Saturday 6th August:
We travelled via Qatar with Kuoni (due to late booking following cancellation of our tour of Mongolia by Cox & Kings). This made the journey 24 hours door to door. However, an upgrade to business class for the 2nd leg made it much better - we even got a little sleep!
Sunday 7th August:
On arrival in Colombo we had a 2½ hour car journey. Several things struck us: The tuk-tuk of which we have seen so many in Asia, seems to be here in even greater numbers than we have seen elsewhere. Initially fairly prosperous, we then saw a couple of shanty areas. The built up area extended the whole way (120 km)! The tsunami of 26th December 2004 had affected even this western coast and we saw devastated brick buildings, boats broken in 2 and some carried a few hundred yards from the sea edge. Yet there was also much that showed no sign of damage. Talking later with Gayan on the staff of the Tropical Villas hotel where we are staying in Beruwela we learned more. (At least 300,000 people lost their lives across south east Asia in the Tsunami).
We arrived at 11.00 a.m. and went to bed for a few hours. We felt lunch was less important than sleep having had a 3 course dinner at 3.00 am (Sri Lankan time) on the plane. We next ate at 7.30 pm, a very acceptable set meal at the hotel.
During the afternoon we had walked around the pretty small gardens of the hotel and also (via guarded compounds of neighbouring hotels) to the beach. Still feeling a little uncertain of our new environment, we looked through the wire and guarded fence to the rough sea from which we were separated by a gaggle of men anxious to sell us their trips on cars boats etc to wherever. We soon retired to the hotel pool area where we sat and read.
Gayan told us his hotel had been demolished by the tsunami and the manager and staff he knew had been killed. He had been away and unaffected. His family were safe but the house had 4 feet of water in it. His complaint echoed what we had heard back home and in India - the money was there but the government still needed to make the decisions on rebuilding.
There are only about 20 people staying in the hotel - Gayan confirmed that many are staying away post-tsunami although this is admittedly off-season.
During our evening meal with the rest of the hotel's guests, we saw a tree frog high on the wall jumping from place to place. Later, back in our room, a member of staff came on mosquito patrol and as well as turning down the bed sprayed the corners of the room and behind the curtains.
Monday 8th August:
was spent by the pool reading. It remained hot and humid so a day's rest was welcome especially as sleep the previous night was intermittent.
Tuesday 9th August:
We met a couple aged around 50 accompanied by their 2 daughters. They would be our companions for a 3 day visit inland to the hill country. John worked for Liverpool Victoria in Bournemouth in tax (what on earth is attractive about tax?!!). Carol worked in an operating theatre. Emily had just finished her first year at Exeter reading Biology and Sarah her first year in the 6th form.
Leaving the hotel at 8 we headed north towards Colombo again along the coast road. Despite a strike taking private buses and taxis off the road, it was a steady procession at the speed of the inevitable line of tuk-tuks punctuated by the constant "exciting" overtaking manoeuvre.
The journey took us inland after perhaps half an hour and was a fascinating portrait of life in rural Sri Lanka. Again it was initially mainly built up and included many of the lock up workshops that we had seen all over Asia. There were even what we derisively termed "lawn mowers" - 2 stroke, 2 wheeled little tractor units (we concluded") with a metal hoop style handle to steer with. This is hitched to a low trailer in which people sit.
As it was early in the day there were many groups of children walking to school, dressed in white. As usual in poorer countries the overwhelming impression is of the large number of people walking beside the road.
As we progressed there were greater breaks between settlements but they remained a constant feature for the 120 km. We stopped to see and photo a rubber tapper and were surprised to be approached by 3 well dressed young women asking for money and sweets, especially as at this point there were very few pedestrians at all. We realised that Europeans are relatively uncommon but are definitely seen as a good source of income.
Later we stopped for more photos (for a nominal 60p) of a group of porcupines tethered to stakes at the roadside waiting for the passing money/tourists. We also passed several working elephants, again using one for a paid photo.
After a 30 min tea break at a government approved restaurant of quite good quality, we arrived at our first stop at around 12.15. This was an elephant orphanage, where a large number of elephants have been rescued and are looked after as part of a conservation project, but also as a tourist attraction. A fair size group was feeding in the open "roaming" area. Later we saw some young ones being bottle fed- 7 bottles each, poured at speed down their throats!
We moved on to Kandy a world heritage site and the 2nd largest city in Sri Lanka. Our first impression was of hundreds of police if not thousands. It was the beginning of the Buddhist festival of and the police feared bombs by Tamil Tigers. We just wove through the tuk-tuks and pedestrians to a cultural centre where we saw an hour's show of traditional dances + walking on hot coals.
The Hunas Falls hotel was over an hour's ride away along twisting (formerly!) surfaced roads.
Wednesday 10th August
We awoke to discover the beauty of the area. Sited at around 2500 ft in a tea plantation the hotel was built by the government 30 years ago, right next tgo the Falls. Privatised about 12 years ago it forms part of the Jetwing group that owns around a dozen hotels including the one we were at most of the time, but this is a 4* and very good.
We spent the morning with a naturalist employed by the hotel group. He took us on a long walk by the lake, through the hotel's farm, and up a track towards the plantation owner's house. At the farm we met the chef who was working there today on the annual hotel "job swap" where everyone experiences someone else's job or a day. Although primarily looking at the flora and fauna, we passed a village of Tamil tea plantation workers where we were greeted by the children outside their homes.
We saw a land crab, discovered by Adrian, an eagle, an enormous millipede and various birds and butterflies.
During the walk we found out some of the vital statistics that form an integral part of all of our visits to other countries. With a population of 19 million, 5% go to university and the unemployment rate is 13%. The tea plantation workers have to pick 18 kilos of leaves a day and earn 205 rupees. For a six day week, this would equate to earning about £6.50 a week (£300-£350 p.a.) They do however get free accommodation plus the free health and education that other citizens enjoy. Government workers and teachers earn about £900 p.a.
The naturalist who told us these facts had himself been involved in the tsunami disaster when it destroyed a hotel in the same group. He had been saved only by clinging to a branch of a tree. We had already heard from the employee at the other hotel had the manager, his family, and some of the staff had been killed.
We returned to another excellent meal before embarking on a trip to Kandy to watch the festival.
We had been told that proceedings would start at 7.30 p.m.. We collected tickets for our seats at the hotel and then paid a brief visit to a craft outlet where Jill bought two carved coconut shells depicting the Sri Lanka view of the sun and the moon (which they feel has the appearance of a rabbit!)
We left the lady seller who eulogised what the British had done (and who had apparently founded the craft workshop and outlet in the 1890s and walked through crowded streets. There was just the width of a fairly wide pavement between the lake and a road outside the temple. Here there was just room to squeeze by seated crowds and a wall, but at times people coming the other way turned proceedings into a scrum. Then the pavement was blocked and we had to climb over people to the road. We were looking for the smart, probably western hotel, where we would no doubt be offered expensive drinks as we sat at tables overlooking the street. Not a bit of it! Our £18.00 each bought us a squashed 2nd row seat in the balcony of a seedy cafe with highly dubious toilets!
We waited, happily watching the crowds as 5.30 became 7.00 and darkness fell. Opposite us a group of young men were precariously balanced on the roof of a three storey building - with little to hold ono!
Then nearly 2 more hours passed before proceedings finally began at around 8.50. How the multitude of young mums and children sat so happily on the pavement for so long amazed us.
The procession eventually reached us, commencing with a few men cracking whips and picking up the coins that were thrown to them. An appropriate spiritual dignitary then walked at funerial speed followed by drummers and dancers similar to those we had seen the previous evening. Then a single elephant and more drummers - so this went on with sometimes pairs of elephants - until highly decorated elephants with flashing lights all over them and towing batteries on carts, displayed to us (presumably) holy relics and symbols in elaborate caskets on the elephants' backs. From our visit to the temple the following day, where we saw these items, we imagine that at least one of these included the golden container housing a tooth of the Buddha. More dancers and drummers and elephants and then even a small number of dancing girls (the procession previously having been all male). At last it was over, an hour and a half later. We felt that we had seen sufficient by that stage and were glad that it was not the last night of Perahera (10 days later) when the procession would be twice as long and the crowds doubled in size. We arrived back around Midnight - taking a long time to pass the crowds of walkers and tuk-tuks transporting devotees back to their homes.
Thursday 11th August
We had a late start due to our driver suffering the theft of his phone from the locked van during the night. It had been broken into and he felt that a pen top that he found inside pointed to Security being implicated. He complained vociferously to the Front Desk staff who promised to investigate and took his name and address.
Our morning was spent in Kandy, starting with an hour or so visiting the Buddhist Temple (of the famous tooth!) We had a local guide who had a great sense of humour although he was very difficult to understand. As well as telling us about the Temple, he kept us amused with his jokes and encouraged us by his accounts of all that the British had given to his country.
We then visited a gem shop with a small museum and a video presentation about the mining and polishing of gems. They were perhaps disappointed that neither we nor the Brooks family wanted to buy anything.
Our next stop was at the Botanical Gardens which were another legacy of the British. As fascinating as the trees, were the huge number of fruit bats which were hanging from several of the trees with the occasional bat giving a flying display. In flight they looked like large birds.
After a brief shelter from heavy rain, we regained the van and headed for lunch above a silk shop. The lunch was rather indifferent but we were relieved that we were spared a visit to the silk shop itself. All was not lost however, as we were then deposited at a small batik workshop and retail outlet. The usual brief explanation and inspection of a few workers in abysmal conditions was followed by the much more important attempts to get us to buy the products. To be fair, the staff were very restrained, and did not attempt to push us when we concluded that we really had no need for their pictures, despite their beauty and craftsmanship.
Then came the real business of the day: a visit to a genuine material shop serving the local people and similar to what we had visited in Ooty. Jill being already equipped with saris and salwar chemises, was happy to buy just two sarongs and two scarves, plus Adrian indulged in a £6.00 shirt sporting the name, but less probably the pedigree of Van Heusen. Carol, Emily and Sarah all bought saris and salwars and John a couple of shirts. No doubt the proprietor of the shop was well pleased by our visit.
Due to the Perahera, it had proved impossible for our driver to park the van anywhere near the shop and he had to get a taxi to come and retrieve us. We then caught three tuk-tuks back to it. This was not our first experience of these quaint vehicles but as before, it was great fun. If ever Thailand runs short of them, we are sure that Sri Lanka must have several million that it could export to them!
We then set out on our 5 hour journey back to Tropical Villas, with the numerous impossible overtaking manoeuvres that are such a feature of Asian road travel. We arrived back at about 9.00 p.m. just in time for our evening meal and an exhausted turn in to bed.
Friday 12th August - our 38th Wedding Anniversary!
This had been scheduled by us for an unstructured day around the pool. The observant domestic staff saw our anniversary cards to each other and the "Room Boy" as they are called, came to the pool specifically to confirm this with Jill. Later Adrian was called to the Pool Phone to be wished Happy Anniversary and to say they would be making us a cake!
Returning to change for lunch, we found balloons and an elaborate floral decoration on the bed spelling out "Happy Anniversary".
When we were at lunch, the Hotel Naturalist asked us to be ready at 3.00 p.m. to plant a tree in celebration! We had already talked with him earlier in the day when discussing with the Kuoni Rep our outings for the rest of our stay.
We duly reported to Reception at 3.00 p.m., slightly more smartly dressed, suspecting that there might be photos. Three staff presented us with floral garlands (reminiscent with those usually associated with Hawaii) and made from the local Temple Tree flower. We then did the official royal planting of the pomegranate tree posing for photos for the hotel and ourselves. They had prepared a specially printed plaque to be nailed beside our planting!
When we got back to our room, we found some beautiful flowers in a vase on our table and set the camera to self timer to photograph ourselves with them.
The afternoon was then spent reading and resting by the pool before catching up with the diary prior to our evening meal.
After dinner, as we were returning to our room, one of the staff joined us outside our door with an enormous cake on a round mirror, which he carried in a large tray with plates, napkins and cutlery. He even took photos of us cutting it!
The cake, inscribed "Happy Anniversary - 38" was so large that we went back to the restaurant and asked the Brooks family whether they would like to share it with us in the upstairs bar. The staff very kindly transported it there and brought plates. Sarah and Emily played the piano for all the folk up there and we finally retired to our mosquito netted bed at nearly 10.45 p.m.
Saturday 13th August
To-day the BBC World Service informed us first thing before breakfast that a state of emergency had been declared in Sri Lanka because the Foreign Minister, a Tamil, had been assassinated. He had been a moderate man who had been opposed to home rule for the Tamils and had encouraged foreign governments not support the Tamil Tigers. We had a serious conversation about it with one of the managers at breakfast and texted the children to tell them that we were unaffected.
We spent a lazy day by the pool, retreating in from time to time when there were brief showers of rain. We also emailed the children.
During the evening meal, we were serenaded by "The Raindrops" who played a mixture of music ranging from South American to Sri Lancan via Elvis Presley. We purchased one of their CDs and then watched a very bizarre film starring Arnold Swartzenager.
Sunday 14th August
We had booked an early morning call to ensure we were awake for our 8.00 a.m. departure on our boat trip. In the event, we would probably have been up any way as we had a somewhat disturbed night with crying babies and the air-conditioning unit of the room upstairs. Tropical Villas is now 80% full and so this is much better for the staff as tourists have been scarce since the tsunami and their livelihood has suffered. We are glad for them, but our sleep was better when it was quieter!
A driver and van duly collected us, and the Brooks family, and drove us south, past Bentota Village, to where we would board our boat. We passed several areas badly hit by the tsunami with communal drinking water buts provided by the Sri Lankan Red Cross and with tents and wooden temporary housing with no windows. By now, the threatened rain had not only materialised but had become almost torrential and remained so for most of our journey. Our minibus turned off the road onto little more than a path and fought its way through the tight thoroughfare until it reached a clearing with moored boats. Fortunately the rain had now subsided and was replaced with hot and welcome sunshine. We boarded one of the boats and first of all saw many water monitors just yards ahead of us - including one that scrambled lazily and obligingly onto the bank. Our boat trip brought us sightings of many creatures beside monitors including a fish eagle, a kingfisher, a grey heron, cormorants and bear monkeys. A girl in a canoe approached all of the tourist traffic bearing a baby bear monkey only four weeks old. Some people in the boat that was accompanying ours took it to hold whilst it cried pitifully for its mother. We merely took photos but still felt obliged to pay the customary tip.
The river widened out into almost a lake and we were taken to a large island which is home to some 112 families who eke out a living by making cinnamon sticks, rope from coir (coconut) and various coconut mats. We watched a man demonstrate how cinnamon sticks are made and this is a very long involved procedure taking several days and involving much peeling, scraping and drying of the twigs from the cinnamon tree. The man's wife also showed us how she twisted the coir from the coconuts into rope and subsequently fashioned this into various shaped mats.
Life has been much more difficult for the island people since the tsunami as there are far fewer tourists to purchase their ware. We dutifully, and gladly, purchased some cinnamon goods and also a small elephant mat. Sarah had been given a pack containing different samples of twisted coir and cinnamon and later passed this to me so that it might be used in school.
The family live in a large hut on higher land on the island but had spread their wares outside a smaller version which is where they used to reside until a particularly bad monsoon some eight years ago.
After we left them, we again observed various wild life creatures before landing and reboarding our minibus.
The driver then took us to a turtle hatchery just before the village of Bentota. Here the owner showed us round and told us of his horrific experiences in the tsunami. He had lost everything of his business and many of his beloved turtles including a rare albino one. Because his house was some way away and not destroyed, he does not qualify for any help. Understandably he was scathing about the distribution of aid and spoke of how he just could not understand why things are as they are.
Although he had lost his original buildings including shop and restaurant, a small replacement shop was open and Jill bought a two piece beach outfit consisting of top and sarong and a second, white sarong - each with turtle motifs.
We then went back to our hotel for lunch where we got into conversations with Hugh from Reading and a couple of London teachers who hail originally from Canada and who had just arrived from Egypt.
Having returned to our room, Adie then fell asleep and Jill, not knowing how long he would be out of action, retrieved the key from his trouser pocket and went outside to sit in the sun. The staff couldn't believe she was sitting on the grass and asked whether she might like a lounger, or even a towel?! Shortly afterward, it began to rain - so she went to sit in the porch outside our room and then took the cane chair out onto the grass again when the sun returned.
About one hour later, Adie awoke and we went to get a drink of ginger beer by the pool.
Then we went to hail a tuk-tuk waiting outside the hotel and a driver called "Siri" took us to Bentota Beach and back for 300 rupees - just under £2.00. There we walked along the beach and paddled in the warm sea - largely unpestered by hawkers. Indeed only one asked us to look at his wares and then did not persist and a kindly life guard came up to us and warned that we should not attempt to swim. We saw his lifeguard hut damaged by the tsunami with a broken boat outside it but he told us that the hotels had suffered only relatively slight damage and had not had to close at all.
Our tuk-tuk driver was waiting for us - where we had left him, near the station and he drove us safely back (stalling on one occasion), stopping as we requested for Adie to get some more money from the ATM in the local town. Whilst waiting, he told Jill that his home and family were safe from the tsunami but the garden had been deluged in salt water and everything in it had died. She asked him what could be done about this but he did not really understand the question. He was euphoric in his praise of the British and spoke as others have done to us of the gratitude of the Sri Lankan people for their transport system, for the plantations and for the fact that the education system is British and tuition is in English.
Having washed sand and salt from our feet, we went to sit by the pool before dinner and then retired early afterwards because of the next day's early departure.
Monday 15th August
We started with a wakeup call at 4.45 before a 2½ journey inland to Sinharaja Rain Forest. The journey was interesting as we saw people starting their day including, from 6.00 a.m., many school children. For much of the way, the road was little wider than our minibus and the edges were broken away on both sides.
The forest is the largest area of lowland rain forest in the country although it is only 13 miles long by 2 - 4½ miles wide.
We were met by a guide who, with our hotel naturalist Bandura, took us on seven hours walking through the forest including three major areas: the largest tree, a field research station, and a mountain lookout.
Along the way, various birds were pointed out to us and when we were able to locate them we also saw them through the binoculars. We saw 12 different species as well as a number of butterflies, a giant black squirrel, camouflaged lizards and a large spider that eats its made. At one point we met up with two other British people and their guide during which time we saw a feeding bird flock being a mixture of birds on a foraging expedition. We spent at least half an hour seeing all the different types including through the other guide's telescope.
We had a particularly strenuous climb up the fourth highest mountain in the area. When we had scarcely started, Jill saw a lovely view that she wanted to photograph but suddenly her head was at Adrian's feet as she had slipped down an eroded section of path where the slope was particularly steep. Adrian sprang to her rescue and helped pull her up. The climb was demanding as the gradient was steep and the ground very wet. Sometimes it was a sandy soil with numerous tree roots and at other times bare rock. We were told that there was 90% humidity and we certainly found the going tough. To our amusement our forest guide wore shirt and slacks with rubber flip flops but also carried an umbrella! This seemed particularly bizarre when we stood on a large sloping section of bare rock at the top of the mountain, gazing out at the canopy of the forest and ranges of hills partially shrouded in mist. The rain that comes down so heavily for relatively short periods assaulted us as we arrived on this rock at the summit but soon disappeared.
For the trip we had been loaned leech socks which went over the trousers and were designed to stop leeches going up our legs' Periodically we found leeches who didn't know these rules and successfully climbed higher. Adrian had one or two on his hand which began to draw blood but poor Jill got very badly attacked when we were back in the min-bus and had removed the socks. Her foot just kept bleeding.
After an extremely interesting and varied day, we set out on our minibus journey back to the hotel being bumped around furiously by the rough roads and the poor suspension. As always the road hazards included innumerable dogs who somehow manage to get out of the way, but only at the last moment. We arrived back to our room at just after 6.00 p.m. feeling somewhat exhausted but recovered by the time we had our evening meal.
Tuesday 16th August
Another early morning, commencing at 5.15 a.m. and leaving the hotel at 6.00 to catch a train from Aluthgama. This was a real experience as the carriages were over a hundred years old and were true story book Indian style. They had wooden benches, the windows opened like sash windows, and the doors were left open while we travelled. Although these trains can get crowded, ours was quite empty as we set off in the dark. We past some parts that we recognised and at times were just a few yards from the sea shore. We waited nearly 20 minutes to enable us to pass on an otherwise single track a train heading towards Colombo
We were met by our minibus that had obviously made the journey more quickly. Again we were on narrow roads passing numerous pedestrians and cyclists, periodic houses and disused paddy fields. Most of these had tarmacked surfaces but some were unmade.
We travelled for perhaps 20 minutes before reaching a river which we crossed by a rope ferry working on the same principle as a chain ferry we had used in Ireland. At the far side, we walked for some distance along an unmade road to a nearby village where we were able to see examples of local housing as well as water buffalo and various birds. Bandera was again our guide.
Our visit was a source of some amusement and curiosity to a selection of young children who clearly see westerners relatively infrequently.
Returning by the same route, we again crossed the river - Adie helping to work the ferry.
We came to the nearby village passing through a bustling market before arriving at a colonial style house built in 1887 by the present owner's grandfather. This man, a lawyer, told us a little of the history of the house while his wife finished preparing a traditional Sri Lankan breakfast for us. This included savoury items such as egg hoppers on which we spread various spicy dishes before eating them. These were tempered by chunks of milk rice which neutralised the heat of the curry. A number of dishes were sweet and were new to us. We ate all from a banana leaf plate which the owner had previously shown us had to be heated to become pliable. These are circular and are cut from the banana leaf by a cutter.
The owner told us that a young girl in his home is a Tsunami orphan who has come to live with him and his wife. He is collecting money to support and educate girls in her position.
We moved on to the market we had seen earlier which was now bursting with people buying numerous different types of vegetables, dried fish and clothing as well as other day to day necessities.
Our final stop was at a Buddhist Temple in Bentota the site of which went back 1200 years but on which the present structure had been built around 250 years ago following earlier demolition by the Dutch.
We returned some five hours after we left and rested by the pool until just gone 5.00 p.m. with just an intermission for lunch. We then took our same tuk-tuk, driven by Siri, to Beruwela Harbour, to see the fishing boats going out for the night. Apparently some one thousand boats use the harbour. On the way we were conscious of the many buildings and boats damaged or destroyed by the Tsunami. Some people were living in tents and others in wooden temporary housing although many still had been able to return to their own homes.
Siri accompanied us around the harbour where we had to purchase two tourist passes for 50 rupees each. We then met a contact of his who owned a gem shop nearby that had just reopened the previous week after the Tsunami had wrecked it. He urged us to accompany him to his shop but did not pester us to change our minds when we said we did not want to buy anything. He gave us a chunk of aquamarine to hold which was extremely heavy - and two bottles of water which were extremely useful. We then returned to the hotel about an hour after we had left it, passing Siri's house which he pointed out on the way.
Wednesday 17th August
On our final morning we set out at 9.00 o'clock for Brief Garden. We passed the railway station at Aluthgama where we had boarded the train the previous day and then headed out through Dargatown and on into the countryside for considerably further than we had expected. The gardens were down a long narrow road across disused paddy fields and comprised 4½ acres and a rather fine bungalow. They had been created from 1929 by Mr Barber. The small car park had two coaches but no other vehicles. We were faced with a closed door and a padlocked gate above which hung a bell. Sometime after we sounded this, a man appeared through the door, sold our driver the tickets and unlocked the gate into the garden. Our driver disappeared back to his minibus and we were dispatched to wander round the gardens alone.
We heard the noise of children and drums, and this turned out to be a visit by a Tsunami Orphanage with their helpers: Danish People's Aid.
The gardens had been carefully created on the site of a former rubber plantation and comprised numerous unidentified trees and shrubs with meandering paths, steps and lawns.
We were not particularly impressed but having reached the bungalow, the man who had sold the tickets proceeded to tell us about the gardens and show us the building. The whole visit became quite fascinating. Mr Barber had obviously moved in high circles and his guests had included Edward 8th, Vivienne Leigh, Laurence Olivier and various other well-known people. He had died in the early 90s and divided the land up between his staff, giving the house and gardens to the Manager. Our guide received ½ an acre where he had built a house. He had been Mr Barber's man servant for 23 years and had taught himself English largely through Ladybird books and Chambers Dictionary having graduated to Harry Potter.
We returned to the hotel to enjoy our last moments around the pool and then left at 2.15 after lunch to begin the arduous journey to the airport - 2½ hours through endless built-up areas and the anarchic traffic conditions.
Although a six lane highway for a fair distance, since the drivers observed no rules it remained just as stressful as the normal 2 way roads.
Impressions and Feelings:
A very friendly people in a lovely country. They seem squashed along the coastal edges where there is a considerable range of socio economic conditions. In places there are what are clearly slums, but many properties would look perfectly at home in England and in some of the smarter areas at that.
Transport varies from the hand operated agricultural units pulling trailers, through tuk-tuks, tractors, the odd bullock cart, numerous battered buses and less battered mini buses, to the smart 4 by 4 cars. The very mixture of traffic and the variety of speeds attainable create many of the problems on the road. Although a high percentage of vehicles lacked brake lights etc. they all seemed to come equipped with very efficient horns!
Most people go to school, education being free along with health care but there is no other welfare state. Children start school at 6 years of age and 5% go on to university but there is considerable graduate unemployment. There is a unbiquitous white uniform that varies only with the colour of tie or shoes worn but appears universally smart.
The Tsunami had claimed 30 - 40,000 lives and had demolished many coastal properties. Some tents still remain including donated by Japan. There were temporary wooden buildings but this largely uncomplaining people many times blamed their government for still failing to improve the situation as should have been expected given the level of aid from abroad.