I’m starting this blog in the center of the country at the Green House guesthouse at the base of Adam’s Peak, or Sri Pada to the locals, Sri Lanka’s most sacred mountain. For the past few minutes, I’m been watching the joy on the owner’s young daughter’s face as she plays with my notebook. Her eyes light up and there’s a huge grin as she sees her name appear on the screen as she hits the keyboard. We’ve just taken a picture of her and her family and shown her the picture on the screen and the smile that I thought couldn’t get any wider just did.
It’s been a phenomenal two weeks here in Sri Lanka. I’d heard only good things from people and they were all spot on. The hill country, with all the tea plantations, is stunning while the people are so curious and friendly and the food divine. Not too mention of course the warm weather, which the t-shirts and I have loved after a few weeks in the UK.
As I said above, people here are very curious. Kids always wave at you as you wander by and the men always stop you in the streets with the same 3 questions: a) your country, b) first time in SL and c) how many days in SL? When I answer that I’m South African, the response is often “Ah, Hansie Cronje, he was a great player and captain”. (For those non South Africans and/or non cricket fans, Hansie was the captain of South Africa in a then record 53 Tests and 138 one-day internationals from 1994 – 2000).
(In case you’re wondering, most people speak English here. The country has a very high literacy rate and you’re always seeing lots of kids heading to/from school).
My first visit to Asia started off in the capital Colombo, which is a chaotic city. Hearing “Colombo, Colombo, Colombo” on the bus ride in from the airport, which took over two hours with the traffic, reminded me of being in a taxi on Rondebosch main road (where I went to university in Cape Town) hearing … Clairemont, Wynberg, Moubraai – Kaap! Colombo is just another large city and perhaps misable if short on time but if you do make it, I highly do recommend the bustling Pettah market, which is teaming with people and stalls selling everything imaginable.
While wandering about one morning I walked past Aravinda Da Silva, a former Sri Lankan cricketer, and then had a great chat with a local about his match winning hundred in the 1996 World Cup final versus Australia. What an innings that was! Speaking of cricket, if you’re a huge fan like me, the Cricket Cafe in district 3 of Colombo, with its extensive collection of cricket memorabilia, is not to be missed.
After a few days exploring Colombo I was off to the second largest city Kandy. My couch surfing host, Ian, had a super house just outside the city in the hills and he introduced me to some divine local food. The food here is fantastic and one of my favourite experiences has been eating in these shop-come-restaurants (small shops that have just two or three tables serving food) in the small towns. You walk in, find a seat and are served your breakfast/lunch/dinner (delicious rice and vegetable curry regardless). There are no menus, no discussion of prices and no options. Sweetened milk tea always accompanies the meal and the bill has never been more than US$ 1. There are also heaps of bakeries in town and we’ve tried some delicious samoosas and vegetable curry pastries. All with a good kick to them!
From Kandy, I headed north on a road trip to walk up the massive rock at the ancient archaeological site at Sigiriya (I know a massive rock doesn’t sound all that interesting but check out the pictures) and to cycle around the ruins of the ancient city at Polonnaruwa, both of which I’d recommend if you visit Sri Lanka.
Once back in Kandy, I headed south to the hill country. The planned route through the hill country was to change, however, when I met Isolde and Josie on the train – textile designers from England who had been working and traveling round India for two months. I jumped off at Hatton, where I was initially headed, and then back on to join them as I just knew it would be wicked travelling with them.
And I was spot on! We’ve had a phenomenal week hiking in the hill country, which is where all the tea plantations are. The train meanders gently through the country and the views are brilliant. You have to travel by train through these parts and when you do, go third class – it’s cheaper and there are actually more seats. That said though, the best spot is standing half out the train on the stairs.
Traveling here takes time. The distances are not great but trains rattle along at a very gentle pace and buses never go more than 15-20km/hr. Furthermore, the bus will often stop for the driver to have some tea and just because your bus has arrived, don’t jump in until the engine starts because the driver will likely enjoy some tea before heading off. Far from being frustrating, though, it only adds to the experience. And when travelling with awesome people you actually forget how long you spend sitting around.
Izzy and Josie – great travelling with you guys and all the best with the careers 🙂
On our first night in Ella, the girls and I met Keith, an Irishman living in Kuala Lumpur, and he joined us on our hike the following morning. We hiked up to Ella Rock, the highest spot in the area, for fantastic views before spotting a waterfall in the distance. A few hours later, having somehow found our way (not to mention scaling 3 gates) we arrived at this stunning waterfall (a set of 3), which we had to ourselves. You cannot beat swimming under a refreshing waterfall after a solid few hours of hiking.
There was more hiking around Ella before making our way to a town called Haputale to hike through the tea plantations. Here we also took a tour of a tea factory to learn how it all works. Our guide had quite an accent though, and spoke very quickly, so while I may know a little more about the production of tea, my knowledge is by no means extensive.
While walking back from Lipton’s seat (the viewpoint where Thomas Lipton used to survey his burgeoning tea empire), I enjoyed my first game of cricket with a few kids, which was great fun.
We then made our way to Dalhousie to climb Adam’s Peak. While still super quiet, the pilgrimage season starts on Dec 20th with the full moon, the town is getting ready for the influx of people (mainly locals actually) with people applying fresh paint to everything and makeshift stalls going up all around town. We’ll set off at 2.30 am to summit in time for sunrise (it’s +- 5, 000 steps to the top and takes around 2.5 hrs) and I’m really looking forward to it. I’ll finish this off when I’m back in Ella in the next day or two.
It’s now Sunday and I’m back in Ella. The walk was phenomenal – awesome evening weather wise and the views from atop were stunning and we were fortunate to see the famous shadow – the sun somehow reflects off the mountain to form a perfect triangle, and all in all, it was a memorable experience.
I’m now catching up on e-mails, posting pictures etc. while I enjoy another cup of tea. Tomorrow I head off down south for a week on the beaches, which will no doubt be great fun.