From Sri Lanka to the Maldives

Sunrise over the Indian ocean, sitting out on the deck off our water villa.  The moon is still up overhead, the water color changing from dark blue to turquoise.  White sands, palm trees, fishes to snorkel with right off the deck.  It’s wonderful to relax after a non-stop trip through southern india and Sri Lanka. 

Last night we watched reef sharks being fed over a railing and photographed them circling for fish.  We also were guided to feed some chicken to manta rays and stroke their backs as they swam in and out.  We arrived yesterday afternoon to the Maldives.

The water villas, built up on stilts, are surrounded by calm shallow waters.  You can hear the waves crashing on the sea wall nearby.  Birds call and dive in the water.  A day to kick back and enjoy the beauty of a resort.  Which do you prefer?  Resort vacations or non-stop adventures?  Both?

We flew in yesterday from Sri Lanka.  Our driver and guide, Andrew, had become a good friend.  Always cheerful, often laughing, with a beautiful wife and family, Andrew loves Sri Lanka and all the beauties and history to share there.  He gifted us each with clay cooking pots and coconut shell spoons, a very sweet gift.  We  gave big hugs and said goodbye.

We had so many enriching, amazing moments in Sri Lanka.  Climbing to the top of Sigiriya, an aryuvedic cooking class in a spice plantation, watching the orphanage elephants cross the road and bathe and splash in the river, riding elephants, holding three day old baby sea turtles at a rescue station, visiting a tea factory and a moonstone mine.  Sri Lanka is known for its brighter blue sapphires, also sold there.  

Sigiriya is a massive ancient rock fortress.  The story is that a Sri Lankan king had two sons, one born by his wife, and one from one of his concubines.  The royal heir was the wife’s son.  The concubine son decided he wanted to take over the throne, so he killed his father, and built this mountain high fortress palace to live with his entourage.  Unfortunately, the legitimate heir was angry and gathered attack the fortress.  The king who stole the throne realized he would not be successful in staving off the attack, and committed suicide.  A sad story of greed and revenge.  However, as is so often the case, the amazing buildings he left behind, on such a massive rock “mountain” attract tourists from all over the world.

The weather in Sri Lanka is always changing–from hot and humid, to torrential rains, to warm breezy evenings.  Our hike up the 1202 steps to the top of Sigiriya   was alternately hot and stormy.  I wasn’t sure if I would make it up all those steps at times, but decided to take one step at a time.  A metaphor for life.  I was either drenching with sweat dripping off my face,down my back, onto my camera or soaked by the heavy rains.  The steps up are largely constructed from moonstone, beautiful, but slippery in the rain. At one point, we entered an enclosed area where the illegitimate king’s concubines were painted as frescos on the cave walls.  This king had 500 concubines, women from all around the world–and two wives.  The frescoes still held their bright colors.  The last climb’s steps were carved on either side with lion’s paws.  Originally you walked through a lion’s mouth up to the mountain top fortress.  Once we summited the palace ruins covered flat top of this rock, the views were sensational, lush greenery as far as the eye could see in all directions, lakes and mountains in the distance.   Interestingly, although I was hot and out of breath on this hike, my younger traveling companions had sore calves for several days. 

Our cooking class in the spice plantation was taught by a young women with peace and kindness in her eyes. We helped her cook pumpkin curry, dal, chicken curry and symbol, a fresh dish made out of grated coconut, onion, garlic,, chili powder, salt and lime.  This was prepared by mashing those ingredients with a pestle and mortar. We helped prepare the fresh coconut and the coconut milk for all the dishes.  Every day, Sri Lankans prepare their fresh coconuts.  Since coconut palms are everywhere and the coconuts plentiful, they generally use their coconuts from their own homes.  We helped with this labor intensive process.. First, the coconut is cut in half and the liquid poured out, then the coconut is removed from the inside with a coconut grater which you straddle on the ground.  Then water is added to the coconut and the process of making coconut milk begins.  I was in charge of squeezing the wet coconut to extract the coconut milk.  I squeezed once for the first coconut milk and then again for the second coconut milk.  This was one of my most delicious milks since the spice level was low and the food so fresh and prepared from produce and spices grown on the surrounding spice plantation.  

It was getting dark when we entered the ancient Buddha cave, water dripping off the roof lines.  Statues of Buddha and symmetrical paintings on the cave walls were everywhere.  I started wondering about Buddha.  What was his life like?  What impact has this had in the world?  Do all of us seek the peace of mind, the happiness of thought that he sought–in one way or another?
Our last day in Sri Lanka, we visited a moonstone mine.  An old man was working in the mine to demonstrate how the process works.  First, he went down into a deep hole, holding onto a rope and straddling the wooden scaffolding.  He brought up a bucket of sand and dumped it into some shallow water above, then used a basket to scoop up the moonstone gems from the bottom.  The look in his eyes was haunting.  My heart went out to him.  Not a fun life!

We walked through a tea factory, guided by the owner.  Women were just delivering their bags full of tea leaves into the bins, pungent and fresh.  Again, I watched these women upon whose backs the tea plantation prospers, in their old  clothes, tired and sweaty from the day.  It is a question many Americans ask today.  How do we acquire our products?  How well are the workers treated?

Back to the Maldives!  There are over a thousand islands here, around 100 inhabited by the locals, two hundred islands with water villas for tourists, and seven hundred are uninhabited.  If anyone wants a new capitalistic venture, you can rent an uninhabited island for 50 years at between $100,00 to a million dollars a year.  Then, you build your resort and enjoy the profits.  Game?A little far away, I guess.  Only half way around the world.
I will continue with more Sri Lankan and Maldivian adventures in my next and last email.  Thanks for sharing my journey with me. 

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