Sunday, February 24, 2013

Carnevale SDT-Pretty Good Hippies

Our last anti-war protest in Portland, Oregon (when Bush got the brilliant idea to invade Iraq)

Last Sunday afternoon, after getting my “fix” of American political news from CNN, I heard loud music outside. Walking upstairs to the piazza, I found a lot of people mingling, dancing to music and many in costume. Upon inquiry, I learned that the Carnevale celebration from the previous Sunday had been postponed because of the cold, wet, snowy weather and ecco – here it was.
Carnevale in Italy can be a pretty big deal in places like Venice, but little towns like ours jump in a little also. This link to the Life in Italy website explains things on the larger scale.

At our little celebration there were three floats (carri di Carnevale). There was a decidedly North American flavor to them. We related to the cowboy and Indian float, complete with teepee, also the anti-war float complete with “flower children” from our 1960’s youth when we rallied against the Viet Nam war. These folks are just dressing-up for carnevale and maybe not trying to make statements nor worried about historical accuracy, but they were enjoyable and not that far off the mark--at least for the hippies. We don't have an historic photographic record, thankfully, of those years--people didn't record every moment of life back then, but if memory serves, the only really inaccurate image is the green hair--crazy curls, yes, green, not that much. But green is fun and I'm sure we would have tried that shade if it had been readily available.

Di and Guido, at middle age, developed a real anti-war emotion again in 2003 when we participated in a rally in Portland, Oregon. We hope these young Calabrese might think seriously about opposing war because something is bound to happen again in their lifetimes and maybe Italy, at least, can manage to stay out of it.

This little street party was paid for (the hired music man and sound system) by volunteers, not the town. We are learning more about such things and have joined the “Pro Loco” group that helps promote the village and tourism. With larger events, the Pro Loco group gets donations from banks, businesses, etc. One thing I am not used to is many of the public events here are not publicised anywhere we've seen--just word-of-mouth spoken in dialect!!

This is fun because we lived next-door to an Indian reservation in America and had friends there. Blue feathers notwithstanding, our young Italian friend makes a good Indian, but I didn’t catch him with the cigar in his mouth!

Note the numbers on Martina and her friends above – the kids had a little competition for costumes.

Friday, February 15, 2013

A Great Escape--Sri Lanka in February

The View from our Hotel Room Terrazzo
There was snow on the ground in Santa Domenica T. for 2 days last week but we were not here to see it! We were absorbing the tropical warmth of Sri Lanka. February is usually the nastiest month of winter and we decided to take a holiday in a warm, and very different location. Instead of single digit temperatures, Sri Lanka was around 32C/90F each day.  

Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) is off the southern tip of India. This was our first time in Asia. The country just came out of 25 years of civil war, mostly in the north and east, and everyone is eager to get tourism rolling again.  We were looking for a place to return like swallows (or swifts) every February--we think we've found it.

The majority of hotels and resorts are on the southwestern part of the island. We traveled from Rome to Dubai, then on to Colombo. Nine hours flight time. We used Emirates Airline and were very impressed with the 360 passenger Boeing 777-300 planes, the comfort, the good media system and best – the great service including free good food, wine and beer. 

We are used to Italian passport control where bored officers often never look at your photo or stamp you in.  In Dubai, the guy saw the American passport and sent us along without touching the documents.  In Sri Lanka, however, they take things more seriously. Not only did they read our passports, they found a one digit error in our online self-serve visa for Di which held her up for 45 minutes. Leaving the country is similar with 3 separate x-ray security points.

Where We Stayed (if you don’t care where we stayed, scroll to the next post to find what we did when we managed to leave our idyllic spot on the beach).

Di discovered the Saman Villas Boutique Luxury Resort, a 2 hour drive south from the airport.  They have just 27 rooms of various quality levels and we chose the lowest to save.  The place is just incredible.  The owner built it in the 1990’s and he and his architect did an amazing job with all the buildings and the grounds. We learned that 85% of their customers are English.  We saw Germans, Middle Easterners and a French couple. 

Saman Villas sits at least 30 feet above the Indian Ocean, so avoided damage in the 2004 tsunami that killed 2000 people just to the south and damaged property along the nearby beaches.

Hotel from north beach

Reception area - obvious Buddhist designs

The infinity pool.  Smaller, private pools available for some rooms.

Most of the hotel guests just stayed by the pool day after day. We didn't really like swimming in the pool (too boring, too warm) so we sat on the lawn and walked to the beach to swim...or play in the waves, more between our Tuk Tuk trips (more on that next post down).

The staff at Saman Villas are all very friendly and have top customer service skills.  This includes the two head chefs who happily responded to Di’s requests for special diet measures. They visited the table several times. They also create some amazing food. We could have curry dishes 3 times a day, but they offer middle eastern, Asian and western dishes. The two Italian dishes, we chose to skip. 

We became acquainted with food server Thilani and pools attendant Indika.  Indika has worked there 14 years and supports a family with his earnings – the hotel holds on to good employees and treats them well.

Our room from the Beach 

Curried Lobster

Everything was so good we never ventured out to other restaurants. 

Indika and the scrawny old American

Bathroom the size of our kitchen. Notice open space to the outdoors above shower where Guido could watch joggers on the beach while washing.

Pescatore laying-out net
I spotted this fishing boat during breakfast one morning.  They laid-out nearly ¾ mile of hemp rope and net, then dragged it to shore pulling on two ends. A big effort by a lot of people, but their catch appeared meager to me – one little shark, a dozen 10-inch fish and maybe 60 kilo of very tiny fish smaller than sardines.

Two ends of net being pulled in

The net

Local women don't wear bikinis in the water

Great Escape-Part II

Our Transportation while at Bentota.  Di and Saranth
What We Did
We opted to not hire a car and just hired drivers when needed. In addition to needing an international permit and a Sri Lankan permit, we would be learning to drive on the left side of the road in right hand drive car in some of the most wild driving conditions we have ever experienced. Those people could drive in Naples with one eye closed.

I ran into a young man who gave me a ride in his Tuk Tuk (3-wheeled machine) to a Buddhist temple just 2 km from the hotel back in the jungle. It included a trip thru local neighborhoods, then a tour by the monk who kept talking about George Washington, Lyndon Johnson and JFK.  Very nice sculptures and artwork. 

The neighborhood near the Temple
I was allowed in the temple wearing knee length shorts, but some want men in long trousers and women to cover their shoulders. Sri Lankan women dress moderately on the beach as well with skirts and shirts – no bikinis. Di had an uncanny experience on the beach about 1/4 mile from the hotel...a young woman with her boyfriend giggled at her and tried to cover her with her towel. It was surprising because of all the other Europeans in bikinis around. Makes you think...about too many things for a vacation!

Uninformed tourist with a turtle baby
Speaking of thinking, Sri Lanka is home to 5 species of sea turtle – all endangered. We heard about turtle hatcheries that hatch eggs and release the babies into the sea. The eggs are collected at night by local fishermen who spot turtles laying eggs, then they sell them to the hatcheries. We thought it sounded good, but after we visited one of the private businesses, we learned (too late) that they keep the babies around a few days in water tanks instead of releasing them quickly – this is so tourists have something to see, touch, etc.  Sadly, the baby turtles released from these places may have nearly a 0% survival rate. In natural conditions there is a 2% survival rate. We fell into the tourist trap taking a tuk tuk drive in the rain to a hatchery. The "real" conservation groups protect the beach nest sites. More of this should be done. Here is a link for a very good article on the subject. We will save elephants, crocodiles and monkeys for future trips.

The Snorkeling location
We went snorkeling one day an hour south of the hotel in the town of Hikkaduwa. Di had read how the tsunami ruined the coral reefs and they are still recovering. Nice clear warm water with pretty fish. You want to do this in the morning when the water is clearest.  Don't get a ride in an outrigger canoe – they are very difficult to climb into from the water. Pay a little more for a motorboat--unless you are a world-class athlete or young and flexible.

Busy streets
We didn't learn any Sri Lankanese while we were there...Italian is hard enough
It took us awhile to adjust to the Sri Lankan rupee.  I traded in €400 at the hotel and was given over 63,000 rupees!  Things not linked to tourism are very cheap there, but one must pack a wad of money around. 

In front of the local ATM
The monk, his young to-be-student-monk, and the old guy

Fruit bats roosting

We will have many good memories of this place. We saw a couple sea eagles flying overhead. We also saw fruit bats flying at dusk near our room. Those things have a wing-span of nearly 2 feet. Our tuk tuk driver Sanath showed us bats roosting during the day right next to the highway. The sunsets were beautiful but not in the spectacular Calabrian way. We were happy to get back home to Casa del Tramonto where spring is on the way...we hope!


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