24 February 2008
Galle, Sri Lanka
Visit But Beware of the "thunder" Dock
After a departure party with our friends on S/V Blue Sky we sailed from Langkawi for Sri Lanka. A short stop there and then we head west for a rendezvous in the Maldives with our friends, Tom and Amy, on Sandpiper.
We have recently equipped our boat with an AIS receiver and can now plot the position of every ship 300 tons or more utilizing a VHF signal transmitted by these vessels. You can see the lights of a vessel approximately 10 miles at sea and less during the day due to haze or the position of the sun. But now thanks to the AIS system we can "see" boats on our chart plotter as far as 18 miles away and identify the speed, direction, name, number and oh yea the minutes and seconds to impact. We are sailing in a very busy shipping lane and it's clearly information overload. First we don't sail with our chart plotter on all the time and a hand held GPS gives us all the information we need on long passages and we keep a careful watch day and night. But now you turn on the AIS and eeee gods there are seven to ten vessels and your watch now intensifies. With binoculars in hand, you look for boats that before you didn't know were out there.
We have just one more serial port on our computer so we are limited to one more gadget for the boat. Also we have now connected our GPS to our new VHF radio and that gives us location information at the helm that we had to walk inside to get. Another vast improvement in technology?
We topped-off our refrigeration system before we left and it appears that the technican over filled our unit with too much R134A and now our refrigerator runs and runs. I don't know why you can't get good technicians. This over filling could damage our compressor and seals and it runs a long time to bring the freezer to the proper temperature consuming AMPS that are expensive if we have to run our generator. Incompetent work always causes more problems.
Yeah, I did the work myself.
Galle, Sri Lanka
We understand the bombings have stabilized in Sri Lanka and anyway a destabilized situation many times leads to greater value for our dollar. Long passages are made up of four hour shifts except if you're needed on deck to deal with a sail change or some other situation. On this eight day down wind passage we sailed wing on wing and needed to make adjustments every six hours or so to stay close to the rumb line. At dusk the winds die and become variable and it was most times better to hand steer for an hour or so.
When we arrived outside the harbor at Galle we hailed the Port Captain to no avail but our friends on Sandpiper answer our call. They have decided to stop in Galle and joi
n us. The port of Galle suffered greatly during the tsunami three years ago and is still in disarray. There is limited dock space and you might find yourself side tied to another boat, med moored to a steel dock that surges six feet or on a high cement dock that takes an acrobat to climb on or off the boat. The port is closed every night when the Navy pulls a net across the entrance and then drops concussion grenades in the water a half dozen times during the night to deter underwater attacks from the Tamil Tigers. There are always gun boats in the water and to leave the gate you need a port pass.
You can only clear in by using an agent and every official you meet is looking to leave your boat with a bottle of wine or liquor. We tell them that it is against our policy and they are disgruntle but carry out their duties. As soon as you are tied up one of the yacht service companies will contact you. This consortium of ten or so Tuck Tuck drivers rotates assignments with new arrivals to thwart off competition and competitive prices. We are assigned to DeeDee (and he was also highly recommended to us by other cruisers) and for $3.00 USD per hour he drives us around to the internet, post office, restaurants and other places where we might find parts.and services needed. He also handles laundry and probably any other needs that you may have. To get diesel, however, you must go through your agent. We were excited about being in Sri Lanka and anxious to take an inland tour which DeeDee arranges. It was more fun because our friends Tom and Amy from Sandpiper came along with us. We had a great driver named Gaminic and Dee Dee went along also.
Our stop at the Elephant Orphanage was just in time to catch the elephants at the watering hole. Twice a day the herd of about forty are walked across the main street to the river where there are restaurants and hotels and gift shops all situated conveniently to watch the elephants. The national parks and shrinking forest of Sri Lanka cannot support the number of elephants and so the orphanage provides a place for a small number to be cared for and out of the farm fields near the wildlife preserves. It's a great stop.
About 70% of Sri Lanka is Buddhist and there will be many temple stops on your trip inland. The first night we stayed in Kandy and attended the popular dance show starting at dusk. These are cultural dances asking for good harvesting and also a devil dance that is used still today for exorcism. There is a great deal of acrobatic moves and traditional costumes and the show ends with fire walking to the delight of the 40 or so attendees. We stayed in a nearby guest house and the next morning after a great breakfast we were off to more temples and a tea processing plant. If you make this trip be sure to manage the stops because you will find yourself at too many commercial locations, i.e. herbal gardens where after a walk through the garden you will get a facial and a sales pitch. Just let your guide know what interests you and what doesn't interest you. Dee Dee did a great job organizing this trip but the guys thought there was one too many herbal stops. Rene and Amy enjoyed the facials.
Our first stop was at the Tooth Temple in Kandy. We were very fortunate to be there for the full moon as that is a very special day and there were lots of people there taking their gifts to the temple. This richly decorated temple and historic landmark depicts many to the symbols that we saw at the dances the night before. Our guide for this location gave us information about the temple and had several word games to test our knowledge. But he ended every sentence with "you got it?" . We all thought that there would be a quiz before we left the temple but we ended with a good joke from our guide and off we were. It's too much to describe the temple in words so we will let the pictures tell the story.
From here we went to a local tea factory where we got to sample some of the local tea. Tea is very important to Sri Lanka as it is their number one export. Other exports include rubber and coconut items.
We still had a lot of mileage before our day was done so we said our goodbyes to Kandy and continued our journey. We stopped in Dambulla for a visit to the temple which contains the largest reclining Buddhas in the world, the Dambulla Rock Temple. Caves carved out of solid rock now house three enormous reclining Buddhas and hundreds of others. On site also is a Buddhist museum with the largest Buddha in the world in a certain position. During his lifetime Buddha visited Sri Lanka three times and the footprint of Buddha was left in stone as he ascended to Nirvana. The hike up the hill was the first of many, so take along good footwear. Once at the top we had a guide that took us through the caves and explained the statues and carvings.
On the last day we visited the spectacular site of Sigiriya. Since 1938 UNESCO has been reconstructing the palace and gardens of an ancient ruler of Sri Lanka. The climb up to the very top is 1202 steps and it is worth every step. The palace itself is gone but the gardens and caves still remain. This very large complex is a labyrinth of irrigation. In a country that experiences a wet and dry season this management of water is crucial especially if you live with 500 concubines who like to swim. The caves near the top of the monument still retain some of the original frescos but most of the paintings of beautiful women have been covered over with plaster by Buddhist monks who found them too distracting from meditation. But if you climb high enough you will see the remaining six frescos, well worth the climb.
We found the people of Sri Lanka to be very hospitable and warm especially to Americans. US forces were first on the scene after the tsunami, arriving with water, food, medical attention and then went to work clearing roads and reestablishing an infrastructure. Five thousand people died in Galle and everyone we met had stories of friends and relatives lost. Our friend Dee Dee still shows appreciation to the cruisers and all that they did to help out the folks after the tsunami.
For now we are off to the Maldives where we will go to the northern most island, Uligan. Here we will rest for a couple of days and then head to Salalah Oman.
For more pictures of our adventure in Sri Lanka, please click on the slideshow below. Enjoy.
A01 Getting ready for the climb
If you're headed our way:
- DeeDee provided us with a very positive experience. He knew his way around and made sure that you paid a fair price for items and services. We highly recommend his services.
- Don't look for any boat parts or marine services as they are scarce.
- Plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables and lots of restaurants where the food is good and cheap, if you like curry.