Today we attempted to hit 3 out of 4 of the cultural triangle “greats”:
Dambulla – for its cave temples
Sigiriya – for its foreboding magma rock from an extinct volcano.
Polonnaruwa – for its archaelogical ruins of a former royal city
…leaving Anaradhapura (also famous for its ruins) for the next day. We almost succeeded. Had we woken up earlier and lingered less ontop of Sigiriya, we would’ve managed to hit all 3.
Instead we had arrived in Polonnaruwa with its sites about to close at 6pm, so we decided to save them for the next morning. Before then, however, we did some heavy spelunkin’, exploring Dambulla’s mysterious cave temples and climbing enigmatic Sigiriya, which is listed in many of the world’s “100 most beautiful” lists. As for entry fees, there is a “round ticket” to see all of those sites with one convenient ticket for $50 USD. It’s either that or pay $25 USD per site. The downside is that when you use the round ticket on any one of those sites, entry is only valid for one day or else you’ll have to pay the full day’s amount for the next day. So you gotta be fast, and make sure you don’t arrive too soon before the sites close.
Nevertheless, Dambulla and Sigiriya was worth it, in my opinion. Just take a look for yourself:
Dambulla cave temples
Sexy, mysterious, and just the perfect atmosphere to make us feel like tomb raiders. Unfortunately, because it says “cave temples” doesn’t mean it’s on sea level or underground. Instead it’s quite a climb up to get to the caves; think of it as a warm up for something like Sigiriya. On the top of Dambulla, however, you can faintly see the outlines of Sigiriya in the distance (its the rock on the right):
Although guides list the 30min rickshaw ride from Dambulla to Sigiriya as somewhere around 700 SL rupees (as opposed to a 50 rupee bus ride), we were able to bargain one down to 500 rupees (equivalent to only $4 USD!). So travelers, take note! For about $1-2USD more, you can save 1 hour waiting time for a public bus!
"NOISE MAY PROVOKE HORNET ATTACKS" is another way of saying "BE QUIET."
Go ahead. Start your climb.
It's a very very long climb up.
After a bit of climbing and fresco-spotting (some of which are incredibly well preserved), you’ll hit a break in the middle known as “Lion’s Paws.” Back in the day you could walk up these stairs into a lion’s mouth in order to begin your ascent to Sigiriya, but over time much of the lion wore away and all that’s left are these enigmatic paws straddling the entrance.
2 years ago I saw a picture of this on a "world's most beautiful" list and that was whe I knew I had to go to Sigiriya.
After another 15 minute ascent, you’ll eventually reach the top of Sigiriya. It had beren assumed that at the top there was a palace complex, but now the theory is that the top of Sigiriya merely housed temples, the reason being that excavation of the site discovered no infrastructure that could make long-term habitation possible (i.e. no evidence of crude lavatories). Nevertheless, I could see why devout pilgrims would ascend Sigiriya, not only for its religious significance at the time, but also for its spectacular views of Sri Lanka.
I wonder what's for dinner.
The top of Sigiriya just got served.
Like a scene out of Myst
Views like these kind of makes me feel I'm in East Africa instead of South Asia.
I recommend staying out on the top of Sigiriya for awhile so you can enjoy the heat-breaking gusty breezes (they were strong enough to knock some guys off their feet!). Afterwards, you can begin your quick descent to sea level. Just be careful of unevenly placed stairs.
After Sigiriya, we were lucky to find a rickshaw driver heading back to his home in Polonnaruwa, so we hopped on for a very low price of 900 rupees (otherwise any normal rickshaw would’ve cost around 2000 rupees). The other option would’ve been waiting for an hour two separate times for two separate buses to get to Polonnaruwa. So our fortunate rickshaw deal isn’t something that happens often to every backpacker, but if you stick out your nose far enough, you might be just as lucky.
And randomly along the way, we were treated to a free safari:
The first elephants I've ever seen in the wild (i.e. not domesticated for tourists to ride on or get blessed by).
We’re now in Anaradhapura, chilling out after a so-so day wandering around Polonnaruwa earlier this morning. More on Polonnaruwa next.
- At time of posting in Anaradhapura, it was 30 °C -
Humidity: 63% | Wind Speed: n/a | Cloud Cover: cloudy
As I step back on the escalators leading down to the NYC Subway, I see how much of the last 9 days I can remember.
I remember Lima; the way we danced around the fountains as they danced around us, the taste of Peruvian chicken in the middle of the night, getting our 5am flight redirected on our way to Cuzco, deluding myself to believe that I had altitude sickness.
I remember Ollantaytambo; the way we bargained our way from Cuzco, hiking along the sweeping hills of a mountainous city, the nonstop rain that somehow made everything prettier, the girls from Germany that I met on the train to Aguas Calientes.
I remember Aguas Calientes; the way we struggled to get up at 4am, the people we waited in line with, the instant coffee, how we got our tickets to Machu Picchu the moment the ticket office opened at 5am, how we almost forgot to buy our bus tickets at the last minute.
I remember Machu Picchu; the way we rushed to be the first 400 people to sign up for Wayna Picchu, how we climbed up stone by stone to the tallest peak in the region, sitting at our personal little rocks taking in the views, when we decided to take the road less traveled to the Temple of the Moon, our shock to the countless steps we had to retrace, sunbathing by the Temple of the Moon, the burning in our thighs as we returned, the rain on our bare skin the moment we finished descending from Wayna Picchu, the fellow climbers we met along the way, the sense of accomplishment when we finally reached the observatory tower overlooking the ruins.
I remember Cuzco; the way we shamelessly danced with other backpackers at Loki’s the first hour we were there, the people we met at our hostel, the feel of the city’s cobblestone roads, the trustworthy roommates that partied with us, the friend from the States who agreed to take us around, the taste of guinea pig and llama steak, the bizarre monsters at La Turca, the horrible pronunciation of flirtatious Spanish phrases, the shisha at Indigo, the 6 hours that we danced and the characters we met at Mama Afrika.
I remember my one night in Bogota; the way we made our way into Kong’s, ordering Green Jasmin drinks and late night fried steak, how none of the ATMs accepted my card, the taxi ride along 7th Avenue, the taste of Aguadiente, waking up thinking I missed my flight to Cartagena, the godsend morning breakfast, a grueling taxi ride to the airport without cash to pay for it, worrying about Kseniya when she failed to show up to our flight, surprised to see Kseniya when she was taking the same flight with me back home to NYC a few days later.
I remember Playa Blanca; the way we formed a team in bargaining our way there, riding on motorcycles, arrving to an empty beach that stretched for miles, the sugary white sand, swimming in the Caribbean at night, falling asleep to the Caribbean waves outside in a hammock, waking up to the sound of roosters, being roasted by the sun, making fun of daytripping tourists, the speedboat ride back to Cartagena.
I remember Cartagena; the way we befriended fellow Colombians that led us to stay at their place, walking along the streets of a city I wish to return for my honeymoon, eating cerviche in the same seat Anthony Bourdain ate his, the late night salsa at Mister Babilla, the circle around us as we danced off at Babar Nightclub, the final hugs goodbye.
Kseniya and I had parted ways earlier this morning; she was to take an early flight to Bogota to catch an evening flight back to NYC whereas I would take an evening flight to Medellin and catch a late flight to NYC.
So about a few hours ago my flight to Medellin was getting delayed, and they called my name over the loudspeaker. They wanted to know if I would be okay taking a flight to Bogota instead to catch an earlier flight to NYC. I shrugged and said sure.
So an entire flight was waiting for me as I boarded this last minute (which was pretty awesome). About 2 hours later, as I navigated my way around Bogota El Dorado International airport, you can guess who I run into at security: Kseniya, whose flight to NYC was the flight I had just been switched onto.
I´m now waiting for my flight to Medellin, where I will take a redeye flight back home. I just edited all my past entries by adding in the appropriate videos I took with my flipcam while I was in South America. I think it adds to the realism of being there, instead of seeing only pretty pictures.
Here are a few of my favorites. The texts link to the original blog entry:
There are very few cities that can compare to the oh my god I need to come back here for my honeymoon vibe when you walk along its streets. NYC comes to mind, but then again I’m biased. Luang Prabang is definitely on that list. And Cartagena. Yes, Cartagena…How can you not be charmed by streets like these:
We did the following walking tour in order within 3 hours:
Museo Naval del Caribe
Convento and Plaza de San Pedro Claver
Plaza de la Aduana
Plaza de los Coches
Puerta del Reloj
Walk westwards along Calle de Roman, passing by the Catedral
Plaza de Bolivar
Palacio de la Inquisicion
Iglesia and Plaza de Santo Domingo
Walk eastwards along Calle de la Mantilla, Calle de la Estrella, Calle La Soledad, and make a left along Calle Segunda de Badillo
Make a right along Calle Santismo
Iglesia de Santo Toribo de Mangrovejo
Walk eastwards along Calle 7 Infantes and Calle Poritobelo
Monumento a la India Catalina
Walk north unto you hit the Las Bovedas
Walk south to Puente Heredia and east (20-30 min) to the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas
Take a cab to the Convento de la Popa
Inside the Cathedral
Inside Plaza de Bolivar
Plaza de Bolivar
Last night we ate at La Cervicheria, a restaurant that was featured for its creative ways of cooking cerviche (shrimp with mango, mozzarella sauce, garlic sauce, BBQ mexican, peanut butter octopus…) on Anthony Bourdain’s show, No Reservations:
It’ll be hard to miss the fortification walls around Cartagena:
Probably one of the biggest highlights of Cartagena is the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas, which has remained to be the most impressive Spanish fort constructed in South America. Don’t miss it.
Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas
Afterwards you have the option of taking a cab to the Convent de La Popa, which is the highest point in Cartagena with amazing views of the city. One option is to walk up the hill (30 minutes), which has been highly UNrecommended by everyone in Cartagena (Lonely Planet compares it to a trek in the Mojave Desert).
The other option is get a cab which will tend to upcharge you up to $40,000 colombian pesos for a 10 minute ride, which is 8x the normal rate for a ride that long around the city. Choose your own adventure.
Views of Cartagena from the Convent de La Popa
All in all, a full day in one of South America’s most charming city, in my opinion surpassing the quaintness of Peru’s Cuzco. I think tonight we’ll grab a drink at Café del Mar, and then go dancing at another club somewhere outside of the Old City. After that, it’s time to pack for the trip home…
- At time of posting in Cartagena, it was 29 °C -
Humidity: 79% | Wind Speed: 16km/hr | Cloud Cover: clear
I remember watching Y Tu Mama Tambien for the very first time, when the two friends fabricate the existence of a beach in an attempt to seduce Luisa. As they travel throughout the film, they discover in fact that the beach is real, and it just so happens to be the paradise on Earth as they had described it.
I felt as if we just found that beach.
Imagine a beach with warm Carribean waves, where the locals have set up hammocks for you by the water to stay the night, where you can fall asleep to the sound of the lapping waves, where the sand is so white that the beach is named for it, where for miles you fail to see any sign of tourists or touts. Imagine a beach where you have the sand and waters all to yourself.