Carelbi in Sri Lanka, January 2009

Sat 16 May 2009 15:10

                                    CARELBI IN SRI LANKA  January 2009 



He had helped found the Golf Club, whose tranquil course you can see above, and whose old clubhouse remains unchanged, still redolent with the atmosphere of Victorian times. Grandpa was the Captain of the Club from 1896-1909, and Joint Amateur Golf Champion of Ceylon in 1891. Jeanie and I were given tea there by the charming Tesira brothers, whose memories went back to the late twenties, unfortunately not far enough for us; Grandpa left Ceylon with his wife and baby daughter in 1910.



Because Nuwara Eliya is so high up in the mountains, all guests are supplied with fat hot water bottles tucked into their beds at night. After drinking one's coffee in front of the blazing wood fire in the dining room, it was quite a shock to walk the long, cold corridors and prepare for bed in rooms which still lack central heating. But, how it evoked our childhood memories to snuggle into bed with that comforting warmth after rushing the undressing and teeth cleaning routines in the icy bathroom!




While I was in Nuwara Eliya researching Grandpa in the Anglican church I met the Jacobs who run the Paynter Orphanage for local children, whose parents have abused them, abandoned them, or who are simply unable to look after them. They are a delightful group of children, from about 4 to 17 years old, and despite their traumatic backgrounds, have responded well to the excellent care of the Jacobs.



It was just after Christmas when I met them, and they had all been learning carols to sing in public at various venues. They sang so well and were so earnest in their efforts, I found it quite hard not to burst into tears. On the right are Jerome, Ranjit Jacobs & Angeline Jacobs, who is the general-in-chief /mother to the children and is superbly equipped for this task, being both firm, loving and an excellent organiser.



Jeanie and I continued our journey on down to Galle where we were to meet Chris and Steve, with Carelbi who would be tied up in the military harbour. We all had to have special permits to enter this zone, and had to show them on entering and leaving each time.



    Nightmare clearance into Sri Lanka



In the meantime Steve and Chris had sailed Carelbi from Thailand. The passage had been fast with a generally strong following wind. However the arrival in Galle was unpleasant in every way. They arrived at midnight and were prevented from anchoring off the harbour by the Sri Lankan "Navy" who spoke no English and became extremely excited,  brandishing guns and shouting. They were forced to anchor where ordered by the Navy and in the morning found the anchor solidly jammed in amongst very large rocks. Chris had to put on his Scuba gear and make an extremely dangerous dive in 15m of muddy water to clear the chain which was moving constantly with the swell and current.


Having freed the chain, they anchored off the port and were visited by the Navy for their official check to ensure no arms or drugs were being carried for the Tamil Tigers. While an officer kept Chris occupied with forms and questions the other checked all the lockers and stole $700. They also stole money from other rally boats and were caught red handed by one of the owners.


The nightmare continued. They were visited by Customs, Immigration, Port, and Health personnel, who all came on board with small suitcases or simply plastic bags, each demanding something - bottles of whisky, wine, beer, cigarettes.... The customs officer asked how many bottles of wine we had. When Chris said around 30, bought to last us all the way back to Europe, the officer said "I take 4!" There was  an argument and he settled on 3. He then noticed 2 bottles of  champagne which had been bought specially to celebrate passing the Somali pirates and our return to Europe. The customs man then said "I'll take one of those too".





and cutting precious stones by hand.




Jeanie, Anders, Fiona, Chris, Steve



Chris and I left with the Blue Water Rally to do an organised tour of Sri Lanka. Our first stop was to look at the "pole" fishing men on the south coast, where the beach sloped so gradually that families "own" poles on which they sit and fish all day long, as the tide sweeps in and out.





We had a bit of a fright when our jeep, where we sat on open seats in the back, stopped between an elephant and his herd. He was not happy, and came out onto the path to menace us to leave. He looks a bit comical because of his Mothers Outing flowery hat. They apparently pull up grasses and flowers and throw them over their backs in an effort to keep the sun off and stay cool. His aim was not too good! However, we respected his duty and moved off, hearts beating a little fast, I must admit.




On we went to Kandy where we visited gem and hand-printed silk shops and watched some intricate local dancing in the evening. The next day we visited the Temple of the Golden Tooth, where Buddha's tooth is encased in gold in a golden casket and is a major shrine. Then, on to the Amaya Hotel which looked out onto a tranquil lake and where we found this lovely "WLE COME" misspelled in flowers on our bedroom floor!





...and we joined a "twitcher" walk at 6.30 am the following day. It was a crisp sunny morning and there were birds all over the place, I became quite enthused and might just turn into a twitcher in my old age!





On to the Temple of the Golden Buddha, which is crammed with statues and paintings of Buddha. For a way of life which professes not to be a religion, there are an unbelievable number of  Buddha representations, many of them identical.



Probably my favourite tourist experience in Sri Lanka ... the visit to the Elephant Orphanage. They live in a reserve about a 15 minute walk from the river and are brought down to bathe twice a day. You can sit at your table eating your lunch and watch these majestic beasts walk down the street and slowly enter the river below.




Our final stop was Colombo where Chris and I hoped to track down a bit more detail about Grandpa. Oddly enough, it was in another Buddhist Temple, that of the Sacred Elephant, seen below, that we were shown a book in which there was a couple of paragraphs about his career in the country.



The sacred elephant... very few Sri Lankan elephants have tusks, just the odd male, and never the females. Possibly a reason why they have never been threatened with extinction as they are not poached for their ivory.



While we were in the temple, Chris and I had a stupa held over our heads and were blessed. We were given bracelets made of woven threads, which were also blessed, and were told that they would act as a protection for us.


We wore them until Chris had passed the pirates off the Somalia coast, and only took them off once we had reached the Mediterranean. Maybe they worked.




On New Year's Eve, 2008, Chris and Steve St Paul, a friend from New Zealand, sailed away from Phuket bound for Sri Lanka while I took a plane to Colombo to meet my sister Jeanie. We had a plan to research my Campbell grandfather who had been a tea planter in Ceylon from 1880 until 1910, and to try and find the children who were born to him before he married my grandmother.


He had lived in the Nuwara Eliya district up in the highlands of Sri Lanka, and had been a prominent citizen in the country during those years.



We stayed at the Hill Club, which started life in 1876 as an exclusive male club for the tea planters of Ceylon. Grandpa was President  in 1908 and Jeanie is pointing out his commemorative inscription! Today it is a wonderfully old-fashioned hotel where the waiters serve dinner with white gloves and men are not permitted in the dining room without a jacket and tie.


This is a typical tea plantation landscape. All the neat green parallel lines are tea bushes, and only the new leaves from the tips of the bushes are picked to make tea. This is mainly done by Tamils who were brought over from India in the 19th century because it was work which the Ceylonese themselves did not wish to do. These Tamils are peaceable people and have no wish to be associated with the Tigers in the north of Sri Lanka.
The orphanage has farm land attached to the actual buildings and garden and the children are well supplied with nourishing vegetables and fruit. They go to the local schools, but it still costs 7,000 rupees (£42) per month to supply all their other needs such as electricity, clothes, bedding, meat, staff salaries and so on.
 The children playing in their garden, as I was leaving .
Chris visited the orphanage with me after his arrival and we have offered to try and organise some sponsorship of the children wherever we can. The Paynter Orphanage is a properly accredited charity and if any of our friends or family reading this feel they are able to donate a monthly, or yearly sum to this wonderful organisation, please do contact us and we will give you the details of how to do so. Financially, life is very tight for them at the moment, and has probably deteriorated since we left Sri Lanka.
Chris and Steve mending the genoa in Galle Harbour.

Since each of the Blue Water boats had paid the agent $200, this extra rip-off was pretty painful, especially as we had nothing but Muslim countries ahead of us and little chance of replacing our drink stores.


Because Carelbi was one of the first yachts to clear into Sri Lanka we had no idea whether it was possible to refuse these demands for bribes without problems suddenly cropping up which would stop our papers from being stamped and the crew being allowed into the country. It was particularly galling, several hours later, to see a notice at the check point, where we walked in to the harbour, forbidding all personnel to take bribes of any kind.
We found most Sri Lankans to be honest people, but this initial experience left the nastiest taste in our minds that we have ever experienced anywhere, and we found it particularly upsetting that Naval Officers had been the worst of all the officials involved.
While we were staying in Galle we enjoyed a   tuk-tuk trip to the city where we watched with fascination the ancient art of lace making.....
We spent a few luxurious days at the Unawatuna Beach Resort where Chris and Steve unwound after their traumatic experiences. Anders, our Danish "adopted son", who had already sailed more than 24,000 nautical miles with us on our circumnavigation, joined the boat literally 3 days after becoming a fully-fledged doctor, and was really looking forward to running the pirate gauntlet!
We then went on to the Yala Elephant National Park where we spent several fascinating hours watching family groups of elephants, together with the odd peacock couple.
We left the south coast and headed on up to the mountains to revisit the tea plantations of Nuwara Eliya, passing through Ella, which has a stunning view back through the valleys to the distant sea. I couldn't help wondering how my grandparents had travelled this land over one hundred years ago, and how long their journeys had taken them.
Chris revisited the Golf Club and the Paynter Orphanage with me, and had the unusual experience of putting on his tie and jacket for dinner at the Hill Club, where Milton, the waiter who had looked after Jeanie and myself so well, was really pleased to see me again and gave Chris and I a good welcome.
Enchanting little squirrel-type animals played in the trees around the guests' bungalows....
We found this lovely message on our bed as we returned from supper that night. The Sri Lankans really know how to cherish their guests, and we found the levels of service in all the hotels we stayed in to be excellent, attentive and friendly.
Some of the centuries-old paintings of Buddha in the caves at the Golden Temple. Although they are painted with natural dyes they have lasted far better than those which were done in the 20th century using industrial dyes and which are in really bad condition. These paintings are not protected in any way, and thousands of people walk through breathing moist air and looking at them every day.
You can just see a few roguish elephants trying to make a getaway up the far bank. They get chased by their keepers and gently brought back to the river...
The main Buddha inside the temple, a most resplendent figure...
Just a few of the identical Buddhas in the temple courtyard...
After the end of our tourist trip I took a taxi to the airport and flew off to South Africa to visit family and friends whom I had not seen for several years. As my taxi left Galle and skirted a long beach I could see Carelbi sailing off to the Maldives, Oman, the pirate coast of Somalia and Red Sea. It was a really sad moment for me, not being on board, but I knew that my back could not take the non-stop movement for such a long time, and, indeed, it was more than two months before I rejoined everyone in Egypt.