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Day 12: Elephants!

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Suggested music to read to is located here.  Go on. I’ll wait.

Today we went to the Elephant Orphanage.  It was totally a tourist trap, but we don’t even care!  It was fun and sweet to see all the elephants.  Cathy even shelled out an extra 250 rupees to feed one of the baby elephants a bottle of milk.

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The elephants are on a schedule.  It’s a hard life, with all that eating and hanging out at the lake.

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They seemed to be enjoying the “hang around and eat leaves” time.

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We were pretty done by today.  Everybody was hot, it was humid, several people were still not feeling great, and I think we were all ready to go home.  Still, elephants!

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You’ll note that they are not in cages.  They did chain the bulls, but that was more to protect the elephants and babies than to protect us.  They did have handlers that were near, but there were no real fences.  We saw several warning signs reminding us that they were not pets.

I think the best part was lunch, but not because of the food!  The restaurant was located right by the lake the elephants hang out in during lake time.  We had great seats for elephant viewing.

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ElephantLakeNaptimeThis elephant was taking a nap in the lake.  It’s easy when you have a built in snorkel!

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Kirk demonstrates how hot and tired we were on this day.

After this, we went to the hotel in Colombo for our final night in Sri Lanka.  Kirk and I were not on the same flight as everyone, so we got to sleep.  Everyone else left Colombo at 12:30 am for their flight.  We felt for them!

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Day 11: How the Ruins Were Ruined

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Day 11 found us hanging out with Buddhist statues in a cave.

By this point, everyone was hot, tired, and done with travel.  Our tour guide was still bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, and eager to show us all the wonders of Sri Lanka.  I think he realized that we were fading though.  He stopped the bus at a roadside stand and sent our security guard/porter off to pick us up some Jack Fruit.  Cathy thinks that Jack Fruit tastes like gummy bears.  She really liked it!  Kirk did not care of it as much.

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Jonnica hustled us all back to the bus and we headed to our first stop of the day- a Buddhist cave temple.  We dropped by the bathrooms first, and got to experience only real stereotypical Asian squat toilet.  It was FILTHY, and we had to pay 10 rupees for the privilege.  Cathy would not have even gone if she did not REALLY have to go.  A German lady was demanding her money back as we walked away, and nobody really blamed her. (We don’t know if she succeeded or not.)

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The cave temple was painted in the 14th century, and monks lived there at one time.  We had to take a pretty steep hike up the mountain to get there, dodging monkeys and peddlers.  At the top of the hill, we had to take our shoes off as a sign of respect.  Cathy stuck hers in her backpack, but the others checked their shoes at a shoe kiosk.  The stones were hot, so we tried to walk in the shade as much as possible and worked hard to avoid the monkey poop.  It was an extremely fascinating site, but we were so very hot and tired by this point that I do not think we fully appreciated it.

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There were several caves, and each cave had nearly every square inch painted.  We were particularly impressed that the ceiling was so detailed the monks who painted it did not have copy/paste, yet their paintings were so perfectly alike.

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Most of the caves had at least one reclining buddha statue.  In this case, “reclining” means “death pose,” and it is showing him just before he achieves Nirvana. People had left flowers at various statutes (and we watched a monkey run in and steal one!). Our tour guide also told us that pregnant women make the journey and hoof it up the hill to ask for a healthy baby and a safe delivery.

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After a few caves we started dropping like flies.  The humidity finally got to a few of us enough that we had to go sit down, and Jonnica took us back to the bus.  The walk down was not quite as bad as the walk up, but it still took awhile!

We stopped at a place for lunch.  We seemed especially road weary on this day, and were all secretly hoping for pizza, but it was not to be.  There was the standard buffet and hark- a menu!  Cathy, Chris, Andrea, Krishna, and a few others ordered off the menu, and a Kirk and the others braved the buffet.  It was an open air restaurant and a very humid day, but we all ate our lunches.  Cathy had onion soup (good!) and a tomato cheese sandwich with fries. (eh.)  I think that we would have all fallen asleep at the table if we could have. After lunch, we made our way to the hotel.

After enjoying so many beautiful, clean, fantastic hotels, this hotel was a dump.  It really was not that bad, and it had a good view, but we had become accustomed to a certain standard, so it was kind of jarring to be plummeted back to reality. (Editor’s Note: I think that every hotel ever is going to seem like crap after all the amazing hotels we stayed in on this trip.) The bathrooms were not so hot- they were kind of dirty and had bugs, and the beds had sheets and not much else. They also had sold our tour guide’s room to someone else!  He ended up having to stay at another hotel, and he was Not Happy.  I am sure the hotel will rue the day- they may have gotten more money from one customer to have Jonnica’s room, but I am sure that they lost the business of his tour company!

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We were also starting to have suspicions about our lunch. *cue ominous music*. Several in the group wanted to take a nap rather than brave the heat to do one more excursion. Cathy, Chris, Andrea, Leigh, Kevin, and a few others decided that they did not want to head back out in the heat, so we skipped the ruins.  Cathy was really disappointed to do that, but she was worried that she would get a migraine headache if she stayed in the sun for much longer.  Kirk, Krishna, Keir, Dinusha, Pat, Bob, Jan, Joey, Dinusha’s parents, and Jonnica headed to the ruins.  Kirk thought they were AWESOME, but it was unbelievably hot and humid.  They had to argue to get change back (rant on that coming soon) and it was just overwhelming after the long day.

Then people started to get sick.

I will leave the ill ones nameless as to not embarrass them, but I will tell their story. 🙂

Person A did not look well before he got on the bus, but he braved it anyway.  About ten minutes in to the three hour tour he started throwing up, and there was no convenient place to be ill.  We should sent a gift basket to ziplock for their fine products.  A bathroom was found for him, and he hung around there while the others went on.

Person B started feeling bad, and Kirk was none to pert either.

The ruins were actually pretty cool, and if it had been a different day, it would have been a highlight of the trip.  The ruins date back to the 1200s. The first ruin we visited was the King’s residence which originally contained 1000 rooms. It was 7-10 stories tall, of which about 5 brick ones remained. The other stories were made of wood and rotted away.

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The second area visited was the bathing/pool area and King’s audience room. On our way there, Dinusha’s parents pointed out some shy ferns that when touched curl up.  There was a really steep set of stone stairs leading to the bathing area.

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The next stop was an area that had 6-7 temples. Kirk took his shoes off for only two of them, because he was starting to feel too hot and tired to deal with a shoe dance.  They were really cool looking.

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One of the placards mentioned that the temple of the tooth was built in 60 hours. Our tour guide said that that is in dispute and that they probably meant 60 days (which I would believe). The tooth being referred to is a tooth of Buddha’s that supposedly a Sri Lankan princess brought back from a pilgrimage to India. In order to be considered a Sri Lankan king, you had to possess the tooth.

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A fourth stop brought us by another Buddhist temple where some bats were hanging out. Kirk was starting to think that he might not be feeling well at this point.

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A final stop was an area with several deeply cut carvings of Buddha out of granite. At this point, Kirk just sat on a rock while the others in the group went into the temple area to listen to the tour guide give more info on it.

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This was the last stop on temple ruins tour, and Kirk was glad for it. On the way back to the bus, we witnessed a monkey fight, which was something new. Speaking of monkeys:

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Person A continued to be super unwell, and between the third and forth stop he decided that he had to leave.  A Sri Lankan memeber of the party hired a tuk-tuk to take them back to the hotel.  It should have been a simple ride, and poor Person A was pretty sick at this point

It’s important to remember that people drive like crazy people here, so what happened next was especially perplexing.  People swerve in and out of traffic, and stopping/going seems to be a “whenever you want, as long as you’re honking while you do it” proposition.  There were no observable rules that we saw in the time we were here, yet Person A’s tuk-tuk was pulled over by a policeman.  Why? Nobody has any idea what caused the pull over to happen, but it did, and the tuk-tuk driver did not have a driver’s licence. Do’h.

Person A continued to thank all the various gods that ziplock bags existed.  He was soooo miserable.  His Sri Lankan escort was berated by the police officer, saying that she should have checked to see if he had a licence. (? was pretty much her reaction.  She has never done that ever, nor known anyone who has.  It would be like knocking on the cockpit and demanding to see the pilot’s credentials.  One assumes things, and it is a reasonable assumption!)  Person A must have looked as sick as he felt, because the policeman let them go on to the hotel and wrote the ticket after Person A was let out.

Cathy was sitting in the lobby trying to update the blog when they walked by, and sent some medication to him to try and help out.  Not long after Person A arrived, Person B and Kirk came running by in only slightly better condition than Person A.  We figured it was the lunch, as they all got so sick so close to the same time.  After this beautiful sunset, it was a miserable night for all.

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Cathy worried that Kirk was getting the flu.  He was running a fever and had chills and aches, but he felt a lot better in the morning. Not great, but better.  There was a lot of weary staring at the breakfast trays.  We hopped on the bus (oh how we were starting to hate the bus!) again for our last real day in Sri Lanka at an elephant orphanage.  Stay tuned for that story.

Day 10: Firewalk With Me

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Today we started 1 hour later than we have the past few days, but that didn’t stop Kirk from waking up to a beautiful sunrise from the room’s balcony. In this video, you can hear the Buddhist call to prayer and some birds singing while enjoying the sunrise. The room we stayed in was designated as “Heaven” (everyone else had room numbers). Breakfast was the standard fare.

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We loaded-up in the bus and made our way to the tea plantation. The terraced farming of the tea trees is beautiful. We learned that all tea from Sri Lanka is the same species, and that the differences all arise from picking the tea at different growth times or by different processing methods.

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Tea tree root system

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After the tea plantation we headed our way to Kandy (the 2nd largest city in Sri Lanka). As the bus drove down the switchbacks of the steep mountain road, an insistent street vendor chased our bus down (using shortcuts) trying to sell us flowers. He probably ran down 5 switchbacks and caught the bus each time. Someone finally bought a flower from him. He kept coming. The next time I saw him, I gave him some money (no flower, I figured he’d been worth the donation for the entertainment value). Here he is, watch for him on a future Sri Lankan Olympic marathon team:

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When we got to Kandy we had a great lunch. Several of us decided to order off the menu since we were kinda tired of the buffet style meals. I got a great fried shrimp dish and Cathy enjoyed the spaghetti that she ordered.

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We went to a precious gem store/tourist trap museum and learned a little about gem mining here. No mechanized mining equipment is used in Sri Lanka because of a law attempting to minimize the environmental damage.

After the gem museum, our group split into two: one went to the Botanical Gardens (supposedly one of the best in Asia) and the other went shopping for souveneirs. Cathy and I decided to skip the garden and hit the store so we could get some things for people back home. Both groups only had about an hour and fifteen minutes. The garden people said that it was pretty awesome: fruit bats, trash eating monkeys, a series of mutant coconut trees, and more! Unfortunately they were only able to make a quick walk around the main path and didn’t get to see inside most of the buildings.

From the store/garden we hurried our way to a cultural center where we were treated to a display of traditional Sri Lankan dances. Several members of our group recognized some of the dancers from the ones who danced at Dinusha and Keir’s wedding! It was very good…lots of drumming, “clarineting”, singing, acrobatics, and of course…fire walking. It was too fast and too dark for pictures on our rather iffy camera, so I only took video: 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8.

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We finally ended the day by getting set-up at the Tree of Life Hotel where we saw this quilt and tried to interpret this painting:

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We had one of the better dinner buffets and were serenaded by a Sri Lankan mariachi band. After that Cathy and I took a quick swim in the refreshingly cool pool with some other members of the group. We haven’t been able to figure the internet out yet, so it’s likely that this will be posted slightly later than normal. Anyway, tomorrow we are off to a cave temple!

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Here are pictures from the hotel grounds. These were taken on the morning of day 11 (cheating, but it feels better here):

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Day 9, Planes, trains, and automobiles (sans planes)

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Today was FANTASTIC!

We woke up in yet another pretty nice hotel, slammed down breakfast, and headed for the hills.

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It turns out that Sri Lanka is more than just pretty beaches.  They have mountains too, and today we explored them.

While we were driving, Jonnica (the tour guide) told us some more about Sri Lankan culture.  Many are heavily influenced by their horoscope.  When a baby is born, their parents have a fortune teller write out the horoscope. The fortune teller helps pick auspicious letters for the baby’s name.  We actually witnessed some of this without realizing it at the wedding.  We all noticed that the ceremony person kept looking at a clock- Dinusha told us later that he was making sure that it was an auspicious time for each part of the ceremony.

The old fortunes were written on palm leaves. Our tour guide brought his father’s to show us. Modern ones are written on paper. The horoscope tells important things like diseases that the person may be prone to, how long they will live, at what age they should marry, how educated they will be, etc.  It is not considered to be written in stone, but many take the horoscope very seriousally. If a baby boy has a horrible horoscope saying that they will be uneducated, poor, etc, they are sometimes sent to a Buddhist monastery to be raised and become monks.  It is considered a better way to live than to live the bad life the horoscope predicted.

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Many marriages in Sri Lanka are still arranged  by the parents.  They advertise in the paper!  The tour guide brought us some examples, and in nearly ALL of the ads, a copy of the potential suitor’s horoscope was requested.  Their horoscope is considered an important key in if they will be compatible with a potential spouse. The parents screen potential applicants based on age, location, profession, and horoscope.  Women still have doweries, so women with big ones have an edge!

While we got this lesson in culture, we were headed to a waterfall.  The bus pulled over at the waterfall and we were accosted by men trying to sell us rocks.  (?)  They were pretty aggressive salespeople towards some of our party, but Cathy’s Icy Cold BitchFace  must have scared them away, because she was not bothered by them.

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We posed in front of the waterfall.  Our tour guide Jonnica told us that Sri Lanka has many waterfalls, but Cathy can’t recall the number just now.  This was just one of many.  There were people selling corn on the cob and other snacks.  Dinusha bought some corn, and she let us try a piece of sour fruit that she also bought.  It must be an acquired taste.

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Also, a monkey was hanging around!

We were hoping to make it in time to make the train.  We stopped again at a viewing area, and it was stunning.  Our pictures do not do it justice. Cathy and Kirk also ran in to the German couple they had met at their first hotel!  *Cue It’s a Small World After all*

We made it to the train station, and we were going to get second tier tickets.  There are many tickets- first class, an observation class, and cattle car.  (Not really a cattle car, but no reserved seats, just cramming in.)  They are priced accordingly.  Everyone got their ticket…except Kirk, Cathy, Andrea, and Chris.  By the time we got up there, they were out of the second tier tickets, so they bought first class ones.  It was a great move!

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First class is air conditioned indoors, comes with tea and a lunch, and has an outdoor observation deck with benches.  We spent the first hour of the three hour ride on the deck.  There were only five people there- us and one woman traveling around Asia  She was from Maryland, and told us that she had rented a motorcycle here.  We consider that pretty brave!

It was a restful and beautiful ride through the mountains.

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People would wave at us as we went by, and children would call out to us.  We saw some tea plantations and towns.  When it started raining, we went back inside and ate our lunch.  We forgot to take a picture but it was rice and a spicy chicken.  It was nice to get to know Andrea and Chris a little better as well. Kirk took a short video of our train trip- check it out here.

When we arrived, we joined with the rest of the group and headed in to town to eat at an Indian place.  Since Andrea, Kirk, Chris and I already ate on the train, we just snacked a bit.  Cathy enjoyed the tea and the garlic Naan quite a bit!

This area looks much more European.  When Sri Lanka was a kingdom, the King did not allow people to live here.  They could come here to gather herbs, but were not allowed to build or settle here.  Then the Europeans arrived, and started building up here because they missed European weather.  It is rainy and cool up here most of the time.  It really shows their influence- the buildings are very European looking.  Our tour guide pointed out several hotels that once belonged to rich British dudes, or places where hunting parties once gathered back when big game hunting was still okay.  We even passed a decent looking golf course.  It is green and lush up here.

Our hotel is fantastic, and Kirk and I have a great room with a view.  We don’t even have a room number like the others- it’s literally called the Heaven Room.  I only wish we had more than one day here.  If we come back to Sri Lanka, this area will be on our “must return to” list.

For now we’re chilling in our hotel.  Tomorrow we head out to see some tea plantations, zoom down to Kandy to shop ,and check out the Devil Dancers.  

Yala is the place to be!

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Today started with us boarding our bright pink bus and heading to the Yala area for a wildlife safari.  We ate an excellent breakfast at our hotel, and then loaded up and moved on out.
The breakfast was pretty standard fare- eggs, bacon, a few Sri Lankan items, crossants…but after the somewhat “meh” dinner we were all excited to find the breakfast extra delicious.

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The bus ride up was slow going.  We stopped briefly in front of Fort Galle, which was  left by the Dutch a gajillion years ago (take or give- the details are a bit fuzzy in my tired brain.)  and took some photos.

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We also saw fishermen along the way!  We passed areas choked with fishing boats, took some pictures of a bunch of men pulling in a fishing net, and paid a pole fisherman 200 rupees to take a picture of him fishing on the pole.

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Since we have Sri Lankans on the trip with us, we have gotten to see some of the differences in how they treat natives v. tourists.  We stopped to use the restrooms at a small toursist shop and cafe, and the tourists were charged a small fee to use the bathroom.  The Sri Lankans were not.  There are also different rates in what the tours cost Sri Lankans and tourists.  It sort of reminds Kirk and I of Hawaii.  We saw several places where people who actually lived on the island were given a discount price. 🙂  The extra fees have not been too outrageous, but we found it interesting.

The highlight of the trip today was the safari tour of Yala National Park.  After a pizza lunch at a local restaraunt, we all piled into jeeps and bounced our way to Yala.

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It was a hot, bouncy, very dusty ride, but it was worth it to see the wildlife!  If you go, be sure to keep some Dramamine around.  The roads are not great, and the drivers are sort of insane.  There was a leopard spotted, and every jeep in the area descended, cramming themselves in wherever they could get.

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We ended up not seeing the leopard, but other members of our tour group were able to see it. There were plenty of other wildlife to be seen: water buffalo, parakeets, spoonbill birds, mongooses (mongeese?), deer, crocodiles, kingfisher birds, pelicans, pretty iridescent green bee eater birds, etc. Here are pictures of some:

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The best part though had to be elephants. At first, we only saw an elephant’s rear, but then we came upon a group of two female elephants and a baby elephant. We have a video of the baby elephant nursing.

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After we left the park at dusk, we came upon a bull elephant right on the side of the road. About 3 more jeeps pulled along side and our driver thought that it was getting too agressive, so we went on. We have some video of that encounter that goes sideways halfway through, so again, Kirk’s cameramanship continues to win awards.

Bus Trip 2: Temple, turtles, boat, and tsunami

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Hello all! This is Kirk writing this entry again as Cathy is tired. I’m going to try and make it fairly quick as we have to be up early tomorrow and have more adventures. We started off the day by traveling via bus to a Buddhist temple. We saw lots of Buddha statues and murals of the Buddha’s life.

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Buddhist Temple

 

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I enjoyed the murals the most. Here is one showing the death of Buddha and going into Nirvana.

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We then continued on the bus to a sea turtle conservatory. They hatch sea turtle eggs, raise them for 3 days, and release them into the ocean in an attempt to increase the sea turtle population. Here are a series of good pictures:

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Albino Sea Turtle

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Next, we voted to go on a boat ride. The area was where a fresh-water river was mixing with the salt water ocean. We saw some jellyfish floating on the river as we went by. This boy was making money by having you pose with his pet monkey.

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The boat took us to an island that grew and processed cinnamon (apparantly Sri Lanka supplies 70% of the world’s cinnamon). Here is a picture of the man removing the bark. They then slice the under bark off and this is dried to make cinnamon sticks. The leaves of the cinnamon tree  are also very aromatic.

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The last leg of the bus journey took us through an area of Sri Lanka that was hit pretty hard by the 2004 Tsunami. The guide told us that an estimated 50,000 Sri Lankans died in the tsunmai, including an entire passenger train (reportedly a 15 foot high wave). We saw many many remnants of houses that have not been rebuilt yet.

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Here is a picture of a tsunami memorial that the Japanese government donated to the Sri Lankan people.

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At the end of our bus journey awaited another nice hotel right on the beach. This beach had large waves and much surfing. We came just in time to catch a fairly decent sunset. A nice feature is that there is a grocery store across the road where we were able to re-stock on some items. That brings us to now and to an early bed for an early rise!

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We made it to Hikkaduwa!

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The adventure continues! I just wanted to check in and let everyone know that we made it to our next destination.  We stopped at a turtle conservation place on the way, took a boat ride, and visited a Cinnamon farm.  Cinnamon is way more involved than I realized.  🙂  We will be putting up pictures later on!  From here on out we are at a ncw place every single day, so there will be less down time.