We wake at 6am for an early morning run around Kandy Lake. I love starting my day with some physical activity and especially a day when we will be on a train for 6 hours. Today we are leaving for Ella, taking the famous slow train ride through the mountains past many tea plantations and lush green landscape. The weather is perfect for it: sunny, few clouds and 21c.
In Kandy, we shop for snacks and lunch to take with us before heading to the station. We find an outdoor food market filled with locals. We purchase millet dosas with coconut sambal and jack fruit cutlets–yum. We also discover pani pol, which are coconut stuffed pancakes. Oh my god, heaven on earth. Delicate crepes stuffed with coconut, jaggery and spice (cardamon, cloves, cinnamon). Just to be sure the kids were sorted, we also hit up a grocery store for crackers, juice, biscuits and nuts, etc.
Kandy’s colonial-style train station has so much character, with outdoor platforms and a backdrop of green hills. There are many tourists waiting to take the famous Kandy-to-Ella route and we all wait taking pictures of cute Sri Lankan children onboard other train lines. Stephen happily complies with the request of two local teenagers who want their picture taken.
The seats were booth style with small tables and we managed to shuffle and trade with other travellers to secure 4 together at one end of the car and 5 in the other. So it goes. In the end we were grateful to have the open car experience so nothing to complain about other than that the seats weren’t together. Plus, the tickets were a mere $13 each.The ride itself is very breezy with the open air, slow going and a bit jerky. All part of the experience.We take turns hanging out the train car door posing for photos, because we can, and giggle all the while. We snack and play cards and video games to pass the time.
If I have a complaint about our day it is the stress of five children hanging out of a moving train car for many hours after their screens ran out of battery. But they are all alive and haven’t lost any limbs. My blood pressure in the evening will surely be raised as a result. I can’t fault them–I loved every minute of my own daring train doorless antics.
Tea plantations stretch for as far as the eye can see, for many, many hours. It’s beautiful! We see ladies picking tea leaves in colourful clothes loading them into sacks. It’s amazing to me that this is all still done by hand.
About four hours into our ride we enter cloud forest. The temperature quickly drops as does the visibility. The air smells of burning peat and incense. It’s a welcome change to the hot humidity. We pass massive waterfalls and the environment becomes more like a wooded forest and less tropical. One by one, people are closing their windows because it’s become so cold.
As we enter tunnels everyone on the train screams out the windows and doors. The ride brings out the childishness in all of us. Caroline hangs her head out the window sticking her tongue out trying to taste the clouds. She decided it tasted like air.
We arrive at 5:45 pm into Ella and are greeted by Arun, with our luggage. We check into our hotel for the night: the Grand Peak Eco Resort. The proprietor is a man named Sony, who is sweet and helpful with suggestions for hiking, dinner and planning our breakfast. He is a fountain of information. We have a family room with three double beds and mosquito nets, which we are told we will not need as the room is airtight. Excellent.
We wander around town to select our best dinner option. The town of Ella is lively and packed with hikers. There were many restaurants to choose from, but all seem to have one thing in common: the menu. Pizza, burgers, sandwiches and not much in the way of Sri Lankan food. It’s a shame that it’s so westernised. We head back to a place close to our hotel and enjoy the food but it’s not the same quality as we’ve had elsewhere on the trip.
We indeed end up using the mosquito nets as we hear buzzing when the lights go out. In addition to the swarms of ants and the friendly lizards in the room, a light barrier is a welcome idea.
Friday 29 December, 2017
After a delish dhal and roti breakfast we are fortified for our morning hike to climb Little Adam’s Peak. It is a 50 minute walk from town to the top of the hill. I say hill because it’s a short walk and we are surrounded by proper mountains. There are many tourists walking with us and most speaking French.
There is a man sitting halfway up the path with a cobra in a straw basket that seems entranced as the man plays his flute. He also has a monkey in colourful trousers on a leash who seems to enjoy being near to the man. It still feels cruel to watch an animal kept in this fashion. We have a look but move on and continue our climb.
We are approached by many ladies offering to take a picture with us or of her for money. I’d rather just make a donation. It seems weird to pay someone for a photo. We pass a cute boy selling necklaces made of local seeds and we bought some for the girls. I expect they will end up broken and in pieces but it feels nice to contribute.
The top of the hill affords beautiful views of the surrounding mountains and waterfalls. It is lovely and sunny, with a strong breeze. The kids once again test my stress levels while they balance on rocks hanging off cliff sides. I am anxious to snap our photos and move on to safer ground. I love the walk and the vantage point, but the visions of small children tumbling down the mountainside are too much for me to bear.
After coming back down the from the peak, we are en route to our villa in Dickwella on the south coast, where we will stay for the remainder of our holiday in Sri Lanka. On our way out of town we spoil a family of monkeys with a small load of bananas. Who knew they can store them in pouches in their throats like chipmunks store nuts? Seriously, four bananas at a time? It is hilarious to watch. Again, I want to take one home. Sigh.
The road to Dickwella is three hours by car and we see water buffalo, monkeys, goats, cows, peacocks and crocodiles. We stop for lunch in a small village at a random shop with no expectations. We ordered vegetarian nasi goreng and it was phenomenal. Satisfied and then some.
Our villa, The Boathouse, is a most welcome retreat after many days in local guest houses. It is large, new and modern, with an infinity pool perched at the edge of the Indian ocean, a highly regarded chef and staff to match a small boutique hotel. Every need is catered for. Wow!
The ocean and pool are like bath water and the food is exceptional. There is air conditioning, services, fresh linens, space, etc. We had been enjoying the cultural aspects of Sri Lanka and were ok with “roughing it” but it was time for Cinderella to move into the palace. Thank you, Prince Charming. We are now questioning why we didn’t book this portion of our holiday for a longer duration. We relax and consider that question as we plan for Xmas 2018.