In the Land of Lanka with Zev’s Parents, Part 1

Before we run off for a few days of hiking and internet silence in the Himalyas, I wanted to share some photos from the first few days of our family (minus Ezra) vacation in Sri Lanka. The theme for the first few days was ‘Nature and Ancient Ruins.’ I’m getting too creative, I know…

Before hiking Sigiriya Rock, all smiles.

Before hiking Sigiriya Rock, all smiles.

The gorgeous frescoes at the top of Sigiriya Rock.

The gorgeous cave frescoes at the top of Sigiriya Rock.

Don and Claudia at the top of Sigiriya Rock.

Don and Claudia at the top of Sigiriya Rock.

A herd of elephants gathering at Minneriya to feed on the rich grasses.

A herd of elephants gathering at Minneriya to feed on the rich grasses.

The whole gang, and the elephants too!

The whole gang, and the elephants too!

We hiked ancient rocks to see beautiful cave frescoes, took an elephant safari to see the annual gathering of elephants on the lush lake bed of Minnerya, and saw the stupas and viharas of the ancient Sri Lankan capital of Polonnoruwa.

Beautiful stupas at Polonnoruwa. I love all the details carved in the stone.

Beautiful stupas at Polonnoruwa. I love all the details carved in the stone. The steps are being held up by little figures.

The famous seated buddha at Polonnoruwa.

The famous seated Buddha at Polonnoruwa.

We stayed in the jungles outside of Sigiriya at a fabulous eco-lodge called Vil Uyana. The hotel is set around a pond with gravel trails cutting through the marsh. In our bathroom alone we found frogs, bats, and a koi pond (!). We were even woken up in the morning by a mischievous monkey trying to get into our room.

Touring the north of Sri Lanka, we literally stumbled across wildlife at every turn, spotting creatures as varied as monitor lizards and elephants on the side of the road.

An enormous monitor lizard we encountered on the roadside.

An enormous monitor lizard we encountered on the roadside.

A lily pond near our hotel in Sigiriya.

A lily pond near our hotel in Sigiriya.

One more elephant for good luck. I really couldn't get enough of these guys.

One more elephant for good luck. I really couldn’t get enough of these guys.

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In the Land of Lanka with Zev’s Parents, Part 2

(ed. note: We survived our hiking trip in Nepal, I can’t wait to share the photos/story in a future post. But first, two more installments of Sri Lanka.)

I first came to Sri Lanka on my gap year in 2005. I was 18, on a visa run from India, and staying with a host family.

In 2005 the Civil War was still going on and from my brief trip I recall many road blocks and military checkpoints around Colombo. I only stayed a few days, just long enough to get my visa stamped and see a few things in Colombo and Kandy. My host family was incredibly hospitable and gracious, they even sent me out to Kandy with their driver, much to my protestations. The driver was under very strict instructions to accompany me every step of the way and never lose sight of me. I remember very little of my time there except seeing frustratingly little due to the unrest.

So I was thrilled when Zev’s parents suggested a 2 week trip around Sri Lanka. Not only did they take care of all the planning, but I would get to see everything that I missed on my first visit. I considered it a second chance to see a country recovering from a civil war and rebuilding its tourist industry.

Zev’s parents travel in a certain style, and this allowed us to relax, enjoy the scenery, fatten up on fabulous food, and luxuriate in nice hotels. It was a serious change of pace from our usual backpacker budget. After ogling the elephants and ancient capitals in the north of the island, we headed toward Kandy to see the famous tooth temple and visit the botanical gardens.

A sampling of the deliciously spicy curries we enjoyed in Sri Lanka.

A sampling of the deliciously spicy curries we enjoyed in Sri Lanka.

Stalls selling flower offerings outside of the Kandy Tooth Relic Temple

Stalls selling flower offerings outside of the Kandy Tooth Relic Temple

Lotus blossoms.

Lotus blossoms.

We also managed to catch a local Kandyan dance performance. It was highly entertaining and culminated in an impressive fire walking demonstration.

Firewalking at a Kandian dance performance.

Firewalking at a Kandyan dance performance.

From Kandy we took a scenic train ride to the tea producing region of Hatton. With steep terraced hillsides of tea shrubs as far as the eye can see, it was hypnotically gorgeous and the perfect venue for some intense relaxation. Upon reaching Hatton, the clouds seemed  to converge to bring us 3 solid days of cold and rainy weather. We went walking through the tea trails and passed the remaining hours reading, playing scrabble and card games, drinking copious amounts of tea, and generally doing as close to nothing as possible. If anyone is wondering, this is my idea of a perfect vacation. Zev got a bit antsy after the 2nd day.

The trainride from Kandy to the highland tea plantations of Hatton.

The trainride from Kandy to the highland tea plantations of Hatton.

Claudia enjoying the scenic train ride through tea plantations.

Claudia enjoying the scenic train ride through tea plantations.

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Once we had relaxed ourselves into a state of complete mindlessness, we needed to re-compress at the beach. Yes, we were so relaxed that we need to ramp up activity with a few days at the beach. What can I say, I kinda love the way this family travels.

On a tour of a tea factory, we learned that the best tea is made out of two leaves and a bud, this topmost portion of the tea plant.

On a tour of a tea factory, we learned that the best tea is made out of two leaves and a bud, this topmost portion of the tea plant.

Finished tea waiting to be bagged up and sold at auction.

Finished tea waiting to be bagged up and sold at auction.

Strolling through the fields of tea.

Strolling through the fields of tea.