A Travellerspoint blog

Home for a week now

Like a dream

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Well here I am sitting at my kitchen table again - exactly the same place I sat back in August when I created my blog and wrote my first blog post. Now, it almost seems like the whole trip was just a dream or a movie that we just shared together.

And I'm not sure how I feel about being back to reality... I LOVE seeing everyone again and we were all incredibly happy to see the dogs! I like the fact that the girls are happy to be preparing to return to school, see their friends again and adjust to a life of normality again but I am NOT enjoying getting out of bed in the mornings and stepping onto the FREEZING cold, ice-like floors in my bathroom, or the fact that my life has very quickly reverted back to one filled with appointments and things-to-do lists. I think when we were away, our focus was on exploring and enjoying the moment but when at home we tend to focus more on ambition and working towards the future. It's not an easy adjustment and I'm not convinced it's for the best. I think the best answer would be if we could somehow combine the two.

But now that it's all over, there are two common questions we are being asked... 'how was it?' and 'which country did we like best?' So I'm going to try to answer those two questions here - not that I believe anyone will actually read this now that most people are probably already aware we are home again.

How was it?
In a few words... wonderful, exhausting, stressful, and educational! But I'm not sure how much to say when answering this face-to-face because I have no idea how long you want to listen - I could probably talk for days about it. Our experiences are too many to just iterate in a quick response. We have so many little stories that I'm sure will come out if we sit around chatting or if we have a few minutes to share some photos with you but to just blurt out a short response to 'how was it?' is nearly impossible. So if anyone is REALLY interested in hearing a few stories we'd be happy to talk; but be warned... if you ask, you may have to listen for a while :)

Which country did we like best?
My answer to this is always the same... Each place had it's own strengths and weaknesses and I like them all but for various reasons; so to avoid sounding like a Lonely Planet commercial for each of the countries we visited, I will try to give a quick, honest summary of what was most obvious to us.

Croatia - the food was a little boring, and so many people smoke it was sometimes hard to get away from; but it was also safe, the cleanest and one of the most beautiful countries;

Greece - the beaches of Crete were the best and the food was delicious (with safe-to-eat salads and a complimentary dessert and shot of ouzo at the end) but the restaurants and menus were lacking variety;

Turkey - we didn't have enough time to venture outside of Istanbul much but I loved the vibrant culture from shopping in the bazaars to the daily prayer calls heard across the city from the many large mosques;

Sri Lanka - once we got over the culture shock and were able to look past the poverty and hungry dogs, it was all about the wild, natural beauty mixed with polite, friendly people;

India - lots of pollution (both noise and garbage), crowds, insane traffic but there was something about the people... it's hard to explain but they mostly seemed to be so gentle, kind and curious;

Australia - crazy expensive, beautiful shore, clean, safe with lots of fit, outdoorsy people.

A lot of what we noticed had to do with meals. Many places appeared to lack variety or creativity but we likely only noticed it because we come from a city where we can find just about any type of cuisine quite easily. I think we have become spoiled living in such a multicultural city and I now have a greater understanding of and appreciation for life in a cultural melting pot.

Posted by Kelly K 07:17 Archived in Canada Comments (1)

Now that the trip is coming to an end...

its time to look back at all of the funny/memorable times we had.

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This trip has had some bad times and lots of good. The bad times include when some of us were sick (except for mom and molly), and we either barfed for a couple hours straight or (in dads case) moan and groan and lie in bed and only get up when we have to use the toilet. But I’m going to talk about all of our funny/ memorable times from each country (except Turkey).

Okay, starting in Zagreb, Croatia. Well it was all peaceful and we were all lying there awake (from jetlag). Then all of a sudden dad comes blasting out of the washroom and says “I’m going out for a Croatian pastry, who’s coming?” It’s about 5am by the way. So we just get up and head out at 5am for a pastry because dad couldn't sleep.

My next funny/ memorable moment is in Bari, Italy. So, I was in the washroom at some pizzeria and some man came to use the washroom (it was a one stall thing.) I guess he was looking for the light switch since the sink and toilet were in different rooms, and he turned off the light switch in the washroom I was in and I screamed “HEY!” by surprise since it all of a sudden went pitch black… and because I am scared of the dark, and the man outside was like “sorry, sorry!”. Ya it was pretty awkward.

Next one on our list is from Kissamos, Greece. This is of dad’s blondest moments. Well, we were driving down to a beach in our rental car and mom wasn’t really looking much at the map since she was stressing about driving. So getting to the beach was all in dad’s hands since he had the map. Mom was frantically driving, and then dad isn’t looking at the map he’s just watching the road. And then all of a sudden dad says (not even panicky) “we were supposed to turn back there.” He said it so matter-of-factly. But no he couldn’t have told us at the time we were supposed to turn, he has to tell us a few streets later… Also on the same drive we kept passing signs that said “name of city” then once you’re out of the city it will say the name of the city with a red line crossed through it. Well dad was asleep (like usual) while we were passing all of these signs and we had figured out what they meant. But dad woke up and say one of the signs with the cross though it and said “I’ve seen a lot of those, they mean no littering.” We all cracked up laughing.

Our next funny moment is in Negumbo, Sri Lanka. So, we had to take these malaria pills that aren’t chewable (I cannot swallow pills) and I was freaking out. So as I’m freaking out with a glass of water in front of me and my pill in my hand, the pill slips out of my hand and lands in my water. The water instantly turned neon yellow and I freak out even more because mom is giving me a death stare. So I tried drinking the pill flavored water and it was DISGUSTING.

Next is in Chinnar, India. All 4 of us squished into 2 single beds. Enough said.

Finally our last funny moment is from Sydney, Australia. We had been walking for a while and us girls had to pee. So we stopped at a McDonalds bathroom. To our surprise there was only one bathroom, for girls and guys to share. So we went walking in and went straight through both doors. Then molly turned and saw a man (about 20 years old) standing in front of a toilet. It didn’t really click for her that she had just walked into the washroom the man was peeing in. When it did we all went sprinting out of the washroom and stood there all crying from laughter.

So, those are the funny/ memorable moments from this trip. I hope you enjoyed them and had a good laugh :P

Posted by Kasey G. 20:08 Archived in Australia Comments (4)

All good things come to an end

bye bye warm weather

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These past four months have been a life-changing experience. Even that is an understatement. I just can’t put into words how amazing this trip has been. From the old, historic castles of Croatia dotting the rocky coastline to the crystal clear waters of the Greek islands to the vibrant colours and various smells in the Turkish spice market to the forever giving, generous Sri Lankans to the beautiful, magical, tea estates covering the Indian mountains to the happy vendors of Thailand’s world-famous floating market to the carefree Australians surfing the stunning Australian coastline. It is just too difficult to put into words how amazing these past four months have been. Each country is so different from the last yet the people, deep down, are all the same, striving for the same things in life.

The main message that I have taken away from this trip is “don’t judge a book by its cover.” Yes, I had heard that quote before I left but now it has a whole new meaning. I have truly realized that each and every person you see wherever you go has a story. I knew that before these four months, but after learning so many other people’s stories along this journey, I am much more aware of it. So many people judge others way too fast. By doing so, you limit your knowledge of the world as I have learned so much from different people throughout this trip. Everyone has something to give and if you’re willing to take it, you can gain a lot. Various different people that I have met along the way have made such a huge impact on my life and they will never know it. I now look at each and every person differently, appreciating the fact that they have their own story that I can learn something from. I have learned so many more lessons on this trip as well, I could go on for ages about it. All of those will stick with me for the rest of my life.

Knowing this amazing, once-in-a-lifetime trip is coming to an end is bitter-sweet. I will miss the unknown the next day brings and looking forward to the next town we get to explore as well as meeting the locals and other travelers. I would most definitely go back to every country we visited on this trip and I have added many more. This experience has made me even more curious in travelling the world and exploring new places. I do miss home though. I miss my dogs, my family back home, by soccer team and most of all my own space. I feel like I’ve been within 3 feet from Kasey and my parents for the past four months. It’s driving me crazy. I am so thankful for the opportunity to have done this trip and though they do get on my nerves sometimes, I couldn't have asked for better people to share this amazing experience with.

Posted by Madison G. 17:33 Archived in Australia Comments (3)

Almost over

The fat lady is warming up

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So here we are in Sydney and although we still have a couple of weeks left (with a few days in Honolulu) we’re feeling like the journey is winding down but I’m going to continue to enjoy it right to the very end. It’s not over until the fat lady sings and we are back in Mississauga sleeping in our own beds again. Now that I've mentioned singing fat ladies – that reminds me that just yesterday I had another 'pinch me' moment… while we were having a drink along the water's edge outside the Opera House at Sydney Harbour I looked around and felt very fortunate to be having this amazing experience.

Travelling can be a bit like an addiction… before we began this trip, I honestly thought that I’d be returning home with a shorter bucket list of must-see places but now I feel like I've just added to the list. We've been gone four months and that is nowhere near enough time to see the world! Four months is hardly enough time to really see India. Having just barely touched on many places and talked with people about other places, I have been adding to my list of places to visit or places to return to. So although I am already making a wish list for future travels, I’m sure it will be a very long time before we get around to doing something like this again!

Now we are counting the days before we are home again with all our family (including dogs) and friends and believe it or not, we are looking forward to getting back to school and a bit of a routine (I really hope the feeling lasts!). While we are mentally preparing for the return home and the idea of being back to a structured routine, we are reflecting on this amazing opportunity we have had and I’m having a hard time putting into words all the realizations we have made along the way. The biggest realization I have had is that the world is such a diverse place with so many things for us to see and experience. We can read and learn about faraway places but it’s really hard to understand unless you see for yourself.

So I guess for me, the theme of this whole experience is… GRATITUDE! But to summarize everything with a word or even in a paragraph seems impossible. Words can’t describe the emotions we've experienced or the learning we've accomplished. We have learned so much about ourselves, each other, other people, cultures and geography! So it hardly seems enough to just say I'm very grateful we have had the chance to travel to so many interesting places and to have met some amazing and generous people, but this journey also helps us to appreciate how lucky we are to be able to return home to Canada and to our wonderful family and friends there.

Posted by Kelly K 06:22 Archived in Australia Comments (2)

A change of plans

Off to the land down under

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It may appear that Molly has been keeping us very busy considering the last real blog entry was made when we were waiting for her to arrive. Truthfully, we have been covering a lot of ground since her arrival and we were also preoccupied with rearranging our plans. Since both girls were sick in India we wimped out and decided to reroute ourselves to Australia. I understand many people become sick when they travel (particularly in India) and I thought I was prepared for it but after watching both of them spend the day hanging over the toilet, I decided that I wasn't really ready for it after all.

We left India on December 19th to head to Bangkok where we spent one night (like the song!) and two days, then made our way to Perth on the west coast of Australia and on to Melbourne, and now we are in Sydney.

We got to Bangkok early in the morning after an overnight flight from Mumbai and arrived to our hotel feeling very ambitious (considering the lack of sleep) so we decided to book a day trip to the floating market. Wanting to take in as much of Thailand as we could in only two days, we struggled to keep our eyes open during the two hour taxi ride to where arrived at the start of our floating market experience. We hopped into a little boat (with the edge of it sitting just a few inches above the water) and were taken around the canals to visit all kinds vendors selling their wares from their own boats disguised as miniature shops. We could buy just about everything from soup to nuts, except for the kitchen sink. Chris is not the greatest at negotiating price so whatever they were asking, he was paying. The prices weren't all that high to begin with so I guess it was fine but you'll notice in the pictures, a few of the ladies we were buying from had very big smiles. Having just arrived in Bangkok from India we noticed the streets of Bangkok appeared to be very clean, the shops were modern, malls were huge, and the transit system was relatively easy to use. I think we should have allowed more time in Thailand!

For the past couple of weeks we have been in Australia where we spent Christmas Day on the beach in a very sleepy little city on the west coast known as Perth. New Year's Eve was spent playing in a park, watching the sun set and riding the tram (with a visit to Starbucks) in Melbourne, a city with much more life than Perth at this time of year - I think I could probably live there (Melbourne). And just the other day, I got to cross something off my bucket list - we flew in a helicopter!! It was a very short ride (only about 10 minutes) at one of the scenic pit stops during our tour of the Great Ocean Road. We flew over the shoreline to see the Twelve Apostles... the scenery was breathtaking and the experience of being in a helicopter was just as amazing. I don't think I stopped smiling for the rest of the day!

Just a couple of days before the Ocean Road excursion, we went on the Penguin Parade day trip where we saw Australia's cute and cuddly creatures. We fed kangaroos and wombats on a farm and got to see koalas and wallabies in their natural habitat. At the penguin parade, we sat in bleachers at the edge of the water (along with about 3700 other visitors) and waited for the sun to set so the 'tiniest penguin in the world' could safely ride the waves to shore and make their way from the ocean to their burrows for the night where some would greet and feed their squawking, full-sized babies.

Also, while in Melbourne we had the chance to get together with Howard and Margaret, some friends we met WAY back in 1995 while travelling in South America. Fortunately, Chris and Howard kept in touch over the years and we had the chance to hook up with them for dinner a couple of times. It was really great to see them again and the girls also enjoyed their company!

Posted by Kelly K 21:27 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

2013

It's off to a great start!

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Happy New Year to all our friends and family! For many people, New Years is a time to reflect on the past year and also look for ways to make improvements for the next year. All I can say is we had an amazing 2012 and I think it will be pretty tough to outdo, but so far, 2013 is looking pretty cool too!

It is impossible to describe in words how fortunate I feel to have had some of the opportunities we've had over the past months. We have been able to explore new countries and meet some wonderful people who I’m sure have no idea the impact they've made on our lives.

I hope everyone had a great 2012 and will have an even better 2013!

Posted by Kelly K 04:53 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Waiting for a friend

Can't wait... Molly gets here tonight!

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Just sitting here thinking about Molly (a family friend) and what she must be feeling right now. As I write this, I believe she is flying over the Atlantic on her way to Frankfurt and we will be meeting her in Bangalore in just 14 hours! Can't wait to see her and have her join us for the next few weeks in India!!

Posted by Kelly K 22:38 Archived in India Comments (8)

Contrasts of Bangalore

Technologically advanced AND infrastructurally challenged

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Bangalore is considered India's IT capital. At a glance, it's not the first thing you realize because simply walking down the sidewalk takes a lot of focus... Chris determined that it's similar to playing a video game. First, with no real lanes and so many motorcycles and tuk tuks, crossing the road is an adventure (I've learned to stand close to one of the locals that is about to cross and just go when they do). Once safely on the other side, you need to side-step ginormous piles of garbage without heading into traffic; step over parts of uneven sidewalk and loose wires; jump over the gaping holes where the concrete is missing without falling into the garbage and sewage that lay below; and for an extra thrill, there are sections of sidewalk that wobble when you step on them, giving the impression that you are about to fall through but just go back into place once you step off again. At the same time, there are distractions all around, such as men urinating on the street corners; the continuous honking of traffic; street vendors that follow you for several blocks trying to sell knock-off RayBan sunglasses; and rats darting out of nauseating piles of rotting garbage that homeless dogs are feasting on or sleeping in.

If you stop along the way, lift your head and take a look beyond the immediate distractions, it won't be long before you notice things like glitzy apartments (behind the crumbling walls), modern malls with stores like LUSH, Booster Juice, Marks & Spencer, Weber Barbeques and Haagen Daz. There are movie theatres, tasty restaurants, coffee shops and several big name IT businesses - Chris even noticed Zynga (the company that makes the games we play on our smartphones). But this contrast is what has me confused... just steps outside the spotlessly-kept malls, hotels, restaurants, and businesses the city appears to be drowning in it's own waste. Most people seem to have taken the NIMBY attitude (not in my backyard). We've noticed some people outside their homes and shops spraying water - what I believe is their attempt at keeping their property clean - but what if they picked up some garbage instead of washing it over to their neighbours property? How is it that the third largest city in India can be populated with so many intelligent people who just don't care about the infrastructure or their neighbourhoods? Kasey suggested that there should be a day where everyone picks up one piece of garbage... it's a start! I don't normally like to promote 'Western' beliefs for people of other cultures but this city seems to be caught between two worlds where their living conditions are a safety hazard, promoting injury and disease and I wonder why nobody seems to want to fix it.

Posted by Kelly K 21:23 Archived in India Comments (1)

Learning to accept

Segregation

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It seems there was a theme to our tour in Sri Lanka… segregation. We quickly learned that we were tourists; rules were different for us than for the locals and getting to know the REAL Sri Lanka wasn't going to be easy. This is something I struggled with. I wanted so much to learn about the way of life, meet the Sri Lankan people, make friends, be accepted by them, and possibly learn how I could contribute in some way to help wherever help was needed (apart from just handing out cash).

What we got was the 'royal treatment' and everyone tried to sell us some over-priced item or over-charge us for a 'tour' or hotel. The locals were usually quite open about telling us that if we had 'our driver' buy the things we needed, the price would be a fraction of what they would charge us to buy the same thing. Everyone seemed to think we had our own money trees or bottomless bank accounts and that all we were interested in was being touted around to all the museums and expensive restaurants or to the gem stores to drop a little extra cash in case we hadn't already found enough ways to get rid of it.

Our first experience was the money-grabbing museum tour which came as a shock to everyone, I think. We were taken to a museum and surprised that we were simply led to the ticket counter and expected to fork over $100 US for the entry fee PLUS pay a guide to walk around and tell us about it – we weren't allowed to just walk around the grounds (outdoor park) unless we had a ticket. The guide was shocked that we weren't jumping at the chance to spend the cash and learn more about the country, even with Madison still barely recovered from her all-night barfing episode the previous night! And I think Imran was confused about what we were expecting from our 'tour'. All we wanted at this point was to find a hotel so that Madison could rest and continue getting over her 'Indonesian flu'.

There are certain places that the drivers are told to take the tourists. They receive discounts or commissions or something free (like lunch) by bringing the tourists (aka walking bank machines) to their establishments. But after our museum experience, Imran usually checked with us first to see if the site he was expected to show us was something we would be interested in. By the end of the tour, he was telling us which things were free and I was beginning to think he believed either we were really poor and couldn't really afford to be here or just extremely cheap.

Another difference between foreigners and locals that surprised me was the use of public toilets. We decided to take in the beautiful countryside by riding the train from Nuwara Eliya to Ella while Imran drove our backpacks and met us at the other end. As we were waiting on the platform, we noticed a sign above one of the doors saying 'Foreigners Washroom' – local guides were not allowed to use it, and we (foreigners) were to get the key from the office. It was like a time warp where we stepped back to the days of segregation in the southern US! I was amazed that this sort of thing was still allowed - I was happy to think humanity had moved past the idea of such arrogance. Then as we board the train, all the foreigners climb into the spacious first class cars with air-conditioning and a television continuously showing episodes of Mr. Bean while we sipped tea from china cups and watch the locals squeeze their way into cars that are standing-room only. In fact most cars had people perched on the stairs as we sped away from the station. It is becoming more obvious to me that locals and tourists have very different lifestyles here and either people have money or they have none! Tourists obviously have money (since they can afford to be here) and with such a small middle class, many locals have none.

By the end of our three weeks, we experienced so many new things and I had experienced such a variety of emotions:

Resentment – for feeling like we were getting ripped off every time we turned around or tried to buy something.

Confusion – why do the locals seem to want to treat tourists with such apparent respect and they don't resent us for having a lifestyle that they can hardly imagine.

Disappointment – because I wanted so much to help or to be part of the Sri Lankan culture and it seemed like we weren't allowed in.

Sadness - for all the people struggling to feed themselves and their family while watching the tourists spend lavishly, and sadness also for all the street animals (mostly dogs) that are in such need of nutritious food, a little medical attention, and a lot of TLC.

Awe - with the natural beauty (landscape and wildlife) and the kindness of many of the people we eventually had a chance to connect with.

By the end of our few weeks in Sri Lanka, I learned that I don’t need to be anything more than just a tourist appreciating an amazingly beautiful country and I've realized that the people are just trying to make a living in a country where there is no social welfare to look after the poor. But if I were Sri Lankan, I'd probably resent the tourists (just a little).

Tomorrow we leave for India and although I often feel sadness for leaving people, I have to say this is the first time I've ever felt sad leaving a country. Ten days ago I would have probably said that I couldn't imagine coming back again, but today I can honestly say I really hope I will be lucky enough to return. Sri Lanka is a special place with beautiful people.

Posted by Kelly K 10:33 Archived in Sri Lanka Comments (2)

My Birthday

Once-in-a-lifetime birthday.

We all woke up at 4:45 to make sure we didn’t miss the whale watching tour that we had planned for the day. I didn’t really mind getting up at that time on my birthday since I kind of like it. Although I may not seem very happy at 5am I still am.  We got all packed and ready, and then we made our way to the front gate of the hotel. Our driver (Imran) was waiting there ready for us to go. Once we got all into the minivan, we started our 30 minute drive to the port of Mirissa. We went into the place where we get our tickets and a little snack for the boat ride. Then we followed the big crowd of people down to the boat. While we were waiting in line to get on the boat, I saw this man kicking a poor innocent dog, and then he picked up a big piece of Styrofoam and whipped it at the dog’s side. I wanted to pick up a rock and whip it at his head, even though Styrofoam doesn’t hurt. He didn’t have to whip a piece of it at the dog, what did the dog do to him? Look at him? Ugh, people these days… Anyways once we got on the boat we opened up the food packages and we found a banana, a small piece of butter cake and a jam sandwich. We took our seats and put on our lifejackets, and then we were off into the Indian Ocean. When our driver spotted another whale watching boat stopped and everyone was on one side of the boat, he sped up and parked right next to it. Then after about a minute or two we saw some water go spraying into the air, and then saw 2 fins. We got so excited so EVERYONE ran to the left side of the boat. I was starting to panic since in the instructions the said if you see a whale to stay in your seats and don’t all go to one side of the boat since it may throw the boat off balance and tip. So I was pretty much the only one standing on the right side of the boat. We saw the whales a few more times before about 5 other whale watching boats came. I felt kind of bad for the whales since it kind of seemed like we were trapping them. The closest the whale got to us was probably 150 meters. We watched the whales ( in the end there was 5) for the 3 hours then we turned and went back, on the way back everyone on the boat was so tired, so everywhere you looked there was people sleeping in their chairs, or lying down on the bench type thing.
Once we got back to land, we got into our car and drove over to Unawatuna. We got there and looked around for a hotel. Finally we found one and got settled in. Imran (our driver) had gone our while we were getting our stuff all sorted out in the room, when he came back everyone was telling me to come out, then once I did I saw Imran and my family standing there with a box in his hands. I opened the box and saw a chocolate cake! I was so happy, we all had a piece and I gave some to each of the staff working there too. :) Then Imran said he was going to leave so dad ran and got the tablet to give to him, we downloaded all of the “selfies” Madison and I took onto moms laptop and gave it to him. He was really happy, dad taught him how to use it and download games on it. Then he said thank you again and then he left. After the cake and saying goodbye to Imran, dad had a nap while mom, Madison and I went down to the beach. Madison and I went in the water, which took a while to get in since after the sudden drop it got pretty deep. Also the under tow was SO strong, it was scary. Once we were done in the water, we went and got a sandwich for lunch. We went back down to the hotel, on our way I stopped to buy a Sri Lanka t-shirt, it was only 500 rupees (which is $3.85) and it’s a pretty nice t-shirt. Then we went back to the hotel room and chilled until dinner.
Around 8:00 we went out to have dinner, there was a thunder storm going on. When I went over to the table I was greeted with a worker handing me a small bouquet of freshly picked flowers and letting me sit down in a chair with a red satin cloth draped over it. Also there were flowers decorating my spot at the table. Then I looked in the middle of the table and there was “HAPPY BIRTHDAY KASEY – 14” written in little red lentils! It was so cute! :) I thanked him for setting up the table and taking his time to do all of it. After about 5 minutes he brought over our food. I had a full crab with a buttery garlic sauce in it. It was delicious, but it took a while to crack open and eat. In the middle of while we were eating, the power suddenly went out because of the lightning storm and the whole place was black I couldn’t even see my food in front of me! Then after being in the dark about 5 minutes, the power kicked back in. I finished my meal, which took very long and then he took our plates away. While he was gone, we re-arranged the lentils to spell our “THANK YOU.” When he came back, he smiled at our “thank you” in the middle of the table and then placed a little cake in front of me. We cut the cake and ate our pieces, it was yummy! Finally, we were full, we said thank you so much and then we went to our room and fell asleep.
Overall it was a birthday I will never forget, it was amazing. Although I got only 1 present (t-shirt) it was still a once-in-a-lifetime experience!!! :D

Posted by Kasey G. 08:32 Archived in Sri Lanka Comments (0)

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