Achieving Foreign-ness

By: leelefever on December 28, 2006 - 5:35pm

 Foreign-ness was a concept that became really important to me at the beginning of the trip.  I wrote this in March of 2006, just after perhaps the most foreign city/town we visited the whole trip: Negombo, Sri Lanka.

 I had a picture in my mind of what it would be like to see the world.  It included people of different races, driving funny three-wheeled cars, wearing draped clothing with unfamiliar music and language in the background.  We would wind our way through cities and towns being the only westerners for miles, in my mind.

Having traveled internationally for two months now, we have finally realized this vision.  It happened today in Negombo, Sri Lanka, and I think it was the first of many experiences that will give me much satisfaction.  Finally, I feel that we are undeniably away from all that is home to us – something that has been too long coming.

Looking back, I loved New Zealand.  It was our first stop and it was chocked full of things to see and do…with its white sand beaches, fjords and glaciers.  Being the first stop, it was easy to be excited and I was very interested.

Something was missing for me at our next stop – Queensland, Australia and I couldn’t put my finger on it at the time. Retrospectively, I mark it up to a few things with a lack of interestingness being the biggest factor.  Queensland was beautiful and the Great Barrier Reef is reason enough to go – but overall I was not all that interested. It was too much like home when I wanted something foreign.

Singapore was a step in the right direction, but still so western, so easy, so clean, so nice.  Singapore was not incredibly interesting to me.

Thinking again about that picture in my mind our trip, something becomes clearer.  I want, more than anything else, to be interested and I find few things more interesting than foreign-ness.  The satisfaction I derive from the trip is linked to how unlike home it is to me.

Arriving in Sri Lanka and traveling through India and Southeast Asia over the next couple of months, I have a renewed sense of what the trip will hold for us.  Gone are the days of easy access to the things we take for granted. Gone are the days of drinkable tap water and edible food.  Gone are the days of predictable traffic and English speaking people.  The days of ease and consistent comfort may be few and far between.  

We are now in a new realm of travel and our trip, one that will challenge us a little more and make us work for what we want to experience. It may be hard and it may see us get sick and long for home or some place like it.  But it will be foreign and it will be interesting and as long as that is true, I will be happy for a while.

Sri Lankan Unrest Bad For Tourism

By: sachilefever on April 27, 2006 - 2:16am

Sri Lankan Unrest Bad For Tourism Originally uploaded by sachilefever_twinf.

Recently BBC World news has been keeping us updated on attacks and retaliations between the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tigers (LTTE). We feel very lucky to have been there just after peace talks were considered to be going well in the beginning of March. We had no concerns of safety and made some friends in the country that depend on a steady flow of tourists.

The news we hear now makes us feel sad for them and the industry in that country. Unlike the attacks in Egypt, neither side seems to want to target tourists because the country's economy depends on the income.

However, tourists will, of course, shy away from travel to this beautiful country because of the news, and I don't blame them. It is just a sad situation for all parties that doesn't seem to be ending soon.

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Tech Report: Mobile Phone Networks in India and Sri Lanka

By: leelefever on April 2, 2006 - 2:18am

Dear normal readers, this is a post for folks interested in the geeky aspects of using mobile devices internationally. Please excuse the jargon and acronyms.

A big part of our trip is experimenting with mobile phones in each country. Specifically, we want to be able to post to the TwinF site using our Treo 650 Smartphone. When we arrive in a new country we get a new SIM card and a prepay account, which gives us a local phone number and a non-roaming connection to the local network.

It's likely no surprise that the world, what we've seen anyway, is mobile crazy. Surely one of the most pervasive products in any village is prepaid recharge cards. We've found that coverage is generally strong and there are multiple networks in nearly every location, including the high country of Sri Lanka. Below are our experiences in India and Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka:

Sri Lanka has GSM and CDMA is apparently "coming soon". The major networks are Mobitel and Dialog GSM on the bands of 900/1800 & 850/1900. Both GPRS and MMS are available. To get started with a new SIM card and 400 rupees of prepaid service costs about $20US. We could not get the Treo 650 to connect to GPRS, though it is supposed to be possible. If you have problems, you must go to a phone store in either Colombo or Kandy. My advice is to make sure you get the GPRS settings when you get the SIM card. It was frustrating and time consuming to try to get GPRS settings to work in Sri Lanka.


India is pretty advanced with mobile technology. They have both GSM and CDMA and the networks support both MMS and GPRS using the bands of 900/1800 & 850/1900. The major networks are Hutch and Airtel, with Airtel being the first and biggest. It costs about $15US to get started with a new SIM card and prepaid minutes. India has some of the cheapest phone rates in the world with calls costing less than $.02US per minute.

In India, note that if you travel across state lines, you may not recharge (top up) your prepay account with a voucher from a store- you must visit a phone store. This was the case with the Hutch Network. Also, I had to visit a Hutch store in order to get GPRS set up properly.

SMS is very popular in both India and Sri Lanka- and is the cheapest way to communciate. By providing our mobile number to the airline, we get flight status updates via SMS for free. One of the drawbacks of it is what I would call SMS spam from the networks who constantly send offers for new services and plans.

Anyone with an unlocked GSM phone should have no problem using a prepaid account in Sri Lanka or India.

The Quickest Sickness

By: leelefever on March 14, 2006 - 8:00am

Yesterday I had one of the most bizarre, horrible and terrific health problems I've had. We were in Colombo, the capital city of Sri Lanka. Mervyn, our driver, had just dropped us off and we were walking through the markets of Colombo.

The first sign was cramping, starting high in the abdomen and moving lower. Two big waves of cramps made me groan out loud and start to think about the consequences.

We walked on for about 10 minutes and it hit me like a ton of bricks. I went from walking around like a normal person to being (literally) brought to my knees by dizziness and nausea in about 3 minutes. Sachi went into nurse mode and called Mervyn who came quickly.

In the meantime, we asked a policeman who told us a bathroom was a couple of blocks away – too far for me. I was barely conscious with the world swirling around me -walking wasn’t an option. The policeman gave me a chair where I fumbled to remove my shirt that had been soaked by sweat. I distinctly remember the concerned look of people around me. I was pouring sweat from every pore – every pore. I was very concerned about my own condition.

Mervyn came and said that he could get us to a hotel in two minutes. I gathered my senses and made it to the car. The A/C felt so good- but my body needed a bathroom very badly. We arrived at the Grand Oriental Hotel in no time and I couldn’t put my shirt back on myself I was so weak. Sweat was still pouring.

The bathroom door in the lobby said “hotel guests only”. Oh well. I’ll spare you the details of the bathroom, but let’s just say that my body has never been so emptied so efficiently. I pictured someone finding me passed out on that bathroom floor. Luckily, I walked out of the bathroom to more stares of concerned people. Sachi said I was see-through white with blue lips. I felt worse than that.

I sat in the hotel lobby for the next 30 minutes with waves of dizziness threatening a loss of consciousness. A/C, cold water, deep breathing and relaxation went a long way. The sweat finally stopped after every piece of clothing was soaked through. I’ve never sweated so hard.

Literally no more than 1 hour after the first cramps, it was over - I was back to normal for the most part. Just in case, we became customers of the Grand Oriental Hotel for the night where I relaxed and enjoyed a complete feeling of health. I still have no idea what happened, but the most likely culprit was a combination of food and the sweltering heat.

I don't remember ever feeling so badly so quickly. I think I packed a few days of sickness into a matter of minutes. If we were on a bus, or a hike or train, there would have been a very bad situation. But thanks to Mervyn, our trusty driver, we found a safe place for me to recover. Good guy that Mervyn.

Honest Drivers and Guides for Sri Lanka

By: leelefever on March 14, 2006 - 7:37am

Our trip to Sri Lanka would not have been so special had it not been for two people.  These two people helped us understand Sri Lanka and travel around it. They are both reliable, honest, trustworthy and nice people.  I can't say enough about their service.

First is Nimal De Silva of DSL Tours. I found him from this discussion on the Lonely Planet web site and emailed him directly at nimal(at) He picked us up from the airport and reserved our room for the first night, along with treating us very well.  Though he could not be our driver (schedule conflict) he worked hard to find an honest driver for our trip and designed the perfect itinerary for us.  Nimal is highly recommended if you're going to Sri Lanka - he knows his stuff and will be honest. This is he and Sachi:

The reviews below are provided as a favor to our friend Nimal - they are *not* paid advertising of any sort.

A traveler's review of Nimal's services: Nimal De Silva - A Guide to Remember

Another review of Nimal's services with DSL Tours.

The second person is Mervyn Perera, who Nimal set us up with as our driver.We had no idea what to expect from Mervyn, but he turned out to be one of real highlights of our trip.  He is a safe, courteous, reliable and very friendly driver, but more than that, Mervyn is a great person who knows a lot about Sri Lanka.  We came away considering Mervyn one of our friends and someone we want our friends to meet.

Read a review of Mervyn's services here

.  Mervyn can be reached by email: This is Mervyn and me:

If you are going to Sri Lanka, talk to these guys- they will treat you right. You might also check out Sachi's post on the experience of having a driver.

People of Sri Lanka

By: leelefever on March 14, 2006 - 7:26am

As I've said before, the people of Sri Lanka were beautiful and wonderful.  I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.  This was is one of faves of the trip so far:

This guy was on the hike up Sigiriya rock.

A man in Negombo:

I love these kids looking at the pavement machinery too.  All kids wear uniforms to school in Sri Lanka.

This woman was walking on the road in the high country.

These are Tea workers, turning in their harvest for the day.  They earn about $2.00US per day.

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Vehicles of Sri Lanka

By: leelefever on March 14, 2006 - 7:04am

The vehicles in Sri Lanka fascinated me.  They seem to have a flair about them that you don't see everywhere.  Check out this private bus, used for moving locals around the island:

Or this freight truck, called a Lorie.

Of course, they have the three-wheelers, known as tuk-tuks or bajaj.

Strange to us, but normal in Asia.  This, however, is something completely Sri Lankan.  It is a hand tractor which which came from China.  The Sri Lankans attached a trailer and turned it into a people mover.  Very common.

And of course, regular tractors too.

All these things, plus normal cars, trucks and busses get along very well with the Sri Lankan system of horn beeps and constant passing through curves and in cities.  I never saw one accident, not even hardly a dent on any car- it just works.


Animals of Sri Lanka

By: leelefever on March 14, 2006 - 6:48am

Wherever we are, I'm always fascinated by the animals.  As I've mentioned before, Sri Lanka was great because the animals were all free to do what they wish.  This point is no more clear than in this picture.

There are a few interesting things in this scene in Colombo, a city of 1.2 million.  1) a stop light- something rare in Sri Lanka.  2) a mix of styles- young and old.  3) most importantly- that is a goat just chilling out on the street corner, minding his own. 

You just just don't see that every day.

Aside from goats, we saw all sorts of animals.  Here are a few:

Water buffalo stopped traffic multiple times

Monkeys were everywhere

But not nearly as many monkeys as dogs.  Most looked better than this, but some were much worse.

This is the kind of thing that Sachi is most scared about in places like Sri Lanka. The scorpion.

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Our Tracker – Uda Welawe National Park, Sri Lanka

By: leelefever on March 14, 2006 - 6:37am

We were really excited to go on Sri Lanka’s version of a wildlife safari in Uda Welawe Park, home to over 400 elephants on 75,000 acres of park. The wildlife was great, but looking back, the most memorable experience was our “tracker” who rode along with us over 2.5 hours in the back of a land rover.

When he got in the truck, it became quickly apparent that he was a skinny, partially toothless, jovial guy who spoke only broken English. This was the first sign that he may not be the tracker that we imagined. I had pictured someone who made a profession of understanding wildlife and could interpret everything before us. This was not the case- not by a long shot.

One of our first indications was when we saw some monkeys in a tree. I asked the tracker about the species – “what kind of monkey?” After conferring with the driver, he turned to us and said “black monkey” with a semi-confident nod. It was a Gray Hangar Monkey and our tracker didn’t know.

Soon after, we heard birds in a tree. He turned to us and said “bird noises”. All I could say was “yeah, thanks” before Sachi me and the tracker burst out laughing. I’m not sure he knew why.

The most commonly sighted bird of the day was the peacock- they were everywhere. For the first few he pointed to them and said “peacock”. At least he knew a peacock from a spotted dove. What he didn’t know was when to stop. After about the 30th peacock and the 30th identification by our tracker, we just began to laugh each time. So did he- though I’m not sure if he knew why. To this day, “peacock” is our word for something we see over and over.

As it turns out, the trackers are not hired based on expertise, but political favors. Our tracker was someone who might have otherwise been unemployed. The park was helping with the unemployment problem in Sri Lanka and our tracker was a likely beneficiary.

In the end, we didn't learn a lot, but saw many great animals and laughed a lot between the three of us. He is a good man that has a good time and laughs a lot, even if he's not much of a tracker and for that, he got a nice tip from us.

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Interesting Things I Didn't Know About Sri Lanka

By: leelefever on March 14, 2006 - 6:22am
 In coming here, I was pretty clueless about Sri Lanka. I knew it was off the coast of India and that it was affected by the 2004 tsunami, but that was about it. I've now learned so much more and grown to love the island and people.

The early Sri Lankans, dating back from the 5th century BC, were great masters of managing water. They built giant “tanks” which are essentially reservoirs that were used to irrigate fields, manage drinking water, etc. One king supposedly said that no drop of water flowing to the ocean shall go unused. The scale of their innovations in managing water are truly amazing.

UNESCO (United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization) has designated the ancient cities of Sri Lanka as World Heritage Sites and made available funding for excavation of the cities.

Speaking of early Sri Lankans, the aboriginal people were called the “Veddahs”. Veddah means “hunter” in Sinalhese (the dominant language of Sri Lanka). There are still some Veddahs living in the jungles of Sri Lanka.

The country has been invaded again and again over its history. Initially it was the north and south Indians, then the Portuguese, Dutch and finally the English, who colonized Sri Lanka until 1948. It is now an independent nation with a democratically elected government.

A terrorist group called LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Timal Eelam) which has formal connections with Al Qaeda, has been wreaking havoc on Sri Lanka since the 1980’s. The LTTE want an independent federalist state within Sri Lanka and currently occupy the northern third of the island. A female LTTE suicide bomber killed an Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991. After 9/11, Sri Lanka received funding from the US to fight LTTE and since, peace talks have mostly ended the violence. Locals say that LTTE fears Americas involvement in what was once a Sri Lankan battle.

The tsunami of 2004 killed between 50-80k people on the southeast coast of the country. The biggest impact has been on tourism, which is still suffering even as most of the tourist activities are away from the impacted areas.

The country’s people are about 80% Buddhist with Hindu, Muslims and Christians making up single digit percentages.

Being Buddhist, animals are given very much freedom to move as they wish. It is normal to see dogs, cows, water buffaloes and monkeys on the side of the road or even in the middle of it.


Except in the capital city of Columbo, women do not usually work outside the home. They do vote and drive vehicles.

Outdoor work (including road building or rock work) is either done barefooted or with flip-flops. Recently I saw a jackhammer operator working away on rock with bare feet, one foot perched on the hammer to provide extra weight.

Sri Lankans, though dark in hair and complexion, don’t look like that much Indians to me. Our speculation is that the colonial population may have become part of the gene pool.

The head movement for “yes” is different than we had experienced. Instead of up and down motion, it is a bobble or wiggle of the head, with the chin moving left to right.  It's easy to mistake for indicating "maybe so, maybe not" in the US.

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