our final destination (pre-wedding) was Kandalama, about 100 miles northeast of Colombo. however, 100 miles in Sri Lanka is not like 100 miles in the US. or, you know, anywhere with highways, or roads that don't have cows sporadically meandering around on them. 100 miles in Sri Lanka takes upwards of FIVE HOURS to travel, by car.
here is a very technical diagram i drew of the driving situation in my journal while i was there:
as you can see, this - along with every other road in the country* - is a two-lane road. both sides are lined by shops & huts of various kinds. walking along the side of the road are pedestrians - often in groups 3 or 4 across, and often barefoot. next come the dogs trotting along the side of the road as well. then the people on bicycles, swerving into the lane to avoid the pedestrians and dogs. to the right of them are the people on sputtery mo-peds, who are swerving around the bikes. swerving around the mo-peds are the omnipresent tuk-tuks; passing those on the right are the overladen small trucks and vans, who at this point are swerving fully into the oncoming lane of traffic. finally, you have the perfectly serviceable cars & SUVs, who are passing everything else, still on the right, and 100% squarely in the lane of oncoming traffic. which ALWAYS has traffic speeding directly at you.
it's harrowing, to say the least. and very loud and honky.
*just after we left Sri Lanka opened its very first highway, between Colombo & Galle. but while we were there, there was literally not one highway in the entire country.
anyway!! we made it up to Kandalama, where we were welcomed at the gorgeous Heritance Hotel with lotus flowers for us girls, and fresh juice for all three of us.
it was overcast and rainy when we arrived, which gave the view a very cool mystical lord-of-the-rings feel.
the architect - the same one who built the Triton, where we stayed in Galle - believes buildings should compliment the surrounding environment rather than imposing on it, so this hotel seriously seems like a living, breathing piece of the jungle. in the photo below, do you see another roof peeking out over the greenery, just to the left of those glass walls near the center of the photo? that's an entire other wing of the hotel that is buried in the jungle. the stand of trees just to the left of that is not actually a stand of trees; it's another wing, with the jungle growing ON TOP of it.
our rooms were in that piece. the entire back wall of my room was floor to ceiling glass, opening into jungle. this was my bathroom.
there were MANY signs like this, along with several in person warnings. there were monkeys EVERYWHERE, and if you didn't lock your balcony door when you left the monkeys would pry open the door and trash the place.
we managed to avoid monkey-burglars, and headed off the next morning to the ruins at Polonnaruwa, about 2 1/2 hours (you know, 45 miles) away.
it wasn't long before we saw our first elephant!!
and more MONKEYS! SO MANY monkeys. (we were told to steer clear of these kind; apparently they're mean and will bite.)
finally: we arrived at Polonnaruwa! it was the capital city of Sri Lanka in the 11th & 12th centuries. after it was abandoned at the end of the 13th century, it apparently was just sort of quietly reclaimed by the jungle until the 1980s, when UNESCO began uncovering and restoring pieces of it.
it's pretty insane. these beautiful, majestic stone ruins, just growing out of the middle of the jungle. i like this photo, because it just looks like this regal, ancient stone stairway leading into the wilds.
the remaining 2 - of an original 7! - stories of one of the palaces. (the upper stories would have been made of wood.)
you could just sort of tramp around wherever you wanted. there was nothing roped off; nothing off limits. the only rule at all was that you weren't supposed to walk on the walls.
(i didn't really walk on it.)
the sheer volume of remains there is astounding. you get a sense of the enormity of the city, and how bustling a metropolis it must have been: there are so many buildings, covering so much ground, that it requires a car to get around.
considering all this was covered by jungle for several centuries, everything is in amazing shape. in addition to all the temples and other buildings that still remain, a startling amount of (gorgeous) detail is still in evidence, like these elephants carved into the base of one of the stupas. nearly 1000 years old, and somehow in better shape than churches in europe half that age.
even with all (ALLLL) these photos, i feel like i'm barely scratching the surface of what we saw & did. i still can't believe i got the opportunity to go there. i'm going to have to work pretty hard to top that destination in 2012...