My Sugar-Free Journey

Listen to your body, it’s the only one you get!

On Monday, I drank a cup of coffee with no sugar and guess what I survived. I’ve also just completed my 2nd 4 day streak of no sugar and it’s getting easier. At first, I didn’t think I felt any different, but last night I went out to dinner and enjoyed a full plate of pasta (which I never do) and topped it off with a Krispy Kreme donut and as soon as I got home I felt extremely lethargic. Carbs turned into sugar and took over my body and my body was not used to that.

This has been my year (school year) of self-care, regular spa and nail appointments, exercising, relaxing, detoxing, healthy eating. Since I’ve been hearing so much buzz around sugar intake and how it affects our bodies, I decided to give it a rest. My vegan diet is already very limited but I’m always trying to find ways to be better and healthier. This seemed like a natural progression.

I started on a Sunday, since my husband does the food shopping on Saturday. But then on Monday, I received a care package from my sister from home. It included all kinds of goodies and sugar, butterscotch krimpets, peanut chews, sour patch candies, starburst, etc… and Cinnabon opened up here in Qatar. I mean could this be any harder?

I went cold turkey Sunday morning-Thursday afternoon. I didn’t even eat fruit. The menu consisted mainly of vegetables and soups, snacks were raw vegetables, air popped corn with nutritional yeast and activated nuts. I’m not going to lie, it wasn’t easy.

Over the weekend I did eat a few sweets, a couple of mini peanut chews. But during the week, I was completely sugar free. By the end of the second week, the desire for sweets decreased tremendously. I didn’t feel like a drug addict denying myself as I did in week 1.

During this short time, I have learned several things. 1. I had a slight addiction to sugar. 2. There is a lot of sugar in products that you wouldn’t believe and I will check content labels for carbs and sugar more closely. 3. You can enjoy things without sugar. I actually got used to drinking tea without sugar. I think I’ll stick with it. 4. You can have energy without sugar. I never felt tired while staying away from sugar. In fact, I think I had more energy. 5. Sugar-less items cost more -surprise! Why does eating healthy cost more than the alternate when there is less ingredients?

I don’t plan to give up sugar altogether but I do plan to be more conscientious of my sugar intake. I’ve read that natural sugar is actually healthy, like the sugar found in berries and melons. I’ll try staying away from sugar during the work week and enjoy a treat or two over the weekend.

There is a lot of information out there about how enjoying a diet with reduced sugar leads to many health benefits and I believe them. Craving sugar the way I did the first week, was not a good sign. Going two weeks without it gave me a lot of insight. I don’t need as much sugar as I was consuming. Someone once told me, “my body is a temple, if I take care of it, it will take care of me.” Listen to your body, it’s the only one you get!

9 days in Sri Lanka- Part 2: things to know before you go

(If you haven’t read part 1, you can access it by clicking here)

Before I traveled to Sri Lanka, I spoke to several people who had been prior, read blogs and researched websites to find out all I could. I went with a wealth of information and still was unprepared. I hope my thoughts, tips and suggestions will help someone going to visit after me.

Quick Facts

Sri Lanka is an island located South-East of India. Below is a picture of its’ location on a map. It is relatively cheap and easy to get to from the Middle East, just a short 5 1/2 flight from Qatar. It is a Buddhist country, but is home to many cultures, ethnicities and languages. It is famous for its production of cinnamon, rubber and tea. It is a developing country.

Once you arrive

You must obtain a visa to visit Sri Lanka. If you are not from a SAARC country, the fee to obtain a visa prior to arrival is $35 USD. You can apply here. You can also obtain a visa on arrival. Before going to the Immigration window and standing in that long line for nothing (like I did), look for a small window that says visa, go there. Show your passport and pay $40 or 15800 Sri Lankan Rupees (SLR) That’s what they charged us even though online it says $35 for a tourist visa. Note that you are required to pay in USD. The following countries and categories are exempt from the visa requirement:

The Republic of Singapore.
The Republic of Maldives.
The Republic of Seychelles
Crew members of flight / ship
Children under 12 years of age

After you get your visa and proceed through immigration (the agents are not very nice btw, sort of like the government workers in the USA), it’s probably a good idea to purchase a sim card. They are pretty reasonably priced in the airport and they will set it up for you. Mine worked very well, the entire time I was in Sri Lanka and I had great wifi.

Money

Rupees

The Sri Lankan Rupee (LKR) is its’ official currency. One LKR is approximately 0.005 USD and 0.020 QR. USD can go very far there. Some places accept USD but many do not. We exchanged some QR for LKR before we went but found out very fast how very fast the money goes. To help you better understand let’s go back to the visa price above. In LKR, one visa was 15800. (In the picture above, my husband is holding 10300 LKR) Now double that for two visas, and that’s quite a lot of money to carry around and that is just for one transaction. You would have to carry around quite a lot of paper if you intend on using cash for everything. Of course, you could use credit/debit cards. We used our debit card quite a lot at the ATM and accumulated too many withdrawal fees. Every time we took money out, we were charged between 200-400 LKR or $4-$8 USD. This is a pretty big chunk and remember you can only withdrawal so much each time.

Suggestions

  • Pay for what you can in advance, before even going, eg… hotels, drivers, excursions. This way you decrease the amount of cash you have to carry.
  • Find a bank/ATM that you can withdraw large portions of LKR with a minimal ATM fee. Halfway through our vacation we found Hatton bank that allowed us to withdraw double the amount that Commercial bank did and with half the ATM fees.
  • Use credit/debit card rather than cash in as many places as possible but check your bank for international transaction fees first.
  • Carry USD to use when possible and to exchange while there because you will get more bang for your buck.

Getting Around

Sri Lanka traffic

I DO NOT recommend driving in Sri Lanka. It’s crazy. I think I only saw 3 traffic lights in the entire 9 days that we were there and we moved around quite a lot. A few times I thought, ‘this is it’, because we were almost run off the road. They also drive on the opposite side of the street of Qatar and the U.S. One day we were in Ella, Ella is very mountainous, and it rained so hard, we had to dodge mudslides.

We had a driver. His name is Rifaan. Here is his contact information: Coconuttaxitours.com, instagram: coconut_taxi_tours, #+94716285486. He was an excellent driver. He stuck with us for the entire trip, offering suggestions of places to go, where to eat and translating . He even invited us to his home to meet his family whom cooked us a wonderful Sri Lankan dinner. He booked all of our rooms, which is better as natives get better rates, and made purchases for us. I felt completely safe with him. Call him for anything Sri Lanka related. Thank me later.

Rifaan and my husband

Sites Considerations

There is many things to see and do in Sri Lanka and several things to consider. When packing keep in mind that you must be modest when entering Temples. You can not wear a head covering of any type and your shoulders and knees should be covered. When visiting mosques, your head must be covered as well as your knees and shoulders. Long comfortable pants and a scarf should be your staple. In most places, people remove their shoes.

You will have to pay a fee when visiting most sites, the prices ranged from 600 to 5500 LKR. The fees for locals are way less. The Fee to climb Lion Rock is $30. The fee to climb Piturangala was only $3. That is one of the reasons we chose to climb Piturangala instead. Both offer great views but I can only speak about the climb to Piturangala. (You can read about it by clicking here) Maybe one day I’ll go back and climb the other and make comparisons. Better yet, if you’ve climbed both or either, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Leave them in the comments area.

If you’re planning a trip to Sri Lanka and climbing one of the famous sites, be sure to pack hiking boots or good old sneakers. If you plan on hiking in the early or late hours to catch a sunrise or sunset, take a flash light with you. The paths were generally dark even though there were lightbulbs, none were on and we couldn’t see our way. Thank God for cell phones. Take some extra water too. I love to watch new days begin and end, so I like to hike during those times. It has been my experience that hiking before sunset is usually less crowded.

If you plan to see the 9 Arch Bridge try to time your visit when the train comes. Then stay after the train passes, when most tourist start to leave. After the train passed, I left and then halfway away from the Bridge, I noticed that most people had left as well and I could have taken better pictures had I waited them out.

Everyone is waiting to get a picture of 9 Arch Bridge with the train
And when the train left, so did the crowd

The train ride to Ella is a must do. From what I’ve heard, it is very difficult to get tickets, easier if you know a local that can get them for you off the black market. We were in 3rd class and we lucked up because you can sit at tables with windows in 3rd class or choose to hang out the door but you’ll still have a seat. Second class was over crowded and we met a family who was in 2nd class that had to stand for 4 hours. I can’t speak for first class. Third class also comes with friends, roaches. Right after we ate our food, they started appearing everywhere. It grossed me out, thank goodness we didn’t have far to go and our driver had our luggage in his car. Other than the roaches, it was a very delightful ride.

Hanging out the door on the train
Beautiful scenery on the train ride
Yup that’s roaches on the train
Time to get off. Ella is a very popular stop.

Accommodations

I highly suggest researching accommodations on several booking websites before actually booking rooms. Pictures can be deceiving. We stayed in a variety of places, from a couple of homestays to a shitty room, to 4 star resorts. Our driver booked our rooms and for the most part they were okay but if I go again, I will be sure to pick my own, take his thoughts into consideration, and have the final say.

The rooms in homestays are pretty big in Sri Lanka but the homes themselves lack tlc. Of course, some are better than others. But if you are on a tight budget, homestays are the way to go. Some cost as little as $10 a night and most include breakfast. Also don’t be fooled by a number of stars. I’ve learned through traveling that 5 stars around the world have different standards than the U.S.

If you stay in Sigiriya, I recommend, Hotel Sigiriya for a mid range budget. The rooms are adequate with good A.C., hot water, comfy beds and nice bathrooms. They have a good breakfast buffet, a great view of Lion Rock, a beautiful pool and is in the perfect location. You may even see an elephant walking around. You are sure to see monkeys but watch your food around the pool.

Hotel Sigiriya

For a wonderful time in Mirissa, stay at Imagine Villa Resort for a mid range budget. The rooms are large with good A.C., hot water, comfy beds, nice bathrooms, sitting area and balcony. The grounds offer a big pool, beach and pretty good cooks too.

Imagine Resort

My Reflections

Sri Lanka is a beautiful country. If you travel around, you can see rainforest, jungle, tea plantations, the beach and mountains. On the other hand, you will also see people dumping or burning their trash on the side of the road. You may see men urinating in the streets. You will see animals living very close to people, some free and roaming, others in chains. There is A LOT of bugs, from ants, small to giant roaches, to spiders and some other things that I didn’t recognize. The weather was great when I visited in late December with a fair amount of rain. The people seem genuinely nice but manners are different than what I’m used to. They do stare unapologetically. There are so many things to do and see in Sri Lanka. After 9 days, we were Templed out though; they are everywhere. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t check a few out though, they are beautiful. If you are considering a trip to Sri Lanka, definitely go. If you’ve already been, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

See you next time!

9 days in Sri Lanka- Part 1: an overview

The beat part of Sri Lanka is its’ natural beauty, which is why we chose to spend our Christmas break there. While Qatar is improving in its’ outward appearance, most of it is man-made and the rest is just flat and beige. We were literally starved for some palm trees on the beach, green country side and mountains and Sri Lanka delivered. I didn’t know if I’d ever return because it was never high on my ‘to visit list’ so I wanted to see as much of it as possible in 9 days.

Here is the area we covered.

We hired a driver, (click here for the contact information of our driver), whom met us at the airport in Colombo and drove us to Negombo, where we stayed at a Homestay for the first night. Gangarama temple was the first temple of many that we visited. It was actually a museum filled with buddhist statues and cultural items.

Then we drove through the craziness of Second Cross street to get a good picture of the Peppermint Mosque or Jami Ul-AlFar (the proper name).

driving on Second Cross Street
What a beautiful Mosque, in the middle of the city

We tried out some Sri Lankan dishes at Tusker Restaurant: Prawn Curry, Dahl, Snake Gourd and purchased some Arrac for our room. Arrac is a distilled alcoholic drink made from coconut flowers. It’s strong and tasty mixed in a cocktail.

Arrac and passionfruit drink and some Sri Lankan dishes

We had some street food on our way to Sigiriya for breakfast, stuffed aloo paratha. It was spicy and the best street food we had the entire time in Sri Lanka. Our driver also got us hooked on small, red, peel bananas and king coconut. We had a King Coconut almost every day.

enjoying a king coconut on the side of the road

We stopped by the Golden Temple of Dambulla- a UNESCO World Heritage Site and climbed the stairs. We regretted not having enough rupees to enter the caves but we enjoyed the view, the crazy monkeys and more street food.

Golden Temple
Entrance to the Cave
A monk and monkeys on the stairs to the cave
The view from the top
Another view from the top
More street food

We stayed at Hotel Sigiriya and admired the view of Sinhagiri also known as Sigiriya rock also known as Lion Rock. The hotel is nice, nothing glamorous but one of the nicer hotels we stayed on a budget. The breakfast buffet is delicious and had many authentic Sri Lankan dishes that were vegan approved. I was able to try sour sap fruit which I later realized was the same as the custard apple that I tried in Peru (click here to read about my adventures in Peru). I enjoyed some green gram (which I just found out is mung bean), milk rice (coconut milk that is), string hoppers, samaposha, dhal curry, and had my fill of passion fruit. Here is also where I fell in love with coconut sambal, a must try in Sri Lanka. We liked Sigiriya as you get to see animals just roaming around and it’s just so beautiful and green. We even had a close encounter with an elephant, who obviously didn’t take kindly to having her picture taken. She let out a loud noise and ran towards our car. We got out of there pretty fast, hence the blurred picture below.

Monkey on the table enjoying someone’s left overs
Sorry for the blurry picture but we were kinda scared
Beautiful Jungle

In the wee hours of the morning, 4:30 a.m to be exact, we climbed Piturangala Rock to watch the sunrise. Many people climb Lion’s rock but we opted for the road less traveled instead. We made it to the top in time, but sadly the overcast was too heavy to see the sunrise. It was quite a climb and we had a wonderful view of Lion Rock. We almost missed the Piturangala Vihara on the way up because it was so dark but we made sure we stopped by on our way back down.

The top of Piturangala
pretty early in the morning, no sunrise yet
The sun has risen but too cloudy to have witnessed it. Still beautiful and peaceful
I was still able to catch this beautiful picture over Sigiriya
He enjoyed the climb
We enjoyed the climb
That’s Lion Rock way back in the distance
Vihara
resting in the side of the moutain
A picture of Lion Rock from the ground

While in Sigiriya we visited a gem store, where we learned Blue Sapphire is only mined in a few places in the world, Sri Lankan being one of these famous regions. Sri Lanka also produces a lot of silk so it was only right to visit a silk store as well. At the silk store, the workers dressed Darryl and I up in traditional attire and took our picture. They even put a red dot on my forehead between my eyes; this means I’m married.

Aren’t we the cutest couple

Kandy was next on our list. It was lovely and we wished we had scheduled more than 1 day there. We visited a spice garden and Temple of the Tooth. I wasn’t impressed by either place honestly. The spice garden was over priced and a tourist trap, as we were able to purchase the same items at a local market for less than half the price they were charging and the Temple of the Tooth was boring. I also got tired of being stared at, at the Temple. Perhaps it was my bald head, since you can’t cover your head at the Temples.

Spice Garden spells great
Making spices
Temple of Tooth

The Bohiravokanda Vihara Buddha Statue is pretty and sits atop a hill. We didn’t go inside, but the view of the city from the top of the hill is great.

The Temple
Great view of Kandy

The highlight of Kandy was with friends. Our driver invited us to his home to meet his family and have dinner that he and his family cooked for us. He sent a tuk tuk driver to fetch us from our hotel, The Sky Pavillion, to bring us to his house. His family was lovely and dinner was terrific, by far the best meal we had in Sri Lanka. His sister even drew a beautiful henna tattoo on my hand for me. We went back to our hotel feeling full and beyond blessed.

Our Tuk Tuk ride
Authentic Home Cooked Sri Lankan dinner
Henna Tattoo from the Host family
On our balcony at the Sky Pavilion
Great view isn’t it

The next day we went to visit another friend, Nazma, my henna partner from Qatar. She is from Sri Lanka and coincidentally was there on holiday like me. She invited us to her home to meet her family. In true Sri Lankan hospitality style, which I came to appreciate, they prepared food for us.

Friends and partners

This food came in handy on our train ride to Ella. More on that in a minute. Once we left Kandy, we drove toward Nuwara Eliya, admiring the vast tea plantations, monkeys on the road and Talawakalle waterfalls. We even stopped at a tea factory to see how tea is produced in the oldest tea factories in Sri Lanka.

More monkeys
So this is how they make tea
I think he likes it
Enjoying the sights and Waterfalls
beautiful waterfalls
tea plantations

A train ride to Ella is everything you’ve heard about and is a must do in Sri Lanka. The route is very scenic and beautiful. (Read about where to sit and how to score tickets for this train ride in Part 2) It began raining halfway through our train ride so I missed the sunset.

train station
riding through the country side
Sri Lanka’s beauty is best seen from this train ride
Mist over the country
Here comes the rain again…

Our first night in Ella was not good. It was pouring rain and there were mudslides all around. We didn’t stay at our original booked hotel because something was wrong with the room and they tried to have us stay in another room but all I saw was spiders and dust. Most of Ella was all sold out so hotel rooms were in short supply and we wound up staying in this shitty room that I almost had an asthma attack in due to the mold. But after the storm comes the sun and our driver was able to find us another suitable hotel, Yoho Nilara Resort, for day 2. No visit to Ella is complete without a visit to the 9 Arches bridge, where we were able to take some cool pictures. This place was crawling with tourist which means it’s a happening place that many want to see. Our driver planned it perfectly because not long after we made the climb down to the bridge, a train passed.

9 Arches
I’m that dot with the white hat on right next to the train

We also climbed Mini Adams Peak to catch the sunset. The sunset was not to be had as we got caught in the rain. I was beginning to think that I would never catch a sunrise or sunset in Sri Lanka. Good thing I like the rain and rain usually keeps the crowds away. Less people make for better pictures of the wonderful scenery.

Afterwards, Darryl and I threw on some nice digs and enjoyed dinner at Ceylon Tea Factory in Ella. We even got to to enjoy some drinks at this popular place called Chill (definitely the party spot in Ella) before heading to Mirissa.

We stayed at Imagine Villa Hotel in Kamburugamuwa, right outside of Mirissa. This was the best hotel we stayed in Sri Lanka. It was right on the beach and was a beautiful resort. Outside of Whale watching, we spent our two days in Mirissa at the resort relaxing and socializing. I even found a little vegan gem of a restaurant (Ahimsa) to enjoy Christmas dinner.

The pool and beach view
The hotel grounds
While I prefer to pose at the beach
My husband loves the water
Locals enjoying a day at the beach with family outside the resort

Galle was our last city to visit. On the way, we made a few stops: a boat ride to visit Cinnamon island and to see wildlife, and a turtle hatchery.

More beautiful views
We got to hold a jellyfish
Grinding up cinnamon
Work it

Of course we had to see the infamous Galle fort and I’m so happy to say that on this final night, the sun was nice to me and showed me it’s setting. And you know what, it was worth the wait!

I love sunrises and sunsets
What a great way to end our vacation

On the drive back to Colombo airport, we stopped at Bentota beach to grab some food and I felt sad because Bentota beach was beautiful and we didn’t spend any time there. Does this warrant a second trip to Sri Lanka? Maybe…

*Be sure to read, ‘9 days in Sri Lanka- Part 2 ‘ for suggestions and tips for planning a trip to Sri Lanka