Saturday, November 26, 2016

Sri Lanka Surfing, Safari: Part 1

Sad but true, we had to leave the Maldives. We had other places to explore, and were very excited for our next destination. We easily caught our flight in Malé after one last boat ride through beautiful water. Our flight and arrival into Columbo airport were happily unremarkable (we had pre-purchased our visa online). Our plan was to set up at a guesthouse in Negombo for a couple of days and then see as much of Sri Lanka as we could, including its beaches, mountains, wildlife and who knew what other adventures lay ahead!

Walking with our Ibrahim, our guesthouse proprietor on Maafushi, to the harbor to catch our speedboat to the airport
 Malé's skyline on the way to the airport

Quick and easy flight
We had gotten arranged with a driver from our guesthouse who showed up quickly upon being called and drove us the ten minutes or so to Palms Villa. We were greeted warmly by the proprietor, Jerry, a British ex-pat, as well as a family from Seattle who was staying there until their flight later that night.  Everyone was friendly and we all chatted around while various kids did their things. The next day we stayed on site to do schoolwork, work and read/acclimate/process the election some more. 

Palms Villa, where the living is easy
First of many Sri Lankan breakfasts
Otis and I doing social studies by the pool
Chris doing what he does well: relaxing in a hammock
(We liked Jerry's so much that we booked in to stay there the day before our flight out to Thailand as we come down from the north.) We set out the following day for our first official stop: Unawatuna, a southern beach town near the city of Galle. We had a hassle getting to the correct bus boarding area because we were accidentally set on the local bus into Colombo which is a SLOW trip in (but definitely a good way to get some local flavor), and lands you at the wrong bus station. We were told to walk over to another bus station nearby but that ended up being the wrong place as well. We did eventually ascertain that the correct place was about a 45 minute drive away. Ping. Uber to the rescue. The best $10 we spent that week. We made it to the right spot and after waiting in a long line, boarded the highway bus to Galle. From Galle we took a short tuktuk ride (first but not last!) to our guesthouse, called Bedspace.

On the local bus. Loud and warm.

Me thinking, "I don't see many express buses here"

Paging Uber
Once in Unawatuna, we relaxed into the beachy scene and spent some time at the beach as well as just enjoying Bedspace's garden/restaurant area. We really liked Bedspace -- good eats in their restaurant and quite a nice room. We especially appreciated their animal friendliness. They are a safe space in a sometimes rough world for dogs and cats. We also went on a tourist trap-ish but enjoyable trip to a lagoon to tour a Buddhist temple on one island and learn more about cinnamon from a family on another island. We were only there a couple of days before heading east down the coast to our surf and yoga place. 

Unawatuna Beach

Bedspace garden/kitchen

Coconut on the beach

Not long after this photo was taken, we saw a man walking his monkey and boa constrictor on the beach (likely both to get exercise and money)
Walking through jungle on way to Buddhist temple

In tuktuk

At temple --no turning one's back to Buddha

Temple art detail

Cinnamon tree leaves (they smelled great crushed up)

Peeling the layers off of the branch to make the cinnamon stick- photo taken with permission

Cinnamon tea

Sunset at Unawatuna

Lion's Rest was one of those things we thought we'd try out. It is not a retreat per se but offers a la carte opportunities for daily yoga, surfing with an instructor and massages if you care for one. I had been wanting to go to lady surf camp with a friend for SO LONG but it just never seemed feasible. Chris caught on to the idea and since it was around my birthday, he used that as leverage to soothe my thrifty Yankee sensibilities which were a little alarmed at the potential of a spendy retreat. Lion's Rest offered the same things in many respects but because of the a la carte pricing, it wasn't quite as expensive as some of the other surf/yoga retreats we looked at. So we excitedly booked ourselves in, with surf lessons!
The ride to Lion's Rest from Unawatuna was short and sweet. The hotel is really nice, with outdoor dining near the pool and extremely friendly and helpful staff. Did I mention the warm weather? We also met some really great, friendly travelers there, including some folks from Colorado who were just about to head home after doing some volunteer work here, our new friends in Switzerland (hi Daniela and Michael!) and a family from the US who is traveling the world and doing so in a *way* more adventurous manner than we are (and many others)! The British yoga instructor, Jess, is lovely and can read a room of students quickly and lead them through the practice they need, whether they're tired from surfing or looking for a flowing practice. Sigh. It becomes hard to say goodbye to so many great people.
Lucky, the surf instructor (and general factotum), was patient with me in particular because I fell off my board early and often. Balancing on that board is not my bag, baby. Nonetheless, each day, we all arose early, trundled/grumped our way through breakfast, pushed into the tuktuk upon whose roof Lucky had lashed our boards and set off down the road for a morning in Weligama Bay. Falling off the surfboard is very bruising to the body as well as the ego and I was surprised by how many new ways I could mildly injure myself. On my last day, I did come down hard on my ankle but with that came the victory of having ridden a wave nearly to shore. Kind of. Chris and Otis unsurprisingly had the hang of this sport quickly. This kind of thing happens often.
I loved the rides home from the beach, when the town was more active and vendors were set up along the road while people were zipping around on bikes, tuktuks and always those big, slow local buses. It is busy and colorful. 
Afternoons were usually spent poolside, chatting, swimming, doing yoga, going for walks and working/doing schoolwork. I ordered the curry meal every night -- it was delicious. It has a fun and easygoing vibe and I commend Mike, the owner (who had been home in the UK until our last night there) for pulling together a super team.

Lucky gives me the info I need on a pop up
View from dining area

Amazing sunsets

Working by the pool
Ready to head to the beach
Typical lane looking towards Lucky's own guesthouse
Squint and you can see us all in the surf - some of us actually surfing
Again, it was hard to leave after a week, but we were excited about the next part of the journey: two days of safaris in two different national parks. On our last day, Chris and Otis had one more surf, then we grabbed some lunch, settled our bill, hopped in our patiently waiting van, sent Otis back for his Fitbit, went back in ourselves when he said he couldn't find it, found it, stopped at an ATM and set out for our guesthouse Tissalahara, a town near Yala West National Park (a two and a half hour ride away). We checked in, ate dinner with some fun Australians and then hit the sack -- our wake up call for safari was at 4:30 am the next day.

Cows and water buffalo commonly in the road

Lake Tissalahara -- theres a croc in there!

Evening walk after a long ride

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Surf's Up!

(Dateline Chris)

Three days of surf lessons and this is what it's like!

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Eats and Treats on the Road

Wondering what we are eating on the road? After all...

...2/3 of us don't eat cheese (and one of us eats no dairy)
...2/3 of us don't eat bananas
...2/3 of us don't eat raw tomato
...2/3 of us don't eat eggs (the other person does so only under duress)
...2/3 of us don't eat mushrooms
...2/3 of us don't eat beets
None of us eat fish or meat.

Here is how it has looked thus far.


Pizza, salads and pasta are readily available. We ate a TON of both! I liked to get a side order of spinach, too. We also hit some veg restaurants in larger places like Rome and Florence. Highlights were having a home cooked meals with our friends in both Florence and Rome. Gelato is everywhere and vegan gelato is not impossible to find -- plus there is tons of sorbetto.

Hummus mix from a box -- Rome

Coffee (er, espresso) and pastry -- Chris's number one breakfast

Otis liked this create your own pasta takeout place in Venice

With friends in Rome

Gelato in Florence

Pizza in Florence

With friends in their Airbnb in Florence

Nice little veg place in Sorrento

The broccoli rabe and potato burger in Sorrento
Pizza in Lecce

Light lunch in Lecce

Familiar sight -- pasta and more pasta (Sorrento/could be anywhere)
Universo Vegano in Rome
Simple lunch in Tuscany -- marinated mushrooms and pickles with olive and sun dried  tomato spread


We had our apartment for most of our time there so made lots of our easy-to-prepare go to dishes including a pasta dish we call Delicious Dinner (only 2/3 of us think it is delicious), lentils and rice or beans and rice and lots of soups and stews. I really liked getting the ajvar (roasted red pepper and eggplant spread, stateside pretty easy to find including at Trader Joe's) and often had it slathered on a thin slice of bread for breakfast or lunch. In Croatia I was also able to find hummus in the grocery store, something we hadn't had luck with in Italy.

Finding hummus in Hiper Tommy
Hummus for breakfast, hummus for lunch...hummus is something we like a bunch

Oh, this beer was tasty!

Not usually a fan of single servings but these were well appreciated on road trips.

In campground restaurant near Plitvice they had a steamed veggie plate (and pizza).


Our pantry in our Airbnb --beans, rice, tomatoes

Chris's lentil stew with veggies

Sometimes its a miss: zucchini and corn on pizza

My nutritional yeast delivery

Vegan ice cream in Split

Blackberry wine and spritzer at Nishta


A short stay but we combined a few homemade meals with going out to a veg place for Otis's birthday and a couple other meals out.

Dinner and dessert at Zaziv Vegan Bistro
Thoughtful messaging


Similar to Slovenia, had a couple of meals in our Airbnb and we alsoenjoyed one of our favorite meals in one of our favorite vegetarian restaurants of the trip.

Lunch and dessert at Napféyenes Étterem
Lunch and chess at Olive Tree


Staying in a hostel with a big shared kitchen, we ate most meals cooked in and Chris hit the motherlode of veg meat and other tasty delights which made delicious sandwiches. We also, you may recall, accidentally ate at an extremely posh restaurant in Vienna.

Embarrassment of riches if riches are veg meat product
Speaking of riches...if you have them then head to Tian. A  wonderful dining  experience awaits. I was astonished.  By many things.


In Greece we encountered one delicious bean dish to win them all and that is...FAVA! We were crazy about it, it is generally served warm with a drizzle of fresh olive oil and some thinly chopped onions and herbs. When we ate out, we would try to order this with (or for) our meal. We had some pizzas and pasta dishes out and also cooked in (our usual rotation of pasta, lentils and soups). This sounds boring but works well for us. We also had some great meals at another favorite veg restaurant in Athens, Avocado.

Nut stands on streets of  Athens

Lamahjoun and beer at Feyrouz in Athens - loved it!

This jar of spicy red pepper flakes that we got  in Tuscany lasted until  Athens - impressive.

Oregano chips!

"Enjoying" a home cooked meal of pasta in Santorini

"Enjoying" a Greek salad from a falafel place while waiting several hours for a ferry
First and only of the trip in Heraclion  (and met people from NJ inside)

Coconut milkshake, veggie entree, soup, dessert at Avocado

"Enjoying" a snack at the Acropolis  Museum resto


I was a little unsure about how this would work out -- remote(-ish) islands are not always known for their wide array of veg options. My fears were unfounded. Fresh fruit, juices and a plethora of Asian-inspired noodles, curries and rice were available as well as yep, you guessed it, pasta (and onion rings and French fries). My favorite at our guesthouse was the Maldivian breakfast -- shredded coconut mixed with peppers and spicy pepper, drizzled with lime and served with a version of roti (round breads).

Maldivian breakfast, no tuna

Birthday drinks (local islands are dry, so these are virgin)


We have been feeling spoiled with the food here, enjoying even more fresh fruit, juices, amazing curries, fresh salads and vegetables and my favorites: nests of noodles to pour your dal over called string hoppers, served with roti and sambar. Our current hotel's rotis are especially excellent -- with coconut and peppers interspersed -- and in fact we have really enjoyed our food here in particular (our first night here featured a curry buffet, oh my lucky stars!) as well as at our guesthouse in Unawatuna. I will be sad to leave Sri Lanka simply because of the amazing fresh and flavorful food (luckily we have a while here yet!). Now, if you will excuse me, the vegetable curry dishes that have been cooking for two hours in our hotel kitchen should be just about ready for us.
Roti with string hoppers and dal

Same but different place (with potato)

Relaxed breakfast at Bedspace
Kitten  trying to con Otis out of some food

Fresh produce everywhere!

Hummus, I keep on eating hummus