Hello Friends and Family!
Happy New Year!
What a year 2012 has been. We feel so unbelievably fortunate to have the opportunity to travel the world. We've seen some breathtaking views, met some friends for life, had some eye-opening experiences and have been changed forever by our journey thus far. We can't even begin to fathom what's in store for 2013. We always say, "Do what makes you happy." For us, traveling the world makes us happy. We wish you all the best in your personal quests of finding your happiness in the new year.
In our last episode of "Where in the world are the Beardens?" we were making our way to Colombo, Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka wasn't a destination on our original itinerary but several of our fellow traveler friends spoke so highly of their time there that we decided to see how much a flight would cost. As luck would have it, we found it cheaper to fly to Sri Lanka first before heading to India. We purchased the tickets and were able to add another country to our growing list of amazing destinations. The unfortunate part was that we only had eight days as this stop was basically a long layover. We made it our mission to make the most out of our eight days.
And we were off! We touched down at 11:30 p.m., made our way to a hotel close to the airport, slept for several hours and were on a local bus by 9:00 a.m. the next day. We had no time to dilly dally around.
Halfway through our road trip, the local bus turned into a school bus.
One of the lures of Sri Lanka was the opportunity to visit The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic in Kandy.
The sacred tooth is a tooth that was pulled from the ashes of Buddha's cremated body. It is believed that whoever holds the tooth has governance of the country so there have been wars fought over this thing for nearly 2,000 years.
There are three prayer ceremonies where they show the casket that holds the tooth. During the hours where the ceremony isn't happening it is rather quiet.
We made an offering of flowers, quietly reflected and took time to soak in the sheer beauty that surrounded us.
Since we were in Sri Lanka for a limited time we wanted to try to have only local food while we were there. When we pointed to this tray of food they brought it over to our table and we immediately wondered how we were going to finish it. We tried our best but eventually asked if we could take what we didn't finish with us. That's when we were informed that you only pay for what you eat.
Oh! Well, this changes everything. You only pay for what you eat. Wait a second, what do they do with what you don't eat? They combine and put it on another tray for another table. That would NEVER fly in the states and we're not sure that's such a bad thing. Anything that a particular table doesn't eat goes back into the "Community" pot and served to other tables. Yup, pretty sure we have that one right. We were oblivious to this golden rule of "community sharing" when Leanne took this picture. Hence the wide smile and look of contentment. Shortly after this picture was taken and we were informed of the Sri Lankan eating etiquette, we both felt a little queazy.
We spent some time walking around Kandy and checking out the city. Leanne loved these trucks that were everywhere.
We are always trying to save a buck. We took the option of walking up a hill to a big Buddha statue rather than taking a tuk-tuk. It was a bit more strenuous than we had anticipated but the wonderful view of the town was worth it.
In the evening we headed back to the temple for round two which included the evening prayer session and the showing of the casket that holds the sacred tooth. They only show the actual tooth once every ten years so we'd have to come back in 2018 to see it.
The place was packed with people hoping to get the slightest glimpse of the jeweled casket. Everyone was dressed in their finest white outfit.
This is the best shot we were able to get of the casket. Leanne is vertically challenged so she actually didn't see anything because of the mass crowds until Josh showed her this picture.
We took one more shot of the tunnel that leads to the temple before heading out on our quick journey of Sri Lanka.
Prior to leaving the States, Josh copied the list of 100 Wonders of the World and we keep it as a reference list of places to see during our travels. The next day we headed out to Sigiriya via the local buses. It's one of the 100 Wonders of the World! We attempted to do a video of our journey since we couldn't find much information on exactly how to get there. Now we know why there's not much information! You have to mentally prepare yourself for the bus experience which includes packed out local buses, multiple transfers and bus stations that seemed to make no sense at all to the untrained Sri Lanka travelers (for example, us).
To view our trip click below:
We literally had to board a moving bus during one of our transfers. Luckily, a guy hoisted Leanne aboard with a swift boost to the bum. Some would view that as a violating touch. However, Leanne will be forever thankful for the bum boosting man because that was the difference between getting separated from Josh or not. This time we forgot to make a backup plan in case we got separated. That won't happen again! We stood shoulder-to-shoulder with our packs on for at least 20 minutes. Clearly, we stood out from the rest of the bus travelers. Finally, a seat opened and Leanne busted a move to get it.
After our long journey on the bus we were finally to our destination!! This was the view from our guesthouse. It was so beautiful and we just had to walk out our front door to see it.
We sat out back and watched the monkeys play with the rock in the background.
We also enjoyed some beers. Lion Beer! Grrrrrr!!!
The man that owns our guesthouse posed for a quick photo with his adorable granddaughter. Such pinchable cheeks, and we're talking about you "Man-Who-Owns-Our-Guesthouse-and-We-Don't-Know-Your-Name"!
The park around the rock was so vibrantly filled with lush grass, a moat, swinging monkeys and mind clearing silence. We were envious of this man's bicycle ride around the park.
This place was unreal. Even the bugs are stunning!
The silence in the air was broken with sounds of fireworks. We thought maybe there was some sort of celebration about to take place. The celebration turned out to be a funeral. They marched the casket through the streets of the quaint town. The fireworks were a festive way of announcing the funeral to the locals. Funerals around the world are much different than our practices back home. They wear white, we wear black. They smile and laugh, we shed tears of grief. Maybe we should take a lesson from those around the world and view funerals more as a time of celebrating life rather than mourning death. Or at least we should adopt the concept of wearing white rather than black. It's like a wedding in heaven.
Elephants roamed the streets and bathed in the rivers. There were signs posted throughout the town with warnings not to roam the park after 6:00 p.m. because elephants have trampled and even killed villagers in the past. As a matter of fact, a couple of years ago 11 natives died in a stampede.
Shops sell bananas and other fruit still in the bunch. They let you choose which fruit you want and cut off two or three at a time.
Remember how we talked about the community food? Well, this time it was Josh that suffered the wrath of the food poisoning. He was feeling so confident because it had been months since he got sick and probably got a little too brave. We ended up losing a whole day so he could recover. The moral of the story? Never eat cold chicken legs that have been laying out for hours no matter how tough you think you are. He rallied the next day and we finally started to make our way to the top of the mountain at 7:00 in the morning. Locals would pay about 75 cents to enter the park. Tourists had to pay $30! It was an incredible walk.
On the way up the mountain we saw ancient paintings dating back to 5th - 16th centuries.
The Lion Gate and crowning achievement of Sigiriya.
At the top of the rock!
Unspeakable beauty and views awaits you at the top.
It was so stunning all we could do was shout!!
Ahh...the way down was so much easier.
The next day we experienced another local bus adventure on our way to Galle. The local buses are completely chaotic but sooooo cheap. We met some travelers that told us that Galle was a mere hour away from Colombo. They left out a minute detail. 1 out of every 300 buses gets there in an hour so you have to take a "Highway bus." We knew better than listen to other people without researching ourselves but we let our guard down. We traveled 6 hours to Colombo then got on another bus to Galle...that took 3 and a half hours. We pulled in at 10:00 p.m. after 9 and a half hours of travel with not restroom breaks. We have become pros at dehydrating ourselves for long travel days. Definitely not healthy but effective for days like this. Because we rolled into town so late we were very worried about finding accommodation. A tuk-tuk driver helped us find a place and it turned out to be fabulous. It was called Frangipani Motel and we absolutely would recommend looking them up if you find yourself in Galle.
The old section of Galle is walled in and has been a sea base for various European countries. We stayed in the Fort area.
City wall with a lighthouse
This group of local pre-school teachers asked Leanne to take a picture with them. They were all so sweet and pretty! They were thrilled that we were visiting their country. Leanne was thrilled that they wanted to take a picture with her especially since she hadn't showered that day.
Josh was trying his luck at snake charming. We would say he should keep his day job but he doesn't have one.
If only these fort walls could tell a story; what a mighty story it would be.
At the recommendation of some of our fellow travel friends, we made our way to Unawatuna for a day at the beach. The water was so blue and the beach was great! Thanks, John and AJ for suggesting a day at this beach.
As we headed to the bus station for our return trip to Colombo we were drawn to this sunset game of cricket. Cricket is the favorite sport of the people of Sri Lanka. Everywhere you look people are playing cricket. They take their games seriously too!
And now for a heartwarming story.
We rode a bus for 3 and a half hours back to Colombo. We arrived in Colombo around 10:00 p.m. but our flight to Bangalore, India did not leave until 5:45 the following morning. We had already decided to pull an all-nighter. The bus dumped us off outside of the airport and we were greeted by a sea of tuk-tuk drivers chomping at the bit to make a few bucks. This was not out of the ordinary of the of previous times that we have been dumped on the side of a road. They are always conveniently located just out of walking distance from our destination (at least according to them). Then the next few days you realize, it was right down the street. We were old pros at this so we put on our "You're not going to take advantage of us" faces as we walked down the steps of the bus. Tuk-tuk drivers are notoriously known around Asia for being scammers. However, every once in a while you come across a diamond in the rough.
Meet Indika, our diamond in the rough. Indika approached us and asked if we needed a ride to the airport. We told him we had several hours to waste and we were told there were beer gardens within close proximity to the airport. He agreed to take us there and said it would cost us around the equivalent of $1.75 a more than fair price.
Our attempt to visit one of the beer gardens was shut down as they were all closed. Instead, Indika took us to a local pub where we could purchase a few beers. Indika is Buddhist and doesn't even drink but wanted to make Josh happy. The pub owner clearly didn't want us to stay there but agreed to sell us the beers. It appeared to us as if some illegal happenings were going on at this pub. Indika then asked us if we were hungry. It had been hours since we had eaten but everything was closed so we didn't want to make it a big deal. He asked a tiny corner restaurant if they could make us some food. They agreed and stayed open beyond their closing time just to serve us dinner. Since Josh was feeling better, we dug in and it was delicious! We are happy to report it didn't make us sick either. They used fresh ingredients this time around. No community pot at this place!
By this time, it was around midnight and we told Indika that he had done more than enough and could just drop us off at the airport. He then said he wanted to take us to his house so we could meet his wife. He literally said, "My house is not nice but I am excited to have American friends." We were honored to be his guests. He called and told his wife to wake up because he was bringing guests over to their house. His poor wife, it was so late. On the way to his house he blasted music in his tuk-tuk and had the biggest grin on his face. We arrived to his house and it literally brought tears to our eyes. Indika and his wife were so poor but they were willing to invite us into their humble home and offer us what little they had. They said they didn't have tea but gave us warm milk and cookies.
This is one of those times that we can't even begin to describe the raw emotion of the whole experience. Back home, we all have so much to offer but how many times would we consider inviting perfect strangers into our homes and giving them the last of our food and drinks? Indika and his wife didn't even bat an eye.
It's times like this that make our travels so fulfilling. Sometimes it's not about the place you're visiting but the people that live there that make the experience truly memorable.
At around 1:00 a.m. we said our goodbyes to Indika's wife and he took us to the airport so we could wait out the remaining few hours until our flight took off. As he pulled into the passenger drop off area, we handed him the equivalent of $15 in his currency. With tears welling up in his eyes, he asked us several times "Are you sure?" We told him "Absolutely, we can't thank you enough for all that you did for us." He never asked us for more than his original quote of $1.75 but we knew that $15 meant more to him than we could ever imagine. Trust us, he was not after our money. We know that trick already and this was not it. After an exchange of handshakes and several thank yous he jumped into his tuk-tuk, made a u-turn than nearly tipped the vehicle over and floored it home to tell his wife the good news.
Indika, you will never know how much of an impact you and your wife have made on our lives. We've had this same feeling when our friends, Manil and Sangita invited us into their home to celebrate the festival in Kathmandu with their family. We will forever be grateful for your generosity and touched by your welcoming hearts.
May the new year be filled with love, peace and happiness! Thanks for following and we miss you all.
Leanne & Josh
This picture was taken in the back of Indika's tuk-tuk. Good times!