Feb 27 2012

Cycle Touring Sri Lanka 1: Half way round the world, and I have now started blogging! (to divert my attention from my imminent death)

As I write this my wife Linds and I are on a Sri Lankan bus travelling at an entirely inappropriate speed towards Colombo Airport, where we will hopefully be able to collect our hopefully intact bicycles. The main safety feature of this ancient coach is an image of the Buddha plus friends decorated with flashing lights. Let’s hope it works, because in common with everyone else on these roads, our driver begrudgingly resorts to hitting the brakes only after repeated use of the horn has failed to clear our path.

 

This is the 25th week of our travels, and we have around 18 weeks left before getting home. In order to clear my conscience for starting to blog about it so late, here is what we have done in the last six months. You can have it in picture form only if you’re properly rushed, five word summary form for the relatively motivated, or full-on text for those who need to procrastinate for longer. Take your pick:


LA, California:

Beach, many loonies grinning excessively

We had 3 days in Venice Beach with the assorted eccentrics. Managed to avoid going downtown altogether, which is a good thing, I believe.

New Zealand:

Rugby heaven, amazing scenery fatigue

A month on each of the two islands, following the England World Cup effort. We had tickets for the England Group matches, kindly bought for us as wedding presents by various friends and family. The England rugby was hugely disappointing (fortunately I’m half welsh, so swiftly pulled out the Welsh shirt when England exited), but New Zealand was fantastic. We wished we’d spent 6 weeks on the South Island and two on the much busier North. We camped the whole two months (bar 3 nights) in a tiny two man tent, partly because we hadn’t realised quite how cold it would be! Amazing place – we’d both love to go back, preferably with mountain bikes…

Singapore:

Clean. Hilarious buildings. Many people.

4 days here. Amazing buildings, splendid food. Blagged our way up to the viewing deck of the funniest building I’ve ever seen for free,instead of paying the extortionate $20 charge like everyone else! (“Can we have a table at the restaurant at the top please”?). Got made to feel 3” tall by a man in a camera shop, because our camera is nearly 2 years old.

Sabah, Malaysian Borneo:

MASSIVE insects. Nice fish. Gingermonkeys.

Blimey. This was a shock! I’d been out of Europe only once before we set off, and that was to Florida. Borneo was an education in Asia for me – and aside from feeling very prominently big, pale and sweaty much of the time, it was fantastic! We did our PADI Open Water Diver course at a stilted resort over it’s own reef, which we had almost to ourselves due to it being the last week before the season started, and we went to the Sepilok Orang Utan rehabilitation centre, which was phenomenal. Would love to go back. The place was teeming with life, often in the form of insects much bigger than insects should be.

Thailand, Laos and Cambodia:

Let’s go back please. Wat?

Loved it! Managed to do some of the Thai Islands before the hordes arrived for the peak season, and had a particularly lovely time chilling out at a guesthouse / restaurant called Pim in Ao Mae Haad, Northwest Ko Pha Ngang, where the resident Myna bird shrieked ‘Rent Boy, Rent Boy’ every time he saw me (no-one else) and the lady who ran the kitchen made, and taught me to make, absolutely delicious Som Tam – green papaya salad with lime juice and a lot -really, a lot – of chilli! Spent a lot of time including Christmas and New Year with my good mate Adam who lives in Phuket now (cheers Ad!) and then travelled up North to Chiang Mai, which beat the islands hands down as far as I was concerned – great coffee scene, and some excellent mountain biking! Even Linds enjoyed downhilling, despite having previously sworn she would never go MTBing again after the last outing ended with her inverted in a ditch several feet below the wooden bridge she was trying to ride on at the time.

We then crossed in to Laos and took a two day slow boat down the Mekong to Luang Prabang, and promptly fell ill. I’ll spare you the details, but it marred our two weeks in Laos and Cambodia. Hope to go back there and do it properly one day! We did just about recover in time to spend three days cycling round the jaw-dropping ruins of Angkor though… another highlight for me. Absolutely incredible.

Sri Lanka to date:

Best breakfasts known to humanity

We’ve had two weeks here now, one dominated by seeing some of our best mates from home (home being Sandbar, Grosvenor Street), which was absolutely fantastic, and the second was HelpXing (basically some voluntary work in exchange for lodgings) at an English Language School in tiny Mi-ella near slightly larger Wallesmulla in Southern Sri Lanka. We both taught English Language for the first time; I also built them a Heath Robinson chicken egg incubator. Fingers crossed it produces chickens, and not omelettes. Our host Firdouse took me out to test ride a pushbike with a petrol engine strapped to it which he was thinking of buying. Amazing. Video will be uploaded soon! Oh, and dahl (lentil curry), sambol (grated coconut plus spices and veg) and roti (flatbread) breakfast = heaven. The coffee they serve here’s total rubbish though, which is a shame considering the history of growing it.

 

So that is 6 months and 8 countries in horrendously inadequate detail, but let’s be frank – there wasn’t much cycling, which is what we’re all about here! We originally planned to have our bikes with us the whole time, but Linds managed to sustain a really nasty knee injury skiing in spring (mainly by standing still in exactly the place I was about to snowboard. Oops).

Anyway, the knee seems to be recovered now, and the horrendous shipping company we used has allegedly managed to finally relinquish our bikes from the vice-like grip of their Heathrow depot where they’ve been for two weeks, and thus we find ourselves hurtling across Sri Lanka to pick them up. I really hope they’ve made it in one piece, and I really hope we make it to them in one piece. If we do, We have 18 weeks of bicycle touring in Sri Lanka, South West India and Nepal to look forward to – can’t wait!

PS: After I finishing writing this, a man got on the bus, shouted some Sinhalese, and then started smashing up and eating a fluorescent tube light bulb.  Eating it I tell you. Absolutely terrifying. We had no idea what he was saying, so I could only assume that he was absolutely nuts and a danger to himself and everyone else. Turned out he was busking! I prefer the guitar, and other activities that don’t cause me to taste blood and fear for my life, so gave him no money. Tssk.

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