Sri Lanka: Hikes, Tea and Trains…

Another country summary! After this I will be relatively up to date and can post in the present tense… Serves me right for slacking and not writing as we go along! This is our experience of Sri Lanka πŸ™‚

 We arrived in Sri Lanka on the 14th Feb and spent a night in the capital Colombo. We were visiting the most significant temple when monsoon style rain began hammering down. We left in our tuk tuk and spent the next hour and a half stuck in traffic, with the exhaust fumes and the rain it was not the most pleasant journey! We recovered by ordering a pizza hut delivery (a rare detour from cultural immersion…. promise!) drinking some strong local beer and playing a game of scrabble (ever increasing in competition and loser bitterness). We chatted to the workers in our hotel about the recent civil war and were shocked to hear that about the losses of family that they had personally suffered. The war was so recent and you can see the amount of suffering it has caused. 

Kandy was our next destination- we spent three nights in an airbnb homestay which had a pool (our first!) so we celebrated by getting in immediately even though it was cold and dark and the owners thought we were crazy. The next day we went hiking around the nearby national park and saw wild pigs, monkeys and water monitors (these are also in Kandy Lake in the town, we thought they were Komodo dragons at first they are so big!). One of our favourite experiences was catching the local bus as it was always rammed, played really loud music and was brightly decorated. It was basically the night bus in Harry Potter! We also visited the botanical gardens and the temple where supposedly one of Buddha’s actual teeth is kept. My endiring memory of this is watching a group of Chinese tourists take a selfies with a ‘no photograph’ sign in the background. Sadly, this was not the spiritual retreat I had imagined. 

Botanical garden flowers

The next destination was Sigirya, which features two massive rocks. Lion Rock used to be a fortress in around 477 AC and the other, Pidurangala, is just a big rock. We climbed the latter as soon as we got there, we felt quite adventurous as there are no steps towards the end; you have to clamber over giant boulders to get to the very top. The view was fantastic and we were glad of the exercise! The next day we got up at 6 in order to beat the crowds and climbed the other rock. It was less exciting than the first rock but did have some interesting history and ancient paintings on the side. 

View from Pidurangala
After a short stopover in Kandy we moved to Nuwara Eliyah. We caught the train, which usually moves at a pace you could run quicker than, but is great fun as you can hang out of the windows and doors. The first time I did this a nervous train conductor was grasping my arm like a vice in case I tripped and went tumbling down the side of the hill. I will attach the photo of the first time I experienced this as I think it reflects my thrilled excitement well! The views are beautiful- bright green paddy fields and mountains in the distance. Nuwara Eliyah is equally stunning, it is a village dominated by hill covered tea plantations, a couple of which we walked through on our first day. We stayed in the cutest air bnb with a lovely family, who cooked local food for us and advised us on what to do. We visited the tea museum, which explained the process of creating tea leaves. We also climbed up to Ramboda Waterfall then crossed a small river in order to stand in front of it. The noise of the crashing water and fine spray hitting my face made it quite exhilarating! One day we hiked to ‘the worlds end’ (NOT Land’s End as I mistakenly keep calling it) which is a national park and a sheer cliff face which looks over a village and mountains. We enjoyed the exercise of these hikes and after relishing the challenge of climbing the two rocks we were persuaded to climb Adam’s Peak by the young girl who’s family we were staying with. 

View from World’s End
Buddhist’s believe that at the top of Adam’s Peak there is an inprint of Buddha’s footprint, so Sri Lankan’s view climbing to the very top as a religious pilgrimage. (Muslims, Christians and Hindu’s all make a similar claim- that it is actually the print of Adam and Shiva!) We had heard how difficult the hike is, most of the way it is steep steps (5500 in total!) but were keen to see the much discussed and admired sunrise from the peak in the morning. So we started our car journey at 12pm, arrived at the bottom of the mountain around 1:30 am and intrepidly began our hike around 2:30am. We were very excited! We set out keenly and quickly, walking at what we came to realise was an unsustainable pace. It was HARD. Our legs were shaking and we were dripping in sweat only half way up! We persevered and after the seemingly never ending steps we got to the top in two and a half hours. We literally couldn’t believe there were elderly people walking in flip flops! It was freezing at the top which was made worse by our wet, sweaty clothes. We put on all of our layers and huddled among the locals on the floor trying to keep warm. With difficulty (it was so crowded) we moved a couple of times and managed to find the perfect location to watch the sun come up. It was quite honestly one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen, despite the fact we were both clinging on for dear life and Matt had the worlds longest selfie stick to contend with right next to him. We were surrounded by peaks of slightly smaller fog covered mountains, which glowed a blue colour as the light spread from the orange sky. 

Sunrise from Adam’s Peak

After the sun had risen we literally ran most of the way back down, our knees were killing us and it seemed less painful than walking slowly! We had to catch a train straight after, so by the time we arrived in Ella in the afternoon we were extremely tired but really happy after the experience. 
We only had two nights in Ella, so the next day we had to ignore our aching legs (I almost couldn’t walk) to set out on yet another hike, this time to Ella Rock. Following some less than clear online instructions, and ignoring the directions given by locals (so you get lost and then they helpfully arrive shortly after to direct you for a small fee) we walked along the train tracks, through a small farm and up through a forest to another grand view. By this point we were a bit viewed out, so we took a few snaps and decided to head back to our guesthouse. Despite the online instructions, google maps, and the fact we had already walked this route once we still managed to get lost twice! After confusedly traipsing around in the boiling heat for a couple of hours we eventually made it back to our accommodation. 

View from Ella Rock
The next day we took a local bus from Ella to coastal town Mirissa, which was an uncomfortable 5 hour journey. Typically, the sun stopped shining as soon as we got anywhere near the beach and instead it poured with rain for most of the duration of our four night stay. On the first night we went out with some people from our hostel and ended up dancing at a house music club on the beach. We later regretted the location of this bar, as we subsequently suffered 4 days of a sand covered room due to not washing our feet when we got in. Mirissa was our least favourite place in Sri Lanka, we felt it was a bit grotty, smelly and when it is raining there is little to do there as the main attraction is the beach. 
However, we did go whale watching, as there are a few different types of whales and dolphins nearby. We did some research into the best and most ethical company and were really glad we did, as we learnt about how the whales are put into danger by companies not obeying the international whale watching code of best practice and instead scare them by approaching too quickly, from the wrong angle, too noisily etc. They also explained how the whales are endangered by the two shipping routes that cross their paths, the whales can be hit and killed or scared so they dive down for longer and become much weaker due to lack of oxygen. We saw two types of whales and schools of dolphins diving through the water. It was really exciting! Every time a whale was spotted the guides would shout WHALE AT 1/2/3 O’CLOCK etc and the people on the boat would rush to the relevant side to gape at it and gasp every time it flipped its tail up. It was one of the best things we have done since being away and we learnt so much!

We were happy to leave our sandy, dark room with its resident spider and head to Galle, a Dutch fort town next along the coast. We stayed in an air bnb which was a beautiful annexe attached on to the side of a family home. It was so nice we spent most of the two days there lounging around the house, even though there was a power cut for an entire day. There was also a small plunge pool which we were obviously super excited about! We moved into the fort area a couple of days later, and also spent a lot of that time shamefully hiding from the sweltering hot sun in our AC room. We did visit a small turtle hatchery which collects eggs from the beaches which have historically been eaten by locals, birds and dogs and releases them safely back into the sea as soon as they have hatched. A couple of injured turtles that will not be able to go back into the wild are also kept there. It was a small family run charity and we were impressed with how many turtles they manage to help every day. 
The Galle fort itself has a really nice atmosphere of different cultures, both European and Sri Lankan. The architecture is pretty and the fort is well maintained with a palm tree framed lighthouse on one side of it. We watched a couple of spectacular sunsets here and went for a run one evening, although it was still so hot I was convinced I was dying afterwards. 

One thing I got tired of in Sri Lanka was everyone always addressing/dealing with/questioning Matt and not me, I began to feel a bit invisible after a while! And although we had enjoyed India and Sri Lanka we were itching to get to Thailand, where we could eat something that wasn’t vegetable curry, the waves do not threaten to drown you and you do not have to buy alcohol through an intimidating grate on the side of the road. We left Galle after a couple of days in the Fort and happily flew into Bangkok airport. 

Has anyone been to Sri Lanka? What was your experience of it? 

Posts from Thailand coming soon! 

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