01 Jan - 03 Feb 2011 Madiha

Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka
Very nice double room (no. 6), 10 m from the high-water mark, with private sea-view balcony and internet, for only LKR 1,500.- or US$ 13.50 per night.

Click below for an interactive road map of the Beach Inns Holiday Resort in Madiha, which we would highly recommend, and for directions:

Sun-and-sand-bathing on our hotel’s private sand beaches, binge tanning and satisfying our heavily neglected tanorexic needs, devouring the very delicious pescetarian/vegetarian local food such as (i) devilled calamari, prepared with a thick, spicy masala sauce and big chunks of onions and chillies, (ii) kiribath on New Year’s Day, the ceremonial milk rice, cooked in rich coconut cream and served with jaggery, and (iii) traditional puttu, a mixture of rice meal, ever lightly roasted and mixed with freshly grated coconut, then steamed and eaten with vegetable curry, washing the good food down with plenty of thambili water, the refreshing juice of yellow king coconuts, and planning our travels to Southern India for the upcoming New Year 2011 CE.

Taking both cerebral and digital snapshots of the dramatic sunrises and sunsets over the vast horizon of the Indian Ocean, conveniently visible from our hotel’s sea terrace, reading Sir Arthur C. Clarke’s science-fiction classics about our universe (he had made his home in Sri Lanka) and spotting simultaneously both the Great Baer (Ursa Major) and the Southern Cross (Crux) on the morning night sky, a unique double sighting and only possible in these very low latitudes since both star constellations normally belong to two different celestial hemispheres.

"A picture is worth only a thousand or so words...” 
(Paul Theroux)

Gaining the impression that the minds of four out of five young Sri Lankan males (e.g. touts, waiters, drivers) are permanently occupied with just one nagging question: “How can I get a visa or even a residence permit for any of those first-world countries of milk and honey, preferably for the United Kingdom, for Germany, or for Australia?”

Joining our friends Janet & Maurice for an exciting Sunday drive through Sri Lanka’s southern hill country: (i) defying gravity during a challenging hill climb, with many extreme hair-pin bends, to the atmospheric, early 17th-century Gatabaruwa Rajamaha Viharaya rock temple near Kotapola, c. 6 km south of Deniyaya, (ii) practising advanced off-road driving on mud during our approach to the impressive Kiruwananaganga Falls (c. 5 km east of Kotapola), one of the largest falls in Sri Lanka (60 m high and up to 60 m wide), and, finally, (iii) racing an undisclosed number of laps between Deniyaya and Kotapola thus dodging and weaving in and out of various other road users from donkeys to elephants, bikes to trucks; many thanks to Janet, a bold lady driver, and to the unknown Korean engineers who designed her tough Hyundai Santa Fe crossover sports-utility vehicle.
“The one thing that unites all human beings, regardless of age, gender, religion, economic status, or ethnic background, is that, deep down inside, we all believe that we are above-average drivers.” 

Whalewatching off Sri Lanka’s south coast, between Mirissa and Dondra Head where the continental shelf narrows sharply, and spotting pods of migrating blue whales (Balaenoptera musculus), probably on their way from the Arabian Sea to the Bay of Bengal, gentle giants who surfaced regularly every 12 min for impressive blow jobs and who waved us good-bye with their big tail fin before they disappeared again into the abyss of the Indian Ocean.

Peoplewatching in our hotel a traditional poruwa wedding (which appears to have existed in Sri Lanka before the introduction of Buddhism in the 3rd century BCE and which was a valid custom as a registered marriage until the British introduced the registration of marriages by law in 1870 CE): (i) the bride and the groom entered the poruwa (a beautifully decorated, traditional wooden platform) leading with the right foot first and greeted each other with palms held together in the traditional manner, (ii) the bride's father placed the right hand of the bride on that of the groom as a symbolic gesture of handing over the bride to the groom and the groom's brother handed over a tray with seven sheaves of betel leaves with a coin placed in each, then the groom held the tray while the bride took one leaf at a time and dropped it on the poruwa, (iii) the groom's brother handed a gold necklace to the groom who in turn placed it on the bride's neck, (iv) the maternal uncle entered the poruwa and tied the small fingers of the bride and groom with a single gold thread (to symbolize unity) and then poured water over their fingers, and (v) as the newly married couple stepped down from the poruwa, the groom's family member broke a fresh coconut in two.

“Weddings are never about the bride and groom,
weddings are public platforms for dysfunctional families.” 

Meeting one of our village’s big shots, a Mr. Dayananda, a short, sinew man with long arms, already in his fifties but still very fit, a coconut cutter by profession, who climbs up the 15-m high palm trees and cuts off the tree’s dead fronds and the ripe nuts - all this for a salary of only LKR 50.- or US$ 0.45 per tree or per climb, respectively.

Visiting together with our friends Janet & Maurice their SY “Cobble” in her cradle at Galle Port +94912234936, completing our blacklist of the shittiest places for cruising sailors (worstest place: the anchorage off Sharm al Sheikh in Egypt [the better choice: Abu Tig Marina +20653580073 in El Gouna], second-shittiest place: Marina Bandar al Rowdha in Oman [the better choice: Fujairah International Marine Club +97192221166], third-shittiest place: Galle Port in Sri Lanka [the better choice: a protected anchorage off Uligamu in the northern Maldives]), and meeting the hectic sissies of the Blue Water Rally, thus listening to some interesting stories about their peculiar ways of having "cruising fun": (i) a few yachts were hit by a depression (with gales up to 50 knots) and were forced back for quite a distance since they left Phuket far too early in order to stick to the rally’s tight commercial schedule, although this year’s northeast monsoon had been delayed, (ii) the skipper of an upmarket sailing (!) catamaran had to call a tug, about halfway between the Nicobars and Sri Lanka, in order to buy more diesel fuel since he was running out of it, and (iii) almost everyone mentioned a very secretive security framework for the Gulf of Aden aka “the pirate’s alley” whose details they didn't want to share with us; Godspeed and don't wet your pants!

Exploring the fascinating temple at Wewurukannala (just inland from the coastal village of Dickwella, voluntary donation: LKR 100.- per foreigner) with its cartoon-like murals (tales form the jatakas, the moral fables describing the Buddha’s 547 previous lives) and its three-dimensional attractions: (i) the largest, rather supercilious-looking Buddha statue on the island, a 50 m concrete colossus constructed in the late 1960s, with his head crowned by a gaudy sirsapata (the Buddhist equivalent of the halo, representing the flame of wisdom) which looks more like an enormous dollop of ice cream, (ii) the main image house (inspired by Portuguese baroque architecture) which contains an impressive ensemble of huge Buddhas in various poses as well as a wonderfully kitsch collection of diverse statues and (iii) a kind of Buddhist chamber of horrors showing the punishments awaiting wrongdoers in the afterlife with life-size statues depicting unfortunates being sawn in half, boiled in oil and impaled on stakes by rather jolly-looking devils.

Appeasing the demons and deities of our village Madiha and watching the pulse-quickening, brilliant performance of a traditional low-country devil dance where the dancers (all handsome young men) went through an astounding athletic routine, costumed in colourful headdresses and with white cloths wound tightly round their hips whilst bare-chested drummers beat out a frantic rhythm on the yak bera (a double-ended, cylindrical drum).

Taking one of the government-owned S.L.T.B. (Sri Lanka Transport Board +942581120) rust buckets from Walgama to Matara’s central bus station (10 km, 1/2 hour, LKR 9.- per person) and from there a Wijesuriya bus to Tissamaharama (c. 110 km, 3 1/2 hours, LKR 107.- or US$ 0.95 per person; “...there are no bad bus drivers in Sri Lanka since all the bad drivers die very quickly”, a local passenger told us), a country town which is tightly controlled by the price-fixing cartel of the infamous “Independent Jeep Association” and touted as base for (overpriced) trips to the nearby Yala National Park, basically a commercialised safari zoo specialising in leopards.

Click below for more blog posts about Madiha

Click below for a summary of this year’s travels

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