Blog, Prep, Travel

I Have a Secret to Tell You

March 27, 2017

Travel SecretI have been keeping a secret from you all! It is something I mentioned to my Mom the other day, and she says she tells her friends all the time about it, so it is about time I share it with you.

For the first three and a half years of my life, I was an only child, and for most of my childhood, my Mother worked from home. It meant I could depend on Mom to be there whenever I needed her. If I got ill at school, she would come. If I forgot my homework, she would come. I knew that many kids didn’t have this great mom benefit as both their parents worked! Dad played a part in this dependency too! One time I had to have minor surgery on an ingrown toenail and I wouldn’t let the doctor do it until my Dad arrived. Although this was mainly because my Mom can’t stand the sight of blood and I didn’t want her to pass out on me!

The Impact

At this point, I am sure you are thinking, what does this have to do with travel? Well, all the dependency led to me having anxiety about sleeping away from home and homesickness. It probably wasn’t the only cause, but it certainly contributed. I remember being at a sleepover in elementary school and making my parents get me in the middle of the night. I don’t remember sleeping over at friend’s houses much after that. The event that really made it an issue though was I was at church camp one summer a few hours away from my house, and I had so much anxiety I made myself sick. This also resulted in my parents driving several hours in the middle of the night to come get me (after much begging on my part!)

Fast forward a few years and I decide to go to college that was a six-hour drive away from my parents. Now that I am older, I can handle being away from my parents, but the phone bills in college were epic. This is pre-cell phone days, so I easily had a $100 or more phone bill a month. While I remember it differently, my parents said the first semester was really hard on me. I think I am blocking it out of my mind.

A few years later, I moved to New York City. The phone calls continued, but now I had a cell phone and nights and weekends were free! But by then I only saw my parents twice a year at most, and I seemed to be fine.

More years pass, and I moved to a small Caribbean island for three months. I didn’t have a cell phone, and the internet was spotty. I didn’t talk to my parents every day, and occasionally I would get emails asking me to check in with them.

Do you see a pattern here?

And Now

Obviously now this doesn’t bother me much at all as I live over 8000 miles away from my parents. The phone calls continue and thank goodness for the internet! I talk to one parent or both almost every day, though.

I travel all over the world without any issues, and I am rarely homesick. I have no plans to move back to the United States anytime soon, and I love living abroad. Of course, I still have the moments of wishing I could be home, but that is mainly because I feel like I am missing out on things back home.

Some would say my parents did me a disservice by coming and getting me when I want to come home. However, I would disagree. My parents and I are extremely close as a result. The phone calls home are not quick 5-minute talks but can be an hour or more. It also means my parents never have to worry about where I am and if I am okay. I call when I get to an airport or when I arrive at my hotel. Even while sailing Greece last year, I managed to call them every other day or so. It also gives me peace of mind as my parents, like all of us, are only getting older. It is reassuring to me to hear their voices and know they are doing okay.

Why

Why am I telling you this story, it’s embarrassing, right? I am telling you to encourage you to travel. Fears can be overcome even if they take time. I now manage to live far away from family and travel everywhere I want to go. It has been a lifelong process, but here I sit in my apartment in Qatar telling you this story and planning my next vacation. My advice is always to start with a small trip and gain your confidence, then go on a bigger trip. Not only will you feel better about travel, but you will also learn your limits. There is nothing wrong with having personal limits, but you never know what you can overcome till you try!

Asia, Sri Lanka, Travel

Royal Botanic Gardens in Kandy: Photo Essay

March 20, 2017

Royal Botanic Gardens Kandy

The Royal Botanic Gardens in Kandy is one of the largest botanical gardens I have visited. It is so large; you can rent a golf cart to take you around. I opted to walk so that I could take photos. Most of it is like a large park instead of a garden. Given the size and the heat, I only stayed for about an hour and made a plan based on the map. The highlight for me is the orchid house! It also has the largest bamboo I have ever seen.

Royal Botanic Gardens Kandy

Royal Botanic Gardens Kandy

Royal Botanic Gardens Kandy

Royal Botanic Gardens Kandy

Royal Botanic Gardens Kandy

Royal Botanic Gardens Kandy

Royal Botanic Gardens Kandy

Royal Botanic Gardens Kandy

Royal Botanic Gardens Kandy

Royal Botanic Gardens Kandy

Royal Botanic Gardens Kandy

Royal Botanic Gardens Kandy

Asia, Hotel/Accommodation, Sri Lanka, Travel

Heritance Kandalama Hotel

March 13, 2017

Heritance Kandalama

Driving down the dirt road, you have no idea there is a luxury hotel waiting for you at the end. You almost have to reach the end of the road before you can see any of it come into view. Then the top of the hotel peaks out and the road curves up a hill, and there is the Heritance Kandalama hotel. Well, what isn’t hidden in the jungle.

Heritance Kandalama

Never I have seen a hotel like it before. It almost looks like the hotel time forgot with vines hanging down the front of the building. The hotel is built around the rock face facing the Kandalama Reservoir. The hotel was built by Sri Lankan architect, Geoffrey Bawa. He designed it to blend in with nature allowing it to envelop the hotel and for waters and animals to be able to go under and around it.

Heritance Kandalama

Hallways of the hotel are open to surrounding rock face and the room balconies face the jungle. There are even signs on the doors warning you to keep them shut so that monkeys do not get it. Nature truly surrounds the hotel. While there I saw monkeys, huge squirrels, hawks, cranes, starlings, other birds and a centipede! (None in my room, though.) Not all of it was wonderful, though. Keep reading to find out why.

Rooms

Every room has a balcony overlooking the reservoir at different heights. One wind faces Dambulla and the other Sigiriya. On a clear day, you can see Sigiriya Rock.

Heritance Kandalama

The rooms are decorated in dark tones that match the surrounding nature. My room was a deluxe room, which is the most basic room. It was on the smaller side, but since it was just me, I did not mind. The bed was very comfortable, and the air conditioning worked so well, I had to turn it off! However, the dark tones that look so nice during the day make it difficult to see anything in the room at night since the overhead lighting is not adequate.

Heritance Kandalama

My bathroom also had large windows facing out to the reservoir, which gave it the feeling of showering outside. As I discovered early on in my trip to Sri Lanka, the water faucets work the opposite way of what I am used to, and it did take some time for the hot water to arrive.

Heritance Kandalama

Due to the threat of monkeys and mosquitos, I did not spend to much time outside on the balcony. I spotted many monkeys hanging out on the hotel and around one of the pools! Overall, the rooms were nice, comfortable and clean.

Facilities

There are three pools! Each pool is on a different level and has different scenery. I elected not to swim since I was not sure the water was warm enough for my now thin blood! And I wasn’t going to swim at the one where I saw the monkeys.

Heritance Kandalama

Located on the 6th floor was a wonderful lounge area with ample seating. You could spend several hours reading on these couches. If you are lacking reading material, there is a library on the top floor that you can take a book left by others.

Heritance Kandalama

There is also a Six Senses Spa on site. I never ventured down that wing to see what it looked like though. I was too busy looking for elephants and monkeys! Not only that, but this hotel is supposedly a mile long from end-to-end. I wasn’t going to walk a mile to get to the spa.

Food

This was one of my complaints. The hotel is isolated and there isn’t any option but to eat at the hotel unless you want to take the 20-minute ride down the dirt road to the tiny town. There are only two options in the hotel as well. One is a buffet dinner and one a sit-down. I opted for the buffet both evenings because I was pretty tired each day. Both nights I was disappointed. The food the first night was terrible. The second night it improved, but given the amazing food of Sri Lanka, I was sad to find out that very few Sri Lankan options were offered. The breakfast was better, but the meat was being served outside with the bugs.

The Disappointment

My last morning, I decided to walk down to the reservoir’s edge. I had been told it was safe. I was looking to get some shots of wildlife at a different angle. Instead, I was greeted with a huge disappointment. Chained up by the reservoir was an elephant for riding! I was almost in tears. The elephant scared me as I didn’t know he was there and was chained. He or she looked mad! I couldn’t believe the LEED certified hotel had an elephant chained up. I have written a letter of complaint to the hotel.

For this reason, I cannot recommend you stay at the hotel. A friend of mine told me after she found out I stayed there, that she stayed there last year and the elephant was there then! If the hotel writes me back with a positive response, I will update this post.

Since I can’t recommend it, here are some other options in Sri Lanka offered by Lauren of #ljojlo.

Update: The hotel responded to my email with some positive things. I won’t copy and paste the whole email as it is long. Basically, they know it is an issue. They have to change it from riding the elephant to walking with the elephant. The hotel does not own the elephant and leases her and chooses to do so they can keep an eye on her to make sure she is being cared for properly. They were happy to receive feedback to share with the person that owns her and help convince him to change his ways. As I say about anything, change takes time, and the hotel and I understand that. The asked me to write back with any ideas or suggestions regarding this. I will be asking for the elephant not to be chained and not kept in such a confined area. I am so happy they responded and have taken action!

Asia, Sri Lanka, Travel

Elephants in the Wild: Minneriya National Park

March 6, 2017

Elephants Minneriya National Park

Seeing elephants in the wild has been one of my biggest dreams for a long time. All the elephants I have seen have been in zoos, which isn’t the same. When I learned there was a park in Sri Lanka where I could possibly see wild elephants, it became the must-see there. There are several national parks within Sri Lanka where you can see wild elephants. Make sure the park you are visiting is actually a national park with wild elephants and not an elephant amusement park. These parks do not always treat their elephants they way they should be treated. Minneriya National Park does not fence or chain their elephants. They are free to roam, but do get assistance if needed.

Minneriya National Park

Elephants Minneriya National Park

We bumped along the dirt road in the open top Jeep-style vehicle hoping to sight an elephant on the way in. I stood up despite feeling like I was being beaten up by the car. The driver had eyes like a hawk and kept spotting animals in the trees and on the ground. Eventually, he stopped as he spotted three elephants in the jungle. Two adults and a baby!

Elephants Minneriya National Park

After admiring them for a few minutes, we moved on. The road into where the elephants gather is a bit longer than I expected. I stood the whole way hoping to see more elephants in the green foliage. Then suddenly the jungle disappears and in front of you is the Minneriya tank, which if you didn’t know better you would think it was a lake. 

Turning towards the lake, we immediately spotted a herd of elephants! About 10-12 elephants were shading themselves under a group of trees. Several babies were running around the adults. A few times the elephants walked over to the tank to spray themselves with water and have a drink. Then they would meander back to the shade of the tree.

Elephants Minneriya National Park

Elephants Minneriya National Park

On a slow march from the jungle came more elephants from the left of us. At first, we thought it was just a few, but as they emerged, we realized it was a much larger group of about 25. There were much younger babies in this group. They were just grazing away and didn’t seem to be interested in the water.

Elephants Minneriya National Park

Elephants Minneriya National Park

We watched these two groups of elephants for awhile, but we wanted to see what else was around. This allowed us to get closer to all the many birds I had spotted hanging out around the elephants. 

Elephants Minneriya National Park

Elephants Minneriya National Park

Seeing the elephants was truly the highlight of my trip to Sri Lanka, and I could have watched them for hours. 

Getting There

Most people drive to the area around Minneriya National Park, such as Dambulla or Sigiriya. If you are staying in a hotel nearby, they may be able to take you on a tour, or you can hire a driver to take you. Once you arrive, you will have to hire an off-road vehicle and a driver. They vary in cost by comfort level. I suggest going in the morning as many people head there after going to Sigiriya Rock and when I left the park at one we passed twenty cars going in and the elephants might leave if they see that many people. 

 

%d bloggers like this: