Archive for category: Travel

No ordinary lunch

25 Jan
January 25, 2012
My elderly friends, Margeret and Pascal had been staying overnight at their son’s house nearby. All three of them were going to pick me up at the hotel around 10, to take me to their lovely home, a 45 minute drive north, for lunch.

 When the car turns up, Margeret is not with them. It turns out she has taken one of SL’s overcrowded buses at 6 this morning, to buy the few things their well kempt garden doesn’t provide them with, and to get a head start on preparing the food…

When we finally arrive, she is in full swing. The cobra to be served along with the jack fruit seeds acquired from the garden and now simmering in a pot over an open fire, has already been scraped out of the coconut (also from the garden) by the purpose made scraper in the outdoor part of the kitchen.

The salad, a combination of finely chopped vegetables and fruits is standing on the kitchen counter, and the tuna resembling fish, has been marinated and is now being fried over the simple, but perfectly adequate gas stove. The amazing scents make my mouth water and stomach rumble.

Colombo

24 Jan
January 24, 2012
Waking up early, going out into the garden at the back of the house, finding Pascal (85) standing there in his long sarong, taking in the singing of the birds and enjoying the yet not scorching sun, were the favorite moments of my Colombo stay. The garden is small, but doesn’t seem that way, because only a meshed fence separates it from the neighbor’s vegetable plot, and beyond that are the paddy (rice) fields with grazing buffaloes against a backdrop of green hills.

The area used to be part of a jungle. It is still hot and humid, now called The Wetlands, but the rich and unique ecosystem has gradually been replaced by developed land, in the process  destroying the habitats of a variety of species, among others monkeys, a few of which are still roaming the area, living off people’s fruit trees.

The neighbor, barefoot, long haired and dressed in a brown short sleeved shirt and a shorter, and dirtier…, version of Pascal’s sarong, moves silently about, watering and tending to his plants, mainly string beans and lady fingers, a legume commonly grown here. The watering is done by using a ceramic vessel of traditional shape; a big “belly” with a narrow nozzle. Scooping up the water from the small irrigation canals, he lets it flow from his urn and onto his hands, which in turn deftly spreads the water where it is needed. He goes about his work, meticulously , but without haste. Once in a long while he sits down and drinks a brownish liquid from a plastic bottle. I find myself hoping it’s tea, and not discolored water…

To read more go to Colombo

Catamaran Adveture

19 Jan
January 19, 2012

When I first set foot on the beach, the day of my arrival, I was approached by a friendly, but very persistent guy, trying to persuade me to go out on what to me looked like a rickety vessel, a Sri Lankan catamaran. A little apprehensive, I warded him off with a smile and a non-committing “maybe later”. After that, every time I crossed the beach to get to the ocean, he popped up out of nowhere, following me back and forth, pleading with me.


This morning I had no plans, there was less wind than the previous days, so I was actually tempted to go when he, as was now his custom, joined me on my way to the water. I was tempted, but also a little reluctant, or to be both more honest and precise, scared. He said the conditions were perfect and there would be only me on the boat except for the crew. I didn’t like that much either: If I was going to get eaten by a shark (which they keep telling the tourists are “way out there”) or being thrown overboard and drown, I wanted to make it a social event and do it in the company of some like-minded people. I was, in not so many words, able to convey this to him, and he seemed to understand my predicament. He pointed to a group of people threading water and told me that they had just been out, I could talk with them. It turned out they were all Russians, didn’t speak any other language than their own, and my sign language did not seem to go through to any of them. If they had ever been out on a Catamaran, they had totally and completely erased the memory from their minds.



The guy then pointed in the direction of the hotel gardens, indicating a man seated at a table, enjoying his beer. When I asked him how he had liked his catamaran trip, he looked at me blankly. Oops, wrong guy. My friend down on the beach was now waving frantically, pointing towards a relaxed looking fellow, with long hair, red t-shirt and shorts, coming towards us…



To read more, go to Catamaran Adventure

Under the beautiful Skin of Sri Lanka

17 Jan
January 17, 2012
Outside Hindu Tempel
Pretending  to know the first thing about Sri Lanka and it’s people after having spent just a few days in the country would be presumptuous, to say the least. Having been the object of my friends’ abounding hospitality for a couple of days, living, eating, talking, walking, exploring with them, has given me a few glimpses into their world, their society, their joys and their challenges. But as often is the case when you venture into new territory, and boy, am I on new grounds here; the more you learn, the more you realize you don’t know.

And this is possibly where I should be wise enough to adhere to the words of Lao Tze: “Those who speak, do not know, those who know do not speak”. But alas, I have not reached that level of wisdom yet.

Pascal tending to his garden
Of course a lot of things here are different, and to a traveler, different is inherently good, the ultimate motivation for leaving home sweet home.

For a newcomer, a visitor of short standing, the island seems like a paradise. “Beautiful” is a word that constantly comes to mind, both when nature and people are concerned. Another is “diversity”.
Starfruit
Everywhere you turn there are new wonders to be seen; all the exotic fruits, flowers, spices you’ve  ever heard of, and many, many more, in gardens, in the wild or on display in the stalls lining the roads. People dressed in beautiful (there I go again) saris, Sri Lankan or Indian style, and more casual wear, loosely fitted pants or wraparound “skirts” for the men, mainly long skirts and light long sleeved blouses,  for the women. Places of worship; Buddhist viharas, Hindu temples, Catholic churches, Muslim mosques and other wholly places or shrines, in designs from the very elaborate and sometimes in Nordic eyes glaring, to the more modest, all give an idea of the diversity of this religious and cultural melting pot.

Paddyfields
According to “the books”, the official story and the first version given to you by the locals, all is well in the land. Tourism, which Sri Lanka is desperately dependent on, is back on track, and you can sense the almost tangible relief of now being rid of war and the constant and paralyzing effect terrorism had on people and society.


This may be the reasons why it takes some prodding to get a chance to peek under the wonderful skin of the country and its people…

To read more go to Under the beautiful skin of Sri Lanka 

Shit happens

14 Jan
January 14, 2012
Sitting down at the breakfast table, in the outdoor restaurant overlooking it all, I couldn’t stop smiling. Couldn’t believe I was actually here, couldn’t really care if people took me for a constantly grinning lunatic, just having been released from the mental ward. Fortunately the Sri Lankans are a smiling people, so who knows, maybe I am just naturally blending in.
Sam was also all smiles when I by appointment met him in the reception. He was the sole local representative for all the umpteen tour operators in the area. And I was the sole person at this morning’s information meeting. So I made the most of it, and by the time I was finished with him I had drained both a bunch of information and the strength out of the poor man. He was a pleasant guy though, and was a good sport about it, particularly when I promised I after the weekend will make one of the day trips he was offering. …

To read more, go to Shit happens

Tuk-tuk, awaiting the 7 generations…

Sri Lanka Arrival

13 Jan
January 13, 2012






…..The lady scrutinizing my passport was dressed in the same beautiful kind of sari the rest of the all smiling female airport personnel were wearing, but in stark contrast to the others, she was stone faced. There was not a hint of a smile, she was looking so sourly at my papers that for a while there I was positive I would be sent right back to Doha, Kualalumpur or some other place I had no immediate wish to go. Pondering these glum prospects I looked up on the wall behind her where a huge sign read: Import of illegal drugs is under the death penalty! No less! (my comment) I couldn’t help thinking how befitting a background the sign was for this mean looking lady. After keeping me, I think she was actually enjoying it, in the dark for what seemed to be an eternity, she eventually handed the papers back to me without looking at me or uttering a single word. “Eeeeh…”, I ventured, “is everything ok?”. She gave me a royal wave with her hand in the general direction of the baggage claim area, which I took for a “yes”, and scurried away before she had the chance to 
change her mind.

I again asked a poor soul to lift my literally stone heavy suitcase on to my trolley and went off to look for an ATM machine. As I did so, it occurred to me that on this trip I was possibly leaving an array of people now prone to life long back problems in my wake…

Excerpt from Sri Lanka Arrival. To read more go to Sri Lanka Arrival


Calpe Rock

24 Nov
November 24, 2011
One step at a time, easy does it. I set one foot in front of the other. Easing myself along the path, in some places providing barely enough space for one foot, in between or on top of smooth and slippery lime stones. Polished by the elements and all the feet having trod here before me. The quality of the path was not much worse than many others I had hiked, where a clumsy or false step, means a moment’s imbalance, before regaining your footing.

Here, though, such a move could very likely result in a mind- and body blowing once in a life time experience… as there was no foothold, nor handhold for that matter, to be had on the one side of me. I was very intent on not looking in that direction, but was very well aware of the sheer drop into the sea below me. I tried to control my pulse and my breathing, just staying in the here and now of each and every step, frequently using my hands on the rocks above me to steady and heave myself up.  Trying to keep grounded both mentally and physically. I felt confident that if I were able to stay in this mindset, and the going didn’t get much tougher, I would make it to the top. I had no idea, however, of how I would get down…

to find out if I ever made it down (guess!:-)…, follow the link below:

http://www.evernote.com/shard/s92/sh/c2a8d111-386c-4e37-a159-aca3bc49be05/f1cc3dfc1e442f954b7337e33089516e

Norwegian Food

17 Nov
November 17, 2011
Having enjoyed our own cooking for several days, we decided to treat ourselves to some Spanish food for a change. Nurturing thoughts of tapas, paella, gazpacho, chorizo sausage, serrano ham and the likes, our mouths had already begun to water when we began what was to be our quest. Previous trips to the small town of Alfaz, had mainly consisted of visits to the supermercado, but we had actually happened to have a glimpse behind the scenes, and noticed that there was more to it than the rather nondescript main street. Plazas and lots of eating places with actual Spanish people enjoying themselves had been observed, so we figured that finding a place should be piece of cake, so to speak.
The afore mentioned observer had not done a very thorough job though, passing cafés, bars and restaurants without actually looking at what was being served at the different establishments.  As it turns out, or at least that’s what it seems like up close at 8 pm in the evening, is that the Spanish’ staple food is comprised of cakes, biscuits, ice cream and coffee, and not much else. We walked from table to table and place to place, and that’s what we saw.
There were people however, who seemed to be enjoying something more substantial, in the line of dinner, but they were light skinned, most of them, as you might have conjectured, Norwegians.  And, according to posters and menus, they were enjoying meatballs, fish pudding, rømmegrøt (I doubt you non Norwegians reealy want to know what that is. There is a reason why we are looking for Spanish food, for Pete’s sake! ), salmon, Norwegian style, ham, Norwegian style, and lapskaus (a kind of “let’s see what leftovers we have from the past two weeks, aaah, a little piece of lamb, some carrots, potatoes, cod, a little smelly, but so what,  some dried out peas, a piece of birthday cake, a little herring, yess! Let’s have lapskaus!”.  Come to think of it, not even Norwegians  know where the word comes from or what I actually means. Go figure, some smartass lazy guy with Scottish genes made that one up, I’m sure. I could  go on, but I will have mercy on you and stop here.
Seeing the writing on the wall; this was not going to be easy, I resolved to do what I often do, ask one of the locals. I approached a guy standing on the side of the road, minding his own business and possibly enjoying watching the Norwegians across the street stuffing their faces with one bizarre dish after the other, and asked in English if he could help us out. He didn’t know much English, but was friendliness itself, so we struck up a pleasant, if not very meaningful conversation, I resorting to a few words I hoped were Spanish when I had to, and he using an extraordinarily rich repertoire of gestures. I was after some preliminary exercises able to convey to him that we did not want to eat Norwegian food. This he seemed to have no difficulties appreciating, but laughed and said that avoiding it could be a little hard as we after all happened to be smack in the middle of Little Norway. He considered for a moment and then pointed towards a place further down the street. I smiled and thanked him profoundly, at the same time signaling thumbs up to the two nice Germans in my company.
Entering the suggested place, we found it was totally void of people. We looked around, and after a while discovered a lady washing the floor in the adjoining room. Asking if we could have something to eat, she pointed in the general direction of a glass counter displaying a small array of food. Olives, peppers, squids, some kind of sausage, red meat and fowl of some sorts, were laid out, alongside a very worn and very dirty looking dish cloth. It was Spanish all right, we had no reason to complain about that, but there was something about the dish cloth, and the arrangement of it all, that turned us a little off.  The fact that there was not a soul in sight, could be explained by the early hour of the night, but there could also be other reasons. We looked at each other and decided, even though by now we were starving, had the dish cloth looked more appealing we would have been drooling, to try out other options. We started walking down the street looking for someone else to ask, when my phone rang. Concentrating on the person on the other end of the line, I did not notice that one of my German friends had entered an office, asking for advice on where to eat. As I hung up, he came out, looking a little puzzled. The people he’d just talked to had not been very helpful, nor exactly forthcoming. Actually, they had ended up speaking to him pretty rudely. And he had just done what I had done; asked for directions to a place where they served, he had even relented on the demands, anything but Norwegian food. That’s when I looked up and saw the sign over the door: “Norwegian tours”. The poor guy, speaking English with a eloquent, but distinctly German accent, had wandered in, addressed the Norwegian employees and, obviously, but totally unintentionally, insulting them on their own territory. What a way to go!
I laughed so hard I could hardly walk, and dragged him and his wife away from the scene of the crime. We almost bumped into the owner of a fruit store, and figuring his suggestion would be as sound as anyone’s asked him if he could direct us to a Spanish restaurant. He pointed 200 meters down the street, and there was Ta Casa, as emerging out of nowhere, quite big, yet cozy, with friendly staff, and really good Spanish cuisine. The rest is history, a temporarily full stomach and a happy palate that will treasure the memories of the good tastes it was served.

Guadalest

10 Nov
November 10, 2011
Guadalest is perched on top of a ridge of granite, close to 600 meters above sea level, in a valley surrounded by several mountain ranges. Guadalest, meaning Eagle’s nest, was established around year 1200, by the Moors, a north-west African people who conquered and ruled the Iberian Peninsula for nearly 800 years. They constructed and built castles on this extremely strategic place, to defend and control the area, which is the case of so many forts and castles of this kind. The castle was reconquered by the Christians in the 13th century, and since then the castle has fallen victim to both wars and earthquakes, occurrences that combined led to its destruction in the 17th and 18th century.
 Walking around in the village and up to the castle and the forts, we felt in no imminent danger of attack of any sort. Many of the people in the museums and shops, though, behaved as if we were conquistadors, wanting to invade their shops, their life, their souls. Their rude and unfriendly behavior did nothing to endear us to the place. They acted as if they were positively sick and tired of all the tourists that they are so utterly dependent on. Which in one way is understandable, but on the other hand makes life more miserable than necessary for both parties.
True, many tourists come from less economically challenged countries, but frankly I don’t see how that justifies insulting and affronting everyone. The most impressively offensive manner, though, I experienced upon entering the small Heritage Museum. I was greeted by a man with a solemn demeanor, saying, but obviously not wishing me, buenas tardes. Trying to be on my best and friendliest behavior I answered him in Spanish. Whereupon he literally snarled at me, and asked how the hell (he didn’t actually use the word, but he sure as h… wanted to!) he should know what  brochure to give me, if I greeted him in Spanish, and not in my native tongue. I feebly tried to convince him that I was attempting to be friendly, when in Rome etc… , but he briskly waved me off, as if I were an irritating insect, with “if you don’t need help, that’s perfectly fine with me!”  My concentration was by now somewhat subdued, so I quickly walked through the tableaus, not really taking anything in, just hoping he wouldn’t spit at me, or kill me, on my way out.
All the negativity was not able, though, to diminish the exhilaration we felt about both the now to a great extent crumbled forts, still impressive, by virtue of their location, and the amazing panoramic view of the strikingly beautiful landscape around us. Some of the mountains were bathed in the now reddish glow of the late afternoon sun, and the dammed Guadalest drinking reservoir is no less than stunning, with its emerald color, lined with what from a distance looks like white, sandy banks leading up to the terraced hillsides, reaching all the way up to the timberline and beyond.

While my companion went down to the village, I stayed on a little longer, perched on a slab of rock, just taking in the scene around me. People came, stayed for a little while, took photos, pointed out landscape formations to each other, and left again. I sat there, peacefully marveling at the mountains, the lake and not the least the people who had once lived, worked, fought and died here, of natural causes, in combat or in the dungeons, now open for the public, as an attraction…  I suddenly shivered. I was chilled by the thought, and by the fact that the sun was setting. Time to start the descent, and our drive back to friendly L’Alfas.  

Altea

10 Nov
November 10, 2011
«Oh, what a beautiful morning!» Singing at the top of my lungs, probably scaring the early daylight of the neighbors, I opened the doors leading out onto the patio. It was bathed in the morning sun, as was the garden, the pool, treacherously inviting, but cool, and the rest of L’Alfas del Pi and the part of the world that I was able to see.
Which was all that mattered right now. Living in a happy bubble for a couple of weeks, indulging in work and adventure, the rest of the world seemed far away. After the morning shift, we drove down the now familiar road through Alfas and made a left towards Altea, to experience the local farmer’s market.
The little street at the foot of the hill, was packed with people, buying ingredients for today’s dinner, or just enjoying the colorful displays of fruits, vegetables, flowers and other produce. People were friendly and smiling, and the vendors, forthcoming, did their best to understand our halting attempts at Spanish, and when we got stuck, spoke English or sometimes even astonished us by speaking a very tolerable Norwegian… Which, of course, should not come as a surprise, considering the fact that about a quarter of the municipality of L’Alfas del Pi’s 20 000 residents are Norwegian.
We strolled up and down several streets, taking in the relaxed feel of the former bohemian town. Which was even more tangible when we entered the Ciudad antigua, with houses clinging to the hill on all sides, like seashells on an underwater rock. Separated by crooked streets, leading this way and that, making you feel like walking within a maze. The difference being, that ever so often, the lanes opened up and the houses gave room for a square or a view over the turquoise colored ocean down below. On top of the hill was a plateau with outdoor cafés and restaurants, and the church, Nuestra Senora del Consuela, with its spectacular, white and blue ceramic dome.
Having had glimpses and full views of the beautiful Altea bay so many times during the day, a dip in the sea was inevitable for some of us. As a compulsory impulse bather, there was now room for hesitation or restricting inhibitions, even though the bathing gear was in the suitcase back at the house. Stripping down to the bare essentials, I threw myself out into the waves. Whereupon they promptly threw me back to shore! I had obviously underestimated the force of them and the underwater currents, and ended up tumbled and a little bruised from the encounter with rock bottom, so to speak, but happy.
The afternoon shift started when we got back home, and lasted long into the evening, just interrupted by a delicious meal made using ingredients from the market and a few, definitely health-brining sips of organically, if not locally, produced 2009 Sangre de Toro.