It already seems like Sri Lanka was a daydream, and India is becoming a distant memory--before that happens, I want to record at least some of my trip so that I won't forget everything as I am slowly reabsorbed into California life. Here are some highlights:
1) Sudan. Not the country, the Sri Lankan travel agent. I was sure that we were going to get ripped off by him; the only complaint I have is that he sent us to the Eden Resort in Bentota (which I disliked and which Matt thoroughly hated). Everything else was fantastic--we had a great driver for four days, we stayed in an entertaining place in Kandy and a very nice hotel in Nuwara Eliya, he stored my embarrassingly large suitcases the entire week that we were traveling, and to top it all off he called me 'my little girl'. Not bad for some dude that we picked randomly at the airport, a choice that went against all wisdom imparted by guidebooks.
2) Kandy. Home to the only cultural stuff that we did on the entire trip. I was thoroughly sick of World Heritage Sites by the time I left India, and so we only saw the Temple of the Tooth, as well as an elephant orphanage and a cultural show. It was in Kandy that my laptop was rendered unusable for the remainder of the trip, which made me feel much less guilt about not doing work for ten days. The most amusing thing we did in Kandy: dinner at the Hotel Suisse. We got there so early that we were the only people there for most of the meal. The dining room was cavernous, and there were birds living inside. Their chirps added to the strange, tinny music-box music playing from hidden speakers; the song never changed, although it occasionally skipped as though someone was shaking the music box. So surreal, and v. reminiscent of the music in Bangkok Spoon in Mountain View. The restaurant seemed like the British had left with the intention of returning; everything was shabby but clean, as though they didn't leave money for repairs but paid just enough to keep the place going until the good ol' days of colonialism can return. I loved it.
3) The spice garden outside Kandy. Truly strange. They spent ten minutes showing us spices--and half an hour trying to sell us various medical potions and unguents. Their selling tactics included giving me and Matt fabulous head massages; they also gave Matt a back massage, which they were more than happy to include me in, but I declined since I didn't want to remove my shirt. The proprietor had crazy eyes and selling tactics to rival the hypnotic tailor at Mebaz; I walked away with coconut hair oil which I will never use, and absolutely no new knowledge about spices.
4) Nuwara Eliya. Just like Ireland, only with autorickshaws. We drove up there so that we could get up at six a.m. to see World's End, a stunning drop-off that is apparently well-worth the three-hour walk. We got there around three p.m., after stopping at a tea plantation, and Matt freaked out a little when he saw how similar it was to Ireland. We walked around a bit, it started to rain, and we used this as an excuse to retreat to the bar, where we indulged in lots of Bailey's and ice, as well as Irish coffees, before heading to dinner. Dinner was amazing--it felt like something out of an Agatha Christie novel (before the murder, of course), with lots of different groups of suspicious and intriguing travelers eating fancy meals in a very proper, British-feeling dining room. The food was terrific, as was the wine, and $15/person was an absolutely ridiculous price. We retired to the bar for nightcaps, which turned into much more when we met some Swiss travel agents, who proceeded to keep us up until three a.m. We woke up a mere two and a half hours later for the one-hour drive to World's End; when we got there, the guide told us the hike was pointless because it was too rainy to see anything at World's End, so we drove back to the hotel. The drive was gorgeous, however, and Nuwara Eliya was well worth seeing, so there were no regrets, and we left immediately for the beach.
5) Eden Resort, Beruwela. More like a lowlight; I got a significant number of my potentially-deadly mosquito bites there, and there were flies everywhere. It wasn't a bad
place, it was just rather soulless. They did serve fantastic steak there, which was the only saving grace, and which probably prevented Matt from killing a hapless waiter. We were supposed to spend four days there, but left after only two. The only positive was that I finished Haruki Murakami's 'Kafka on the Shore', and I highly recommend the book, especially if you can read it in the comfort of your own home and if you don't get bitten by malaria-carrying mosquitos in the process.
6) Club Villa, Bentota. So much nicer than Eden that it doesn't even warrant comparison. Regina and Rohit stayed there when we went to Sri Lanka in August, and Matt and I had thoroughly enjoyed dinner with them then; when we called for rooms this time, they only had the suite available for the first night, and we took it despite the extra cost due to our desperation to escape Eden. When they later offered it to us for the second night as well, we happily accepted--it was raining at the beach the entire time, but Club Villa made up for it. Those two days were utterly relaxing; I read Zadie Smith's 'On Beauty' (another highly-recommended book), we played an absurdly long game of checkers (aka 'draughts' in Ireland) because the board was 12x12 instead of 8x8, which made the game trickier, more strategic, and much longer, and we drank enough arrack sours that the staff started giggling when they brought more of them to our room. The food was absolutely heavenly, and I can't think of anyplace I would rather be stuck in the rain than at Club Villa. For one thing, it's the only place in the entire world where I have had arrack (coconut liquor) and actually enjoyed the taste; all attempts to export it to Hyderabad were disastrous. If nothing else, that alone makes it a great place to go. If I ever have a honeymoon, and if I am rich by that point, I'm taking the honeymoon in Sri Lanka--it's not popular with Americans because it's as far away from America as you can get (I didn't meet another American the entire time I was there), but it's a wonderful country with friendly people, cheap prices, fantastic food, and a variety of climates, terrains, and activities. If you ever get the chance to go, leap on it, and you won't regret it.
7) Dinner overlooking the Colombo harbor. The last night that we were in Colombo, Matt and I had dinner at the hotel where Sudan's city office is (he stored our luggage for free by telling the hotel that we were planning to stay there; as a courtesy to the hotel, we ate dinner there instead, and since dinner was tasty this wasn't a problem for us). The restaurant was on the sixth floor, with a lovely view of the harbor--but I felt sorry for the staff, who had to wear silly sailor costumes, and who had to deal with a very surly Frenchman who was the only other patron. I spent most of the dinner trying not to cry over the fact that my vacation was over, but despite that, the view was great and the restaurant was an adequate way to say goodbye to Sri Lanka.
8) The drive to the airport. It was completely ridiculous because of my large suitcases; we were in a passenger van, but the suitcases wouldn't fit in the back, so the easiest solution was to put me in one of the back rows, and put the suitcases in the middle row between me and the driver. Since Matt sat up front as well, I couldn't see either of them, nor could I see anything else in front of me except for the suitcases, which made for a strange and solitary trip to the airport. The driver laughed about this the entire way there, which I'm sure was amusing for him.
So, that was Sri Lanka. The only other thing of note happened on the way to Bentota: while the van was moving, I knelt on the floor to pull the seat forward so that Matt could climb into the back and sleep--and the seatback slammed into my face, nearly breaking my nose. Matt had the temerity to laugh, and I forgave him because I could objectively see the humor in it. I recovered quickly and my nose wasn't broken, which was nice.
This was definitely the most relaxing vacation I've ever had, and I am sad that I am no longer only two hours away from Sri Lanka. I miss vacation, I miss Matt (who was an ideal vacation companion because he was just as enthusiastic about relaxing and just as unenthusiastic about monuments as I was), and by extension I miss Hyderabad, the Hyderabadis, and all the other expats. As a way to wrap up my Indian experience, this trip was perfect. See below for pictures!