Saturday, 26 May
When we met some of the other foreign volunteers last night, one couple offered to give us a walking tour of Jaffna, so today we took them up on it. Wendy and William are an older couple, very chatty and comfortable in their roles as foreigners. They’ve learned a bit of Tamil. Wendy does social work with the adults here and had a lot to say regarding PTSD and the ongoing war… perhaps the major war is over, she says, but the after-war is not. There are still disappearances, torture and subjugation that are part of everyday life. It’s hard to hear and take in. They took us to see the old Dutch fort ruins, various lanes of town, a local market, a Hindu temple. For lunch, we ate at Malay Café, which was delicious. They serve you on a banana leaf instead of a plate, and you eat with your hands. It’s rice and dahl and curry and various vegetables and a sort of deep fried, salted pepper which was particularly tasty. We walked a bit more and had some ice cream, a relief after the terrifically hot day.
The rest of the day was spent cooling off at Gerd and Maria’s. We helped them make pizza and set up for a dinner get-together that night, and we got to meet even more volunteers and workers. It was a lot of fun and once more I was reminded of how nice it was to be couchsurfing!
Sunday, 27 May
The three of us – Jutta, Beny and I – decided that this was the day to go visit Delft Island. Off we went to town, ready to find the bus to the ferry and take the ferry to the island. Simple, right?! Hah!
First off, unlike any of the other places in Sri Lanka that we’ve been, it’s hard to get a tuk-tuk in Jaffna. Eventually we were able to convince one to take us to the bus stand, but then we had a hell of a time finding a bus that went to the ferry. Part of the problem is the language barrier, which is a bit thicker here than in the south part of the island. People didn’t seem to understand what we meant when we said “Ferry to Delft.” Eventually, we got on a bus and took a forty minute ride to the ferry. There, we waited for perhaps thirty minutes in a cement room with a whole crowd of folks. When we were allowed to start boarding, there was the usual hustle-bustle of standing in line. The “ferry” turned out to be a wooden boat, which we climbed into and sat or stood inside. There were windows – not glass windows, just open spaces – but for the most part it was stuffy and hot in there. At first, things didn’t seem so bad: sure, it was crowded and stinky, but as the boat moved out and started the journey to Delft, wind came through the windows. I stood, preferring to have my face close to the fresh air and being able to see the horizon. At some point, Beny wrangled his way to a place where he could stand on the steps with his upper body outside. I joined him there until I was soaked to the bone; the waters got rough and the little wooden boat started tossing and bouncing.
Jutta looked at me at one point and said, “This is suicide.” I couldn’t really hear her but I could understand her anyway. Water splashed in through the windows now and my hands cramped from gripping the window ledges so tight. My legs got used to the rearing of the boat and I made sure to inhale as the front of the boat reared up and exhale as it slammed back down. I spit salt water out every few minutes, wiping my face. Jutta clambered over and around people to stick her head out into the wind, feeling nauseous. Beny’s face was stoic but he didn’t say much for the entire hour and a half trip.
At one point, as my stomach started roiling along with the waters outside, a man behind me started singing. At first this didn’t seem odd to me, as I was singing to myself, too, to distract myself from my stomach. However, his voice soon rose in both pitch and volume and I began to pick out some words. It was no song, but a prayer to Krishna, a Hindu god. It went on and on, his wailing voice terrified, until abruptly he began to vomit. Loudly. My own stomach seemed ready to sympathetically join his. I could help it… I started to laugh. I covered my face with one hand, the other hanging on for dear life, and giggled, my eyes tearing up. I managed to not puke, even though the man continued to vomit at high volume for a long while.
We arrived to Delft two hours later and staggered off the boat, glad we hadn’t eaten anything much that morning. As it turned out, we only had two hours until the last return boat departed, so we got some water and soda at the only shop there, and then hired a tuk-tuk to do a speed tour of the island. None of us expected Delft to be as large as it was, but it was an interesting zoom around the place anyway. We saw ruins and criss-crossing walls all made of corals; “wild” horses supposedly descended from the Dutch breeds from long ago settlement; a hospital; beautiful stretches of beach; a baobob tree with a trunk we could stand inside; and some odd local “sights” like a hold in the ground vaguely in the shape of a footprint, and a statue or coral coming up from the ground that is revered for some reason. Throughout the day I felt vaguely ill, not able to throw off the nausea of the earlier boat ride and dreading the return trip. Beny chatted with a Sri Lankan Navy guy at one point and found that most people don’t like to travel to or from Deflt at this time of year, since the seas are too rough. Good to know…
The ride back to Jaffna wasn’t as bad. The boat trip was calmer and we managed to sit up on the top of the roof. Jutta and I had to push our way there, because they didn’t seem to allow women up there, but eventually we joined Beny and had a quick and windy ride back. Near the end we had to go down into the under-area and suck in the diesel fumes, but it only lasted about ten minutes. The bus back to Jaffna didn’t leave for about twenty minutes, but eventually we got back to rest and recover back at Gerd & Maria’s. For dinner, we went to Mango’s, which had come highly recommended but we weren’t terribly impressed. I was too hungry, and thus grumpy, plus tired and hot, so I could hardly eat.
We had decided it was time to head to Trincomalee, so we took a night bus. We didn’t book the night bus but had been told if we showed up an hour before departure we’d be ok. This turned out not to be true: although they found us seats at first, within five minutes of the bus starting out we were led to the front of the bus to manage as well as we could. Jutta and I sat on the engine compartment next to the driver while Beny sat on the floor by the door. Part way, I switched with Beny for the remainder of the ride, since I knew I would even doze, let alone sleep. At border control, we had to show passports again, and I attracted the attention of a young Army guard who told me to write my number on a form and then put his number into my phone. I was groggy and tired and confused, but just did as he told me. The trip took about seven hours, so we arrived in Trinco around 4:30am. One of the expats we’d met with Gerd and Maria owned a hotel and was also on the bus, so we all tuk-tuk’d together and she put us into a triple. As you might expect, we passed out.
Monday, 28 May
We awoke late in the morning, hungry and groggy. We wandered out and were welcomed with a view of the beach, just thirty feet away. Jo, owner with husband Fernando of Aqua Inns, took our order for breakfast and we sat up in an elevated tiki lounge to drink tea and eat. The rest of the day was spent napping and sunning and swimming: heaven! Beny started his open water diving certification course, which impressed me since I was exhausted. Jutta and I hung out for the day together just being vegetables in the sun. It was truly fabulous.
It turned out Sophie was in Trinco also, just down the beach a short ways, so we all met up for dinner at a local Italian place. I thought it was pretty good, if a bit pricey, though Beny wasn’t quite as keen on it. It was good to meet up with Sophie again, too. We all walked back to our hotels along the beach, but I stayed out on the sand listening to the waves and dancing to the occasional beats from a nearby place. It was a lovely evening and I slept really well that night.
Tuesday, 29 May
I got up early for breakfast and then went scuba diving with Jutta. We had two nice dives with fun fish and corals. Nothing incredible, but one stingray and lots of moray eels and interesting fish to look at. Later, I went into Trinco with Jutta and Sophie, bought bus tickets for Beny and I for the following night, got some cash and generally just wandered around town. We saw the inner harbor, a huge natural one, and met a guy who called himself a mini Michael Jackson; he could make a pretty cool beat-box sound! And he also decided he should come home with me, the American. The three of us smiled and laughed and eventually turned him away, heading for the Hindu temple of Swami Rock, which was pretty cool. We met Beny for dinner at Green Park hotel, which served delicious north Indian food.
Our really confusing adventure of the day happened during the tuk-tuk ride home. We crammed four of us in, which you’re not supposed to do, and we were just a dozen feet from our hotel when an Army truck pulled us over. They were stern and wouldn’t explain anything to us, though they did shine their cell phone lights in our faces and ask where we were from, why we were there. They started to insist the tuk-tuk go somewhere, with us in it, but eventually let us out. We still have no idea what was going on but they drove away with the tuk-tuk driver. It was a bit scary, to be honest, especially after hearing the stories in Jaffna. I hope we didn’t get the tuk-tuk driver in trouble. I walked Sophie back to her place, close on the beach, then spent time by myself on the beach, sharing salt with the waves. I really like being on the beach!
Wednesday, 30 May
Today was another beach day: tiki lounge for breakfast of scrambled eggs and toast, tea and fruit salad while watching the ocean, another dive to see interesting corals but not so many fish, swimming, walking along the beach, sunning… all is well in the world. We all checked out early, Beny and I putting our bags in the manager’s office for safekeeping and Jutta moving to another guest house. Beny and I head to Colombo tonight to renew our visas, while Jutta will stay and dive. Jo printed out the forms for us, which was really nice. We all (including Sophie) went out for dinner, a cheap one tonight of kotthu rotti. Once more, I couldn’t eat much, although hungry. I was really out-of-it feeling. Later in the evening we said good-bye to everyone and headed into town, which is a bit of a tuk-tuk ride away, to catch our AC luxury night bus. This was the first time we planned ahead and bought tickets ahead, so we were hopeful of a comfy ride, especially given our last night bus!
The bus was nice, with somewhat comfy leather seats covered with plastic wrap and a god amount of AC. About fifteen minutes before the bus was scheduled to leave, I decided to run to a nearby Food City (grocery store) to buy snacks and water. Wouldn’t you know it, about twenty feet from the bus I managed to kick the stuffing out of something concrete, making me literally see starts and fear for my big toe, which went numb momentarily. I hobbled on to the Food City, bought some Snickers bars, cold water, cookies and gauze and tape. My toe was a bloody mess and was throbbing, although it didn’t feel broken. I hobbled back to the bus and clambered into it, sniffled down the aisle and sat down next to Beny. He took one look at me and asked what was wrong. I just pointed at my toe, which I’d poured water on but which was still bleeding and ugly. I managed to get it cleaned up using toilet paper and the gauze and tape, then promptly burst into tears. Beny hugged me and comforted me as I bawled about not doing anything right. He did his best but eventually broke out laughing, which made me start to giggle, too. A few minutes later, the bus was on its way.
Aside from my toe hurting and the loud music or terrible soundtrack from a movie, which they alternated all night, it was a decent bus ride. At least it was cool and we had seats!
Thursday, 31 May
We arrived in Colombo at 4:30am and took a tuk-tuk to Suboda’s. A two hour nap and a shower later, I was up again to go to the visa renewal center. It wasn’t too painful a process, despite my worries: I was taking not just my passport but Beny’s and I wasn’t sure they’d go for it. Beny was at Apollo hospital, a private Colombo hospital. A few weeks ago he fell down some steps and really scraped up his shins, and one of those scrapes started to look pretty funky, so he decided to have it checked out (with the recommendations of both Jutta and his mother, who are doctors). Anyway, it took time but wasn’t really any problem; it took about two hours to do the whole shebang. My visa renewal cost $100 USD and Beny’s cost $18, both of which had to be paid in rupees, which meant another visit to an ATM.
I was hungry and tired, my toe hurt, it was hot, I had a bit of a sickish feeling. So, I went straight back to Subodha’s and napped alongside Beny, had a cleaned up wound and was on two types of antibiotics. Lunch was fried rice and veggies and Pizza Hut veggie pizza, delivered. I decided our laundry just had to be done (everything smelled bad) so out I went with Talini and Akita. We visited a laundromat, where they stated that it would take two days, which didn’t work for us. Talini said she had a washing machine but didn’t know how to use it, so we went home and decided to give it a try.
It really took some doing: the machine was not hooked up to a water source, so I started filling it with buckets of water from the shower. At first, it didn’t look like it was filling at all, but eventually the water level rose. Next, I dumbed in all the laundry and a liberal amount of laundry powder. We turned on the power and pressed start…. nothing. It hummed, but that was it. We tried changing all the settings, unplugging it, settling the laundry more evenly… nothing. We decided to give it time to hum and work things out, so I went up to the room. I sat down on the bed and told Beny, who was cooling off under the fan and reading a book, that laundry machines really aught to wash laundry. He looked up, started giggling, and once again did his best to comfort me. Eventually I broke down and joined the giggle-fest.
When I went back downstairs, the machine hadn’t done a thing. Talinin, never one to give up, suggested putting more water in, which I secretly thought was silly. It worked, though: one more bucket of water and the thing started churning away! After the wash cycle we drained it and refilled it with rinse water; after that we drained it and put it on spin; and after that we put it on spin-dry. I dragged Beny down to hang it all up to dry overnight. We had dinner with the family: potato curry and rice and vegetables.
Friday, 1 June
Today I went off shopping for gifts to take home. I visited a place called Lanka Hands first, then walked around and visited Laksala (a government run souvenir place) and one or two other places. Lanka Hands was the best, in my opinion, and I got several small things to bring back. I met Beny for lunch (he had been off figuring out how to do an Indian visa) in Colombo Fort, where he’d bought tickets for the night train for that night. After lunch, we lazed around at Subodha’s for the day; in the evening, we hired a tuk-tuk to the train station, picked up snacks and water, got on the AC car of the train and settled in. It was nice having assigned seats on the train and the AC was great. Yep, we’re spoiled tourists! Ah well, we’re doing too much night travel to torture ourselves too much with the heat and bugs.
The night train wasn’t too bad, although the ride was very bumpy for the last hour or two. It was a seven hour train ride. At least there was no loud music!