Diversity in Sri Lanka

Here you can view all my blog posts from our trip to Sri Lanka in March/April 2018.

  • Business class planes to third class trains… (3/21/2018)

    Since my time travelling South East Asia previously, I had the dream to visit Sri Lanka. The Pearl in the Indian Ocean, with lush jungles, stunning beaches, a variety of wildlife and especially delicious food, it seems like a Paradise island!

    I semi-planned a trip here last year but I waited too long to book the flights and they went uncomfortably high in price.

    So here we are this year, with flights booked to Colombo well in advance for a good price with Etihad airlines.

    This holiday was much needed for both Pete and I. Work, for both of us, had been increasingly demanding and stressful recently, we also had a house move, my knee operation and unfortunately, Pete also fractured his foot. We needed a break and an adventure in equal measure!

    A few days before the flight out, Etihad sent me an email which I almost ignored. It said that we could put a bid in to upgrade our flights to business class. Each leg of the flight was separated and each one required a separate bid. I checked out the link and looked at what to expect in business, and after this decided to place the minimum bid price, which I thought might not get accepted, but if it did, would be just about ok. I got an email the following day accepting my bid for the 2nd leg of the flight to Colombo from Abu Dhabi! We were excited!

    Our first leg of the flight wasn’t too bad, although it’s small, cramped and hard to sleep, in contrast, our second leg was… Incredible!

    We had access to the business lounge during our layover in Abu Dhabi, which was great and enabled us to have some free food and drinks. We boarded the plane first and were instantly offered champagne (which was a little embarrassing as everyone else in economy had to walk past us enviously). The electronic seats had almost full recline and a foot/leg rest which raised up. We slept a lot but also made sure we woke for food to enjoy this too. After alighting the plane, we got a separate bus to the terminal and our bags were also taken off first. It was stress-free and relaxing way to travel. We loved it so much that we have now made a bid for the way home!

    So, we made it to Colombo in style. I used the ‘PickMe’ app to book a taxi from the airport to our hotel and after arriving we had a little nap and shower to recover before going out to a little dumpling shop around the corner for food.

    We walked over to the old Dutch hospital, which has now been converted to shops and restaurants, be we found this very touristy and commercial, so we carried on exploring before returning to the hotel.

    The following day we woke up early and headed out for breakfast. We were recommended by the hotel to try a local food place. Upon arriving we saw they had paratha (parota or roti) with daal, which is one of our absolute favourites, so it was a great start to the day and nice to experience a proper local place.

    From here we took our first tuk tuk over to Galle Face Beach. The pickme app was a godsend, as we were hassled a lot by tuk tuk drivers and I think I would’ve found it quite stressful to constantly have to negotiate prices…

    From here we took another tuk tuk over to Gamgaramaya Temple and park, where we were treated to a fantastic display of Sri Lankan music and dance. A Japanese dignatory just happened to be visiting the site and the temple had put on a show for him. We were allowed to sneak in at the side and watch the traditional dancing. It was amazing!!

    Despite getting tuk tuks a lot, we had still done a lot of walking and Pete’s foot, still fractured, was starting to get sore, so we hired a tuk tuk and driver for 2 hours to take us between everywhere I wanted to go with minimal walking. He agreed to take us to Viharamahadevi park, Kelaniya Rajamaha Viharaya temple and the red mosque, but he also stopped at a few more pretty places along the way which was really nice and helped Pete’s foot a lot.

    From here, we went over to Pettah market to eat at a ‘pure vegetarian’ restaurant. I learned that the majority of people on Sri Lanka are vegetarian. Usually it means to be vegan, but the western culture has meant that their word ‘vegetarian’ now includes eggs and some dairy. So ‘pure vegetarian’ often means without eggs or dairy… Although the man told us one of the dishes did contain milk… very confusing!

    After a big nap and a shower, that evening we decided to sample one of Colombo’s premium restaurants, so opted for the one with best vegetarian reviews; Chutney’s at Colombo’s famous Cinnamon Grand hotel. It was really nice food, but surprisingly, not the best we’ve had so far on our trip… Still, we were treated very well and it was nice to experience eating at a top-end restaurant which would have cost an arm and a leg in the UK!

    Overall, we liked Colombo. Most things we read said to stay clear, but both of us appreciate diversity. We like to experience as much variety as possible. Literally, business class one day and a 20p tuk tuk the next. Or eating in a local street food place and then a fancy hotel. It gives the holiday balance and we feel like we’ve experienced more with a sense of perspective.

    Our diverse holiday continues to the next stop as we boarded a train to Habarana in third class…

  • Steps in Sigiriya (3/22/2018)

    The train to Sigiriya was long and bumpy, but interesting and fun.

    We rushed to get there and to get a ticket in time, so didn’t have a chance for breakfast, that meant our only option was to sample the on-board snacks.

    Sellers would get on at one stop and off at the next, walking up and down the ailse continually shouting the name of the food they were selling.

    We tried vadai first, little lentil fritters with fried onions and chilli. They were nice and amusingly, served in a paper bag made of school work… After this we tried more vadai shaped like a doughnut which was softer and a little nicer I thought. This was served in a paper bag made of homework!! Finally we tried halapa, which was sweet coconut wrapped in a Kanda leaf. This was really delicious!

    The train took about 5 hours and passed through many villages as well as slums and shantytowns. At one point the train got very busy, but as we nearned our stop, it started to quiet down. We sat next to a family who looked like they were on the way home from the hospital, their son’s eye was bandaged up. We roughly communicated with them through food! At one point we had to stop and wait on the tracks for a long time, pulled up next to a train going in the opposite direction. A family there got very excited to see me… I still don’t fully understand this, but everywhere I go in Asia I get photographed and stared at by locals – much more than other people I’m travelling with, I’m not sure if it’s cause I’m so tall, or fair skinned… The family waved and giggled at me, took photos, then offered me an ice-pop which I reached out through the window to get. I snapped a quick one of them back!

    When we finally arrived in Habarana, we then had to negotiate for a tuk tuk price to take us to Sigiriya. After a few annoying moments, I gave in and we probably paid way over what you’re ‘supposed’ to. But in reality, this tuk tuk driver has probably waited at the station for well over an hour (our train arrived 45 min behind schedule) for the one and only train a day on the off-chance that someone would need a tuk tuk. He then drove us for 40 min to our guest house, down dirt tracks, having to phone the owner because we got lost and stopping along the way at view spots for photos for a measly £5… It’s not worth the hassle negotiating over a quid…

    Along the road we stumbled upon a Buddhist monk procession. Our driver told us that it was Thai monks over in Sri Lanka for a pilgrimage from Colombo to Adam’s peak (where it’s said is Buddha’s footprint). The pilgrimage takes around 5 months and the monks walk barefoot the whole way. Locals gather on the street to give offerings and also to wet the hot road or place leaves down to help the monks poor feet. In this village a big truck drove just in front of the procession pouring cold water on to the road… It was so interesting to see.

    After getting lost a little, we finally made it to our guest house to meet the owner Nera. Nera was a great guy. Over our stay there he told us his story where he used to be a humble tuk tuk driver. Then about 6 years ago he opened a fruit stall with his wife, which gradually became a juice shop, then a restaurant. Ahinsa restaurant in Sigiriya (named after his daughter) is now number 1 on trip advisor, and so, with that success he has recently opened a small guest house. The house is built around a tree (the same as his restaurant) and is named after his son, Anushka. The treehouse was beautiful, right in nature with everything hand crafted (he showed us the pics of him doing it!). He was also a great cook and I don’t think we felt hungry once during our stay!! He piled the food high on our plates! He also fed us shots of Arrack, a coconut rum!

    After a tasty lunch of rice and curry, we asked if Nera could help us go on a Safari to Minneriya National Park. Nera had a Jeep, so he just asked his friend to drive us round for 3 hours and we certainly got the miles on during that time as the guy was the fastest driver… It was pretty nerve racking how quickly he drove down the narrow roads, over taking on bends and having to brake so hard… We just tried to laugh about it and nicknamed him Colin McRae lol

    Before we even got to the park we saw elephants and deer on the side of the road! But we continued on anyway…

    Once we paid the high price to enter the park we stood up in the Jeep and held on for dear life as ‘Colin’ continued to drive like a maniac on the dirt roads. We saw lots of birds, some eagles, monitor lizards, peacocks (which felt normal, forgetting that all the UKs peacocks came from Sri Lanka originally!), Some foxes which were very skittish and we barely saw, and some deer which are also very skittish. And then we saw elephants, just a few at first, but deeper in the park we stumbled upon a large family group right on the road, we stopped to watch them for a long time, it was amazing, especially as we were pretty much the only jeep in the park, we only saw 2 others the whole day!

    That evening I got a ‘cooking lesson’ from Nera as we got down to the kitchen at about 7 and he was still cooking so I got to watch.

    The next day we wanted to do something with a little more flexibility, so we hired a scooter from Nera, which was actually just his bike which he let us use. We drove down to Dambulla where there is a stunning cave temple with painted walls and ceilings. The walk up steep steps to get to the entrance was hot and tiring, and the caves were so humid we didn’t really cool down, but it was still beautiful.

    We then took a different way back to Sigiriya via small villages and a large lake. Just being on a moped together again was amazing, it’s something we both completely enjoy, the sense of freedom and the wind in your hair! We hadn’t been on a motorbike together since or Thailand adventure last year!

    After a quick bite to eat at Nera’s restaurant, Ahinsa (which was absolutely delicious, our first taste of kottu roti!), We headed over to Sigiriya Rock. This is something I had wanted to do from the first day I spent planning Sri Lanka. They think that the area around Lion’s Rock has been inhabited since prehistoric times, with Buddhist monastries from about 3rd century bc. But the ruins that lay here now are about 1500 years old; the old palace of King Kashyapa.

    We had read about how amazing the rock is and how good the views are from the top. But what we didn’t expect was how scary the steps were and how difficult the climb would be, especially with my knee and Pete’s foot…

    The walk was extremely hot and humid, and the steps were relentless. At one point we had to ascend a giant spiral staitstase only to find it was an optional detour to some cave paintings and actually, we had to go straight back down a second spiral… Pete was not impressed to put extra strain on his poor foot.

    We eventually made it to the Lion’s gate, about 2/3 of the way up – Just a couple of rusty old metal staircases bolted into the sheer face of the rock… Easy… This bit was terrifying, even for us and we don’t usually have a fear of heights! I followed Pete, using him as inspiration and motivation to make it up the final steps.

    The view from the top was incredible though and we spent a good amount of time up here cooling down, resting and looking at the views.

    We returned to our guest house tired, soaked with sweat and covered with dust! Luckily Nera had prepared an amazing rice and curry for us! What a fantastic 2 days in Sigiriya!

  • Hiring a bicycle in Polonnaruwa (4/1/2018)

    From Sigiriya we took a tuk tuk across to Polonnaruwa, one of Sri Lanka’s ancient capitals. It was first declared the capital in 1070 by King Vijayabahu. There are many ancient buildings and temples there that we’re built between 1500 and 800 years ago, most notably, the ones by King Parakramabahu who placed irrigation systems throughout the region which still stand today.

    Our tuk tuk driver took us to a spice garden along the way to Polonnaruwa, which seems to be something unavoidable as there are spice gardens everywhere. They are free to enter and enjoy, and usually include a free massage with one of the natural oils. Then, being British, we felt like we had to be polite and felt obliged to buy something from the shop!

    Pete had a great foot massage for his fractured metatarsal and we had some tasty ayuvedic tea before buying a little pot of the red oil for £10. Not bad in all. The gardens were interesting too, seeing cinnamon trees and other spices growing.

    The tuk tuk driver then stopped and let us both have a go of driving the tuk tuk! It was harder than it looks actually!

    We checked into our guest house which had a lovely pool and spent the afternoon swimming, eating and napping. Our guest house was nice (mainly because of the pool) but the food was salty and very westernised… The next day we woke early to a took bicycles from the guest house down toward the ancient sites.

    On the way, we bumped into the Thai Buddhist procession again, this time we stopped and watched for a while. The locals used leaves on the road this time and also poured cold water gently onto the monks’ feet.

    It took us a while to find the ticket desk for entrance, which isn’t really near the ancient park, but we got there eventually and spent the day mooching about looking at old stuff and old temples. It was so hot this day, so we bought some reed hats to keep the sun off our faces. We left the park at lunch to nip into Polonnaruwa new town then continued our bike ride between all the major ruins. Our favourite bit was by the lake, where there were a lot of monkeys, including the black faced langurs (leaf monkeys) who are so graceful but a little more skittish than the usual macaques.

    That evening, we tried to see if we could find tastier food to eat. I checked good ol’ TripAdvisor and found Jaga food about 10 min down the road was number 1. We went down to the reception area and asked the owner to get us a tuk tuk. You could tell he didn’t want us to leave and asked where we were going. When I told him he said it’s shut and that most food places in Polonnaruwa only open at lunch… I phoned the place to check and got a friendly answer that, yes, they are open and please come down! So not wanting to confront the owner again, we did a runner out down the long side road to the main road where we thought we’d be able to grab a tuk tuk no problem… well… We couldn’t. No tuk tuks stopped for us. After about 5-10 min of trying, we asked at the local shop if anyone knew or could phone a tuk tuk to help us. We were on the verge of crawling back to the hotel with our tails between our legs when a kind man agreed to take us to the restaurant in his car as it was near his house!

    We’re so glad he did as this turned out to be quite possibly the best rice and curry we had on our whole trip. We had jackfruit curry for the first time (our new fave), spicy potato, pumpkin, cucumber, dahl, aubergine crisps, beetroot, beans, cabbage, ‘curry biscuits’ (aka popadoms) and more kept coming… That was Jaga’s joke… From the moment we arrived we felt welcomed, there were only 2 other people in the large restaurant, so we were well taken care of. On the phone I mentioned pure vegetarian, so he specially prepared some dishes for our arrival. As he served the food, usually a few bowls at a time, he said “more coming” and returned to the kitchen. Even after we had 10 bowls on the table he still said “more coming”. I’m sad I didn’t take many photos of the food, be we were so enjoying stuffing our faces with curry, there wasn’t time for photos!

    Jaga then took us back to our guest house for free after the meal. What a guy!

    Polonnaruwa was a pretty town, with great ancient culture. I am glad we took the time to stop here rather than coming on a day trip! I will be recommending Jaga’s to everyone!

  • Shark spotting in Nilaveli (4/2/2018)

    After riding a train, hiring a moped, getting a tuk tuk and a taxi, we decided the time for a bus was here and boarded a bus to Trincomalee from Polonnaruwa.

    The buses here are, in a single word, crazy. They are usually by far the fastest things on the road, constantly beeping, overtaking everything (even on bends) and everyone moves out of their way. It was terrifying, but we couldn’t help but laugh about it!! How we arrived at our destination unscathed, I’ve no idea…

    Crazy buses in Sri Lanka!
    Crazy buses in Sri Lanka!

    We arrived in Trinco about 4 hours later and walked a short walk down to Ana Poorna Pure Vegetarian restaurant. I saw it on Happycow and thought we’d give it a try. We got there and  I headed to the counter to order. After a long wait I was told there was “no food”. My face must have looked a bit sad, because the lady then said “ok… Sit down” and pointed firmly to a table. After about another 5-10 minutes, 2 big plates of rice and curry were put in front of us – one of the nicest we’ve had. There was no cutlery in the whole restaurant, so we took the plunge and ate with our hands – and we’ve not looked back since! We eat with our hands every meal now!

    A short tuk tuk ride took us further north up the east coast to Nilaveli, a quiet fishing town with a stunning beach and not that many tourists. We stayed in a beach bungalow built around 3 coconut trees and it was simply stunning. We loved it here.

    We spent the first afternoon chilling on the beach and then headed over to a bar further along the beach for a few drinks.

    The next morning we signed up to a snorkelling trip over at Pigeon island – one of my main reasons for visiting here. The boat over to the island took about 20 min and when we arrived we were given fins and a mask. We don’t usually like going on arranged tours, but it seemed like this was the only way to get to the reef, but it turned out to be just Pete and I along with a Hawaiian girl called Steph who was really nice. We saw soooooo many sharks. I wish I had an underwater camera, it was incredible and terrifying in equal measures. At first, I was too scared to get close to the sharks, so at one point the guide grabbed my hand and literally pulled me closed to a 7ft black tipped reef shark!! Amazing!

    We also saw a big turtle and lots of fish, but sadly, the reef wasn’t in great shape and a lot was dead and/or bleached.

    After our tour around the reef we were then allowed to go ourselves on the opposite side of the island which was just as good for fish and turtles, but without the massive sharks. It was nice to have some freedom, but the reef was also in pretty bad shape 😔

    That evening we tried to eat at a highly rated Hindu/Tamil restaurant in the area, next to the golden Hindu temple of Nilaveli, but we were turned away for unknown reasons ☹️

    So instead we ate at a pretty tasty rice and curry place in the village, where the owner was very impressed by our hand-eating ability! 😂

    Nilaveli was pretty, although the beach had quite a bit of oil staining and the reef was in bad shape, we were told by almost everyone else staying there that it was much nicer than beaches on the South and West coast which are getting more and more overrun by crowds.

    In hindsight, it probably would have been better to stay here a little longer, maybe have gone blue whale watching etc, but I get itchy feet too easily and wanted to see the interior of the island and the hill country… So off we went…

  • Avoiding tourists in Kandy and Ella (4/10/2018)

    It was calming and relaxing on the beach at Nilaveli, but after just an hour of snoozing in the sun, Pete piped up that he ‘was bored’ haha. I think this was a slight exaggeration, but it motivated me to look at the next leg of the trip and make a final decision about which direction to take next.

    I had read a lot about the central highlands and South/West coast of Sri Lanka and how they can sometimes get a little commercial and busy during March which is the high season. But we’re up for diversity and it’s hard to remember sometimes that we are also tourists contributing to the traffic through the country… Tourism is a fine line I believe. It can have such positive impacts on peoples lives, improving the economy, forging international relationships, driving ecological protection and sharing of knowledge. It’s also great to be part of; seeing and learning about the different places, landmarks and cultures. On the other hand, it can be damaging to the environment, make places unbearably busy for the locals and alter culture.

    Fortunately, for me at least, it felt like Sri Lanka is still on the right side of the line, with local people and governments striving to protect their environment and culture, whilst also reaping the economic benefits of tourism.

    Anyway, long story short, we decided to take the famous Kandy-Ella train after a quick night in Kandy and a few nights in Ella. We got our last tuk tuk driver in Nilaveli to organise a taxi South to Kandy and he arrived the next morning in a rented car. A lot of people we had met so far were travelling Sri Lanka with a private driver and car. Its relatively cheap, the journey from Nilaveli to Kandy for example was 4.5 hours and cost £65 with a snack stop along the way and very difficult roads to traverse. It was a nice change after the bus/train/tuktuks and mopeds we had so far, but I don’t think I’d like to get a car everywhere. For me, part of travelling is taking the local transport!

    We checked into our hotel for the night in Kandy, Sky Pavillion. We treated ourselves to a fancy hotel after I found out I had been paid my bonus from work! The hotel views were amazing and we spent the evening relaxing on the balcony and showering (honestly, the shower was incredible!).

     

    We got up slowly, enjoying the views again in the morning before heading over to Kandy station to get our tickets for the train. This journey is often dubbed as one of the best train rides in the world, so I think our expectations were definitely set high… The queue at the station for first and second class tickets was long and full our tourists, so I grabbed a couple of third class ones and some train snacks of veggie curry roti, vadai and coconut roti. But when the queue went down at the ticket desk, Pete suggested grabbing some second class tickets too, just in case the third had no seats. It was only an extra £4, so I did…

    We got a seat on the station, we were there super early, so thought our chances of a seat might be good… Nope. The train arrived and we boarded and spent about the first 20 minutes walking up and down the tight train aisles trying to find a space (even just to stand) for both us and our bags. The train was JAMMED! We eventually found a bit of space to stand in the cafe carriage next to a window. The 2nd class was actually far worse than 3rd class!

     

    Once settled and cool, we finally started to enjoy the views, it was beautiful… but not as spectacular as I had expected. I have been on more beautiful journeys through Asia, which had less crowds and were easier to enjoy. This journey felt so commercial and not very ‘special’ although it was good. After about 3 hours of standing, we reached Hatton, where a lot of people got off the train, we finally had seats and it was mildly more enjoyable. We saw a lot of tourists on this train who had no luggage, and it seemed that even those travelling Sri Lanka by car and driver had succumbed to the hype and taken the train for this section of the journey…

    In total, the journey took us about 7 hours (after some technical issues with the train in front of us), at the end of which, we were tired, hot and very hungry having eaten all our snacks and the cafe running out of snacks 😦

     

    Having been stuck on a train for such a long time, we decided to stretch our legs and walk to the hotel I had booked down the sloped road into Ella. It would have been great had the google maps location been accurate and we hadn’t walked completely the wrong way… A tuk tuk driver helped us and we eventually made it to our homestay.

    Our first impressions walking through Ella was a bit of a culture shock. Not like any other place we had visited in Sri Lanka so far, and we had stayed at what I thought were busy places. Bright lights lit up bars and burger shops, some stating a 24 hour opening and 200 LKR cocktails. Before this we found tourist cafes/shops interspersed with grocery stores, homes and local cafes, but here, everything was aimed at tourists.

    Our homestay was very modest, not really what I was expecting from the pictures and previous reviews. It was down a very steep, quite treacherous path right on the outskirts of Ella. The homestay was an extension of 2 ensuite bedrooms attached to the families home, which was a typical small village house. There was an angry dog chained to the front door which made Pete a little sad, but all in all, the family was lovely. The father was a tuk tuk driver and the mother was an excellent cook. They had 3 boys of varying ages, one of which, still a baby, was so inquisitive of us! We stayed here 2 nights and on the second, the rain was so bad we ate in the families home, a kind gesture, but quite humbling to see how a family like this lives.

     

    For our full day in Ella, I did a bit of research on the sights and things to do. We had little Adam’s peak view point, Ravana falls, nine arch bridge, countless cafes and bars… we’d seen the classic photos. Pete made the point that… “a bridge? There’s a nine arched bridge in bloody Warrington”. I mean, we know it’s different, we’re not so ignorant, but the idea of having to spend the morning watching 20-somethings get the perfect selfie on a bridge didn’t fill us with excitement… “I want to swim in a waterfall” declared Pete. So after a bit of googling I found a few local waterfalls including Diyaluma falls which google said was just over an hour from Ella. We headed out on foot to the town…

    20 minutes down the road we got to another guesthouse which had a ‘Scooty Hire’ sign next to an alright looking scooter. Since we didn’t have the legal requirement for actually rent a vehicle properly (you need to have applied for a paper international driving licence counterpart and then get an official stamp from the AA in Colombo), we thought a local person would be better than one of the big rental shops in Ella.

    I walked up, said, “Can we have the scooter please?”, he said “2 helmets?”, I said “Yes”. Then we were pretty much on our way… as we were about to drive off I quickly checked how much “1200 Rupees”, that was fine and he quickly asked me “Where are you staying?” and “Do you have a licence?”. A little bit delayed, but we told him. No deposit, no leaving our passport, just genuine trust. Awesome.

    With our new found freedom we hit the road for about 2 minutes before stopping for a coffee which cost more than the bike and then set off for-real along the A23.

     

    The road to Diyaluma falls was set to take us past Ravana falls, so we thought we’d stop for a quick look and see… Actually the falls were beautiful. I think we initially stopped just as a bus load of people had stopped to take photos, there must have been about 50 people on the bridge snapping away and taking selfies. Off the road and on to the rocks there were probably about 20 people chilling and then over the water onto the other side, maybe only 6. In the water… well at one point it was just Pete. So actually it turned out not to be that busy. We thought the water might be packed with people jostling for position. But it seems not that many really wanted to take the plunge. Most just wanted a selfie… pretty sad if you ask me 😦

     

    We relaxed and swam here for a while before deciding to continue on our ride to the other fall. The drive was amazing, such beautiful scenery.

     

    At one point our exhaust guard fell off, which Pete fixed with a twig before we found a small garage to fix it properly.

    We finally stumbled upon Diyaluma falls, as the second highest waterfall in Sri Lanka, it was hard to miss! We stopped at a small restaurant next to it for the most bland fried rice we’ve ever had…

    We thought about walking up to the top, which is apparently a touch but fairly quick hike which ends at another waterfall you can swim in, as there are more falls at the top, with spectacular views, but the journey on the moped had taken us about 2 hours to get there and the weather was starting to change. We didn’t particularly want to drive in the dark and the rain, so we moved on taking a different route back to Ella via Poonagalla tea plantations and village.

    With no exaggeration, this stage of the journey was one of the best we’ve ever had. In hindsight it was probably Pete and I’s favourite day in Sri Lanka. We took the moped up and down the narrow single track road flanked by jungle, forest and tea plantations. The views were simply stunning and far better than any we saw on the Kandy-Ella train. The road was not well used and all the local Sri Lankan people we saw were very excited to see us, waving, shouting hello, beaming smiles, even standing at the side of the road to high five us as we drove past. We felt so welcomed by the people of Poonagala. What a friendly and warm village. The drive was long, bumpy and at times very cold due to the elevation, but we were oblivious to it with the spectacular views and people.

    My photos do not do the ride justice, waving to everyone, whilst holding on to Pete and actually trying to use my eyes to see (not a lens) meant I hardly too any good ones… Plus a low battery on my phone meant that google maps took priority over photos.

    Out of the village and back on main roads the heavens opened and we took shelter under a small bus stop, before continuing the journey back to the homestay.

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    What an amazing time in the hill country. It just shows you that with a little bit of freedom and flexibility you can find some hidden beauty anywhere you go. People rave about the Kandy-Ella train, and I really don’t know why, not when every road in the hill country is just as beautiful. You don’t need to take a selfie to enjoy something, and you don’t need a list to tick off. You just need a sense of adventure… (and a Pete to drive you around).

  • Exploring Sri Lanka’s Southern Beaches (4/24/2018)

    After doing some research about Sri Lanka’s south, we decided just to take the plunge and see for ourselves… You can read blogs and articles and reviews, but at the end of the day, everyone’s opinion is different and sometimes you just can’t beat trying it out for yourself. So we jumped into a taxi and headed down to Kataragama on the outskirts of Yala National Park. Yala is supposed to have the highest density of wild Leopards in Sri Lanka and so has the highest chance of spotting one.

    Once again on the road we encountered wild Elephants, however, this time they weren’t hiding in the bushes at the side… literally in the middle of the road! We ended up having to wait a while before slowly squeezing past. I guess the elephants must be used to it!

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    We arrived at our accommodation at lunch time and after a quick vegetable roti pit stop we asked our guest house owner to help us arrange a jeep safari. The jeep felt like 5-star luxury compared to the previous beat-up jeep we’d had in Sigiriya, but the roads were just as bumpy and after 5 hours in the jeep we were glad we hadn’t signed up for a full day!

    Luckily though, the wildlife and scenery made up for it – we saw buffalo, deer, boar, peacocks, hares, elephants, leaf monkeys, crocodiles and countless fancy-looking birds, but unfortunately, no leopards 😦 Our jeep driver asked a few other drivers and it seemed not many people had been lucky this day.

    Another great benefit of doing an afternoon drive was to avoid the other jeeps, and it was only towards dusk when we were leaving the park that we stumbled upon other jeeps, and wow, there were a lot. I think being on a separate timetable to the full day tours which start at 5am, meant we managed to completely avoid them during our trip, which felt a bit more special.

    In the morning we saw how beautiful our accommodation was, little safari huts which were newly built right on the outskirts of the park away from Kataragama, we saw lots of bids and chipmunks here, and the owner made us a delicious carob smoothie from the carob trees surrounding the huts.

    We decided to take another bus from Kataragama out towards Dikwella beach. There are hundreds of beaches along the South coast of Sri Lanka, so I chose one fairly central with the plan to find a motorbike to rent and explore the region from there.

    After yet another incredibly crazy bus journey, we arrived to check in to a brand new place – in fact, we were the first to stay there! Beta’s place was lovely, on the main highway through Dikwella above Beta’s shop and 3 minutes walk to Dikwella beach. Because the place was new, we got a luxury room with power rain shower, amazing A/C and the most comfortable bed we had for a ridiculously low price!

    There were also lots of little local cafes all around the accommodation serving traditional rice and curry all day long. We actually much prefer these places to the restaurants we generally went to in the evenings. The food was far spicier, especially the soy-protein curries they sold here, so spicy, but incredibly delicious. We found them to be very hospitable too, as we tried to fit in and follow the local’s lead with what to do – getting your own plate, rinsing it, drying it, covering it with some saran wrap, and filling it high with spicy curries and using your hands – making sure to mix it together of course! 🙂

    We ventured out to Dikwella beach, which was so peaceful and beautiful, but I had planted the ‘surfing’ seed in Pete’s head and he was desperate to try it, so we walked over to Hiriketiya beach which has a busy surf scene. The waves were perfect for a beginner here and the boards were £1 for 1 hour! Pete got on it immediately, just rented a board, watched a single YouTube video on ‘how to surf’ and gave it a go… One hour later, he had managed to catch 3 waves successfully! Very proud!

    That evening we got chatting to a British/Canadian couple which turning into a few cocktails and beers. Unfortunately, Pete was a little worse for wear the next day, so I spent the day chilling and snoozing on the beach again before he joined me for another little surf and food.

    The following day, Pete was finally well enough to rent a bike, we looked around for one but struggled to find one, so asked Beta to help us. He offered us his bike first, but when he realised we’d be out all day, he got a friend to drop his off instead. We drove over to Matara and then Mirissa to have a look at some whale watching tours, but we made the decision to give this a miss. Mirissa was nice, but a lot more commercial than Dikwella or Hiriketiya. On the way back we stopped at Talalla beach which was also stunning, but once again the draw of surfing had us crawling back to Hiriketiya…

    I tried it this time and got my own board to do it with Pete, it was fun, but I was conscious of my recently repaired knee. I almost stood up once, and a couple of times I made it to my knees. I think next year when I’ve completed my physio I might have a better chance 🙂

    As I said, there are so many beaches in Sri Lanka, all of them different, from busy party beaches which are more active at night than in the day (like Mirissa) to smaller coves where you won’t see anyone else all day, and everything in between. The sea also varies, we saw some beaches with calm waters, and others with huge waves, but all the beaches we saw had one thing in common – they were absolutely stunning – I’d recommend just getting a moped and exploring. What a beautiful part of the world…

  • Thunderstoms and history in Sinharaja (5/9/2018)

    From Dikwella it was a long bus or car journey back to Colombo for our flight, so we looked for somewhere in the middle to stay for a night to split up the journey and see a little more of the stunning island.

    Having spent a good few days on the beach we opted for an in-land pit stop which meant that Sinharaja Rainforest was a great option. It was one of the places on my top 5 list of places I wanted to go in Sri Lanka, so I booked a lodge on the outskirts of the rainforest which had great reviews and easy access to a few of the parks main walks and waterfalls.

    One of Beta’s friends drove us there in a rented car, but almost as soon as we arrived we realised why it’s called a rainforest…

    We sheltered in our balcony outside the lodge, watching birds huddled up in the trees, spotting cheeky looking mongooses and getting pretty scared everytime the thunder clapped above our heads. It was incredibly loud!

    We were advised against taking a walk in this weather with the high chance of leeches on the path as well as snakes and spiders. We didn’t complain… So instead we made use of our open bathroom and had a bath in the rain! (which failed slightly due to the time it took to fill the bath).

    Before our rice and curry tea we fought an onslaught of bugs. It seemed flying ants had decided to wake up and invade both our open air bathroom and our front door, we sealed the doors with towels and bunkered up under the mosquito net. But then… we saw a huge spider right next to the bed, very fast and active. It did help by catching a few of the flants, but if you know me, you know I’m not the biggest fan of spiders, especially when they look like an asian huntsman poisonous spider… so at dinner we requested to change room.

    We collected our things and moved to a room in the main building rather than a lodge… only once we got there and drew the curtains, we revealed an even larger spider!!

    The hotel owners managed to catch it and remove it from the room with a bath mat, but I was still pretty spooked so Pete looked after me and made sure our mosquito net was secure around the bed.

    With the sound of rain and thunder in the distance, along with the pitter patter of chipmunk feet on the tin roof, we took a long time fall asleep, which meant we saw a few lone fireflies make their way into our room. Quite strange really, but enjoyable to watch.

    Unfortunately, the next morning it was still poor weather until about 9am when it cleared, but by this time it was too late for walking as the bird spotting is best as dusk or dawn. So we ate our breakfast and watched the chipmunks and mongooses from the balconies of the lodge.

    Since we had missed our chance to go into Sinharaja proper, we decided to get a driver to take us out to some of the waterfalls and caves on the way back to Colombo for our flight. I had read that Pahiyangala cave locally was really interesting and a site where one the earliest remains of civilisation can be found dating to 33,000 years ago. It’s also apparently the largest naturally formed rock on the Asian continent…

    We asked our hotel owner to help us get a small car, and small it was! We’d never seena car this small before!

    On the way to the cave we drove on a single track road parallel to Kuda Ganga river and the drive was really beautiful, if a little hair-raising and bumpy at times! We stopped at Makeli Ella Waterfall, which was also very pretty, with steep steps down to a viewing area. Eventually we made it to the car park of the cave, which was right at the bottom of the rock. The walk to the top was very hot and humid, but we were literally the only people there so it was quiet and serene and felt a little more adventurous.

    The rock was impressive, far bigger than Lion’s rock at Sigiriya, but we didn’t try to get to the top, and instead rested in the cave before returning on our journey to Colombo.

    We stopped at a little rice and curry shop in Horana and ate with our driver, who was impressed at our chilli eating ability and with us using our hands! haha

    We eventually made it to Negombo, just North of Colombo and closer to the airport where we spent the rest of our time relaxing in the nice pool of the hotel before our flight home.

    What a holiday, what a country… 3 words to describe Sri Lanka? People and food. Honestly, the Sri Lankan people are wonderful, so kind and such great hosts. The food they present to you is always incredible and we felt welcomed in all the places we stayed. And the food… what can I say… Rice and curry may sound plain and boring, but it has to be one of the most amazing dishes and cultures of food I’ve come across. The variety of dishes, vegetables and spices makes every meal different. Different areas had different spins on dishes also. Since I’ve been home I’ve been trying to replicate as many as I can. it will be a work in progress for some time I think!