Following a weegie’s footsteps

Haputale, 9 August

The internet said it couldn’t be done, but we manage to get from the rainforest of Deniyaya to the cloud forests and tea plantations of Haputale by local bus. It takes us just about 8 hours, but we have seats for most of it and the views over the valleys are spectacular.

Haputale is situated at 1431m above sea level and on clear nights from the hotel you can see the lights on the southern beaches a hundred kilometers away.

In the early morning we requisition a tuktuk to take us up to Lipton’s Seat, a panoramic viewpoint where Glasgow born Sir Thomas Lipton used to survey his tea empire. Lauren gets to drive us up and proves to be a natural at it, we’re still alive at any rate.

After a final climb up on foot, we get an idea of just how massive this weegie’s tea plantation is.

The size of the plantation only becomes more apparent when to save ourselves a gruelling 4 hour walk back to town, we take a straight line down through the tea plantation. This photo is taken just minutes before we manage to get ourselves completely lost.

At a Tamil farm village we’re directed to the main road, and once there seize the opportunity to hitch a ride on a 16 seater autobus just passing by. There’s just enough room to squeeze in and we’re feeling pretty chuffed, when the bus picks up more and more people on the way and the headcount gets to 34 including the driver, who is about the only one of us not pressed into someone’s armpit, while being jabbed in the side by someone’s elbow.

The concept of personal space is definitely different in this part of the world, but people are very considerate. Hard not to be when you’re standing this close to eachother. One guy even offers me to sit down. There’s no space to sit anywhere except for on his lap, which he points at invitingly, and I politely decline, which does not deter him from trying to touch my hand for the rest of the journey. Can’t say they’re not a friendly bunch the Sri Lankans.

Now along the entire road down there’s a hundred meter drop to the side and hardly enough space to pass oncoming traffic, plus we are definitely at maximum capacity, so it’s welcome to see the bus make a stop for the conductor to light a roadside shrine to promote a safe journey. Almost turned religious, we make sure to also thank the driver when we’re back safe in Haputale.

It’s been an intense couple of days so we both look forward to slow down the pace at our next stop: Ella.

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From the beaches to the rainforest

Sinharaja Forest Reserve, 7-8 August

The bus from Galle takes us to the tiny town of Deniyaya in roughly 4 hours. The roads seem to consist of only hairpin bends with mostly blind corners (with the occasional stray dog casually napping in the middle of the road) and takes us higher and higher into rapidly changing scenery to the rain forests eco region of Sinharaja AKA Lion’s Kingdom (no lions here though sadly).

Once off the bus I make the decision to walk to the Rainforest Lodge with gear strapped to our backs and fronts, since the air here is a bit cooler, but soon grow to regret it. The sign may say we’re only 1km away but we’re walking for what feels like an eternity. Soon the sounds of local kids greeting us fade away to be replaced by just birds chirping and Lauren cursing me under her breath. But it’s all worth it when we finally get there!

We are the only guests here and in fact appear to be the only travellers in this part of the country. The owner gives us directions to a nearby Buddhist jungle temple built inside a rock, and so we’re off exploring again, minus 25 kilos of luggage though.

Next morning we wake up early and excited for a day of trekking through the reserve. We meet up with our guide Suminda at the gates, are also joined by a local dog which we name Scout and who decides to tag along, and together our merry band sets off into the wild.

Sinharaja is Sri Lanka’s last area of tropical rainforest. It’s home to a treasure trove of endemic species of trees, insects, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. And did I mention it also has a shit ton of leeches, which, unlike the mosquitos which bite only Lauren, are attracted only to me.

On our trek we spot amongst others Sri Lanka’s national animal the giant squirrell (bigger than a house cat, though tiny looking next to the giant leaves), the country’s most dangerous snake the pit viper, an endangered purple-faced leaf monkey and a gray langur, besides a whole lot of waterfalls.

We’re home, kinda

Galle, 5-6 August

Yesterday we arrived in Galle, the largest fortress in Asia built by European occupiers, fortified by the Dutch in the 18th century. We’re staying in the old town, in a place appropriately called Old Dutch House. Its shaded courtyard garden is the perfect hideaway from the midday heat and a place where squirrels gather at the dedicated squirrel shrine – can’t run a serious hotel in Sri Lanka without having one of these!

Between being shown pictures of his grandson, we’re given the entire history of Galle by the old jeweller next door. All paid for by the Dutch taxpayer -the man can’t stress enough- his family home survived a tsunami thanks to the town’s fortifications (crazy Dutch just can’t help but build dykes!). We also learn a thing or two, (or possibly everything there is to know) about the local irrigation system.. Tax money well spent I should say as Galle is a picture perfect little town!

 

Esspecially for the fam back home, here’s a picture of the local Nederlands Hervormde Kerk, and now it’s officially a holiday!

Beach bumming in Mirissa

Mirissa, 3-4 August

We take another bus down to the next town of Mirissa for two days chilling out on the South coast’s prettiest beach. Although it’s off season in the south right now, you couldn’t tell it from the blazing sun. In case you’re wondering, yes, we are severely sunburnt right now!

Mirissa has a secret beach where we meet a lovely local family who invites us over for breakfast. Their dogs join us at the shore.

In the morning we’re waking up to the sound of Mozart playing from a tuktuk selling bread door to door and this view from the hotel:

First sight of the Indian ocean

Hikkaduwa, 2 August

We have our first experience riding on the local bus from Colombo to Hikkaduwa. There’s non stop music videos blaring and the driver’s got a half empty bottle of Kahlua in the cup holder beside him.. Not a relaxing ride. The local bus system is amazing however, we’re not having to wait longer than 5 minutes to get on a bus!

Hikkaduwa is a tiny village with giant turtles – we don’t see one though! This might have something to do with over sleeping in the morning and missing feeding time after meeting new friends the night before 😁

We’re in Sri Lanka!

Colombo, 1 August

So after a 27 hour journey we arrive at our first major destination, Negombo airport in Sri Lanka.

Immediately it feels like walking into a sauna, it’s 30 degrees Celcius and pretty humid. Thankfully we know there is an airconditioned bus waiting to take us straight to the capital city Colombo.

Pettah central bus station is very intense to say the least; lorries, cars, buses, tuktuks and scooters come flying out from every direction and it feels like we’re risking our lives trying to get away from the chaos and flag down a tuktuk to get to the hotel.

The drive is about equally intense. There’s no such thing as staying in your own lane on the roads in Sri Lanka, and everyone drives formula one!

We meet the owner Aniq and his mother, who give us some excellent inside information on local culture and seem impressed to hear our itinerary for the 30 days we’ll be spending here, off to a great start!

We’re staying in an area called Cinnamon Garden, where most of the foreign embassies are at. Since the Easter bombings there’s loads of armed guards about, but it feels safe and everyone seems happy to see tourists.

With Sri Lanka being a former British colony we visit the local Victoria Park (one of many Victoria parks we’ll no doubt see on our journey)