Sri Lanka & Maldives
Maldives, The Art of doing Nothing!
We must have had one of the most relaxing vacations ever! We started out with taking an Air Lanka flight to Colombo, Sri Lanka. We chose Air Lanka because it's much cheaper than Singapore Airlines. We definitely realized that we're travelling on a '3rd world airline' when we were directed to a special security check area just for Air Lanka! We then had to identify our checked baggage before boarding. Guess they don't want any bombs on the plane! Other than that, we were pleasantly surprised with great food and good service onboard.
The Colombo airport was much more modern and civilized than we had expected. I had thought that it would be similar to the Caracas airport in Venezuela, and we were all ready to face the hoards of 'porters' trying to grab your bags. We were glad to spot a woman holding up a sign for 'Pederslie' when we got our baggage cleared. She was the wife of our agent, and she also happened to be the ground crew for Air Lanka.
We followed her outside to the waiting area where we met up with her husband who had just started the Sunflower Tour Agency. We then started on our long 2 hour journey to the Bentota Beach Hotel, about 70 kms from the airport. Boy, was I glad we didn't decide to get a car ourselves. The Sri Lankan folks are very aggressive drivers. Our agent would pass every car in sight, even though we were mainly on two-lane roads. Sometimes, four cars would squeeze by each other! Unbelievable!
When we finally arrived at the Bentota Beach Hotel, I was completely beat and was red-hot with a fever from my cold. The hotel was actually built on an old Dutch fort. Quite interesting indeed. We felt like we were entering a castle! The hotel lobby had these nice ceiling panels made with batik. That was a nice touch. Our room on the second floor had a fantastic view of the beach.
Sri Lankan has lots of tall palm trees everywhere. But the room itself was quite hot and muggy. Apparently, the air conditioning of the hotel was hardly working. I didn't care the first night because I was shivering from the fever anyway. We ordered room service....basically, they brought whatever sandwiches were available. Robert ordered a milk shake, but it was basically strawberry flavored warm milk. Yuk! The tomato and cheese sandwiches weren't bad though, although I thought the cheese tasted funny, like the ones we had in Nepal (Yak cheese!).
We found out at breakfast time that each room was assigned a specific table at the 'dining room'. After an uneventful and mostly unappetizing breakfast, we headed outside to check out the two baby elephants who were taking their daily morning baths. The elephants were laying in the shallow water, and these workers were riding on them, scrubbing them clean with fresh coconut halves. The elephants really looked like they were enjoying themselves. Since they were mostly submerged in the water, you could see their trunks sticking out of the water once in a while to get some air.
Throughout the hotel grounds, signs of topless women with a cross on top of them were posted on the palm trees. Sri Lanka is mostly a Muslim country, so nakedness is definitely a taboo. I bet the Europeans must not had been pleased with that.
The hotel had quite a large swimming pool with big rocks embedded at the bottom of the pool. Looked quite interesting, but the water was much much too warm! We swam just a little and started sweating all over. Definitely not a refreshing swim. The Indian ocean was much much better. The water was warm but not hot, and Robert and I spent quite a lot of time playing in the waves. The waves could get quite big at times. Robert would lie in the water and try to catch a wave. He got lots of sand in his shorts (hee hee!) I just stood in the water because I was chicken. It was great fun!
Dinners at the hotel were not bad, but the worst part was that the men were expected to wear long pants at dinner time. Considering the fact that the air-conditioning was nothing more than a weak fan, dinner got to be quite a pain. The Sri-Lankan food was much better than the continental cuisine. Most of the guests at the hotel were tourists from Germany or other European countries. They didn't seem to mind the hot stuffy restaurant at all. Strange! Some of these people really overdid it with the sun-tanning. There entire bodies, including their faces, were beet-red in color! It was painful even to just look at them!
Robert bought me a beautiful Ceylon Sapphire and Diamond ring as my early birthday present. It was a good deal even though we just bought it at one of the jewelry stores at the hotel. As our Dutch friend Eveline would say, the ring was 'cheapy, cheapy'. Apparently, we were the first customer for May day, so our jeweller wanted our business badly. It was funny, because he was taking a nap when we entered the store. I guess business was not good for him that day.
We wanted to rent a water scooter for two that afternoon, but the boat house told us that there were some 'problems' that day so they were closing the boat rentals early. We initially thought that their boats need repair or something, but we found out the next day that it was because of the imposed curfew throughout Sri Lanka that evening. The President of Sri Lanka was apparently bombed during the May Day Parade!! Some guy (must had belonged to the Opposition) strapped a suicide bomb to himself so he could kill the President. Scary that anyone would be crazy enough to do that! Good thing that there were no riots or anything after the assassination!
The next morning, we rented a boat to take us on a tour up the river. Our boatmen showed us water monitors (they were lying on tree limbs, and were about 1 foot long) and various birds (eagles, cormorants, etc.) We also stopped by this little hut where two little girls came running to show us their 'pets', a mongoose and a baby alligator! The mongoose actually looked quite cute, but I didn't want to pet it in case it bit me.
I figured that if mongooses (or is that mongeese??) were tough enough to kill snakes, they couldn't had been that domesticated! We bought a hand-painted wooden elephant as a souvenir of the trip. We later found out that the wooden elephant was missing its tusks... bummer!
When our agent picked us up to take us to the airport for the flight to Male (the capital of Maldives), he showed us the spot where the President was killed. I didn't see anything unusual other than the fact that there were many policemen carrying rifles patrolling there. On our way, we saw lots of white flags and white banners. Air Lanka required us to check in 3 hours before flight time, so we had plenty of time to shop in the duty free area. The shopping was WONDERFUL at the airport! We bought lots of Ceylon tea (the Mango tea was especially delicious), and bought four kinds of cashew nuts. I also bought some cosmetics because the prices were really good. Now, THAT'S duty-free shopping! I was so happy shopping that before I knew it, it was time to board the aircraft. Bummer!
The Male airport was on a completely separate island from Male itself. It was very small, and was basically non-air-conditioned. We were met with a representative from Nika Hotel, and was quickly transferred to the Hummingbird helicopter waiting area. Nika Hotel is on Ari Atoll. It would take about 2 hours for speedboat transfer, so were lucky to get the helicopter transfer instead.
The ride on the helicopter was very nice since we got to see all the beautiful islands below us. The Hummingbird helicopter service ran two different helicopters, an American one and a Russian one. Apparently, they had to hire a Bulgarian pilot to fly the Russian helicopter since all the controls were in Russian. After we arrived at the helicopter pad, we then took a 10 minute ride on the boat to get to the Nika Hotel.
Boy, what a trip! I was completely exhausted when I got there. But at the reception, they had already laid out fresh pineapple and papaya together with two coconut drinks for us. What a nice surprise! They even had nice cold towels for us...ahhhh.... this is the life!
Nika Hotel was situated on this small island covered with many fruit trees. It was named Nika after a rare tree in the middle of the island. The hotel was owned by Italians but was run by local Maldivians. The bungalows were shaped to look like coral shells. Very interesting indeed! The water around Nika was absolutely gorgeous in all different shades of blue!
The only thing that I didn't like about the island was that there was this one bat (at least I hoped that there was only one of them!) that would fly around the pathway at night! Gross! I could even tolerate the little lizards that would run around the island. They looked just like miniature iguanas. When they ran, their tails would swish around, making them look very comical!
We were assigned the Sultan room, and later found out that we got the best bungalow suite on the entire island. Nika Hotel had altogether about 26 bungalows, and each one got its own private beach, well, except for bungalow #1 (to the left of our bungalow). The two young Italian girls (I called them the Italian babes, they looked like twins) in Bungalow #1 were sunning themselves on our beach when we arrived! Imagine my surprise when I saw them right next to my bedroom window! So much for the private beach! Our 'public relations' guy told us that their beach was being repaired, and so they were sharing our beach with us.
But if we didn't want to share, he would tell them not to go to our beach anymore. Well, I didn't want to chase the two women off our beach, but I didn't want to have them lying by my bedroom either! But I guess Robert and I grossed them out when they saw us lying around on our bed (with our towels) after our shower (we were so beat!) I guess the Italian babes got embarrassed and decided to find another beach themselves. We later found out that they decided to share the beach with some of their other Italian friends. Lucky us!
The Sultan bungalow had two large bedrooms complete with mosquito netting over the beds. The place was furnished with old Sri Lankan furniture, and the bathrooms were actually outdoors! There was even a second bathroom with an outdoor tub. Strange! Since parts of the bungalow were outdoors, there were quite a number of house lizards and ants running around, especially at night. One of the house lizards actually got into the toilet and was doing a backstroke in it.
Yuk! The best part of the bungalow was definitely our bedroom as we overlook our private beach. It was really nice to hear the waves lapping away at night! Sort of like a lullaby! There were several ceiling fans throughout the bungalow, but we really wished that they had air conditioning during our first evening there. Somehow our part of the island had very little breeze at night... so that was a drag. On our first night, we kept on waking up every few hours because of the heat. We actually went and took cold showers to keep cool.
Dinner was served from 9pm to 10:30pm! Nika set its time 2 hours ahead of Male time, so I guess it wasn't too late after all. Besides, there wasn't too much to do after dark on the island anyway, except for swimming in the moonlight (which we did the first night...