Category: Travel

Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Jan 16 2011

Peaking at Adam

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It’s 2:30 a.m. Eight of us have been on a bumpy bus ride for two hours, traveling from our hotel in Nuwara Eliya to the base of Adam’s Peak — Sri Pada in Sinhala — one of Sri Lanka’s tallest mountains and most celebrated places of pilgrimage. We have come with high spirits and many warm layers to ascend the 5,500 steps of this mountain and make it to the top by sunrise; we’ll be climbing with hundreds of Sri Lankans who have come to make the same traditional nighttime pilgrimage. As we approach the base in our van, we ooh and ahh at the windy lit path that stretches for what seems like forever out of the window and above our heads. Are we actually going to climb to the top of that? Are we crazy, are we sleepy, are we curious and excited and ready for this adventure? Absolutely.

Adam’s Peak is one of Sri Lanka’s most famous sites. At its summit is a sacred footprint that is significant to the world’s most popular religions: Buddhists claim that the footprint is of Buddha himself, Muslims believe it belongs to Adam, Hindus say it was created by the Shiva, and Christians claim it belongs to St. Thomas. Despite all these rival claims, however, it quickly became clear to us that Adam’s Peak is predominately a Buddhist place of worship and pilgrimages up the mountain have been taking place for thousands of years. All of this history, religious and cultural significance, and yes, even the thought of attempting to climb five thousand steps in the middle of the night intrigued a few of us enough to try hard to get this climb integrated into our class itinerary at the last minute. It worked, and here eight of us are, cold and energized and so ready to take this mountain on ūüôā

Our guidebook informed us that the long trek “can reduce even fit and seasoned hill walkers to quivering wrecks.” Well. We made it the whole way up in half the time Lonely Planet said it would likely take us (two hours instead of four), and I think I speak for all of us when I say it was one of the most challenging and rewarding physical activities we’ve ever done. Our illuminated path was peppered with tea houses and sleeping hikers, and I don’t think I have ever been as grateful for handrails as I was on this journey. During our short pauses to drink water and shed layers as we got warmer and warmer, we took in the incredible starry sky overhead, and before we knew it (okay, our thighs definitely knew it), we were at the top.

After removing our shoes and hats out of respect, we made our way through the many other hikers and found a corner to huddle in away from the wind. We paid our respects to the Buddha statue in a concrete pavilion, and while we were a little disappointed to see that the small footprint was heavily sheltered, we were so glad to be up at the top. When the sun began rising, we joined the ranks of gazers and picture-takers and were quieted by the amazing view and prayers being said all around. A man near us offered Jack and I some sort of nuts and rice patties, and Jack gave him a granola bar in exchange (I don’t think he knew what to do with it, but that’s beside the point). Chas got some great video footage, Katie made many new friends with strangers per usual, Liz took photo after photo after photo, Zach taught us that the potassium in bananas we bought on the way down would ease the quivering in our legs, Shelly became best friends with one of our great guides, and I’m pretty sure Jesse didn’t use a handrail once. In my opinion, the descent was harder than the trek up, but every single second of the whole journey was worth it. We didn’t get back to our hotel until 1 p.m., but we managed to stay awake to enjoy an afternoon out with the rest of the class.

This was a true adventure, and one of the best yet we’ve had here. The physical exertion felt so good, as did being so immersed in nature, at a sacred religious site, and experiencing some of the best and most important things we have learned Sri Lanka has to offer (in the middle of the night, no less!) Adam’s Peak is a must for anyone traveling to Lanka… though I may take that back when the eight of us wake up in the morning and cannot make the walk to breakfast.

In the name of jelly legs and incredibly satisfying journeys,

P.S. I promise, pictures of the hike to come!

Jan 15 2011


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Chaminda and Zach

Slender Loris with her baby
Chas teaches the rangers a song
Natalie with her new friends
The children waiting for us

Mural complete with many helping hands

Liz with a baby turtle

Jan 15 2011

What adventures

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Well all of the kids are telling you such adventures and I am pleased to say that they all seem to be still in really good spirits. We came tonight to Nuwara Eliya after a 13 hour van ride (a bit longer than expected but that is the Sri Lanka way). They all took the ride in stride and never once complainned and tonight about half of them will be off to trek up Adam’s Peek, a pilgrimage site for people of all religions, and will see the sun rise on top at 6:10 am. I am staying back with a few but we will also have some exciting adventures in Nuwara Eliya.

Jan 15 2011

Dr. Piya and the waterfall

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This is Jack, not Liz. That’s what you get for joining the class late, I guess.

So from the documentary side of things on this trip, things have been a little different from what everybody else has been doing. Jesse, Chas and I have been all over the placer, leaving for a day or two at a time, trying to get all the footage, research and interviews we need to truly make an effective documentary. We started out in Anuradhapura and Pollonaruwa, as Chas wrote about, and went off with some Rainforest Rescue International guys for a while to film disappearinrg mangroves and hear about wildlife issues.

But yesterday was probably the biggest trip we’ve been on away from the group — besides with Chatura, that is. We headed off about two and a half hours from Kanneliya Forest to an organic tea plantation owned by a Texas A&M professor who is from Sri Lanka. It was beautiful country up there, filled with tea plants lining every mountainside and palm trees and lush valleys. Needless to say, we got some good footage. Even joked about getting a helicopter to fly us over all of it, and looked up huge prices, so who knows if we’ll actually get to do it.

Anyway, we toured all through the facility, learning about what it means to be truly organic, and ended up making a few contacts while we were there. It was good, because there were a few professors who focus mainly on environmental issues and should be able to help us a lot.

And the way we ended the day was pretty cool: conducting as business meeting while swimming in our boxers at a waterfall deep in the rainforest bend the plantation. It was up at the top of a decent hike above the plantation, deeper into the woods, past the bungalow where students from A&M were staying. We hung out and had tea with Dr. Piya and his students, and eventually headed on our way. It was a productive and fun day — the best of both worlds.

Jan 15 2011

“You get cell phone reception in the jungle?”

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Hi all, sorry that our posts have been so sporadic. I’ll pick up where we left off before: in Panangala. We went back to the Junior School for a second day to mural and play with the kids. Hopefully we will figure out how to post or link to photos soon, so you can see how well the mural turned out. Personally, I had doubts that we could carry out the beautiful drawing that Anna made, but you guys – it looks great.

We also got to play with the kids a lot, something which I had been looking forward to. The language barrier can be tough to deal with (I usually resort to counting in Singhalese, they seem to like that), but anyone understands running back and forth in a schoolyard, flapping your arms like a butterfly, and funny faces. We painted their hands and pressed them on the wall below our mural and took a huge group photo under the meticulous guidance of Chaminda, one of our guides. It was a good day.

Then we moved to the Kanneliya Forest, where we were set up in a long dormitory, all 14 of us under princess-pink, jellyfish-like mosquito net. The dorm was in the forest, in the mountains and it was beautiful, with a natural (and freezing) pool.

We headed back to Panangala to visit the Mahabodhi School, which teaches 1200 6th through 10th grade students. We spent the morning coloring, singing “Lean on Me” (apparently, it’s our go-to English song) and a Singhalese song, and chatting with the environmental club. In the afternoon, we tried our hands at cricket, which was an – interesting – endeavor. It is not as complicated as I had thought; once you get the hang of it, it makes sense. The games CAN go on for 4 or 5 days, though, which I count as a point against it. Unsurprisingly, the other team won.

The other “highlight” of the game was Merrill’s epic foot injury. She had twisted it earlier, and in chasing the ball down during the cricket game, twisted it further. She and Crista spent the next day experimenting with Sri Lanka’s health care system, in both its public and private forms. Their experiences were wildly different, and they both came back full of funny stories. The verdict on her ankle, by the way: probably fractured and not broken, though she has an appointment set up for when she gets home.

The next day (Friday) we took a trek through the Sinharaja Rainforest (Sri Lanka’s most well-known) with the Panangala environmental club. The kids were pros, and the rest of us marveled not only at their agility, hopping across streams, along ridges, and down steep hills; but also at the fact that a trip like this was even doable for kids their age. It was a tough hike, bit no one was hurt (besides the leeches we sprayed with a special cinnamon-menthol mixture).

Lunch tasted pretty great after that hike. We dropped the kids off on our way back to the school and headed back to our dormitory for some much-needed swimming and showers. The rest of the evening was lazy and pleasant.

We woke up this morning at 4:45 and were on the road around 5:30, heading for Nuwara Eliya. As I write this, I’m bouncing around the back seat of our bus, balancing Riza’s iPod on my knees and stealing glances at the palm trees and small villages we pass through. On the docket for the evening is Adam’s Peak, a pilgrimage point for every religion in Sri Lanka which one climbs between midnight and 10 A.M. There is a footprint at it’s peak (5200 stairs up) said to come alternately from Adam, St. Thomas, Buddha, and Shiva. As today is both a Hindu holiday (Thai Pongal) and very rainy, the mountain will either be very crowded or the roads will be impassable. Maybe both. We are on island time; we will take things as they come.


Jan 12 2011

this is what it feels like.

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As one of the three people in charge of blogs and photos during this incredible trip – Liz, Shelly, and I are officially called “the reporters” – and also as someone who maintains a blog in “real life,” I have to admit that in wish we could provide our readers with an organized and consistent blog. I am typing this on a borrowed IPad (never used one before this trip) with the Indian Ocean about three feet from my… feet. ¬†To my left are about five of my fellow Pericleans, sitting around a dinner table and in plastic beach chairs sinking into the sand. We had a beach BBQ tonight to celebrate our last night at the now infamous Happy Banana as well as two beyond rewarding days at the G. Panangala school. Tonight’s festivity included fireworks and grilled pineapple, but as enjoyable as this beach resort is, I am pretty sure I speak for all of us when I say that the past few days in the jungle, traveling for four hours each day up and down the windy roads to get to the school and the kids we have become so invested in, means more than any beach day or nighttime fiesta.

Most of us are well-travelled; we’ve all been out of the U.S. multiple times, and we’ve all spent winter terms abroad – almost all of us have spent whole semesters abroad, as a matter of fact. Sri Lanka is giving us some of the most dynamic experiences we’ve ever had, and while for the most part we feel prepared for the last minute jungle hikes and full day bus rides we’ve experienced, we have been incredibly humbled by the people we have met. We’ve had our share of sprained ankles, stomach episodes, and leech bites, but each morning we have woken up happy, healthy, and ready to go. And it’s only day six.

With all that said, I want to say we are working working working on getting photos up, and we know you all are waiting for them! Our days are full, busy, and packed with everything we came here to do. We each write reflections every day, responding to prompts Dr. Crista gives us. Every day, someone presents on their “topic” for the trip, and our prompts are usually related. Liz and Shelly talked to us about the political situation in the country before and after the war, Angie shared much about the current education systems and how Sri Lankan primary schools are progressing, and tonight Julia discussed the country’s waste management system (which, unfortunately, is bleak.) I really enjoy the intense ways of learning we are experiencing here – morning bus ride “information sessions” over the intercom, afternoons exploring and interacting with a myriad of Sri Lankans, evening academic presentations and heated discussions. It’s all work and all play and ten minutes ago I jumped in the ocean when everyone else did and now I’m trying to encapsulate some general parts of the last week into a small computer screen in the sand and, well, the next few hours will bring laughter, waves, and a few hours of sleep before heading to the Panangala Mahabodhi school.

Jan 11 2011

A Venture into the Cultural Triangle

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A Venture into the Cultural Triangle

The first three days in Sri Lanka were a little different to say the least for Jesse, Jack, and I (Chas). The three of us got a grant from the Park Foundation to film a documentary on the emerging conflict between development and the environment in the post-tsunami period here in Sri Lanka. We came into the project with some preconceived notions about what we believed the problems were and how we would go about filming. These preconceptions were pushed aside quickly as the three of us met Chatura, Crista’s cousin in law. Crista arranged for him to take us on a special trip for three days up to Anuradhapura to filming some of the ancient water tanks (reservoirs) and systems for which Sri Lanka is famous. Chatura was the absolute perfect person to take us into these areas as he used to work as a tour guide in the area for nearly ten years. Chatura had so many incredible connections in the area and needless to say he brought us to areas we never would have found without him. In the three days we talked to farmers you thoughtlessly sprayed pesticides without any masks or form of protection, we talked to fisherman whose livelihoods rested on the fish populations in Minnerya Tank, we interviewed villagers whose lands had been trampled and destroyed by elephants who were in increasing searches for food and land as their habitats we being increasingly encroached upon by villagers and illegal squatters near Minnerya National Park. We saw the wonders of the ancient capitals of Sri Lanka, Anuradhapura and Pollunaruwa, and examined the role of Buddhism in Sri Lankan life and its relation to views on the environment. We watched elephants eating plastic out of waste dumps and looked in disgust as billboards dotted an otherwise pristine landscape.

We covered an incredible amount of ground and just had an absolutely amazing time doing it. Chatura was one of those people that you just want to be around. He is funny, a little crazy, and was willing to help us in any way that he could. Chatura basically started ecotourism in Minnerya Tank in 1996 taking tourists on Safaris into the tank. He got the government to officially protect the area. However, once he became successful and government officials saw how much money he was making, the government decided to change the rules and made Minnerya a national park so they could charge entrance fees. However, they did not regulate ecotourism in the area and as a result anyone with a jeep began taking people into the park and this created all sorts of issues. Chatura got so fed up with the politics of it all he left and this was the first time he had been back to Minnerya since he left over ten years ago. He was so passionate about elephants and saving them, we could not help but be inspired.

Jan 11 2011

happy banana, happy kids, happy pericleans

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Yo! It’s Shelly. Apparently my password isn’t working. So I’m signed in under Dr. Crista’s user name. The first thing our tour guide Riza told us when we boarded our mini bus about three days ago was: “Sometimes things work. Sometimes they do not. This is Sri Lanka. You want things to be perfect, you go back to USA.” Well, lookie here, even America can’t get it right. I have to say I am enjoying this island lifestyle. It’s nice to be a little disconnected and out exploring this country we have been so eagerly anticipating to visit. Apologies from this end. We are soaking up, sometimes literally, our limited time here. Finally we are seeing our projects in the flesh.

Speaking of projects, we visited the Panangala Junior School today up in the rain forest to see the library extension to the one single classroom that is half of their school. Though we were told to expect a very large welcome, I don’t think any of us were prepared for the ongoing ceremonies of songs and dances performed by each grade of the elementary school. We had tea, clearly. And offered the several suitcases and boxes of books and school supplies to make their new library come alive. Though it was uncomfortable to us Americans in the beginning, each child bowed individually on their knees in thanks to receive them. Though their appreciation was obvious, I think I speak for the thirteen of us when I say that the day was all about the kids, not us. We learned that we were expected to perform our own form of expression of appreciation, which we concluded on the spot to be an impromptu version of Lean On Me. Pretty fitting, don’t y’all think?¬† We are now staying in Galle, a coastal town a few hours south of Colombo, at a small and laid back place called Happy Banana. Even the bus driver giggles at the name of our new accommodation. Some things don’t need translation. Sri Lankans, in general, have a very lively sense of humor! So yesterday I turned 22. Before arriving to Happy Banana, we did a couple touristy things. If nothing else, we gained some insight into the rich environmental assets this beautiful island nation possesses and which need to be preserved. Mangroves and rain forests are some. Cinnamon is another. Oh yeah, and mangos. Don’t forget the mangos. Also, I held a baby turtle. Happy Birthday to me!¬† The other night in our daily meeting, we shared our first impressions of Sri Lanka and compared our experiences thus far to our experiences prior to our departure. The first thing that comes to mind is that this place is a very dynamic one. “It is a land of extremes,” Sina Jones from The American Centre stated in our preliminary meeting with her where we received many new contacts for furthering our many initiatives. We have seen one side of Sri Lanka in the capital city but as we left Colombo, we notice how complex this country really is. More to be explained later, as I think I have reached my capacity, sitting on the beach under the strings of lights. Time to enjoy the good company which is my fellow Pericleans and new Sri Lankan friends!

Jan 08 2011

With eyes open and mouths on fire

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What a long day we had yesterday! As Julia said in our class meeting tonight, even those of us who consider ourselves good travelers were challenged by that journey – a total of 17 hours on a plane. But we are finally here, sticky-sweaty and happy.

We arrived at about 3:30 A.M. and met with Crista’s brother-in-law, who took “our boys” (except for Zack) off to make their documentary. The rest of us met Reza, our tour guide; Chaminda, an ecologist/photographer/co-tour guide (he took the first-ever photo of a slender loris, a small monkey-like creature; previously, they were thought to be extict because they are seen so infrequently – how cool!); Lolinda, our driver, and Roshan, the guy who opens the bus door for us. Don’t quote me on the spelling of any of those names, by the way.

We were off to the Galadari Hotel, dodging tuk-tuks (three-wheeler taxis very common here) and listening to Reza tell us (1) to live in the moment, (2) not to expect things to be as “perfect” here as they are in the US, and (3) to smile at people. Sri Lankans are indeed a very smile-y people! They always smile back if you smile at them, and sometimes ask “how are you doing?” or “where from?” in their clipped and lilting British-Sri Lankan hybrid accents.

The Galadari Hotel is a CLASSY place, let me tell you. Our mouths all about hit the shiny marble floors when we walked in. Two restaurants, two or three bars, a karaoke bar, a gym, a pool, a steam room, and doormen as far as the eye can see. In other words – the works. Oh, and we’re also located right next door to an important government office – the Secretariat, I think, as well as the beach. We are living the life. Still, I’m glad we’re at a local hotel and not the Hilton up the road.

With our ususal style, we also happened to arrive on the same day as President Mahinda Rajapakse. There were police and soldiers EVERYWHERE, along the beach and roads, gathered in shady corners with guns¬† strapped across their chests. It’s more than a little intimidating, and we gave them wide¬† berth.

After a quick discussion in the hotel lobby, we received our room keys and headed upstairs. Some of us were so exhuasted that we fell straight into bed, while others were too keyed up to sleep. Whatever the case, we freshened up and enjoyed a DELICIOUS breakfast at the hotel – a good mix of spicy Sri Lankan breakfast foods and more morning-friendly Western staples.

We then traveled five minutes up my favorite new road РGalle Road, straight past the Galle Face Green and Indian Ocean  Рto visit the American Centre at the US Embassy. We met with Sina (pronounced See-nah) Jones, told her some more about LEAF (we had been in contact with her already, so she knew some of it), as well as about our other projects and research. She was so helpful and knowledgable, and I think we will benefit from her know-how. For one thing, she has no doubts that we can rustle up 250 participants for LEAF, which is very comforting.

After that meeting, we had some more down-time, which many of us used to walk downtown for lunch, bottles of water, phone cards, and an ATM. Sri Lanka is a bustling, humid place with sometimes-iffy sidewalks, and we thoroughly enjoyed poking around shops and brushing elbows with the locals.

The University of Colombo to meet with Dr. Rosa, one of our main contacts, was next on the docket. Along with the appointment came an unexpected lesson in “island time:” we arrived for our meeting only to find that Dr. Rosa was still in¬†a lecture for another hour. So, we wandered around the science campus, where LEAF will be held. It’s very beautiful, but in a very different way from Elon. It has some of the old-school¬†manicured refinement that gives Elon’s campus its good name, but also seems to burst with life in a totally tropical way. The rooms where LEAF will be held were explored and approved all around.

At this point, the heat and the sleep deprivation started to kick in. We were all a little draggy, but the Coca-Colas and Fantas provided by Dr. Rosa when we met with him at last gave a little spike to our energy levels. We went over some final details of LEAF, asked all our questions, and left feeling pretty good about the whole thing.

When we arrived back, we had some down-time, then Chaminda took us to dinner. The food was great, but some of us were beginning to realize that spicy food was NOT the way to go. Sri Lankans like food VERY spicy- today Reza told us that if he’s not sweating and tearing up when he eats, “it’s like eating plastic.” Needless to say, some of us stuck to¬†more bland foods like¬†rice and string hoppers (little “nests” of rice noodles) rather than the more – shall we say, pungent curries and biryanis. In addition, many of us tried a Sri Lankan beer with dinner – Lion Lager. Thumbs up.

By the time we got home, we were all exhuasted and went to bed around 8 or 9 P.M. It had been a long day, packed with a lot of new experiences. We slept like rocks for 10 hours or so, and then Рready for more.

Here’s hoping that after all that you all are ready for some more stories tomorrow. Love to all our families and friends, we miss you and more importantly, are buying you souvenirs. Stay tuned!


Jan 07 2011

we are here and well

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Hi all we arrived in Colombo early morning on Jan 7. We had a very busy day and all are very tired but resting. Jesse, Jack, and Chas took off immediately for all the awesome heritage sites with my brother in law Chatura. our 1st day included some swimming at 7am, a great breakfast at the Galadari Hotel, some trying to eat their hands, then off to lots of meetings. We went to see Sina Jones at the US Embassy for a wonderful conversation. Then students went exploring for lunch and had interesting adventures that I will let them share in later blog entries. Mett Dr Rosa at University of Colombo and Amelie,Katie, and Angie meet with a Microfinance institution. Great stuff. Everyone early to bed with evening meeting postponed until today. It is almost 6am on Saturday morning here and suspect some are already up and ready as I am. today city tour. students will blog today so check back.