Monday, 25 June 2018

Sri Lanka - Trip Report

I travelled to Sri Lanka solo, just as I have on many of my previous adventures.

This time it wasn't the original plan but my girlfriend happened to crash her car on the way to the airport. Very unfortuante for her, but for me - I got to sit next an empty middle seat on the plane. Every cloud has a silver lining.

It was 1am and I had arrived in the land of the vertical bank note.

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My first destination was the incredibly scenic town of Ella. The 7-hour taxi ride there from Colombo airport was a little costly by Sri Lankan standards at 13,000LKR ($81.50, 61.50 GBP). The trains in Sri Lanka are so cheap that they're practically free. It's just unfortunate that the first train would have got me to Ella at sunset rather than sunrise. Time is more important than money when you're on a short trip so I didn't want to waste a whole day, unlike my girlfriend who was wasting the day in a police station thousands of miles away.


The taxi was a big SUV which was able to cope with Sri Lanka's poorly maintained roads well enough so that I could lie across the seats and get some half-decent sleep in.

I stayed at the Mount Blue View Guest Inn in Ella who allowed me to check in early at 8am. A big advantage of staying in independent hotels is that they're rarely strict about the check-in time. If they can accomodate you they generaly will and so I was able to have a shower and a couple of hours relaxing on my balcony, looking out at the landscape that I was about to explore, before I set off hiking.


The first place that I hiked to was the Nine Arches Bridge, a beatifully tall railway bridge built in 1941 out of bricks and stone. No steel, which is impressive given the size of the structure.

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I hung out at the bridge for 40 minutes before finally being able to watching a train fly over it. You know how much us Scotsmen love "trainspotting".

I continued my hike after taking a short break to consume nature's best electrolyte beverage, served fresh by an entrepreneurial lady who had set up a stall next to the train tracks.

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Not as nice as the type of coconuts they have in Thailand for what it's worth.

They say the best time to visit Little Adams's Peak is early in the morning as the visibility from the top can be poor later in the afternoon. I decided to take my chances with that. As I hiked up to the peak I could see the clouds heading towards it, so I raced them and just about beat them there.

For less than an hour of hiking the views from Little Adams's Peak seemed undeserving rewarding. It must be what it feels like to be a kid with rich parents who gets gifted a brand new car just for passing his piss-easy high school exams. Sri Lanka, you spoil me.

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Back at the hotel I fell asleep by accident and only woke up at 10pm due to hunger. I left my room to go out for a munch, only getting as far as the hotel's shutter-gate which was padlocked firmly shut. I couldn't believe they had locked me in. The hotel was dead, no lights were on in any of the rooms. I checked my phone thinking that I must have mistaken the time.

"Yeah, 10:15pm." Maybe the timezone was wrong? Nope, that was correct too.

The tall, thick steel gate looked like it could be climbable. I finally worked out a way to get over it when I heard a noise behind me. I turned around to be confronted by the old man owner of the hotel in his pajamas.

"Oh hey. I'm just going out for food." I said casually, as if it were perfectly normal to climb over 2.5 meter gates to get in and out of places.

"No. Everything closed. No food."

I didn't believe him. There's no way everything would be closed so early. There was a main street not so far away with loads of bars and restaurants aimed at tourist. So after telling him how hungry I was and that I wanted to go try my luck anyway, he sighed and unlocked the padlock for me, let me out, closed the gate, fake-closed the padlock and showed me how to close it properly when I came back.

I walked though the narrow dirt roads in absolute pitch darkness with only my phone's flashlight to help me until I reached the main town. Most of the restaurants were closed and the ones that were still open were only selling drinks. After pleading with a few of them, telling them how hungry I was and offering to pay double, I managed to convince one to make me a large portion of chicken fried rice to take away.

The next morning at breakfast, the hotel owner and his wife were both joking with me about the incident.

"you hungry, hahaha". Like someone going out to eat dinner after 10pm is the most silly thing in the world. Maybe not the world, but in this small town it seemingly was.

After breakfast the crazy Kiwi girl that I was dating (but thankfully no longer am - you can read about that in the next blog post) finally arrived to join me in Sri Lanka.

She was tired from the travelling and just wanted to sleep all day.

"Hell no. It's our last day in Ella. You're coming hiking with me."

And off we went, with the first half hour using the railway track as our path. That was the easy part of the hike, as it's impossible to get lost.

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I had printed off an awesome illustrated guide on how to get to Ella Rock and was glad of it because we wouldn't have found our way there otherwise. There were many points where it would have been easy to get lost. I had also read multiple stories about locals who deliberately try to hide paths in an attempt to get travellers lost. They then come to help show you the way before demanding an unreasonably large payment at the end.

We were looking for the first little dirt path to take us away from the railway track when we met a group of 7 boys in their late teens.

"ELLA ROCK!" They shouted, and pointed us down a dirt path.

After a couple of minutes we hadn't reached the next landmark on the illustrated itinerary so I concluded that these guys had sent us down the wrong path. I explained it to my girlfriend and suggested we go back to the railway tracks but she was "fairly sure" we were going the right way, despite the fact that she had done zero research and I had a step-by-step illustrated guide in my hand.

As we walked back it turned out that the group of boys had been following us.

"Where you go? No, no! Ella Rock that way. THAT WAY!"

I told them it was ok, that I was going a different way.

"No! If you go other way you must pay $30 for entry!" The shiftiest looking of the group explained.

"Aye right, pay $30 to who? The Sri Lankan hill faeries? And why do they charge in dollars instead of rupees?" The sharp scent of bullshit in the air couldn't have been more potent.

I just wanted to get away from them but my girlfriend felt more inclined to trust this group of scam artists than me.

"Maybe we should just....."

"NO!" I wasn't about to stand there and try to convince her. I quickly and assertively walked past them and she really had no choice but to follow me.

"Just trust me."

After we found the first couple of landmarks from the printed itinerary, she conceded that she was maybe a little naive and just tends to assume that everyone she meets is genuine and helpful.

The route to Ella Rock was a pleasant trek through a tea plantation and then a steep hike up some wooded hills. The reward at the top was looking out at rolling hills of green as far as the eye could see.

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The next day we spent the whole day travelling but I would hardly call that one a wasted day. It was the most scenic train ride I've ever experienced.

Hopefully my shaky phone camera footage can do the incredible journey a semblance bit of justice.

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I spent most of the trip from Ella to Hatton standing in the open doorway, the best place to catch the breeze and have an unrestricted view of Sri Lankan countryside life.

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After a long train and Tuk Tuk ride we arrived in a small village known as Dalhousie, located at the base of Adams Peak - a 2243m tall mountain that is considered sacred in many religions.

The plan was to go straight to sleep, wake up at 2am and hike up to the peak in time for sunrise.

The route to the peak was paved with around 5,500 steep stairs and there were shops selling drinks and hot food every couple of hundred meters. A bit of a different kind of mountain hike compared to doing it in undeveloped nature.

After several hours of stair climbing in the pitch dark, with way too many breaks so that my girlfriend could smoke (annoying and disgusting), we made it to the peak an hour before sunrise. We were joined by a few hundred others, all packed into a small space next to a budhist temple.

The experience of watching the sun rise from the peak wasn't all that great, mostly due to a huge ugly brick building (apparently a donations office) blocking the best part of the view.

We were the amongst the first to start heading back down just as the sun was rising, a wise plan as we didn't want to get stuck behind hundreds of slow people. The real reward of the hike was walking back down the mountain, with unobstruced views and no people around us.

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From there we travelled to the small city of Kandy. This was the only part of the trip that I hadn't planned an itinerary for. My girlfriend had been to Kandy before on a short stopover stay in Sri Lanka, so I left it up to her to plan our time there. Needless to say that we ended up doing absolutely nothing enjoyable there.

We hired a Tuk-Tuk for the full day at only 5,000 LKR (23.75GBP / $31.45 USD) so that we could get from Kandy to Negombo.

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Thankfully that payment also included a driver because I have a bad habit of crashing every vehicle that I drive.

We broke up a long, long journey by stopping off for a couple of hours at the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage to watch these magnificent creatures:

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I usually love to consume the local delicacies when I travel but Sri Lankan food wasn't doing it for me at all, so we found a cafe outside of the Elephant Orphanage to eat some egg pastries before continuing the long journey.

We were forced to stop every 30-45 minutes so that my girlfriend could smoke - and on one occasion because she had a desperate craving for soda water. I stood with the driver, who was obviously frustrated and just wanted to get us to our destination as quickly as possible so he could drive all the way back to his family in Kandy and arrive sometime before midnight.

"Water? There water there" He said, pointing at a small convenience store that she had already been in and out of.

"No, she want's soda water"

"Huh? Water?"

"No, soda water, it is water with bubbles." I tried to explain to him as I stood there looking just as frustrated as him.

Every time we stopped I bought some chocolate which, unlike soda water, is not difficult to find in Sri Lanka.

"You're so unhealthy, how can you eat SO MUCH chocolate?" She asked, disapprovingly, as she threw her umpteenth cigarette butt onto the ground.

We finally made it to Negombo in the evening and were getting ready to go out for dinner when I started having excruating pains in my stomach.

"That's what happens when you eat too much sugar!" Came the 'I told you so' lecture.

"I eat tonnes of sugar all the time, 5 bars of chocolate and couple of milkshake drinks aren't going to make me feel physically ill." I explained.

"No, it's definitely the sugar, DEFINITELY THE SUGAR!" The lecture continued.

15 minutes of the pain getting progressively worse and I was in the bathroom experiencing a taste of hell - spewing my guts out constantly in absolute agony.

"What are you not going to do again?"

"Dale, WHAT are you not going to do again? Eat TOO MUCH SUGAR!" It wasn't exactly what I wanted to hear as I emerged from the bathroom 30 minutes later, weighing several kilos lighter and with tears still running down my cheeks.

I stayed in the room, having to take plenty more trips to the bathroom, while she went out alone to find a Thai restaurant looking to satisfy her craving of Tom Yum soup.

I dozed off in bed and late in the night was woken up by the sound of spewing. No, I wasn't having nightmares related to being sick. Those noises were coming from the bathroom.

After what seemed like an eterney she stumbled slowly out of the bathroom.

"I told you it wasn't the damn chocolate!!!" I didn't waste any time in saying.

"Yeah. It must have been those pastries we ate outside the elephant place." She conceded.

"I think I've just put myself off Tom Yum soup for life." She said, looking completely drained.

"What are you not going to do again? WHAT are you not going to do again? EAT TOM YUM SOUP!" I still felt sick but my sense of humour is sicker.

So our two nights in the seaside town of Negombo to end the Sri Lanka trip were pretty much a write-off.

Here's a photo of the fairly ordinary beach I took during the 15 minutes I spent on it.


The Sri Lanka trip started off well and got progressively worse - starting from the point that the girl arrived now that I come to think of it. However I did earn enough money lying in bed playing on my laptop while I was sick to pay for the trip multiple times over. So as a thrifty Scotsman I am going to declare this trip an overall success.

I plan to return to Sri Lanka in the near future. I lost count of the number of people who told me that you need at least 3 weeks to "do" Sri Lanka. Yeah, I wasn't trying to complete it like it's a bloody video game. Some countries you want to give yourself a good reason to return to. See you next time Sri Lanka.

4 comments:

  1. Extraordinary train ride and beautiful scenery! Good Luck !!

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    1. Thank you Edgardo. Best of luck to you too my friend.

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  2. interesting blog Dale. she sounds like a nightmare...and I've experienced the harassment from locals before and had a girlfriend telling me that they're just trying to help. they always take the side of anyone else against their boyfriend for some weird reason.

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    1. haha I'm glad someone else knows how it felt

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