Archive for the ‘Cycling’ Category

Freaky Hotel Guy

Sunday, November 1st, 2009

I have done quite a bit of travelling on my own over here. To some extent it is because I like it. To some extent it is because I have no other choice. If I want to see places (or go cycling) and there isn’t anyone around who fancies (or can) come with me, then I have to go on my own (or stay home and miss lots of exciting places).

And apart from getting hassled by guides, tuk tuk drivers and souvenir sellers, I haven’t really had any problems while travelling on my own.

But then there was the night in Watawala. I didn’t really have any problems. But there was a fairly freaky guy in the guest house who was freaking me out quite a bit.

At first the place seemed lovely. The elderly couple who ran it were lovely. It was nice and clean and bright and welcoming and lovely.

And then a Sri Lankan guy (maybe in his 30s) appeared. I don’t know if he was their son or a paying guest or a cousin/brother/nephew/relation person or who he was. But he was trying to whisper something to me without the couple hearing. Now since he didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak Sinhala this wasn’t very successful. I eventually realised that he was trying to tell me that the next room along was his room.

Ok. Fair enough. Not sure quite what the point of telling me that was. But ah well. People tell me lots of things that I don’t really need to know, why not this guy.

But the looks he kept giving me were starting to make me feel uncomfortable. He was leering at me. (Attention all of my students: do you remember leering? The wolf did it when he was thinking about Little Red Riding Hood. The unpleasant smile that men sometimes do to women that makes them want to run away? Well, that’s what this guy was doing to me.)

And then after dinner he went into his room and stood in the doorway trying to get my attention. I ignored him. I may have been born in Australia but I’m really rather British sometimes. And one thing that we Brits are good at is staunchly ignoring things we find distasteful. Maybe that could be our demonstration sport at the 2012 Olympics. So I staunchly ignored. And then fled to my room as soon as I could.

My room had a bolt on the inside of the door. Which I felt very grateful for. Especially when I heard him tapping on the wall! More ignoring!

I don’t actually think he would have done anything to me. I don’t think I was in any real danger. But I did feel mighty uncomfortable that this freaky Sri Lankan man was so keen for me to know where his bedroom was. And there was the leering!

Anyway, the night passed without incident. More leering in the morning during the speedy minute or two while I drank my tea and got myself ready to go out.

Back on the bike and away from the freaky guy. Yay!

So not a problem as such. Just an unpleasant (and slightly scary) experience.

Kath’s Grand Adventure – Chapter Two – Section 2 – Cycling

Friday, April 17th, 2009

On the road. Lovely!

Though I had forgotten how much slower one cycles when one has luggage. Ah well. It’d all be fine. I had phone numbers of lots of people who could help me if anything went wrong and while I was traveling alone I wasn’t without lots of help and support.

I’ve heard that Kandy is named Kandy because the British couldn’t properly pronounce the Sinhala word for hill. The hill nomenclature isn’t accidental. Though the singular nature of the word hill is a little misleading. There are several. And, like most hills they go up as well as down. Sometimes quite a way in one direction before changing.

In England, I’m a Cambridge girl. The ground just doesn’t go up there. It goes across. That’s all. The closest we get to an incline is the bridge over the railway line.

Ah well, nice hills. Adds to the excitement of the trip. As does cycling along the main Kandy-Colombo road.

As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before I don’t exactly blend into the scenery. So I made lots of friends on my trip. Three-wheelers who slowed down to cheer me on or ask me where I was from. Cars who did the same. People on the back of tractors who couldn’t resist laughing out loud. People on the side of the road who called out to their friends to come and look. The motorcyclist who chatted to me a lot during one of the long downhill stretches and invited me back to his house to meet his family (I politely declined since I had lots of kms to do).

I had to stop for water about every 10kms since I didn’t particularly want to carry much and I was sweating a lot. I mean a lot. No really, a lot!!

I managed to negotiate the traffic (though a couple of right turns were done in true Kath style – get off the bike and walk it across the relevant roads then get back on again later when the coast is clear). I managed to cope with the hills (only had to walk the bike for about 10m at one particularly difficult uphill bit). I managed to cope with going down the hills – Kath on a bike doing 38kph (with brakes on – the approaching hairpin wasn’t something I wanted to miss).

I managed to cope with my bike – mostly. The gears are interesting. My chain fell off twice. My luggage rack fell off again (or rather came loose and started dragging on the road) while I was actually cycling. So I had to do some luggage-rack re-engineering. All the stuff in my rucksack was in a bin liner (it rains here and my bag isn’t waterproof). So I took the bin liner out of the bag. I took half the stuff out of the rucksack and put that in the bin liner. I tied the bin liner to the luggage rack (which I had tied to the bike) – gotta love string and bicycle locks. I then put the rucksack on my back. This made me heavier but the luggage lighter so the bike was happier and a happy Fred (yes, his name is Fred) makes for a happy Kath.

I didn’t manage to cope adequately with the sun. I had put suncream on in the morning. Then washed my hands (since I have to eat with them). Then left.

The backs of my hands got VERY burnt. It’s now 5 days later (I think) and they have blistered and are still a bit sore. My arms, face, neck and back of my neck got a bit burnt, but they had cream on them so they’ve just gone more brown. There is a spot on my left elbow that got quite burnt since it seems I missed it with the suncream. Ah well, hopefully this means I’ll learn and won’t do it again – though I do say that every time I get burnt. But in the three months I have been here I’ve only been burnt twice so I think that’s good going.

I stopped for lunch just after Mawanella (about 2pm, about 35kms). I let Ranjith know where I was and how I was going. I asked him about a Plan B since I was quite tired (do you think that might have something to do with working 7 12 hour days in a row?). He said that if I didn’t make it all the way before dark he would send his daughter in a three-wheeler to collect me. I felt much better knowing there was a Plan B.

I got all my rain stuff ready since it looked like I was about to need it. I did a bit later – fortunately it didn’t rain too much – just a light friendly shower.

I got back on the bike hoping that lunch would have helped with my strength and energy. It didn’t. I just didn’t have any power in my legs. They weren’t sore – they just weren’t doing anything.

I stopped between Mawanella and Udamulla and phoned Ranjith to see if we could activate Plan B since it was 3:30 and I still had 30kms to go and at this rate would be averaging less than 10kms an hour. He said he’d send his daughter in a three-wheeler to collect me at Kegalle.

I kept going for about another 45 mins but then arrived at a hill on the approach to Kegalle. At which point not only did my legs stop working but my will-power did too. So I stopped at the side of the road, let Ranjith and Wasana know where I was and waited for my rescue party to come and rescue me. I may be cycling on my own but I’m definitely not alone!

My rescue party arrived and duly rescued me. The rescue party consisted of Ranjith’s daughter Wasana, his brother and his nephew (in his three-wheeler). Thank you rescue party!!!!

We got to Ranjith’s parent’s place (near Ruwanwella) safe, sound and happy. I texted all the Kandy people to let them know that I was safe.

For those of you who are interested I did 44.77kms, averaged 12.5kph, my maximum speed was 38.6kph and I cycled for 3 hours 34 minutes and 49 seconds.

I decided that there was no way I could cycle to Ratnapura the next day so another change of plans was required. I get the feeling my plans will be changing about once every three days for the next five months. It’s good to feel sufficiently free and unfettered that that frequency of change is possible. 🙂 But apologies to any of you who’d like to know what I’m doing before it happens. 🙂

I learnt several things on that day.

1. It is perfectly possible for me to do lots of cycling around this country (including main roads) – I just need to adjust my expectations and make sure I have several back-up plans.
2. It is possible to fit a bicycle and three passengers in a three-wheeler. It’s not very comfortable, but three-wheelers aren’t exactly comfortable anyway. The point is that it is possible to get the bike in so if I get stuck somewhere I can always hail a three-wheeler (they are everywhere here) and get to wherever I need to go.
3. Luggage makes you heavier. It slows you down. A lot. I have too much stuff and need to get rid of some again.
4. I need to sort out my bag situation to make it more practical.
5. I do not need to carry food or spare drink at all. There are shops selling both every few hundred meters.
6. This country is incredibly beautiful (not a new realisation).
7. The people in this country are really friendly and lovely (also not a new realisation).
8. The sun here burns. I really need to apply suncream a lot and everywhere.
9. See point 6. (It deserves reiterating.)
10. See point 7. (It also deserves reiterating.)

Kath’s Grand Adventure – Chapter Two – Section 1 – Getting Organised

Friday, April 17th, 2009

I use the term ‘getting organised’ as loosely as possible. I think I used my full organisational quota on the English Days and didn’t have any left for my trip. But it’s all ok. 🙂

Since my teaching has now finished (I’m missing it and my students already), I’m now starting Chapter Two of my grand adventure. My plan is now to travel around the country for the next few (3, 4 or 5) months. I’ll be making lots of visits back to Kandy to see everyone there and make sure my students are all still alive, well and doing homework!!

Thursday the 10th of April was the start of Chapter Two.

Given all the work I’d been doing for the English Day I hadn’t had much time to get organised. So Thursday was all a little haphazard and stressed and last minute and I felt like the proverbial chook with no head.

It was only during the day on Wednesday that I had figured out what I was doing on Thursday. I had seen Ranjith at the English Day and had mentioned that I’d like to meet up with him as soon as was possible for him. So he suggested I cycle from Kandy to Ratnapura (about 150kms). I said that sounded good. I thought I could probably do about 70kms in a day and he very kindly said that I could stay with his brother at his parent’s house about halfway between Kandy and Ratnapura. Either Ranjith himself or his daughter or nephew would be there to meet me. I could then cycle on to Ratnapura and stay with him for a few days.

This sounded perfect to me. Working 6 12 hour days in a row and the English Days themselves had put both Alex and I into a state of bizarre delirium (I think the students thought this was quite funny – but that may also be the delirium). Anyway, the point is that I should never have said that I could do 70kms in a day. But at this stage of the story I didn’t realise quite how silly that was. 🙂

I got up early on Thursday morning after a very bad night’s sleep – too excited and stressed and my brain was doing a million miles an hour. I had to go and collect my bike from Kosola (who is an absolute genius and a wonderful human being and I think I have run out of superlatives to describe him) who had attached my cycle computer, luggage rack and dynamo and put my saddle up and done all sorts of other general bike-related stuff. I had to pack (I only have my small black rucksack to take – getting a new bag or some saddle-bags has been on my list for ages but hasn’t actually happened yet). I had to charge my phone. I had to drop all my teaching stuff off at the Junior school so that Alex can continue to brandish a dictionary at Grade 11 students. I had to say goodbye to my family. I had to check where I was going and how to get there. I had to have breakfast.

I had to meet one of my students for the final part of a rather complicated photo exchange procedure.

Get photo taken with 2 students on Wednesday.
Agree to give a copy of the photo to them.
(They don’t have easy email access so direct file transfer to USB is seen as optimal solution.)
The first student has an appropriate USB – but not with him.
Agree to meet him later on Wednesday (before, during or after the party) or on Thursday morning (before leaving) to get the USB and give him the photo.
Both students arrive at the party with said USB.
Kath doesn’t actually have a method of getting the photo from the SD card to the USB at the party so takes the USB to do the transfer when she gets back to the house and has access to the laptop (late on Wednesday night).
Thursday morning the second student comes to the house to collect the first student’s USB, which will then be passed on to him in due course.

The photo, for those of you who are interested will be on my flickr page either now (depending on when you are reading this) or very soon. It’s the one with Kath and the two Grade 11 boys.

Anyway, at about 10:00 my bike was packed (plastic bag tied to luggage rack, rucksack tied over plastic bag). I’d checked my map. My water bottle was full. My lunch was packed in my bag. My bag of homemade milk toffees (thank you Pushpa) was easily accessible. My phone was charged. My big rucksack filled with the stuff I don’t need for the next two weeks had been successfully secreted away. My bag of saris and sari paraphenalia had been stowed (rather than burnt – but there’s still time, it may yet happen). I’d said goodbye to Pushpa, Bandara, Pramodhi and Irantha. I’d dropped the teaching stuff off at the Junior school. I’d handed over the USB. I’d fixed my luggage rack twice (it had fallen off). And I was ready to hit the road.

70kms and about 8 hours of daylight (and glaring sunshine) lay ahead of me. I was on the road and deleriously happy!!!

Cycling Update

Sunday, March 29th, 2009

My cough has mostly gone away. So yesterday I went for a cycle ride after teaching at the Primary school Saturday programme in the morning.

I left at about 2:30. I intended to do about 15 miles (about 25 kms). I guessed it would take me about an hour and a half. I used to be able to average 15 mph but that was when I was fit and was on Cambridge roads (which are flat). I figured that I might get home at about 4 but it was more likely to be 5 and if things went wrong I have till just after 6 before the light fails.

I cycled to Wattegama and was planning on turning left from there towards Akurana to then come down the A9 to Katagastota and back home. Somehow, I missed the turning. I realised I’d done this when I crossed a railway line (which really shouldn’t have happened). I stopped and checked my map. I was in Ukewela which was several miles further north than I had wanted to be and meant a much longer ride down the A9. About 17kms in fact.

I say down the A9, I actually mean up. Just after getting onto the A9 the road started going up. One of those hills that keeps going. Not too steep at first, just neverending. Soul-destroying, energy sapping continuous up. I like up. Up usually means down. Down is good. There was no down. This was just up. And up. Then hairpinny up as it got steeper. I think it was about 5kms of up. I ended up pushing the bike for a bit on a couple of occassions because I was so exhausted. Some very nice Sri Lankan boys in a van did ask if I needed help. I said no, I’m just exhausted. 🙂 Though after all the up, there was eventually a down. Pretty much all the rest of the way to Katogastota!! Yay!!! Kath screaming down hills at about 20mph loving it!

Anyway. The ride was magnificient. It turned out to be about 30miles (50kms) and took me 2hrs 45mins. I got home at 6:15 (after stopping at the shop for some snacks: sugar, salt, liquid). Some of the countryside was amazing. The B roads were beautiful (though pot-holed). The A road turned out to be better than I was expecting. Not as much traffic as I feared and the verge was paved and had far fewer pot-holes. Though I did still have to dodge buses, vans, lorries, cars, three-wheelers, bicycles, pedestrians, dogs, etc.

My family were astonished at the ride I’d done – so was I. I really didn’t mean to go that far as a starting ride. Fred (my bike) held up quite well, but his saddle needs to go up about an inch – I know I’m only 5 feet nothing – but it does need to be higher so I can stretch my legs properly and not knacker my knees.

But on the whole a nice pleasant Saturday afternoon ride!! Can’t wait to do lots more!! 🙂

Walking and Cycling

Sunday, March 29th, 2009

Note: I wrote this a couple of weeks ago.

Now many of you know that I’m a little bit strange. Let’s not put too fine a point on it: I’m absolutely bonkers, mad as a bicycle (or a bucket of frogs)! And I’m quite pleased about this.

And not that I keep it a secret but it is now the case that everyone here knows for certain, without a shadow of a doubt that it is true.

Walking and cycling. These are the two main reasons.

Walking. I like walking. A lot. It is my favourite method of commuting. I’m not really a big fan of motor vehicles. Public transport I can almost cope with but cars/vans/taxis/tuk-tuks etc are all most certainly not up my street. I like walking because that way I don’t get car sick. I like walking because cars are smelly and environmentally unfriendly. I like walking because it is good exercise. I like walking because it gives me a chance to think about everything or nothing or something in between. I like walking because I get to enjoy some fresh air, sunshine and scenery.

While I’m here, VESL is advising me not to use public transport (buses and trains) for security reasons. Kandy city centre is 6kms away. Tuk-tuks cost money (a lot more if you are foreign) and are almost more fair-ground ride than safe transportation method (mind you, given I walk or cycle safe transportation isn’t exactly my thing). I don’t want to rely on my family for lifts. I want to go to Kandy. So I walk. It seems like the best solution and is one I’m very happy with. I like walking. 🙂

When I told people here that I walked to Kandy they looked at me as if I’d just said that I walked to the moon. One of the kids I spoke to said he’d like to walk but he gets an aching leg and even the clocktower (less than 10 mins down the hill) is too far. Bah, says Kath and walks to Kandy.

To a large extent I have my parents to thank for this. They understood that having two perfectly functioning legs means that self-locomotion is possible. They also understood it was healthy and cheap and fun.

Now, people think that me walking to Kandy on a Sunday to use the internet is strange. But it gets stranger. I walked home from the senior school. It only took me half an hour. But I did take a change of clothes since I didn’t particularly want to walk any distance in a sari and sari-slippers. The students thought this whole thing was hilarious. One that I was wearing trousers and two that I was walking. The teachers thought I’d lost my mind!

So now I frequently walk to and/or from the senior school with sari stowed nicely in my rucksack. I did walk home in the sari once – never again: the sari was a pain, the sari-slippers a complete nightmare.

I have bought a bicycle so I can cycle round here and when I finish teaching I can cycle around Sri Lanka. First stop Nurawa Eliya, next stop Galle.

This seems to be beyond crazy! Bicycle shopping was fun. I want a ladies bike with gears. No, you can have a ladies bike or a bike with gears. Ok, then I want a bike with gears with a low crossbar so I can comfortably stand over the thing. Not this nice ladies bike then. No, a bike with gears. Oh. And a helmet. A what? A helmet. A motorbike helmet? No a bicycle helmet. A what? Oh nevermind, I’ll just try not to fall off. (The fourth shop did actually have a bike helmet – yay!)

Since I bought my bike I’ve been somewhat ill so I haven’t had a chance to do much on it yet. But before I got it I’d been scoping out local roads from a cycling point of view. So I’ve been walking. Yes walking. For no reason other than to go for a walk. Not a walk to anywhere, just a walk.

Friday was 8 miles. The last half hour of which was more swimming than walking. People yelled at me from stalls at the side of the road: you are getting wet, yes I said, but it is only water, I will dry (and eventually I did). Sunday was 12 miles along the most gorgeous C road ever. Can’t wait to get on it on a bike!!

Now there are some fairly fit, healthy, strapping young lads in the vicinity of where I live. Their responses have been either “that’s a trip I couldn’t even do on a bike nevermind walking” or “that’s a trip to do on a bike, not on foot”. I said something along the lines of “wait till you see what I do on a bike”. As far as I’m concerned it’s not a proper cycle ride until you’ve hit the 40 mile mark. And it’s not a serious one till you get to at least 60. And I know of proper, serious cyclists who would say if you haven’t hit 100 you’re not really trying.

So splashing in puddles and going for walks and wanting to get a bicycle is all behaviour befitting a mad foriegner. And not one to want to disappoint, I seem to be doing a magnificient job of being totally mad!! I feel it is my duty as a foreigner and just one of the things that Kaths do best. 🙂