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Tuk-Tuking around Sri Lanka

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“Why didn’t we think of that?!” “Our lives would be so much easier.” “It would be so much fun.” “Man, I’m so jealous!” These are among the sentences which found their way into our conversations, after we had met Marc and Carina at our guesthouse in Polonnaruwa. The Belgian couple earned our everlasting respect after revealing that they had rented a tuk-tuk for their three month journey around Sri Lanka.

Tuk-Tuk-Travels

Over dinner, Marc and Carina shared their experiences in the tuk-tuk. With the freedom of their own transport, they were able to see a lot more than us and have interacted with locals in a more authentic way — puttering around in their tuk-tuk won them instant respect. And they’ve even taken passengers, packing schoolkids into the back for a free ride home. It would have been perfect for Jürgen and I, who were schlepping around a lot of luggage, and constantly on the road.

Who are you?
Marc de Kyusscher (52 years) and Carina (50 years), both Belgian, with one happily married son. Our favorite hobby has always been traveling, but because of work, we’ve always had to stick to short trips. Now that we’re semi-retired, we’re finally able to see the world without any time pressure…

When and why did you start travelling?
Our journey began on June 5th, 2011 — also our 30th anniversary. We’ve always dreamed of doing a trip around the world. Our son is 27 years old and we always said that when he marries, we’ll begin our dream. Last year, it happened! We sold our house, got our son’s blessing, and took off. We have worked our whole lives for the chance to do this, and finally are able to enjoy the fruits of our labor. We’re renting an apartment back home, so that we have a place to go when our journeys are over.

From Belgium, we took bicycles to Cappadocia, in Turkey. After a quick interlude back home, we explored India for three months on an “Enfield Bullet” motorcycle. And now, Sri Lanka…

Why Sri Lanka?
We arrived in Sri Lanka on February 27th, and planned to stay until May 27th [Due to a death in the family, Marc and Carina had to return home at the end of April]. Why so long? Well, because we read everywhere that the country has it all: mountains, nature, national parks, the sea, beaches, hospitality and various religions that live together. We were also extremely interested in seeing how the North of Sri Lanka is recovering after the war, which just ended in 2009.

And why with tuk-tuk?
We always want to travel independently, and not rely on bus or train. So we always search for our own transportation method. A scooter wouldn’t work here, since we have too much luggage, and we weren’t able to find a car. We tried to think of a vehicle that would keep us connected with the environment and the people… and that’s when we had the idea to rent a tuk-tuk! Turns out, there aren’t many places where it’s possible to do so, but we found one in Negombo called “Alma Tours”, at Lewis Place 217.

How much did it cost? And were there any formalities?
The price is unbelievable: 1200 Rupees (about €7) a day. You need an international driver’s license and a permit from the “Automobile Association” in Colombo, which costs just 1500 Rupees a year. We also took out a fully comprehensive insurance for €30.

Tuk-Tuk-Map

Is it dangerous driving?
Outside of the cities, it’s wonderful to drive — quiet and very little traffic. But the buses and trucks clearly feel that they’re “masters of the street” and blast right past you. We always give them a ton of room… they never have patience, and drive like crazy!

There are plenty of gas stations, and in every small town you can find shops where you can get “bottles” of petrol. But only do so in an emergency! It’s common to find cheap and dirty gas, and you pay more. We always took an extra five-liter canister with us. You never know! Five liters can take you about 140km. And in the tuk-tuk, parking is never a problem.

Have you had any problems?
Once, the tuk-tuk began to putter, and then wouldn’t go back on. The problem? Dirty benzine and/or air in the petrol line. A policeman helped us right away to air out the line, which took care of the problem.

Another time, a screw popped free and fell into the motor, between the valves — probably during our bumpy tour through Wipattu Park. The path was so bad and full with mud after the rain, that the screw must have been “shaken” free. In a workshop, they took the entire motor apart, which took around five hours. We also did an oil change at the same time — the cost for everything was 2700 Rs (€16).

Worst moments in the tuk-tuk?
Flat tires and awful streets.

Best moments?
With the tuk-tuk, it was always wonderful! It’s incredible, and the best way of traveling!

This is especially true since you kind of belong to the locals, many of whom also drive tuk-tuks. When they see a tourist driving one, they always laugh and try to help out. When we stop, they immediately ask if there’s some way they can assist. It’s the BEST! We’d love to take the tuk-tuk with us back to Belgium! As long as you’re a little adventurous, it’s a wonderful way to travel.

Check out photos from their journey: Cycle2gether


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April 25, 2012 at 2:03 pm Comments (7)

The Temple Town of Kataragama

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A major center of Sri Lankan pilgrimage for Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists, Kataragama is a normally sleepy village which completely transforms every evening when a riotous spectacle of color, fire, music and worship gets underway.

Waiting Kataragama

We planned on taking the bus from Ella to Kataragama, but the tuk-tuk driver taking us to the station offered such an unbelievable price for the entire 2.5 hour journey, we couldn’t say no. Sampath had a brand new, comfy, large tuk-tuk, which he drove safely and sanely — a rare combination! We talked a lot during the trip. He’s a big fan of American wrestling, and forced me to promise that I would get him John Cena’s email address (reasoning, I think, that we’re both Americans and likely to know each other). Sampath had been a soldier for twelve years, and was the most genial driver we could have hoped for. If you’re in Ella and need a tuk-tuk for a long haul, he’s worth hunting down.

Our Tuk Tuk Driver
Sampath the Man! Mr. Cena, if you’re reading, contact us for his email address

We arrived in Kataragama at 1pm and while Sampath went straight to the temple to pay his respects, we checked into our hotel: the Ceybank Rest. Though intended for Ceybank employees, they also rent rooms to travelers, and we can recommend it. Not only were the rooms cheap, clean and comfortable, but the vegetarian rice & curry buffet dinner was fantastic, and cost just 250 rupees per person.

Kataragama is a strange town, existing almost entirely for the benefit of pilgrims. Most of the town’s shops only sell offerings for the gods. I tried to buy a coconut from one of the vendors without realizing it was part of a fruit platter meant for Buddha.

The sacred precinct is large and contains nods to all of Sri Lanka’s major religions. We first visited a green mosque and then a small Hindu Kovil dedicated to Shiva. To the north, we found a stupa and a statue of Dutugemunu. The centerpiece of the complex, though, was the Maha Vihara: a set of Buddhist temples in a round enclosure. As the sun disappeared, we joined a crowd gathered around the door of the Kataragama temple and got ready for the puja (the gods’ feeding hour). The number of other people wasn’t overwhelming, but this was a rainy Monday night, immediately following a holiday weekend. Usually, it’s a crush.

Eventually the bells began to ring, and temple doors opened. A parade of pilgrims marched in, presenting plates of fruit to Kataragama. This blue-skinned multi-armed deity is actually Hindu, but has long been worshiped by Buddhists as one of the island’s principal guardians. The puja ceremony was a confusing mish-mash of activity, and I had very little idea what was going on around me. Monks bringing pillows to the gods. People consulting a shaman in the Ganesh temple. Coconuts being lit on fire, then smashed against stones. Then, worshipers eating the offering fruits after Kataragama had had his fill. Especially with the light rain and mind-shaking droning of the bells, it was a surreal experience.

I wish we could have timed our visit for one of the island’s poya days, because that must be a gathering to behold. But regardless, Kataragama provided a unique look into a fascinating bit of culture.

Location on our Sri Lanka Map
-Insect Shield T-Shirt

Kataragama Flood
Good Luck Banana Stand
Vishnu-Buddha
Good-Luck-License-Plates
Muslim-Temple-Kataragama
Muslim in Kataragama
Only For Muslim Prayers
3-in-One-Palm-Tree-Wonder
Doctor Monkey
Sri Lanka Thunder
Fire Dragon
Cricket Religion
Bucket Flower
Offering Flowers
Temple Cows
Storm Dagoba
Presents-For-the-Buddhist-Monks
Elephant-Tissue
Buddhist Fountain
Kataragama-2012
Kataragama-Sri-Lanka
Kataragam-Cock
Rolling-in-Sri-Lanka
Good-Times-Kataragama
Handsome Hindu Monk
Rain-Kataragama
/Reflecting-Stones
Dinner Is Ready
Secrets-of-Buddhism
Reflecting-Peacock
Face-of-Kataragama
Holding Flames
Golden-Gate-Kataragama
Waiting-For-Buddha
Security Peacock
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April 20, 2012 at 10:24 am Comment (1)

Take a Tuk-Tuk

Sri Lanka Cook Books

The practical, puttering tuk-tuk is one of the classic mainstays of Sri Lankan life. Clogging the streets of every city on the island, and found bumping along even the most remote mountain roads, the motorized rickshaw is an unavoidable, and incredibly fun, method of transportation.

Sri Lanka Tuk Tuk

“Taxi? Taxi, sir? Taxi?!” Ah, the joyous chorus that follows us wherever we go! As we walk down the street, a clamorous line of tuk-tuks follows us, demanding our attention. “Taxi? Taxi, sir? Taxi?!” Regardless of how often we say “no”, or how insistently we wave them off, they’ll not be deterred. The idea that we might prefer walking is positively baffling! And it’s not a reality the tuk-tuk driver is prepared to accept.

Half the time, we let them win. The truth is, there’s no better way to get around in Sri Lanka. We’ve been here a week, and I’ve already lost count of how many tuk-tuk rides we’ve taken. And each one provides an exciting little memory we’ll treasure for years to come. “Remember that time we almost died on Galle Road?” “Oh gosh, right! That bus almost smashed us to pieces, haha”. Once, as we were speeding down a curvy hill in Kandy, our driver confidently remaining in the passing lane while turning around to chat with us, Jürgen observed that the ride was just like a rickety old roller coaster, but, you know, without any rails, seat-belts or safety considerations. This made the driver laugh.

I’m exaggerating a little. Though the adrenaline rush of the average tuk-tuk ride is profound, I’ve never felt really in danger. The drivers are experienced and familiar with the idiosyncratic laws of the Sri Lankan road. And each trip we take makes us more comfortable. We’re getting good at haggling prices down, and are learning the tricks of the trade. You should never get in a rickshaw without first agreeing on the price, and definitely refuse those who offer free trips. And if you’re in Colombo, try and find metered tuk-tuks, which almost always result in a cheaper fare.

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Tuk Tuk Driver
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February 9, 2012 at 8:49 am Comments (5)