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Back From Sri Lanka & Maldives

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Oct 29th, 2011, 05:04 AM
  #1
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Back From Sri Lanka & Maldives

Welcome to my trip report on our anniversary holiday to Sri Lanka and the Maldives!

Click http://tinyurl.com/3ato2m5 to see the thread on our itinerary and expectations of the trip before we went.

Please visit the bathroom, pour a drink, then sit back and join me as I relive through the written word the most fabulous journey we have ever taken!

Before the trip:

Planning
Due to our schedules we were, for the first time ever, unable to research, plan, and reserve this trip on our own so we sought the assistance of a travel company.

We were unable to find travel companies in the US (we would quickly learn Americans are not common in Sri Lanka or Maldives) but we found some in the UK. There were a couple of other places we researched but one thing or another discounted them so we settled on Tikalanka: http://www.tikalanka.com/HTML/intro.asp.

It was a bit out of our comfort zone though really at the start. One, we were working with a stranger (aka sending gobs of money to a stranger) on another continent. Was that his real name? Was the “office address” on his website really “an abandoned warehouse” outside of town? Two, it was for travel to the other side of the world. What if we got there and there was no guide? No hotel reservations? And no answer to our calls and emails pleading for help in the strange land? Hubs: always been a cynic. Me: eased into it during law school (me exclaiming with sincere surprise: the FDA doesn’t solely have our best interests in mind?).

But it all worked out perfectly!

We had a general idea of the areas we wanted to visit and John Beswetherick from Tikalanka emailed with us for over a month to answer all our questions and make great suggestions in order to tailor the perfect itinerary for us. What I was particularly pleased with were his lodging offerings. I gave an example of a place we found online we liked for one city and said “find us places like this in the other cities” and that he did! More on the lodgings later.

John took care of all the reservations (room/half board-vegan) and ticketing for travel and paired us with a fabulous guide. More on him later.

We were very happy we chose Tikalanka and would def recommend their services.

Preparing
We registered with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program through the Bureau of Consular Affairs at https://travelregistration.state.gov/ibrs/ui/. Man I hated that website. I had to enter stuff over and over and over and over and over again it was maddening.

We went to Penn Travel in Philadelphia who recommended the following for our trip:

Shots. Lots of them. Tetanus, Hepatitis A and B (got regular A and given timing an accelerated version of B which is a series over a few weeks), Typhoid, Polio (got when we were little but the care provider said something about benefits of getting it again though I cant recall the details). Was about $1,000 total for both of us and was told insurance wont cover but to submit anyway “in case someone is asleep at the wheel.”

Mosquito protection. Lots of it. We sprayed all our clothes with Permethrin and (after ridiculous amounts of research on various brands) packed ample amounts of Ben’s Deet Spray. More on the mosquitoes later.

Pills for Malaria. I wasnt sure this was really necessary based on my research but figured if they recommended it, wed do it. Malarone was the drug of choice. Began taking 2 days before arriving in mosquito zone, took once a day while there, and 7 days after departure. No side effects for us. And no malaria so far.

Pills for poo. The healthcare provider spent a great deal of time on drinking water safety and we heeded his warnings. We brushed with bottled water, drank bottled water, and showered with bottled water. Just kidding. But he did say to beware in the shower not to inadvertently take a big refreshing gulp. He recommended bringing extra toothbrushes just in case we accidentally put one under the water which I thought was a good idea (we were so cuckoo about it though we never needed the extras). The poo pills were in case something went awry and despite our efforts to avoid contamination we got sick-people-poo. You may know it by the more common but less fun term “travelers diarrhea.”

He also recommended avoidance of raw vegetables and of fruits that arent able to be peeled since they likely had contact with unbottled water.

Medivac insurance (which we already had thanks to research on Fodors).

He closed with what seemed a strange and random piece of advice at the time: if you wake up with a bat in the room assume you have been bitten and medivac home immediately.

This may all seem extreme and may not be everyones preference but again these measures were precautionary and we were happy to play it safe (especially when conjuring visions of being in the hot dusty middle of nowhere climbing temple steps when the runs hit or slapping a mosquito that bites you as you watch the elephants trudge along the plains later realizing the effer gave you dengue fever).

Our final step in preparing was packing. For the fashion conscious: Clothing for the Maldives was basically maxi dresses for me, lounge pants for him, bathing suits, and flips. Clothing for Sri Lanka was cute but comfy, lightweight, and generally quick drying. Hubs chose REI zip offs, some other cargo-y pants, eddie bauer tees and long sleeves (which he really only used on the plane) and a pair of Teva tennies. I chose a few simple leggings, an array of very thin and slightly fitted long and short-sleeved tunics to layer from alternative apparel, and a pair of Keens. Chose a Patagonia shoulder daypack which was great because it was big enough to carry passports, small bug and sun spray, money, sunglasses, etc. but was small enough we couldn’t over pack and defeat the purpose of leaving behind a giant backpack. Both had buffs and giant sunhats which screamed TOURISTS.

We were diligent to be packed and ready well in advance and avoid our usual mad rush to pack up until the last minute and immediately speed to the airport. We were packing until the last minute. Then sped to the airport.

More to come…
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Oct 29th, 2011, 05:50 AM
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i'm here. good so far.
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Oct 29th, 2011, 06:43 AM
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I'm thinking of Sri Lanka for a January trip, so I am anxious to hear more!
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Oct 29th, 2011, 07:19 AM
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Oh can I just tell you that I am so glad someone has actually read this?

Still havent gotten over the jet lag so I spent basically the whole night writing-it took FOREVER!

Thanks santamonica!! We will be getting into the nitty gritty of the actual trip next. I encountered in my research beforehand (and wondered myself) about some of the issues I addressed above so just hoping it helps others.

Lizzie! I am green green green with envy! I really hope you choose to go. It absolutely exceeded my expectations. I swore I wouldnt tell anyone this but I actually shed a tear when we left. It was such a powerful and beautiful experience. And unless you are close by and can easily return I would totally consider throwing Maldives in as well. Even if just for a couple of nights. We arent "beach people" but it was a nice way to chill after the excitement of Sri Lanka!
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Oct 29th, 2011, 07:44 AM
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This is a seriously good report. I would hope many, many people read it. I for one, will anxiously await your next installment. Your excitement comes through the written word loud and clear.
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Oct 29th, 2011, 07:50 AM
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The devil is in the details, isn't it? I always waiver between being hyper diligent and flying totally by the seat of my pants. Can't wait to hear about the trip!
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Oct 29th, 2011, 08:02 AM
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Sri Lanka was one of our favorite trips - and we will return. Amazing place! I'm looking forward to hearing all about your trip.

(Any reason you didn't use a local agency rather than an agency in the UK? We prefer to use local agencies when possible.)
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Oct 30th, 2011, 02:59 AM
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Looking forward to hearing more of your experiences. We were in SL at the beginning of the year during the floods despite which we enjoyed our time there. Booked via a local operator from the UK but experienced a few problems!
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Oct 30th, 2011, 06:50 AM
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barbrn thank you! reading your comment really made my day!

hi gigner50! yes, agreed agreed, totally! in this instance we went the hyper dilligent route just b/c this was a very expensive trip for us and so wanted to do everything in our power to make sure we werent the cause of something going wrong!

kathie i feel the same: we will return!

crellston yes i believe it was your trip report that i read re the floods! asking the driver whether the floods would inhibit an excursion (to Anuradhapura maybe?)!
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Oct 30th, 2011, 07:17 AM
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Picture time! If youd like to follow along you can click here:

http://photobucket.com/Sri_Lanka_and...s_October_2011

If you see only one picture so far uploaded you are in the right place.

Ok lets head to Sri Lanka!

Day 1 Sunday
British Airways flight from Philadelphia to London.

Pertinent points: night flight, lots of turbulence, screaming babies, frequent toot smell*, 3-4-3 configuration so had a third wheel with us, forgot to request vegan meal and flight attendants were very accommodating, had some Pringles, though had seen it in the theater-watched Super 8 twice.

*Hubs, in frustration: everytime I come back to my seat it smells like farts.

Day 2 Monday
Arrival in London.

It was grey, cool, windy, and rainy. Rented a car, drove to Stonehenge (Picture 1) and “the English countryside,” were too tired to do so and were crabby patties the whole time, had researched a Jack the Ripper Tour to take that evening (so close to Halloween how could we resist!) but given the weather we skipped, stayed at Hilton London Dockside as a freebie when booking our BA flight (was ok-a bit removed from things), no place in the vicinity appealing to eat that night so settled for a local pub which was only ok. Luckily had some Pringles back in the room.

Day 3 Tuesday
Day in London before departure night flight to Sri Lanka.

Had researched and decided to visit the Highgate Cemetery. Can I just tell you how cool this was? The epitome of a spooky cemetery-it was beautiful though. Pathways framed with dense lush undergrowth invited us into a land of vine-shrouded obelisks heavily dotted with crooked crumbling headstones whose faces time had wiped clear. Id share pictures with you but, oh, our new memory card was faulty. No images saved-boo! Image searches provide an accurate portrayal. Here the website: http://www.highgate-cemetery.org/. The cemetery is divided into 2 sections-East and West. While I think both would be very interesting we had time for only one and my research revealed West was the way to go. You can only explore West with a cemetery-appointed guide and you are encouraged to make an appt a week in advance. The East you can explore on your own at your leisure. The West tour took just under 2 hours and ended up being really one of our favorite things we have done in London. All locals on the tour by the way.

SriLankan Airlines night flight to Colombo.
Pertinent points: about 1.5 hours late (we didn’t care), turbulence, screaming babies, flight attendants have pretty outfits, guy in front me reclined seat for entire 11 hour flight.

Day 4 Wednesday
Arrival in Sri Lanka-woo hoo!

Amazed at how quickly we were able to exit the plane. And then amazed at how long it took to wait for the rest of the people to exit the plane after I had to return to the aircraft to locate my work-issued blackberry case.

Got our bags no prob, customs no prob, changed money no prob, then, while we couldve purchased a washer/dryer set and other various appliances from the airport, we settled on a cell phone for use in emergencies from the Dialog store. About $38 for the phone and sim card. We had considered renting or buying one from National Geographic beforehand but this was just way cheaper and ended up working perfectly (lucky for Hubs who had insisted we take that route).

By the time we met our guide we were pretty late-given the late flight, the blackberry incident, the money change, and the cell purchase. As we walked toward the airport exit we saw a line of gentleman holding cards with names (I always laugh to think of seeing “Dr. Livingstone” written on one of them). Looking looking looking…there we are! And there he is! Oscar, our guide! The individual whod been enlisted to care for us over the next 9 days cheerfully escorted us to the grey chariot of steel that would, like a trusty steed, guide and protect us as it resiliently motored through the beautiful country of Sri Lanka!
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Oct 30th, 2011, 08:41 AM
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Sounds adventurous and exotic.

You say you are home sick now, hope you are ok.
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Oct 30th, 2011, 01:59 PM
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Another one lurking here, and looking forward to your Sri Lanka experience.
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Oct 30th, 2011, 02:20 PM
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JJ5 that is so so nice of you! I am ok now-Id been home sick from work back when I wrote that other thread-post fantastic trip! But you are so nice to mention it!! The trip was adventurous and exotic so you are right on! And you know how I said I shed a tear when we left? There were a few times that happened but I really lost it when we were in the Colombo airport getting ready to head to Maldives. As you were going through customs a giant sign said something along the lines of "We hope adventure followed you everywhere you went." It was like that sign was written for me b/c I absolutely felt like that! In reality perhaps everyone feels like that when they leave Sri Lanka but I would rather not know. I would rather believe the country touched me in a way that was special, magical, and that nobody else could understand. I know I certainly feel that way!

Hi LeighTravel! Thanks for joining! Working on the next bit. I am really excited that people are reading this! I know SL and M arent the most common of destinations and I was really afraid there wouldnt be interest. It def makes the time it takes to type these up worth while! Plus of course it allows me to fondly recollect the great memories just created!
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Oct 30th, 2011, 04:45 PM
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loved the slide show. well, the slide. i'm just kidding. really, it was very nice. and i'm sure more will follow. well, i'm hoping more will follow.
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Nov 1st, 2011, 04:45 AM
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We have SL on our short list and am enjoying reading your report!
Jane
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Nov 1st, 2011, 05:03 PM
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Ha yes, the slide show of one santamonica! You will be pleased to know a few others have been added! See below to follow along! Be prepared I am a poor photographer (more on that later) so sadly I know these pictures will not due the scenes justice.

JaneB hello-I am so happy to hear that! One hasnt travelled until theyve been to Sri Lanka. My own personal opinion of course, heh heh heh.
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Nov 1st, 2011, 05:11 PM
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Day 4 Wednesday continued.

Our first day in Sri Lanka was comprised of a drive to our hotel located a few hours away in Habarana. Now, wed read hundreds of reviews left by Sri Lanka travelers and many objected to the amount of time spent in the car, the bumpy roads, and the driving habits of the residents. We found the complete opposite. Well except for the roads-the others are right, they are bumpy. We knew from our detailed itinerary how much time each day would be travel so we were prepared. And we found the driving habits of our guide and the locals to be perfectly acceptable. Perhaps we are simply used to aggressive driving in our country, heh.

The drive was to take 4 hours but we did end up arriving later than expected due to our delayed flight, rainy weather during the commute, and an accident which halted traffic for nearly an hour. To memorialize our first glimpses of Sri Lanka we took loads of pictures out the window of our van enroute to our hotel. We relished this (and most) time on the road and welcomed the opportunity to dreamily take in our new surroundings.

As we neared our destination the road grew even bumpier and more desolate. Night had fallen and as we approached our hotel I saw the soft, welcoming flickers of candle light. The proprietress and her two associates warmly greeted us at the end of a lit pathway and led us back to their tranquil lodge set in the forest. Welcome to Galkadawala: http://www.galkadawala.com/.

The lodge was simple, rustic, peaceful, perfect. I love the fact that we arrived at night because the lighting just adds to the vibe and ambiance (Picture 2 ).

Though it was late they prepared us a fantastic vegan dinner. We were the only guests so the table was set for two and adorned with candle light (Picture 3). It was a lovely experience and, without a doubt, in all my travels, the best food I had ever eaten. And it set the bar way high for the remainder of our trip. And I should say here that, having had zero previous experience with any type of curry/curry powder/curry leaves, plus the restrictive diet, I had no idea what to expect. The curry was much much more varied and delicious than what I had imagined and I was certainly not prepared for the feasts I enjoyed! I soon realized that the cliff bars Id brought from home could remain tucked away in our suitcase.

Our quarters were just as pictured on the website. With the addition of some roomies who kindly shared their space! There were two little frogs living in our bathroom. One hung out in the cup of the light fixture on the ceiling (Picture 4) and the other hung out in a cubby of the wood trim of the bathroom door (Picture 5). Also, we had two rare birds, a couple, that visited us every morning (theyd built a nest in the upper eave of the wall behind the bed) (Pictures 6-8)!

The soft lighting was so peaceful (Picture 9 ). We settled in to our first night in Sri Lanka. Well, hubs settled in. I was too excited to sleep! After all, Id just read in the guestbook that a few weeks before the crunching of elephant steps on forest floor greeted a couple at 4am! And while the first few “noises” I heard were more scary than exciting I quickly grew accustomed to leaping out of bed to see the action! Always hoping to come face to trunk with a (friendly) elephant I wouldve been happy seeing anything really-a monkey, a rare nocturnal bird…a dog. Anything. I grew tired of getting out of bed every few minutes to investigate (just to find nothing) so I resigned to sitting up, throwing on my glasses, and straining to see what I could through the mosquito net into the dark abyss. Not one thing. But oh something was out there. Later I learned it was still dry season and the tank (water reservoir) frequented by the elephants had dried up for the time-so the likelihood of elephants visiting was low. On one hand it wouldve been good to know that the first night because I wouldnt have had my hopes up thinking I might be lucky enough to see an elephant but at the same time thinking I could see one right outside my room was pretty exciting. Kind of like Christmas Eve when youre little waiting for Santa.
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Nov 1st, 2011, 07:53 PM
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I was also very pleasantly surprised by Sri Lanka food, it quickly became one of my all time favorite cuisines.
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Nov 1st, 2011, 10:07 PM
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Looking forward to more!
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Nov 2nd, 2011, 01:44 AM
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Great writing! Glad you had such a wonderful trip.

Small nit - passports in a backpack??? And you were so careful with everything else....
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