Thursday, February 14, 2013

Our first visit to Sri Lanka

Ayubowan! That is the greeting in Sri Lanka.  It means “Wishing you a long and enchanted life.”  We think it is a wonderful way to say “hello.”  We love to visit countries for the first time. There is so much to learn. We spent a few nights in the capital city of Colombo and one of the places we visited was Slave Island.  Today is it is a nice park in the middle of a lake but many years ago it is where slaves, mainly from Africa, were held when the Portuguese and Dutch ruled over Sri Lanka. They were used to build canals after which most were returned to Africa.  Later Sri Lanka was ruled by the British but it has been an independent country since 1948.  In 1972 it changed its name from Ceylon to Sri Lanka.  Can you find Sri Lanka on a map?  It looks like a tear drop or a pearl off the southern tip of India.

The history of Sri Lanka goes back several thousand years and we enjoyed visiting their archeological sites.  There are eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Sri Lanka which is amazing for such a small country. But we especially loved seeing all the animals.  One day we stopped along the road to see a monkey eating corn on the cob and then again to see a man feed a huge monitor lizard.  They look a lot like alligators and have sharp teeth and claws.

One day we went on a safari hoping to see a tiger but they are very hard to find. We did see wild boars, elephants, deer, water buffalo, and many birds.  We also visited the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage. We got there at 9 a.m. so we could watch them feeding the elephants. They feed them milk from a very large baby bottle. One elephant was missing part of his foot and had a problem with his other leg because he had stepped on a land mine. Land mines are a problem in many countries where there have been wars. They injure people, too, because no one knows exactly where the mines are hidden. It was fun watching the elephants play with a rubber glove which they would stretch and then let it snap back. And, twice a day they led all 70 of them across the road to the river to play in the water.  We watched three young ones trying to dunk each other.

The beaches of Sri Lanka are home to five species of marine turtles, all of which are endangered.  After the turtle comes on shore and lays her eggs she goes back to the sea and the eggs are often eaten by birds and other animals. At the Turtle Hatchery they rescue the eggs and put them in a safe place until they hatch.  And then they keep them until they are big enough to be returned to the sea.  The ones that can not survive on their own stay at the hatchery.  They have an albino turtle and also some blind ones.  One in every 1000 is born blind.  Others have been injured in fishing nets and are missing legs. 

We spent a few days at Jetwing Beach Hotel and they have a foster school – a school that they support.  We were excited to be able to visit the school. It was very nice.  The hotel provided us with a projector and screen so we could do a power point presentation about schools and customs around the world.  Many people speak English in Sri Lanka but at the school most of the students did not so Mr. Charmara from the hotel came along and translated for us.  The children in Sri Lanka all wear uniforms. The girls wear a white skirt and blouses while the boys wear white shirts and dark pants.  They all wear ties that tell what school they go to.  Education is free, compulsory and the government supplies the uniforms and books.  Consequently, Sri Lanka has a 97% literary rate.  That is excellent. The people of Sri Lanka are very friendly.