Monthly Archives: November 2013

Only A Matter Of Time

Fourteen months or 428 days of continuous and indefinite travel, has gradually grinded to a halt. Symbolically, Sachin Tendulkar recently called time on a glittering career, which proves that most amazing journeys eventually come to an end.

Ticking away the moments
That make up a dull
day
Fritter and waste the hours
In an off-hand way


Like The Wheels was originally intended to be a tool to update friends and family on our trip, instead of messaging everybody individually. Those who cared could check whenever they liked, and those who didn’t could go about living their normal lives. As time progressed, the blog has also become a site dedicated to sharing my views and opinions of the places I’ve visited, and a small vault of helpful information for anyone doing a similar trip. I always tried to keep my posts to the point, informative and with a little dry humour, supported by all original photographs unless otherwise stated. I have read travel blogs before which follow this type of structure-

“Today we were up at 8am, had an egg sandwich which cost 60 Baht. It’s 30 degrees today so best use some of that Piz Buin Factor 15 my mam sent out. We managed to fit in the highlights of Bangkok in most of the day, and now it’s time to treat ourselves to a pizza mmmmnnnn. Today we spent $15 on accommodation, $13 on food, $6 on sundries and transport and $10 dollars on one of those wooden croaking frogs from Kao San Road which I didn’t really want, but I’m the kind of person who feels like I don’t have a choice but to say yes to anyone trying to sell me cheap tat, oh well off to Pattaya tomorrow, I’ve heard it has some beautiful sights.” Etc etc…

Ironically enough I’m starting to drone on, getting to the point, I don’t find this type of travel blog particularly interesting and consider it more of a diary. I suggest that anyone who enjoys reading this type of stuff should go out and buy a Bill Bryson book, Bryson-esque, more like Yawn-esque. Anyway each to their own.

Kicking around on a piece of ground in your home town
Waiting for someone or something
To show you the way

In my ‘about’ section I mentioned that my reasons for travelling could not be explained at that moment. It’s taken me a long time and half the world to think of a few – I like to be able to wake up in the morning and not know what the day will bring, who you will meet, what you will see, what you will learn. I believe that every human being in this world has something to teach someone else, no matter who the person. There’s a cliché that travel broadens the mind, and it’s true, without going out and having the experiences then would I be able to read Cyrillic writing? Would I be able to SCUBA dive? Would I know the basics of divorce in Islam? Would I know how Ganesh got his head? Would I know the rules of cockfighting? Would I have learned to appreciate the things you have at home and realise what things you can live without? Would I have known how to survive on less than £3 a day living in an opium den with no electricity for an entire week? Would I have learned how to deal with loneliness? The answer, I doubt it…

Tired of lying in the sunshine
Staying home to watch the rain
You are young and life is long
And there is time to kill today

From Sheffield to Sri Jayawardenapura Kotte, countless hours spent on trains, busses, boats and budget flights. I’ve been to some of the most spectacular places on earth, but yet, there is still so much more out there. Something that has made this trip so special for me, has been the people. Without the people then it really is just an, erm, lonely planet. To all our couch surfing hosts, thanks again for your amazing hospitably. To all the people who crossed my path and smiled, to all the Bangladeshis who shook my hand, asked my country and made me feel like a celebrity. Even the tribal boy in Agartla who smashed me over the head with a motorbike helmet after we thwarted his plan to scam us, and the spineless manager of a hotel in Haflong who robbed some money from our room, you all made the experience what it was, good or bad. What I learned from you people will stay with me forever, and I hope you can say the same about me. But you know what the best part of this epic odyssey was? To do it all as a team, with my best friend, the compadre.

And then the one day you find
Ten years have got behind you
No one told you when to run
You missed the starting gun

Someone once asked me if I thought my friends and life at home were boring, my honest answer? No I don’t. I’ve realised the people of the northeast are the most friendly and funny people on earth, the craic is second to none and I’m proud of where I come from. But you can never see the world for how beautiful it really is without sometimes leaving behind the things you love, no matter how hard that may be and I never want to regret the things in life I didn’t do. This is not the end of Likethewheels, consider it a clock that has just ticked over midnight, entering into a brand new day. Or like the finale of your favourite programme, hanging on a cliff edge. I hope you’ve all enjoyed my take on this intriguing world so far, stay tuned for more ramblings. Like the wheels that keep travellers traveling on, like the wheels that will take me home…

Home
Home again
I like to be here
When I can
When I come home
Cold and tired
It's good to warm my bones
Beside the fire

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The People…

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Competition – from the two collages above, which photo is the odd one out? Scroll down for the answer…

















If your hawk eye picked out Syed and Christian, Eastenders’ own homosexual star-crossed lovers in the first collage, well done. Give yourself a Blue Peter badge!

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Notes From A Sacred Island

When Marco Polo first set foot on Sri Lanka in the 12th century, he described it as “the finest island of its size in the world” and was amazed, he wasn’t the only one. Gobsmacked by its stunning landscape and wildlife but won over by its many spices, it was then, during his first expedition, that he coined the term “Anello pungiglione” or “ring sting” in English. Shaped like a jewel, the pearl of the Indian Ocean was known as Ceylon until after independence in 1972 when it was reborn as Sri Lanka, a name derived from two ancient Sanskrit words whereby Lanka means ‘an island’ and Sri is the word for sacred, sacred island. There are many other things to know about Sri Lanka that Marco failed to mention in his worldwide book of toilet habits…

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The Lion Flag – the lion represents Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese ethnicity while the four bo leaves in each corner represent four mental states of Buddhism

There’s a couple of very simple misconceptions that some of my narrow minded countrymen should know about Sri Lanka, it’s not a ‘Paki’ country AND it’s not full of rag heads aka Muslims. Although just under 10% of Sri Lankans do in fact follow Islam, this is a predominantly Buddhist nation. Buddhism was introduced here in the 3rd century BC, a sapling of the Bodhi tree was brought over from India and the foundations for the ancient kingdoms of Polonnaruwa and Anuradhapura were laid. They never looked back and today Buddhists make up 75% of Sri Lanka’s population.

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Giant Buddha statue at Seenaghama

Sri Lanka has two main ethnic groups, Sinhalese and Tamils, but what are the differences? There’s the obvious ones – shades of brown. Tamils are black and Sinhalese are less black, typically. The Hindu Tamils wear chalk on their heads and have moustaches whereas the Sinhalese are Buddhists. Writer Shehan Karunatilika claims that stereotypically Sinhalese are lazy, gullible bullies and Tamils are shrewd, organised brown-nosers, but men from both races gobble rice and acquire large bellies at middle age.

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Moustached Tamil

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Lazy Sinhalese

Sri Lanka is multilingual, the two official languages being Sinhala and Tamil. Sinhala script looks like lots of circles and squiggles and has a character that reminds me of a knuckle duster. Tamil script is more like how a three year old would write the alphabet. To the ear, Sinhala sounds a lot like Geordie, whereas Tamil like normal English if you listen carefully enough, watch this video as proof, courtesy of Tamil singer Prabhu Deva.

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Geordie sign

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Top – Sinhala, Bottom – Tamil

Sri Lanka Matha is the national anthem of Sri Lanka, and sounds suspiciously like Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da, which might explain why the Beatle’s hit is always played on the public busses here, oh well, life goes on, bra.

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The Emblem of Sri Lanka featuring the Dharmacakra, symbolising the country’s foremost place for Buddhism

Sri Lanka’s president is Mahinda Rajapaksa. He was compared to an ancient Sinhala king after he managed to wipeout the Tamil Tigers in 2009, and has his supporters. But like most other Asian leaders, tales of murder and corruption are rife. A commonwealth summit is taking place right now in Sri Lanka where David Cameron is questioning the government’s human rights record, largely due to the fact that 40,000 civilians we’re killed in the run up to the end of the civil war. Rajapaksa has a ruthless streak and a capacity to overlook the use of violence for political gain. Media freedom has been restricted during his reign and journalists who have spoken out against the regime have ‘disappeared’. Sri Lanka is arguably a family dynasty with all of Rajapaksa’s siblings and other relitives now holding a place in parliament, it’s said that the family alone control 85% of the country’s wealth. His excellency’s home district, Hambantota, now has a large cricket stadium and an airport named after him, is Mahinda Rajapaksa sliding towards dictatorship? Watch this space.

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MR had himself printed on the new 1000 Rupee note

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Lion – the lager of Sri Lanka and culprit of a few nasty hangovers

Sri Lankan food is amazing. Very different to Indian cuisine it uses a very rich blend of spices unique to the island. A favourite of mine is kottu, a roti stuffed with vegetables and spices, rolled up and diced into pieces, served with a spicy curry sauce. Business idea – set up a Sri Lankan kottu stall in Newcastle’s Bigg market, complete with a menu containing as many spelling mistakes as possible only to add to the authenticity…

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Curry and rice for two

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20131118-132018.jpgKottu

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Carlike!?

There are plenty of other things I bet you didn’t know about Sri Lanka. What’s the capital? What’s the national sport? If you think both of these answers begin with a C, you’re wrong. The official national sport is volleyball and the the capital is not that 80’s crime solving detective, Colombo, it’s Sri Jayawardenapura Kotte. You learn something new everyday and what I’ve learned is Marco Polo was right, it really is the finest island of its size in many ways, cheers Marco!

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Cricket isn’t the official national sport but played by almost everyone, everywhere

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Although like the UK, fishing is the most popular sport

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Jingle All The Way

I’ve visited a lot of places in Sri Lanka and during my passages through the ancient cities, tea plantations and its beaches I’ve learned a lot about the country. After all the time I’ve spent navigating the isle from the back seat of an Ashok Leyland, there is one thing about Sri Lanka that has still remained a mystery to me. It’s not Sigiriya, nor the giant footprint at the summit of Adam’s peak, it’s the notorious Sri Lankan head wobble…

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A head wobble is most commonly associated with Indians and other South Asians, but in my opinion, it’s the Ceylonese that top the jingly league. What exactly is it? Is it a yes? Is it a no? Or is it neither? This can cause much bewilderment when you first arrive in Sri Lanka, here is a typical scenario…

Do you have Airtel recharge?

*head wobble*

Is that a yes?

*head wobble*

500 rupees worth please

*head wobble*

Thank you

*head wobble*

So in this case it seems the wobble can mean yes, ok and you’re welcome. But there’s more to it than just that. I eventually learned that a casual wiggle from side to side can be a way to acknowledge someone you know when passing on the street, a little more predominant one can be a gesture of kindness, for example, if someone lets you sit beside them on a train…

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Fancy a game of backgammon? *head wobble*

The more time I spend here, the more I seem to pick up on the jingly language. The wobble can basically be used as an affirmative, if I were talking at somebody their head would consistently move from side to side at a fair pace to confirm they are listening, in a similar way that us in the West would nod. A more rapid and vigorous head wobble begins when someone is receiving instructions as a way to say the person understands fully. So, the more dramatic the head wobbling, the more understanding there is. One time my tuk-tuk driver stopped to ask directions from a police officer, and I swear I thought the guy’s head was going to fall off.

The rhythm and movement of the wobbling can vary from person to person, some may have a smooth motion like a charmed cobra, whereas others could be more of an up left/up right bounce as if watching a fast paced game of tennis consisting solely of lobs.

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A wobble fisherman sticks his head underwater to attract fish

I observed that the dark skinned Tamils seemed to be noticeably more enthusiastic jinglys than the Sinhala folk. They rave their heads about whilst addressing you as if to say “You get me? If so, why aren’t you wobbling back!” Tamils are one of the oldest ethnic groups in the entire world, when they were devolved from a higher state of pure consciousness as Hindus believe, were the screws in their necks slightly loose? Or is this just a characteristic that spans back hundreds of generations, when actions spoke louder than words.

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Record breaking test wicket taker Muttiah Muralitharan is a Tamil. The secret behind his controversial delivery is that he actually uses his head wobbling in unison with his shoulder to amazingly generate extra revs on the ball

The wobble is highly contagious and soon enough I found myself wiggling along without even realising. So, after all this time have I finally deciphered this phenomenon? *head wobble*

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Dutch Courage On Derby Day

There comes a point in ones travelling life, when the actual travelling becomes tiresome. Packing your things, getting on X mode of transport for Y amount of hours, moaning about it and doing it all over again a week later to get to destination Z. I thought it was time to experiment with a different type of ‘travelling’, well this isn’t so much travelling, just living. That’s what has brought me back to Sri Lanka, so I can live here like a local, with the locals for Y amount of time and moan about it. Why Sri Lanka? It’s cheap, the food is great, it’s easy to get around, easy to get a visa unlike most of its Asian rivals, the beaches are beautiful and the Sinhala language is very simalar to Geordie. So back in the place I love with the one I love, and by that I mean an endless supply of Lion lager!

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The back garden

Just up the road from our modest beach house, well our acceptable four concrete walls with running water, is the town of Galle and the nearby Galle fort. Galle fort was built by the Portuguese in 1588 but was taken over by the Dutch from 1649. Galle itself is nothing more than a typical busy Sri Lankan town, but beyond the fort walls the clean and elegant streets look just like a hidden quarter of Amsterdam, minus the fishnet clad hookers and banana shows of course.

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Artist’s impression of the fort

Within the ramparts you can find a Dutch church, Dutch library, Dutch street names, Dutch hand grenade and plenty of colonial style hotels where you can prepare your own Dutch oven…

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Dutch reformed church

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Anthonis clock tower

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The British took over the fort in 1796, but all they left was this lousy postbox

Considered one of the finest examples of a European fort in Asia, the defensive walls were strong enough to withstand the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami when the surrounding settlements were totally submerged.

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Utrecht Bastian

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Meera mosque

Galle cricket stadium is situated with the fort to the South and the Indian ocean fringing both pavilion ends, making it one of the most picturesque grounds in the world. This is the pitch where Murali took his record breaking 800th wicket, straight arm or bent? Every yorker, googley and chinaman can be seen for free from the fort walls.

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The Galle fort ‘cliff jampaz’ as they are known, are a group of young daredevils who dive head first from the fort walls into waist deep water, obviously you have to pay them to do it. Click here to see a dive from Flag Rock bastion. Speaking of bizarre jobs, there is a guy who walks the entire length of our beach with a monkey and a python and charges unsuspecting Russian holiday makers a small fortune to pose for photos with them. I followed this guy for one hour and worked out he made about £10 per hour doing this, based on a 40 hour working week I calculated this amounts to almost £20,000 a year tax free – all for just walking up and down the beach with his pets.

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Dutch forts, stupid jobs and bastions to one side, the good thing about being a temporary expat is that you can drink in the British pub and watch live football, something that has been severely lacking in my backpacking life. It’s just a shame that Newcastle never fail to disappoint me wherever I manage to watch them after losing our second Tyne/Wear derby in a row…Ashley out!

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You’ll never find a Mackem in Sri Lanka!

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