We are loving the cycling in Sri Lanka now that we have regained our cycling muscles but it is extremely sweaty work in the high humidity and temperatures of 30°+. Thankfully assembling the bikes after 3 months in boxes went smoothly even if the gearing could do with a professional touch (unavailable here - we did try - 99.9% of bikes have just 1 gear).
We started out taking the bikes on the slowest of train journeys from Negombo 100kms north to Puttalam. From here we cycled north east to Anaradhapura via Wilpattu National Park. At the park we joined an Aussie couple and their 3-year old daughter for a safari. The highlight was good sightings of a leopard, although with our wee camera it looks rather less impressive.
Anuradhapura is one of 4 ancient cities that we visited in the north/central area of the country. The temple complex ruins in all four places are impressive with most of them dating from 100BC to 400 AD. In Siguriya the temple is impressively situated atop a 350 metre rock so we had an early start to beat the worst of the crowds and the heat. In Dambulla there were 5 caves with beautifully carved Buddhas and ancient frescos. The youngest of the sites was at Polonnaruwa where we almost dodged the showers while cycling round the ruins.
Being on bicycles we have had some lovely encounters with local people. On occasion it has been difficult to get away as the enthusiasm and hospitality can be a little overwhelming! The paved roads are mostly in good shape and the drivers pretty considerate - even the bus drivers albeit they are still a bit manic. We have also spent a vast amount of time shouting 'hi' and waving to both kids and adults (the men more than the women). We have seen lots of birds and monkeys (and loads of stay dogs a few of which have chased us up the road) but no wild elephants as yet.
Amidst all this we took a few days out and travelled up to Jaffna by train with the Aussies. We were interested to see what this northern-most area was like. Thanks to the change of president whist we were in Kerala the requirement for government approval to travel north had been scrapped which made things easier. We spent a day on hire-bikes around a couple of the islands west of Jaffna and hired a car for a day to tour the north-eastern area, including Sri Lanka's most northerly point. For the most part it is very flat and dependent upon agriculture and fishing. Some people seemed more reticent to greet us than elsewhere in the country and there were certainly quite a lot of abandoned houses (both war and tsunami stricken) and some very visible poverty. We were told that people are pleased the fighting has finished but there are still many war time atrocities from both sides which need to be addressed. The last government while spending significant amounts on new infrastructure appears to have made little effort towards reconciliation. If anything they spent time and money reminding the Tamils of who won in 2009.
We now have two more weeks left and will cycle up into the hills of central Sri Lanka. We are looking forward to coming home but we're also filled with trepidation the nearer it gets. It will be hard to get back to the reality of work and the daily stresses and worries which we haven't had to deal with for 11 months!