Friday, July 28, 2017
Summer vacation time! This year, we picked Sri Lanka. Everyone says, “Why Sri Lanka?” Well, why not?! This is our third year to use Asia Transpacific, and we trust our planner. Last year with Australia, we knocked off all the continents (except Antarctica; only Greg has seen that and he can just hold it over our heads because I am not going to vacation on a slab of ice). So without any particular need to check anything off a list, we asked our travel planner to give us her favorite and most exotic destination, and she said without hesitation, “Sri Lanka!” There are UNESCO World Heritage sites, ruins, temples, festivals, wild animal safaris, and beaches. We said, “Sign us up!”
We worked hard the past couple of weekends to get packed so we could avoid all the last minute drama, and it mostly worked. We found a good place for our new puppy Jackie. She has gone to stay with a nice lady who dog-sits in her home. There are two or three other dogs with her, and she was in dog heaven and didn’t even give a backwards look at Greg and Genene when they dropped her off. Dogs need vacations too! The cats Skitter Scatter and Madeline will stay at home, and someone will check on them. I am sure that Madeline will leave us some hairballs as souvenirs. She likes to do that while we are away.
My mom is recovering well from her fall. She broke her pelvis, and there is nothing they can do for that except wait for it to heal. She has been really tough and is doing her physical therapy like a champ. I’m proud of her. Greg’s mom is tooling along perfectly too. She even made us some cookies to take on the trip, but we ate them all before we left. Knowing that they are both doing well makes going away much more relaxing.
Action Limo came VERY EARLY this morning, arriving at our doorstep at 4:30 AM. I pushed the start button on my watch chronograph so that we will be able to tell how much time has elapsed “doorway to doorway.” We were at the airport by 5:30, and our American Airlines flight to LA was uneventful. I sprang for the extra legroom seats and was glad of it because it meant we got to board earlier and had a place for all my camera gear. Folks in the back of the plane had to check their backpacks, and I do NOT want to check my camera gear. I’m lugging two camera bodies, three lenses (including the enormous 500 mm), a flash, small waterproof camera, and enough memory chips to choke a horse. I am ready to capture whatever we see!
Leg 1: Houston to LA.
We arrived at LAX after about 3 1/2 hours in the air. LAX is a disaster, but that is nothing new. We had to ride a bus to one terminal and then walk to the Tom Bradley International Terminal. I am amazed to see the buses at LAX driving around next to the planes. It certainly seems dangerous to me, but I never hear about plane/bus collisions on the news, so they must have the details worked out.
It was about 9:30 AM according to California, but our bodies were still on Texas time, where it was nearly noon. We were hungry. We wandered around the food court area for a while before settling on some sushi. Our waitress raised her eyebrows slightly when I ordered a 9 oz. pour of the wine, but I figured it was noon somewhere. Lunch was good, and we felt ready to tackle the next chore: getting our tickets for the remaining legs of our flight.
Because we flew American Airlines to California but would use Cathay Pacific on the remainder of the journey, our American Airlines representative in Houston told us that she couldn’t print our boarding passes there and we would have to do that in LA. She was able to check our bags all the way through, so at least we didn’t have to track them down at baggage claim. We did, however, have to go out of the security area in LA and into the ticketing area, which meant standing in more lines and then being subjected to the indignities of a second security check. Luckily our layover in LA was four hours so we got through these redundancies and ended up exactly where we had been: in the Tom Bradley International Terminal. At least that part of LAX is a little more bearable than the domestic terminals, which are an absolute zoo.
The next leg of our flight took us from LA to Hong Kong. It was our first time to fly with Cathay Pacific. Our original itinerary had called for us to fly east. Since Sri Lanka is literally halfway around the world from Houston, we had a couple of options. When we planned the trip months ago, we had tickets on Qatar Airways and were going to fly straight from Houston to Doha, Qatar and then from Doha to Sri Lanka. The first nail in the coffin of that itinerary was the announcement that all electronic devices would be banned from the cabin on the flight coming back from Doha. I really did not like that idea because I carry a lot of camera gear that I do not want out of my sight. We thought we had some work-arounds figured out on that subject, and then about three or four weeks before we were supposed to leave, we were notified that our onward flight from Doha to Colombo had been rescheduled, which had the cascading effect of ruining our first day’s activities. That was enough of a sign to us. We pulled the plug on Qatar and chose to fly around the world via Cathay.
Leg 2: LA to Hong Kong
Saturday, July 29, 2017
We lost a day somewhere in the air. Cathay was a good ride, but I would not describe it as extraordinary. I am too cheap to spring for first class, so we always ride coach. It was comfortable enough, but my memory is that Korean Airlines, which we used two years ago to get to Bangkok, was a better value for the money. In any event, we spent over 14 hours on the flight from LA to Hong Kong, so we had plenty of time to watch movies, read and sleep. The only mishap came fairly early in the flight. I have trouble with leg swelling on the long flights, so I use a pair of compression socks. They keep my legs nice and tight, but they have the odd effect of muting some of the feeling in my legs. I was all stretched out and suddenly my right foot felt very odd. At first I thought it was burning and I was mystified and a little alarmed. In a moment, it became clear that my foot was WET. The person in front of me spilled an entire glass of orange juice down the seat, where it pooled at my feet. Yuck. The flight staff were very helpful and brought wet towels to clean up. I counted myself lucky that this was the worst thing to happen during 14 hours in the air.
We arrived in Hong Kong bone tired. Our layover in Hong Kong was a little over an hour, just long enough for me to grumble about the poor air conditioning in the gate area. My legs were puffy so I had no shame about laying in the floor by the gate with my legs up in the chair. That seemed to help, and I’m sure that it looked charming. I am not sure whether the compression socks are worth their trouble.
The final leg from Hong Kong to Colombo was about five hours. I was so exhausted that I passed out as soon as we got seated and slept through the take off. I woke up pretty disoriented, which gave Genene a laugh. Teenagers love to mock their parents. Greg and Genene both watched “A Dog’s Purpose,” and I got a kick out of watching them both tune up and cry.
Leg 3: Hong to Colombo, Sri Lanka
We arrived in Colombo at 11:30 PM their time. Asia Transpacific had us on a fast-track entry, and we saw a man carrying a placard with our names before we even got into the main terminal. He gathered us up and signaled. A beautiful lady wearing a long green sari appeared from nowhere and told us to follow her. She walked fast! Greg asked to go to the restroom but she didn’t hear or pretended not to. She marched through the airport like a boss, led us to a table, told us to grab our pens and write quickly. We only had one pen and I wasn’t writing fast enough with it so she took it from me and put me to work reading off our passport numbers. I started spelling Genene’s name and she said, “Shorter!” So Genene became G.K. Gordon, and Greg became G and she hustled us to the line, where only one person was ahead of us. We had completed electronic visas online before we arrived, so it was a quick job for the immigration representative to scan our passports, stamp them, and welcome us to Sri Lanka.
Miss Green Sari was waiting for us on the other side and escorted us to the baggage claim area and into the Silk Road Lounge. I have never gotten through any immigration process more quickly. Our guide Prasad was waiting in the lounge with rose bouquets for Genene and me and a garland for Greg. It was purple and just happened to perfectly match his shirt.
I think we look pretty good, considering we’d been “on the road” for well over 24 hours by this time.
While the Silk Road folks located our luggage, we sat in the lounge and had a tray of sandwiches, samosas and a wonderfully spiced chicken. Prasad worked to get our Sri Lankan iPhones going. We tried to save money this year by buying the minimal AT&T international plan and using Sri Lankan SIM cards in our old iPhones for our data roaming. Alas, AT&T must have left some residual bug in our old iPhones, which had been sitting in a drawer gathering dust. Prasad could not get the SIM cards to work with them so for now we will have to keep using our “real” iPhones. Ah well, one less phone for each of us to keep up with. We put the “burner” phones away in the bag.
Prasad took a selfie of the four of us.
We gratefully headed for the exit and met Dinesh, who will be our driver for the next two weeks. He was waiting for us just outside the exit doors, and he and Prasad made quick work of loading our bags. It took about 20 minutes to drive to the hotel, and we were completely braindead. It was sometime after midnight, Colombo time, and I was amazed to see how many people were still out walking along the street. Prasad taught us the traditional Sri Lanka greeting ආයුඛෝවන් “āyubūvan” (thanks, Google, for the weird letters; reminds me of Wingdings!), which means “may you live long.” (And that, of course, reminds me of Mr. Spock!). The greeting is made while clasping your hands in front of your face and slightly bowing, which is a lot like the Thai and Cambodian greetings we learned two years ago.
Our overnight accommodations were in the Colombo neighborhood of Negombo, at the Wallawwa. The hotel has only 18 rooms and has been converted from a residence. It was formerly the home of the commander of the Royal Air Force during British rule of Sri Lanka, then known as Ceylon. When we arrived, we were greeted with cold towels and a small glass of fruit juice. Check-in was mercifully brief, and Prasad bade us good night. I was very happy that he changed our plans. We were originally scheduled to head back to the airport at 8:30 AM, the next morning, but Prasad found us an afternoon flight instead and told us to sleep in. We were so grateful!
When we got to our room, I turned off my chronograph on my watch: from the time we left our front porch to the time we got to our hotel room, 33 hours and 52 minutes had elapsed. Can you blame us for being beat?