Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Sri Lanka; The Hill Country, 1st – 8th March 2010

Negombo, 1st – 2nd March

We land in the city of Colombo at around half past midnight, we’re now +5.30 GMT ... yes, it took Renu a while to get her head around that half hour business too! Renu is already starting to feel closer to her homeland, Mauritius, when she sees how much luggage the Sri Lankans try to pass through the plane!  Upon arrival, all this excess baggage delays us getting back our bags.  We’d arranged for our guesthouse to pick us up given how late we were landing.  We’d decided to stay in Negombo, a little seaside province just outside of Columbo.  We’re in bed by 3 am, but actually 4.30 am according to our body clocks as we’d come from Thailand.

That morning Nico breaks his sunglasses and blames it all on Renu.  We take a tuk-tuk into Negombo town centre to check our buses for the next day.  We get stopped by some guy running an English class, who thought that Renu was Sri Lankan and that Nico was going to marry her and so he thought that we’d want to buy his three bedroom house on the lake...we thought that he is hugely imaginative too, but still, a very lovely man.  The highlight of the morning of course is when we stop at a sweet little tea house for our first cup of real Sri Lankan tea, with a chocolate muffin.  Bliss.  We spend that afternoon and evening walking along the rather polluted beach and dining in the touristy area where we were staying. 

The most incredible thing that hit us on our first day in Sri Lanka is just how friendly and how kind the people are here.  Of course, like anywhere else, they won’t miss a business opportunity, but it is done in such a way that you do not mind too much parting with your cash.  But in any case, most of the time the people are sincerely interested in talking to you and genuinely want to help you. 

Tuesday morning, we’re back in a tuk-tuk to Negombo bus station to catch our bus to Kandy, the hill country.

Pics are here.

Kandy, 2nd – 4th March

After a friendly negotiation about how much we should pay to take our bags on the bus, we start our 4 hour ride to Kandy.  When we arrive, our tuk-tuk has some trouble finding our guesthouse, Forest Glen, as it’s outside of the city, in the county, but it was well worth the search.  It’s a lovely family house, with very cosy rooms surrounded by exquisite views. 

Straight into town for our first rice and curry, and sublimely delicious it was too!  We discover that the city is actually very relaxed, for a city, and is even quite pretty with the lake in the middle.  It is still however, far too hot to walk around between 11am and 4pm.  So we spend the afternoon at our snug little guesthouse, having dinner there, made by Indra herself; the owner of Forest Glen.

After breakfast, we come back to our room to pick up our bags and shoes.  Just as we go to shut the door, we see something remarkable.  There are hundreds of monkeys, swinging from try to tree, sliding down the telephone wire, climbing onto the house, perched on the balcony, stealing fruit from garden trees ... right before our eyes, in front of our bedroom door on the balcony!  They were hilarious to watch, they’re little rascals, causing havoc everywhere they go!  The scary part is that when in large groups, they are super confident.  Shooing them away is virtually impossible, they’ll just pretend to plunge at you to make you scared ... and it works!

We walk into town watching the monkeys all the way.  It’s a quick morning trip to the train station to check our tickets for tomorrow, a glass of coke in a fancy hotel and then lunch in a very crappy restaurant.  Renu gets mistaken for a Sri Lankan, and feels embarrassed to have to explain over and again that she does not speak Sinhala.  Once again, it’s too hot to be out, so we back at our guesthouse again for an afternoon nap.  We had the privilege of changing rooms to the one next door where the windows give you panoramic view of the surroundings!  We make the most of this just before the sun sets, watching the monkeys who are back in force again as well as spying on the enormous bats!  Dinner again at the guesthouse, but today it’s a rather unimpressive take-away biriyani ... never mind, you can’t have a good food day every day.  Early night as we’re to get the train at 8am tomorrow.

Pics of Kandy are here.

Nuwara Eliya, 4th – 6th March

At Kandy train station early on Thursday morning, we buy ourselves two second class tickets for Nanu Oya, where we’ll get picked up and taken to our hotel in Nuwara Eliya.  Though second class is twice the price of third class (there was no first class), it was still only 1 Euro, so we thought ‘what the hell’ ... a bit of comfort for the 4-5 hour journey will be nice. 

We get on a train, and then change trains about half an hour later at Peradeniya junction.  This is where the fun starts ... we get on the train looking for a seat in second class; of course there are none available!  So we end up spending most of the journey stood at the door, next to the smelly toilets (along with a fair few other tourists) for a few hours until some seats in third class became available!  The tickets are basically pointless!  A sense of humour is essential to get through those situations J

Nuwara Eliya is in no way the little heaven in the hills that we expected it to be ... though there were some interesting colonial buildings.  We were hoping to do a trek through Horton Plains National Park to Worlds End, where it is said to have a spectacular viewpoint, but unfortunately Nico’s back problems came back at full throttle, so he was unable to walk anywhere.  We ended up doing very little but walk around the unimpressive town, send some bits and pieces by post, and doing a quick visit to Pedro’s tea plantation ...  which was very interesting to see the whole process, and of course the surroundings were very pretty. 

Click here for the pictures.

Ella, 6th – 8th March

Saturday morning, we make our way very early to the bus station, so we can be sure to get a seat on our bus to Ella.  The bus leaves at just gone 7am, and as the driver conducts the bus like a nutcase through the wonderful hill lands, we realise that we’re in for yet another eventful journey in Sri Lanka.  Sure enough, after an hour of the drivers heavy right foot, we start to smell a strange odour in the packed out bus ... the engine was starting to overheat ... and our bags were sat right on top of the engine.  Nico is really starting to stress out ... the engine is smoking, and the smell is getting stronger and stronger.  He’s not being overcautious in thinking that the engine could possible catch fire at this rate ... the driver continues to push the bus up the hills despite the state of its engine.  Eventually, the driver pulls up and feeds the radiator with some water in an attempt to cool it down.  Nico grabs our bags and signals Renu to get out of the bus quickly.  We try to flag another bus down, but it won’t stop.  Our driver calls us back into the bus after 10 minutes, and we reluctantly get back on.  A few kilometres down the line, and it’s a blessing in disguise, the bus clonks out completely ... engine smoking like hell and the radiator spewing out water, but not on fire!  It was that bus’s last day on the roads, for sure.  Everyone gets out, gets their refund from the driver and tries to catch another bus.  We’re still in the hills, a fair few kilometres away from the next town, Bandarawela ... basically in the middle of nowhere.  Tired now, we decide to cut our losses and catch a tuk-tuk that takes us to Banarwela, where we catch another bus to Ella, and again another tuk-tuk to our guesthouse, The Hilltop.  What a journey!  The owners take us for alcoholics as we order a refreshing beer on arrival ... we feel like it’s about 3pm,  when in actual fact it’s only 10.30am!  The guesthouse is perfect, just what we needed after a journey like that.  Serene, with blissful views of Ella gap.

We go for lunch and then take a walk around the pretty little village before heading back to the guesthouse to chill out for the afternoon.  We climb the outdoor steps to our room ... Renu goes straight in to take a shower, while Nico hangs around outside to take a picture of a squirrel in the tree just two meters from our bedroom window.  Renu gets out of the shower and hears Nico’s trembling voice calling her name.  He then shouts out a very strange question, “do you want to be scared to death”, to which Renu naturally answers “er, no, not really”.  It turned out that there were two ‘big’ snakes curled around the tree ... just outside our window J   We watch them nervously with fascination.  They were two rat snakes (so not venomous) mating; the female was around a meter and a half long, while the male was a good two meters long!  It was a very beautiful site, if not also quite terrifying! 
We have dinner at the guesthouse that night, home-made by the owner.  Quite delicious it was too.  More wildlife treats that evening as we watch bats flying around and spot some crazy looking insects.

Sunday is a lazy day hanging around the guesthouse.  We do leave for a few hours that afternoon  to treat ourselves to a full two hour Ayurveda treatment; full body and head massage, steam bath, 50 herb sauna and shiro dhara (warm oil dripped soothingly on the forehead).  Although vaguely relaxing, we found the massages to be pretty crap, and all a bit of a rip-off.  That evening we eat a Rawana’s Holiday Resort restaurant ... it had excellent reviews, so we thought we’d give it a try.  The food was not bad at all, though the service was terrible considering the price tag attached (warm beer, warm water, part of our order missing and not at all spicy as we had requested).

Monday morning, we decide to get our arses in gear and finally explore the area a little.  We leave at 7am and take a two hour walk up to ‘Little Adam’s Peak’.  It’s a very pleasant walk through some tea fields, with a stunning panoramic view from the top.  We stop for a yummy Sri Lankan breakfast at a cafe in the village before heading back up to our guesthouse to take a shower, pack and move on to our next destination.  Of course we plan to catch a bus, cause we’re on a bit of a budget, but temptation comes knocking on the door.  Another couple had hired a taxi and were passing by Tissa, where we were going next ... if we shared with them, the price would be halved.  Feeling lazy after our last two eventful journeys we decided to accept.  A pleasant, stress free journey ... where we even got to pass Rawana Falls and we got to see the most enormous Monitor Lizard crossing the road in front of us!

Great pics here.

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