Monthly Archives: February 2015

Bike Ride

Marriage is a wonderful invention: then again, so is a bicycle repair kit!
– Billy Connolly

I haven’t written much lately purely as I haven’t had all that much to say!
Kati and I went out for a bike ride today, Cathy walked along and we all went to the park in the compound. I have a camera mount on my bike which I have just placed in on a much better spot. Before you make any comments, I know I need to sort the breaks out as they are grinding, you don’t notice it much but it is actually quite windy. I was surprised how clear it is even though it is windy. We have had some pretty dusty days over the past couple of weeks. We are still waiting to see any rain here; we had some incredibly quick very brief shower at night some months ago; however, I can honestly say I have not seen any rain in Qatar since arriving in August last year!

Here are some videos I took today!

To the Park We Go

Out for a Ride

Ride Back Home

Advertisements

Mummy, am I adopted? Part One

Part One

Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.
Dalai Lama

As Katja was playing with her new friend as we packed our camping gear, these words echoed throughout the island “Mummy, am I adopted by you?” We stopped in our tracks as our jaws dropped; there was an uncomfortable silence which seemed to last an eternity as Cathy and I looked at each other stunned at what we had just heard. A wave of emotions hit us like a speeding train as we quickly thought of an answer. This was certainly not the time or the place in which to have this conversation. We simply answered “let’s talk about it when we get home”.

Our Early Years 207861_1028342707076_8978_n

Many, many years ago, we talked about adopting, it was something we were both very keen to do. We never really talked about it in further detail for many years. Our lives were busy with work, building a career and then moving to live in Spain. By one of those weird twists of fate, we found ourselves living in Bulgaria in 2007 and no children. During our time we had been involved with several charities helping children in several capacities. I brought up the subject of adopting in 2010 (some 18 years after our initial conversation). I remember it clearly as if it was yesterday.

 “Gestation” Period

We were living in Sofia, Bulgaria. Cathy e-mailed several “agencies” she found on the net, none ever got back to us. She then contacted a lawyer who specialised in adoptions. As we were EU citizens living in Bulgaria we were entitled to the same rights of adoption as locals. We had to fill in several forms and provide endless amounts of paperwork which had to be legalised and approved in the UK. Cathy’s parents were brilliant in assisting us with this side of things. Nothing was too much and quite frankly, without their help it would have been near on impossible to get everything together while living so far away. Whilst the gestation period for new parents to be is watching mummy’s tummy grow and several trips to Dr’s etc, etc, for an adoptive parent it is made up of numerous meetings with lawyers, paperwork and countless entities involved in the process (for us, the length of time was about the same). I must admit, our lawyer was excellent and again, without her professional guidance and direction, the process would have been impossible. The final part of the process was to have a number of meetings with Social Services (two in their office and one at our home). Some nine months after starting the process we had been accepted as adoptive parents!!! Our criteria was pretty simple, we would like a little girl, no older than 12 months old and healthy.

Let the Search begin!

Once you are accepted as an adoptive parent in Bulgaria, your name is released to orphanages in the areas you are interested. We had opened it to the entire country, this meant that our file would be matched to children in any part of Bulgaria. not long after our file being released we had a call from our lawyer to inform us there was a children’s home in Varna (450 km from Sofia) where there was a child matching our criteria and the director would like to meet us to introduce us to the child. Our lawyer agreed to come with us and act as translator for us. We agreed to meet at 05:00 am near her office. The run up to the trip had been a bit of an emotional roller-coaster but the morning had arrived. We were parked around the corner from her office as agreed, she was running late. As we were parked, the tranquil dawn-break was abruptly interrupted by a very loud bang that our car rocked, this was followed by the sound of a few car alarms going off. Our lawyer arrived (also baffled by all this) and we were off on our trip to Varna. We later heard on the radio there had been an explosion at a newspaper’s office near were we were parked, no other damage apart from material damage had been caused). We arrived in Varna several hours later and met up with a representative of Social Services who then came with us to the home. There we were introduced to a little girl called Anna. She was cute but she had some health issues which we couldn’t ignore. This had to be one of the most difficult and heart-breaking decisions we had to make, do we say yes or no? After lengthy discussions we decided to say no. We know our limitations and in order to be able to give the best care, we need to make sure we are acting within what we are capable of; remember, we live a long way away from family, so in effect, even though we are surrounded by amazing friends, we are on our own. Several weeks later, we heard on the news that this home had suffered a major fire which if I remember correctly, it started in the heating system. I put a proposal together to a group I belong to and Cathy did the same with her school. The proposal was to replace toys and clothes which had been damaged. Fortunately, no child or member of staff had been injured. People were amazing and in no time we managed to fill up a large mini-bus full of things for them.

 

Mummy, am I Adopted? Part Two

Part Two

The sad part of moving is saying good bye. We made amazing friends when living in Bulgaria, life-long friends who even though we may not speak with or even keep in touch regularly, these are people we love to bits and having them in our lives has been a privilege.

Our Little Miracle

First time we met Katja.

First time we met Katja.

The mother in law of a very close friend of mine in Bulgaria had close links to a children’s home also within close proximity to Varna. We had spoken in the past that it would be an idea if we were in the area, to pop in to the home and meet the director. As we were heading in that direction, I spoke with him and asked if he could arrange for a meeting with the director. Not long after he got back to me to try and clarify some confusion. The Director of the home had sent an invitation for us to attend the day before we were due to go there. We had no idea what was going on. I spoke with our lawyer who was equally confused. It turned out that our invitation to meet a child in this home had been sent by post and it had got lost so we had not received any notification. It was by complete chance that we found out and didn’t miss our appointment. We traveled to Varna a day earlier and my friend (as well as Cathy of course) came with us. we drove the mini bus loaded with stuff for the other orphanage and did a stop in the home where we had the appointment. After a lengthy chat with the director, we were introduced to a gorgeous little bundle of smiles who was immediately attracted to my goatee beard. She pretty much leaped into my arms. This was quite a strange situation for me as I had NEVER held a kid in my arms before. Katja was 7 months old and had been in the home since the day after she was born. We (all) fell in love with her and started bonding immediately. This was a no-brainer. We left the home feeling very happy and chatted among the three of us but we had already made our minds up. It was a big, big heartfelt YES! We popped into the other home and dropped all the things off. They were made up with all the things we had. It was nice to make a difference and to be able to help.

A new Chapter for all of us.

The day Katja came home!

The day Katja came home!

We arrived in Sofia tired but very happy. We spoke with our lawyer and the process began. More paperwork, more meetings and before we knew it we had a date for the final court hearing in which the judge would declare Katja as our legal daughter. The final hearing was held on May 4th 2011 and first thing in the morning on the 5th we were en-route to bring our little girl home. We arrived in the orphanage and had further paperwork to complete. This time we were on our own, not even an interpreter. We completed all paperwork and final meeting with the help of a translator on the phone and my (VERY) limited Bulgarian. We were then asked if we had nappies and clothes for our daughter as the clothes she was wearing belonged to the orphanage. Fortunately yes, we did! Several minutes later we were brought this gorgeous, smiley little girl we are so proud to call our daughter. We had one last bit of formality to complete before we were allowed to leave. We had to prove to the security guard this was our child and then we were off. I remember so clearly walking out holding our little girl and the door closing behind us. It was as if that chapter in Katja’s life had closed for good, and a new and exciting future awaited her; and for us, the “gestation” period was over, we had just become a mummy and daddy…..

The drive home was uneventful (fortunately); we stopped after a couple of hours to feed her and change her. She had never been in a car-seat before but she was good as gold the entire trip. We arrived home later that night, Katja met Sophie (our dog) and they hit it off immediately, not bad considering she had never seen a dog before. So much so, Katja’s first word several months later was DOG!.

 

 

Mummy, am I adopted? Part Three

Part Three

“Whether your children are yours through biology or adoption, they are yours through love.”
– Sadia Rebecca Rodriguez

New BEGINNINGS

The first few months were a steep learning curve and at times very hard. We had lots of fabulous friends but it was still hard. A couple of weeks after Katja came home, Cathy’s colleagues from AAS threw a shower party to welcome Katja to the AAS family. We were truly touched by the kindness shown by all our friends in Sofia. Within a few weeks we were getting into the swing of things. Learning from our mistakes and making new mistakes just like any new parent.

Us in 2015

Singing Sand Dunes - Qatar

Singing Sand Dunes – Qatar

We left Bulgaria in 2013 and moved back to live in Spain. In August 2014 we moved to Qatar. Katja is growing up as a very sociable and well traveled little girl. She loves school and has plenty of friends. She is also a very well traveled little girl. So far she has been in Bulgaria, UK, Spain, Qatar, Australia and Sri Lanka.
Having carried out considerable research, we have always thought it would be best to introduce the concept of adoption from an early age. We have specialist books written for children as stories regarding adoption and as a soft introduction to the concept of “Tummy Mummies” and forever families. We believe that the less of a “taboo” the whole adoption thing is, the better. It means that she can grow up knowing the truth with information being given as she asks. She’s a very inquisitive little girl so we have no doubt there will be many questions along the way, sadly, many of which we are unable to answer as we simply don’t know the answers.

Mummy, am I adopted? kit kat

As I started on part one when Katja asked us whether she had been adopted. We arrived home, all had a shower, made a cup of hot chocolate (her favourite) and sat down to have a family chat. We explained it in very simple terms. We are glad she asked, why it happened at some random unexpected moment? We have no idea, however, it opened the door for us to get the ball rolling so to speak. She knew about the concept of adoption already which helped. Every day we see her grow that little bit more and more, we knew this was a conversation which was looming but we were waiting for the right time, her having asked was a sign to say, yup, go right ahead! We don’t want her to grow up believing one thing and later on in life to find out the truth and destroy all she had based her confidence in, I think it would potentially destroy or damage our relationship if we either left it until later on in life or not at all. As adoptive parents who see Katja as our daughter it is also hard to explain this as all we want is fer to grow as a confident little girl just like any other kid, who cares about the biological bit?
What does the future hold? In as many words….I have no idea, we know the development process and we know some of the things that will come up, we will try and keep one step ahead of things (easier said than done) and answer questions as they come up.

Our link to Bulgaria will always be there……..

If you are reading this and are interested in finding out more about adotpion and would like to have a chat; please feel free to send me an e-mail mike.decoster@yahoo.co.uk

Another Camping Weekend in Qatar

Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.
Confucius

I think this is such an applicable quote for those of us who enjoy camping and getting away from it all, even if it is just a few hours. One of the great things I enjoy about camping is leaving everything behind and spending a few hours pretending to lead a more simple life. This is true on the one hand but a bit of a lie on the other as when we go camping we do take several little luxuries such as an inflatable mattress and other modern gadgets. However, being able to spend an evening under the stars and away from concrete buildings is very refreshing for the soul and mind.

Purple Island!

Access to Purple Island

Access to Purple Island

We loved our last trip to Purple Island which feels like a million years ago but it was only on December 23rd…not all that long ago really. Pretty much after our last camping trip I created a Facebook event for another camping trip, we loved our time at Purple Island so much that we decided to go back. The run up to the trip was one dusty day after another. It was looking like our trip may be jeopardised due to the amount of dust in the atmosphere which obviously apart from being quite unpleasant it’s not all that good for you either. I took a run to the Island on Thursday morning and found that it was pretty clear.

Off We go!

Reunited with our Tent

Reunited with our Tent

Friday morning I met up with one of the people coming  and we took our usual run to the local site to grab some wood. We filled the boot of my car with plenty of wood to keep a bonfire going till late. A little later and as arranged the group met up in the car park at Lulu’s supermarket near the compound and headed off to the island. There were several people who tagged along for the day which was great. We arrived at the car park to find it was pretty busy. A total contrast to our last visit when we were the only ones there. We made our way onto the island. Fortunately the tide was out so we could walk over the stones without too much hassle. The island was pretty busy but we were the only ones camping. We started pitching our tents and doing endless trips tot he cars bringing stuff. It makes no real difference if you camp for one night or five, it’s just a matter of a bit more food and that’s about it; you still need the same amount of equipment. We were pleased to be able to ditch the small tent and use our proper tent which had come with our shipment in January. It had been a long time since the last time we used it, we certainly never used it in Spain which means the last time we had erected it had been probably when we went camping in Cornwall over 10 years ago!!! As the sun started setting we lit the cooking pit which I had dug out and surrounded with stones. I also made a special area for our bonfire. We cooked loads of food and had a great time enjoying time with existing friends and making new ones. The wood lasted until 23:00 hrs which is exactly what I had calculated. It was a windy night, Katja had her compartment in the tent and was smug like a bug in a rug in her new sleeping bag. In fact, she was the only one who actually got a good night sleep! We all got up pretty early for most peoples’ standard but at a normal time if you live in Qatar. We were all up and about for 05:30 and we lit a new fire to cook breakfast. Food always tastes so much better when cooked outdoors, we had a lovely fried breakfast and then started packing up to head back home. We arrived back home tired but refreshed. There’s something magical about watching the sun go down in the desert, watching the stars come out and sitting in total darkness with the only bit of light coming from a bonfire while chatting and laughing late into the night. Not the most eventful of trips but most certainly, it was an incredibly enjoyable one. We really need to make the most of the “cooler” weather. You can already notice it is getting warmer. we love Purple Island, the nature and the mangroves which provide some sort of greenery, as well as the fact that there are no cars on the island and children can play in a safe environment. The downside is having to walk all the way with all the camping stuff. next camping trip will be on the beach and close to the car.

 

Mike Cathy and Katja in Sri Lanka Part 1 out of 7

sri lanka or bust!

“A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for”
John A. Shedd

Our mosquito bites since our trip to Australia hadn’t even healed yet but once again Katja and I found ourselves in another airport ready to visit another country we hadn’t been to before. The difference this time was that we were traveling as a family with Cathy. In fact, you could probably say we were traveling as a rather large family as most of Qatar Academy seem to be on the same flight. For some bizarre and unplanned reason, traveling as a family is relatively rare for us. For some inexplicable reason we tend to travel separately and meet up in our intended destination, it usually ends up happening that I drive and pick the girls up from an airport and go on from there.

Carmageddon?

This mini holiday was a countrywide holiday which meant that every man and his dog were on a week’s holiday and more than likely traveling somewhere out of Qatar as is usually the case. Cathy finished a tad early from school so we could make our way to the airport with plenty of time. I had already booked Jamaal quite a few days earlier to make sure we got him first. We left home at 15:45 (flight time was 19:30 hrs or thereabouts). We hit the road and just before the roundabout we realised we hadn’t packed our return flight tickets, so it was back home to pick them up. Once you hit the dual carriageway by the compound it’s a bit of a pain to go back, but that’s what we had to do. Soon after we were back on the road and as usual and as expected, we hit heavy traffic soon after. However, much to our surprise, as soon as we hit the ring road it seemed to fizzle out and made it to the airport in about the same length of time as normal which meant we were there quite early!

Sri Lanka or Bust! asia-map

We met with numerous people from Qatar Academy at the departure lounge as well as with our traveling companions, Eric, Alyssia and baby Bryce (10 months old). We had mentioned to them about coming to Sri Lanka with us after one of our camping trips, we are glad we did as they were great people to travel with. We waited in the departure lounge ready to board our flight chatting and starting to enjoy the start of an adventure. It was all great other than a Belgian family who decided to entertain their kids by playing silly games and having no respect for others there. This involved running around with them (the tags on their bags said Belgian, it’s not that I decided they were), even after several dirty looks from me after being bumped into by them they carried on…anyway.

Soon after, we boarded our flight and were once again up in the air. It was an OK flight other than poor service by the cabin crew and not having any children’s meal for Katja which was a disappointment for her. We have done a lot of flying over the years and cabin crew has always been very good in most airlines, best one so far has to be Etihad and the worst crew award goes to a certain Hungarian airline we had the displeasure of having to fly with on many occasions when living in Eastern Europe. Anyway, cabin crew on this flight was far from great!

Welcome to Sri Lanka

We landed in Colombo bang on time, just a small matter of going through immigration, collecting our suitcases and meet up with our driver (we had one booked). The driver was there as agreed and soon set off to our first hotel which was (meant to be) approximately 2 km from there. We left the airport and one of the two very noticeable things was how dark the streets were and oh, hang on, they drive on the left hand side like in the UK (this made us feel at home right away!). The main road turned into a smaller road and then eventually into a dark narrow lane. At this point I was beginning to feel a little concerned. The driver seemed to have no idea where we were going (neither did we) and this was now certainly a lot further than 2 km. After a couple of hundred yards, we reached a big gate and a dead end. The driver sat there tooting his horn but to no avail. (it was approximately 3 am by now). he made a couple of phone-calls and we were eventually joined by someone on a motorbike. I must admit I did feel a little uneasy, had we just been kidnapped or something? The driver made a very tight 300 point turn and we were back onto the sort of main road. Not long after, we were back on another narrow track with another gate at the end. This time our escort on his motorbike opened the gate which lead into a courtyard and then through another gate to a parking lot. We had arrived…..not sure where but we had arrived somewhere.

The man on the bike introduced himself and soon put us (me) at ease. we were shown to our accommodation which was basic but by now it was pushing 4 am, all I wanted was a bed. The bed wasn’t exactly comfortable but who cares, the worse bit of it was it absolutely stank of bug spray and chemicals, as did the pillows.

Part II  – Waking up in Paradise

Mike Cathy and Katja in Sri Lanka Part 2 out of 7

welcome to paradise!

“The first condition of understanding a foreign country is to smell it.”
Rudyard Kipling

This quote by Rudyard Kipling couldn’t be truer! A good friend of mine always said, every country has a distinct smell. Not something I had paid too much attention until then but after he told me this, I started noticing that each country has a very distinct smell. I am not being rude or disrespectful, it is just something you notice…or I do anyway.

Waking up in Paradise colombo

Sri Lanka is 2.5 hours ahead of Qatar, I had one phone which had set itself automatically, my other one hadn’t and neither had Cathy’s phone. We had set the alarm for 11 am; we had gone to bed at 4 am after all. By 8 am we were awake and ready to explore our immediate surroundings before being picked up at 11:30 to go to our main Hotel in Waduwa. we hadn’t noticed any of our surroundings before going to bed; come on, after all, it was 4am and pitch black. We realised at this point that we hadn’t really stayed in a hotel but a house which is rented out, we were the only people staying there. It was basic as I remembered from a few hours earlier before going to bed but at least it was clean(ish). The chap who met us earlier on was already there and wandering around the place. It was at this point which I noticed how friendly everyone is. There were a few maintenance people there too. First thing he did was apologise as there was no electricity at the moment, something I hadn’t noticed but also didn’t really care about too much as I was simply amazed by our surroundings. We walked up to the water’s edge, we were mesmerized by the wildlife as well as greenery all around. Yes, it was basic but truly beautiful. As we chatted away with our host (man on motorbike from the night before) we were joined by a fisherman on his very simple boat, I politely declined the offer of jumping on the boat with him as we had to have breakfast and head off, otherwise, I would have been very tempted to do so!

Breakfast was provided by the restaurant next door, I must admit it was a bit of a weird breakfast as all they had was sandwiches, but hey ho, it was food. a little later I popped over to the restaurant to buy some water for our trip, it was at this point in which I failed to check on currency conversion and accepted the price told….big mistake! I had been warned to be on my guard when it came to prices as they will try and pull a fast one if they can. In western terms I had a bargain, in local terms, I had been overcharged considerably, lesson learnt.

Driving to Waduwa

Our driver picked us up not long after breakfast and we were back on the road. The drive to Waduwa took us on the expressway and then a little across country which gave us an opportunity to take in some of the sites. Mile after mile we were falling in love more and more with the place. Its beauty, its smells and everything about it, we simply fell in love with.

Welcome to the River View Hotel DSC06047

We arrived at our hotel about an hour and a bit later. To one side there was wide river and at the far end the sea, perfect combination! We received a warm Sri Lankan welcome by friendly and helpful staff, we immediately felt at home. We were shown to our rooms and soon settled in. The room was basic but it had air con and an en-suite, had our own terrace to the front leading to beautifully manicured and well kept gardens with a wide variety of shrubs and trees.

We had a look around and familiarized ourselves with our surroundings; then sat and had some food in the restaurant accompanied by several Lion Beers, what a great way to start our holiday!

Part III – Exploring Waduwa and Panadura

 

 

 

Mike Cathy and Katja in Sri Lanka Part 3 out of 7

exploring sri lanka’s western province part I

“A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.”
Lao Tzu

One of the (many) great things about this trip was that we had no real plans, it was a “take it as it comes” sort of trip. For us, it most definitely worked as we had the opportunity to experience and live the real Sri Lanka.

Friday DSC06077

After having had a nice meal we popped over to the beach. At this point we started noticing how very friendly Sri Lankans are. Some want something from you but others are just curious to find out about where you are from as well as to practice their English. One such chap who’s name escapes me came and started chatting with us on the beach. He showed us how to catch crab fish from the sand (Eric got the hang of it quickly, I didn’t…….at all). He then brought his mate who climbed up a coco nut tree and brought us down fresh coconuts, peeled them and chopped them, we then had coconut milk directly from the coconut. I really didn’t have the heart to tell him I can’t stand coconuts! He “casually” mentioned he was a tour guide and if we were interested in visiting places he had a mini bus he could take us in. we mentioned we were interested in seeing the Elephants, Botanical Gardens and the Temple of the Sacred Tooth. He gave us a price and we just left it at that. We were also given a price by someone else before deciding to go with the chap from the beach; we did this on Tuesday.

Saturday IMG_1013

Having chilled on Friday, we popped over to reception and ordered a couple of Tuk Tuks to take us into town and in particular to any big markets. We headed off to Panadura market which was pretty big. Loads and loads of fish stalls (not quite my cup of tea but still…) as well as numerous shops and stalls selling fruits, veg, clothes etc, etc, etc. we had a wander around trying to take it all in and then headed back to our Tuk Tuks which were waiting for us. After that it was off back tot the hotel to chill out by the pool and have some food before heading to the beach to play. If you are planning to visit Sri Lanka (which I would whole-heartedly recommend), it’s important to be aware that the beaches in this area have pretty strong currents. Locals go for swims etc, but don’t venture too far out. If you are looking for a beach holiday with swimming etc, etc, it is probably best to head further South towards Galle.

Sunday

One person’s reality is another person’s adventure.

IMG_1035

The best adventures are the ones not planned. I appreciate that in some cases planning is required (fail to plan, plan to fail and all that) but sometimes it is great to just “go with the flow”. We decided that we would catch a train and head off to Galle. We arranged for a couple of Tuk Tuks to take us to the train station. We arrived at the station and bought some tickets to Galle. We were advised by a very friendly chap (who would later change our day) to buy second class tickets as they are better than third class. Obviously we looked like we couldn’t afford first class, either that, or first class wasn’t running on a Sunday! We purchased our tickets to Galle which is approximately 1.5 hrs on the express train and then waited for the train to arrive. We got chatting to the friendly chap who told us to buy second class tickets, it turns tout he lives in Jersey and is a French language student there. We chatted for a long time and then our train arrived. It wasn’t as quiet as we had been lead to believe but it seems to be that you can always squeeze a few more in. Eric and family squeezed their way in and found some standing space as did Cathy and Katja. I sort of squeezed in between a few people hanging out of the doors, great fun! Katja soon got chatting and playing with a couple of local kids and had a great time. We settled into our standing positions enjoying the fresh air from the open doors in the carriageway while holding onto whatever one could to try and avoid falling onto someone causing them to fall off the train and a certain death! During all this we continued to chat with Mr friendly chap and he suggested we don’t go to Galle but get off at Ambalangoda which is one stop before Galle. He suggested we took the river tour, visited the mines, the turtles and the temple. Having not gone out with any plans in particular, we took his advice!

Part IV – Exploring the Western Province

Mike Cathy and Katja in Sri Lanka Part 4 out of 7

Exploring sri lanka’s western Province Part II

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”
Marcel Proust

Ambalangoda IMG_1119

We arrived in Ambalangoda around an hour after leaving Panadura, the nice chap who suggested we stopped here came out and negotiated good rates with a couple of local Tuk Tuks which were waiting outside before he disappeared to catch another connecting train to his home town. I am not sure if he had any vested interest in us visiting these places or not. After a while you do become a little suspicious and wonder if they are being friendly or just want something from you. At face value he didn’t as he vanished after helping us out with the Tuk Tuks, I guess we will never know!

River Cruise

A short Tuk Tuk ride from the station we arrived at the river cruise place. The cruise was a couple of hours long and you visited the numerous islands on the way.IMG_1054 The nice chap on the train had told us what the price was but just to be on the safe side I checked with the people there first. They quoted me a slightly higher price; I soon sorted that out and we were charged the price the chap on the train had told us. We set off on our boat cruise and shortly after leaving and much to Katja’s delight, we came across someone on a boat with a monkey, yes, I know, very random! But for a small fee we could hold the monkey and take photos etc, etc! After giving this random chap some money for letting us hold his monkey, we were off again. The next stop was at a river fish foot massage place. It was quite an interesting experience to dip our feet and have fish come up to us and nibble at our feet. This was then followed by a yet another random moment in which they brought out a baby crocodile which we could pet, this baby crocodile eventually made it onto my head. As you can probably guess, they too wanted some money! The tour took us to another island where we visited a temple and had some string bracelets given to us by  a monk. This was then followed by Cinamon island and then back to base. Katja charmed the guide and he let her steer the boat, once again, much to her delight!

Temple IMG_1110

Our Tuk Tuk drivers were waiting for us and were ready to hit the road once again. We decided to scrap the turtles and mine, and just go to another temple which was highly recommended before heading back to the train station. The temple was located in a pretty remote area, I was wondering if the 100 cc Tuk Tuk would actually make it all the way there! Fortunately it did. This temple is currently undergoing work as you can see from the scaffolding but houses some amazing paintings and sculptures. The views from the surrounding gardens were amazing. The whole place offered peace and tranquility which was a very welcome change from the hustle and bustle of the roads and trains. We then headed back down the hill, made a quick stop at a local bakery and headed off to the train station. The ride home wasn’t as busy as the way out, Cathy even manage to have a seat, this was thanks to a local who gave her his seat! This meant we could take in the beautiful scenery throughout the trip. The train runs pretty much parallel to the beach; so as you can probably imagine, the views are simply breath-taking pretty much all along the way. As we pulled into Panadura station, I decided to do a little video which is just below:

Panadura Train Station

 

Part V – Exploring the western Province

Mike Cathy and Katja in Sri Lanka Part 5 out of 7

Exploring Sri Lanka’s western Province Part III

“The traveler was active; he went strenuously in search of people, of adventure, of experience. The tourist is passive; he expects interesting things to happen to him. He goes “sight-seeing.” –
Daniel J. Boorstin

Monday IMG_1138

Cathy, Katja and I headed out by Tuk Tuk (of course) and went the opposite direction to Panadura, we headed to a large town and had a wander around various shops and market areas before ending up in a large temple by the river. What we both loved about the various temples we visited is how peaceful they feel. You are made to take your shoes off before entering and you wander about barefoot everywhere

Tuesday DSC06105

Tuesday was a big day for us as it was the day we had agreed to go to visit the elephants etc, etc. It was an early start as we were being picked up at 05:30 am for the cross province drive to Kandy. I mentioned to the hotel that we wouldn’t be in for breakfast; they immediately said they would get people in earlier for us so we could have breakfast before going out! After a beautiful and interesting (yet longer than expected) drive we arrived at the Elephant place. I would like to say it was the sanctuary we had in mind but later we discovered that this was a totally different place! I must admit I wasn’t enamoured by the place or the way the elephants were looked after. We took a short ride on one and upon returning were asked for money (having paid a considerable amount for the ride). What I offered him wasn’t enough so I gave him nothing! This was a good instance in which some prior research and directions would have come in handy, my overall comment for this place would have to be that we were disappointed by it! We left the elephant place and headed off to what we thought was the temple of the Sacred Tooth but made an unexpected stop.

Spice Plantation

The spice plantationt was interesting enough and we weren’t asked for money! So we bought some very nice spicy tea which we brought home!

Tea plantation

This was also an unexpected stop. I must admit it was very interesting and we were grateful to the guide for stopping here. Sri Lanka was a British Colony until 1948 and was formerly known as Ceylon (in 1972 it became the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka). Ceylon tea is famous world wide! The tour was very interesting and ended up of course with a cup of tea. It wasn’t a plantation as such but a mixture of a factory where they process the tea leaves and a plantation.

The Temple of the Sacred Tooth DSC06194

After a bit of a rocky start things were looking up, even though the weather looked pretty dodgy and by the time we had arrived at the tea plantation it was raining. Fortunately, it had stopped by the time we arrived at the temple. The Temple is located in Kandy which is a bustling city. Today the city was busier that any other day as it was a religious festival and a holiday. Our guide showed us to the area we had to go and get our tickets and then where to leave our shoes. We joined (literally) several thousand other people in a queue to enter the temple. Katja was amazing in the queue as it wasn’t the most comfortable experience. We reached what we thought was the main area only to be faced with a further long queue. We decided to concentrate in this area instead of queuing further. The temple is stunning and once again, there’s a real sense of peace, even if you are surrounded by several thousand other people! Katja was also fascinated by the monkeys running around all over the place.

Botanical Gardens

As we left the temple it had started to rain again. We arrived at the Botanical Gardens and the rain was starting to intensify….considerably! We started having a walk but the rain was getting worse; so we headed off to a restaurant on site and had some lunch. Sadly, the rain never subsided so we had to call it a day; the gardens look ABSOLUTELY AMAZING! We headed back to the mini bus and then back home. I think the driver may have either been in a hurry to get home or a death wish as he drove back like a scalded cat. Oh, except to make a couple of totally random stops to say hello to friends! We arrived back at the hotel tired after a long day. It hadn’t been as planned or expected as such, however, it was an enjoyable day exploring other parts of this magnificent country.

Wednesday IMG_1185

“Some people are so poor that all they have is just money”

This was to be our last day in Waduwa, we decided to have a quiet day by playing in the pool and the beach. I had a stinking cold so decided to have a bit of a sleep in the morning. In the afternoon after playing in the pool a bit more, we headed to the beach to watch the sun go down. We met a lovely local family and got chatting as Katja played with the kids. Cathy taught the kids some English songs and we all had a lovely time. I took a couple of pictures and the girls kept asking me to take more and more. They were amazed when I was showing them the ones I took. it turns out that they had never had a photo taken! I am sure we have all heard of things like this on TV or documentaries, etc, etc but when you hear it first hand it is a different story all together. These kids were happy with what they had. IMG_1189I am sure they weren’t fussed about Facebook, Twitter or whether they have the latest phone. They were happy with what they had. The mother and the girls had a fab time building sand castles and chasing each other around the beach. it was so humbling to see people who have so little were so happy. Our final day had ended on a high. We headed off to the restaurant for our final evening meal with several beers. we really didn’t want to leave this place. Every breakfast (several lunches) and every evening we sat and ate by the river watching the most amazing birds and wild life as well as monkeys fighting in nearby trees. However, tomorrow was set to be a totally different experience and adventure as we were off to Colombo for two days before flying back to Qatar.

Part VI – Colombo