Friday, April 17, 2015

2015 April 16: I am Nikon

Oh, the woes of wanting to take pictures and not being able to!

While here in Sri Lanka I have been using my daughter's camera that she received for Christmas in 2008. It is a great camera, with a good enough zoom for most of the pictures that I want to take, but no easy way to do macro shots for close-ups. However, all of the latches for the battery door broke last month. I had a camera repairer here in Negombo look at it, and he came up with quite an ingenious solution which worked great as long as I did not take more than a few shots without readjusting the batteries, but the batteries drained faster than you would believe, and who wants to be readjusting the batteries every thirty seconds anyhow?

So, I dug out my back-up camera that I bought for Elanor's dance recital a few years ago. While it takes great video, and great point-and-shoot shots, the quality of the zoom is terrible. Out of over 400 pictures that I took in Bundala and Yala National Parks last month, only about 60 were decent, and only 5 pictures in one park were what I imagined they should be. I cried. It was so disheartening.

So, Steve and I discussed the problem, and decided that we would take the old camera to a camera repair place in Colombo, which he did yesterday afternoon when he and Elanor went there to run some errands. (And to eat at Burger King. Well, for Elanor to eat at Burger King.) The good news is...it can be fixed. The bad news is...it probably cannot be fixed anywhere in Sri Lanka.

This was the news that Steve brought back to me yesterday evening when they returned home.

And then he passed me a bag. A bag containing a new camera. I was more than surprised and quite pleased with the gift. After all, my backup camera still takes nice shots, as long as you don't use the zoom. I can't take flora and fauna shots with it, but it's okay for scenic shots and video.

And so last night, I spent several hours trying it out and reading the owner's manual. (Yes, I am one of those people!) And here is what I found.

It takes great close-up portraits, even if the subject is being a little goofy!

It takes pretty good shots through the mosquito netting, which neither of my other cameras is very good at doing.

Night shots with no flash are pretty good. This is our chandelier hanging from a three story vaulted wood ceiling.

The camera picked up the individual threads in the weave of my house dress that was drying on the stair rail six feet away using the zoom.

It is pretty good at fine details without zoom - here is our dining room lamp.

It has an auto smile feature. When you set use this setting, the picture will not be taken until a smile is detected. To test it, I said to Steve, "Frown....frown...frown....smile!" He did, and this was the result.

It has a cool feature where it will take up to ten shots of the same subject and then automatically choose the best one of the lot. I was watching the LED screen as it took pictures of this gecko, and from what I could see, it did just that! Some of the others were off centre or not quite in focus. 

And the zoom is twice as good as my other two cameras. Here is the gecko at 5x zoom from 8 feet away. 

Here is the gecko at 10x zoom from 8 feet away. This is supposed to be the maximum zoom for crystal clear shots.

And here is 20x zoom, which loses image quality, but still gets you so close you can see the gecko's nostrils, the spots on his wrists, the pattern of its iris, and the nails on his toes!

So, needless to say, I am very pleased. It has lots of other great features, too, that I am planning on checking out this weekend before we head off on our next adventure into the central plains of the island. What a great surprise from my hubby!

And in the meantime.... 

2015 April 17: Dear Steve, I kissed another man.

Yes, it's true. Well, sort of. Actually, he kissed me. And I apologize for telling you about it in this public venue, but I needed to get it off my chest.

The other man is a mute who lives somewhere nearby. A couple of weeks ago, he passed our gate as he was taking out someone's trash. He motioned, wondering if I would like for him to take out our trash. It's only about 20 feet from our gate to where the garbage is picked up, but I like to encourage the beggars to try to do something in return for their alms. I figure that any little thing that someone can do so they feel they have earned a donation and not begged for it is something I can support. I gave him 20 rupees (15 cents). He thanked me with a broad smile, a bow, and a handshake.

There are a lot of beggars in Sri Lanka. Amputees, usually the result of the civil war, are common as you go further north. At major bus stops it is a regular occurrence for the beggars to board the buses and tell people why they should be given money. At temples monks will approach you, and offer you blessings or credit, depending on their religion, if you donate a few hundred or thousand rupees to their sect. Sometimes beggars will offer to shine your shoes, or sweep the sidewalk in front of you, or, as in the case of a severely physically and mentally disabled old man that I walk past occasionally, shake your hand, in return for a few rupees.

But I digress.

The mute came by today to see if I wanted my garbage taken out again. So, I let him, and gave him another 20 rupees. He thanked me with a smile, a bow, and a handshake, as last time. Between signing, lip reading, Sinhala and English, he told me that he was going to use the money to buy something to eat. I asked if he was hungry. Yes, he had more garbage to take out first, but then he was going to eat. Twenty rupees is enough for a samosa or a small bag of plantain chips. He left to walk down the lane to retrieve the rest of the trash.

I went into our house, and got some bananas, rice and curry, and waited for him to pass by. I held it out to him. He looked at me with surprise, and I told him that it was for him. He grabbed my hand and shook it repeatedly, bowed low before me, and as he straightened he had tears in his eyes. He gripped my hand again, then kissed it, made some gestures then put his hand on my heart while nodding his head in the side to side motion that indicates approval in Sri Lanka, then grabbed my head with both hands and kissed me soundly on both cheeks.

So there, Steve. Now you know.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

2015 March 12: Kandy: Part 2...Or, a Global Celebrity

On March 12th we spent several hours walking around Bogambara, popularly known as Kandy Lake.

Here are some things that we saw:
I know, it's just a pigeon...but it's the first GOOD picture of a pigeon that I have ever taken!

Little cormorant

Flowers

Egret

Pond heron and black turtle

Stork-billed kingfisher

Domesticated ducks

Cormorants in the trees

Entance to the pilgrim's bath houses

This one I just like a lot.

This could be a woodapple tree, but we are not sure.

Egret on its nest. I am still not sure whether or not getting crapped on three times while getting this picture was worth it. 

Pond heron

Little egret?

Flying foxes - a species of fruit eating bat

More domestic ducks

And more domestic ducks


And still more domestic ducks

Tilapia

I've got an itch!

Beautiful floating gardens with herons...

...and this big monitor lizard hiding in them!

Night heron

Water monitor lizard

More domesticated water fowl

A gigantic flying fox rookery

A spot-billed pelican - the locals claim it is not native and is from Africa.

Night heron again?

White-bellied sea eagle. We watched as he caught his fish and then escaped, leaving behind some very unhappy crows who wanted his catch.

The view of our hotel from the other side of the lake.

And this monster - a water monitor that is over 8 feet long and weighs over 100 pounds!

On March Mar 14, Steve was just reading the Wikipedia article on water monitors (a type of huge lizard found in the Asian tropics), and he realized that "one of the photos is of the exact same gigantic, very corpulent water monitor, resting on the very same dead tree, that we saw two days ago on our own visit to Kandy (the photo is captioned "Kandy Lake, Sri Lanka").... Apparently, he's now a global celebrity, thanks to Wikipedia."

2015 March 12-13: Kandy: Part 1

On March 12 we left the blazing sun of Negombo for an overnight trip to the cool hill country of Kandy. 

Found in the very centre of the island, it is the second largest city in Sri Lanka. It is a beautiful city with a rich cultural and religious heritage, and is surrounded by tea plantations, hills, and spectacular views. 

Kandy has been - and still is - known by many names since its founding in the mid-1300s, It is an old city - the Kandyan Kingdom was founded in the late 1400s. After the Portuguese conquered all the coastal kingdoms in the 1500s, Kandy was the last remaining kingdom on the island, and repelled all attempts by the Portuguese, Dutch, and British to overthrow it until a treaty called the Kandyan Convention was signed between the Colonial British and the Kandyan aristocrats in 1815; the last king of Kandy was captured by the British and, along with all other claimants to the thrown, was taken to Tamil Nadu in southern India, where the area where they were incarcerated is still referred to as the Place of the Kandyan Kings.

The treaty did not lead to peace. As stated here, "The story of English rule in the Kandyan country during the rebellion of 1818 cannot be related without shame...Hardly a member of the leading families remained alive...Those whom the sword and the gun had spared, cholera and small pox and privations had slain by the hundreds...Others became ignorant and apathetic. Any subsequent development efforts of the government for many years were only attempts begun and abandoned."

The tea and rubber plantations that one passes on the way to Kandy are beautiful agricultural marvels that hide a troubled past. During the 32 years of British rule following the signing of the treaty, many tea and rubber plantations were established in and around the city and villages of the surrounding hills through the expropriation of land owned by the people, who were then forced to abandon their traditional way of life to become waged workers for the British. The Kandyans refused to accept this, resulting in the British bringing hundreds of thousands of unskilled Tamils from southern India to work in the appalling conditions found on the plantations. The Kandyans revolted, and with their leaders dead, their land gone, their way of life destroyed, they rebelled by electing for the first time non-aristocrats to lead them.

Of course, we knew little of this as we traveled by bus to get there. We were taken in by the beautiful views, especially as we slowly climbed the winding mountain roads that lead to Kandy. The view of Bathalegala Rock, a 1688 foot tall volcanic mountain surrounded by lush rain forest, was breathtaking. 

Kandy is also home to the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic. This is one of the most holy places in the world for Buddhists. They believe that one of the Buddha's teeth was rescued from his funeral pyre, and eventually made its way here to Kandy. It - or a replica so that the original remains safely tucked away - is found in one of the shrines in the complex, encased in seven boxes reminiscent of Russian nesting dolls. The temple is situated in the former Kandyan royal complex, and includes this island which is reportedly where the king kept his favourite concubine.

After finding a hotel we went for a walk around the lake. Kandy Lake is completely artificial, constructed so that the royal family would have a place to go boating and bathing. The city surrounds the lake, and a well-maintained walkway makes a lovely way to spend an afternoon.

The next morning we went to a natural area found in the hills behind the temple.

Lush and serene, it seems a different world from the hustle and bustle of the city. We spent several hours here, walking the pathways. 

We saw over 130 toque macaques in three family groups as we walked along the sun-dappled roads. One group of 63 individuals passed in front of us. Steve and Elanor sat on the ground in the midst of another large troupe as the monkeys crossed all around them. Several large black millipedes were entertaining to watch and for Steve and Elanor to hold. A Buddhist monk in his orange robes passed us on his way to some nearby caves to meditate. A barking deer - the size of a dog, sounds like a dog - startled us just as much as we startled him. Elanor was bitten by her first leech, and bled her white sock red. 

After a passing light rain, common in the higher elevations in the hill country, we headed back to busy Kandy. Numerous websites and travel guides talk of the seedy underside of Kandy - warnings against lone female travelers, staying inside at night, avoiding the alleyways that contain seedy gambling dens, and the ever present touts trying to encourage you to spend your money at one or another establishment...for a small fee, of course.

The coolness of Kandy was a welcome respite, and while we will probably visit there again before we leave, I am glad that we decided to stay in Negombo for our five months in Sri Lanka.  Negombo is home, with its sizzling heat and blood red skies that signal more hot weather to come.