A game drive in Yala National Park.

Friday 29 March 2013 – Tangalla.

It is hard to believe it is Easter Friday again, another year gone. Sri Lanka is a secular Buddhist nation so there is no mass celebration of Easter here and life continues as normal. This of course means no hot cross buns or chocolate rabbits, which I am not sure is a good thing or not.

As I said yesterday I had a lousy sleep in this sauna of a hotel room – and yes I could have taken the air con room, hindsight says that would have been the right option – but I have yet to use one in Sri Lanka, so I did not think I needed it. A good rain and the humidity will  disappear, for a while. But a lack of sleep did mean a nice time talking, via email, with El back in London before I had to drag myself off the bed and into a cold shower at 4:30 am. It was game drive day in Yala National Park and Benne and I were being picked up at 5:00. We were also moving on after the game drive so I had to pack everything up so the hotel owners could take my pack to their store room once they were up.

We had arranged to share a jeep with Adam and Jules, an English couple we met on the bus yesterday. It halved the cost of the vehicle for Benne and I and made it a much more attractive option than doing it solo. They were a wee bit late picking us up and we ended up spending almost thirty minutes on the side of the road outside the hotel. 5:00 is a very busy time on the main roads in a safari town!

Yala is the biggest of a number of national parks in Sri Lanka and is probably the most visited. It has all the usual suspects for Sri Lankan game drives – elephants, leopards, crocs, buffalo and a gazillion different kinds of bird. I had mixed expectations, I have read and heard stories of people seeing nothing but birds and stories of leopards and elephants galore. I just hoped to see elephants – experience says do not have high hopes of leopards!

The park is about 30km from Tissa and we briefly stopped near one of the lakes for a sunrise shot, I haven’t seen too many sunrises on my travels; or sunsets either  to be honest. I am not a particularly good travel photographer!


We stopped at the ticket office amongst the masses of other jeeps, I was initially thinking this was just going to be one long jeep train, but was pleasantly surprised that once the Sri Lankan Micheal Schumacher got us in to the park we were mostly alone.


There was this tiny wee crocodile in a pond near the entrance. I did see one large croc but it was too far away to take a photo of.



This is our vehicle, admittedly it looks like all the others : ) but it was OK.


The game drive lasted about five hours before we had to suggest we headed out of the park to meet mid-day check outs. From a time perspective it was good value, it was also pretty good fun, our driver was knowledgeable and engaging and there were loads of birds to. As expected we didn’t see any leopards and for a while I was worried we would not see any elephants either, there are only a hundred and twenty or so and it is a big park. Our guide was just so phenomenally good at spotting thing though, finding small green birds deep in the foliage while bouncing along a deeply rutted track smoking a cigarette seemed to be no issue at all. We saw loads of buffalo,



Birds of all shapes and sizes




Monkeys for Africa – hmmm, but I guess they already have enough.


Mongooses/mongeese ? : ) on the run




Spotted deer.


And finally as we drove up a small side road we came across a couple of other jeeps parked and found a female elephant with a couple of young. They were all well hidden in the forest and for the first time since I left England I regretted not having my DSLR or a view finder on the GX1, my photos are all mis-focused sadly. The camera was a sod to use in the bright light and I must have accidently hiot some function that was taking bracketed exposures – not what I wanted when it was so hard to focus. Given I was uber frustrated with the camera today, I did get some photos worth keeping, some of them only because I had little choice.


Later in the morning we came across this lone bull far across a distant swamp.


We went to a beach to look get out of the jeep for a bit to stretch our legs and take a break from the spine pounding from the deeply rutted trails. There was a memorial at the beach for the forty seven people who died here during the tsunami of 2004. I cannot comprehend how terrifying that must have been.


After the beach break we asked the jeep driver to take us back to our hotels as is was getting to the end of the agreed paid for tour as well as check out time, mid-day is never going to be prime time to see leopards, or much else so it was silly to bounce around for too much longer.

Back at the hotel we paid bills and took a tuk-tuk to the main bus station in Tissa to get a bus to Tangalle (Tangalla – two different spellings). There was a bus departing as we arrived so we piled on and the conductor shoved our packs under seats – such a good idea and not one I have seen before! It was a fast and crazy two hour ride to Tangalle, this driver used the heavy foot brake more than anyone else and I was constantly flying forward into the seat in front. Benne and I got up and ready to go at the village prior to Tangalle and it was a hair raising ride standing up in a packed bus trying to manage a pack as well as a heavy day bag – and hang on for what seemed like dear life. Road runner – yes, Best Rider – hmmm, hugely debateable…


I had booked myself accommodation in Tangalle as I knew it would be expensive and likely frustrating as it is a major tourist centre. The south coast is where the bulk of the casual tourists go so space would be at a premium. I was absolutely rapped with my choice, it was twice the price as anything else I have stayed in in Sri Lanka, but cheap compared to some countries. It has a pool, air con, a great shower, is clean throughout and best of all has wicked wifi access. I am shallow I know.

Once settled in I took a walk back in to town and finally replaced the jandals (flip flops) that were nicked in Malawi back in November and bought some beers at the local beer bar. I made use of the fabbo internet to Skype with El for a while, it was so cool to actually be able to see her rather than the heavily pixelated image I had last time. I had an excellent rice and curry dinner in the restaurant before retiring to my room and watching an old English TV series “The Beiderbecke tapes” on my laptop.

A long but pretty damn awesome day.

To Tissa

Thursday 28 March 2013 – Tissamaharama.

I was awake ridiculously early considering we were aiming for the 9:15 bus to our next destination which  is about four hours away – Tissamaharama, or Tissa for short. As the coffee and pancakes had no negative impact on me yesterday I totally abandoned my no eating or coffee before a long bus ride rule and repeated yesterdays breakfast as there was time to kill before the bus. We got to the bus stop by 9:00 and there was already a small group of westerners waiting for the bus. The main drag of Ella was pretty deserted.


The bus was late and a few more people had turned up before it arrived, we got to talking to an English couple, Adam and Jules while we waited and exchanged numbers to talk later in the day about sharing a jeep for a safari tomorrow morning. There was the usual scramble to get on the bus, which was already fairly full. Adding a dozen westerners all with large packs seemed to be a challenge the conductor relished, he moved other passengers about, put packs here and there and managed to get everyone seated, an amazing piece of work as I would not have thought it possible!

The driver was the fastest so far in Sri Lanka and we howled down from the hill country towards the south coast beaches. We were all hanging on tightly to prevent being tossed from side to side, it was a crazy run down, though strangely I did not feel at all terrified – unlike Vietnam. We only had one eye closing moment as we overtook a car into the face of an oncoming truck. We stopped a few times on the way, seemingly at random and usually incredibly sharply. At the main town we had the usual vendors board the bus but also a lottery ticket seller which I haven’t had on the bus before, though there are dozens in the street of every town. The guy standing chose to stand exactly next to a row of three girls even though at one stage the seat in front was empty. No one else was standing…


In the last village before Tissa the bus was boarded by a whole bunch of touts selling the various guest houses and safari rides, it was all a bit hard sell and I didn’t particular enjoy it, though it was worse once we all got off the bus. As we did not have anywhere to stay we ended up being the last ones in the bus stop and were mobbed by a group all yelling hotel names and rides to various places. I told them all to keep quiet so Benne and I could talk. I was remarkably polite too. We eventually decided on a place and got a free ride in their safari jeep. The hotel was nice, cheaper than some places and exceptionally clean and tidy. I elected to take a room without air con – a decision I regretted all night long. We arranged with Adam and Jules to use the safari company from their guesthouse as it was cheaper than ours. Wahoo – a game drive in Yala National Park tomorrow.

After a fried rice lunch Benne and I went for a walk to find a tuk-tuk to take us to a nice old dagoba we had seen on the way in, though on the first attempt we ended up at the wrong one, but decided to take a look anyway. I loved thr rice drying in the drive way.


Our next attempt was thwarted as the tuk-tuk driver did not speak any English, though he faked it enough to get us in the tuk-tuk. As we went the wrong way at the lake I spotted the dagoba out of the corner of my eye so we got out and walked.

Tissamaharama Chaitya was constructed around 150BC and is 180ft high, it too is supposed to contain a Buddha tooth relic – he must have had one heck of a large mouth ! It was my favourite Dagoba in Sri Lanka, I liked it for the roof supports from the buildings around the outside. It was also great to be the only people there. Tourists don’t come to Tissa for the ruins, they come here to access Yala National Park.






We walked into town after as I wanted to get a new hat and I found a nice ‘Adidas’ cap for five bucks – score! We bought some beer from the beer shop. This is a fairly non-typical one, they are usually dirty and grungy with solid steel bars and a small point to hand money in and bottles out. I find it ironic the way they are called wine stores, but don’t sell wine, only beer and cheap spirits. There are always customers…


We stopped by the lake on the way back to the hotel but had missed the last of the good light. I would loved to have been able to wade out there and get into the trees, but there are lots of crocodiles here!


We went back to the hotel and had a beer before walking around the street looking for some dinner. The one other place open was selling meals at London prices so we ended up going back to our hotel, where they opened the kitchen for us. There are not that many people here!

After a very average meal we went to bed. It was so hot and humid and the fan barely penetrated the mosquito net which I had to use as it was mossie city here. It was not a great night. I ended up having a nice long email conversation with El from 3:30 until it was time to get up at 4:30 and get ready for the safari It was a pity the internet was rubbish and we couldn’t Skype, but it was a lovely way to start the day.

Meet the greedy little bastard who almost ruined my day.

Wednesday 27 March 2013 – Ella.

Benne and I were out the door for breakfast at a reasonable time and went to a small place just up the road from the guest house that had been recommended by some other travellers. I had coffee and sugar and lime juice pancakes. My stomach was not exactly stable so I wanted something solid and boring in there. They seemed to work OK. There was enough to take one away for a snack later and the coffee was not bad either.


My legs were a bit tender from the walk up Adams Peak on Monday, they were not too bad, just the second day ache, which was totally expected. Benne was feeling a bit more pain than me so we decided to do separate things with me taking on the challenge of Ella Rock.


Mornings has consistently seen clear skies and today was no different, a perfect time to do the walk. So off I went.

I had very vague directions from the guest house and was hoping (ridiculously of course) that there would be some sort of signpost, there wasn’t.

I found my way up to the road that leads to the railway track OK and once up above the houses could clearly see where I wanted to go, and I knew I had to cross over the waterfall, so at least I had a visual on the end result.


I found the railways easily enough and walked along them for a couple of kilometres, there were a few other tourists on the walk which made me feel OK and a number had guides, but they were all so slow so I sort of ended up ahead of everyone – as usual. I had seen the rain the day before and wanted to make sure I had completed the supposed four hour return journey before the heavens opened; so no point in mucking about. I passed a nice small rice paddy terrace.


I crossed over the top of the waterfall and was immediately struck by a whole variety of paths heading in different directions, most of them up, I was standing there looking very confused when this little old bloke in bare feet came past and said he would show me the way. I thought that was pretty cool, not realising that this was an offer of a couple of hours of guiding which was not wanted I wanted. We walked through the edge of the farm he works on.


And then it was almost a race up the hill, he set a cracking pace, which I actually enjoyed and we ascended quite a way before stopping for a break. I surprised myself by keeping up though I was sheeting sweat and it was barely 9:00 am. We stopped at the view-points as we made up way up through mixed pine and eucalyptus forest.


Once on the steep final section the going was harder, I could feel my legs getting heavy and at once stage I started getting some twinges of cramp in my calves, but there was nothing to be done about it but carry on. As is normal when I do these things I didn’t carry a huge amount of water either, which really is a bit daft! We stopped for a break half way up so I could slug some water and he could get some betel nut from his pocket to chew on. I don’t think he was even puffing. I would love to see a race up a hill between these barefoot old blokes who eat barely nothing, smoke cigarettes and drink homemade liquor and some of the finest trail runners. Would be interesting to see who made it to the top first!


The view from the top  back down over the small village of Ella and the surrounding valleys was just lovely. I met two French couples who I had spoken to at the guest house in Dalhousie and asked one of them to take a photo, it was a wee bit glarey. Notice – no hat, I lost the damn thing on the way. I had been using that hat since I started travelling and it had been sweated in in three continents, I was really annoyed with myself.



I was shown a small side rock that allowed a good photo of the top.


From there it was all downhill, in both meanings of the phrase. I loved the downhill section and at one stage was actually running down the tight and twisty single track, cannot wait to get some runs in back in New Zealand ! (Vicki – if you read this, I think a Piha loop and that Huia loop that I cannot remember the name of have to be run – not on the same day though !!!)


We soon got out of the trees and into a farmland section, my ‘guide’ pointed down the hill and said if I went that way I could get to the cave temples I was going to visit in the afternoon or across the hill would take me back to where I started at the waterfall. Obviously I chose downhill. This was where we parted and he asked for money – way too much money, I negotiated him down to an obscenely large amount and then found I did not have the right notes to make it so ended up giving him what he wanted in the first place. He was a greedy little bastard and ruined the day for me. I did learn a lesson and it was my fault for letting it happen – but he was still a greedy little bastard and my wonderful memories of Ella will be tainted by that experience.

I started walking down the trail towards the main road way below, there was a great view of the waterfall on the way down.


It was a fairly straightforward walk though I missed a turn to the cave temple as nothing is marked, but the time I got to the main road I could not be bothered heading back up again. I had completed a four hour walk in two hours so was hot and tired – even though it was still only 10:30…. I took a tuk-tuk back to town and the guest house and had a wee rest before heading out for an early afternoon lunch.

I did not have anything in mind until I walked past the sign that said ‘latte’ and that was it, I was sold on a western meal, first one in Sri Lanka. Pizza and red wine – preceded by a latte; which was actually not too bad at all.

2013-03-27 13.04

I enjoyed a pleasant hour or so in the cafe, reading, writing post cards and eating a very large pizza. My hands were shaking with anticipation when I took this blurry shot!

2013-03-27 13.21

Sri Lanka still has many left over artifacts of its colonial past, including lovely red British post boxes. Which I used to post the cards.


As expected Ella Rock disappeared from view in the afternoon – though the rain never really came. I could have had a far more leisurely morning!


I did very little for the rest of the afternoon – yet again. More washing, blogging and reading until Benne arrived back from his day. In the evening we caught up with a couple of Austrian girls that Benne had met during the day  for dinner in a local restaurant. I had the best rice and curry I have had so far in Sri Lanka, very nice. The licensing laws here are vigorously enforced so though the restaurant advertised beer it was not allowed to sell it. We could however, buy beer in the beer shop and as long as we had a receipt proving the restaurant did not provide it, then we could have a beer with our meal. Which we did.

We all decided to go for a drink at one of the other, more western, restaurants – i.e. – it had a bar. But they would not serve us as is it was 9:30 and too close to the 10pm curfew – just in case we lingered over our drinks. So we headed up to the local beer bar and bought another beer just before that too closed. We got to see a small part of the other side of Sri Lanka – groups of men getting very drunk on very strong beer in small smokey beer bars -it sounds like a few other countries I have been to sadly. The men were very interested in the Austrian girls and we had a wee audience for the few minutes till closing time. At around 10:15 we walked back through town to our guest houses and we were the only people on the street – now that is weird.

It could have been a great day, I loved the pizza, the wine and the coffee. The walk was great, the views were stunning. But it was only a good day.

A train ride through the hill country.

Tuesday 26 March 2013 – Ella.

I was up and packed so early I had to time to break one of my cardinal travel rules and drank a couple of coffees before a long journey; but hey it was 7:30 and coffee is always good at that time of day. I was interested in seeing how the guest house bill turned out as no-one seemed to write anything down when I ordered things, but it was perfectly correct and actually came to less than I expected. Considering most orders were stuffed up, this was quite remarkable !

Benne and I were walking up to the bus stop in Dalhousie village with our packs when a bus came past, so we jumped on for the one and half hour, thirty km ride back to Hatton. It is a lovely journey and I kick myself for not spending a heck of a lot more money and taking a tuk-tuk so I could stop and get photos on the way. But we had a train to catch and the buses rule the roads here so it was the safest option.

We arrived at Hatton station with heaps of time to spare and I got us tickets for the 11.15 train to Ella – 2nd class. Hatton is a busy centre so it had a bank and I was able to get some cash out as I was getting low. Which was wise as the bank in Ella did not take my card…. I loved the hand written chalk board for train times – we were on the Badula 11/15.


The station has separate men’s and women’s waiting rooms, a rather antiquated option, but no-one was in either of them as the platform is the preferred waiting area for everyone.


I broke another long journey rule about eating before a ride and bought a vegetable roti – but it was so hot with chilli I could not eat it. And the coffee was grey – but I drank it anyway. Galya and a crazy French woman arrived soon after us and joined us on the platform.

The train was a little late, but not of any real consequence, and as the arrival time approached more and more people started flooding on to the platform and it was looking like a scramble to get on the train. As soon as it stopped we all crowded round the doors waiting for the people to get off and then it was pushing and shoving to get on, I managed to block some other tourists – who had arrived after us, I am a firm believer in first in first served, and allowed Galya and crazy French woman on first and they got the last seats. Just before the train departed two people got up and left so Benne and I dived in – sorted ! Though, after the first stop and a passenger shuffle around everyone who wanted a seat seemed to have one. The seats are very comfy, plenty of leg room and at 1.60 NZ for four hours, good value…


There were of course people sitting in doorways, but this is not such a populated area so there were not the crowds you see in some pictures.


The ride to Ella was fabulous, the train is slow, the countryside delicious and the ride was immense fun, I spent lots of time hanging out the door just feeling the wind in my face and listening to the clatter of the wheels on the track, as I said before – fabulous.



About three quarters of the way we picked up a whole bunch more westerners. The ride from the town of Haputale to Bandaruwela is supposed to be the most beautiful part so some of the tour operators drop the passengers at Haputale so they can make the journey. Though it did get a wee bit foggy!









At Bandaruwela a lot of people got off and the final section to Ella was quiet, though definitely less scenic.



We arrived in Ella just after 3:00 and Benne and I found ourselves a guest house with a great view of Ella Rock. We are sharing a room this time to save a bit of money. Ella Rock looked er um – where the hell is it ?


We wandered up to the tiny village of Ella, there is not much there apart from restaurants and guest houses. We found a place that sold beer and then found out that no-one sold beer as it is a public holiday…. so we had a bowl of chips and I had a healthy fruit smoothie instead.

I went back to the guesthouse to do the usual, blogging, photos etc etc as it rained for the rest of the afternoon. We went back into town for dinner once the rain stopped and I had a very nice fish Kottu Roti and a ginger beer. After dinner Benne bought a couple of beers under the table from another restaurant and we drank them on the terrace of our guest house and chatted to a Danish guy who was staying here as well.

Another good day, I loved the train!

Adams Peak

Monday 25 March 2013 – Dalhousie.

I think I managed to sneak a couple of winks in before my alarm went off at 1:50 am, though I was woken by the neighbours going out at 1:30. It is that sort of town, all the early morning noise is from people going out walking rather than people coming home.

The reason for the early start is to walk to the top of Adams Peak for the sunrise. Most of the path is well lit and there are always people going up and down all day and nightand this is the time to do it.

I met up with Benne and Galya at 2:15 and we started the walk up to the village and finally on to the path. There are no photos for a while as it was dark, though it was a clear sky with an almost full moon.

Just after the start of the path we crossed over a small river and arrived at a T intersection, we saw a couple of guys coming down the road from the left so started up the path, assuming it was the correct way. We assumed wrong. After about ten minutes of walking gradually up the hill I realised that too many things were wrong, mainly that there were no people and no lights. I said we were on the wrong path, but as we were kind of going in the right direction we agreed to carry on further. Soon enough we could see the lights of the real path below us and decided to duck a small track in the tea fields. We had used up over half an hour and had gained approximately two hundred metres – sadly not vertically!

We split up soon after hitting the main path. Benne wanted to make sure he was at the stop for the sunrise and Galya was not going fast enough (though she did make it in time) I wasn’t bothered either way so stayed with Galya for most of the next hour until we caught up with other groups of westerners doing the walk. I felt uncomfortable leaving her alone prior to that, though I am sure it was perfectly safe.

For the first hour the path was not overly steep though there were many steps between long sections of a gentler gradient, but the higher up the more steps there were and the steeper it got. The final three hundred and fifty steps were quite steep indeed and I took a few rests on the way. The surface is mostly good, some parts are very rough and on the lower section there were a number of large puddles, though I only managed to stand in one of them, thank goodness.

There are also numerous shops selling snacks and drinks, or full meals if that was what you wanted. Things got more and more expensive the further the shop keeper had to carry his   goods. I had not eaten as I did not want to risk any urgent need for a toilet stop on the way so was relying on Milo drinks and water. At half way this cost me 160 rupees, closer to the top it was 300. Demand was high !

There were a lot of westerners climbing and at the last cafe before the top I stopped for coffee, which was made with tea instead of water – yes it was foul, but it had caffeine. I met a kiwi couple there and chatted to them for a while before climbing slowly and with heavy breath to the monastery at the top. It took me just under three hours, including getting lost and I caught Benne at the top.

I was totally drenched in sweat by the top, I was expecting it to be colder up there than it actually was and I all I needed to put on was my long sleeve shirt. I obviously carried too much stuff up. Though it did speck with rain just before sunrise so I did used my jacket, mainly because I had humped the thing all the way to the top.

I walked around and had a brief look round the outside of the temple. There was a lot of people up here, but nowhere near what it would have been like last night.




The sun started rising just after 6:00 am and we had to jostle for a spot facing east. The sunrise was not very spectacular at all, I had seen some photos from one earlier in the week so was a wee bit disappointed with my luck, but it was still lovely and the atmosphere was nice so I have no complaints at all.






As soon as sunrise was done I left, Benne wanted to stay up for a while and visit the monastery but I wanted to start down before the crowds got to the narrow stairway, I was hungry and wanted coffee, as well as the opportunity to stop when I wanted to take photos.



Just below the steep section I ran into the kiwi couple again and stayed with them all way back down, nice to have some-one from home to chat to about some of the things happening in NZ.




Walking down in the early morning light was very nice, the scenery is fantastic from up here and as it was cloudy it remained a did not get really hot, enough to get a good sweat on though!




After an hour and a half of descending we were through the entrance gate, past the big Buddha, past one of the many shops selling plastic crap and I was back to my guest house.




I grabbed a much needed shower under a pathetic trickle of water before hitting the restaurant for breakie and coffee… just after 8:00 am…

It was a good start to the day, an awesome walk to a very spiritual and much loved place.

I did not do much else for the rest of the day, I watched one of my all time favourite movies “Fever Pitch”, wrote a blog post for the previous day, did a load more washing and dozed. Situation normal really. I was lucky with the weather and got my clothes and shoes dried before the rain came. When if finally did arrive it rained fairly solidly for the rest of the day.

At 3:00 Benne, Galya and I walked down to the neighbouring guest house as they had beer, we had a celebratory glass or two and some fries – very yummy. We chatted for a while and then they left and I had a final glass and contemplated life before leaving too.

Dinner at the guesthouse was a quiet affair, we were all tired, though I still managed seconds of rice and curry!!

I vant to suck your blood. !

Sunday 24 March 2013 – Dalhousie.

The pilgrimage was quite loud last night, there were drums echoing around the hills all night long and a bunch of people chanting from, I guess, the top of the peak from about 5:00 and then at 6:00 the loud music kicked in. My guide book says the path up the hill is free from the ubiquitous loud music that South and South East Asians like so much. My book is out of date!

Visually the day started beautifully with a nice blue sky and by 8:00 when I went up for breakfast it was quite warm as well. We watched the crowds coming down the hill through Benne’s binoculars and I was really pleased we did not go up this morning. As we were eating breakfast some of the people who did go up at 2:00 were coming back in and they said it was packed, the monastery on the peak was so full that a lot of people gave up trying to get to it.



Breakfast was not too bad, though I have never seen butter substitute in a sachet before…


It was quite hot in the morning but we were told that it would cloud over around eleven and get quite cool so we waited until then to go for a walk down to the lake. I went with Benne and Galya, a Bulgarian girl who joined us last night and will walk to the peak with us tomorrow morning. We started down the road past a bunch of buses from all over the country waiting to collect their returning pilgrims.


And then all of a sudden it was raining, and soon enough it was absolutely hammering down, luckily we found this shelter to huddled in while dodging the water running through the many leaks in the roof. Benne was the only one wise enough to wear a jacket.



Once the rain had stopped we continued on the way but started to get conflicting information on just how far away the lake was from the various people who stopped to ask us where we were going. In the end we decided to walk back up to the guest house and get some facts – as well as a rain coat for me and my umbrella for Galya. Benne decided he didn’t want to walk so just the two of us set off again – and soon it was warm and sunny.

It only took twenty five minutes to walk down to the lake in the end. Past a reasonable size water fall.


And the river that fills the lake.


We found a path down through the tea fields that led to the lake shore, the lake is a man made hydro lake and there was a short section of what was probably the old road to Delhousie on the shore line. The lake looked lovely.



We walked along the shore line for a few minutes, but it was getting obvious there was no easy way back up to the road, so we crashed up through some bush, before a final section of tea field – stamping heavily on the way to scare off any snakes that might be lurking in the bushes.


What the stamping heavily did not ward off was the leeches and I found one on my foot when we got to the road. I tried to burn it off with Galya’s lighter, but had no luck – and I wasn’t keen to burn myself by getting the flame too close, so I decided to leave it and either let it fall off or drop some tea-tree oil on it when I got back to the guesthouse. OK, it was a small one…


I am fairly sure a reasonable amount of that sun tan on my leg is dirt !

As we started up the road towards the guesthouse, me in bare feet due to the leech, the sky just let loose again, lucky we had rain gear this time so only got moderately soaked.


I took another photo of the leech just before I dropped some tea-tree oil on it. It was definitely looking full. The oil made it let go of my skin and flicked it off with a fingernail, a nice arc of MY blood flew out of it as it shot off my foot. Though it did not hurt I was glad it was gone, funny that.


I did very little with the rest of the day, it rained for another hour or so so I just sort of hung out in my room, listening to music, attempted to upload yesterdays post, read etc etc. I wasn’t really in a mingling mood. Though I did go up and join Benne and Galya for dinner on the roof at 7:00. After eating we all agreed to meet at 2:15 am tomorrow to make an assault on Adams Peak.

The view of the hill.

Saturday 23 March 2013 – Dalhousie.

I was not really tired last night so blogged until just after midnight and then read until 1:30 am until I was ready for sleep. It turned out to be a really noisy night with dogs barking till the wee hours and then almost immediately the birds took on the task of ensuring an all night noise fest. I sort of slept but was on the laptop doing emails by 6:00, it was good to catch up on a few rather slightly overdue replies to friends and family.

As is the norm for me I declined breakfast as Benne and I were going to be doing a couple of bus rides to our next destination, the village of Dalhousie at the foot of Adams Peak, four or so hours away.

We took a tuk-tuk back to the Muslim Hotel bakery so Benne could get some food and then we walked over to the bus station, which was not where I thought it was, but a few helpful Kandy locals put us on the right path and we got there just before the bus to Hatton was about to leave. There were not many people on the bus so we managed to get our packs up the front next to the driver and sit a few rows back to keep an eye on them.


As it was a Saturday towards the end of pilgrimage season I fully expect the bus to be very full but surprisingly we had a three seat row to ourselves almost the entire two and half our journey to Hatton. It was quite nice to not be squashed in for a change.

At one of the many stops this guy came on to sell teach yourself English books. This is quite common on the inter-city buses, along with beggars and people selling food and drink.


The ride was mostly through some lovely hilly countryside and just after half way we hit tea-plantation country, which is the main product of the hill country area. Some of the plantations are vast with road frontages going on for kilometres. We also passed a large number of lakes as there are many that do the area. It really is quite attractive.



We reached Hatton just before 12:00, as we are planning on catching the train from Hatton to Ella in a few days we walked up to the train station to get tickets, but they did not do reservations from Hatton which hopefully will not be a pain when we leave on Tuesday! The good news was the Dalhousie bus starts at the train station rather than the bus station so again we were able to put our packs up by the driver and get seats. This bus waited until the train from Colombo arrived and was immediately packed, there were three other westerners on the bus and funnily enough we all ended up at the same guest house in Dalhousie.

The bus to Dalhousie was a far more rickety affair than the intercity buses, and even though it is only a 30km journey it did take the full one and half hours to complete it. The road was pretty terrible, narrow very rough and it twisted up and down round the side of a couple of small lakes. The air was cool – by Sri Lankan standards, crisp and would have been fresh apart from the constant stream of diesel fumes coming in through the open windows. It was a beautiful ride though!


Fortunately the bus stopped right out the front door of our hostel in Dalhousie, and once we checked out the rooms we decided to stay, my room is the cheapest one so far in Sri Lanka and not too bad, I loved the blanket, so appropriate for a fifty year old man!


The best news with this room was the power point was in reach of the bed, not at the right end, but at least I did not need to sit on the floor if I wanted to use the laptop while plugged into the power. I had arranged a Skype with El, contingent on there being wifi here and thankfully there was, week but enough to have half of a video conversation with only a few ‘pardons?’ thrown in when the line was down.. It was great seeing and speaking to her again. Even though I have been travelling with Benne for a few days and have met a few other people along the way I have been feeling a bit lonely since I left London. I think this journey will be it for a while. I am enjoying myself though, the country is lovely, the Sri Lankans in the main are friendly and Benne and the other people I have met have all been great, but I am so glad I did not decide to do attempt Europe right now. That and the fact it is snowing in London again! I am looking forward to getting to New Zealand and am hoping the length of time I am on the boat after Sri Lanka is not going to be too long.

After my Skype call Benne and I went up and sat in the roof restaurant area for a while and met some of the other travellers who are here, some have just finished the walk up Adams Peak and some like us, are here to do it. There are more travellers here than I have seen anywhere else in Sri Lanka so far.

Adams Peak (Sri Pada) is the only reason people come to Dalhousie. The Peak is popular amongst travellers and Sri Lankans alike, all Sri Lankan Buddhists aim to complete a pilgrimage to the summit at least once. The Sri Lankan name Sri Pada means Sacred Footprint and it is believed Buddha left a footprint on the peak as he ascended into paradise. For Christians and Muslims it is where Adam first set foot on earth after he was thrown out of the Garden of Eden and came to Earth. Kind of the complete opposite journey!

The pilgrimage seasons runs from December until May and of course weekends are incredibly popular. Once we arrived in Dalhousie and watched the streams of buses and mini-vans arriving in town, and after talking to those who did the walk in the early hours of the morning we decided to delay our walk and do it on Monday rather than tomorrow, Sunday.


The peak is at 2243 metres and the climb from Dalhousie is about 1200, it is popular to start the ascent around 2:00 am and arrive in time for sunrise over the clouds. The ascent is slow and steady through the trees at the base but soon gets steep – culminating in a climb of 5200 steps !!

Benne and I took a walk up to the village itself, which is basically a 500metre long string of stalls selling all sorts of stuff, from food, through warm clothes (it is cold up there apparently) and the obligatory piles of plastic Chinese made crap – balls, blow up monkeys etc – all the essentials for a two and half hour climb…


I bought a couple of curried vegetable roti’s and some water for lunch and then walked back down to the guesthouse where I spent most of the afternoon chatting to the people coming and going.Some people are on a tighter time frame than I am and are going to attempt the walk tonight, though Benne and now have a young Bulgarian woman, Galya joining us tomorrow night.

Just before dinner the path on the way to the summit was lit up, it is lit every night during the pilgrimage season, so no need for a torch – one less thing to carry.


I had rice and curry for dinner, it was pretty good, but as usual – massive ! They are not allowed to serve alcohol here so I bought a bottle of coke and had whisky and cokes with dinner, a lager would have been better !


I sat around chatting for a while after dinner, we had an eclectic group at our table, one each of Canadian, Australian, Belgian, Bulgarian, German and myself. One of the great things with this type of travel is mad mix of nationalities that can end up around a dinner table, love it.

Everyone retired fairly early, some as they were getting up at 2:00 to walk and soon after the rest as everyone was tired and there is not a whole bunch to do.

Munchee Munchee

Friday 22 March 2013 – Kandy.

Benne and I had decided not to have breakfast at the guesthouse as it just seemed so expensive compared to what we could get on the street, so we arranged to meet at 8:00 at head on out. For a change I had a great and fulfilling sleep; not waking until 7:00, it was so nice to wake feeling almost refreshed. It is a lot cooler here in the Sri Lankan hill country so the night was quite pleasant, cool and quiet and with so few mosquitoes I did not bother using the net either.

We walked down the hill from our guesthouse, past the ragtag collection of tuk-tuk drivers waiting to pick up travellers with their heavy packs on their way to the bus or train station – or the lazy who cannot walk the one and half kilometres into town.

The lake was looking lovely in the early(ish) morning light, but with rush hour on the road behind us it was a noisy and fumey walk into downtown Kandy. Kandy is Sri Lanka’s second largest city and the most important Buddhist centre in the country, with the Temple of the Buddha Tooth Relic attracting large crowds daily.

The ancient bath house.


The golden roof of the Tooth Relic Temple.


Traffic control.


On the way into town yesterday Benne had spotted a restaurant with a large “Munchee” sign outside, as it was only a couple of hundred metres up the main road from the temple we decided to check it out for breakfast. Munchee is a massive snack food brand in Sri Lanka and Benne’s day pack seems to always have some of their product buried in it somewhere, snack time has been renamed ‘munchee munchee time’.


I had a curry roll, egg roll and a muffin for breakfast – all washed down with a reasonably tasty but worryingly gray cup of milk coffee and a bottle of water. It was so ridiculously cheap, and not bad either!


We went for a walk up the main street for a bit and I had a good laugh as this bus got stuck trying to take the hairpin outside the main mosque. The hill country seems to have a larger, or at least more obvious, Muslim population than the more northern ‘ancient cities’ area.


I also found a piece of graffiti on a wall that was in English, hardly street art, which there has been none that I have seen so far, but some self expression is good !


We soon found ourselves back at the Temple of the Buddha Tooth Relic; where once I had zipped the lower legs on my trousers we went in for a look. The site was a lot larger than I expected with a number of side bits and pieces to look at, including this large Bodhi tree which we went and sat at for a while.



Surprisingly in the grounds there was also a small Hindu temple and a large Christian Church.



Eventually we braved the crowds, paid the entrance fee and entered the Temple. The temple itself is hard to define as it is a building within a building and has been burnt down, ravaged, damaged and eventually bombed in 1998 during the civil war. The tooth relic itself is contained within a golden casket under strong security. The tooth was supposedly rescued from the funeral pyre of Buddha in the fifth century BC finally arriving in Sri Lanka eight hundred years later. It has been kept in various holy locations since then arriving in Kandy in the sixteen hundreds when the fist temple was built.




We decided to not queue and walk past the window which the tooth casket is behind but just stand back and look over peoples heads – easy to do when you are taller than most people !


I then tried a little slow-mo stuff when I saw this boy offering a prayer.


We spent a fair amount of time in the temple and grounds, much more than I expected and it was most pleasant.

We walked along the lake side for a while, stopping to look inside the old bath house, which i am assuming is still being used.


We decided to walk up town and find the Muslim Hotel Restaurant as we were going to try it for dinner and wanted to get an idea of where it was before dark and also to get to the train station and organise tickets for tomorrow when we head to Hatton. I found this tuk-tuk on the way, magic!


After queuing for a while at the station we found there were no seats to Hatton at all. Hatton is the nearest station to Adams Peak, a very holy place in Sri Lanka and our intended destination tomorrow. I had kind of not really factored in the fact that tomorrow is the weekend and it is still pilgrimage season to Adams Peak, so it will be really busy. We will have to try and get a bus in the morning, it could be an interesting ride ! I did book us some accommodation later in the day though, just in case.

We took a tuk-tuk from the station to the botanical gardens which are six km from town. It was a nice afternoon for a walk in a park and Benne was keen to have a look. I loved these amazingly bent fur trees, I have never seen anything like them before. There were also hundred of large fruit bats hanging in the tress, some were quite massive and would occasionally fly between the trees. I have never really seen bats flying out in the open in the middle of the afternoon before.


The park was great, loads of kids in school uniforms on school trips and almost as many courting young couples walking on the shady paths. After the park we took a tuk-tuk back to the guest house and the driver asked if I was Benne’s dad, we had a good laugh, though his dad apparently is not much older than I am…

I spent the late afternoon doing the usual over a glass of beer and then we walked back into town to the Muslim Hotel restaurant. The view from the guest house deck.


I had an egg Kottu, which is basically a roti with egg and vegetables all chopped up, I had never had one before and it was damn fine, this was washed down with my first mango lassi for a while, which was only average compared to some I have had. The food was damn god, far superior to last nights meal and almost a third of the price. The waiter in the restaurant also asked if I was Benne’s father, a worrying trend. I may shave tomorrow and get my youthful good looks back…


On the way back to the guest house I bought a half bottle of Sri Lanka’s finest whisky – Old Keg. It is just passable, but not as a whisky 🙂 I did get this blog post completed while sampling it though.

Benne found this large spider in his bathroom just after we got back. i got rid of it with harm to either me or the spider.


I want Kandy !

Thursday 21 March 2013 – Kandy

Last night I bought a couple of beers in one of the local beer bars. I bought a couple of the normal strength Lion lager which has been my usual brew in Sri Lanka. I also picked up a can of Barons strong lager at 8.8% strength to see what it was like compared to the dreaded Carlsberg Special Brew, a beer I haven’t had for many years. It wasn’t too bad, but I could feel the chemicals thrashing around in my head when I woke this morning. It took me a while to surface and I was a little late for the 8 am breakfast we had booked. I don’t think the guesthouse staff like it if you are late !

We breakfasted again in the tree house and once the other couple had left I had Benne take a photo of me with the rock behind. The tree house was a cool place to hang.


We are going to head to Kandy today with a stop at some cave temples in Aluvihara on the way to make the day more interesting. Kandy is in the south mid-land hill country and I intend on spending most of the next two weeks in the hills, though intent does not always match reality of course.

After breakfast we packed up and the guesthouse organised a tuk-tuk to take us the ten or so kilometres to the main north – south highway so we could get a bus. Surprisingly the tuk-tuk driver told us a price less than we were advised it would be – bonus !


We waited at the bus stop for about twenty minutes and true to form the tuk-tuk drivers were trying to get us to take a ride into Dambula as it would easier to get a bus and we would get a seat. One guy came and told us there were no buses to Kandy for ages, and true to form one arrived thirty seconds later, though there were no seats left when we got on, but Benne got one soon after. There were definitely no seats at all by Dambula and the bus was packed for most of the rest of the journey

The ride was your normal Asian bus ride, the driver only knew two speeds, flat out or heavy breaking, we even skidded to a stop a couple of times ! It was a full body work out for those of us standing. With the help of a passenger, who I initially thought was a miserable git and the conductor we got off at the right stop near the caves at Aluvihara.

The caves at Aluvihara were where the Tipitaka (sort of a Buddhist bible) was first written in Pali back in the first century BC. The original copy was then destroyed by the wonderful British back in 1848 when they burnt the library here.



The caves are also famous for some paintings of scenes of sinners being dealt to in hell, though Buddhism itself does not really have a hell. The dates of these paintings is in doubt, as seems to be most things about them, though they are not recent. They are so completely tacky, it was worth the trip.




If you follow the one true path you will of course be saved from those torments.


There were a number of other caves including the usual reclining Buddha.


On the hill side there was a large ‘golden’ Buddha statue looking down over the monastery and the small village nearby.


We visited the small museum and library, the library holds a more recent copy of the Tipitaka. After the British destroyed the original a new version was created from the memories of the monks who lived here.

The librarian shows us how they wrote the document on the dried and polished palm leaves. First the text is inscribed using a needle type implement.


And then an ash and oil mix is rubbed in which fills the marks left by the needle. The document was then wiped down with rice flour to clean the ash residue off.


For the princely donation of $2NZ I have my name on a piece of palm paper.

We caught a tuk-tuk to the larger town of Matale up the road toward to Kandy so we could get lunch before boarding a bus there. It was refreshing to be in a small rural town where you have to find a tuk-tuk and then they immediately quote you a price that is reasonable ! We bought some vegetable stuffed roti before managing to jump on a bus as it was about to leave Matale for the 30km ride to Kandy. It looks like they must have had to widen the road through here at some stage, or are about to do it again as all the shops and buildings had the front removed, amazing.


By the time we left town the bus was packed and the conductor was not happy with our packs being in the aisle, but there was nowhere else to store them and we were not going to let him put them right by the back door… The bus driver was the craziest yet, he was of the ‘go hard or go home’ type, pedal to the metal all the way, and so heavy on the gears! I took a photo as I thought the bus was looking full, and then we stopped outside a school and picked up a massive bunch of kids, they were rammed in everywhere, though fortunately not for long.


We arrived in Kandy mid-afternoon and took a very expensive tuk-tuk to our guest house for two nights. The town of Kandy is quite ‘pretty’, the centre is based around a man-made lake with tree covered hills on most sides. There is a road full of guest houses and we are most of the way to the top, so we have a great view of roofs and wires and a very large crane !

I just did the usual afternoon – blogging, washing, relaxing until dinner. We ate in the guesthouse but it was quite expensive and not as good as it had been rated sadly. The good news was I slept like a baby for a change, so nice to be in a cool environment up in the hills.

I am now starting to wonder if there is some sort of power point conspiracy in Sri Lanka. This one was not so high up the wall, though I had to gaffer tape it to the wall otherwise it kept coming loose. It was so far from the bed I had to sit on the floor to use the laptop plugged in….


I have not linked a Youtube clip for ages, but I have this song bouncing around inside my head. From 1980 something, Bow wow wow – I want candy!


Can there ever be too many monks ?

Wednesday 20 March 2013 – Sigiriya.

As I had arranged to see the rock in the afternoon I did not rush around too much in the morning, barely moving at all to be perfectly honest. I had organised with the guest house to join the other guests for a 7:30 breakfast which was as huge as I expected. Though this was the first breakfast where dhal and roti were on the menu, along with a small omelette and toast. I did the Ugandan thing and rolled my omelette up in a piece of roti for a role eggs. Very nice.  It was a great breakfast, even the coffee wasn’t too bad.

I sat around chatting to an America/German couple – there are a lot of German tourists in Sri Lanka, more than any other nationality from my experience so far. We talked for a couple of hours, they have amazing jobs in video journalism and documentaries based out of Bangkok and I was deeply envious of their travel and journalistic opportunities. Just before ten, my young German friend Benne turned up at the guest house to stay the night and we agreed to do the rock together around 3:00. This left the rest of the day for doing not much which was very much alright by me. I got to finish yesterdays blog post, though was unable to post it as the internet sucked. I also managed to get another good load of washing done, staying two nights in each place means I have been able to really keep on top of laundry which means my lack of clothes is not too much of a problem…

So that was two thirds of the day done ! At 3:00 Benne and I walked from the guest house to Sigiriya Rock. The walk to the park was about a kilometre and it was very hot, Bennes thermometer said it was 37.1 degrees. There is a tourist elephant walk in Sigiriya, not something I particularly agree with, but I did enjoy watching this elephant enjoying a soak in the river. When I walked past in the evening people were washing their clothes in the same spot, hmmmm.


From the road there is a further km of walking around the side of the palace moat, I loved this sign warning against bathing, the sign in blue behind advises there are crocodiles….


The ticket for the site is 30USD which is really expensive when you consider 30USD gets you unlimited three days across all the many Angkor sites in Cambodia. This is one day access only and a bit steep in my book.

Out first visit was the museum, semi-interesting, a vast building with a large number of staff that were all sitting around doing nothing, except one got up to point to the no photos sign. We were sort of laughing at the place by the end of it. Sad really – one should not laugh at museums… But they could have housed the collection in something far smaller.

Sigiriya Rock is riddled with caves and overhanging shelters so has long been a feature in Sri Lankan history, possibly back to pre-historic times. Though it is ‘officially’ dated as a home to monks as early as the third century BC. Though the main attraction for tourists and local pilgrims alike is the ruins of the tenth century palaces/monastaries as well as the cave paintings. Much doubt still lingers about the exact purposes of the site either religious or royal !

We were not in a major rush to go through as it was quite warm so we took our time wandering through the various ancient gardens below leading up to the rock – which turned out to be a major mistake !



We also watched a couple of girls doing silly jumps in front of the rock for the camera, so had to do the same.


I took a side trip off the main path to look at some of the ancient and more unloved cave paintings, possibly dating back to the fifth century – there is the top half of a female figure.


While I was doing this the monk march I ran into yesterday started passing us by and there ended my zen like experience of the rock. I got very frustrated with such a huge amount of people, at least five hundred, slowly marching through the single file path ways. It took ages for them to pass. Apparently it is an annual month long march for world peace through Sri Lanka by Buddhists from a variety of nationalities. All it did was piss me off, I was not very peaceful…


Benne waiting paitently…..


I was not so patient – I know, many of you are shocked as I am always so tolerant ! So I wandered around a bit.


2013-03-20 16.35

There are two ways up and down to the base of the final section of the climb, though I wanted to see the rock paintings so had to go where the monks were, along a narrow path and up and then down a spiral staircase.



Once the monks had finally passed through the narrow section Benne and I went and climbed the spiral staircase for a look at the wonderfully preserved cave paintings. The latest theory is the images are of Tara a bodhisattva (enlightening being) and an important figure in tantric Buddhism – surprisingly!




From the frescoes cave we walked up to the start of the climb to the top of the rock. The entrance to the final staircase was supposedly through the mouth of a lion though all that remains now are its feet on either side of the staircase. I was really keen to see the feet, but when we arrived there were still too many monks around. So we bashed our way up a narrow metal staircase to the top of the rock.

The views were spectacular from the top and there were a large number of foundations from the buildings that were built here fifteen hundred to one thousand years ago. I would loved to have spent some tome here relaxing, enjoying the views and some peace. However the place was packed with monks, monks and more f*cking monks. One can be cynical about monks when they are using their iPhones to take photos of each other doing the Leonardo De Caprio pose from the Titanic movie on top of the rock.




After a quick “munchee munchee” – which seems to be Benne’s favourite thing – eating, I spotted the monks looking like they were about to leave so we hot footed it over to the exit and we managed to get there quite early in the stream. I got to the bottom and managed to get a quick snap of the lions feet, which I somehow managed to get half out of focus, but they quite cool.


You can see from this photo why I was keen to get down before them, it could have been a long wait otherwise!


I started down the main path to the exit but Benne stayed to take a couple of pictures and we ended up being separated from then on. I got to see the cobra head cave, which was sadly not that interesting.


I stopped and waited for Benne for a while, and tried to get a couple of selfies. Though my camera seemed to be attracting way too much attention from the local strays to be able to get a good one. So I gave up and walked back to the guest house.


I decided to take a bike and ride the ‘1.25kms’ to the beer bar to buy a couple of cans of lager to go with dinner. This turned out to be close to 2km and by the time I had gotten beer it was a pretty dark ride back up a dodgy unlit highway with no lights on the bike. I rode fast – and won’t do it again either. The next day as Benne and I were heading out of town we passed a funeral of someone killed riding a bike on that road…

The beers were welcome though, nice and cold and I was dripping by the time I got back to the guest house, in time for a shower and a brief lie down before dinner. Benne and I were joined by two young Lithuanian brothers who were travelling together, it was an interesting night – I have never met Lithuanians before.