Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Sri Lanka

Hot and humid but clean and orderly were some of the first things that came to mind as we settled in to our time in Colombo, Sri Lanka.
We were lucky enough to have an old friend that lived here to make us feel at home and show us around the city. I had known Ishara from when she used to live in London. She had worked in a bank but decided that her life was going to take a new pathway so made her way back to her place of birth.
Ishara and Allison

To really feel at home Allison needed a gym, and from the moment we arrived this was the only thing that was on her mind. Arriving at 2am and finally dropping off at gone 4am, the last thing on my mind was searching for a gym in over 30 degree heat with high humidity after only a few hours sleep. A day of rest perhaps? Perhaps not! Surely, you've gone over 2 months without a gym, what's another day, right? Wrong! We searched online, we searched outside in the searing sun, rang around and asked people, but to no avail. The very next day we continued the search refreshed from a proper nights sleep and Allison managed to find a gym to do her cardio sessions in, so she was rather pleased to say the least.
Crosstrainer, stepper, treadmill and even the bicycle were not free from her frenetic onslaught. Poor machines I thought, they'd definitely need some maintenance after she'd been taking out her pent up lack of cardio sessions out on them. Although the cardio machines weren't impressed with her training intensity, the staff were, and she got an offer of a job to teach some classes. Sadly she couldn't take them up on their offer as we were going to spend the following week practicing the ancient art of meditation.

Whilst we were in Colombo we wanted to use our time up productively on our spiritual quest. What better way than to spend five days at a Buddhist Vipassana centre, learning the art of deep meditation. Ishara took us to meet the head monk, she'd previously let him know that two westerners were interested in Buddhist philosophy. We turned up not knowing what  to expect, we were questioned about our knowledge of Buddhism and meditation. Allison had a fair bit of knowledge having practised a Japanese form of Buddhism for many years, I on the other hand owned a fancy dress Buddhist robe but that was about it. The robe was a secret santa present bought for me by someone at Clerkenwell fire station, it didn't actually look to bad on me, if only I'd known beforehand that I would be spending some time in the presence of monks I would have bought it a long. Having passed the initial test we were told to come back on Monday where our daily ritual of four hours of meditation would begin? "Four hours", we both said, "you can have breaks in between" Ishara interpreted from the wise old monk.

Monday came and we begun our first foray into metta meditation. Are you sitting comfortably with your eyes closed?, then I shall begin. Repeat after me, I wish myself to be happy, I am happy, may I continue to be happy. I wish myself to be healthy, I am healthy, may I continue to be healthy. I wish myself to be peaceful, I am peaceful, may I continue to be peaceful. This process continues by spreading your positive thoughts not only to yourself but to your loved ones, friends, even to the people you dislike and the rest of the world. We sat, we sat some more, we did some walking meditation in between our sitting, but man it was tough. My legs were aching, my mind was doing its usual stuff of battling against itself, but we were steadfast in our attempt to maintain this four hour marathon meditation spelled out by the wise old head monk.
Tuesday, much of the same really, sitting, trying, willing some deep inner peace to suddenly come crashing through, but just glimpses of moments of calmness.
Wednesday turned out to be a strange day.  We were introduced to a different monk by a volunteer member of staff, I think they thought they were doing us a favour as this monk could communicate in English, sadly he was mistaken. This monk seemed a bit strange from the outset, not long after we met him he said he we was going to take us to his retreat that weekend for a few weeks, "we already have other plans" we told him, but he seemed to ignore our remarks.
He then began to tell us of how meditation can get you to higher levels of satisfaction than sex. He kept mentioning the penis and the clitoris whilst using his fingers to demonstrate, using one we gathered as a small penis and the tip of another as the clitoris. He then thought it was a good idea to do rubbing motions with his fingers against each other. We weren't really sure of what he was doing but it was all a bit surreal. At one point he asked us where we thought our minds were, "is it in your head, is it in your heart, is it in your vagina?" he said looking at Allison. That's a new one to me, the mind being in the vagina? I know us guys think with our nobs but I thought women were different. We eventually escaped the weird monk when someone knocked on the door, we both stood up, thanked him for his insightful talk about meditation and left his room. We then both went back to the hall and started meditating, I was determined to reach them levels of satisfaction he was talking about.
I felt sorry for the monk, he must have had many years of pent up frustrations and probably saw all westerners as sex mad. I suppose a lot of us are but who in their right mind would want to shag a bald ugly monk?
Thursday, we didn't let the previous day diminish our meditation effort and lucky for us it was the most productive day. I managed to sit cross legged and not move for an hour and get to a state that I was feeling energetic and aware but incredibly calm and serene. I was bought back round by a loud tapping sound that signified the monks lunch time. Allison however was in it deep, the lunch time tapping, even the builders drilling through walls in the same building didn't bring her back from her supraconcious state. An hour and a half went by until she came out to where I was sitting with a really annoying calmness about her. The first thing that came to my mind is why the hell couldn't I go that deep in my trance like state! Totally the wrong attitude if you want to be able to successfully meditate.
An emaciated Buddha       

After experiencing the city of Colombo we all headed into the beautiful Sri Lankan countryside to stay at The Plantation Villa. The Plantation Villa is an Ayurvedic retreat where people come to deal with any ailments they might have in a more natural way than in the west, in a relaxing, natural environment. It is set in an old rubber plantation that the colonising British planted many years ago, I mean the Brits got their slaves to plant.
The Plantation Villa

  Rubber plantation

The Villa is owned and run by Ishara so giving me and Allison the opportunity to utilise our now redundant yoga teaching skills. Having been away from home for four months we needed to refresh our teaching practice and use some of our new knowledge learnt in Rishikesh to add to our classes. Teaching a class a day each gave us ample opportunity.     
We would enjoy giving each other feedback at the end of either of our classes. What began as quite hurtful to the ego then began to be rather funny. I would even give myself damning feedback by calling myself a nob. I'd started to use these descriptive airy fairy words and sentences in my classes that didn't come naturally to me. At one point I just said "listen to the rain", in a matter of fact way. I thought to myself of course their listening to the rain, as its coming down so bloody hard. I offered no enlightening words after that, I just sat wondering what I should be saying next. Hopefully the guests didn't notice and found my words really profound and heart warming. Well I know someone noticed, as soon as the class had finished Allison begun the usual feedback discussion by taking the piss out of my dire use of descriptive words. 
Downward dog on the beach, not far from Plantation Villa

One of the guests at the villa was a little bit different from all the rest. Reggie made himself comfortable in the roof space and would come down after the sun had come up, as soon as his body temperature had risen.

Reggie the monitor lizard, a metre in length from nose to tail

The food at the plantation is incredible, everything is organic and grown on the land, even the Cinnamon is from the tree in the garden. The jackfruit curries were amazing, you'd see the gardener climb the tree and knock one of the huge fruits down, later the same day you would be eating it. We have never eaten such fresh food in our lives. 
  The huge jackfruit

On one of the days following the morning yoga session we headed off to Sinharaja rain forest. On arrival with only a small amount of time we made our way into the forest with the compulsory tour guide.
One of the rain forest inhabitants.

Because of a lack of time at Sinharaja, we made the hour and forty five minute journey back there a week later. This time heading deeper into the forest.
Blood suckers! Leech on Allison's leg

Allison and Ishara kept having run-ins with Leeches, the little blood suckers would somehow get on their legs or through their trainers and enjoy a tasty bit of human blood. Five minutes wouldn't go by without one of them stopping and finding leeches on their feet and legs, they would then quickly find a leaf to pick them off.
Our compulsory guide was little to no help with the leech epidemic, even forgetting to let us know that they sold leech socks at the entrance. At least he was sorted with his canvas pair, I think my hairy legs must have kept the majority at bay. 
To our dismay the heavens opened as a thunderstorm ensued. Allison asked the guide if he was using his huge golfers umbrella which he was using as a walking stick. He ignored her and then proceeded to shelter himself from the torrential downpour leaving the ladies to get soaked, not even a, "we can share, come under here".
A soaked Ishara and Allison. Our paid guide behind sheltering from the rain

The day before we left Plantation Villa we had a day trip and went Whale watching off the coast of Mirissa. It was an incredible experience watching the Endangered Blue Whales and their feeding habits. They are the biggest mammal that has ever lived on planet Earth. That fact always enthrals me, over double the weight than the largest dinosaur, that's if you believe in Dinosaurs as I know some people don't?

Leaving the relaxation, calmness and staff of Plantation Villa will be a test. Our journey has now moved on and we are now in Kandy.
The staff of Plantation Villa 
 Roshan, the masseuse with magical hands.

Village life, Nehinna, near Plantation Villa. Some people have a lot and some people have a little, but still manage to smile!

Laundry day, Nehinna, where's the washing machine?

Nehinna village, a guy out for a run wearing flip flops, who needs Nike?


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