All posts for the month January, 2018

The entrance to Buckingham Place. Just the right combination of elegance, art, and whimsy.

Tangalle is a fishing port and tourist destination near the very southern tip of Sri Lanka. We wouldn’t know much about it, though, save for driving through on our way out of town. Instead we stayed at one of the most blissful beachside resorts we’ve ever been to, Buckingham Place, maybe 10 miles or so outside of town.

It’s a pretty small resort run by Nick, a British ex-pat who came to Sri Lanka and fell in love with it. What’s amazing is that Buckingham Place is the first resort he ever built. I talked with him about it and he said when he started he knew pretty much nothing about building a resort except his own likes and dislikes.

Yeah, that’s relaxed

At any rate, he sure got it right, just a very quiet, comfortable, relaxing place, small enough to feel intimate but big enough so he can make a living. A highlight was the restaurant. Often in a place like this, where you’re miles from anything resembling a tourist restaurant, they get by with mediocre food at high prices. Here it was great food at mediocre prices. I particularly liked the fact that they didn’t serve wine by the glass. Normally that’s annoying, meaning they’re trying to sell you more than you want by the bottle. Well, his explanation is that too often they would open a bottle to sell it by the glass and then have to either 1) throw a bunch away when no one else bought it; or 2) serve sub-par wine to the next person. His solution? Buy a bottle and if you don’t want it all we’ll store it until your next meal. Perfect!

The beach is endless but sadly the currents make it too dangerous for swimming

There’s not a lot to do at Buckingham Place except relax. A beautiful pool with a great view over the Indian Ocean and explicit directions to keep noise (including their own piped music) to a minimum. Admire the local art that decorates the restaurant. You can walk on the stunning beach but no swimming; the tides and currents are too dangerous. I’ve recovered enough from my twisted ankle of a month ago that I could start running again on the quietest paved country roads I’ve seen in a long time. And then maybe an afternoon walk out on the same roads where the locals were pretty intrigued by this stranger walking. Who walks except really, really poor people?

A quiet little pond just a bit outside the resort

Otherwise it was breakfast-pool-lunch-pool-cocktails-dinner. When your surroundings are beautiful and the food great, that’s not a bad combination. In other words, Sri Lanka just keeps getting better. This is pretty close to paradise.

The local humans weren’t the only ones intrigued as I’d go out walking in the afternoon

More wildlife: the resort’s grounds-keeper

Out for a walk one afternoon and I came across a political event. The election is in February…

And finally a rice field a couple miles from the resort. Sri Lanka feels like this incredibly lush, beautiful, agriculturally rich place where you could really learn to enjoy yourself!

The gorgeous tea fields of Newara Eliya

Sri Lanka just keeps getting better. After three days in Kandy we went a little south, up into the highlands. Oddly, the trip from Colombo to Kandy was two-and-a-half hours by train or four hours by car; we traveled by train. This time from the route from Kandy to Newara Eliya was two-and-a-half hours by car or four hours by train. We went by car. Which meant we got to stop at a huge waterfalls. Our driver suggested we stop and I was certainly ready to get out of the car, though he didn’t tell us that it was maybe a 20-minute walk up … and up and up and up. Worth it, but it was definitely a hike.

It was a long climb but a pretty great waterfall as we drove south to Newara Eliya. That’s a tiny Jim down in the pink shirt at the bottom of the picture; Mark was up above taking it.

Then it was on to Nuwara Eliya in the heart of Sri Lanka’s tea industry. Built by the British in the 19th century as their respite from Sri Lanka’s heat to this day the region is known as “Little England,” though I thought that was perhaps a little overstated. But at 6,100 feet above sea level the climate is temperate, the hills are beautiful, the tea is ubiquitous, and the gardens are lush. This was a good stop.

We stayed measurably further out of town than is normal for us, and that could have been a problem as we weren’t too keen on the food at our hotel. It was a 15-minute ride in a tuktuk into town which is easy enough if not exactly ideal (we prefer to be able to walk to meals). What made it work – and work really well – is that the walk into town was fabulous. Every day around mid-morning we’d take off through a couple little villages and then out through the tea fields before dropping down into town; about an hour and just beautiful.

On our first afternoon I could see this Buddhist temple from our hotel, with a path going further up to the top of the hill. Naturally, I had to climb it. Here you can see the temple down below me and, way in the distance, our hotel from which I’d hiked. This was the first sign I was going to love this place.

Then we’d explore town a bit: Lake Gregory, Victoria Park, just poking around. Lunch at either a Thai or Indian restaurant in the other nice hotel in town, and the long walk back. Mark would walk back to the hotel while I’d break off to climb up to a Buddhist temple where I’d sit in splendid silence and read.

And that was it. Not a lot to do except enjoy the beauty. We kept thinking that we’d take a couple hours to do one of the tea factory tours available but somehow that never got around to happening; instead we spent our time walking on our own through the tea fields.

Every day the workers were out in a different section of the hills picking tea leaves. By hand.

From here we continue south down to the beach. You know you’re doing well when you’re loving an island country and haven’t even gotten to the beach yet.

Here we are in the fields

We never got tired of these pictures of tea fields in the hills

Not exactly easy work

The cash crop is tea but this is apparently a great place for agriculture; the vegetable gardens were amazing.

Workers in the field

And cute kids fascinated by these giant white people walking through their little village

Even the flowers were big and lush and beautiful

The Buddhist temple where I spent a surprising amount of time

More cute kids

We haven’t learned Sinhalese in our time here but I’m pretty sure this is suggesting that smoking isn’t good for your unborn baby…

Cows, too

Picturesque in its own way

One last picture of the tea fields

OK, really, this is the last one

Here we are walking around the lake in central Kandy. That’s the old royal palace, housing the Buddha’s sacred tooth, over Mark’s right shoulder.

From Colombo (sort of but not really the capital) we took a train up to Kandy, the last capital of Sri Lanka in the reign of the kings, i.e., before the British took over. The city is pretty much in the middle of the island, up amongst the hills of the Kandy plateau. Thus it’s a bit cooler up there and very pretty with lush green hills all around.

We rode up on the train, a beautiful ride that took a bit under three hours. Sadly, we were in 2nd Class as the presumably more comfortable 1st Class seats are all sold out long ahead of time. Always. In the world that I used to live in that would be a signal to add more 1st Class cars but apparently that logic doesn’t prevail here. To be fair, though, the 2nd Class car was perfectly pleasant (I still have fears of India in my brain) and at about $4.07 each it was quite the bargain.

Mark at the train station in Colombo, getting ready to board. The ride was beautiful but decidedly bumpy; there was no reading going on.

So far, at least, the glow of Sri Lanka hasn’t worn off. Kandy is centered around a very pretty lake that just begs to be walked around, again and again. The big site to see there is the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, allegedly a tooth of the Buddha’s that was salvaged from his funeral pyre. Housed in the old royal palace, this is supposed to be one of the holiest places for Buddhists. Moreover, the belief grew that whoever had possession of the sacred relic was meant to rule over that land and for many centuries control of the relic has been a big deal. During the recent civil war that Tamil Tigers bombed the palace where it is held on multiple occasions but ultimately the relic was always saved.

It’s probably worth noting that if you Google “Buddha tooth relic” you will discover that there are a number of the Buddha’s teeth still allegedly in existence. Count me a skeptic even if UNESCO has declared it a World Heritage Site.

Inside the temple, where the holy, magnificent, sacred tooth supposedly rests

Mostly, then, this was just a wonderfully calm, gentle stop. Between walks around the lake and some nice hiking up in the 250-acre Royal Forest Park Udawattakele above the old royal palace a very pleasant place indeed. Food, sadly, isn’t Kandy’s strong suit but we did discover a Chinese restaurant run by a British/Chinese couple that had good food, good drinks, good prices, and a great view over the lake. Of course it was packed every night and we’d have to wait for sometimes a fair bit for a table to open. In the world where I used to live that would be a signal that someone should open something similar but alas, as with train seats, those market signals don’t seem to work so well here. As long as there’s one good restaurant, though, we’re good.

From here we’re off to the true highlands up in Ceylon tea land.

Hiking up in the Udawattakele Royal Reserve – quiet, clean, calm, and lovely

Ducks crossing Lake Kandy

A monk walking around Lake Kandy

Even the lizards like Lake Kandy. We were surprised by how big these little buggers are, but likely pretty harmless – they come up on land to rest in the sun after gorging themselves on whatever they eat in the lake.

Speaking of monks, I love the way this little monk’s red robe stands out in the sea of white

One more picture of Lake Kandy

And finally, what blog post would be complete without a shot of Mark’s feet enjoying our hotel pool?