it’s just a bike, redux

This is hard to write — not because I’m sad, but because I’m scared.

When I read about bicycle touring in Sri Lanka before coming here, it was stuff like friendly people, quiet roads, good scenery. I did read warnings about dogs, and the dogs definitely suck here, but it’s probably not worse than Turkey or Greece or Romania. If elephants were mentioned at all, it was usually something like, “oh, and you get to see elephants too!” They’re often referred to as “gentle giants”. I was actually hoping to see some.

For example this website promotes mountain bike trips on the — I am not kidding you — “Elephant Attack Trail” near Trincomalee, “a jungle trail that takes you through the dry forests frequented by the gentle giants of the country”.

In Africa I bicycled near elephants 5-10 times in Tanzania, Zambia, Botswana, and Namibia. In Botswana, in an area with lots of elephants, we pitched our tent as far from an elephant track as we could, and then one walked by while I was making dinner. At a campground in Zimbabwe, elephants crossed the electric fences every afternoon to eat the fruit trees. The guards tried to chase them off by waving, clapping, and yelling. Not once did an elephant ever take a single step towards me. Gentle giants indeed.

With this background I had no idea I was walking (or literally cycling) into a major human-elephant conflict in Sri Lanka. In the first half of 2021 in Sri Lanka an elephant killed a person on average every three days.

I wish I had known this before. I saw the elephant from far enough away that I could have turned around. When I got too close (I guess), the elephant turned toward me and immediately started quickly walking directly at me. It was unprovoked (by me) aggression that I never saw in Africa. I have learned since that it’s not unusual in India as well.

The incident happened very fast. I guess I just dropped my bike. The elephant came toward me two or three times in total. It stomped on my bicycle, tore off the bags, threw them around. My beefy Tubus rear rack was split into two pieces like it was made of toothpicks not steel.

The elephant came direcly at me.  It proceeded to destory my bicycle.  It was deliberately aggressive, not surprised. by bryandkeith on flickr

I was on a two lane paved highway. People came from both sides quickly but were too scared to come close until the elephant calmed down. An empty pickup arrived. My stuff was thrown in. I got in back, and we sped off. 4km later we were at the Bakamuna Police Station.

I am physically fine. It’s been ten days since the attack, and it still makes me tremble and feel nauseous when I think about it.

The police were helpful. I was in shock. They took me around town, and I bought a new bicycle. Mine was almost completely destroyed — frame bent in multiple places, all four brakes and brake levers broken, the rear derailleur was flattened. I salvaged a surprisingly small bag of parts.

I actually rode the next day to Polonnaruwa, and I put off a rest day for ten days, until today (Christmas Day), because I figured I just needed to keep going. I’m lucky to be alive. Scared too.

When my bicycle was stolen nine years ago, I wrote a nice tribute to that bicycle and the places it had taken me. The similarities in these two events ends with a lost bicycle. I’ll replace the bike — that’s the easy part. Now I’m working on recovering mentally, learning something (I hope), and being thankful to be alive and uninjured. In that vein here are a bunch of photos that hopefully show what’s good about Sri Lanka.

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Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle con’t: Ritigala, Mihintale, Anuradhapura

Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle includes the three main historic capitals — Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, and Kandy — plus a bunch of cave temples with paintings, ruins of old cities and monasteries, and as I’ve mentioned before good scenery and great food.

The points of the triangle are Kandy in the south, Anuradhapura in the north, and Polonnaruwa in the east. Within the triangle I wrote about Dambulla and Sigiriya in the last post. This time I have photos from three more sites — Ritigala, Mihintale, and Anuradhapura (like it says in the title :)).

As tempting as it is, I think I’ll manage to start this entry without talking about the food. Be warned, though, that you’re going to see way too many photos of stupas (aka dagoba). It’s my understanding that each of these stupa contains sacred remains of Buddha — ashes, hair, fingernails, whatever.

Here’s one I stumbled upon one morning on a small hill next to the road.

IMG_20211208_064402 by bryandkeith on flickr
Sri Magallena Rajamaha Viharaya
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UNESCO check list: Kandy, Dambulla, Sigiriya

In my first blog about Sri Lanka, I tried vaguely to compare the food to that of India, specifically Kerala. Wrong! But that’s what first impressions are for. Two weeks in Sri Lanka and I think I’ve had a bigger variety of dishes than during four months of traveling in India.

Red lentil dhal is almost ever present. I’ve also tried potato curry, green bean curry, batu moju (eggplant curry), polos (young jackfruit) curry, ash plantain curry, mango curry, luffa curry, murunga curry, pumpkin curry, fish curry, and chicken curry. With chicken I’ve also tried deviled chicken and what Turks would call kızartma chicken (if such a thing actually existed). The very common garnish that I called “coconut thing” in my first blog is pol sambal. Tending into salads rather than curries I’ve tasted cabbage, carrot, gotukola mellum, and winged bean.

murunga (moringa oleifera) curry, grean bean curry, mellum?, dhal by bryandkeith on flickr
clockwise from top left: murunga curry, green bean curry, dhal, gotukola mellum
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Sri Lanka one week in

Sri Lanka! Yep, another new country! I’ve been here less than 10 days now so I’ll try to give some of my first impressions. These photos are from the first week.

I had been considering this trip to Sri Lanka for a few months, but with covid I only bought my ticket less than a week before I left. Also because of covid, I still haven’t bought my return ticket. It seems very difficult to plan anything with constantly changing travel restrictions.

I thought I had all my ducks in order for traveling. I flew Antalya to İstanbul with Turkish Airlines but had to check-in again in İstanbul because I had two separate itineraries. The check-in with flydubai took about an hour because of my bicycle. It was rather confusing. As for covid, well, that was skimmed over. Yes, I have a vaccination certificate, I mentioned at some point.

The health authorities at the Colombo airport were quite surprised when I arrived without a PCR test result. flydubai apparently paid a fine for letting me on the flight without it. These constantly changing restrictions, different for every country, must be a huge nightmare for the airport staff.

A nurse came to the airport, and I got my first ever PCR test (for 8590 lkr). I couldn’t leave until the results arrived about three hours later. I managed to find it more amusing than annoying, and I ate a good dinner at the airport. So it was about 26 hours from home in Antalya to my hotel in Negombo. Off to a good start.

the garden of my hotel in Negombo by bryandkeith on flickr
BIVORA Villa garden, Negombo

Ideally my route would head north from the airport, then loop around and visit Colombo (or not) at the end of the trip. However, Colombo is the only place in the country to extend the 30 day visa I had (I applied online a couple days before buying my plane ticket). So the next day I headed by bicycle south all day to get to Colombo.

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15th Gökova Bicycle Tour (GBT)

This was a fun five-day organized bicycle tour. The most similar tours I’ve done (in terms of organization) would have to be Ride the Rockies and Bicycle Tour of Colorado. A truck carried our gear each day (the white one here),

IMG_20211027_174150 by bryandkeith on flickr

we knew where we’d be camping each night,

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