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Published: February 9th 2014
Why Sri Lanka? Well, it's all Deans fault really, (I'm only joking) he met a couple in Vietnam during a recent bike trip, who had had just finished traveling through Sri Lanka and really enjoyed it, and as neither of us had been ourselves, and we had a few weeks to kill before our motorbike tour through India, we decided we would have a look see. Well not totally true really, I had stopped here a long time ago as a child on our way to Australia and I remember being quite scared by what, to me, was something so very different, and a very long way from my countryside upbringing in England. I'm pleased to say that after being here for several weeks it really is not that scary!
The flight into Colombo is really beautiful, over some amazing scenery, and we even spotted whales just out to sea.We had heard some pretty bad tales of what to expect upon arrival, but it wasn't the case. The Airport has recently been upgraded - thanks to CHOGM, and everywhere was so calm compared to other Asian cities that we had flown into.
We had booked a hotel near the
beach in Negombo, so now all we needed to do was negotiate a taxi. With the deal done, and the driver assuring us he knew where he was going, we were squeezed into the worlds smallest taxi (I'm sure about that) and were off and racing. And as we have experienced so many times before, It wasn't long before we realised this guy has no idea where he is going, oh well, we had all day and we also got to see a part of town that we probably would not have seen otherwise, all good.
Negombo is a nice beach side town, about 35 kms north of Colombo, they have quite a fishing fleet there, and it was really nice to see all the different coloured sails of the outriggers fishing for prawns just off the coast. We spent quite some time chatting to the fisherman, as they cleared their nets, and even offered to have a game of cricket with some kids on the beach, but cheeky buggers said only if we paid them, so we left them to it, ( they really don't know what they missed out on!). Well after a couple of nights and
a some very nice fish meals it was time to head for the hills- next stop Kandy.
We decided that the $0.75, four hour bus ride sounded OK, so headed off on our next leg. We arrived early for the bus, choose our seats carefully ensuring that we didn't seat anywhere reserved for " The Clergy, Pregnant Women, the Disabled or Infirm" and settled back for the ride. Well I now know why the seat at the front is reserved for Clergy, It is clearly to ensure that there is someone up front praying the whole way, because we sure needed it, the Sri Lankan would have to been some of the worlds worst drivers. By the time we were ready to go, there were more people on that bus than I would like to think about. I had done something very silly and given up my middle plastic covered seat to a young lady, thinking the aisle would give me a little more room, and as a consequence spent two hours of the journey with some guys crotch resting on my shoulder- nice, I don't think I enjoyed it nearly as much as he did! Anyway after a
very long, hot and cramped ride we did eventually arrive in Kandy in one piece.
We stayed with a family in Kandy whos two eldest sons had left home to study in the US. The empty nesters had seen this as a great opportunity and were renting the boys bedrooms out to passing tourists for $15 a night with breakfast. Great for us, we got to not only enjoy some really good cooking, but got a taste of living in a Sri Lankan home and even had the family cat come to visit in the night.
Kandy is in the 'Hill Country' and as you would suspect is surrounded by big hills, it also has a very large lake as it's centerpiece, which reminded us of Hanoi a little. The home where we stayed was up in the hills and each morning we walked down the hill passing the monkeys in the trees. At the bottom of the hill was the hospital, market and bus station and all very chaotic! -how wonderful.
An interesting thing that the British left behind here is the need to put everyone in uniform, and the Sri Lankans do it very well.
The Nurses are still wearing starched aprons over their uniforms and the different shaped hats that depict their 'rank'. All school kids are immaculate in white, skirts for the girls and long pants for the boys with just their different coloured ties and jumpers to differentiate their school. Oh, and the policeman's patent leather shoes are very smart.
One day we decided a visit to the Botanical Gardens may be in order, so loaded with a picnic lunch headed off in a three wheeler. In years gone-by the gardens were reserved for the use of the Royals, but these days they let just about anyone in who pays the $10.00, a bit steep I thought but, worth the visit nevertheless. The gardens were beautiful and there is a really interesting avenue of trees planted over the years by some famous and some not so famous people, it was really interesting how the size of tree planted, seems to be in relation to the size of the persons status who planted it!
Another thing that we have found amusing is that the street food vendors here wrap their wares in somebody's old homework paper, and sure enough when we
unwrapped lunch, there was someones homework, 33% was this poor students result, I think with that score, I would probably would have been happy to have my homework wrapped around someone's poppadoms!
From Kandy we continued west into the Hill Country but this time used the train, and headed for Nuwara Eliya. What a beautiful ride, through some amazing scenery, green as green tea plantations covering every square inch of the hills, waterfalls and clear streams. Nuwara Eyila is a real mixture of British and Sri Lankan. From the colonial bungalows with their hedgerows and roses to the dusty and bustling town center it real is a place of contrasts. Again we stayed out of town and at first glance we could well of been in England with the mist and veggie allotments.
In town we discovered the wonderful world of the Sri Lankan 'shorteats' - well, what can I say other than yum! Little bundles of all sorts - veggies, egg etc, wrapped, rolled and then fried into the must amazing treasures, just lovely but not so good for the waistline, I don't think. Dean enjoyed his birthday there, and so to celebrate we visited the Hill
Club which in its heyday was an English Gentleman's club, but unfortunately the bar was closed, so he settled for a cold beer down the road at what was once the billiard club, chatting to an old guy about times gone by.
On another day we decided a walk to a waterfall may be nice, so set off with full intent. Well you know what they say, when the going gets tough, the tough put their finger out and we managed to jump on a tractor going up the hill to pick up the tea, the locals thought it hilarious but in 35 degrees we were very grateful for the ride. After a nice half hour at the falls we slowly made out way back down to the Tea Plantation to see how the Tea is processed, and really things don't seemed to have changed in a very long time, still a lot of manual handling and some very old machinery.
After a few days it was again time to head off, and another train ride, this time to the very laid back town of Ella. Well what a find, the main street is all of about 100
meters long, lined either side with some great little restaurants. This town has a real Bohemian feel to it and even comes with dread-locked hippies. We hired a motorbike there and managed to see most of what was on offer. The countryside is amazing, with huge hills which seem to just appear and some lovely waterfalls, and again lots of monkeys.
We meet a very interesting little guy, as we were just cruising along, he asked whether we were looking for the Nine Arches Bridge, which in fact we were. He offered to show us the way and very promptly jumped on the bike in front of Dean. This little guy could talk under water we reckoned and told us he would take us to his home, he mother would be very pleased to see us and she was into hospitality, so would be very happy to make us a cup of tea! I quietly asked Dean how much do you think this is going to cost us, but our little mate insisted that we would see the bridge, and enjoy the tea. Well we did both of those things, and what can I say, other than what a
wonderful family they were, four sons, dad works away in Colombo for 4 weeks at a time, and a lovely mother who was indeed very pleased to see us. We hope our little contribution helped in some way.
From Ella we decided on the easy transport option and hired a van and driver to take us to the Uda Walawe National Park, where we had booked a couple of nights 'Camping' right on the river. Well what can I say other than fantastic, the tents were really great and very comfortable with attached bathrooms. Breakfast and Dinner was served next to the river under candle light and there were monkeys in the trees. One day we did a Safari there and it really was great, we were in our own vehicle with a driver and a park guide which was really good, as without the guide I think we may of missed some of the animals. We saw lots and lots of Elephants big and small, Buffalo, Deer, Crocodiles, a Jackal, more Peacocks than you could poke a stick at ( how beautiful) and lots of other birds including the most beautiful Kingfishers.
Another great spot was the
Elephant Transit Camp, a center that helps to care for the area's injured or orphaned elephants, it is supported by the Born Free Foundation and does some great work, and after rehabilitation the elephants are released into the park.
After the park, it was back on the bus, this time, complete with disco music, flashing Buddhas and some very nice silk flowers, and we headed for the south coast and the small town of Tangalla. We spent a couple of lazy days there under a umbrella enjoying the beach, before heading even further west to our next stop Mirissa beach, another idyllic little beach-side town.
Mirissa beach is a little bit more lively than Tangalla and is clearly on the tourist route of the Europeans holiday makers. Once again we stayed a little out of town and had a room which looked out over the fields, it was lovely and we were woken each morning to the sounds of the peacocks. We hired another motorbike there, and we didn't have to wander far from the main road before we were in someones village, and seeing life as it has been forever except for the flat screen tv"s of
The south coast is probably the most touristic place we have been in Sri Lanka and there is much on offer in the way of surf lessons, boat cruises and whale watching. Mirrissa beach also has a great little Turtle rescue spot and we enjoyed quite a while there hand feeding the turtles.
But it was time to keep heading west in time for our flight to Delhi, but not before a short stay in the the wonderful fort town of Galle. The fort was built by the Portuguese in 1589, taken by the Dutch in 1663, then to the British in the late 1700s, unfortunately it now seems to be the Europeans turn, and they are turning it into a very up market place to be, with very glitzy and pricey gift shops, expensive meals and after dinner ice creams.
But having said that, there still remains an amazing collection of buildings, and it is now a World Heritage Site so hopefully will remain an amazing place for all to enjoy.
So India here we come! ........ The journey continues!
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