Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Uppuveli - Tourist haven, Tiger hell!

Sunday being the day of rest, and me having so much respect for religious devotion, little was done but visit central Kandy and see a bit of culture. I’m feeling more settled and less inclined to induce shite feelings. The ability to respond to strangers making approaches, without leaving myself open has improved massively. It doesn’t matter whether I’m charged over the odds, or I’m short changed. If I decide to pay an agreed amount fine, if I can see I've been short changed, then bring it to their attention. What is the point of inappropriate action then regretting it and feeling awful after. We all make good and bad decisions, and we must live by them. So agreeing to pay $100 when $60 is reported to be the going rate is my choice, I’d decided that amount was worth it to me. I wasn’t actually looking forward to catching a bus to Trincomalee, so stuff the expense. Standing for hours on a crowded bus? I don’t think I’d cope very well physically. Though in the future I plan to be more frugal on travelling expenses.

What a relief to have reached the coast and find myself even more relaxed, more than ready to settle in for a while. I made it to the east coast and must now settle into a new environment, allow myself time to acclimatize yet again. The temperature in Uppuveli is hot to say the least, a sort of Sinai desert hot, which is good because there is virtually 0% humidity. From the person who claims it can never be too hot, it should be considered perfect. And indeed the setting is almost picture perfect, I sit typing in front my open window with nothing but palm trees, sand and the ocean in sight. If I lean out a concrete monstrosity rear its ugly head above the sand, but I find it no effort not to lean out the window. Why would I want to taint this picture of paradise?I wanted to pay no more than 1,000 rupees a night, and I’ve got that rate for a stay of only 3 nights. If deciding to prolong the stay for weeks it will get much cheaper, it not I move on to fresher pastures. Unless I contact a friend working here I might as well settle in for a while. (Photos: Traditional drumming and dancing - Kandy, Sri Lanka)

Oh my fickle mindedness, all it takes is a chat to other tourists and I start to reconsider my plans. They’ve just come up from Arugam bay and regale fond tales of cheap accommodation at very good prices. Instantly it sets my mind to thoughts of setting off for cabanas at 700 rupees and a choice of which I prefer. A place with my own kitchen and a fridge, right on the beach. An abundance of restaurants and cafes, the only place it’s busy is in the water. How tempting is that? Believe me when I say very, yet it’s too far for a one-day journey. Certainly too far to get there and find it not what I’d imagined. Chill out dude, settle down and get your thinking cap on. Get those fingers moving; get that book going again, once you do the world will smile upon you. Everything always looks better on a full belly and a good night’s sleep. There is open beach with few hotels and guesthouses here, unlike Aragum Bay where the multitude of competition between beach fronted accommodation force better prices. I'm not here to save money, I'm here to relax and write; for which a touch of comfort won't go amiss. (Photo: Mother with infant hanging on for dear life - Haberana, Sri Lanka)

If there was any doubt it was a war zone I was entering, it would have been blown away by the military presence on the journey here. On leaving Habarana fortified gun placements were placed every 2km, despite many being unmanned it still showed clearly the level of security. They came in a series of about half a dozen, first on one side of the road, then the other. Most were built of railway sleepers, sometimes with sandbags or loose soil enveloping them. The majority made do without the extra protection; just plain wood with tin roofs, I’ll be buggered if I could see them stopping a bullet. I was itching to take pictures of them, I daren’t though, it would have meant trouble if I’d been seen. By the time we reached the Kantale reservoir the fortified placements were more substantial. They actually looked capable of the job they were meant for, they were also every kilometer, alternating between sides of the road. As Trincomalee got ever closer so did the pillboxes, they were all manned, without exception. Each end of every village/town military compounds were situated, soldiers ambling along between them. Not in squads marching, small groups walking; as in Israel every soldier carried his weapon at all times. Before reaching the city bunkers were no more than 200m apart, surprisingly we were only stopped once, no longer are they stopping and searching every vehicle, which before they tended to do at each roadblock. (Photo: Wattle and daub construction - Between Kentale & Trincomalee, Sri Lanka)

The countryside changed quite drastically as we drove through, noticeably through the corridor between Haberana and the Kantale Reservoir. It was the most extensive area of flat plains land seen since arriving, and it was bone dry. No sign of greenery was to be seen, everything scorched to a cinder. It’s where the outside temperature soared too, hardly surprising! Rice was obviously the staple crop here and in the wet season is must be lush and green. Cows grazing on the dried remains in the fields were the only sign of life, homesteads were dotted liberally around but nothing stirred. Construction of the homes was invariably of wattle and daub, but a very crude method. Once the four corners and roofs members were lashed together a sparse grid of thin branches were added before filling in with red clay. Of course the cheapest roofing material was par for the course, tin roofs, each and every one of them. The majority sported wells close to the building, so no piped water here; without sign of accessible water I can only assume the cattle were kept alive with well water. (Photos: Naval Gunboat & Concrete bunker - Uppuveli, Sri Lanka)

Along the beach at Uppuveli the locals live in shanty huts, constructed mainly of corrugated iron and plastic sheeting. Behind these are the remains of brick built huts, sat inside barbed wire enclosures. No new buildings are yet permitted; the government do not want redevelopment within 200m of the beach. These are fisher folk, they work and live at the edge of the sea. The whole family spends each day at the shoreline. Boats race out to deploy their nets and all the men systematically haul them in, bringing in a few metric tonne at a time. Two lines of guys, one at each end of the seine net, rhythmically haul in from the waters edge to the beachhead. Then it’s back to the front of the line again, for a couple hours at a time! This is repeated four or five times a day, they have no time to be living away from the beach itself, so they make do with dilapidated huts.

The fishing communities are Tamils, without fail, they work incessantly yet always have a smile on their faces. This beach was lucky, they escaped the worst of the tsunami, sheltered by Swami rock, a promontory jutting out to the southeast. The destruction evident in the ruined buildings is by virtue of the war though, fire blackened shells, riddled with bullet holes. They live below the poverty line; making do the best they can, refusing to give up. Sun blacked skin, wearing virtual rags for clothes, they persist. A people of great fortitude, many of whom have known nothing but war and hardship. It would be cruel to accuse them of idiocy, yet the childish glee in which I’ve been welcomed would leave many doubting their mental integrity. Yes they are a simple people, often joyous in an infantile way; yet so lovely and friendly in every way! (Photo: Soldier and military enclosure amongst fishing village - Uppuveli, Sri Lanka)

Being notoriously bad for highway discipline I shouldn’t expect much, it still amazes there are not more accidents and deaths. Bearing in mind I saw three accidents in one day that is saying something. There is no order at all, and the most common accident seems to be head-on collisions. Certainly the vehicles noticed burnt out or wrecked at the roadside show it to have been head on. There really is no regard for other road users; unless an oncoming vehicle is larger they overtake anyway, regardless of blind bends. Heshan, who drove me here is careful and considerate in comparison to most, yet even he has me gripping my seat at times. Roundabouts are chaos, there’s no such thing as stopping before entering a roundabout. Drive straight on and sort out who goes where or when in the middle, nothing is coordinated, there is no rhyme or reason. A few vehicles from the right might be allowed through, but then it’s a matter of forcing a way through. How the police ever decide who to stop and book is beyond me, every person and every vehicle is generally breaking the law. Which is exactly the case in question with motorcycles, helmets are compulsory; yet as many go without as comply. Blatantly flouting the law riders pass the police without them batting an eyelid. (Photos: Local fisherman - Uppuveli; War torn home - Tamil hinterland, Sri Lanka)

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