The moment I arrived at Heathrow the planning and preparation was all behind me, nothing more I could do now but jump on the plane and fly away!
The nine-hour Jet airways flight was actually very good and "flew by"!
The new jet airways terminal had just opened that day so we were stuck on the taxi way for over an hour before we could get off! I sprinted to the transfers security area where I found that none of the machines had been installed yet so they had to frisk and inspected everyone's bags one by one. The Indians have no sense of urgency, which only made me panic more! I couldn't possible miss my first flight.
The terminal was so new they hadn't even managed to put up all the sign so I managed to run to the wrong gate, (85C not 85D which turned out to be in another whole different terminal area... I was sure I had missed my flight. After realizing my mistake and making it to the correct area I was surprised to find that I wasn't the only person who had been delayed, the bus door opened to let in what can only be described as the cast from the movie "marigold hotel" as a group of English OAPs arrived, Shouting at each other and moaning about both the heat and jet airways! They were on a tour of India and Sri Lanka. We made it to the plane.. amid some annoyed glances by the other passengers. I was sweating so much by this point from the running and the heat of the Indian night that my clothes stuck to me like glue, but it was still a welcome change from the stormy cold weather of England and Norway. It was another good flight and I even managed to eat my boots BLT sandwich that had been in my bag for over 10 hours now... At least it aged well!
I landed in Sri Lanka at 4am but it was still busy with people, the staff were really helpful and pointed me the right way but the "we believe in the death penalty for drug trafficking" signs everywhere is a little off putting! I managed to get a cheap taxi ride into town, which took about 45 minutes and was surprisingly well driven. Sri Lanka certainly seems to be much more organized than India! I arrived at about 4.45am but the hostel party was only just ending, the other backpackers were just going to bed!
I managed just four hours of sleep due to the heat and noise coming though the open window but I still decided I had to get up and start my trip! I met a German guy at the hostel called Guido and we decided that, as he had just arrived too that we would go and explore the city and beach! We headed first to the popular Mt lavina beach, which was beautiful! The sea was warm and the beach stretched on for miles in both directions, but it was too hot and humid so we had to have a beer! There are two main beers in Sri Lanka, Lion and Three coins both are great but for less than £1 for a big bottle you really can't complain! We had a few lion beers whilst watching a group of about 20 locals drinking bottles of rum and whiskey and dancing to some fairly good remixes of European music with some local songs too. The owner of the bar had been a solider during the war with the Tamil Tigers; he had lost his finger after it was shot off!
We thought we could walk to the city but after getting really burnt on the beach we took a Tuk Tuk. This was the first time since my trip to India I had been back in a Tuk Tuk, and I loved it but I wish I could drive, I'm definitely a better driver. We made plans to travel to Kandy in the morning as Colombo wasnt the nicest of cities.
The two of us were really getting on well and looked like we would be traveling around together for the rest of this trip. We met another Germany guy who only had a few days left of his own big trip but he decided to come with us too! So we decided to spend the night back at the hostel eating curry and drinking red rum and beer with another group of backpackers! Amazing!! Another 6 months of this to go!
We woke up early to catch the train to Kandy, which is only about 150km north of Colombo. Kandy is called the cultural center of Sri Lanka and there are loads of things to see and do! We took the bus to the train station which was an experience in itself, the buses are over crowded and the drivers are really bad but a 30 min bus ride costs less than 10p and its still more efficient than the busses in London as one comes along ever minute or 2.
The Station and train lines over Sri Lanka are very old and were in fact build by the British during the Victorian age. The trains clearly had been used well and we had been told to get second class and rush onto the train so we could get a seat as its very common to see people holding onto the side of the train. The ride up to Kandy was amazing, the whole way we had beautiful views! The train winded its way between the mountains and as we stopped at stations hordes or people, post, policemen and food sellers would quickly jump on and off. The trains in Sri lanka are famous for not running to schedule and can be up to a day late!
Kandy is a city built right in-between three large hills and had a man made lake built right in the center of the town by the British who wanted to remind himself of back home. The British also built Sri Lankans largest prison here, which still housed people from the war. When we arrived we decided to take the rest of the day easy, mainly due to the horrible hangovers from the night before! We met some great backpackers that night two Australian girls, two Swedish girls and another British guy so we had to have a beer with them… well it would be rude not too!
Guido and myself decided to come up with a plan so we didn't waste too much time sitting around and heading to the wrong places. Hikkadwa on the south coast was the eventual final destination we wanted to spend the best part of the last week as it had a good reputation for backpackers. We crammed in as much as we could today, starting at the market in the center of town where we looked around the meat area, which was not the best thing to do before lunch. I brought new clothes as they were s cheap and eventually we looked around the spice market. High up above the city there was an impressive white Buddha statue, which seemed to be looking over the small mountain city. We climbed our way up to the summit but in all honesty apart from the amazing views it was really just a tourist trap. Sri Lanka is well known for hyper inflating the prices on attractions for foreign people, most places are the same as a museum in England £10-£20 but annoying the locals can either go free or pay maximum £1. I did however make an offering of some flowers to the Buddha so hopefully I will have good karma for the rest of my trip!
We bumped into the Swedish girls in a restaurant in town so we headed with them to the botanical gardens at the edge of the city. The gardens were really beautiful and we saw hundreds of bats and monkeys, which was cool.
That night we all went to the cultural show, which was local traditional dancing and fire walking, very touristy but it was still a good laugh. The whole hostel headed upstairs to the rooftop we got back, which overlooked the city with some nice hammocks and chairs so we played drinking games and chatted until 4am.
What a great night, this is what its all about… Getting cultural and meeting people… with a beer in hand of course!!
Hangovers lingering and plans to meet up with everyone again soon we headed for Ella! We had only just made it the train station when the train departed 45 minutes early but I guess you can't complain as long as you make it on.
The 7-hour train ride was amazing and even better than the first, we managed to get some good seats for the journey but the train was nearly empty compared to the previous one. The views were simply indescribable rolling hills of tea plantations, rivers, lakes and jungle. It certainly beats the train to Aldershot!
The beautiful scenery gave us a chance to play with our new GoPro cameras; we were leaning out the windows and doors to see who could get better pictures and video, without being knocked off the train and into the canyons below!
The trains are full of people selling drinks and amazing smelling food, you could buy anything from a bags of crisps, fresh peanuts, Sri Lankan sweets and even a full curry wrapped in a banana leaf! We fancied the sweets, which kind of looked like donuts, but they have chilies in, 1 was enough for me. They came wrapped up in someone's old algebra homework, a good example of recycling I guess!
We hadn't booked any accommodation for Ella but we managed to walk out the station to a group of people selling rooms, which was what I had expected. We met a really friendly man who took us to his new apartment.
The building was still not finished and I was little worried but when we went inside the place was perfect, we managed to get the only room that was done. The views were perfect with views over a waterfall, train bridge and tea fields. We had a room overlooking Ella rock which is one of the two highest peaks in the area with Little Adams peak opposite, both of which we planed to climb! We had a great curry and spent the night chatting to our new host Kasune.
We woke up early to the sound of rain on the roof, the first time in 3 months for the locals! Kasune arrived at 9am with his wife who made us tea and the local breakfast which was a kind of thin pancake with a fried egg inside.
Kasune insisted that he take us up to little Adams peak that day so after we finished breakfast he dropped his wife off at home and then came back for us. He must have thought we were like the other tourists in the area as he took us most of the way up on his rickshaw. It was much colder up hear in the mountains than back down in Colombo but it meant the weather was perfect for walking. The tea fields were surrounding us as we walked further up the trail, tea pickers held massive baskets on there heads full of leaves and some even had babies on there backs… these are some tough women! Kasune surprised us with his knowledge of the world including all the kings and queens and state visits they had made to Sri lanka since the British colonized it them.
When the three of us reached the top I was amazed by the stunning views below us we could see for miles in every direction. Kasune had told us about the troubles that tourism brings to such a small village and how the corrupted government did as they pleased including building a massive hotel in the center of town, which was empty and looked abandoned. My guess is that the only people to head here to these far away places are the dedicated travelers, which are usually on a budget and want to stay in a local place to get a real feeling for the culture and surroundings. Kasune must have done this before, as he knew all the pest photo opportunities, the photos he took speak for themselves.
That afternoon the local bus took us down the mountain to Ella's rock waterfall, which was situated the opposite side to the one we could see. The locals had dammed the top of the river and diverted it to our side of the rock so that more of the low lands would get fresh water. It was spectacular; from the road to the peak must have been over 300 meters of gradual decent. We decided to climb up as high as we could to escape the hordes of tourist busses that pass through Ella daily but rarely stop for more than 10 minuets. We managed to climb over half the way up where we stopped to eat our bananas that we brought with us. A few small monkeys came and watched.
Kasune arrived perfectly on time when we arrived back and brought fresh ginger tea with cake. We decided to take the rest of the afternoon off as it was raining and get our washing done and to relax a little.
That night we met the German guys and the 2 Swedish girls from Kandy... So we had another party!!
We were really hangover the next morning but of course we had to solider on... Not easy this traveling business! The plan was to head up to Ella rock which is about 500 meters above the town and the towns at about 2000 meters high so the views are spectacular!! You have to walk along the train tracks, across some very old bridges and then up a very steep incline to the top, which is easier said than done, especially with one of the worst hangovers I have had in a long time! I really struggled to make it to the top but we were rewarded with some amazing views!
We said goodbye to our host and his wife who had been so kind to us. We offered him 3000rs extra for the food and tours but he wouldn't take it! Truly another great person, I feel so lucky to have met.
That afternoon we left Ella and had plans of getting to Galle to start our week on the beach but as always when backpacking plans change!
We took the local bus down the mountain and headed toward wallawary. The bus was the most crowded yet, we had forgotten that it was Friday afternoon so I guess even Sri Lanka have a rush hour. You wouldn't think it would be possible to fall asleep on a bus overcrowded going around a mountain only a few feet from falling to our deaths but I somehow managed to sleep most of the 2-hour journey. When we reached a bus station we couldn't find the correct bus but a nice man told us that we would be better taking a Tuk Tuk to another place further south and then taking a bus the rest of the way. The following day so that's what we did!
We woke early and headed for the bus station. The bus was so over crowded to Galle, but we still managed to grab a front seat. It's best to think of a Ryan air seat and cut it in half and then take away any padding whist sitting in an oven. Fun. That went on for 5 very long hours.
We made it to Hikkadwa about 3pm after changing at Galle for another bus. Guido was fairly stressed out buy the terrible journey but when we couldn't find the hostel we took a Tuk Tuk. The guy told us he could find the place. "No problem Sir, just down here" after that he pulled over and asked everyone for directions. Guido got very stressed and refused to pay but we made it in the end!
We had to go for a beer, so the only decent place near us was a tiny shop called "Parrots Paradise" out the back it's like a hand made wooden shelter with sand on the floor, the sea crashes against the rocks right next to you and you cant hear the busy road either. Perfect.
The food was great and the owner was such a nice man, his friend was also there. Lal is the owner of a number of fishing boats and shops in the town.They had both drunk a bottle of whiskey and were very happy indeed. We all ate lunch together and then he took us to his brother's place as he said we could stay for only 750rs each. Veeeery cheap! We were paying 1500 a night for a 6-bed dorm with no fan! This new room had air conditioning its own shower, Wi-Fi and only us two staying!
We stayed in Hikkadwa for a week, just surfing; snorkeling and I went scuba diving, the first time since I learnt with the army cadet's years before. The nightlife was amazing, most nights we went home with the sun coming up! We met so many people from around the world, Americans, Spanish, Swedish and Swiss! The place is full of Ukrainians and Russians too but we mostly avoided them.
The best story for the week had to be when the owner of parrot's paradise closed his restaurant and made us a meal! He took us to the harbor where we swapped a bottle of cream soda for a whole yellow fin tuna! A great swap! We took it back and he showed us how we cut it up and cooked it. We had simple tuna steaks, cocoanut curry and a hot spicy curry! Boat to plate in less than an hour and he didn't even want us to pay him… Of course we did! Chami the owner closed the restaurant a day later to rebuild it, as the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami destroyed the town. There were still a few buildings destroyed and left abandoned but mostly the place looked nice. A Favorite story of mine would also be the night we 6 of us went out to a beach party but very early in the morning we suddenly noticed baby turtles coming out of the sand towards us, they were disorientated by the flashing lights so we took them down to the sea and released them! A once in a lifetime experience I would say!
After another late night with 2 beautiful Spanish girls, I had to head back to Colombo for my flight to Qatar. Although I had changed my flight 1 day later I went back as planned to meet Guido and have a final beer before he flew back to Germany, his traveling was over and mine was really only just beginning.
Looking back on it- My 2 weeks in Sri Lanka had been a fantastic start to the 6 months and I am so happy that I decided to add it on at the last minute. The people really make Sri Lanker and its amazing that they are so happy even though they have been through so much as a country, the tsunami and the war with the Tamil tigers have had an effect on the population but that's probable just brought everyone closer and made them thankful for what they have. I can't recommend this place enough, it was a massive highlight of my trip!