Posted in Travel

Bodhgaya, India (Where Buddha became enlightened and I became ill)

What a novel concept, typing with both hands on a laptop rather than tapping out one letter at a time on my iPhone. Thank you to those that made it through all the unedited ramblings of my journey. I made it home safely and am now dealing with jet lag in the comfort of my bed, with my dog by my side. Before I get back to all the busyness that home brings, here is my last post (for now at least).

I hadn’t originally planned to come to Bodhgaya, I was supposed to go to Rishikesh instead. But after my time at Kopan monastery, I felt like I should at least visit the spot where Buddha became enlightened under the Bodhi tree. A friend at Kopan Monastery told me about the Root Institute (a meditation center), so that’s where I planned to stay for my final 6 nights in India. I actually had no idea that it was connected to Kopan, having been opened by Lama Yeshe back in 1984. What a lovely surprise to discover this and to also see a few familiar faces from Kopan when I arrived, including one of my Kopan roomies. It’s like I had come full circle and it felt like home. Three of us went for dinner the first night and visited the Maha Bodhi temple complex which houses the famous Bodhi tree where Prince Siddhartha sat and meditated until he found enlightenment (became a Buddha). Although not the original tree, this tree is said to have been grown from a branch of the original 2,500-year-old  tree. Right behind the tree is a massive stupa/temple to mark the spot where Buddha became enlightened, which was fully restored in the 1880s. You cannot take your phone into the complex, so I will borrow some photos from the Internet. At night the temple is lit up and most of the visitors are devotees from all over the world coming to circumambulate, prostrate, meditate, and/or pray. The energy permeates the air, your body, and your mind.

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Maha Bodhi stupa at night. Source: https://speakzeasy.wordpress.com/tag/mahabodhi-temple/

The day after I arrived at the Root Institute many of the participants started the Green Tara retreat, which meant that everyone was in silence. This was completely fine with me and I welcomed the time to process my trip. I thought about my Buddhist practice, going over what I thought I had done well and where I could have dealt with things differently – all without judgement. I was happy to get back into a routine and join the morning meditation sessions and eat yummy buffet-style food, with salad! It was on that second day that I was so excited to finally have “safe” salad but quickly decided that I am no longer going to pretend to like cucumbers. There are conversations you have in your head while silent – in mine, I literally broke up with cucumber. It was also that salad, I believe, that made me sick. Seriously, I gave away what I thought was all my meds, thinking there was no way that I would get sick in my final 6 days at a meditation center. I had eaten at some very questionable places in India and in a month had not gotten sick, so I thought I was in the clear. Whatever it was, it knocked me out. I got up and meditated at 6:45am and then crawled back into bed until noon. Stayed up a few hours reading and then went back to bed. I couldn’t eat anything, which wasn’t the worst thing after all the over-indulgence. Thankfully I found a strip of three azithromycin tabs that I missed when giving everything else away. After 3 days of antibiotics, I was feeling normal again. Part of me also thinks that my adrenal glands are completely shot. Imagine walking along and a driver sneaks up behind you and then lays on their horn. Then imagine that happening about 50x per day. That’s what it’s like in India. they seem to think that I am going to randomly toss my body into the intersection so they’d better let me know they are there just on case. Thanks for that.

Green Tara statue at Root Institute

I visited the temple three more times just to circumambulate and meditate. I visited once during the day and confirmed that evenings were the better time to visit. Less tourists but thousands more mosquitos, so repellent is a must. The meditation park sounded nice but it’s actually under construction and was filled with men supposedly working, more like napping. During my meditation I felt like I was being stared at so I opened an eye and sure enough there is a huge group of Chinese tourists watching me. Better to just pick a spot amongst the crowd around the stupa. On my final evening there, a monk from Thailand handed me a leaf from the Bodhi tree saying that it was a gift. I thought, “oh how lovely” put my hands in prayer and said thank you. He then put out his hand and asked for his gift, I laughed thinking that he really didn’t understand the meaning of “gift” and handed him 10 rupees.

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Source: wetellyouhow.com/amazing-pics-worlds-top-10-heritage-sites-in-india

I also visited the 80 foot Buddha statue, which is just basically a place to take selfies from what I saw. There are many other Buddhist temples in Bodhgaya, built by/for Buddhists in many different countries. I did not visit many of them as I was done being a tourist and I preferred the quiet of the meditation center. I spent most of my time reading, including a book about a Buddhist nun from the UK who spent 12 years meditating in a Himalayan cave. I also watched a movie with the nuns and monks staying at Root about the Dalai Lama’s time in India. I can’t for the life of me remember what it was called, but it was very good. Other than the illness, my time at the Root Institute was nice and an important segue in preparing me for my trip home.

80 foot Buddha statue
The Thai Temple

The temple complex was beautiful and peaceful as was the Root Institute, everywhere in between was dirty, loud, and extremely poor. It was the first place in my travels where I felt worse for the people than I did for the dogs. There are literally people everywhere with bowls out and hands outstretched for food or money. It was also the first place where I felt I needed to give what I could as the people were not aggressive about it and in obvious need. I am truly blessed to live a comfortable life in Canada and be able to afford to travel. Sometimes you need to be reminded of that. I’m still processing everything and am very happy to be home. I am not sure if I’ll visit India again but if I do, I still want to make it to Rishikesh one day.

bodhi-tree
Bodhi Tree at Maha Bodhi. Source: https://tamilandvedas.files.wordpress.com/2014/10/bodhi-tree.jpg
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Posted in Travel

Varanasi, India (Mayhem, stench, burning bodies, and puppies. I loved it)

I had pre-arranged for someone to pick me up from the Varanasi train station and I’m grateful for that as it was complete mayhem when I arrived. My hotel was near the Ganges at Kedar Ghat, which is in an ideal location between the more touristy main ghat and popular Assi Ghat. Once you get close to the ghats, you have to abandon your vehicle and walk through an intricate maze of alleyways to find your hotel. Thankfully my driver took me straight to my hotel and there were plenty of signs pointing me in the right direction once I was on my own. I was tired but also hungry, so I enjoyed the beautiful view of the river from the hotel rooftop restaurant and then had a nap. I didn’t want to feel intimidated by Varanasi and just hide out in my hotel all evening, so I put my big girl panties on and ventured out on my own to the Ganga Aarti, a nightly devotional ritual that uses fire as an offering to the Goddess Ganga. There were tons of people, a mix of tourists, locals, and pilgrims. I felt okay but I got lots of stares and questions. It was all very fascinating though and I’m glad I went.  

First night at Ganga Aarti

The next morning I went down to walk the ghats at sunrise. There are tons of people offering boat rides along the Ganges, but I wasn’t up for it and the walking was nice. When I got to Assi Ghat, I found a very sad looking dog that had a ruptured abscess on his face and who just looked so emaciated and depressed. I looked up an animal welfare agency in Varanasi and thankfully found Varanasi for Animals (vfa). Since it was still very early, I took a photo of him and promised I’d be back. When I called I was told the clinic was quite far away and was given another number. The person who answered the phone didn’t speak English so I called vfa back and was given the name and number of an Australian volunteer (Neeta) who had also planned on bringing him in. I called her and asked if I could come with her and she graciously accepted. I cancelled my tour for the day and met her and the dog (Matru) at the ghats. Off we went in an auto rickshaw to the vet. I was super grateful for Neeta’s help as she really cares about these dogs and she conveniently spoke Hindi. We left him at the vet and I started scheming on how I could bring him home. After much deliberation and research, I decided that this wasn’t the best idea and was reassured that there are people on the ghats that will look after him. 
How I found the poor love in the morning
Off to the vet we go!

With my new friend Neeta, I was shown a few great restaurants and ate many delicious western meals. She also walked down to the main burning ghat with me, which I can only describe as surreal. There are upwards of 300 bodies cremated here daily! One guy brought us right up to a row of active cremations and when I looked over and literally saw a leg melting, I nudged Neeta and said that we should move further away. It felt really disrespectful to be that close. Of course there are still scams even at this sacred spot. You will be told that the surrounding buildings house poor woman in hospice who cannot afford their own cremations, then your heartstrings will be pulled on to visit and buy them a pile of wood. Thankfully my driver had already warned me of this scam. From a distance we watched the process. First the bodies come in on bamboo stretchers, decorated in fabric and marigolds. Then the body is washed in the river for purification and set aside until it has dried, in the meantime cows will happily eat those marigolds right off the body, which is actually a good omen I am told. The body is then placed on a pile of wood and covered with more wood. It takes 3-4 hours for the body to burn and then the ashes are kept by the family for 2 weeks before being brought back to the river to be released. 

Sunrise at the small burning ghat (no active cremations, otherwise no photos allowed)

Varanasi is said to be the spiritual capital of India and it definitely feels this way with the numerous temples and cremations. The reason it is so spiritual and why so many people bathe in the Ganges River here is because this is the only place where the river turns back on itself. That’s what someone told me anyway. However, from what I’ve read, it is also the spot where Lord Shiva and Parvati stood when time started ticking for the first time. Whatever the reason, Hindus from all over come to bathe in and touch the river, and celebrate along the river banks. I was there during wedding season so there were many couples coming to the river for luck in their marriages. I swore, all of those women looked extremely unhappy, so I hope the river brings them all the happiness and luck. 

Married the day prior, the new couple receive river blessings

Varanasi is not a pretty place. There are times when the ghats can seem quite peaceful with men playing cards or badminton and kids playing cricket or flying kites. But there is also the pungent smell of cow manure and human urine, since the men seem to have zero bladder control and pee on everything in sight.  There are also literally hundreds of dogs, goats, chickens, water buffalo, and burning bodies too. And then by late morning it is swarming with people. All of that aside, the ghats are generally quite clean. There are people paid to sweep up the steps and there are garbage cans everywhere where men do their best to spit their red betel into. Garbage and bodies are no longer allowed to be tossed into the Ganges either, but I did see a dead cow bobbing down it once. I’m told the river is clean and was dared to go have a bath in it. No thanks. Which is probably why I didn’t risk getting into a boat either. 

At least I would have had my own boat!

One of my favorite moments was watching the sunset from the roof of my hotel. The sunset was beautiful but what really struck me were the hundreds of kids flying kites and playing the game of cutting their opponents string, like in the book, The Kite Runner. I also saw families of monkeys playing and jumping from rooftop to rooftop; a rooftop cricket game; and two men that spent hours hollering and spinning rags at a flock of pigeons that called their roof home. 

Rooftop view with purple kite in foreground

On day 3 I went to Sarnath to visit the Dhamekh Stupa (and ancient grounds), the location where Buddha gave his first sermon after becoming enlightened under the Bodhi tree. There is also a temple, deer park, and museum. An important Buddhist pilgrimage site not to be missed (unless of course you don’t care about Buddha). 

Dhamekh stupa – Sarnath

The rest of my time was spent walking along the ghats, eating great food, and playing with lots of dogs and puppies. One night I bought this sweet mum of 7 puppies a chicken dinner for 200 rupees. That is more than I pay for my own veggie meals. The men at the shop thought we were crazy and proceeded to take out their cameras to document the crazy westerners feeding a dog a perfectly good chicken dinner. 

One small section of the ghats: 4 chickens, 3 cows, 11 dogs

My final day was bitter sweet, I was happy to move on but I also grew to really like Varanasi. It was also the day that Neeta was going to check up on Matru and I would have loved to have gone. I had a great breakfast at the best cafe owned by an American woman (Aum Cafe). I then headed to the train where once again I felt a bit afraid standing there in the platform by myself, unsure if I was going to get on the right train or not. And then my fears were validated when two women swarmed me talking a mile a minute in Hindi. I thought they were trying to ask what train I was getting on but then a sketchy looking guy that knew them came over and asked if I had crack and that he needs crack. I said no and that the stuff was bad for you. Thankfully a train came (not mine) and I used the opportunity to move far away from them.  
Good times at Underground Cafe with Neeta, Tim, and Nora

I got my update on Matru. He is still not better. We suspect it’s nasal TVT (a type of tumor) but the vet doesn’t agree but will give him chemo anyway?! In any case, he would not be healthy enough to come home to Canada anyway. I did what I could, got him treatment and made a donation to vfa. Hopefully he’ll be better soon. 

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Agra, India (a must-see monument and a rug I didn’t know I needed)

On the way to Agra we stopped at Khole Ke Hanuman Ji Temple complex, a Hindu monkey temple that was interesting but had an outrageous amount of begging and holy men that let you inside the temples and then forcefully ask for a donation.

Hanuman Temple near Jaipur

We then stopped at Fatehpur Sikri, an ancient city built of red sandstone. After acquiring a guide I did not ask for, I didn’t feel like paying an additional 500 rupees to see the palace side of the complex. My driver was not impressed with me but I don’t think he understands what it’s like to be a small blonde woman in India, where no doesn’t seem to be accepted as an answer. I was fine with what I saw there. 
My guide took this great photo at Fatehpur Sikri

The one thing I did not want to miss on my trip to India was the Taj Mahal, which is located in Agra. The Taj Mahal was commissioned by Mughal Emperor, Shah Jahan in 1632 to house his wife’s tomb after she died giving birth to their 14th child. It took 22 years and 20,000 artisans to complete. Constructed of white marble and semi-precious stone inlays, this mausoleum is nothing short of amazing. The first night I viewed the Taj from across the Yamuna River at sunset and then went to my nice hotel and watched TV for the first time in 4 months. 
First glimpse of the Taj Mahal!!

The next morning I arrived at the Taj at sunrise but because so many tourists jumped the queue, I didn’t actually get to see the sunrise. It didn’t matter once you got in because the magnificence of the Taj made you forget the sunrise and that there were hundreds (thousands?) of other people there. The only thing that I found a bit disturbing was that they give everyone a pair of disposable shoe covers and a bottle of water – with 50,000 visitors per day, that is a lot of waste. Not that it helps much when it’s only a few people, but you can decline, which I did. Unfortunately you cannot take photos inside the Taj Mahal, but trust me when I say that the intricate carving and stone inlays are impressive. 

Obligatory Taj photo

Although the Taj is the highlight of Agra, Agra Fort is also quite nice. Yes another fort, but this one actually had really beautiful architecture, so it was definitely worth the visit. Next up was the baby Taj Mahal (built 1622-1628), another tomb of someone I’ve never heard of. It doesn’t actually have any family correlation to the Taj Mahal but I believe it’s called this because it was used as a draft for the Taj Mahal.
Afterwards, I finally agreed to go to some shops. Just a marble shop and then a textile shop where I firmly said I wasn’t looking to buy anything. “Don’t worry ma’am, looking is free.” $375 and a rug later, I was done looking. I love my new rug but my bag is very heavy now! 
This is not my rug, but this is how it was made

My train to Varanasi wasn’t until 8:30pm so I paid extra to stay longer in my hotel and let my driver get back to Delhi. The Agra train station was a little daunting and the train was late. I migrated towards a young male couple from Spain and together we bombarded any harassment. I then shared a “cabin”  with a French couple – I’ve never been so happy to see other westerners. I didn’t really sleep and the only food offered was a veg cutlet sandwich, but 14 hours later, I was finally in Varanasi. 

Sometimes Indian trains serve decent food, this was not one of those times. Lol

Posted in Travel

Jaipur, India (no love for the pink city)

Jaipur is about a 5 hour drive from Delhi and I was grateful to travel in a nice, air-conditioned car. Sitting in the front seat of a car however, made the road kill a lot more prominent. We passed many dead dogs and cows along the way that I wished I hadn’t seen. Before checking into my hotel, we stopped at Amer Fort and Palace, Jaipur’s principal tourist stop. The best part was this beautiful mirrored room (Sheesh Mahal) said to have been built for the Queen of Jaipur so she could feel like she was sleeping under the stars.

Sheesh mahal – palace of mirrors

As we continued on to the hotel I saw a beautifully painted elephant walking along the road, so we stop and for 50 rupees, the trainer allowed me to pet her and have some photos with her. I declined riding her as I am very against elephant riding. However, just getting to pet her all on my own was the highlight of my stay in Jaipur. 

I know I’ve posted this photo everywhere, but I’m just so happy with this moment!

Feeling a little sheltered by riding in the car I decide to venture out on my own in search of a late lunch/early dinner. I ate a delicious meal at a tiny hole-in-the-wall for cheap and then start walking back to the hotel because there is really not much else Jaipur can offer you, unless you want to shop. I pass by a young guy on the street who starts the usual line of questioning and I must have been short with him because he accused me of not liking Indian people. I told him that this was not true and he asked me to join him for tea, to which I declined. I chatted with him a bit and then of course it turns out that he co-owns the nearby textile shop. I agree to come have a look and a cup of tea. He didn’t pressure me into buying anything but I did actually want to have a kurta (top) made, so I said I’d return the next evening after my day of touring. 

The following morning we started at Birla Mandir, a modern Hindu temple, followed by the nearby Ganesha Temple. Neither of them are must-sees. Just outside the Ganesha Temple a man offered me a free massage and then practically begs for sex. I put my hand up to his face with a firm no and proceeded to the car. My driver was very angry and wanted me to show him who it was. Thankfully for the perv, he was nowhere to be found. I then visited a very nice museum called Albert Hall and enjoyed a proper latte at the museum cafe. 

Albert Hall Museum

I spent the rest of the day wandering around the pink city, City Palace and Hawa Mahal (the Palace of Winds) the famous pink palace wall where women of the Royal family could stand behind and observe street festivals without being seen by people from the outside (see cover photo).  The city of Jaipur is pink because the Prince of Wales and Queen Victoria visited India in 1876. Pink is the color of hospitality so the Maharaja of Jaipur ordered the city to be painted pink. 
The city really is pink!

We then visited another fort, Jaigarh Fort, which houses a massive cannon and has nice views of Amer Fort. Jaipur has a third fort, but I didn’t feel the need to see yet another one and I wanted to go back to the textile shop like I had promised. 

View of Amer Fort and Amer city from Jaigarh fort

The guy I had talked to the day before wasn’t there initially so I started looking at fabrics with his business partner, who was very kind and helpful. I only wanted one kurta but after an hour or so, I had an order for five.  I thought I had gotten a good price but have since found out that I paid too much. While they were being made I drank some tea with the guys and then 2 of us moved on to rum and coke. I was careful not to drink too much but at one point I ended up hiding from their dad/uncle in the backseat of a car with the guy from the street – the whole thing was a little weird/awkward. Thankfully my shirts were done soon after and I was on my way. Trust me, it sounds way more sketchy than it was – the guys were nice. I was happy to leave Jaipur though. 

The guys from the shop

Posted in Travel

New Delhi, India (where princess hires a driver)

I admit to being nervous about traveling in and around Delhi on my own. Also, after over a month of public transport I was ready for some luxury and ease in my travels, which is why I hired a car and driver for my first 6 days back in India to tour Delhi, Jaipur, and Agra (the Golden Triangle). 

The good thing about having a car and driver is that you get to see many things in a short period of time. You also get hassled less by touts and rickshaw drivers and you can have them help you with finding an ATM and a SIM card, which I needed to do right after landing. I started touring at 3:30pm and managed to see Humayun’s Tomb (a beautiful mausoleum built by Emporer Humayun’s widow in 1565-72 A.D.), the Parliament Buildings (great architecture), the Delhi Gate, and Lodi Gardens. 

Humayun’s Tomb

Lodi Gardens was full of healthy/fit people running along the perimeter path, beautiful temples, a lake, and many people walking dogs. It was really beautiful and even in the dark I felt safe. I was actually surprised at how clean and modern New Delhi was. I was really expecting it to be more like Kathmandu. 

Lodi Gardens at night

The next day was another busy day of touring. I saw the big Mosque where despite wearing long pants and a long-sleeved shirt, I still had to wear the stupid gown. They asked me to pay afterwards and I said no, especially since I had to pay for a guide I didn’t ask for. I then took a cycle tour through the Old Delhi bazaars.  Now this was how I thought all of Delhi would look. It was dirty, chaotic and full of markets and people. Each street specialized in a different item: shoes, sari’s, spices, flowers, books, paper, etc. My rickshaw driver took me into a spice market and up to the roof. It kind of looked like the crack houses you see on TV except instead of crack and junkies, it was full of spices (and rats, garbage, and people sleeping in corners) with a smell that made you choke. It was fascinating, really. 

The spice markets from the roof
 

I then went to the Hindu Temple complex, Swaminarayan Akshardham. The main attraction, Akshardham Mandir was the most amazing architecture I have ever seen with intricate carvings including 148 life-sized elephants. Sadly we were not allowed to take our cameras inside, but I just stood there in awe talking to myself in my head about how incredible it was. It was actually refreshing to not have a bunch of tourists snapping pictures. If you go to Delhi, do not miss this!

The only photo of Swaminarayan Akshardham I was able to take

Next up was the Raj Ghat where Mahatma Ghandi was cremated and then the Lotus Temple (Baha’i House of Worship) where I happily took some time to meditate. We finished off with a visit to the Sikh Temple and then Qutb Minar, a 73 meter rubble masonry minaret. 

Qutb Minar
The Lotus Temple

I really enjoyed my brief time in Delhi. I felt safe and I enjoyed the eclectic mix of old and crumbly with modern and new. Add to that the crazy driving, the elephants and horse drawn carts on the highway, the nice people, and beautiful peaceful parks and you’ve got Delhi. 
Just a couple elephants, walking along the highway!

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Kalpitiya, Sri Lanka (where my heart broke and I wanted to go home)

With a week to spare I had to decide where I wanted to go. I narrowed it down to three choices: Trincomalee, Jaffna, and Kalpitiya. It is off season on the East coast (Trincomalee) and Jaffna was getting mixed reviews since it was hardest hit by the recent war and due to it being so remote, I was a bit nervous about traveling there alone, so that left Kalpitiya. With kite surfing, Dolphins, and scuba diving, I thought it would be a nice, relaxing end to my time in Sri Lanka. 

When the usual Buddha buses were now Jesus buses, I knew I was in different territory. When I got off the Jesus bus, I was immediately followed by a tuk tuk driver that just wouldn’t leave me alone. Finally I said fine, I’ll go with you (and pay 10x more than I would have taking another bus). Sensing my frustration, he stopped at the wine shop (that sadly doesn’t really sell wine) to let me pick up a cold beer for the road. He seemed disappointed that I only bought one small can – maybe because along the way he tried to invite himself to stay at my guesthouse for the 3 nights I was there and maybe if I had drank more I would have said yes?? Ya, no. 

Upon arriving at my guesthouse, I witnessed the manager berating a couple of guests for thinking his 1200 rupee BBQ chicken dinner was too expensive. Having also just arrived, they wanted to see what else there was. The manager told them that if they didn’t decide right then, then no dinner for them. I mouthed “what a dick” to them and they agreed and declined the chicken dinner. I asked how much for a veg dinner and he said I could pay what I thought it was worth. He went on to complain about being short staffed and having to do everything himself. He told me his wife had died of cancer and that he became an alcoholic but then his friend bought this place and let him run it. I felt empathy for him but looking at my very dirty bathroom, he obviously wasn’t doing everything. 

I checked out the beach, which was pleasantly non-touristy but also very windy and strewn with plastic and dead fish from the local fisherman’s nets. I could see all the kite surfers down the beach at donkey point (which I assume was named because there are actually lots of wild donkeys here) and decided that maybe I wouldn’t try a new sport that I would likely never do again anyway. I wanted to dive the next day but the one PADI certified dive center was a 20-minute drive south. Like everything else in Kalpitiya, it cost twice as much as the rest of Sri Lanka and they didn’t have space for the next morning either, so I said I’d come the day after instead.  

I forgot to take pics of beach, kite surfers, or cabana, so you get this donkey instead.

I spent that evening reading on the porch of my overpriced, yet not that nice, not even on the beach cabana being swarmed by the most annoying tiny little flies. Dolphin watching didn’t interest me either, so with nothing to do the next day, I just planned to visit the beach and hang out on my porch. Thankfully I had just started a good book, so that was okay. 

When I asked the manager how much a tuk tuk would be to get me to the dive shop the next morning, I was told 1000 rupees (it should have been no more than 300) – that’s when I snapped. You can say it was the rupee that broke the donkey’s back. I told him that I’d like to leave a day early and he said no refunds for the money I already paid for the room.

After breakfast, I went to the beach before the winds picked up and did a cost-benefit analysis of my decision to leave and decided that it was worth giving up $35USD for my happiness. On my way back I came upon a lone, skinny puppy looking for food. I had seen a mother dog with full milk bags earlier, so I picked up the pup and started to look for her mum. Within minutes the pup was asleep in my arms. I finally found the rest of the litter and a male dog that seemed to have adopted them. I put her down and tried to walk away but all 6 of them followed me out into the road. I stayed and played with them for a long while and finally 3 of them ran off into a yard, but the little one I had been holding stuck with me along with a litter mate and the male dog. I finally just sat on the side of the road and the two pups fell asleep at my feet. That’s when I got up and ran and cried and couldn’t stop crying. I felt so guilty. 

The pup who broke my heart

And then while back reading on my porch, I heard a tiny little mew of a kitten. Just beside my cabana was a very young kitten just looking at me – of course I had to pick her up. I tucked her into my lap and continued to read. She started nursing on my hand, then had a bath and fell asleep. I asked the manager if I could give her some milk and he said no, that she’d just keep coming back. Also the resident dog, one that the manager rescued from the street (he’s not all bad), kept trying to attack the kitten so I handed her over to some passing Brits. 

Whenever I left my guesthouse, I’d run into the pups. That little one that I’d grown attached to had also become attached to me and she always followed me and I also had to try to lose her, which just broke my heart more and more. And then the kitten came back too. Because I’m not going straight home I can’t really be picking up strays at this point in my trip and the kittens and puppies are actually the better off animals. That didn’t stop me from contacting an animal relocation service though. Unfortunately the cost to ship that puppy home was $5000USD. It’s just not practical. A western couple that live in Sri Lanka were also playing with the pups one time. They are considering getting a pup, so I begged them to take the skinny one. All I can do now is hope. 

That evening I had planned to go elsewhere for dinner, but now all of a sudden the manager was all nice and said that he told me I could eat dinner there for free (he did not), but sure I’ll eat for free. Maybe he thought I’d stay but no, my mind was made up. 

The next morning the wee kitten was sleeping on my porch sofa. Oh my heart. Before the manager saw her, I had to take her away from the guesthouse and went to the beach to try and find her some fish. Sadly the beach dogs are very territorial and the kitten was terrified. I ended up leaving her with my pup and as luck would have it, they were curious and distracted by each other, so I was able to make a clean break. I still tear up thinking about them and wonder if I could have done more. 
My 8am pre-arranged tuk tuk didn’t show up and I wonder if the manager sabotaged that as its not like them to not show. With the help of some westerners on the street I got another one but now I was already 45 mins behind schedule. My “free” breakfast hadn’t been ready before I left and the samosas I bought the day before were covered in ants, so off I went with no food and no water. When I got to the bus station I had to choose between the rustic public bus and a nice a/c bus. I asked which one was faster and did not get a clear answer. With a 4 hour journey ahead of me, I chose the a/c bus. Wrong choice. That one sat there for an hour waiting to be filled up as I watched 3 local buses leave. Normally I wouldn’t care but I had a train to catch and now I was certain I would miss it. My “hanger” and my emotional past few days got the better of me and I had a total meltdown. I was done with this country and I wanted to go home! My friends talked me off the ledge (thank god for cheap data plans), I put on some music, and the bus finally got moving. Yes, I missed my train so add another bus and another tuk tuk ride and 11 hours later I was back in Unawatuna. 

Although Unawatuna hadn’t been my favorite place, I knew I wanted to dive and this was the closest, good dive location to the airport. There is something comforting coming back to a place that you’ve travelled to before. The guesthouse I’d stayed at when I was there previously had a room for me and once I dropped my bag, I went straight to the dive shop where they were also happy to see me. Within 1/2 hour of my arrival, I was on the back of a scooter and on the way to the wine shop, where they actually had a California Cabernet Sauvignon.

Back in my happy place

I had two full days there. I knew where all the cheap places to eat were, where the best coffee was, and where to get the cheapest King coconuts. I didn’t need to see any sites, so I just dove and read my book. I did 5 dives there in addition to the 4 I did last time- all at different sites. 

Gil illustrates our next dive – sadly no sharks at shark point

The dives weren’t amazing and the dive master was a little too pawsy, but I was just so happy to be there. It was totally worth the excursion. My final day was spent on the beach, which I hadn’t actually done yet in Unawatuna. It was nice and I was in no hurry to get to Negombo (the closest town to the airport) anyway. I had a final veg/cheese roti for lunch and then had a pleasant 2 train journey up to Negombo before heading to Delhi early the next morning. 
Sri Lanka was great, but I think I would have been fine with just a 30-day Visa instead of spending that $100USD to extend it a week. I secretly hoped that going to the Maldives would have been easier/cheaper from Sri Lanka, but sadly it wasn’t.