It's now December and normally this is the time of year when my toes freeze and the big furry hats from Portobello road make an appearance. In Sri Lanka however, the heat is only intensifying and the tourists are streaming in with their complaints of the coke not being up to the American standards and purchases of all things 'Sri Lankan' but not actually, like 500 rupee necklaces and colourful thigh length sarongs are in excess. Luckily for Jamie and I we have not seen the sudo's (white people) pervade and destroy the serenity of Unawatuna too much yet as we took ourselves off to the cooler hill country for some hiking and cycling.
We left early in the morning, rucksacks stuffed with String hoppers and pol sam bol, chick peas and short eats ready for the second lengthy bus trip of our stay here. The bus journey was not dissimilar from the previous staff trip, as buskers came on board and sang with sad eyes and the tambourine was played until I had a constant ringing in my ears. Men came on the bus at each stop yelling 'WADDY WADDY WADDY' which is a type of short eat and blind men fumbled down the isle begging for money. The actual journey was beautiful and I could feel the air getting crisper as the bus climbed higher and higher. As we moved into the clouds, we saw the Sri Lankan's in their usual sarongs and flip flops, only this time there was the addition of scarves, wooly hats and jackets. It was too cute seeing sunny Sri Lankan's making their way in a colder climate. There were some edgy moment when it felt like the bus was going to topple off the edge of the mountain and excerpts from the guide book kept jumping to mind, telling of vehicles falling to the rocky depths below whilst making the journey up some of the more treacherous parts of the hill country. We eventually arrived however in Nuwara Eliya, which is known as 'little England'. Seeing a golf course and Sri Lankan's stroll about by English lamp posts and on pavements rather than down a dusty track was bizarre to see. That night was bliss as I slept wrapped in a duvet and free from mosquito netting pressing against my face or the sound of a whirring fan. We rose early to make sure we got a good view from the top of Sri Lanka's highest village. We rented out bikes and after a sweaty couple of hours, we made it to the top. It was stunning. We cycled through tea plantations and felt the (actually cold not Southern Sri Lankan cold) water streaming down the mountain. The day was perfect, beautiful, or it would have been had my bike not been punctured, meaning that getting the bike back to the bottom of the hill was a chore and a half I could have done without.
The bike was swiftly replaced and Jamie and I were off again to Pedro tea plantation which was a fair way out of town. We cycled without looking where we were going as we furiously tried to keep up with a van which was meant to be showing us the way. Sweating, and wondering how we were going to get back, we arrived. We again saw a vast area stretching before us of tea leaves, with beautiful hindu women dotted about picking tea leaves. It's amazing to think that the tea we drink is all hand picked. They were wrapped up in thick clothes and were aged between around 16 and 60. As they carried massive baskets of tea leaves on their backs up and soldiered on up the steep hillside for lunch, Jamie and I watched in awe as they trudged away dressed in their shabby clothes, toe rings and bindi spots. When you next drink your cup of tea, just think of the women on the tea plantations picking all day and carrying massive weights up mountains, so they can buy their rice and curry and feed their family. Our stay in Nuwara Eliya ended with an extremely precarious bus journey to the train station where we caught the train to Ella. It was the most stunning train journey I have ever been on. It felt like the train was floating through an endless expanse of hilltop greenery and even the native Sri Lankan's seemed to appreciate the beauty of this part of their country as they all sat in silence and stared out of the window.
Ella was slightly warmer than Nuwara Eliya, however having been used to the humidity of the south this was greatly welcomed at least by myself. It looks exactly like a ski resort only with more palm trees and a good few degrees hotter. We began with a walk up in the mountains, saving the well known 'Ella gap' for when Tom and Haley were to join us the next day. From our position in the mountains, it felt like the rest of the world didn't exist, especially as we ventured further into the greenery to see the smaller waterfalls which had what looked like plunge pools you could bathe in. The fear of water snakes however stopped me from making the plunge and I settled for washing my face and hair in the falling water instead. As the clouds came over the mountain I half expected someone to come out from the mist and tell me I had died and was about to enter heaven. My dirty feet and sunburn however kept me grounded and definite that I was still alive in Sri Lanka, only in a cloud on a mountain.
When Haley and Tom eventually arrived, we ventured off with our new found Singhalese English speaking friend who we had met the night before. The trek turned out to be more complicated than the guide book said however and we ended up being shown the way by a farmer from the area. Step after step we took and it never seemed to end. Sweaty and utterly exhausted we made it to the top. If I didn't know what vertigo was I knew it when I stepped right on the edge that mountain with nothing to stop me from falling. I forced myself to stand there until I felt comfortable with how unsafe I felt and after a fair while, I began to appreciate just how beautiful the view before me was. We paid our guide the unspoken of fee he would be expecting too soon however and found ourselves abandoned by the time we were ready to leave. After the initial worry, it turned out to be more of an experience the way back as we found ourselves tip toeing past a hornet's nest, clamouring over farmers fields, climbing trees and stopping for a short rest by a waterfall. However we found the railway track much to our relief and traipsed along it back to Ella, now with a small dose of sunstroke and a massive dose of exhaustion.
The trip was over all too soon and before we knew it we were on the rickety road heading back to Unawatuna. This time there were no seats for a good 4 hours of the journey back and Haley and Jamie looked worse for wear as the jam packed bus hurtled round the corners, even turning some of the Sri Lankan's complexions from brown to brown tinged with green. We made it back home though and even the water was working hoooraah!
One more week before we go off on our month long expedition and we've yet to have the Christmas tea party for fellow Sri Lankan's in the community. Next time you hear from me I'll be swotted up on what's happening in Sri Lanka right from north to south.
Subo Natalak - merry Christmas xxx