Seychelles Independence Day – 29/6/2015

“We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.”

The Seychelles is an archipelago of  115 islands, most of which are uninhabited.  The archipelago stretches across 1.3 million square kilometers in the Indian Ocean. Seychelles is located east of Kenya and north of Madagascar in the western part of the Indian Ocean. Interestingly the Seychelles has the highest per capita GPD in Africa, excluding the French territories.  The official languages for the Seychelles are Creole, French and English.  The currency is the Seychelles Rupee.

Max and Tristan raising both the quarantine and Seychelles flags on our arrival

We arrived in the Seychelles a couple of days prior to Independence Day.  Independence day is on June 29th and celebrates the countries independence from the United Kingdom in 1976.  We actually joined the festivities that were held at the filled to capacity stadium.  The celebration was filled with pomp and ceremony, with army, navy and marching bands from both Seychelles, Australia, US and India marching, officials in black cars giving speeches and parachutists landing in the arena with the Seychelles flag.

Polonnaruwa – 18/2/2015

“If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay at home.”

James Michener

History of Polonnaruwa

During the 11th century AD, King Vijayabahu I made Polonnaruwa the capital city, replacing Anuradhapura who had been plundered and left abandoned after being invaded by armies from Southern India.  Polonnaruwa would remain the capital for three centuries and a thriving comercial and religious centre for about 800 years. 

It was during the reign of the second king, King Parakramabahu I, 1153 – 86, that many of the parks, the palace, dagobas and various temples were built.  The king also built the large artificial lake, Toa Wewa Lake or Parakrama Samudray. The third king, King Nisanka Malla, 1197 – 96 tried to expand the empire with further building works, but ending up bankrupting the kingdom instead. During the early 13th century the capital was again moved, this time to where Colombo is now situated. 

Our Visit

We had organised a 9 day trip through Sri Lanka using a guy recommended to us.  We were supposed to be picked up from Trincomolee at 9 am, which ended up being 11 am.  After a long drive we finally reached Polonnaruwa mid afternoon.  There wasn’t enough time to see everything at the site, but we did get a look at most of the main parts.

  1. The Remains of Parakramabahu’s Palace

The Royal Palace is the first group of ruins, which look rather unimpressive today, but it once housed 50 rooms that were supported by 30 columns.  Some archaeologists believe it was 7 stories high, hard to believe with what remains.

The Audience Hall is another structure within the Royal Palace group of buildings.  At the bottom of the building is a freeze of elephants.  Each elephant is slightly different.

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2. The Quadrangle

The Vatadage is a circular relic house.  The terrace is 18 metres in diameter and has four entrances. 

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Atadage Dalada Maligaya is the ruins of the house which contained the tooth relic of Buddha, now in Kandy.  It was built during the reign of the first king of Polonnaruwa, King Vijayabahu.  The building contains 54 stone pillars and it is believed the tooth relic would have been kept on the 2nd floor of the building.  The building is called Atadage because Ata means eight and it is believed that it would have housed eight relics, including the tooth.

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3. Dagabas – There are a few Dagabas at the site.  Here are the two most impressive:

Rankot Vihara is a 54 meter tall dagaba, it is the largest in Polonnaruwa and the fourth largest in Sri Lanka.  It was built during King Nissanka Malla’s reign, the king who bankrupted the kingdom.  Perhaps he shouldn’t have built such a large dagaba.

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Kiri Vihara Dagaba was unearthed from the jungle and required no restoration work, as it was still milky white after 700 years. It was built in honour of the King’s queen.

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4. Buddha Statue at Lankatilaka is surrounded by 17 metre high walls and the Buddha’s head is missing.  This area was undergoing some restoration works while we were there. 

5. Gal Vihara is a rock temple and is part of the Polonnaruwa site. It was created during King Parakramabahu I reign. The highlight of this temple is the four statues of Buddha, which are carved from a single piece of granite. The images are of a large seated Buddha, a smaller seated one inside a fake cavern, a 7 metre high standing Buddha and a 13 metre resting Buddha.

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Tourist Information:

Adults tickets are 25 USD, children from 5 to 12 are 50% discount and children under 5 are free. For more. The opening hours are from 7:30 am to 6:00 pm. For more information visit this website.

http://whc.unesco.org

 

Sri Lanka to Maldives Passage – 17/3/2015 – 23/3/2015

“Live your life by a compass not a clock.”

Stephen Covey

We left Trincomalee, Sri Lanka with Totem on the 17th of March headed for Uligama for a 5 day passage.  There was very little wind throughout the passage and most of the time we motor sailed. 

One interesting thing that happened on this passage was a water spout.  Never heard of one?  Well think tornado but over water.  Technically its a vortex column that occurs over water and is connected to clouds above it.  Water spouts are generally weaker than tornadoes and most do not suck up water, that being said we have heard stories of boats being overturned.  Apparently they usually occur in tropical and sub-tropical areas.  While it was very cool to watch it form and grow we did give it a very wide berth.

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Andrew also caught a large mahi mahi on route which will provide a few meals.  There were no waves and it was so calm we baked bread and cookies and no one felt sea sick.

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Comoros

 “Jobs fill your pocket, but adventures fill your soul.”

Jamie Lyn Beatty

The Comorian archipeligo which is located in the Indian Ocean and lies between the east coast of Africa and the west coast of Madagascar.  Three of the four islands are owned by Comoros while the fourth Mayotte, although claimed by Comoros is administered by France.  Comoros is sometimes called the ‘perfumed islands’ due to the plants including ylang-ylang, jasmine, frangipani and lemon grass grown there.  The official languages spoken are Comorian, French and Arabic.  Most Comorians are Sunni Muslims.  Comoros is one of the world’s poorest countries and there economy is based on fishing and subsistence agriculture.

We spent a few weeks on the island of Anjouan (Nzwani).  After arriving in Mutsamudu, Comoros we had immigration visit each of the boats and then the adults set off to finish the clearance process.  We wandered around town admiring the views over the harbour as we went.

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Andrew met the local football (soccer) team and posed for a photo with them.

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Around dusk on our return to the boat we could hear lots of women’s laughter and music.  As we came closer we could see a courtyard spilling over with brightly dressed women, who were eager for us to join them.  After some discussion it appears that there was a pre-wedding celebration, for women only.

Our men stayed in the periphery watching, while us women cruisers were greatly encouraged to join in the dancing.  Women paired up with us and wrapped brightly coloured sarongs around us as they tried to teach us how to dance by moving our hips.  I failed miserably at the dancing. 

It seemed to be mainly the adult women who joined the dancing, the younger girls hung around talking and watching.

Of course there was seating for when you needed a break from all the dancing.  We didn’t stay long but it looked like the party would be going for  a long time.

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We returned to the boat to discover that the some locals had tried to board the boat with all the kids, Jamie from Totem had been nearby and helped to chase them off.  I must admit we locked up our companion way when we went to bed and some of our hatches.

As is the case after a passage we all needed fresh fruit and vegetables and the kids needed to get off the boat.  So we set off.  We did discover an impromptu band session going on.  Although the members were probably all under the age of 10 and it was being held in a makeshift cubby house.  Not sure if the parents have noticed some missing sarongs yet.  It always amazes me how kids can improvise with things they find lying around to create their own musical instruments.  The kids after some encouragement did play for us.

DSCF6123 (800x654) Most people use sunscreen, shirt and a hat to protect themselves from the sun, but these construction workers found sheets of plywood to be more effective.

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We stopped at the lookout for an obligatory photo stop with the kids before haggling with the fruit and vegetable vendors for a fresh produce at the local market.

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Sigiriya and Dambulla Cave Temple – 19/2/2015

Sigiriya

History

Sigiriya is located on a rocky plateau that was formed from the magma of an extinct volcano.  Sigiriya served as a monastery during the 3rd century BCE before King Kasyapa constructed a royal residence during the latter half of the 5th century.  After the king’s death it served as a Buddhist monastery until it was abandoned during the 14th century.

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As you enter the site you walk through the remains of gardens which are some of the oldest in the world.  The gardens encompass canals, bridges and locks.  The fountains were believed to have been added during the 5th century.

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The entrance leading up Sigiriya

The remains of the city are on both the rock’s slopes and on the summit, which stands at 370 metres. On your way to the top you pass the western wall which is covered with frescoes that were created during King Kasyapa’s reign.  The frescoes are depicting nude females and are thought to be either the portraits of Kasyapa’s wives and concubines or priestess performing religious rituals.  Eighteen of these frescoes still exist today.  To reach the frescoes you do have to climb the steep spiral staircase, which freaked Tristan out a bit as he hates heights.

Above are some of the frescoes and the spiral stair case.  Below is a fresco and people making the long and crowded walk up.

Sigiriya is also referred to as the lions rock and you understand why when you reach the base of the rock. During King Vattagamini Abhaya reign a huge lion statue was created from brick and plaster, today all that remains of the statue that has weathered away over time is its feet.

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The lions claws

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The final part of the climb to the top.

After the final lot of steep stairs you reach the top, with a magnificent view over the surrounding area and the remains of the palace.

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We made it, all hot and sweaty!

Max and Ava reaching the top of Sigiriya Rock (569x800)

These two were particularly pleased with themselves

The view from the top

One of the most attractive sites in Sigiriya is the mirror wall. In the past, the king had it polished so thoroughly until he could see his reflection in it. The mirror wall is inscribed with poems and inscriptions that are written by the visitors to Sigiriya.  I personally could not see that it had been a mirror, but perhaps you will.

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The view from among the palace ruins

At the bottom of Sigiriya there are tourist shops and monkey, who kept us entertained.  After our experience of monkeys in Indonesia, Max and Ava weren’t too keen on getting close.

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Dambulla Cave Temple.

This temple was not on my list of places to visit, but our guide thought we should.  The complex is comprised of 5 caves situated under an overhanging rock, which contains 153 statues and paintings that document Buddha’s life.  The monastery itself dates from the 3rd and 2nd centuries BCE.

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Ticket booth and entrance to the Dambulla cave complex

To get to the Buddhist caves you have to climb a lot of stairs. The kids were not happy about more walking, especially after having walked up Sigiriya. There were monkeys on the way up, stealing flowers to eat from people taking them to the caves. 

The flower steeling monkeys.  Tired and grumpy kids and we haven’t even reached the caves yet.  Which is worse?

The cave temple was first constructed during King Vattagamini Abaya’s rein. There are actually some 80 caves in the complex but the first five contain the paintings and statues.  I have included the first four caves which were the most interesting.

Cave of the Divine King or Cave 1 is dominated by a fourteen metre statue of Buddha carved out of rock.  The Buddha has been repainted many times, most recently in the 20th century.

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Cave of the Great King (Maharaja Viharaya) or Cave II is possibly the most spectacular of all the caves, measuring 52 metres length wise and 23 meters wide.  The cave is named after the statues of the two kings it contains.

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The New Great Temple (Cave 3) was converted to its current form by King Kirti Sri Rajasinghe in the 18th century.  Its filled with Buddha statues but the one that is unmissable is the beautiful reclining Buddha. 

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Pachima Viharaya (Cave 4) is a fairly small cave with the central Buddha in a meditative pose.  There is a small dagoba which was broken into, you can see the cracks in it, by thieves who though Queen Somawathie’s jewellery was contained inside it. 

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Would I recommend Dambulla Caves?  I think that would depend on whether you have travelled much in South-east Asia.  If this is your first time, then yes I would visit.  As we have spent 2 1/2 years in the area, we have seen a lot of wats and temples and it didn’t hold a lot of interest for the kids, it was an ABW (another bloody wat)  I would skip it.  I also think that after having climbed Sigiriya, we were all hot and tired and to climb more stairs to see the caves was probably too much.

Tourist Information:

  • Sigirya – Go early as it is exposed to the sun and gets really hot.  For foreigners the entrance fee is $30 USD, this also includes the Sigiriya museum. For locals the entrance fee is Rs50. The site is open from 7:00 AM to 5:30 PM (the last entrance is at 5:00.) For more information see this website:

https://sigiriyatourism.com

  • Dambulla Caves – The costs for entering for adults are $10 U.S. and for children it is $5 U.S. The opening hours are from 7:00 am to 6:00 pm. For more information see this website

http://www.ourplaceworldheritage.com

Hlane Royal National Park – 3/12/2015 – 5/12/2015

“When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable.”

Clifton Fadiman

Hlane Royal National Park is the largest protected reserve in Swaziland and was inaugurated as a national park in 1967 by King Sohbuza II.  Prior to 1967, the 22 000 hectares was the private hunting grounds of the king, today it is held in trust for the nation.  The name Hlane comes from the siswati word for wilderness.

We drove from Richards Bay to Hlane Royal National Parks to spend three days in the reserve. Hlane is one of the few reserves where it is self drive and you don’t need a 4wd, however we hadn’t anticipated the rain that left the roads waterlogged and impassable by ordinary sedans.  So the trip became infinitely more expensive when we had to pay for game drives for everyone. 

We did three game drives during our stay and were fortunate to see lions and their cubs each time. Our first game drive was very exciting as the lions had made a kill and had very full, distended bellies having just had a big feed.  Our vehicle actually got quite close to the lions.  Our guide thought they may have killed a baby elephant.

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On our morning game drive we once again saw lions, having made another kill overnight which our guide thought was buffalo.  The cubs were quite happy to watch us from the shade of the trees, while the vultures hovered, circling and waiting in anticipation for their turn at the carcass, once the lions relinquished control. 

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Hlane is famous for its white rhinos, which we didn’t see any until our final morning game drive.  Our first sighting was while walking past the waterhole for our game drive where we saw a couple of rhinos leaving it.  At the end of our game drive we saw a group of ten or so white rhinos grazing.  The guide couldn’t tell us the numbers, as the conservation society keeps it quiet to try to protect them from poaching. The rhinos are kept in a separate enclosure with patrolled security to protect them from poaching. Our guide told us stories of the some of the lengths poachers will go to, to get the rhino horns.

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A further visual reminder of the danger that rhinos and other animals face from poaching,, can be seen at the restaurant at the National Park, where skulls of some of the animals that have died at Hlane from poaching are displayed.

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Accommodation

Hlane has a range of accommodation from camping to rondovols to cabins.  We booked our trip last minute and so we stayed in a cabin the first night and rondovols the second night.  The cabins are located around the lake and the rondovols behind them.  There is no electricity and the staff come around in the evenings to light the paraffin lanterns.  There were impala and nyla grazing around the accommodation and we think we heard the grunting of leopards in the night.

Something to keep in mind is that there are scorpions, when we returned from dinner on the first night Max spotted one in our cabin which had Ava freaked out for the rest of the night. 

Tourist Information:

The park is privately operated by Big Game Parks and further information can be found on their website: https://biggameparks.org/properties/hlane-royal-national-park-1

The game park is relatively small and like in South Africa due to the bush it is harder to spot the animals, having a guide definitely made a difference as they know where the latest kills were and where to locate the various animals.  Being a smaller park there are much fewer tourists which is good, in fact I think we only passed one other vehicle during our game drives.  We went to eastern Africa, Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda a long time ago, where I think the open plains and the sheer number of animals makes it hard for anywhere else to measure up.  But this game park was a good weekend break.

Hluhluwe – Imfolozi National Park – December 2015

“In the end, we only regret the chances we didn’t take.”

The Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park is the oldest game reserve in Africa and consists of 960 km² of hilly landscape in central KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa.  The park was officially established in 1895 primarily to protect the white rhinos, prior to this the area was the royal hunting grounds of the Zulu.  In fact the current park encompasses three original reserves that were incorporated and managed as one since 1989.

At the time of our visit the area of KwaZulu-Natal and much of South Africa have been suffering from drought that has devastated the area for years.  Everything was incredibly dry.  Trees snapped.  Whole trees uprooted.  Water was being shipped into parts of the park for the animal’s waterholes.

During our visit we did see giraffe, both types of rhinos as well as zebras, warthogs and various types of deer, but no big cats or elephants. This was our first game drive with our kids and it was a bit of a let down.  The South African scrub land is much harder to spot animals than the open plain  I’m not sure if it is a result of the drought, but there just wasn’t a huge quantity of animals that we had seen in East Africa.

Tourist Information for Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park

Gate Opening/Closing Times

  • January to May: 5 am – 6 pm
  • June to October: 6 am – 5 pm
  • November to December: 5 pm – 6 pm 

Entrance Fees for Self Drive through Game Park

  • South African Residents: Adults – R120/Children (aged 4 – 12) – R60
  • International Visitors: Adults – R240/Children (aged 4 to 12) – R120

**I.D. or Drivers Licence Required at Gate

Safaris

  • 1/2 day (3 hour safari) – R950 per person
  • Full Day Safari – R1100 per person

Further information on the Game Reserve can be found by clicking on the link or at the following website: https://hluhluwegamereserve.com/

Information on prices and entrance fees was updated in April 2019.

Cheetah Rehabilitation Center (Edmoneni Lodge, Cheetah Project and Spa) – December 2015

History of the Cheetah Project

The Emdoneni Cheetah project was established in 1994 after the property owner, Ida Nel received three cheetahs from Eshowe; Nandi, Jjabu and Tau, who have since died of old age. Not long after receiving the cheetahs, Ida received an injured Serval and established the project.  People would bring injured, orphaned or unwanted pet cat species to the property to be cared for. The project in conjunction with the KZN Parks Board Wildlife Services have helped to release Cheetah, Serval, Caracal and African Wildcat back into the wild at places like Cape Province, Charters Creek, Phinda Game Reserve, Mkuze Falls Game Reserve and in the Bushlands area.  The lodge keeps a breeding pair of cats as well as any cats that are unable to be released back into the wild.

Our Trip

We drove out to the rehabilitation center so the kids would have a unique opportunity to interact with and see up-close the different African cat species.  We arrived early enough to visit the coffee shops for ice-creams and for Max and Ava to burn off some energy in the kids playground before the tour began.

Our informative guide told us and the small tour group that joined us all about the center and specific stories about different animals.  We all had the opportunity to pet the cheetah brothers and watch the feeding of the Caracal and African Wildcats.

Part the way through the afternoon the tour group left and it was just us left with the serval.  Max loved throwing the ball to the Serval who would chase after it, not so good at bringing it back though.

Our kids loved this unique experience, one I think both you and old would enjoy.

Tourist Information on the Cheetah Rehabilitation Center:

You need to arrive at least 15 minutes before the tour to get your tickets from reception.

Tour Cost:

  • South African Visitor with ID: Adult R200 per adult/Child under 14 R100
  • International Visitors: Adult R260 per adult/ Child under 14 R130

Tour Times

  • Morning – daily at 10.30 am
  • Afternoon – includes feeding of smaller cats: Winter (May to August) – 4 pm/Summer 4.30 pm

If you wish to do a Private tour than you can contact the lodge at this email: info@emdonenilodge.com

For further information either click on the link and see the following website: http://www.emdonenilodge.com/cat-rehabilitation/visitors-info/

Tour information was updated in April 2019

St Lucia – December 2015

St Lucia in South Africa is home to one of the largest Estuaries in Africa, stretching 85 km south to north and 22 km at its widest point. The estuary itself is located within the iSimangaliso Wetland Park World Heritage Site, South Africa’s first world heritage site in 1999 and covers 332 000 hectares including 230 km of coastline. 

The St Lucia Estuary is home to over 800 hippos, an estimated 1 200 Nile crocodiles and an abundance of migratory birdlife, including flamingos. The St Lucia Estuary is undergoing restoration work to clear the silt, sand and vegetation which has stopped the Unfolozi River from flowing out to the Indian Ocean.  It is hopeful that when the area recovers from drought and receives good rain that the river will again flow into the ocean and raise estuary levels. 

We decided to use St Lucia as a base for our three day stay in the area as it is ideally located to visit game parks, do river cruises and visit the rehabilitation and has a large selection of restaurants and supermarkets if you want to cook meals yourself.

We began our visit by doing one of the hippo and croc cruises.  We chose not to pre-book and went to the Siyabonga Jetty where there are plenty of cruise boats and they leave fairly frequently.

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Ava patiently waiting for a cruise boat to leave

We spotted lots of hippos, crocodiles and flamingos on our cruise, but the thing the kids liked the best was getting to hold a hippo’s tooth. 

Probably the coolest thing about St Lucia is the opportunity to see hippos walking in the streets or grazing in a park in the early mornings or evenings.  Josh spotted a hippo casually grazing in a park, oblivious to the cars and people going past.  On our way back from a restaurant one night there was a hippo strolling along the pavement on the opposite side of the road and pedestrians and cars just quickly got out of its way. 

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