Voyage of Traveler / Blog

February 28, 2009

Traveler’s Postcard From Sri Lanka

Filed under: Year 2: July08-June09 French Polynesia to Greece, Indian Ocean — mrlawlerjr @ 5:31 pm

View Barbara’s Photo Album of this area on

Hi, Everyone,
Part of the reason I wanted to go to this country is its name.  SRI LANKA!  It sounds so exotic to say, so other-side-of-the-worldish. And it is.  Here are some highlights.
For two of our five days here we toured the island from Galle to Kandy with a professional driver, which turned out to be a great idea because the driving here is so dangerous.  We saw many sights, including:
1. The Elephant Orphanage. In the interior highlands, in the rain forest during the dry season, we stopped at a village that has about 60 elephants, including a dozen babies, and arrived during their daily afternoon bath in the river.  Quite a sight.  We got up close enough to touch one, a pregnant female who seemed friendly.  Another one lost the foot off his right foreleg from a land mine–an unintended, but nevertheless real life, casualty of the decades-long civil war by the Tamil Tiger Rebels. He hobbled around on three legs fairly well, using his trunk at times as a crutch. Also here we saw a snake charmer play a flute for a king cobra. I have a picture of Brian holding the basket with that coiled cobra standing up at full attention, while Brian has another snake, a python, around his neck.  We also saw lots of bats sleeping in a tree and a large monitor lizard.
2.  The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic.  This is the largest and most holy temple in all of Sri Lanka, and one of the largest and most sacred Buddhist temples in the world. They have two of Buddha’s actual teeth here in a temple within the temple.  There is a constant stream of devout Buddhists making their pilgrimage to pay their respects, and put a little something in the offering box “for good luck.”  It is like the Sri Lankan’s Vatican. At first we were not going to be allowed in because Brian and I were wearing short pants and Barbara had on a short dress, but we covered up well with sarongs, which we happened to have with us.

On another day, we self-toured the historic walled old town in the Fort of Galle. It was first established by the Portuguese in 1502, then invaded by the Dutch in a bloody battle in 1655, and later ruled by the British, up until 1947.  There are maybe three or four thousand people jammed into about ten acres, living in two or three-story homes that are one or two, and maybe even three hundred years old, on narrow lots, with jewelry shops, cafes and bed and breakfast inns sprinkled around.

For souvenirs, for about $30 I bought a matched set of four Dutch coins dating back to 1720.  I also got a nice blue topaz bracelet for Barbara.  Barbara bought Brian a Sri Lanka Cricket Team jersey and a Sri Lanka souvenir t-shirt with elephants for me.

The six hour drive from Galle to Kandy, and then back the next day, was exhausting because the driving here is so crazy.  Imagine thousands of tuk tuks (a three wheeled motor scooter with a max speed of maybe 25–but it takes a full minute to go from zero to 25) weaving in and out of traffic. The “traffic” is everything from an ox pulling a cart to over-crowded and speeding buses, with children playing and adults walking in or very near the edge of most streets, and stray dogs and bicycles darting around too. The roads in the larger villages are so crowded it takes great effort, and lots of luck, to go just 10 MPH.  And the roads between villages are so narrow that in many places two cars could not fit side by side on the pavement, what there was of it.  Yet somehow you have all this chaos of traffic passing one another and honking their horns, narrowly missing each other.  At home in the US if you had one of these near death driving experiences you would have to stop, collect your thoughts and calm your nerves before moving on.  Here in Sri Lanka you have a very close call–like just missing a head on collision by inches–every half mile or so. It is quite common for speeding busses to drive down the middle of the road, passing tuk tuks on its side of the road and forcing opposing traffic off the road all together, with one hand on the horn.  Oh, and the busses do not stop to let passengers on and off, they only slow down some.  I do not know how the elderly manage to board and exit these busses here.  Needless to say, we saw countless wrecked and abandoned vehicles along the roads plus, sadly, two dogs and a cow–recent road kill, on the edge of the street.

The Customs and Immigration officers all have their hands out, demanding bribes.  On check in, the Customs officer required us to put all of our liquor out on the dining table so he could “inspect it,” then helped himself to a bottle of Chivas Regal and a bottle of Malibu Rum.  The Immigration officers were slightly less bold, but still insisted on a “compliment”, asking for cigarettes.  We bought a couple of cartons of Marlboros at the duty free shop in Langkawi, Malaysia just for this purpose.  We gave the two Immigration officers a couple of packs, and then they asked for a couple of beers, which we also gave them, just so we could get our passports back and get them off our boat. From what we hear from other yachties, there is a lot more of this to come, all throughout the Red Sea countries, especially with the mandatory pilots in the Suez Canal. We call this “light pirating” from guys in uniforms.  It is just part of life here in this part of the world.

We are now (Feb 28 at 1330) on passage to our next country, and are about a hundred miles south of India with 300 miles to go to Uligamu, Maldives at 07 05 N, 072 56 E.

Hook up! We just reeled in a marlin, I’m guessing about 50 lbs, got some photos, then released it.

Livin’ the Dream,
Michael and Barbara
and Brian and Brandon, too

February 14, 2009

Traveler to Sri Lanka

Filed under: Year 2: July08-June09 French Polynesia to Greece, Indian Ocean — mrlawlerjr @ 9:48 pm

Hi Everyone,

It feels good to be on a long passage again.  We departed Thailand’s Patong Beach at sunrise this morning and are headed for Galle, Sri Lanka, 1080 nautical miles almost due west.  Our passage should take about seven days and will take us across the Andaman Sea and the Bay of Bengal and through the Nicobar Islands.  The weather forecast is for favorable winds, generally 12 to 18 knots out of the NNE.  But right now it is still mid-morning and the winds are light, so we are motor sailing with a knot of favorable current. The temperature is a very nice 85. We are already 25 miles offshore and, for the first time in months, there is no land and not another boat in sight. Since we arrived in Indonesian waters, and in particularly around Singapore, we have been surrounded by fishing boats and ships of all sizes, at times more than 50 vessels within just a mile or two of us.

The engine is working very well (hurrah!) and we love the new anchor windlass.  The sails are re-stitched and should be good for the rest of our voyage. Everything is in good shape and working well (knock of wood.) We have enough provisions to get us to the Red Sea, although we will buy fresh produce, fruit, bread and meat at each of our ports of call along the way. And we hope to catch a fish every three or four days to rotate into our dinners. We usually troll a lure or two and have been fairly lucky at fishing.

Last night in Patong, Barbara and I had a nice romantic dinner at Coyote’s Mexican restaurant for Valentines Day.  Even though it was our last night in Thailand, so it was our last chance for Pad Thai or other great local dishes, we were both craving fajitas and margaritas, and it will be quite awhile before we can find another Mexican restaurant in this part of the world.

Brian and Brandon are both having a great time and are a big help to us on the boat–especially on the longer passages for the watch schedules, so we all get a little more, and better, sleep.

We’ve been following the civil war in Sri Lanka closely and it looks to be over now, so there should be a feeling of relief and celebration in that country.  The fighting was almost entirely in the northern end of the island, and we will limit our visit to the southern tip, in and around the old harbor town of Galle.

All’s well onboard Traveler.

Position at 0420 utc on 15 Feb:
07 53 N, 098 16 E
Heading 263 at 7.9 knots

Michael and Barbara

February 11, 2009

Traveler is Still in Thailand

Filed under: Year 2: July08-June09 French Polynesia to Greece, Indian Ocean — mrlawlerjr @ 6:12 pm

Hi, Everyone,
We are still at the Royal Phuket Marina in Thailand, even though we checked out of Customs and Immigration over a week ago and started to leave for our next country.  As some of you know and other may have guessed, our engine failed, again, this time as we were departing this marina and heading for Sri Lanka, so we had to drop anchor and have the mechanics dinghy out to the boat. They determined it was (after fixing the boat already twice before) a faulty fuel pump after all and fortunately were able to fix it, but after another three days of delay.  Then, as we pulled up anchor to leave the second time, our windlass failed. It has been one problem after another since Dili, East Timor.  So we bought a new anchor windlass for about $1,500 and it will be installed this morning.  We hope to be on our way today with the noon high tide, and if not today then tomorrow for sure.

Right now I am a cafe with wifi that is one of Thailand’s top 20 restaurants listening to classical music and having a wonderful breakfast at sunrise, while Barbara, Brian and Brandon are sleeping in.  The carpenter and electrician to complete the windlass installation are due to arrive in a couple of hours.  I’m catching up on my emails and then we will do one (hopefully) final provision to buy fresh fruit, veggies and bread.  We love this place–gorgeous islands and beaches, great food, friendly people, fabulous weather–but it’s time to move on, while the NE monsoon winds are still favorable, especially if we are going to see the Med this Spring and Summer.

Our revised schedule over the next six or seven weeks is now:
Phuket, Thailand–hopefully depart today
Galle, Sri Lanka
The Maldives
Salalah, Oman
Aden, Yemen (through the Gulf of Aden where all the pirate attacks have been happening)
The Sudan
Suez Canal, we expect by the end of March

However, as the saying goes for us yachties, “Man makes plans, and God just laughs.”  I don’t know why I even make planned itineraries with expected dates anymore because nothing has gone according to plan yet on this voyage.  Nevertheless, we’re still in Southeast Asia, alive and well, and,
Livin’ the Dream,
Michael and Barbara

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