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August 1, 2006

Sri Lankan Time

On one of my first evenings in Sri Lanka, we were invited to a small farm by a lake in the jungle. The farm was a tiny shack overlooking the water, surrounded by papaya and palm trees with a chicken shed and ducks, goats and dogs running around it.

They brought out some plastic chairs and a coffee table and we sat in a small clearing and I drank my first Arak, a Sri Lankan spirit made from coconuts, as flocks of green parrots flew past and the sounds of exotic birdsong echoed through the jungle. The sun goes down fast here. One minute it seems to be high in the sky, and the next it's completely dark. The boys lit a fire, and brought out a lovely meal of fish curry and sweet potatoes as darkness fell. The Arak seemed to be playing tricks on my mind as bright sparks of light began flying around the trees. I asked Faye if she could see them too and was somewhat relieved when she told me they were fireflies.

It was a truly wonderful atmosphere but after several Araks we finally had to leave as we'd agreed to go to dinner somewhere else. We piled back into the tuk-tuk to go, but there was a problem; it didn't have any lights that worked. After a long, long time spent trying to fix them, we finally ended up shining my torch out one side as a headlight, and someone else doing the same on the other side. Not that this caused the driver to slow down - we flew down tiny jungle dirt roads, dodging past other tuk-tuks and people walking.

After a long pit stop at another house our driver eventually emerged triumphantly with a tiny bulb, fitted it and starting the engine.... and it produced virtually no light at all. Off we flew again, obviously guided by Buddha, and pulled out onto Galle Road - where we were immediately stopped by police for not having working lights.

We did eventually make it to dinner but we were very much on Sri Lankan time - very, very late.

August 21, 2006

Life in the Jungle

After looking around at several places in town we found a 2 bedroom house just outside Hikkaduwa to rent for Rs10,000 (about £50) a month, with a lovely garden overlooking paddy fields and a back door that opens out onto the jungle.

The garden's packed with wildlife - yesterday we had monkeys in the coconut trees behind the house and huge ratsnakes fighting on the lawn. Just while writing this, a mongoose and a couple of monitor lizards have wandered past the front door.

Hearing that one of the big snakes from the garden often likes to come into the house for shelter when it rains, we had all the holes in the window mesh repaired before we moved in. Within days, however, they were all destroyed again as the family of palm squirrels that has a nest in a corner of the living room likes to be able to run in and out of the house from different directions.

The garden's filled with exotic plants, and has papayas, breadfruit, chillies, peppercorns, bananas and dozens of coconut trees growing in it, with brightly coloured kingfishers and sunbirds flying around them. After a rainstorm, the noises from the jungle are deafening, as all the frogs and insects come to life, making it almost impossible to get to sleep some nights.

Our first night turned out to be quite exciting - Faye's scared of spiders and I have a deep disliking for cockroaches, so naturally, we returned from dinner to find a massive cockroach and a huge spider on the living room floor! The spider, being as big as my hand, was enough to even scare me, but after a head to head with it I finally managed to chase it out with a broom, and Faye took care of the cockroach with a big can of Baygon spray!

Since that first nervous night of little sleep, things have improved and lots of geckos have moved into the house, controlling the insects, and chasing madly around the walls and ceiling while we adapt to living next to the jungle.