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Asia » Sri Lanka » Central Province » Ella
January 15th 2014
Published: July 30th 2014
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At this point, my trip around Sri Lanka has become an exercise in patience. Moving on to Sinharaja Forest Reserve looks easy enough on a map, but the thinly drawn roads make me worry a little. The guesthouse owner doesn't really know how to get there, but he tells me it should be easy enough to catch a bus or tuk-tuk to junction A, then wait for a bus to junction B, then take another bus to Sinharaja. I manage to hitch a ride with a tuk tuk-driver, which gives me the feeling of having beat the system, to the first junction. Two bus rides later, however, I'm stuck in a small town in the rain waiting for the bus, with around 50 people persistently staring at me. The bus never arrives, and everybody I ask doesn't have a clue if it will or not.

I decide to postpone my visit to Sinharaja until the end of the trip, and to go northwards, towards Sri Lanka's fertile Hill Country. Three more horrendously overcrowded bus rides and six hours later, I arrive in Haputale. It's dark, I'm tired and irritable, my guesthouse of choice is nowhere to be found, while touts try to steer me towards theirs. Finally somebody points me in the right direction, towards a dark, narrow alley leading to a staircase, where two guys are busy taking a piss. As I try to pass them, I step into a deep pothole with my left leg, splitting my pants, letting off a slight scream, startling the two urinators. Lucky my legs are quite long, just long enough to reach the bottom of the pothole, at least. My pants are caught in some sharp metal around the pothole, and it takes a while for the two guys to drag me out. I thank them quickly, and powerwalk away, cussing and trembling. The guesthouse is just around the corner, and I end the day with a beer to calm my poor nerves.

In the morning I realise Haputale is all about the location. The town itself is not much to look at, but it's set along the steep ridge of a stunning hill, easing itself into a valley that reaches as far as the eye can see. The temperature is pleasant, much less stifling than in the lowlands, but sunny and warm. I embark on a hike through tea plantations towards Adisham Hall, which used to be the country house of a British aristocrat in the 1930s, before being converted into a Benedictine monastery in the 1960s. The complex is nice to look at and all, but really only an excuse to go hiking, where one can marvel at the beautiful scenery surrounding Haputale.

I hop on the train to Ella, supposedly the Hill Country's tourist trap. It does have all the characteristics, in fact, with guesthouse next to restaurants next to 'tourist informations', overpriced cafés and small supermarkets. Bands of tuk tuk-drivers linger around, ready to prey on hapless Westerners. I find a good room in a great location, up several flights of stairs, overlooking the town and a bit of the surrounding hills. Not one to rest on my laurels, I go on another hike, towards Little Adam's Peak. Along the way, I come across a great little café, where the friendly owner serves me afternoon tea and lemon cake. Further up the road, a lady selling embroidered pillow cases stops me and asks where I'm from, if I wanna buy a pillow case, and if I want an erotic massage, as her friend runs a place just opposite of her stall. I decline politely and move on.

After a while, the road leads to tea plantations, where old ladies, probably Tamil tea pickers, ask me to take their picture. In exchange for money, you know? Now I know how all those photos of old ladies picking tea came to be. Stupid tourists. Up at Little Adam's Peak, the view is truly spectacular, with hills and mountains in different shades of green and valleys with meandering paths and rivers unfolding in front of my eyes. A French couple arrives with their local guide, who speaks decent French, surprisingly. On the way back, I play with the pillow lady's puppy dog, while she takes this opportunity to ask me again if I'm not interested in an erotic massage.


***


The following morning, I have sweet red milk rice and a giant pot of tea, which renders about six cups, for breakfast. Just what I was looking for. I meet up with Alyssa from Toronto, whom I got to know the night before at a curry place. We embark on the hike to Ella Rock, said to be the best place for a great view. The first couple of kilometres, we follow the railway tracks, reminding me of the film Stand By Me, especially when we come across a small bridge. Remember that scene? We ask the locals for the way. Some of them are unsure, others want to be our guides, yet others want to send you the wrong way, then 'rescue' you and be your guide. Good thing we know roughly where to go, so blatant attempts at sending us the wrong directions are foiled quickly. We come across many tourists, mostly couples, some of whom actually hired a guide. We end up following one of those for a while. The path leads to a beautiful lookout, then around a small hill, past tea plantations, a waterfall, plenty of jackfruit trees, some tea pickers' huts, a couple of grand-looking colonial mansions, and finally goes uphill through a forest to Ella Rock.

When you first lay eyes on Ella Rock, it takes your breath away. It's that gorgeous. One has the best view of Ella's surroundings, including Little Adam's Peak. The scenery is lush, the mountains green, mist rolls in and hangs just above our heads like an all-encompassing veil that could drop any second. As I inch closer to the edge, I realise there's a sheer drop, giving me weak knees and slight vertigo. We hang out for a while and enjoy the moment, which is made difficult by local kids who are drumming and singing away merrily. For a minute or so, it might be ok, you might get the feeling it adds to the whole experience, but they just keep going for 20+ minutes. Maybe they wanna get us so annoyed that we pay them to stop and piss off. Why is it so hard to find peace and quiet in this country? There are just too many people anywhere you go, some of whom end up doing random shit like this to get money out of the tourists.

Just as we start the walk back, I get fierce stomach cramps and know it's time to run into the forest, where I have a violent, explosive, spicy, gurgling, painful diarrhea attack. Afterwards, I feel better, but dehydrated. Back in town, I down a big bottle of isotonic goodness. After a shower and a good nap, my stomach feels just fine again, so I go to the Curd Shop to eat one of Sri Lanka's famed desserts: buffalo curd with mixed fruit and jaggery, a type of sirup. Despite all the tourists, Ella still has a very nice and chilled out vibe about it. The locals are friendly, and even the travellers are not too bad. The demographics of travellers in Sri Lanka is a bit strange: there are not that many young folks around, mostly couples aged 30+ as well as some families with children. I come across a German tour group consisting of around 15 people. Their guide speaks a very impressive German, in fact he's so good that at an opportune moment, I pull him aside to ask him where he learned it. "Goethe Institute in Colombo", he tells me. Also, that he's still learning, that you should never stop learning, and that the German tour groups are a handful (he tells me with a wink).

I feel I should take more time to relax in Ella, but there's so much more I still need to explore in Sri Lanka, so onwards 'tis again.


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Adisham BungalowAdisham Bungalow
Adisham Bungalow

A Benedictine monastery in Sri Lanka's Hill Country


30th July 2014

British aristocrats
I can see why this area attracted visitors of all kinds. This is lovely. Sorry to hear about the GI problems...hopefully they won't linger.

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