An introduction to France: Reims

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Hanging on the steps of the Cathedral.

Reims was the first French city we visited and it did not disappoint. We scored a coveted carpark in an aire just outside of the CBD and rode in on our bikes to roam around. The place was buzzing with people rushing everywhere, all going about their business not at all concerned with two Australian travelers standing in the middle of the tram line, breathing it all in. 

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The architecture in Reims super impressive, from the gargoyles on the gothic to the streamline angles of the modern. Maybe it’s charm had more of an effect on us as it was our first introduction to the country of love.

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Glorious Gothic architecture.

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Better than the architecture, was the music festival being set up nestled under the Notre Dame cathedral. The sound test was blaring out of the speakers as crowds gathered, curious to see what all the noise was about. While watching on, we also witnessed a rather hilarious (for us anyway) situation where a man’s dog soiled the middle of the busy street and he had a lot of trouble awkwardly trying to pick it up while his large pooch pulled eagerly on the lead while continually walking through the mess making it much worse. Poor guy.

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The lineup.

We felt it was going to be a serious party later that night, so we headed back to Sassy to eat, change and enjoy some French wine and cheese before we came back to see the live performance in full swing from our free vantage point outside the barriers, standing on rubbish bins, much to the security guard’s disapproval. After our legs wore weary, we wandered towards a hot chocolate on our way home and crashed for the night keen to head off early the next day.

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I love gargoyles!

 

-rocketandramble

@rocketandramble

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A week of waiting

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Free camping at Brighton

After purchasing Sassy, we spent a week hanging out at the bottom of England trying to figure out how to work all of her quirks. The thing about buying DIY campervans is that there are no manuals. Just a bunch of wires and passed on information and tips from previous owners. So we had a little bit to learn. We also wanted to get her serviced and make sure our purchase was living up to the agreed contract conditions.

The first thing we learnt was how little the leisure battery could actually power. The fridge drained it, tripped fuses and then the headlights also wouldn’t work. So we spent a few days trying to decipher Sassy’s complicated code. As it so happened, we actually needed a new leisure battery as the previous owners had cooked the one we had and that was why we were having all the problems. We tried leaving the battery on charge for a long weekend with a lovely English gentleman, but after that, we knew it was done for and that we would have to purchase and install a newbie. We spent our days of waiting using ice in the fridge just like an esky, but we were loving the freedom having a van was giving us. We pulled up wherever we liked, free camped, soaked up the serenity, enjoyed wine, cheese and dinners with some spectacular views of southern England.

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Brighton Pier at sunset

We explored Brighton, Deal, Sandwich and Ham (the full baguette it would seem), and surrounding areas marvelling at the countryside and coastal towns as we plotted our future trip and fantasised about all the possibilities. Then we drive to Dover in preparation for booking and catching our ferry to Calais, France. We spent a day shopping at the gloriousness that is ASDA stocking up on all the household things we were missing (Sassy did come semi-stocked). We also did a big food shop before chugging up a large hill leaving Dover port behind us. Halfway up, as semi trailers easily flew past us, Sassy started grunting and Rhys puzzled over the loss of power. I kept commenting (probably unhelpfully) on the smell of diesel being SO strong.

Next thing we knew, smoke was pouring out of Sassy’s engine and we pulled off the main road and came to a stop next to an open field overlooking the port as sheep lazily raised their heads to see if we were threatening or not only to resume grazing. It would be an understatement to say we were a little bummed about our seemingly dud purchase. Eventually, we got onto a tow truck company and Sassy was hooked and winched up by a father and son team who could have passed as the Weasley family from the Harry Potter films, except for all the colourful, not so PG-13 language that was spilling regularly from their mouths.

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Sassy was down for the count with a snapped fuel injector line and we were told it could be a three day wait before a replacement would arrive. We settled into the glamorous life of living in a van in a mechanic’s yard in southern England. Luckily enough, we had already purchased our bicycles and were able to venture out choosing to spend our time drowning our sorrows at the local pub, riding around town taking in the sights, shopping at Lidl and we spent a full day exploring Dover Castle (which exceeded expectations) before we were handed the expensive tow and labour bill and were on our way yet again. After the somewhat depressing previous days, our excitement bubbled as we booked our barge ticket with optimism in our hearts that maybe the breakdown was just a once off. Fingers crossed!

 

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France was just noticable off in the distance and at night was lit up quite beautifully

-rocketandramble

@rocketandramble

@sassythevan

Hustlin’ and Bustlin’ in Belgium

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Less than 20 minutes north from where we stayed the night in Calais, we had arrived in beguiling Belgium. There was a noticeable change in the scenery and streets as we crossed over the imaginary border and pulled in to refuel. Spectacular views of rolling hills with little white dots that turned into grazing sheep distracted us from the continues kilometres we clocked. Our excitement climbed towards its crescendo at having finally reached the mystical, far away land of Europe and we were feeling outrageously optimistic about the rest of our itinerary (especially after the first fuel injector hiccup in Dover) as we sped towards Brugge. Cantankerous clouds gathered overhead, growing darker and eventually the drizzle commenced as we crossed over canals announcing our arrival in Brugge.

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Cheese and Beer

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So wet.

Brugge is truly a romantic city with that fairytale feel from my childhood princess dreams. The streets are cobblestoned and the buildings emulate a gothic tinge with skyscraper spires. Buildings stand stoic like castles as flags fly high and as we wandered through them, I thought about all the history that was contained within their walls knowing Belgium’s reputation as the ‘Battlefield of Europe’. The market square was quite busy considering the woeful weather (mostly scattered showers but with occasional torrential downpours) and Rhys and I ambled around in our raincoats enjoying the unfamiliar sights and wafting, delectable smells. The medieval shop facades had every outsider looking up admiring and awed as I snapped a few pictures before my camera started getting too wet. As the rain became more constant, we naturally ended up taking cover in the nearest bar which happened to be below a beer museum. Luckily, it overlooked the main courtyard and we spent the next hour beer tasting, eating cheese and watching people go about their day through the the huge, rain streaked windows. We decided not to stay the night (mainly due to the weather and a lack of spacious free parks), so we jumped back in Sassy typing Brussels into the GPS thinking we would easily make it there before sundown. Belgium is a fairly small place right?

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We were speeding along the highway surrounded by farmland when it happened. Sassy rapidly lost power and the smell of smoke and burning diesel filled the car as we pulled her off to the side of the road. We jumped out and popped the bonnet as trucks raced past the skinny median strip shaking us violently only to discover the exact same fuel injector hose had snapped! After some initial swearing and anger, we kicked our brains into gear, locked Sassy up and began walking to the closest farm to try and get help. We didn’t have a working SIM card for Belgium (one of the few countries that the Three London SIM doesn’t work) and we didn’t really know what else to do. As we walked, we tried to figure out where we were exactly so we could find our way back and we comforted ourselves by discussing some scenarios we might like to act out with Sassy right at the moment. Some of these included pushing her into a dirty lake, a molotov cocktail into the windscreen or rolling her off a tall cliff. Not long after we started walking, the driver of a fancy looking black Mercedes took pity on us offering a lift into town. Our saviour was a real estate agent on his way home who happened to speak very good English. He offered life advice from his experiences and encouraged us to continue on our trip regardless of the car outcome. We were dropped off at a service station so we could use the phone to call a tow truck, but the lady behind the counter didn’t seem to have a number and our request got a little lost in translation. Instead, she drew us a mud map to find the Ford dealer in town and our unexpected exploration of Aalter began. We walked for a few kilometres and dropped in on various shop owners to confirm we were going the right way, eventually finding the Ford workshop.

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Our home in the mechanic’s yard.

Once there, everybody was extremely helpful and a tow truck was organised but wouldn’t be available for four hours. To fill in time, we conversed with the staff, drank lots of their free coffee from their first class machine, used the very fast wifi and flicked through all the new car leaflets with a little envy. Eventually, the tow truck arrived and we jumped in the back to show them to Sassy’s resting place. After our second tow truck joyride in as many weeks, Sassy was parked alongside the showroom competing against the shiny new models for our attention. The right part was easily ordered as we still had the original broken piece and the box from the previous repair. We were told to get comfy as it could be up to four days before the new piece arrived. The next three nights were spent in the Ford carpark but we occupied ourselves by getting to know the small, sleepy town of Aalter quite well via our bicycles. We picnicked, participated in a small fete and made friends with some local ducks. Once the part arrived, it took all of 30 minutes to install it and Sassy was back up and roaring with life once again. We knew we would have to take it a little easier on the old girl this time around. Ths staff came out to wave us off and we thanked them for their help and for letting us crash their showroom and use their facilities before we pulled out onto the highway and headed for Brussels feeling full of hope once again.

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Brussels is a bustling metropolitan area and we were headed towards an aire that backed onto a hostel in the middle of the city. After spending four days without a shower (amen to baby wipes) in a mechanic’s carpark, I was desperate for hot water and a freshen up.  Later on, we jumped on our bikes and headed out to discover what Brussels had to offer us. We spent the whole day traveling between restaurants, bakeries and cafes with stops to major attractions and historic buildings. We had lost a little time and were trying to make up for it. Our weariness showed when we bought the biggest meringue we could find only to accidentally leave it at a restaurant after too many wines before getting a chance to taste even on bite. Doh! We didn’t arrive home until midnight and I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow feeling extremely content. The next day, we decided we had better keep moving to make up for lost time, thinking we might even still make Oktoberfest in Germany. Our only stop was to pick up some cherry beer on our way out of the city. With luck (hopefully) on our side and in good spirits we left Brussels behind and continued north to the Netherlands. I had managed a taste of what Belgium had to offer and knew I would return sometime in the future. 

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Chocolate, waffles and meringues galore.

-rocketandramble

@rocketandramble

The Sri Lanka Series: Ella (July-August 2015 )

This is the spectacular view about halfway up the hike to Mini Adam's Peak.

This is the spectacular view from the helipad which is about halfway up the hike to Mini Adam’s Peak.

After the heat of Arugam Bay, the mildly cooler Ella was a very welcome relief. Ella was definitely one of my favourite places in Sri Lanka. It is located north east of Arugam and is reachable by bus but, we chose to take a private taxi which took 4 hours and cost AU$80. The drive wound through the mountains as we slowly ascended providing little glimpses of the world below through breaks in the trees offering some breathtaking views. Our driver pulled over for lunch at one of his preferred restaurants where we shared a huge plate of devilled chicken and side dishes among a group of very merry locals. This particular meal is popular in Sri Lanka and is made with a sweet and sour sticky sauce and lots of fiery hot peppers. I think it is delicious!

The dusty roads of Ella village

The dusty roads of the Ella village

Ella is small village located up the mountains on one of the main roads. The accommodations and restaurants have a shanty-shack vibe and are stacked on top of each other up the steep mountain sides. I was surprised by the number of tourists in Ella, thinking smugly that I had stumbled upon this hidden stretch (silly me). It was busy and bustling the whole time we were there and after discovering a little more about what the area had to offer, it all made perfect sense. If you are into hiking, waterfalls, wildlife, tranquility, good food, 360 degree views or fun (who isn’t?), then Ella has something to offer you.

Taking the road less traveled but probably full of snakes.

Taking the road less travelled but likely fidled with snakes.

The tea pickers were mostly women and they carried their sacks using a contraption on their heads.

The tea pickers were mostly women and they carried their sacks using a contraption on their heads.

Ella is home to the famous ‘Adam’s Peak’ hiking trail which has magnificent scenery but takes around 6 hours to complete. If hiking is your thing, it is something you would not want to miss out on. Take note on the best season for hiking though, as we were told even if we made the hike, it was unlikely we would see much due to the low cloud cover and rain. As we were only in Ella for a couple of days, 6 hours of hiking with no guarantees felt like too much of a commitment, so my partner and I decided to do Little Adam’s Peak instead which is a lot easier on the body and accessible for most (normal, non-hiking folk) people, plus it takes way less time and effort! The entrance path to Little Adam’s Peak is well signed and there is restaurant at the start that boasts an impressive cactus garden and pet birds. The trail consists of an dusty incline, winding pathways through the tea tree plantation and smiling pickers (be careful of getting caught taking photos, they may ask for a tip), many, many narrow stairs and then finally some steep, rocky and sometimes slippery goat tracks through the scrub. Take plenty of water and maybe a snack as you will definitely need it. The sights all the way up are spectacular as you peer out across the huge gorge between the peaks.

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The views are magnificent all the way up and especially from the top.

The views are magnificent all the way up and especially from the top.

We felt like the only two people in the whole world.

We felt like the only two people in the whole world. I love that nature can make you feel small and insignificant in order to humble you.

On our way back down the mountain, we continued on to a green tea factory where we did a 30 minute tour for 500 rupees. It was fairly simplistic, but also fun (we had to wear blue shoe covers and hair nets) and included a relaxing cup of green tea afterwards. We needed all the hydration we could get! After walking for so long, we were exceedingly hungry (more than usual anyway) and as we headed back towards town, we stumbled across a little eatery called Adam’s Restaurant where I had some of the best samosas I have ever eaten and a delicious Sri Lankan curry set to the background music of Bob Marley’s greatest hits. What a memory! They LOVE Bob Marley in Sri Lanka.

The windy road to the tea factory

The windy road to the tea factory

Back in the village, we stayed at the Ella Tea Garden which boasts awesome views of the surrounding mountain side and is home to a very laid back Dachshund called Renske which was just an added bonus as I am a little dog crazy, especially when it comes to Dachys and Frenchies. Renske got all the love and attention any dog would need in a year from the couple of days I stayed there. He was probably relieved when I left.

View from our Tea Garden room.

View from our Tea Garden room.

Renske getting some lovin'.

Renske getting some lovin’.

The Chill Bar is a wooden treehouse-style restaurant with fine dining downstairs and upstairs houses an open rooftop area with beanbags that is ideal for cocktails and pizzas. After eating, we could hear all this drumming and loud talking over a microphone. We followed the sounds to discover quite a sight. There was a band set up in the middle of a field with huge posters and lights everywhere (I’m still not sure if they were religious or political). At the back of the field was a long winding row of tuk tuks and in front of the sights and sounds onstage was a group of Sri Lankans all dancing, jumping up and down and having a great time. It was fun to see the drivers of the tuk tuks at the back having a great time down the front and losing themselves to the music.

Politics or religion? Either way, they Sri Lankans were loving it.

Politics or religion? Either way, they Sri Lankans were loving it.

Tangent Time: While in Ella, I developed an ear infection and had to go on the hunt for a doctor or pharmacy that would be able to help. I figured the cause was from all the swimming I had been doing at Arugam Bay and also knew it would only get more serious without treatment. I started by googling doctors and hospitals  in the area and asking the staff at my hotel but they all said the same thing: I would have to travel 2 hours to the next big city to go to the hospital or see a doctor. I was preparing to do this (mentally only) when I walked past a small sign  with a red cross on it while exploring some markets. It pointed to a narrow alleyway and up some steep stairs. As I arrived at the top, I found a large the room with literally 2 waiting chairs, a tiny reception window, a small office and a patient bed. No one was around and there were no phone numbers that I could see. My hope began to waiver as I went back a couple of times during the same day to see if anyone would show up and be able to help me. On the third time, I studied the signage a little more closely even though it was written in Sinhala, and found a couple of numbers that looked like they could be opening hours. They were from 7-9am and 4-7pm but I had only discovered the place in the middle of the day. I waited until 4 and then returned in a last ditch effort to find help as my ear throbbed relentlessly. As I took the final step to level with the reception window, a young girl popped her head up smiling. She spoke some English and waved me into the little room where a female doctor was waiting for me. She spoke English as well which made the whole process easier and she was able to give me what I needed right then and there. The service was excellent and we chatted for quite some time about her private practice and her life in Sri Lanka. She was planning to open her own guest house with her husband (also a doctor) and they were going to add their own practice to the back. She pulled out a notebook and pen and started asking me all these questions about what tourists wanted from a guesthouse and what services and prices I had been paying as I traveled around Sri Lanka. It was quite fun! I was so lucky to find her and grateful for her help and the antibiotics. The consultation was free and I only had to pay 3000 rupee for the meds she provided. The only downside was that I couldn’t put my head under the water at the waterfalls that we explored the next day.

The main pool at the bottom where most people swim and refresh after a long day of walking.

The main pool at the bottom where most people swim and refresh after a long day of walking.

Ravana Falls is situated about 15 minutes south from Ella. You can walk it and many do, but it is uphill all the way back, so we chose to get a tuk tuk which cost 1000 rupees and he waited for us at the bottom until we were done exploring. If waterfall climbing, slippery stones and mud doesn’t interest you, then there is a large pool at the bottom where most people swim and enjoy the refreshingly cool water after a long day of hiking. It gets busy quickly though, especially on weekends and there are a variety of locals who are trying to sell you produce and items the whole time you swim. Watch out for the men who try to swap you a crystal for a “coin from you homeland for my child who collects coins.” If you are feeling a little more adventurous, you can make your way up the waterfall to the more secluded pools at the top. It is not easy, but it is definitely worth it, though we found a much easier (and secret) path only after we had scrambled our way up the hot stone. If you know what you are looking for, there is a gate to the right before you reach the main pool that says ‘no entry’ (Yeah, I am that rebellious) and from there you can follow the water pipes that run up through the rain forest to about halfway up the waterfall and then you can make your own way from there.

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Secret Squirrel Track

Following the pipes back down proved much easier than scaling the slippery stones.

Following the pipes back down proved much easier than scaling the slippery stones.

This is me 'not getting my head wet'. Kind of.

This is me ‘not getting my head wet’. Kind of.

The view from the secluded swimming pool we found.

The view from the secluded swimming pool we found.

For such a small place, Ella has a plethora of things to do and see and I really enjoyed every aspect of it and I hope you do too.

-rocketandramble

#rocketandramble @rocketandramble

The Sri Lanka Series: Arugam Bay (July-August 2015)

Arugam Bay

The bay is perfect for swimming and spectacular to look at.

The bay is perfect for swimming and spectacular to look at.

Getting ready to head out for another day of surf and sun. Had to teach the hotel staff how to use an iphone and you can see her finger just in the top left corner.

Getting ready to head out for another day of surf and sun. Had to teach the hotel staff how to use an iphone and you can see her finger just in the top left corner.

We chose to visit the upcoming surfing spot of Arugam Bay as friends had been in previous years and bragged about how great the surf was. It tends to work best in the off season meaning the surfing season is from June – October.  Arugam is a very laid back strip that sits on a large bay with a range of point breaks both north and south. The bay is beautiful for swimming, boasting calm water with rolling waves that break onto a sandy shore. The locals all come down in droves on weekends where whole families scream with glee, jump on each other and play in the shallows. Arugam’s main point is gentle most of the time but does have a bit of a rocky shelf which can attract the odd sea urchin. Some surfers wore booties, but my partner and I both didn’t bother and chose instead to just try and avoid the bottom as much as possible.  My partner was a little disappointed with the surf when we were there, as it didn’t really get bigger than 4ft and there is a minimal tide difference (so it just stays the same) and the wind was howling from about midday. There were also a lot of people (and beginners) trying to do their thing in the shore break which is not ideal when you have come specifically to surf and you have to worry about avoiding them as they bob around on huge foam boards.

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A couple of waves caught by Rhys.

A couple of waves caught by Rhys.

I chose not to bring a board with me (my partner bought two), but hired both a mini mal and malibu on different days and had an awesome time while getting a great tan. Upali is the accommodation and cafe which sits right on the main point and provides a perfect (and shady) reading or blogging spot when my partner was surfing for long hours. Once we were all surfed out, we would walk back to the main strip and score a cabana (usually at Funky de Bar) that looked out onto the water. Funky de Bar was also home to a litter of puppies and anyone who knows me knows how much I LOVE dogs. We would eat, drink, play with the puppies and be generally merry which isn’t hard to do in a place as beautiful as Sri Lanka.

Puppies! This is my happy place.

Puppies! This is my happy place.

Mal sliding was my favourite past time when it was a little smaller.

Mal sliding was my favourite past time when it was a little smaller. We hired this 9ft mal for a couple of days.

We stayed at The Hotel Paradise for 10 days and it catered to our needs really well. Not only is it right in the middle of town, it was clean and cheap plus the staff were very accommodating. I would definitely recommend an air-conditioned room though as it was still quite hot at night and nice to escape the heat in the middle of the day. The Hotel Paradise also do a curry buffet for 400 rupee which was so tasty and filling. You can’t really beat that.

Boats are lined up everywhere and fishing is the main economy.

Boats are lined up everywhere and fishing is the main economy.

The food in Arugam has a lot of variety and can cater to all budgets and taste buds. Some days we lived off roti and Sri Lankan curries (the one from Munchies Shack was the best in my opinion) and other days we would splurge a little more and eat BBQ whole fish done over a fire, delicious burgers and cocktails from Zephyr, and real coffee and breakfast paninis from the Hideaway cafe during the day and fruity cocktails with reggae at night from the bar. There are a few touristy shops if retail therapy is your thing, but I wouldn’t dedicate too much time to it.

The Hideaway Cafe did the best coffee I had in Sri Lanka and delicious brekky paninis. Their bar had a reggae vibe at night and served awesome cocktails too!

The Hideaway Cafe did the best coffee I had in Sri Lanka and delicious brekky paninis. Their bar had a reggae vibe at night and served awesome cocktails too!

Arugam Bay in the late afternoon from Mambos. Enjoying a beer and some peanuts sold by a local.

Arugam Bay in the late afternoon from Mambos. Enjoying a beer and some peanuts sold by a local.

Arugam Bay is the perfect location to make your ‘base’ so you can do day trips north or south and see all that the area has to offer. There is also an elephant gathering place west of Pottuvil near the big waterhole. The two times we went past, we were a little too early and then a little too late. Get a local to take you and time it for late afternoon to witness a spectacular sight.

This was the safari sunset so I will always remember it as a pretty great day.

This was the safari sunset so I will always remember it as a pretty great day.

North of Arugam Bay are secluded accommodation options away from the bustle of the main strip. There are a couple of surf points and I spent two very relaxing mornings at the Whiskey Beach cabanas and cafe. It takes about 10 minutes by tuk tuk and costs around 1000 rupees return (or 1500 rupees to the Lighthouse point) and usually the driver will wait for you, or come back and collect you at an agreed time. Pottuvil Point is worth a look if you are up that way already, but probably not as an individual trip. Most drivers tag on an extra 500 rupee for the trip.

Can I live here? An old house at Pottuvil Point.

Can I live here? An old house at Pottuvil Point.

Pottuvil Point.

Pottuvil Point.

South of Arugam there is Okanda and two national parks. Okanda is a dusty 40 minute drive south and we visited on two separate occasions. The first time was a part of our local led ‘safari tour’ just to have a look. The second time was early in the morning on a surf expedition but there was also a week long Hindu festival on. (Check out Tangent Time below for my story about my ‘celebrity status’.) Okanda beach is beautiful, the surf was little bigger but still quite messy.

The view from the shrine was magnificent! It was VERY windy when we were up there.

The view from the rock near the shrine was magnificent! It was VERY windy when we were up there.

One of the local tuk tuk drivers (we called him ‘No Teeth’ for obvious reasons) drove us to various points a couple of times and we discussed with him the possibility of us taking a safari tour to check out some of the wildlife in the area. We paid 3000 rupee (plus we gave a large tip at the end as we were stoked with what we did and saw) for a couple of hours driving. No Teeth promised we wouldn’t pay if we didn’t see any elephants or were unhappy with the quality of the tour in anyway. It sounded like a pretty good deal to me. He picked us up from our hotel at 1:30pm and we set off. Not even 15 minutes had passed when we spotted peacocks (as plentiful as pigeons in Sri Lanka), a herd of buffalo bathing in a pond, a mongoose and witnessed our first elephant sighting. A large bull was standing just outside of the bush line and was visible from the road. We watched him for about 15 minutes before moving on with No Teeth promising we would see plenty more on his ‘special tour’. We hiked up to the Okanda Kudumbigala Forest Hermitage Shrine and fed the monkeys biscuits we bought from a local stall. They were mischievous and naughty, just as monkeys should be, and I have developed a bit of a love/hate relationship with monkeys. I find they are very sweet one minute being all friendly and cutesy, but as soon as you are out of food, they turn on you (and each other) going feral and vicious in the blink of an eye. Once we climbed to the top of the temple, we were treated to breathtaking 360 degree views of the whole area and it is definitely worth the walk up the stone steps (if you can call them that, they are more like strategically spaced rock grooves). Ladies, don’t forget to enter the shrine you will need to take or wear a long skirt and cover your shoulders. I took two sarongs with me so I could take it all off afterwards.

This is No Teeth and my partner Rhys.

This is No Teeth and my partner Rhys.

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Monkeys and crocodiles.

Monkeys. How cute is this guy?.

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These guys you can see, the others not so much.

I knew what was underneath the water...eek.

I knew what was underneath the water…eek.

No Teeth then showed us crocodiles up close (and a little to close for comfort) in a nearby creek. They didn’t do much, just lazed about on the banks, but I was more afraid of what I couldn’t see under the water as we stood on the edge of the river watching them. I didn’t really want to test fate. We visited Okanda, to see what it was like and saw that they were setting up stalls and shops for some kind of festival which we discovered to be a Hindu event later on. Finally, we went on the hunt for more elephants. We spotted a group of four adult elephants quite far off in the distance opposite a large (and mostly dry) waterhole. Eventually, we found a family of about 7 adult elephants and a baby. We were apparently getting too close as the bull began throwing dirt, grunting and stamping. Needless to say, we backed away slowly. It was amazing to see this whole elephant family out in the wild living (mostly harmoniously) with the villages. The fence in the image actually goes around the village to keep the elephants out rather than to keep them in captivity. I felt honoured to witness these beautiful exotic creatures in their wild habitat roaming freely.

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Daddy elephant. Not so happy to see us.

Elephant family roaming freely.

Elephant family roaming freely. The little baby is too much!

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This male was by himself near one of the roads to Okanda.

Tangent Time: When my partner and I returned to Okanda for the second time to surf it was early morning and the sun had just risen. No Teeth was supposed to pick us up from the front of our hotel at 5:30am but he didn’t show. We found out later that he had slept through his alarm. Instead, we waved down one of the many other tuk tuk drivers. No point getting up this early for no reason! Okanda beach was mostly secluded except for a couple of towels and bags left on the beach by the other 5 surfers who were already out in the water. My partner paddled out and I sat on the beach on a towel in a dress and hat with my camera at the ready. After an hour of taking some snapshots, I noticed that there were a few small groups of locals dressed in their best saris and suits making their way down the beach towards me. As they got closer, there was a lot of pointing and talking (that I couldn’t understand) as they all moved closer and stood around me. The kids waved and said hi excitedly. Some spoke a few words of English and asked questions about my name and where I was from. A lot of the boys stared or asked to take my picture, some wanted to touch my blonde hair or shake my hand. For approximately 3 hours this went on with each group that passed by. Most were polite, others not so much and some started taking pictures without asking or doing anything else. Just waltzed right up and started snapping. I began to understand a little more how celebrities feel. I was reading a book on my ipad mini and many of the children wanted to look at it and touch it as they had never seen anything like it before. I had to explain to a couple of boys that my ‘husband’ was out in the water so they would back off a little and move out of my personal space. One man who spoke excellent English explained that many of the locals were from very small villages far away and had driven for days just to attend the festival. He outlined that most of them would not have seen a white person in the flesh before either and that was why there was so much commotion.  It was such a bizarre experience that I won’t soon forget and I now have an appreciation for what it must be like being an animal in a zoo.

Just some of my new friends on Okanda beach. It seemed only fair that I take a photo of them when they were taking so many photos of me.

Just some of my new friends on Okanda beach. It seemed only fair that I take a photo of them when they were taking so many photos of me.

-rocketandramble

#rocketandramble @rocketandramble