Sunday, 27 June 2010

Wild elephants, boaring!!

A lovely observation was made on a bus, modern day chivalry, well partly! After getting on the bus and a young lass had to stand, a youth sitting by her side took her bag to allow her to hold on securely. It was sweet, and I was impressed. When she thought she had a seat he gave it back, only to resume his gallantry when another guy got into the seat first. Only as I started writing this did I realize he could have actually offered her his seat, that would have been real chivalry; but hey, this is the 21st century! People do not give up their seats on buses, whoever it’s for.And few people seem keen to seat next to a westerner on the bus, can’t really work out why. It isn’t as if they aren’t curious or friendly! On the contrary, I get an awful lot of attention. Folks staring at me as they pass on buses, and without exception they are all smiles when I catch their eye, especially kids. I'm told the people are amazed at my tattoos, but not disgusted!

Finally I find my gumption, I assert myself! Not in an angry, unreasonable manner, but still being emphatic, without dithering or being susceptible to manipulation. More and more I’ve seethed inside as the owner of the guesthouse has taken the piss, fleecing me for every rupee possible. Always a need for more money, constant promises never being fulfilled. Lies and deceit; laughing all the way to the bank I’d say. I had enough and finally put my foot down when expected to leave on a full two-day tour at midday, in a faulty car. I refused and insisted on a full refund, which he spent an hour trying to cajole me out of getting. I’m rather pleased with myself, for the way I’m dealing with it, for the calm but insistent way I’m acting. In all honesty I’ve had enough of being taken for a ride and have acted admirably, at least in my eyes.

I finally relented and agreed to take the tour to Yala national Park, really wanting to visit there may as well be done now as later. Being reassured it was only a 2 ½ hr journey wasn’t actually taken seriously, how could it be, it was a Rodney claim. And he really is an unreliable, lying shit! I’ve a new driver from yesterday, with another youth to accompany us, I think he’s here because his English is much better. It’s been a long day, I’ve been pretty quiet for much of it, which must be quite hard for them. I’m also down to 4,000 rupees in cash, which I won’t top up until we get back to Kandy. There shouldn’t be a need to, it’s a prepaid tour! I’ve got through $600 in the last ten days, much of it through Rodney (the guesthouse owner), which I’m not chuffed about.

So how was today’s journey? Not too bad really, no a/c for much of it. I finally suggested turning off the system, having convinced myself the cooler unit had iced up and blocked itself. It may have taken a few hours but it cleared and worked fine. Three cheers for Mr Leslie! I liked the rout we took, very scenic, straight through tea plantation country. The majority was winding up and down mountainsides, spectacular open country lay all around. An ocean of greenery spread before us, with occasional low mist obscuring any view at all. The tea plantations are very neat and tidy, flowing down the mountain slopes in orderly rows. Individual companies run large areas, their names emblazoned across the slope in Hollywood style: but not on the same scale. I didn’t take a tour of the tea factory, I would have found it boring, just the sort of thing I got dragged round as a kid.

Around Nuwara Eliya the main crops cultivated are root veg, cabbage and beans. They’re grown in very uniform raised beds, terraces of them cover the hillsides around town. The terraces have deep sides, obviously dictated by the gradient of the hill. There were signs of small plots, separated by nylon mesh and posts; they don’t appear to be windbreaks, each plot about 50 m2 and only layed out like this is one small area. Once we’d left the tortuously windy mountainside the land opened out, it was flat and semi-wetland. Ideal for rice, and indeed it was covered with paddy fields. What I haven’t seen is much cultivation of fruit, it’s very haphazard; left to grow naturally mainly. The method obviously works for them as there is no shortage of fruit, the roads are lined with fruit stalls. Which reminds me, why the hell haven’t I stopped and got any rambutans? There are huge piles of them everywhere. Passing through a huge swathe of inland Sri Lanka showed the variation of homes, there were certainly plenty of mud walled houses with thatched roofs; but there were more block built homes! The latter could be seen with tiled roofs, which tended to be the better quality, while others had corrugated iron or asbestos; asbestos is the more prevalent. Do they actually manufacture it over here, or is the west selling their illegal toxic materials over here? The other day I noticed a lorry full being unloaded at a construction site, there is no shortage and it appears to be the material of choice. If you’ve ever sat under a corrugated iron roof during a tropical storm it’s easy to understand why, but only if you totally ignore the danger of building with asbestos.

Today is also a festival for full moon, which they have every month, I think, but this one is special. Driving into any village we’re welcomed by flag waving across the road and temporary shelter dishing out food or drink, it could be rice and curry, ice cream or just a cup of coffee. What a great idea, how generous. If I stayed here and never ate, slept in the gutter and waited for these occasions I would never recoup the amount of cash I’ve been fleeced for since arriving. I really have had enough, I’m actually sat here thinking of, leaving the place, going home! I could make an issue of it whenever it happens, as it is a continuous occurrence all my time would be spent reproaching people and insisting on not paying for something I’ve been given and not asked for. I don’t want to be constantly confronting people, and yet even a hotel will serve a three-course meal when you’ve only ordered one dish. Making it double the price! Right now I can only think of advising anyone wanting to come here not to, just don’t do it. I feel inadequate for the task of coping here, I do not have the energy to tackle the problem and however I look at it it matters to me. Why should I allow folks to constantly demand money from me, because they have given me something I do not want; even when I specifically said no, I do not want that.

Like the journey down the a/c unit packed in and we seriously baked in the car. Being so hot, bothered and unhappy proved hard to handle and I was in a foul mood with Rodney. Still didn’t blow a fuse with him, in fact I actually offered a compromise to save him having to raise the money he is meant to reimburse me. A simple solution, which leaves me out of pocket; I think it is a nicer way to do things, it leaves me feeling more positive about myself, which is more important than money. I do not recoup my 3,000 rupees but gain more in my head and heart. I get another free night and meals for the next 36 hours, we’re then reconciled with each other. Possibly soft and foolish, there again, maybe that is the way I’d rather be. It’s much better than being mister angry and giving people shit over everything possible. As I said, it’s taken the heat out my frustration, which is very important. Now I need to fortify my resolve and make the most of being here, not since India have I bowed out early from a trip abroad.

The safari driver this morning didn’t like being left without a tip, and I couldn’t be bothered to explain why. Having requested once to slow down and avoid the convoy ploughing their way around the park I objected to being subjected to more of the same. Most frustrating was him driving away from things just as I was about to take a photo. The best part, excepting the elephants, was waiting by a watering hole. That’s when the wild boar and spotted deer were seen, cautiously venturing down to the water’s edge. Once there were no other vehicles around the peace was beautiful, it could well have been worth waiting longer. Considering the next port of call was the beach I should have stayed! As expected the number of visitors was high, but the speed all the drivers tore around at was stupid. And once a mobile call went out they all raced to where the elephants had been spotted. I counted eighteen vehicles at one spot, and it disturbed the creatures. A pair of matriarchs formed a defensive position between the road and the herd, and the tiny one hardly ventured into sight. Luckily for me I was in the best position to see it when it did appear in clear view. Now I’ve calmed down and seen the photos I feel much better about it all. I’ve also spoken to a guy who claims to be a friend of his so he can actually explain.

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