation and movie showing the incredibly tedious process of gem mining in Sri Lanka), and went to see a cultural show. At the cultural show, I saw many drummers and missed you - you would've enjoyed it. I also saw fire eaters and walkers and acrobats! I felt like a kid and had a fun time watching them and being paranoid about mosquitoes.

Share the Road

Our guide - procurer of popcorny offerings to the fish 
Fishy Popcorn

Every entryway had this stone "doormat" in the temple. The carvings around signified leaving behind the complications of life and entering with simplicity.

I got museumed

Ain't no mosquito gonna bite me!

Fire walking

A fun fun day!

I missed you...