A week of waiting

IMG_1084

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.

IMG_1026

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.

IMG_1254
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!

 

IMG_1100

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

-rocketandramble

@rocketandramble

@sassythevan

Advertisements

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.

DSCN0420 DSCN0417

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.

DSCN0232 DSCN0188 DSCN0149 DSCN0147

Monkeys and crocodiles.

Monkeys. How cute is this guy?.

DSCN0179

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.

DSCN0262

Daddy elephant. Not so happy to see us.

Elephant family roaming freely.

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

DSCN0174

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

Elderly Shoutouts

I just had the most lovely encounter with an elderly lady and it compelled me to give a shoutout to anyone over the age of 65. (You know who you are, but I am not sure many of you read blogs?)

My partner and I were riding our bikes through Dover, England after spending the morning exploring the historically significant Dover Castle (totally worth doing). We were cruising down a large hill and came to a fork in the road. We weren’t sure which way to go so we pulled out our phone (yep, Gen Y-ers) to have a look at the map. As Rhys was doing this, I was looking around appreciating our surroundings and gazed up at a window in a house nearby. The window belonged to an old person’s nursing home and framed perfectly  in the window, enjoying the sunshine and view sat a hunched, little old lady in a wheelchair who had short white hair and was wearing a blue two piece suit. She was watching us, smiling widely and furiously waving at me in the sweetest way possible. My heart melted as I thought of my two grandmothers and I waved back.  She started to point to the right indicating the way we should go. I tapped my partner on the shoulder and pointed so he could wave too and thank her for helping us when, just as he looked up, she started blowing kisses the cheeky devil! Rhys obliged and blew kisses back and then we took her on her word (and hoped she didn’t have dementia) and peddled our bikes to the right as we waved goodbye. Luckily, she got us to where we needed to go.

I just want to encourage people to take a moment today and be a little kinder and a little more patient to elderly strangers and family members. Their life experience and understanding of the world far parallels our own and we should feel blessed to enjoy every moment we have with the special old people in our lives. Warm and fuzzies all round.

This post is dedicated to both my lovely grandmothers who I know are looking down on me and keeping me safe on my travels.

xo

-rocketandramble

#rocketandramble @rocketandramble