We left the north coast from Trinconmalee by bus, our first of what was to be many local buses in Sri Lanka (we had heard of rumours of small A/C minibuses, but we never managed find these fabled luxuries!).
The journey started well as we got seats and even got to put our backpacks in the trunk of the bus, though the seats were barely wide enough for the skinniest of snake hipped locals. Then the onboard entertainment started, blaring Sinhala pop music at loud, ear drum bursting levels.
An uncomfortable few hours ensued where we alternated between hurtling at suicidal speeds round blind bends, before the brakes were slammed on and everyone lurched forward as even more people were crammed onto the bus, my head and shoulders now became the arm and belly rest of many other passengers. The best part about it being so crammed full, was we could no longer see whatever craziness the driver was attempting next! However it did mean we went sailing right past our stop, as we had no way of getting out of the bus. Reaching the next town we fought our way off and just about managed to wrench our bags out as the bus went haring off, ripping the fabric of my bag as it did.
A three wheeler (Tuk Tuk) took us back up the road to Sigiriya, where we borrowed rickety bikes from our guest house and stretched our legs exploring the countryside surrounding the huge "lion rock". With the wind in our hair we went down lanes and watched monkeys leaping through the trees until sunset.
The main reason to come here to the heart of Sri Lanka was to visit one of the ancient cities, Sigiriya. The ruins of the capital which was built by the parricidal King Kassapa I in 477, lie on the steep slopes and at the summit of a granite peak standing some 180m high (the 'Lion's Rock', which dominates the jungle from all sides). A series of galleries and staircases emerging from the mouth of a gigantic lion constructed of bricks and plaster provide access to the site. Half way up there are frescoes, depicting scantily clad female figures. We reached the summit in the blazing sun and the view from the top was breathtaking, you could see for miles around.
By the time we had reached the base of the rock the heavens opened and the torrential monsoon rain started, we found a small nook in the rock to shelter in. We made a quick dash through the soaked boulder gardens back to our bikes, before being drenched again cycling back.
Luckily the clouds cleared just as we got in our jeep to set off on safari to Kaudulla National Park. We had been recommended this small park as being a great place to see wild elephants, and we were not disappointed. Barely ten minutes into the park and we came across our first family group. Such beautiful, majestic creatures, we were spellbound.
Following the heavy rains earlier the ground was pretty waterlogged, and it was now we realised the difference between the various safari jeeps. It appeared we were on a "budget" tour, as our driver struggled to cross the rugged terrain without 4WD, the back end spinning out and eventually becoming completely stuck in the mud. By this point we were all covered in mud splatters and chunks that came flying through the air from the tyres. We got towed out by another jeep (trying not to notice their pure white clothes without a hint of mud on them!)
As we headed down to the water we came across a huge family group of 47 elephants, including several baby elephants. Just watching them interacting with each other appearing to be oblivious to our presence was such a privilege, we felt honoured to be in their company. Finally they decided to move on, straight for us, definitely time to leave, such huge powerful creatures, we did not want to get stuck in the mud again! The next day we were lucky enough to find a three wheeler driver who had just dropped off in Sigiriya heading back to the west coast. On our way back to Colombo we visited the cave temples of Dambulla and the 30m high seated golden Buddha statue. To be honest we were a little disappointed with them after the magnificent cave temples in Myanmar.
Our journey continued for about four hours by three wheeler, with fairly slow progress at 40kph at best, through paddy fields and bustling towns. This was heaven for Bee who loved the views, smells and the chance for comfort breaks and snack stops at will (eating the best buffalo curd of the trip by the side of the road in the jungle), not so much for Tim whose view was obscured by the roof, as he was too tall to see out.
The last leg back into Colombo was an exhausting two hour bus ride at rush hour, crammed in with all our bags under our legs, hurtling through traffic and lurching forwards, it all went a bit wrong when someone fell off the bus. Shouting by other passengers alerted the driver who eventually stopped the bus, the conductor got off and helped him to his feet and paid him off with some rupees. Would we ever get used to road travel in Sri Lanka?
When we finally made it to the Windsurf hotel we were shattered and travel weary, only to find it was like a scene from Fawlty Tours for the next few hours, with staff constantly knocking on the door. "Excuse me sir, is there anything else sir would like?". Well we didn't want to mention the bathroom window seemed to be completely missing, the shower tap was broken and there were so many ants on the floor it looked like it was moving..... as he was such a sweet man, and the sea breeze coming in the missing window and the amazing curry he brought to our room, all made up for it, oh and we know we could ring the bell, but we just aren't used to ringing a bell for service! Good night.