Monday, October 12, 2015

Celebrating Pola and Sri Lankan Marketplaces

Pola is a big part of the way of life in Sri Lanka. These usually happen on the weekends, but there also  established markets in daily operation throughout the island of varying sizes. Going to your local Sunday pola (or marketplace) is a must-do experience. It's a way of learning about local fruit and vegetables, locally made products, getting to know your community and trying new things. I've mentioned Sunday pola in passing a few times in previous blogs such as Island fruit and vegetables.. take a walk on the exotic! and An expat in Sri Lanka: the Good, Bad and Ugly - Part 2.

I've always been particularly fond of markets, whether it's fresh produce, gourmet food, wet markets, antiques, knick knacks and odds and ends. I used to meet up with friends in London on the weekends around various markets, from Borough to Camden to Notting Hill and more for breakfast, shopping and strolling. And, I've fallen into a similar pattern or habit in Sri Lanka. Sometimes I'm all down to business at my local pola buying what I need on my grocery list, while other times I meet my friends at one of the weekend markets and stroll leisurely through, enjoying a few snacks and drinks while taking in the vibe and atmosphere.

Over the past few years a few regular specialty markets have arisen, which has added some variety into the mix and brought more awareness to organically farmed produce and healthier (sometimes even gourmet) local foods. In addition, the facilities or venues for some of these markets have been greatly improved ensuring a better overall experience. I have truly fallen in love with the "let it all" hang out, higgledy-piggledy local polas, which sprawl out across the road in a seemingly haphazard manner and where you find all sorts of amusing characters to interact with.

Monday, August 31, 2015

The Wonderful World of Volunteering in Sri Lanka

 If you google search "volunteer opportunities in Sri Lanka" (or anywhere in the world), you're most likely to come across a plethora of foreign volunteer organizations based out of countries outside of Sri Lanka requiring registration fees and a fair whack of expense on your part. The two most common volunteer programs or projects that are touted through these foreign volunteer organizations are the Wild Elephant Conservation Project in Northern Central  Sri Lanka, or the Sea Turtle Conservation Project along the southern coast of Sri Lanka. And you might also come across volunteer placements in teaching, elderly care, disability care, orphanages that are offered. Travel tours of the island are frequently offered in conjunction with volunteer placements via tour companies that have an established volunteer program.

However, if you haven't done sufficient research or investigating then you won't readily find information on locally recognized and less costly volunteer opportunities in Sri Lanka. Or it may not be clear which local volunteer programs or projects are genuine, well-established, efficient and effective.

The purpose of this blog post is to shed some light and offer up some options for those who might be interested in a volunteer placements or opportunities in Sri Lanka. I know there are some who are interested in primarily volunteering for extended periods; others who wish to add volunteering onto their travel itinerary (on an ad hoc or fixed period) in Sri Lanka; and expats living in Sri Lanka who want to contribute in a meaningful way to the Sri Lankan community. Please note the list below is not exhaustive.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Travel Monday: In awe of the sacred and oldest surviving human-planted tree Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi

Eva Stone photo, Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi, Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka
There is a sacred fig tree, known as Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi, that was planted in Anuradhapura around the third century BC by King Devanampiyatissa. It was grown from a sapling of the sacred Maha Bodhi tree under which Gautama Buddha became enlightened in Bodh Gaya, India. The sapling was brought over from India  by Theri Sanghamitta, who founded the Bhikkhuni order of nuns in Sri Lanka and the daughter of Emperor Asoka. Both sacred fig trees are held in high regard by Buddhists around the world, with Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi considered the oldest known surviving human-planted tree in the world given its unbroken heritage and known planting date.

There is a record in the Guinness Book of World Records that confirms:
"The oldest tree known to have been planted by a human rather than by natural seeding is a 2,300-year-old sacred fig or bo-tree (Ficus religiosa) that has been named Sri Maha Bodhiya, and stands in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka. It was planted there in 288 BC. The mother tree from which this specimen was propagated was none other than the famous Bodhi tree under which Siddhartha Gautama the Lord Buddha was sitting when he gained enlightenment"

Interestingly, there are many different dates quoted for the official planting of this sacred tree ranging from 288BC, 249BC, 244BC and 236BC.

Sri Maha Bodhi is known as one of the Atamasthana or the 8 places of veneration in the ancient sacred city of Anuradhapura (which is a UNESCO Wold Heritage site).

Monday, July 27, 2015

Adventures in a Tuk-Tuk Blog's Social Media Pages

I thought I'd mention and provide links to Adventures in a Tuk-Tuk Blog's social media pages, just in case you haven't come across them yet. There are social media icons that are linked on the blog's website in the top right-hand corner under "Stalk Me", but sometimes they can be missed.

The blog's Facebook page is regularly updated... probably more often than even the blog. I usually post links to articles that I find useful or relevant, particularly on expat life, news, topical issues and travels around Sri Lanka; pictures that I've taken that I want to share and anything else that might be post-worthy. CLICK HERE to go to the blog's Facebook page.

The blog's Twitter page is also available. It's mainly for blog related postings and retweets of useful or interesting information related to Sri Lanka, travel, expat and topical issues. CLICK HERE to go to the blog's Twitter page.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Travel Monday: Revisiting Wilpattu National Park - Beauty, Nature and Controversy

If you've been following this blog and my travels, then you will have noticed my profound passion for the national parks across Sri Lanka. I visit regularly, also taking advantage of any opportunity to tag along with visiting family and friends wishing to see something nature-based and adventurous. Just last week, I had the good fortune to accompany my visiting mother and relatives to the oldest and largest national park in Sri Lanka - Wilpattu National Park in the north-west coastal lowland dry zone of the island. And it was delightful to witness my mother enthusing about the jeep safari experience. It's only her second experience on safari and she even managed to spot the back of a female leopard, much to our surprise, and various other wildlife.

I visited Wilpattu for the first time back in 2013 and wrote a short blog post "Jeep Safari of Wilpattu National Park" posting a few of my favorite photos from that visit. Admittedly, I've only spent 12-15 hours in total within the wildlife park. It is definitely not much at all considering the park is 1,317 km² in size, is abundant in amazing inhabitants and incredible landscape. You'll need to spend more time in the park to see all the wildlife and capture those priceless photographs. It is down to luck at times as the park rangers will tell you. One ranger joked with me saying "This is not a zoo where we enclose the animals or chain them up for viewing... if you're lucky you'll see them, otherwise, come back another day!" And, you know what? He's right about that.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

UPDATED: Taboo Sri Lanka - Words of warning to unsuspecting Travelers, Visitors and Expats

Did you hear about a group of four foreign travelers who recently posed naked for photos on the top of Mount Kinabalu in Malaysia and who were subsequently arrested, jailed and fined for committing an obscene act? If you haven't, then check out this article or google it. Such incidents with travelers visiting sacred sites or foreign places seem to have become the ever-increasing norm. I recall a recent CNN article published in March of this year titled "Global laws you may not have realized you were breaking" that highlights how easy it is to run afoul of local laws when traveling abroad. Sri Lanka is on their checklist as being strict when it comes to respecting the Buddhist religion. This had me thinking about some of the recent incidents closer to home and the lack of awareness of what's taboo (or more importantly, illegal) in Sri Lanka.

Last year, one widely reported incident involved a British tourist who was deported from Sri Lanka for having a tattoo of the Buddha on her arm. There was another case a few years back where French tourists were jailed for having taken photos posing with Buddha statues that were deemed insulting and disrespectful to the Buddhists. There are also many others relating to various offenses of this nature. However, these are not the only things where you can find yourself either on the wrong side of the law, or thrown out of the country. And for this reason, it's probably essential to learn a few things about what are some of the things that are either illegal or taboo in Sri Lanka. As they say, forewarned is forearmed!

Friday, June 12, 2015

Rabies 101 Sri Lanka - Bitten or scratched by an animal, what should I do?

Until a couple of weeks ago, I hadn't had a brush with this fatal infectious disease other than responding to a recent email from a traveler seeking some information regarding treatment for rabies in Sri Lanka. So it was a bit of a shock to find myself sat in the emergency room at the hospital late one evening after my friend was attacked by a stray cat. And then the next day, to have accompanied my friend to the Anti-Rabies Vaccination Unit at Kalubowila Teaching Hospital ("KTH")  while he discussed the attack, the possibility of cutting off the cat's head and bringing it to the hospital (if it died), and then administered the injections for anti-rabies post exposure treatment eek

According to the World Health Organization ("WHO"), around 60,000 people die from rabies each year, and around 95% of those cases occur in African and Asian countries. Sri Lanka is still classed as high risk although it has reportedly cut rabies deaths by more than 90% in the past 40 years through an intensive anti-rabies campaign and increased awareness program. Some countries still advise their citizens to get the anti-rabies vaccination before departing for Sri Lanka for a long stint, or planning to work with animals while visiting the country, or if they are planning adventure travels that increase the risk of exposure to animals.

Did you know that still  around 20 to 30 deaths occur in Sri Lanka annually due to rabies? And these deaths in Sri Lanka are mainly caused by exposure to infected dogs. A recent estimate of the total dog population in Sri Lanka is something like three million dogs with the roaming or stray population accounting for 30% of this total (though I think this estimate of roaming dogs is actually higher!). For those of us living or traveling in Sri Lanka my question is, are we situated within a literal death trap given the numbers of roaming or stray dogs (and cats) throughout the island? Notwithstanding, there's also owned dogs and cats that may not have been vaccinated against rabies. However, I hasten to add the chances of a stray dog or cat biting or scratching you is low unless you actually engage or pester the animals.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Travel Monday: Art, Buddhism and the Historical Significance of Aluvihare Rock Temple

Eva Stone photo, International Museum and Library Building, Aluvihare Rock Temple The Aluvihare Rock Temple is situated to the north of Matale (about 26km from Kandy) within Sri Lanka's Cultural Triangle on the Kandy-Dambulla stretch of the A9 highway. It played an important part in Theravada Buddhist history, following the Fourth Buddhist Council, being the place where the Tipitika was committed to writing in Pali . Prior to this, the teachings of the Buddha and his key disciples were transmitted from generation to generation by oral tradition.

I have visited the Aluvihare Rock Temple a few times now. My first visit was quite a number of years ago and was included on my itinerary because my father had asked me whether I'd seen these special leaves on which the Buddha's teachings had been transcribed. At that time, I didn't know much about the significance of the place nor what had happened during the Dutch and British presence in Sri Lanka. More on that later. 

On this most recent visit, I was touring the Cultural Triangle with some relatives visiting from abroad. I find that many people visiting Sri Lanka miss out on visiting Aluvihare unless they're on a cultural tour of Sri Lanka or have some knowledge or interest in Buddhist history. As a result, there are less crowds here making it a pleasant place to spend a few hours or more. This is in contrast to the Golden temple or  Dambulla Cave Temple which is a UNESCO World Heritage site and oftentimes busy and crowded.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

An expat in Sri Lanka: the Good, Bad, and Ugly - Part 14

Eva Stone photo, Buddhist pilgrims, flower offerings, circumambulation
When you embrace a new culture and country you have a choice whether to live on the outskirts, with a toe or two dipped in, or go all in. The alternative is to live in an expat bubble! I think for most of us expats we'd like to think we go all in from the outset, but in reality it's more along the lines of an unconscious-conscious progression from living on the outskirts to the edges to almost all in. If I'm honest this is how it's happened for me. I think it took me a good four years to really begin to feel at home living in Sri Lanka. 

In the early couple of years I gravitated to places in Colombo that reminded me of what I was used to, ate like I would at home in the UK, went through the motions of the daily grind, struggled with the tropical climate, kept my ear to the ground regarding the ongoing war, was hesitant about learning the local language, felt more than a bit isolated at times, questioned my choice of friends, and treated my travels like I was on holidays. That's the God's honest truth and it's a tad bit uncomfortable to admit. But, it's the reality of how it was.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Travel Monday: Chasing Waterfalls from Nawalapitiya to Talawakelle

If you're up-to-date on travel articles on Sri Lanka, then you may have noticed the plenitude of  recently published articles promoting tea estates and the beauty of the upper countryside of the island. And, what's there not to love about this region?

As you know, I love exploring this island - from its coastline of beaches to the lush mountains, diverse towns, and vast dry spaces. I recently spent some time on the waterfall trail. It's an easy day trip if you're based around Kandy, or for that matter anywhere around the hill country or up country. All you need is some form of transportation, your swim gear, and friends or family. You're good to go. Of course, depending on the time of year, you might also want to pack something to ward off the leeches - dettol works. And a picnic basket also comes in handy too - for you and your group, not the leeches!

If you haven't discovered some of these gorgeous waterfalls already, you might be interested in reading about the ones I've visited and written about previously - Travel Mondays: Is this the most stunning waterfall in Sri Lanka?; Travel Mondays: Tea Estates, Waterfalls and a stopover in "Little England"; Monday: Taking a refreshing dip under the Suratalee Falls; and Travel Monday: Scenic day tripping through Knuckles to Sembuwaththa Lake.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Travel Monday: Profound Lessons from Sri Pada

For many people climbing a mountain is all about getting to the top and back down again as swiftly and efficiently as possible (and taking a few snaps along the way and posting them to social media). Travelers, the world over, love to conquer mountains and it's an understandable thing. You want to challenge yourself physically and emotionally. But there are only a few sacred mountains around the world that will challenge your faith and beliefs and possibly teach you something more profound. Sri Pada is one such sacred mountain.

A Sri Lankan pilgrim in her sixties told me local pilgrims a few hundred years ago would transfer title deeds to their land or property to family members before attempting the Sri Pada pilgrimage. They expected a lot of obstructions and difficulties and the real possibility of not returning from their journey! But this was long before before the construction of the winding concrete paths and metal railings aiding the trek up and down the sacred mountain.

I recently made my second pilgrimage to Sri Pada with a group of close friends. It had been on my "must-redo" list for a couple of years now, but timing and circumstances hadn't worked in my favor till now. Unlike my first visit, I was really inspired by my friends to put more into this pilgrimage. And I have to say it paid off in spades... some things were realized during my time on the mountain, while other things are to be realized further down the track.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

An expat in Sri Lanka: the Good, Bad and Ugly - Part 13

Eva Stone photo, Sri Pada, Adam's Peak, holy mountain, pilgrimage, April 2015
If you're wondering what this expat has been up to lately, I can share that I've literally just come down the mountain a few days ago - I climbed Sri Pada (a.k.a. Adam's Peak) with a group of friends and we also organized a dansel offering free food and drinks to pilgrims making the climb to the peak. Presently, my legs are aching and I guess it's obvious I've worked muscles in my legs that haven't been worked hard in quite awhile. Notwithstanding the physical fatigue and body aches, there is a deep sense of grace and joy from making this pilgrimage. It was heartwarming to ring the bell twice at the top of Sri Pada to acknowledge my two visits.

I'll be writing a more detailed post on this second visit to Sri Pada in one of my upcoming "Travel Monday" blog posts! I have so much to share from spending a few days around Sri Pada. If you're interested in reading about my first visit to Sri Pada in the blog post "Travel Monday: Sri Pada - Pilgrimage, Faith and Spectacular Sunrises".

It does seem strange that this will be my first "An expat in Sri Lanka" blog post for 2015. It feels like 2015 has raced along! Can you believe it's April already with Avurudu in a few days? If we were having a drink together, I'd ask what you've been up to these past few months. I hope it's been filled with opportunity and happy times. Aside from work and everyday life, I've been quite busy hosting family and friends and exploring old and new places around the island. I'll be sharing more of these adventures over the next little while on the blog.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Travel Monday: Visiting Minneriya National Park during the Off-Season

Eva Stone photo, Minneriya National Park, Sri Lanka, entrance, jeep safari, wildlife
As many of my regular readers will know, Minneriya National Park is one of my favorite places to visit. I wrote about one of my visits during the dry season in a blog post titled "Travel Monday: Jeep Safari of Minneriya National Park". The dry season is from June to September, though the period between May to October is considered open season for visiting Minneriya.  The dry season is a particularly good time to visit as it's when water is scarce around the park so the Minneriya Tank becomes the prime vantage point for seeing all the wildlife!

It's not always easy to plan your visits around the best time of the year, particularly if you take holidays during the earlier part of the year. But, this has never been a barrier for me to visit Minneriya during the off-season. In fact, it's quite a peaceful time to go and enjoy the Minneriya Tank and I glimpse some of the wildlife, without the throng of lots of tourists and jeeps, and the pressure of seeking out a lot of wildlife.

This year I visited in January with a few relatives who had flown over for a visit. They had never been on a jeep safari before so they were pleased as punch to be experiencing this for the first time.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Sri Lanka as a Viable Retirement Haven - Part 2

Eva Stone photo, view of Sigiriya, Sri Lanka, from Kandalama
Welcome back to Part 2 of my blog post on "Sri Lanka as a Viable Retirement Haven". In Part 1 we took a glimpse at the idea of retirement, early retirement and sea-change; retirement considerations; retirement abroad; and an idea of taking a test drive of Sri Lanka as an option.  In this installment I'll delve into more detail on some of the main considerations  for retirement in Sri Lanka. Hopefully, this will offer some insight if you're interested in retiring here.

Some of the areas I'll cover in this installment include - visa entry options, medical insurance and healthcare services.

Visa Entry Options

A big part of being able to retire abroad is about visa options for a foreign national. At the time of writing, Sri Lanka still offers a retirement visa called "My Dream Home Visa Programme", which is valid for two year and renewable. This is similar to other countries (though with different conditions) - like Australia's "Investor retirement visa" or Malaysia's "Malaysia My Second Home Programme" or Peru's "Rentista visa" to name a few.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Travel Monday: Scenic day tripping through Knuckles to Sembuwaththa Lake

If you're in search of a unique day trip experience, then look no further than a  scenic drive through Knuckles and a visit to Sembuwaththa Lake in Elkaduwa. Sembuwaththa Lake offers a unique blend of tea estate coupled with a gorgeous lake surrounded by forest with picnic and swimming areas and boat rides. The longer journey to this destination is definitely part of the fun and offers glimpses of the undulating  hills of the Knuckles Mountain Range (a.k.a. Dumbara Kanduvetiya). 

Knuckles was inscribed onto UNESCO's World Heritage List as a natural site in July 2010 due to its extraordinary range of flora and fauna, including endangered species such as the western-purple-faced langur and Sri Lankan leopard.

Most travelers take one of two shorter routes to Elkaduwa from Kandy, which take about two hours:
  1. Traveling the Kandy-Matale Road then taking the turn at Ukuwela Junction towards the Elkaduwa Road (B180). And then when you reach Elkaduwa Junction take the Hunugala Road and continue till you reach the turn off for Sembuwaththa Lake OR
  2. Traveling the Madawala Road towards Wattegama. From Wattegama you take the road towards Kandenuwara (B461) which comes to Elkaduwa Junction where you then take the Hunugala Road to reach the turn off for Sembuwaththa Lake.
A good friend of mine suggested a totally different route for this day trip, which would take a lot longer, involve some dare-devil driving, cover a larger expanse of the Knuckles, and offer up some unexpected experiences... It was all that and so much more wink

Monday, March 16, 2015

Travel Monday: Exploring Sri Lanka's 1,340km coastline and beaches

Eva Stone photo, Unawatuna Beach, sunset, Sri Lanka
A recent email from a fellow expat residing in India highlighted that I haven't written a blog post about Sri Lanka's gorgeous beaches. Shock horror... but it's true eek. How could this be? I guess it just fell between the cracks, which is a little strange seeing as I'm a true beach lover! Well, I've decided to rectify this oversight immediately as I've indeed visited and stayed at quite a few lovely places along its 1,340 kms long coastline of this beautiful island. And, truth be told, there's more to picking your beach holiday than just simply choosing a popular spot. Some areas are super touristy while others still have an untouched quality; some offer cultural experiences, local delicacies while others have more nature-based attractions and recreational sports. And then there's the accommodation factor...

Many who fly over for a beach holiday in Sri Lanka tend to pick this island for the friendliness of locals, value for money, warm tropical waters all year round, delicious local cuisine and a unique travel experience (i.e. you can combine your beach holiday with cultural experiences, visit the Central Highlands and more).

It is important to know when to visit the different coastlines around Sri Lanka. The western coastline of beaches through to the southern coast are at their best from November to April while the eastern coastline of beaches peak during the months of May through to October.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Sri Lanka as a Viable Retirement Haven - Part 1

Eva Stone photo, retirement, Sri Lanka
Retirement is commonly defined as the point where a person stops employment completely. We generally associate retirement with a certain age group, like over 60 years old (or over 70 years depending on the official retirement age prescribed by governments). However, retirement (or semi-retirement) is possible at any age depending on your outlook and goals, finances, courage and wisdom. Just ask Google's CFO Patrick Pichette who announced his retirement at 52 years old in a post shared publicly. It makes for an interesting read.

My mother recently took Sri Lanka for a "test drive" to see if it was a place where she could eventually retire. She's not of retirement age yet, but I'd like to think she could consider retiring early if a place like Sri Lanka was a real option. When I say taking a "test drive", it's different from taking a holiday, which she has done a few times now. The intent with a "test drive" is to see what it's like to actually live and make a home here i.e. cost of living, weather, infrastructure, access to necessary facilities, medical care, local culture, safety etc. More on this to come.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Alive and Kicking in Sri Lanka

Belated Happy New Year to my regular readers and new visitors of this blog. I hope 2015 has begun well for you and good opportunities are unfolding. FYI, for those who have been wondering, I am still alive and kicking in Sri Lanka lolOver the recent festive season I was away from the island visiting family and friends. What was supposed to be a few weeks holiday turned into more time away as I had family not in good health. It's at times like these, you ponder why you live so far away and whether it's the wisest choice.

Looking back on 2014, it turned out to be quite a busy year for me. Mostly, it was filled with learning new things about myself and meeting the challenges within my community in Sri Lanka. I didn't get to travel as much as I would have liked, but I intend to remedy this in 2015 and get back to my adventuring ways (fingers crossed).

When I left Sri Lanka back in December 2014, there were many events that were unfolding, such as the surprise early elections and Pope Francis' visit, to name a couple. I was not on the island when these events took place. So, when I returned a couple of weeks ago, it was to a new President, post-Pope Francis' visit and an airport that seemed to burst at the seams (as opposed to a relatively quiet airport when I left). Admittedly it felt a little weird, but even with any change, most things do stay relatively the same. The smells, sounds and din of the capital was much as I left it, albeit with less posters of the previous President.