Fear and Loathing in KLIA2. Arse Cream no more

Goodbye Kate. Goodbye Sri Lanka. Hello Malaysia.

WOW! Cultureshock is not the word. After 5 months in Sri Lanka I had no idea what was coming when I touched down in Kuala Lumpur. Bright lights, skyscrapers, the 2nd tallest building in the world (i think),  mono rails, crazy kids up to their hairbands in technology, shopping malls the size of small towns and food,food,food….oh glorious food, different food, choice of food, more dishes than i can get through in one year and still not have the same thing twice. A week into Malaysian life I found myself walking round Bukit Bintang thinking  that my flight had gone through a time warp and taken me 20 years into the future. A drizzly steamy day walking under the monorail with skyscraper size advertising screens showing models on catwalks and music pumping into the street. People and faces from every part of Asia and the middle east, dimsum and sheesha pipes next to Lebanese food and Guinness happy hours with the twin towers of the Petronas building pointing up to god above, whilst the prostitutes stand amongst shoppers in the clothes emporiums. He males and shemales and ladies form all corners of the globe asking if you want a massage or more. Where am I , how did I get here? It took me 6 visits to the Lower Yat Plaza to get over the shock. Six storeys rammed full of technology and every shop front has three people trying to get your attention to try and buy a smart phone, tablet, camera, powerbank, laptop or selfie stick. The escalators only ever take you to more floors and escape is futile. A labyrinth of technology filled with pensioners on twitter, housewives on facebook and kids on we-chat. Powerbank, powerbank,powerbank..no one has enough power, must get more battery, too much screen time for inbuilt supply, shiny pink, hello kitty, doughnuts, jelly tea, bread rolls called Tuna Turner but no exit, never, just consume, stay ahead, latest model, wickedest colour , share, upload upload. This amongst a backdrop of haircuts and long thin legs in tiny shorts, every woman wears tiny shorts. Even the airline coming here had a uniform that was so super futuristic & sexy I couldn’t relax the whole flight. It’s a dream, it’s a dream but no. It’s Kuala Lumpur and I love it.

After spending three lazy weeks in Kuala Lumpur doing nothing but eating dimsum, smoking sheesha pipes with Pakistanis and Algerians and generally enjoying the delights of a true 24 hour city for the first time in 18 months it was time to move on. Not a happy football experience though. A rollercoaster 2nd half to the football season every last bit of nervous energy extracted from me and LFC finished second in the league. No need to come home and so what to do next. A quick trip to the airline office round the corner and pay the 100RM  (£17) to change my flight back to the UK to the end of June. Which was a nice surprise as the website had told me £75.

Liverpool didn’t win but what do I really care. I’ve got two more months on the road. I had cycled a bit in Malaysia but after chatting to a few people and my own experience I decide that I didn’t want to spend my last few months cycling on fast busy highways. A quick look at the map and the budget airlines hatched a plan. Rather than try to do too much too quick I decided to fly to Lombok in Indonesia, an Island east of Bali and try to cycle back to KL for my flight home.

Goodbye Malaysia, Hello Indonesia

Budget flights out of KL now fly out of Kualur Lumpur International Airport Terminal 2 now. KLIA2. When I flew it had been open 5 days. Never ever fly out of a new airport, nothing works, nothing is finished and everyone is stressed.  Before flying to Lombok I went and visited a friend in Medan for a few days. This involved me leaving my bike and luggage at KLIA getting myself to KLIA2 fly to Medan fly back to KLIA2 back to KLIA get bike and luggage get back to KLIA2 fly to Lombok. All this could have been avoided if the left luggage company had updated the website and told me that KLIA2 has got a left luggage as well.

The shuttle bus took an hour to arrive, the walk to the departure gate took 30 minutes and the only restaurant open at the the gate was a Mcdonalds that involved another 30 min queue with staff that looked like they would rather be anywhere else in the world except serving customers. This is all set amongst every high end shop you can imagine, I’m sure there are more shops in KLIA2 than there are in Westfield. Selling everything from a £20,000 diamond tiara to an 80″ plasma or some garden furniture but no f**king food.

On returning things didn’t get any better. I discovered that there was a train that is not only more frequent, quicker and cuts down the walk by half but will also take my bicycle. I discovered this because I asked three different people working at the train counter on my way back to KLIA. I saw a sign on one of the counters saying no surfboards. Phew. Lucky me. Of course when I arrive back at the train terminal to take my bike back to KLIA2 a new sign had appeared with a bicycle crossed out!!! And they wouldn’t let me take the bike on the train. I had a little bit of a tantrum demanded a ticket which they refused to sell me and jumped the gate when the cleaner came through the other way and refused to budge. The train was empty and I had a flight to catch. If you want to get something done in this situation you have to take a chance so I started shouting and said call security if you have a problem. The manager came down, realised I was not a happy or more importantly nice bunny and allowed me to put the bike in the goods compartment providing I buy a ticket.

Arriving at KLIA2 I pack up my bike in shrink wrap and trolley it to the check in. I ask if the bike is OK and the check in woman says yes. As usual it doesn’t fit through the x-ray machine and so I spend another hour trolleying the bike to the cargo bay of the airport and back to the same place where I started when they say it’s not their problem. In the end I’m told to leave the bike on the trolley and they will deal with it. (This is what should have happened at the start)

I arrive in Lombok at 8pm the flight was delayed by nearly 2 hours but the bike doesn’t appear. Everyone else has collected their luggage and I’m the only one left. Various people get involved and no one can tell me what’s happening. I’m all done on getting upset. I can’t go anywhere without my bike and I’ve got no plan so I just sit on the conveyor belt. Every time I’m asked if I can move or go to customs to check my bags in I refuse. I say I’m not budging until you tell me where my bike is. This goes on for an hour or so. Various people come and go. I’m very calm and say I’m happy to go to prison or you take me to a hotel. Either way I’ll have somewhere to sleep. Another hour goes by in which I’m given dinner on the conveyor belt and it is finally confirmed my bike is still in KL but will be arriving on the first flight tomorrow. I accept this but still refuse to move. After a few phone calls back and forth to various bosses an offer is made to me to take me to a guest house (Losman). This involves the manager taking me on his moped and two other staff carrying my luggage on two other mopeds. They pay.

The next day I receive a phone call from the incredibly helpful Suparman (name of manager) to say my bike has landed and he will have it delivered to the guest house. He tells me he’s never met someone like me and that I’ve taught him a valuable lesson. He says he’s very grateful for the experience.

What I think he meant by that was that he had never met a more stubborn, obstinate little bastard who was so laid back about it all.

Although not his fault in any way he was a true gentleman the whole time.  Reunited with my Nomad I was a happy bunny again and got back on the road. Lombok is not very big so I just decided to do a clockwork loop of the Island and see what happened. Usual stuff, camping on the beach at a fishing village of ten that was only accessible by a 2km muddy puddle between two paddy fields. I knew it would have good vibes at the end and it did. The next day the street was full of kids on mopeds with spray-canned shirts. Last day of school…ever and everyone was out celebrating. I didn’t make it far that day as I saw the perfect place to stop. A restaurant with garden down to the beach with a huge gazebo to hide away from the sun. The Garmin was now showing 43 degrees and my body was feeling it too. Although never that long some of hills were getting in to 20% plus gradients and I actually had to stand up to get up some of them. I very rarely stand up on my bike. I stopped and ordered some food. Had a swim and relaxed under the gazebo. I asked the two friendly ladies who ran the place if it was OK to sleep there for the night. No problem at all they said. With a showerin the toilet block  it was my perfect place. In the evening the owner and his wife came down and invited me to stay at their house. The two other women Rus and Remy where sisters of Joh and As was the husband. I left the bike with girls and they locked up for the night. I hopped on the back of As’s scooter and off we went up into the Lombok hills to their house. I love my bicycle but I have a lot of good memories of just being sat on the back of a moped somewhere tropical just lolling along not a care in the world looking up at the perfect starry night time sky as the breeze cools you. Admittedly my eyes aren’t normally able to focus very well on those nights ;)

When we arrived we were greeted by As and Joh’s seven kids. Before long Dinda their eight year old girl was my new best mate with the most incredible piercing eyes and I knew she was full of charm and full of trouble in equal doses.

Joh came home with Remy and Rus each on their own scooters and had brought supplies of Tarang Bulan with them. A crumpety cakey spongey thing about 8″ in diameter and 2″ thick cut into slices and topped with chocolate and cheese. Oh my god its so good. I don’t think the NHS will be encouraging it, health wise it’s probably worse than a deep fried Mars bar but it tasted amazing. Every time I find a stall selling it I have to get one.

Morning and As took me back to the beach and fed me till I burst then I tried to get to Oble Oble. Someone had said it was the way to go. As wasn’t too keen on me going as he said it was a dangerous place and It might have terrorists. I think he was as much worried about my welfare as he was setting me up with Remy or Rus who both had 3 or 4 kids and a husband that had disappeared, which incidentally they both seemed quite happy about. I resisted the temptation of a ready made family in Lombok, which is quite hard, the people are so friendly here and you get an equal amount of tactile love from both the men and the women. But ventured on into the sun.

I made it to Oble Oble after more extreme hills, not surprising as I was cycling around the edge of Mt Rinjani an active volcano and Indonesias 2nd uppiest hill. I found the beach I’d been told about and asked the owner of a small wooden hut selling food if I could camp out back between the veggy field and the sand.

An old man was praying at the time , kneeling on his mat on the platform of his Gazebo. The rather stern lady owner said it was ok though and so I set up between the trees and watched the man weave palm trees to make new sides for the hut as the woman took her turn to pray to allah. Plenty of the women I’ve seen wear the veil but mainly casual clothes to go with it, plenty don’t wear any thing that would make them stand out as muslim. It seems to be a fairly libreal country from that point of view. The most liberal dressing place I’ve been to for a majority muslim country. I bought a water melon off stern lady and gave half of it back to her in the morning as I couldn’t finish it. In return she whipped out a machete on a 10ft long pole and craftily (good skill, not cunningly) nipped off some fruit from the tree growing above her hut. I never did extract the name from her, not sure what to make of them but I was grateful all the same. I was more grateful however for the coffee I bought from her. A few spoonfuls in a cup and mixed with sugar , no fancy dan apparatus here but by god was it good. All the coffee I had so far has been good here but definitely on the strong side. This had flavour that just didn’t knock your socks off. The only time I’ve had coffee like it was in Turkey at Bora’s house. That was coffee from the west of Turkey that took in the flavours of the Cyprus trees. Anyway, its probably the best damned coffee I’ve ever had. A few more cups and I was fit for the road and another 40  degrees plus day climbing steep hills.

About 3pm I came across some guest houses that were located for the ferry crossing over to a small Island (gili). Looking back the first one I rejected was fantastic value on the beach but I was trying to stay cheap. The cheapest one I got shown was awful so another night in the tent it was only before I knew it it was dark. No camping spots were making themselves known to me and the custom of burning ones rubbish in the evening gave a three pronged attack to my eyesight. I can’t see anything wearing glasses at night because of the glare, I can’t see if I haven’t got them on and the smoke and dark just make it seem like you are in a pea souper. Seeing car lights disappearing into the distance I decide to take the first side road I could find which happeend to be a farm track. I heard some voices and parked the bike. Shouted hello and it went quiet, I shouted hello again and walked in through the gate. Half a dozen men were just cleaning down from the days work and a woman lurked in the background. No one spoke English so I got the camera out and showed them a picture of my tent on Oble Oble beach and pointed to their field. Immediate recognition of the problem and I was shuffled off in the direction of a gazebo. Perfect.

That evening after having a wash with more frogs than I’ve ever had a wash with the men sat smoking strong stinky Indonesian cigarettes and I told a few stories to an English speaking man who had been drafted in. Along with the village chief apparently.

More strong coffee and photos in the morning and off onto the busy main road to Martaram the biggest town on the Island. I had gone past the half way point on the island circuit  and it was mainly down hill. Stopping for food I discovered Bakso. Noodles and chicken or beef dumplings in a tasty vegetable broth. The key is to cover the dumplings in the super rich sticky onion ketchup. This gives the dumplings more flavour but also turns the broth into a rich soup at the end ready for draining from the bowl when you’ve finished the big bits. I learnt this from watching a Japanese film one night called Tampopo…watch it.

In Sri Lanka the horn on my bike made people think I was an Ice cream man. Here its the sound of the Bakso man. He goes around on his moped with his food on the back ready to dish up a tasty snack to anyone who stops him. And so it was that shouting  “Bakso” as I beep my horn is my new catch phrase, and the shouts of “arse cream” are no more.

Too Much Lanka

I have a lot to say about my last spell in Lanka but I don’t have the energy to write it. Too much negativity with bad experiences that I need to let fade away and write about after time to reflect.

On the plus side Sri Lanka won the T20 cricket world cup and the fireworks went crazy, but then if you live in an area prone to roaming elephants the fireworks go off every night to keep them away, so no different really. I’d love to say I watched it and drunk in the full flavour of what it’s like to be in a country when they win something like this but Liverpool were playing at the same time and you have to prioritise things sometimes yeah. LFC won again. Which of course is all due to me wearing my lucky Indian LFC boxer shorts and the fact that I stopped shaving and cutting my hair. This is a FACT and I’ll be writing to Norris Mcwhirter to tell him.

That was about a month ago in Anhadupura. Since then Kate & I have traveled back to the West coast, enjoyed a few luxury days in an eco lodge in Kalpitya before heading back to the relative civilization of Colombo. 

One day I’ll update this…but not today :)

Reincarnated as a Cow

I’m sat on the rather nice balcony of my hotel sipping a cup of ginger tea out of a china dinner service and feeling a bit like Noel Coward or Graham Greene (only without the talent) as I tap away at my typewriter. I’m in Kandy at the moment over looking the lush green trees to the East of the lake. Yep, still in Sri Lanka. Got a rotten cold hence the ginger tea but am incredibly excited because at 13:30 GMT / 7pm Sri Lanka time. Liverpool will playing Man Utd at Old Trafford and I have a TV to watch it on. I won’t bore you with any more football talk but this is the most exciting season in 20 years for a Liverpool fan so excuse me whilst I indulge myself. My friend Kate left a couple of days ago to cycle over to the East of the Island to visit a friend. I had planned to stay cycling in the hill country but I caught her cold and that was all the excuse I needed to stay put until Monday morning and watch the game on Sunday. It’s not only the biggest game in English football but also Medin Full Moon Poya Day. This means you can’t buy alcohol, unless you know where to go ;) and the sound of drums and barking dogs are drifting with equal volume across the valley.

I’m tired as I had a terrible nights sleep, partly bought on by my own idiocy. It’s taken me 40 years to realise I’m incredibly sensitive to caffeine and so I wont drink tea or coffee after lunchtime. I’m pretty disciplined at this now, I might sneak a coke in before 3pm if I’m cycling but otherwise that’s my lot. Which is all a bit pointless as last night at around 8pm I decided that I needed to snaffle a whole cashew nut chocolate bar. If I live to a ripe old age I’d like to think that the day before I die will be the one day I manage to live a perfect one. Just one and I’ll die happy. The choccy treat on it’s own is not usually the problem though. Keeping one eye on Chelsea’s match instead of reading and going to sleep didn’t help, not to mention the goings on with Ukraine and the missing Malaysian plane. I can’t blame the scurge of Asia (the tiny bed) as my bed is huge and I’ve got lovely soft Egyptian cotton sheets. But the dogs howling, although not loud have been constant with the full moon approaching but the enemy number one to me getting enough beauty sleep to become Kandy’s next top model was a gecko. I had something similar happen to me in Pakistan, I was ill then as well. At first you dismiss the odd noise and after a while just decide it’s outside and it will shut up and go away. When this doesn’t happen your mind plays tricks along with your ears and the sound (much like a circular sander buffing an avocado for 3 seconds then running out of power) starts to come from all corners of the room. I eventually go and look in the bathroom and see a tiny lizard scurry behind the mirror. From it’s hiding place it starts buffing avocados at an immense volume. I can’t get at it to chase it out and tapping the mirror just upsets ME because I see how tired I look, it’s now 2am. I admit defeat and clog up the bottom of the bathroom door with tissue paper and go back to bed with a streaming nose and aching ears from having my silicone ear plugs rammed in too far. The joys of travel in the tropics in a comfortable hotel.

I’ve spent the last 5 weeks travelling with Kate who flew over from India and bought a bicycle in Colombo and then had it freighted down on a train to Galle. After a fantastic couple of weeks in Unawatuna for Mark & Hayleys wedding we just bummed around on the beach and both remarked how nice it was to do the touristy thing and have beers delivered to our deck chairs whilst dipping in and out of the sea and getting sunburnt on our whiter bits. Since then we’ve cycled up to Kandy. We’ve camped in a Buddhist temple, on the beach, we’ve been caught out by the dark in the hill country a few times. Once we had to sneak into a tea plantation and leave our bikes at the top of a steep hill and carry all our gear down to find a flat piece of land to put the tent on. Another time the mist and darkness in the tea plantations beat us again and we took refuge in a tiny Pentecostal Christian Church. We’ve stayed in some hilarious guest houses. Some just plain grubby, but cheap so fair enough. At one place Liverpool were playing that night but the hotel didn’t have satellite TV so we went next door to a house who had a dish and loitered around for a bit until someone came out. I explained the predicament and he invited us in to watch in his house. This was of course the plan, but I had not bargained that he wouldn’t have the right channel. It was half way through the first half before he managed to subscribe to it and get it working after many phone calls with his daughter down the road. We took some food and beer over not knowing if they drunk, but he was more than pleased with the arrangement. I’m not sure if his two kids were though, they were banished to the kitchen to do their homework. Liverpool won, so all in all a good night.

We’ve been to a couple of guest houses where we have stayed for a couple of days and seen the comings and goings of the “pay by the hour” guests.

It’s been challenging for me to cycle with someone else. I’m so used to doing things my own way, it’s hard to get out of that sometimes but it’s been interesting to see someone else point of view. It’s also been an eye opener to see what it’s like for a female. I’m already very aware of how blessed I am to come from where I do and how that enables me to travel, but being a guy just makes all that even more possible for so many reasons. I can just rock up to any old situation and usually get out of it the other side but being female just adds a whole heap of stuff to think about. Toilets, dress how friendly should you be? It’s a minefield. Yet more reasons to make the absolute most out of my chance to do things.

Of course the upside of travelling with someone else is the companionship, the laughter, the sharing costs of hotels! But I think most noticeable of all is to share the ridonkulous times. Those moments when only you are getting how fucked up the whole shebang is. The outrageously poor service, the crap boring food, the nonsensical laws, the non existent choice of expression of being an individual. It’s nice to know someone else sees what I see. My usual cry of “Ice Cream” after I honk my hooter has now been replaced with “Arse cream” no one notices except Kate :)

I’m still loving Lanka, still loving the friendly smiles and the amazing scenery and wildlife but I AM SO BORED with the food. Rice n Curry and Roti and Kotthu. That is pretty much all you will find anywhere outside of a big tourist town. The sight of a Cargills Food City or Keelles Supermarket makes my heart dance and when KFC and Pizza Hut is a night of fine dining you know the culinary taste buds are missing home. No! , not missing home. Missing choice. I think I can cope if there are at least seven dishes, then you can have a different one every day of the week. This was the case in Iran and although I started to tire a little towards the end I still enjoyed what was on offer. The Sri Lankan rice n curry is really nice, don’t get me wrong but after a few months it gets a bit drab. The rice is quite often pretty poor which doesn’t help. Needless to say I have not eaten a single Sri Lankan dish since I’ve been in Kandy. We’ve explored nearly every restaurant here and every one has been awful. It’s as if they have seen the dish on TV or in a restaurant and then tried to recreate it. There is absolutely no understanding of how much ingredient to put in. A cashew nut, pomegranate salad will have 2 nuts and 4 pomegranate seeds. Kate has been hardest hit as she is a vegetarian. We found a place that as usual had all the trimmings, nice décor, interesting menu, smart staff. The monstrosity that was the risotto that Kate ordered which was made with pudding rice was just one example. The one place that was actually any good in Kandy was surprise surprise run by an English guy with his Chinese wife being in charge of the real Chinese food. A two week holiday in the sun in Sri Lanka is fine but 5 months will seriously test your taste buds. My panniers are now loaded up with pasta, sauces, happy cow cheese, flatbreads, oatmeal and Marmite. The supermarket had peanut butter but at over £4 for a small pot I just couldn’t warrant it. It’s been so funny to see how I’ve headed for the Western food outlets as soon as I hit a town.

What a Tourist!

Just before we headed into the mountains we ate at a “Thai” restaurant. It did no food and was just a “Chinese” joint which doesn’t really do any Chinese either except for fried rice. These places are bring your own booze dens where men gather to get drunk with grog they’ve bought from the usually adjoining wine shop, which brings me on to a bar I visited. We had found a nice guest house in the middle of a tea plantation that was perched up on a hill. The driveway to this place was probably the steepest road I have ever cycled down. As luck would have it a tuktuk arrived at the same time and carried all our bags UP. Just pushing the empty bike was hard enough. Definitely over 30% grade. I asked the owner if they had beer, he pointed to a light off in the distance and told me it was a bar. I wondered off down the unlit road with my headtorch on, this was a Saturday night. The bar was in full swing and I got a bit of a cheer as I entered. A small shed with a wire mesh window and small serving hatch was serving booze to the mainly old Tamil clientèle. They had no regular strength beer, only extra strong 8.8% but most people were drinking Toddy. This was ordered at the bar with a plastic bowl. The old men gave the plastic bowl to the barman, he would knock the top off of a bottle of Toddy and swirl it around as he poured the contents into the bowl. 80 rupees a bottle for a 600ml bowl of coconut wobbly juice. I have no idea why they drunk out of bowls perhaps its cheaper than a glass. They probably don’t drink it out of the bottle because that way they can mix up the sediment from the bottom.

Whilst it might sound like I’m being negative Sri Lanka is still impressing me every day.

We cycled to Sri Pada, the holiest mountain in Sri Lanka, also known as Adams Peak. The journey into the hill country was breathtaking both visually and physically. Regular 20% stretches of badly repaired road are hard work with a loaded bike but well worth the effort. When we arrived in Delhousie the last village before the mountain it was peak pilgrimage time. The 5800 steps up to the top of the 2200m peak should take a fit person about 2-3 hours to get up. So at the longest estimation with a break at the top we should have been done in about 6. We left at 2am and joined the throngs. It had the feel of being at an outdoor rave, music blaring, the smell of tiger balm and campher. Stalls selling all kinds of crap and lots of people. The great thing with this being a pilgrimage sight is that there are steps all the way up and it is lit at night. The goal was to leave around 2am and hit the top for sunrise. We hadn’t bargained for the other ten thousand people doing the same thing. The full journey took us 12 hours! We did see the sun come up but from about halfway up. The way down was hilarious. My legs can cycle but they are not used to climbing hills. Going up was ok but as ever its the coming down that kills you. Kate pretty much carried me for the last few kms. My legs were totally screwed for 3 days after. I couldn’t do a thing. I must have been reincarnated as a cow as I just couldn’t get down stairs unaided. When we left to cycle to Worlds End , (a dramatic view off the edge of a steep cliff) my legs gave up after half a day. We found a guest house and then took a tuktuk for the final 20km. The road up to Horton Plains National Park where Worlds End is located was the steepest we had seen and there was absolutely no way my stiff legs would have got up that in the next few days. With the excitement of getting there we hadn’t realised you had to pay and we hadn’t bought any money with us except a bit of change for a snack. As luck would have it a Sri Lankan Doctor and his wife got talking to us and offered to pay for our tickets. Cheers Chevy :)

With no public transport to this place we had to make our way back home and after asking around a bit we jumped on Catholic boy’s school bus. Out on a school trip from Ratnupura. A fantastic time as a few of the boys had drums and banged out tunes that the whole bus sang along with. We laughed at what would have happened in the UK. No chance of this happening if two Sri Lankan tourists got stuck somewhere. CIB, Police checks, health and safety, does the list ever end. When we got back to our funny little guest house that resembled a mini youth hostel in the middle of huge allotments we knocked up a fantastic dinner from all the local “British” veg they were growing (supposedly organic) leeks and carrots and potashes and beans all cooked in New Zealand butter.. Amazing. To just taste each individual veggy is such a treat.

The hill country has been a lovely change, I’m loving the cooler weather and the scenery and I’m feeling fit enough to take on the hills. The A5 from Nuwara Eliya to Kandy has probably been the best road I’ve cycled on….ever. 60Kms, 1000 meters of descent. Good tarmac roads. Fantastic scenery, sweeping curves and tight hairpins and not too much traffic. What more can a touring cyclist want. As you descend whizzing past tuktuks and buzzing tea plantation workers as they come up the hill with massive bags of freshly picked tealeaves that are suspended from special caps to take the weight of the bag. I was having so much fun down this bit of road that not even a snapped chain, and five minutes later, a front wheel puncture could stop me smiling.

Weeeeeeeeeeeee!!!

If you go here I might have got round to putting up a video or two of the descent.

Arugam Bye Bye

A week ago I sidled down the Sri Lankan East Coast and arrived in Arugam Bay. A crashed out surf spot discovered by some Aussies in the 60′s. Although the idea of running into loads of Western tourists usually makes me avoid somewhere if I have the choice there is usually a different selection of food available and after a diet that hasn’t offered more than “rice n curry” and roti for the past few weeks I was looking forward to having something new.

Arriving in the town on a Friday afternoon in off season meant the Muslim population were all downt’ mosque. A few stragglers were still about though hoping to hook a lost tourist to take a room. As luck would have it they had the only restaurant in town that was not only open but also had some interesting food, along with interesting prices. I gave into my taste-buds and actually got a decent meal both in taste and size (chunky chips…ummm). I still couldn’t bring myself to stay here though, my anti-tourist head was definitely on today so I kept going and headed straight through. Which as anyone will tell you leads nowhere. Well it leads to Kumala National Park, which turned out to be a no-no for bicycles but was a dead end anyway due to the 40 metre river on its border. This didn’t stop an Irishman a few years ago though who found a route down the back of the park to avoid the guards and then built himself a raft to get across the water. When I found this out I thought of returning to try it myself but having arranged to meet my friend Kate in Galle around my birthday in a few weeks time and having also agreed to play some tunes for a friends wedding on the same day, I thought it would be a bit rude to not turn up having mangled myself around a palm tree or been dashed against the rocks only to have my organs pecked out by all manner of fancy coloured birds and lizards. I’ll save those shenanigans until I’m older and wiser , 42.

The 60km round trip back to Arugam Bay was definitely worth while though. I’ve realised that dead ends are the best place to see wildlife as they get disturbed the least and tend not to worry about the roads so much, compared to when there is through traffic, which not only brings more vehicles but more houses and thus people. En-route to Kumala I camped on a dyke on a reservoir having been told I will see elephant come down to drink around 6 o’clock. So at 4.30pm I set up my tent to make sure I didn’t miss them. As I cycled around the edge of the water I saw something ahead of me move and just caught the tail of a crocodile slipping down into the water. I went past where it had been sunbathing and camped about 5 metres away. This happened 10 minutes after having a silver grey snake slither past me on the road. About the diameter of my arm and three metres long. Easily the longest snake I’ve ever seen outside of the Mighty Boosh. As I waited for the evening show a farmer arrived with his herd of white cows and confirmed the timing of the elephants and also told me about the croc that had been here earlier and that it would come back to sleep here at 6pm!!! I decided the crocodile would be scared off by my tent so decided to risk it. Everyone had said they wouldn’t kill you and the ones I’d seen so far didn’t look like the sort Steve Irwin would be wrestling.

The evening came and went and when I awoke, no elephants and no crocodile. I slipped off to the NP and got given pongal (mashed up rice and coconut and sometimes cashew, eaten at poya/full moon) by the guards as a kind of apology for not letting me in on the bike and came back to the reservoir again knowing I had a nice easy place to stay. As the reservoir came into view from the road I already had my croc-vision on as I had seen at least three 4ft crocs basking in the sun with their mouths open on the banks of the irrigation ditches in the paddy fields.

As I drew level with the spot where I had camped I could see from about 50 metres away a mahoosive crocodillian stretched out where I had been sleeping, I couldn’t believe my eyes, it was well over 2 meters long. I took a picture and then zoomed in on the photo, for a moment I felt quite weak. Twas ginourmous and very scary. I crept round onto the mud track and up to the dyke. I put my bike against a tree and tried to creep up to take a closer photo, even though I was in full view. I got a little bit closer then when I had disturbed it last time but the croc-senses are always on, even when having a doze in the sun with it’s gob open. After seeing this I decided to camp somewhere else. I clambered up on to a large rock with a flat top and dragged up my tent and anything I needed and left the bike at the bottom hopefully hidden from anyone else. Another evening of waiting for elephants but yet again rejection :( In the morning as I sat eating my breakfast I thought a stick in the distance looked like a cobra. Ever since seeing the big snake I’ve been convinced every stick I see is a venomous serpent, they always turn out to be sticks though. As I was looking at the stick laughing at this to myself, the stick disappeared behind a rock!

 

Elephantless I headed on back to A-Bay in search of more food and the way to the main road to head inland. Another nice expensive but tasty meal left me feeling fat and refreshed and I decided to check out some rooms. I found a nice place with garden down onto the beach and I think the only budget option in town with hot water. 1000 rupees a night. £4.71 in old money. I hadn’t had a good wash for a few weeks and for some reason I’m convinced hot water does a better job. The idea was to wash me, wash my clothes watch the football and head on the next day. The weather was glorious the surf was inviting and the German beer on special offer. It seemed the perfect place to catch up on some bits that needed doing and one week later I’m still here. It’s now 7am I’ve watched the sun come up, walked down the beach to my favourite fisherman’s tea-shop who not only make the best tea but charge the least money. Quite often the way with things I’ve found. Although I’ve not been to the other tourist beach spots in SL the prices the places are charging here are staggering compared to the rest of the Island. Not by UK standards of course but sometimes equal. A good view, swish décor and incredible food can always be a decent reason for paying more but when you get none of this, you won’t be getting my money.

 

One of the things I’ve been doing in my week here is to finally find a way of displaying my route properly. It’s taken a long time to find a way of doing this and been very tedious to tie all the bits of data together but it’s 90% finished now. If you want to go and inspect everywhere I’ve been down to the minutest detail then click here or go to the “route” tab on the website and click on “big map”. If you have a slow internet connection it might take a little while to load.

You can probably work out where I’ve stopped for a pee, taken a wrong turn or gone somewhere I shouldn’t. The blue lines are my cycling routes , light grey/green is air travel, yellow is boat but you could have probably worked that out for yourself, purple-ish is motorbike. The reason there are gaps is because I haven’t filled in road travel which will be red. I’ll wait for another spot like Arugam Bay before I tackle that.

I’ve also given all of my luggage a clean for the first time since I left home. This involves filling the bags up with soapy water its also a great way to check for leaks. When emptying my bags I found two colonies of ants and a gecko half the size of my finger as well as a centipedey/scorpion looking thing the length of my hand. Unfortunately they have had a one-way trip to Arugam Bay and will have to hitch back home. I’ve also been thinking of ways I can transport a surfboard above my head on my bicycle, this is still at the “German beer” stage though.

 

And on a final note. The adjudicators on the $10,000 phone bill have come to their conclusion and found that the phone company are at fault and have ordered them to pay back my money and costs.

A big thanks to Mum,Maddy and Sarah-Jane for helping me to sort all that out from far flung places. It’s been stressful having that hang over me for the last 9 months but it’s finally drawing to a close. Now I’ve just got to wait for the actual money!!!

 

One of my fave things about Sri Lanka is the fact that children,women and even the most rugged men always say “ByeBye” in such a nice way.

 

ByeBye

 

PS. If you want to say hello or shout abuse or send me interesting photos of amphibians wearing a hat, you can! Contact me via the “say hi” page or at:

batman to robben @ gmail.com

its all one word, take out the spaces.

 

Buddha on a Bicycle

On leaving my poisonous snake infested tree, a young Tamil guy on a bicycle road with me up the road. He invited me back to his house for a cup of tea. We crossed an irrigation ditch on borrowed concrete telephone poles and went inside the gate of the house to a garden full of banana trees. I was warmly greeted by all the family. I’m not sure what dad thought of the tourist so I showed him a few photographs and this saw a change of demeanour. Immediately I was invited to stay for lunch. It was about 9am and although I said I had to get on, I was warmly cajoled into staying.

A honk honk sounded outside, and mother went out to meet it. It was the “fish man” cycling around, honking his horn to let you know he was about, selling his fresh fishy produce of the day. She came back in with a big one and two smaller ones. The best way I can describe them! I too have a honky horn on my bicycle which brings no end of delight to adults and children alike who hear it or find it when I’ve parked somewhere. It acts as an alarm if I park it somewhere nearby as everybody always has to have a honk. In Sri Lanka it’s been particularly well received as both the fish-man and indeed any other man cycling around has a horn to let you know they are about, but more than fish or fruit and veg the sound is most associated with ice-cream. Now whenever I honk it at someone I give a shout of “ice-cream” and this gets no end of smiles :) :)

The tricycle ice-cream vendor however has an electronic song, it’s very distinctive, lasts about 6 seconds and then repeats. This plays on a continuous loop. I am extremely concerned for the tricycle ice-cream man or woman’s mental health. I sat next to one at Galle Face Green in Colombo for about five minutes and I my already wobbly brain had totally melted by the time I’d finished my creamy delight. Another classic is the lotto man. I am assuming he is selling some sort of lottery ticket??? His bicycle, I’ve yet to see a woman bicycle lottery sales person, has a wooden board sloping down from the handlebars with pieces of coloured paper pinned to it. He will have a small speaker attached to a car battery on his rear carrier and a radio. The bike will blast out tunes or sometimes the man will call out something as he trundles along. All of these vehicular alarms are nothing though compared to the baker. The first time I heard him I thought I was in a dream. The baker has a converted Tuk-Tuk with a shelved glass rear that you can see into and choose your preferred baked confection, cakes, bread, rolls, short eats. He scours the locale in search of the hungry and the wheat derived snack addict. His tune similar to a classic ice cream van chugs out as he Tuk-Tuks along. The tune in question lies somewhere between minimal beatless techno and chilled beach bar with a hint of Hindu psychedelic. It floats around in the air all day and never truly goes away. It fits Island life perfectly.

Lunch is a fantastic bright green coconut fish stew and well worth the wait. I’m eating on my own though as the family don’t eat until 2.30. Because I had said early how I needed to do some cycling they made it early just for me. Having now fed and showered outside in the most powerful torrent of water I’ve ever been in, with huge trees as my walls and ceiling. I leave on the road to Manner. Recollections of that day revolve around wind, wind and more wind blowing straight at me and when I reach the bridge that crosses the lagoon for a few kms I nearly grind to a halt. Here I start to see much more evidence of military. After the last 30 years of civil war the brigade headquarters signs have popped up everywhere here. So much so that every small restaurant I stop at actually seems to be some kind of tuck shop for a military unit. At one point the wind has got so bad I try to shelter in a small building, I’m just wondering what it is and I notice the barbed wire all the way round, then a soldier comes along. He says hello. It’s an old lookout point, but it’s not really in use now. When I make it to Manner it’s getting dark. I play safe and go to the Church. An assistant priest tells me to come back at 6.30 when the head honcho will be back. I go off for a mooch around for half an hour. I come across a hotel and enquire within for a price. It’s a little over my usual budget but its nice has satellite TV and the football might be on. I’m just about to take the easy option and they say I can’t take my bicycle in the room. I get this so often. What do people think you are going to do in there with it? Of course if the place is carpeted and your bike is filthy I can understand and I always offer to clean the bike before I take it in any room. This place had tiled floors, entrance and room, the room was 2 metres from the entrance and on the ground floor. If the room is perfect for my needs I’ll make a fuss and usually manage to get them to change their minds. On this occasion I’m just being lazy so I just shrug my shoulders tell them it’s their loss and walk out. EVERY story I have heard, bar none, of people having their bikes stolen has been outside a house or hotel. I ask about for another hotel half heartedly. Someone points up a road but I see a reservoir in the opposite direction and confuse my navigators by cycling towards it. Its pretty much dark now and I head out of the urban area along the side of the water past much poorer surroundings, I follow my nose and instincts and cross a train track. After this I see the road disappear in to darkness of a palm forest. Perfect. I ride into the forest find a tree, lock the bike to it and set up camp under the eery rustling of the Palmyra Palm trees. Yet again I don’t get chopped into pieces in the night and survive till morning.

A man walks by in the distance unaware of me, he’s wearing a lungi and no shirt and carrying a long pole over one shoulder with a plastic container at each end. I study him from my vantage point as he walks away. Another guy arrives with the same get-up and I wave hello. I meet them down the road. One is up a palm tree with the container. He’s tapping the palm for liquid, collects it in his bucket and a week later it will ferment into Toddy to be sold at a Toddy Tavern.

I had planned to go to Adams Bridge but I’ve had enough of head winds and turn tail back off the island. Incredibly my way back across the bridge in the opposite direction is even harder then coming here. My want for the wind in my back is denied to me for the rest of the year. This is tempered though by the new bicycle chain I have fitted in town. 285Rupees for chain and fitting. That’s about £1.30 and BANG! The annoying grinding has gone, as Jeff Stott of Cillit Bang fame might say.!

Jaffna was a vague plan for New Years Eve celebrations but I don’t make it that far. 20Km after leaving MANNER. I stop for a snack I bought earlier. Vardas are small deep fried doughnuts that come with various fillings, I sit on the floor getting stung by ants watching the black faced monkeys in the tree opposite whilst enjoying my savoury sweet-meat. An army jeep pulls up and the heavily decorated officer offers me a slice of melon which I greatfully take off his hands. He motions to his driver to bring a parcel out. The parcel wrapped in banana leaf contains hot, fat rice mixed with coconut. He offerers me some and I fill my lunchbox. He goes off happy, I stay sat on the ground, happy. Monkeys are always either happy or fighting so they can be in my happy gang too. The ants are just annoying. Stuffed full of food I trundle along the sometimes tarmac/sometimes dirt track but most annoyingly recently repaired crushed rock road. The crushed rock is not as fine as say gravel and has not yet been compressed. It’s energy sapping to cycle on.

Around 4pm I hit what I call a village but what locals refer to as a big town. Its been damned hot today and an ice cold ginger beer is exactly what I need. I enquire if there is a wine shop or anywhere I can get some alcohol seeing as it’s new years eve. A big no goes up from the guys in the restaurant. 50Km either way, Jaffna or Manner. The Tamils here don’t seem to be having much of a party so I resign myself to a quiet new year. I slope off with some fresh rotis and short eats for dinner and breakfast and find a man doing something dangerous with battery acid and old batteries. I follow a path down the side of his shack and bingo! I find myself on the edge of a huge reservoir. Birds wading and flitting about and not a soul to be seen. I cycle around the edge and find a nice spot and wait for the sun to go down before putting up the tent. Sometimes I like the company sometimes not. A Hindu temple is within earshot so I know I won’t be getting a lie in once the crazy mashup of sound starts spilling from the temple sound system. I watch the sunset over the lake with another ginger beer and reflect on the balmy year that has been 2013. I don’t think there can be a year in my life where I have crammed so much in and experienced so many different things. I’ll probably be asleep by 8pm but the temple will wake me up just in time for seeing in 2014 in the UK!!

I start 2014 with not one but three sound systems doing battle for ears, senses and sanity. I watch the sun come up on the other side of the water and have only one thing in mind. To shave all my hair off. No it’s not a Buddhist thing. I’ve just never had my head completely shaved and I thought I would do it on new years day and then just let the crazy hair aerials grow and take a photo every day.

I go back into town looking for the salon but its closed. I cycle on to Jaffna, I start to think about bottling out but I see a new village ahead. Salon- Check, Open- Check, Trustworthy looking man- check. Sink- No. I tell him what I want doing. Shave 80 rupees haircut 200 rupees. Its a deal.

He starts a small generator so he can use the clippers. He has no mains electricity. The clippers are blunt and taking off my shaggy slightly matted mop is going slow. He realises scissors first will do a better job and then clippers what’s left. I could have told him this but sometimes its better to stay quiet. I’m down to a No 1 and then he loads up his razor. I’m slightly worried he is not using shaving cream on my head. I’ve already enquired to see that he had it. But I let him continue. I’m amazed how smooth it is with no cream just a spray of water from his bottle. My virginity is gone forever! I’m relieved of my facial hair in the traditional way and soon I’m as smooth as the inside of a cows ear. Which I’m reliably informed is very smooth indeed. The scariest thing is not the actual shape of my head or even the real size of it but it is my whiteness. As I cycle off up the road very happy with the experience, not a nick anywhere. I marvel at how I will now attract EVEN MORE attention. After 10 minutes I put my cap on. Not for vanity but because of sun burn.

I see a sign. “Toddy Tavern”. I have yet to actually try a Toddy but with an alcohol free new years eve and it being 10am and having a new haircut on the first day of the year I can think of no better reason to stop for a nip. I follow the track and find two huts constructed from bashed up corrugated iron. One has a small serving hatch which is closed. Three old men on bicycles with varying sizes of plastic container are waiting for the establishment to open. They say it wont be long. After 30 mins a right old crowd has gathered. The manager arrives and opens a back door to one of the huts. A few men go inside. They have the toddy. I’m informed its palmyra toddy, but the coconut that will be ready next week is much better. Men crush the serving hatch at the front to get their bottles,buckets and containers filled. I’m awarded VIP status and I fill my own cup from a bucket for free. It’s very syrupy and I think I’d be sick If I consumed enough to get drunk on. The closest thing I can compare it to is thick pear cider, without the taste. Then the most bizarre thing happens. Although most people have arrived on bicycles they are of the classic Indian variety with the swept back handlebars and carrying rack that seem to be able to carry anything. One guy is on a mountain bike. But I can’t believe my eyes when a guy shows me his bike. It’s a full on “LOOK” road bike complete with clip in pedals. It says its carbon on the frame. My suspicious side suspects its a cheap chinese knockoff and the only thing that’s carbon is the pencil that wrote the price ticket. Yeah I know pencils are graphite but I couldn’t think of any thing better to say. I go to pick it up expecting it to be at least aluminium but it’s lighter than my pile of newly shaved hair in the barbers. Amazing.

Apparently the guy won it in a bicycle race. I can see it has French stickers on it so perhaps it was a gift from some French charity. He asks me how much it would cost in the UK. Probably more than a motorbike I think but just tell him its very good so as not to give any Toddy drinkers any ideas.

I drift into Jaffna Toddied up early in the day. The first guest house I find seems reasonable ,clean and a nice atmosphere. That’ll do. They also do food. I convince them that the bicycle will not cause any bother in the room and the manager gives in to the funny white bald man from out of town. I was only going to stay one night but I’m still here. When I enquired about the food they said its Jaffna food I might not like it. There is only a choice of one meal and every night its pretty similar but its fantastic. I always get more than I can eat and the dining table is outside my door. Its like being in someone’s house. It’s also been raining for a few days, so It’s forced me to catch up on blogs, phonebill adjudications and photos. It also has a pub next door. It’s the first proper locals pub I’ve been in since arrinig in Sri Lanka. It has toilets which is a miracle for any locals establishment here and seated are inside and a seated are outside. Whenever I go in there is a collection of bikes parked outside and men of varying ages but mainly old sit around drinking beer,stout or old arack. You pay at a barred serving hatch. The outside hatch goes through to the same bar but is so small you have to tip your bottles sideways to get them out. Whenever I walk in I’m met with such warmth and enthusiasm, sure that could be the alcohol but you tend not to get that response in local pubs in the UK. Time for a stout.

I’m absolutely 100% leaving tomorrow, definitely, maybe.

Monkey see, Monkey poo

Well it’s been a adventure packed few weeks since I finally got on the bike and left Colombo. I decided to head North along the coast and see what happened. My first night out found me asking someone for advice on where to camp as it was still quite urban and I was advised to try the church. St Sebastian’s Catholic church came to the rescue and although a bit surprised by my request allowed me to camp on the outdoor stage. As the sun set the crows intensified and a sound like I had never heard before filled the air with a million ca-cas. A cup of decent coffee with the Father in the morning and off I pop still with no destination other than North. I find myself down some tiny dirt roads by the coast investigating the rows and rows of dried fish for sale outside peoples houses that are built on the beach. I enquire about camping on the beach put people warn me of “gangsters” and although I’m not inclined to believe them I decide to swerve the beach and sign for another Church shines the way. This time the priest is out doing priesty stuff. A gardener asks me what I want him for but I don’t bother explaining and head out. 10 minutes later the gardener sidles up alongside me on his bike. We have a chat and he says I should come to his house for a coconut. He goes round the back of his house, which has a hut doubling as a bicycle repair shop and returns with a bamboo pole the height of a palm tree with a machete attached to the end. This he whips up to a tree with deft skill and lops off a few green coconuts for us to drink. I tell him about my reasons for visiting the church and he insists I stay at his house. Dansan, for tis his name introduces me to his family who are keen to see the funny man and as usual in this situation I strike up an immediate rapport with the 4 year old daughter.

Dansan gets up at 3am to go shrimping in the lagoon and returns at 9am. I help him remove the shrimp from the nets that he’s caught. Shrimp done, small fish fed to cats dogs and crows and we have a few fried in coconut oil for breakfast.

I follow him back to the lagoon with the 4 year old and dog. All of us bar the dog get on a contraption resembling a giant boogey board or half a fibre glass surfboard and Dansan poles us out of the mini swampy harbour through the mangrove and out into the lagoon. We visit some other friends out shrimping and return. Then we go for a trip to the beach with the whole family in tow except his wife who has gone to work. We try some fishing in the sea but nothings biting then we visit his friends who have just returned in their boats from being out fishing in the sea since early. The first boat has a massive haul and everyone is in a good mood singing away as they unpick the fish from the nets. It seems they’ve caught all the fish that day as the half a dozen or so other boats don’t seem to be so lucky.

One of the boats gives Dansan a fish for his dog. It’s long thing like an eel. The 4 year old has no trouble carrying along the ugly fish in her pretty yellow party dress. I leave Dansan and head off towards Nagumbo, a place with a few big hotels along the beach. This is the last time I see any tourists for a while as I spend the next few nights in church gardens, houses and beaches.

In Kalypitya a 10 year old with a bicycle guides me to a beach on the lagoon which is perfect. A grassy patch next to the shrimper’s skiffs is a good spot as its windy here and I need to peg the tent down. I ask a fisherman who’s hut is closest to the spot if its ok to camp and he gives me a big smile. His name is Edmund, he doesn’t want his photo taken but he’s super friendly and has the biggest thumb nail I have ever seen. He has the most incredible look about him and I can imagine him being here a thousand years ago. I give him my pasta as way of thanks for camping in his garden. I gave Dansan some food too for housing me as people are pretty poor round here surviving mainly on what they can grow or catch. A lot of people have seen me as a tourist and called me over for a chat. When I go over they ask for cigarettes, toffees or just plain money. Through my eyes it seems the people who do this pseudo begging are not exactly starving and don’t seem to be doing much either. It’s not aggressive but I try and give what I can in exchange for something rather than just because I’m asked. I now have to resort to dry packet noodles for lunch dinner and breakfast.

Tucked up in my tent that evening I hear a voice call me from the darkness “friend” . It’s Edmund come to see I’m OK. He speaks no English but we just sit together for ten minutes looking at the stars happy with each others company. In the morning a woman comes along carrying a plastic container on her head. She’s older than me blacker than coal and wears a huge smile on top of her tough exterior. She loads up her skiff to get ready to go out on the lagoon. When done she lays some palm leaves in front of the now heavy boat and goes to pull it into the water. I realise what’s happening and grab the other side. It weighs a tonne, but I’ve no doubt she could have managed it on her own if I wasn’t there.

On the map it says a ferry is available to the mainland across from the spur of Kalypitya. I try to find a ferry but I don’t get much help at the small harbour. I see a boat packed with people just leaving and ask if it’s going to Karavitu, yes they say. So I haul the bike on with help of a few salty sea-dogs and the boat departs the harbour. Not knowing that Karavitu is also an Island three hours ride away instead of 15 minutes away. I realise my mistake and make the boat go back to let me off. Luckily we hadn’t left the harbour. I enquire at fisherman’s jetty down the road but the price is too much just to save a few hours so I head back down the spur. It’s a 60km ride to move 5km.

This night I get more into the countryside and find a path off the road leading to marshes. I camp in the reeds very aware their might be snakes, crocodiles or even worse lurking in the undergrowth.

As evening approaches a man arrives with a couple of cows. He invites me to his house but the tent is up and it’s easier to stay.

In the morning I get a call from Dolly. I had stopped at Dolly’s shop a few days ago and had lunch with her. She had invited me to spend Christmas day with her but then she had a friend call her to tell her another good friend had died. We decided it was probably best if I left them to do what needed doing without me being in the way. However things had now been attended too and she decided it would be nice if I came down after all. So I returned to her village and spent a few days over Christmas swimming in the sea and enjoying Christmas with the Catholic locals.

Back at the snake pit a few days later I decided it was too early to stop. This was after a night spent camping on the other side of the lagoon under a farm of gigantic wind turbines en-route. I was woken from early morning dreams in this spot by a resourceful man who had seen me cycling through the Muslim fishing village the day earlier. His morning greeting had one word “ganja” I politely declined his kind offer, he skinned up a joint and disappeared in a boat. Two hours later I stopped for a roti and Nestlemalt, which seems to be peoples alternative to tea and coffee in the morning. Those clever evil bastards at Nestle pretty much produce everything you eat and drink in Asia. Here they have billboards calling out to you to make your Nestlemalt your 1st cup. It seems to have worked and now I’m addicted too. It’s basically Horlicks . With about 8 sugars when served :)

Indulging my first cup and my roti, Ganja man appears and Richie the drugs magnet continues his electro magnetic pull!

Back at the snake pit I carry on in to the unknown and to one of my scariest moments so far on my trip. The villages start to thin out and the road turns to red dust. I see a sign pointing to a swimming spot a few km’s into the forest. I take the bumpy track and start to see some poo, I think It might be elephant but come to my senses and decide its cow. Round the next corner, I see some more and it’s definitely elephant dung. I’m very excited. A motorbike comes past me the other way with three soaking wet men on it. They say danger, elephant, with a smile. I get to the end of the track and find two families having a picnic on the beach by the river. It’s a great spot and I spy more football shaped poo. I’m invited to join the Buddhist family for some melon. I decide this will be a great place to camp but they are worried and tell me about the elephants coming here to drink at night. They think its a bad idea. I ponder it. Across the river on the opposite beach a few drunk men start to wade towards me insisting I come have a drink with them. They are Muslims and are on their annual holiday back to Sri Lanka after working all year in Saudi Arabia, they’ve been doing it for 25 years. The wives and children are further up the beach on my side. I have half a beer and feel a bit drunk. They say I’m crazy to stay here without a gun, and bring tigers into the equation as well as the elephants.

Before I know it everyone has packed up and gone home. I’m alone and its getting dark and I choose this moment to remember I’ve lost my head torch. The thought of seeing elephants in the wild at a watering hole is far too exciting to worry about the dangers and I know there are no tigers so I grab my left over rice and curry and climb a tree and wait. After an hour up the tree and now pitch black I realise what I’ve got myself into. Elephant excitement turns to realism and I come to the conclusion I have absolutely no idea what to do. Will elephants trample me if I sleep in my tent? Probably. Will they charge me? Might do. Every branch making a noise makes me think they are coming, coming to kill me. Armed only with the light on my phone I climb down the tree and try to gather myself to decide what to do. Cycling back out of the forest in the dark is a no no and where would I go anyway. Staying in the tree all night was a ridiculous plan. So I light a fire and hope this will keep the behemoths at bay. The phone battery dies so I go to charge it from my battery pack which I have left on the wrong setting last night and it is dead too. I use my camera screen.

The fire is soon going and I feel quietly confident that if I stay awake I will have enough time to squirrel up a tree should the “grey leg face men” come calling in the night. I read a bit and start to hear branches snap. They’re here I think. I sit bolt upright ready to make the next move. More crashing. Shit!!!! Then nothing. This happens a few times. Ready for anything…I fall asleep. I wake up with a start convinced something is in the darkness. After nodding off for the third time and having got a nice roaring fire going now I relax. A hundred pair of eyes look down at me from the trees above. Appearing and disappearing in the low light given off by the fire. I submit to slumber and curl up with the million earwigs that have appeared in the sand.

Daylight comes and with it I discover the source of the crashing. MONKEYS! Playing in the trees and going mental, branches crash down into the river below. I decide its safe now and fetch my various bits down from the tree that I couldn’t find in the darkness and head out the forest after having a wash in the river.

It tuns out to have been a good place to camp as the entrance to the Wilpattu National Park is only a few kms up the road and I would not have been able to go on as they close the road in the evening. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wilpattu_National_Park

Tigers it seems were not so far fetched as I’m warned of leopards, elephants and bears as I enter the park. I’m also asked if I have enough water and food as its 40km to the other side with no shops.

I put on my bravado explaining how far I’ve come and head onto the dusty red lane, so charged up its unreal. More chances to come face to face with elephants and LEOPARDS and they are letting me in on my bike. AMAZING. 20Km in to the park the closest I’ve seen is yet more poo. But I have seen incredible bird life in the wetlands and the kingfisher type birds with amazing rainbow feathers and also a few giant lizards which I’m told can kill me by a motorcyclist who stops to say hello.!! They just seem to run off when I get close though. I’m just thinking about somewhere to stop for lunch and as I round the bend a large opening in the trees allows me to see out to a plain and large lake and I shout out loud YES! YES! YES! ELEPHANTS!!!. I’m so happy to see elephants in the wild for the first time. They are quite far away but who cares. There is about a dozen of them of differing ages including a baby and there is nothing between me and them except for grass. I tuck into a another pack of dry noodles and enjoy my lunch watching these incredible animals enjoying theirs.

Before I leave I’ve seen more giant lizards, a strange thing that looks part deer, part horse, a few mongoose and tonnes more beautiful birds. Buzzed up on all this excitement and not a leopard ravishing to my name I exit the park. The mood changes somewhat as all around there are large dead trees as far as the eye can see. A Muslim charity has a built new houses creating a new village but it’s such a depressing place after the beauty of the park. All the houses have the name of the charity stencilled in huge letters on the roofs. Why do charities insist on covering all the aid they give in their names? I’m sure there is a good reason beyond advertising but when you see tents and houses with writing on it just adds to the sense that this is charity or this temporary. I’m sure the people living in them appreciate it though.

My plan is to head for Manner and the stepping stones called Adams bridge which allow giants to walk to India. Apparently a railway is in the making but I can’t see it happening any time soon.

30km short of Manner I try to camp on the beach and I’m ushered off by the Navy. I head up the coast and and before I’ve had a chance to say “rice n curry” the Navy have headed me off at the pass being given the nod from down the road. Go to Manner they say. The suns starting to come down and I can’t be arsed with another 30km but I head in the general direction to get them off my back.

On a tiny back road I see the huge trees with the roots that grow down from the branches towards the ground, I think to myself how cool it would be to find one big enough to camp inside. The universe provides and the next tree I find is exactly that, to a millimetre. I sweep out the debris of branches on the floor to make my space flat, and enjoy the company of monkeys in the tree opposite and peacocks coming to bed whilst I wait for it to get dark before putting up my tent. I’m right on the side of the road and a steady stream of people go by unaware of my spot. When dark enough I put up the tent/mozzy net and lay back and watch the theatre take place above my head.

Surrounded by three sides by tree and dangling vines I look directly above to see a canopy of branches presenting me with tonight’s show. Peacocks nesting and coo cooing to anyone who will listen as the monkey go night time crazy and perform for an audience of one. Butterflies swirl around me and new birds I’ve not yet seen join the chorus. The little light that’s left illuminates the show above and I cant think of a better place I’ve camped in the whole trip.

In the early morning I feel rain but it soon stops and I don’t bother to put the other fly sheet over the mozzy net. Then a rancid smell starts to fill my nostrils, it starts to rain again. I open my eyes and see the monkeys have been pissing and shitting on me all night. The tent net is covered in monkey poo. Oh well, I’m sure if I don’t eat any I wont get monkey aids. If that’s the cost of the best camp spot ever, I’m happy to pay.

I get a little fire going and some locals come and say hello, they also show me how to get the fire going properly with some frayed edges of palm leaves and I get the kettle on. Various people come visit and can’t believe that they’ve found a tourist, camping, in the tree, full of snakes. The locals wont come here because poisonous snakes live in the vines apparently. Blue and black ones.

Monkey poo definitely seems like a nice alternative now :)

R.I.P. Nelson Mandela

For those of you that don’t know, my blog is called Batman to Robben for a reason.

Batman is not only a crime fighting caped crusader but a city in Turkey. Robben is an Island off Cape Town in South Africa. It was where Nelson Mandela spent 18 years of his 27 in prison.

Apart from being a silly blog name its a goal I have to travel by bicycle from Batman in Turkey to Robben Island in South Africa. Hardly anyone I meet on my travels has heard of Robben Island.

A combination of his ageing years and my slow pace were never going to make it very likely that I would make it there whilst he was still alive.

Whilst staying at a nice hotel for a friends wedding in Greece I read his autobiography “The Long Walk to Freedom” one of the other guests commented that it must be a bit hard going. I replied “not as much as was for him”. I remember thinking when I had finished it how remarkable it was that I had lived through some of this period and that this incredible man was still alive. I had always admired what he had done but the book just elevated him beyond a mere man. I have always wanted to visit Robben Island since then, to get a sense of that history and those times.

I’m writing this in Colombo, Sri Lanka where I am being kindly allowed to stay at Sarah-Jane’s apartment. She is a friend of a friend who I had never met until I arrived and had said I could come and visit if I ever made it this far. Well I have and I’m here. From the balcony of my room on the 10th floor I can not only see up the Galle Road to the World Trade Centre and Galle Face Green with its many huts selling seafood on the sea. I can also see over the US and Indian Embassies which also back onto the beach. When I woke up this morning and drew the curtains I immediately noticed that the US flag had been lowered to half mast, when I looked over to the Indian flagpole it’s flag was flying high. This aroused a curiosity in me and I decided to go have a word. As soon as I asked in the reception of the US embassy why the flag was at half mast I got an answer form everybody stating it was for Mandela. When I asked at the Indian Embassy why their flag was not at half mast I got asked if I was a reporter. A man was sent for and after a few phone calls and even going outside to see the Americans flag, I was told they would be doing the same in 30 minutes. Lunchtime came and went and the flag remained flying high so I emailed the High Commissioner to ask what their reason was. I never received a reply.

I have just looked out at 5:30pm to see the flag has been, not lowered to half mast but …removed.

I’m assuming they don’t know how to fly it at half mast or have a political reason for not doing it but took it down so as not to get any more questions from enquiring bicycle gypsies. I wonder if I’ll ever find out.

There are not many like Nelson Mandela. Martin Luther-King, Ghandi and the Dali Lama spring to mind. Who’s voice I have not only heard but whose face I can claim to have seen half of on a plasma TV in his temple in Dharamsala.

It will be a few years before I make it to Robben Island and even though the great man has passed. The colossus that was Nelson Mandela will never be forgotten. I look forward to paying tribute to him when I finally make it there, until then

Rest In Peace Madiba

UPDATE:

The morning after writing this I looked out of my balcony whilst sitting down to eat my left over Indian curry for breakfast. The Indian flag is now restored and at half mast.