Saturday, February 25, 2012

Navam Perahera and the Foundation of Goodness Part 1

The last few weeks here in Sri Lanka have been interesting.  I've actually been busier than a one legged man in a butt kicking contest with my business, but Shari and I have managed to still find time to relax and explore the city while experiencing the new, exciting and sometimes frustrating things that make up life here in Sri Lanka.  I've chosen to highlight two of our best experiences since my last blog, but I figured it would be easier to do that in a two part post, rather than making you all grind through another monster post.  By the way, as I type, the little Hellion kid next door is once again screaming at the top of his lungs for no apparent reason.  Since the houses here are very close together, it is not uncommon have windows of adjoining houses face each other in extremely close proximity.  Luckily for me, the shower room of the screaming banshee kid is right next to my office window, so I get the pleasure of hearing his window shattering yelling all day long, especially when he is having a morning shower.  Oh the joy of an undisciplined child!

But I digress.  Let's get back to the point of this post-elephants.  A lot of elephants.  A few weeks ago marked the monthly Buddhist holy day of Poya.  You probably remember my explanation of Poya in earlier posts, but for those of you with really bad memories like me, Poya is an actual public holiday that falls on the day of the full moon each month.  Since Sri Lanka's predominant religion is Buddhism, the government recognizes the holy day by giving everyone the day off.  One thing about this country, they know how to maximize their time off through public holidays.  A few weeks ago, business took a half day on Friday, then Monday and Tuesday off.  I'm not sure what was going down on Friday, but people got off on Monday in recognition of the profit Mohammad's birthday on Sunday, then got Tuesday off for Poya.  It is good to have officially recognized religious diversity in your country, especially if you don't like your job!

Anyway, back to the elephants.  Poya in the month of February is especially awesome because that is when the Navam Perahera occurs.  I still don't know a lot about Perahera's, but I do know they include a lot of elephants.  I stole the following excerpt from some official looking website on the Internet to explain Navam Perahera since I figured that would be better than me trying to look like I know what the hell I'm talking about.  According to the official looking website, Navam Perahera was "Planned by Gangaramaya Temple overlooking the banks of the picturesque Beira Lake at Hunupitiya in Colombo, this pageant hosts hundred colorfully decked elephants parading the show on a full moon in February. History says that Navam Perahera Festival in Colombo was initiated in 1979 and hundreds of visitors flock to this temple every year since then to look at the amazing sight of herds of elephants walking down the road in their best of bright and pompous fineries. Navam Perahera Festival of color, fun and excitement speaks a lot about the local fervor and traditions of music."  That is a pretty good explanation of what I would call a very cool parade with a lot of elephants; elephants that you can get very, very close to.  Enough of all of this reading, let's look at some pictures of the elephants:

Elephant waiting to walk in the parade
Oh look, another elephant!
Little baby elephant
Juvenile elephant
Big @$*& elephants
Star elephant with a religious relic on his back
Elephant giving me the eye - I think I got a little too close to this big guy!
The small guys are cute
Big ol tusks on this fella
Walking in the parade
One of the coolest things about the parade were all the sounds.  I made a compilation of video clips we took to give you an idea of the sounds and chaos of the parade.  I tried to upload the video to this blog, but that is a bit beyond my technical abilities, so I just uploaded it to my YouTube account.  Check it out at:

Navam Perahera Movie

If you ever get a chance to visit Sri Lanka in February, check out the Navam Perahera.  It is certainly bigger, brighter, louder and cooler than I could ever capture on my quaint little blog.

Part two of this two part epic will take us south to the Foundation of Goodness and all the amazing work the people of this great organization are doing for the villagers in this area.  It is an amazing story of the love one man has for his home village and the people of Sri Lanka and I for one, hope to share it with as many people as I can so stay tuned! 

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Best Buy in Sri Lanka?

Is that what I think it is?  Best Buy in Sri!  It's yet one more of those clever Sri Lankan businesses who know the power of a recognizable logo.  This particular business is a carpet company, but you see these kinds of signs all over the place here.  As a matter of fact, when a business becomes successful in Sri Lanka, undoubtedly, you will see copy cat businesses pop up with oh so slight changes to the original name or logo....

Just another interesting aspect to life here in Sri Lanka.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Sri Lanka: The Old & New

This is probably the shortest post in the history of this blog, but I figure it would be good to explain the dichotomy of this country from my point of view.  On one hand, you see things like this:
ALMOST a Starbucks.....
That's right, even Sri Lanka can't escape the power of Starbucks!  This baby popped up a few weeks ago and I just got done finishing off my first cup o' Starbucks in a very long time....NICE!  Although this isn't a full fledged Starbucks franchise, these guys did get the authorization from Starbucks to sell their coffee....just one step closer to complete transformation of the country as we know it I suppose.

Coupled along with the advancement into all things western is this next picture:
What the %&$@ is this?
 Can anyone guess what Shari is doing here????  Anyone?  Well, the envelopes might have given it away, but even I have never seen anything quite like this.  That's right, we are at the local post office applying cement to our stamps (don't have to worry about licking a stamp here, but you do have to worry about not gluing your finger to your forehead!).  Not only does the post office remind you of a throwback to the 1920's with the furniture, lack of computers, log books and old school and very cool massive stamping devices the postal workers use, you have to apply your own adhesive to the stamps!

Talk about complete contrast between history and "progress".  For those of you who have ever said "how did we ever get anything done without computers" come visit the post office here in Sri Lanka, or the customs office, or any number of government and even private businesses for that matter, and you will see the answer to your question in real time.....

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Ayurveda and the Foundation of Goodness

Hello everyone and happy 2012!  I figured I would catch you up with our Sri Lankan adventures in a bit of an unconventional way (at least unconventional way in terms of this blog).  I don't have any awesome pictures or gripping travel adventures to share, but I do have some rather amazing experiences to write about so I hope you find them as interesting as I have.

As I type this now, Shari has Pirith playing in the background while I'm drinking my morning cup of coffee.  Pirith is a collection of Buddhist prayers and since Shari is Buddhist, it's something she starts her day with every morning.  As a non-Buddhist, Pirith sounds like a bunch of monks chanting in a language I can't understand, but I must say it is a very soothing way to begin the day.

After living here for close to six months now, I find this country to be a highly spiritual place.  Although religious lines are split between Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus and Christians with Buddhism being the primary religion followed by Islam and Hinduism and finally Christianity, there appears to be some level of religious harmony here.  Now, I may be feeling this way because I have not lived here long enough to see religious divisions and experience religious strife between these different groups, but one thing is certain, spirituality is very important to the people here regardless of their religious affiliation at it is nice to see so many people nurturing this very important, but too many times neglected, part of our lives.

With all of this talk about spirituality, I figure it's a good lead in to the explanation of my first experience with eastern medicine since faith is required for both I suppose.  Living in the US, we've all heard of herbal treatments and ancient Chinese remedies, but I had never heard of Ayurveda until coming to Sri Lanka.  Without getting too deep and as best as I can describe, Ayurveda is an ancient system of traditional medicines with its origins in India (see: for more info).  Regardless of its origins, my first run in with it happened because of some knee pain I had been experiencing for a few months now. 

For those of you who know me well know that I've been the lucky recipient of five glorious knee surgeries (three on the left and two on the right) in my early 20's and have experienced knee pain ever since.  About two months ago, I was jumping rope in our home gym and started to feel some fairly significant pain shortly after the session.  The pain was bad enough that I didn't think I would be able to go on the Adam's Peak climb (hence the reason I had so much trouble on the return trip).

After observing my suffering for a few weeks, my business partner Saliya asked if I would like for him to arrange an Ayurvedic doctor house call.  Figuring I had nothing to lose, I complied and Saliya scheduled a man who goes by the name Guru, to come over to take a look at my problem.  Guru arrived a short while later in plain street clothes and no medical bag.  After taking his shoes off before entering the house, we walked to my kitchen table to begin the examination.  As I sat down I saw that Guru produced two bottles of what looked to be some sort of oil.  I have no idea where these bottles came from because he was not carrying them when I met him at the door.  After asking a few questions and applying the two different types of oil on BOTH of my knees, he asked for some cotton and a cotton bandage.  He said is was very important the bandage be cotton so that my leg could breath properly.  I only had an ace bandage, but Guru said this would actually cause more pain so he took a trip to a nearby pharmacy to get the proper bandage.  After pouring some oil onto the cotton, he placed the bandage over my knee and told me he would be back in a few days to check on me.  He said I needed to keep the bandage on for this period of time to allow his remedy to ferment properly.  He also told me not to get the bandage wet.  I asked him what the charge was for the treatment and he replied that he does not ask for money for any treatment involving pain.  I gave him 1,000 rupees which is about $8.85 for his troubles.

Guru returned in a few day as promised to see how I was doing.  He entered the house in much the same way and we sat at my table as we did a few days before.  Again, Guru produced two new bottles of oil from somewhere and began the process of applying the oils to both knees again.  This time he explained a bit about his remedies.  Evidently, these natural treatments have been passed down in his family for over 2,500 years!  He stated that this treatment was 100% guaranteed to take away my pain.  I listened skeptically, but was impressed by his conviction and confidence in his abilities.  He told me to take off the bandage the next day-my pain would be gone.

Even though it was hard to believe in Guru's healing methods, I am happy to report that my knee has been pain free for three days now!  I can't explain it and don't even want to try to understand it at this point; all I know is that it feels good not to be in pain.

With my first experience with Ayurveda a success, Shari and I were looking for some more inspiration to finish out our week.  Luckily for us, Kushil Gunasekera was giving a speech at the American Center in Colombo.  We first learned about Kushil and his Foundation for Goodness on Anthony Bourdain's "No Reservations" episode featuring Sri Lanka.  I could go into detail about all of the amazing and wonderful things Kushil has been doing for the people of Sri Lanka, but instead, I would like to encourage you to check out his website for yourself at:  Kushil does all of his work through private funding, so if you are so inclined, feel free to help them out with a donation.  Shari and I have been invited to take a look at his center south of Colombo next week so stay tuned for a report on what I am sure will be a wonderfully inspiring visit.

Until next time.......   

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Adam's Peak, Sri Lanka

Hello faithful blog followers!  I told you all I would start posting more frequently because you just can't get enough of the exciting world of Shari and Kevin (I know you all were waiting on the edge of your seats for the next post).  Ta Da!  Another holiday season post just in time for the new year.

In this installment, we venture to the amazing world of Adam's Peak, I very tall, steep and painful, but wonderful 7 km climb/pilgrimage to a sacred Buddhist temple located at the very top of the peak.  Followers of Buddhism believe that a footprint cast in the rock at the peak is that of lord Buddha left on his journey to paradise.  More on that later, let me back up and tell you how we ended up going on the trip to Adam's Peak in the first place.

Last week, we were invited to dinner by Denushka, one of Shari's friends from Bishop's College (they call schools colleges here-actual college is known as University or Uni for short).  At dinner we met Rushika, another school friend of Shari's along with Rushika's husband Mark and their two children Javin and Ariana.  Rushika and her family are from Brisbane, Australia and were in Sri Lanka visiting her parents and extended family for the holidays.  Denushka's family also joined us at a nice little beach front restaurant called the Golden Mile.  During dinner, Rushika told us that her and Mark would be heading up to Adam's Peak the following week because it is something that Mark has always wanted since living in Sri Lanka for 18 months about 12 years ago.  They asked Shari and I if we wanted to join and we said yes of course!  It is so nice to not have obligations to attend to so you can just pick and and leave on a whim!

The scene was set and we were to be picked up on the 27th for the journey to Adam's Peak (about a 4 hour drive from Colombo).  Luckily for us, Rishana, one of Shari's other friend's from Bishops, caught wind of our trip and offered to arrange some lodging for us so we had a place to rest pre and post hike.  Rishana had already hiked Adam's Peak and knew how challenging it was-we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.

Rishana's friend, Mohan, runs a tea estate in the area we were headed called Campion.  He was gracious enough to open his home for us to use as our home base both before and after the hike.  Thank God for Rishana's experience, it proved to be invaluable since it provided us a retreat for which we could rest, eat and recharge, especially after the hike.  If we tried to tackle the peak driving up, climbing and driving back in one shot as we originally had planned, it would have been far less pleasurable than the experience we ended up having.

With the arrangements set, we were picked up by Mark, Rushika and their driver Ajantha at 9:30 AM sharp on the 27th.  Ajantha, or Google as Mark and Rushika call him, turned out to be a jack of all trades and was able to find out just about anything by making a few phone calls.  We were in good hands as we barreled out of Colombo toward Hatton like a bat out of hell.  I've formed an opinion regarding paid Sri Lankan drivers and have two words to describe how they drive:  controlled aggression.  We did make it to the Campion Estate in one piece though after a brief stop off for tea and another for some food.  At the second stop over, three of us, including Shari and I, got some Kothu Roti for lunch.  A decision we would regret later....
Rest houses are commonplace in Sri Lanka
Good tea and a nice break
Lunch time!  We're starving!
Our Kothu Roti lunch being that grill sanitary?
We got our lunch to go (plastic wrap wrapped up in newspaper) and were on our way to Campion.  It's hard to describe the beauty of this area in words.  Maybe these pictures will give you a better idea:
Factory at the front entry to the estate

View of one of the multiple gardens
The estate dog
Gorgeous flowers
A dog's paradise
A view of one of the flowers beds surrounding the house
We were greeted by the estate house attendants and shown our rooms, then retired to a room at the front in the house to have a quick introduction to Mohan before crashing out for a few hours.  Shari stayed up talking and catching up with Mohan and Rishana who left Colombo about two hours behind us.  I crashed per usual...

After a bit of a snooze, we awoke to a wonderful spread arranged by Rishana.  Rishana had planned out a huge meal for us and even brought ingredients from Colombo, but had to improvise to a scaled down light dinner after everyone crashed (with the exception of Shari of course).  No matter, a meal of leak and pumpkin soup, pasta and bread proved to be the perfect fuel we were going to need for our hike in a few hours.  Unfortunately for me, the Kothu Roti I ate for lunch was now sitting on my stomach like a brick and beginning to cause a little heartburn.

Dinner complete, we hopped in the car around 9:30 PM for the two hour drive to Adams Peak.  We had to coax the owner of a fueling station out of bed with 1,000 rupees so we wouldn't run out of gas, but overall, the trip to Adams Peak was fairly uneventful.

As we got closer to the base of the mountain, we got our first glimpse of what we were in for.  Although it was dark outside, you could see what appeared to be lights suspended in mid air with a yellowish light way up in the sky.  These were the pathway lights that illuminate the path to the top of the mountain-it looked STEEEEEP!
See those lights.....WAAAAAYYYY up there?
I guess it would be appropriate to explain a little more about this Adam's Peak place at this point.  According to , Adam's Peak or the Sri Lankan name, Sri Pada, is a 7,360 ft tall mountain climb revered by multiple religions as a sacred place.  A depression in the rocky summit resembles a huge footprint, which has been venerated as a sacred sigh from remote antiquity.  This was identified by Buddhists as the Buddha's footprint, by Hindus as that of Shiva, and by Muslims as Adam's.  Later the Portuguese attributed it to St. Thomas the Apostle.

The hike to the top is about 7km, consists of about 5200 steps and takes about 2 and 1/2 to 4 hours depending on your fitness level and the number of people walking the trails.  Although our fitness level left something to be desired, there were not too may people on the trail as we stepped off at 11:40 PM so we were able to get to the last rest stop before the summit in about 3 hours.

The journey to the top was amazing.  It started off with a nice gradual climb, then turned into steep sets of stairs and finished with a VERY STEEP stretch of stairs that was luckily accompanied by a railing you could grab onto to help pull yourself to the top.  Since Adam's Peak is a spiritually significant pilgrimage for many Sri Lankan's, there were many who complete the walk to the summit every year.  Oh-I forgot to mention, it is cold at the top, so be sure to pack appropriately if you visit. 
Grabbing some last minute cold weather clothing.  Surprisingly cheap!
The crew looking VERY confident....for now.  Check out those socks!
Buddha looks relaxed (I think he is laughing at us for what we are about to do)
The gateway to pain
First set of steps not too bad-I even had to strip down to my T-shirt
Getting a little steeper
The experienced and highly skilled mountaineer
The mix of people walking the trail was nothing short of inspirational.  Along with the normal tourists, the locals, walking for reasons other than something cool to do while on holiday in Sri Lanka, usually traveled in family groups.  Walking among the devout, you would see everything from young parents carrying their newborn children in their arms to 80 year old women, surrounded, and many times carried up to the summit by the young men in the family.  Every local I passed was either hiking in nothing more than flip flops or was completely barefoot and there were kids as young as four climbing the challenging sets of stairs alongside their parents with little to no help.

Seeing what this pilgrimage meant to all of these people gave you extra energy to make it to the top.  We did take our fair share of breaks along the way, especially when the legs turned to rubber or the breathing became a little too labored, but we navigated our way to the last store before the top by about 2:45 AM.
One of the many stores along the way-stores become more expensive as you get closer to the top
Do I look like I'm enjoying the climb?
Crazy steep stairs
Proud of ourselves for making it so far in what appeared to be a decent time, we were soon cursing our lack of planning as we sat on bamboo pole seats in the cold and wind for hours waiting until it was close enough to sunrise to begin the last leg of the journey.
Trying to stay warm on a little bamboo pole seat!
We finally made our move to the top at about 5:30 AM.  The store keeper said it would only take about five minutes to the top, but we didn't want to take any chances to not see the sunrise, especially after sitting in the freezing cold for so long!

After fighting our way through a few people blocking the stairs at the summit, we found ourselves in the summit temple compound.  Shari and Rushika, both Buddhists, found the room with the Buddha's footprint and said prayers after providing a small donation.  We then made our way to ring the bell signifying the number of times you've completed the pilgrimage.  Mark, Rushika, Shai and I each gave a ring while Ajuntha gave eleven!  After ringing the bell, we retired to a staircase away from most of the crowd to await the sunrise.  The next set of pictures show Shari and I ringing the bell while taking in some of the most amazing views of the sun cresting the horizon that I have ever seen.
Sun beginning to brighten the sky
One ring for Shari
One ring for me.  We had to take our shoes off in the temple compound-the ground was cold!

The flags are Buddhist flags
Sun coming up over the lake below
Portion of the temple that houses the footprint
The sky was on fire
Notice the mist on the mountains BELOW us
And there is the sun
Once the sun came up, we walked over the the back of the temple area to see if we could see the shadow of Adam's Peak on the mist covered valley below.  It is an amazing phenomena to see the perfect pyramid shape the shadow makes on the mist while it slowly becomes more pronounced as the sun continues to rise; however, it had not appeared in the last twelve days according to the temple high priest.  As we strained to see the shadow, it slowly materialized before our eyes-amazing!
Slowly starting to see the pyramid shadow take shape
It becomes more pronounced as the sun continues to rise
Check out the pyramid in the background
With the sunrise and the Adam's Peak shadow behind us, it was time to begin my least favorite part of the journey.  It was my least favorite for many reasons, the first being the punishment my knees were about to take and the second was the gift my Kothu Roti lunch from the day before was giving me as we bounced down the stairs...No matter, there was no shuttle down, so away we went.
Getting ready to head down
A bit crowded at the top
Smile everyone, we're going home!
Like a heard of cows
Breathtaking scenes on the way down
The winding path down
Another award winning photo by Shari
While picking our way through the slow people heading toward the bottom, we passed the lucky few who were charged with bringing supplies up to the various shops along the trail.  Since the peak is only navigable by foot, everything, and I mean everything, is brought up by these guys:
Just another day at work
Who ordered the home building materials?
This guy actually said "good morning sir" to me with a smile as he humped 100 pounds of drinks up the hill...amazing!
This method of transportation is the main reason why shops become more expensive the higher up the mountain you travel.  If I were these guys, I would be charging a mint to hike supplies up to the shop keepers at the top!

Even though the walk down only took about two hours, it felt like it would never end, especially when my right leg quit working.  The last km was torture, but Shari still managed to get some great shots.
Yes we were just WAAAAY up there!
Mark and Rushika crossing one of the last bridges on the way down
Tea pluckers starting their day
Huge Buddha statue at the bottom...we made it!
     These next two pictures sum up how we were feeling at the bottom:
I think my leg cracked in half at km 13
The 1000 yard stare into nothingness
Trip back to the estate was nice.  Monkeys and glorious sleep!
Look at those crazy humans in that blue machine!
Shari is STILL awake!
Rounding the last few bends toward the estate, we were greeted by some welcoming signage and an amazing lunch on the back lawn organized by our most gracious of hosts, Rishana and Mohan.  It was the perfect ending to a perfect trip and I cannot thank Shari's, and now my, wonderful friends enough for allowing us to be a part of such an incredible experience.
Almost home!
Look, a tree house!
Having a chat on the back lawn before lunch
Cocktails anyone?
To see all of the pictures from our Adam's Peak experience, go to my flickr page and click on Adam's Peak:

Until next time...peace!