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Our Monsoon Engagement

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Happy New Year!

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(Darren in downtown Colombo)

Darren and I meticulously planned a lovely three week getaway to Sri Lanka, granted in the true spirit of John Steinbeck’s famous quote, “the best laid plans of mice and men oft go astray”… Apparently, Mother Nature had something different in mind. Heavy monsoons, flooding and landslides took Sri Lanka by storm, displacing over 650,000 people within a very short time-span.

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(Old Colonial Architecture)

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(Murugan Hindu Temple)

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(Dancing cobra)

We experienced eighteen straight days of rain, witnessed landslides, and incredulously watched as trees toppled from the hillside and crashed onto the road, literally in front of our car. We considered ourselves lucky as we got out to investigate the damage on the road! Within minutes, Sri Lankans wielding heavy axes began to chip away at the tree, in desperate hopes of clearing the way. I was impressed by their quick response time and resourcefulness…and then suddenly out of nowhere a bulldozer miraculously appeared to expedite the tree removal process.

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(Beautiful bride at buddhist temple)

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(Buddhist Temple)

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(Prayer wheels)

Alas, a typical day on the road as we traversed the island. However, we embraced the situation and made the most of our holiday!

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(Independence Memorial Hall)

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(Sea Turtle Conservation in Bentota)

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(Tsunami Disaster – 10th anniversary)

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(Stunning coastline – before the rains)

We started off in Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo, which I actually loved! Sri Lanka in and of itself has a fascinating yet complicated history, and was ruled by the Portuguese, Dutch and British in differing periods of time. It was also ravished by civil war from 1983 – 2009, a conflict fought between the Tamil Tigers, an independent militant organization and the Sri Lankan government.

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(Galle Fort)

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(Shopping in Galle)

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(Unawatuna)

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(Fishing beach)

Sadly, Sri Lanka was still battling their prolonged civil war when the Indian Ocean tsunami struck on December 26, 2004, which claimed the lives of over 35,000 people and displaced over a million others. Interestingly, we were there for the 10th anniversary of this horrendous disaster. We met several people who shared their personal stories…I can’t even begin to fathom what happened that day, the extent of the devastation, the sense of fear, and the overwhelming loss of life!

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(Whale Watching)

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(Yala National Park)

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(Mongoose)

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(Bee-eater)

As we ventured towards Galle, I couldn’t help but think about the train that was derailed traveling from Colombo to Galle during that fateful day, when the force of the waves swept away at least 800 lives. It is believed to be one of the worst train disasters in the world.

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(Wild Peacocks)

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(Merryland – what is this bird?)

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(In Yala)

It’s amazing to see how much work has taken place rebuilding the country, yet remnants of the tsunami in certain areas still remain. Unfortunately, the conflict in Sri Lanka has slowed down rebuilding efforts. And tensions appear to be on the rise as Sri Lanka gears for presidential elections, which happen this week! We couldn’t help but notice the Presidential posters of Mahinda Rajapaksa plastered all over the country, from small road-side shacks to huge highway billboards. Unfortunately, there has been an increase in violence amidst predictions of a win for the opposition. Guess we’ll just have to wait and see…

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(Kataragama)

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(Beautiful…)

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Meanwhile, getting back to our holiday…

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(Our driver, Mr. Anura, with his buddha offering)

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(Ruhunu Maha Kataragama Devalaya)

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(Monkeys)

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(Darren and Mr. Anura)

I truly loved Colombo, and will keep an eye out for work opportunities in the future. We spent several days exploring the city, hitting the famed Pettah Market on Bandra Road, visiting the Murugan Hindu Temple, and walking around Beira Lake. We even got to photograph one of the most beautiful brides I’ve ever seen at one of the Buddhist Temples.

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(Tea workers outside of Ella)

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(Tea plantation)

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(Taken from the car)

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(Traffic jam – taken as a bus slowly passed by)

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(selling postcards)

From there, we headed towards Galle, an endlessly exotic town with a wonderful collection of Dutch-colonial buildings. We had a heyday at the Galle Fort area, shopping at boutique art galleries and dining at lovely restaurants.

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(Fishing breach in Negombo)

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(Streets of Nuwara Eliya)

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(More shots taken from the car)

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(Beach in Negombo)

And we even ventured off to the famed coastal town of Unawatuna.

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(Cascading waterfalls)

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(Landslide – the tree that toppled over in front of our car)

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(Resourceful)

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(And along came a bulldozer?!?)

In Mirissa, our driver convinced us to go whale watching – which, in theory, sounds fabulous! However, in reality, was by far our most miserable day! Rough seas, huge swells, combined with seven hours on a dreadful boat turned into a mega puke-fest by EVERYONE on board.

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(A break in the weather)

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(Little Adams Peak – Ella)

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(Loved hiking in Ella)

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(Not a bad place to stop for a beer)

Honestly, the tour operators had no business taking people three hours one way to catch a very small glimpse of the great Sperm Whale. And to add insult to injury, we were against the current returning to the dock, tacking on another four hours of misery! Needless to say, Darren and I were both disappointed with the whole endeavor…

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(Dowa Temple)

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(Cool door)

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(Buddha carved in the rock)

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(Mr. Anura)

Next stop, Yala National Park. Now coming from South Africa, we knew not to expect too much on safari, but the beauty of the birds pleasantly surprised us. I felt as if I was channeling my mom as I identified each species, the Carmen bee eater, the Lilac-crested roller, and the peacocks. I was in awe of the peacocks – such majestic birds! And I realized that I had never seen them in their natural habitat. In fact, for some reason, I didn’t think peacocks could even fly (perhaps it’s because they clip their wings in captivity….and up until now I’ve only really seen them at zoos).

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(On the way to Nuwara Eliya)

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(Loved this man)

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(Walking the streets of Nuwara Eliya)

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By this stage, the rains were quite heavy – so we ditched our plans to head to Uda Walawe National Park and opted to go straight to the hills of Ella (and it was on this particular drive that we witnessed the landslide).

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Tea Plantation Workers – taken on the road to Kandy)

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(Tiny little woman)

Ella was our favorite hill-country village, and was quite the happening hot-spot among tourists. It’s famous for its stunning view through Ella Gap and for its endless hikes through tea plantations, temples and waterfalls.

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(More tea plantations)

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(Darren charming the ladies)

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We miraculously had a break in the weather, granted for just the morning, but that was long enough to hike to Little Adam’s Peak, a focus for pilgrimage for more than 1000 years! And one can easily see why! Breathtaking panoramic views everywhere you looked…

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(Christmas Eve, and Darren’s marriage proposal)

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(Lake Kandy)

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(The road to Sigiriya)

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(Buddhist monks)

The rest of our days were a bit of a bust, with torrential downpours day and night…so again, we packed up and headed further north to Nuwara Eliya, often referred to as “Little England”. Years ago, Nuwara Eliya was the favored cool-climate escape for the hard-drinking English and Scottish pioneers of Sri Lanka’s tea industry. We hung out at The Grand Hotel for high tea and enjoyed the luxurious setting and ambiance.

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(Sigiriya)

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(Sigiriya)

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(Lions Rock)

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(Frescoes on the rocks)

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(Hornet attacks)

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(Amy in Sigiriya)

Despite the dismal weather, I entertained myself by taking photos out the car window as we drove from destination to destination. In fact, my favorite pictures from the trip were of the tea plantation workers, where we literally pulled over on the side of the road, grabbed our umbrella, and set off in the rain to take pictures of the stunning scenery and passersby.

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(Our first sunset in Negombo)

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(walking the beach)

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(Darren on the beach)

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Kandy, the second largest city in Sri Lanka, was our next stop granted, the heavy rains prevented us from truly exploring all that the city had to offer. However, we stayed at an amazing hotel, The Richmond House – http://www.therichmondhousekandy.com/eng/photo/index.html ). We sat on our balcony and looked out upon the amazing views of the delicate hill country, with its heavy mist interspersed throughout the hillside.

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(lots of couples on the beach)

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(Loved the sunshine)

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(Beautiful girl)

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(Ice cream)

And it was also here that Darren arranged a romantic top floor balcony dinner on Christmas Eve. Before our first course arrived, Darren got down on one knee, produced the most gorgeous ring ever, and asked me to marry him. Overwhelmed with emotions, tears of joy bursting forth, I gladly said yes! So stay tuned!!! We are planning a Cape Town wedding for December 19, 2015!
Perhaps this will be the impetus to get more friends and family to visit this amazing country! So much to see and do in South Africa…

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(Various modes of transportation)

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(Glen – owner of Udekki Resort)

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(Shots of Arrack with Tara and Lee)

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(Tara and Lee at Bar Reef)

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(Darren)

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(Amazing sunsets)

We happily left Kandy and ended up going further north into the worst of the weather to explore the Ancient City of Sigiriya, a Unesco World Heritage Site that has been inhabited since the 3rd century BC. The ruins of the capital were built by King Kassapa (477 – 95) and lie on the steep slopes, leading up to a granite peak (Lion’s Rock) standing 180m high. The rock is also adorned with ancient frescoes, which has brought universal acclaim to the site of Sigiriya.

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(Enjoying the beach in Kalpitiya)

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(Loved talking to these kids)

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(Gorgeous)

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Due to flooding and landslides, we altered the rest of our itinerary and headed straight to the beach! Ironically, the local beaches in Negombo – dirty, crowded, and situated very close to the airport – became our new favorite destination! The clouds finally parted and we experienced our first sunset of the trip!

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(Hindu Temple)

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(Offerings)

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(Hindu Gods)

For New Year’s Eve, we went to a very secluded eco-lodge, Bar Reef Resort, in Kalpitiya. And right next door was the lovely Udekki Resort…and the owner, Glen, was the highlight of our stay! Incredibly hospitable, gracious, and an amazing blues guitar player/singer, he made us feel right at home, despite the fact that we weren’t even staying there – a testament to his warmth and good-nature.

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(Last days on the beach – notice the blue sky)

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(Gymnastics on the beach)

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(We consumed a lot of these on this trip)

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(Gorgeous sunset)

We rang in the New Year with a lovely couple from London. We chilled out by the bonfire on the beach and watched as the kids shot off fireworks and twirled sparklers!

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(Fish market)

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(Crazy busy)

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Our final days were spent back in Negombo, exploring the fish markets, souvenir shops and restaurants. By and large, a phenomenal trip!

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(Last day!)

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(Beach time)

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(Best friends)

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(Last sunset)

We will keep you posted in terms of our wedding plans, but hopefully people will mark their calendars now for next Christmas/New Years in South Africa.

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(Good-bye, good-luck)

Sending much love to all,
Amy & Darren