After a 7 day cruise of southern Sri Lanka, we took the train from Mirissa to Negombo to meet our Singaporean friends for an 8 day whirlwind land tour.
March 24, 2018
Adeline and Wendy (2 lovely women we’d met on a trip to Africa) had flown in from Singapore in the night and joined us for breakfast. We were all excited about what we’re going to see in the next week.
Adeline had worked on an itinerary with Off 2 Sri Lanka who arranged a driver and all our accommodations for us. Anura picked us up right on time and we headed off. On the way to Habarana we stopped at a garden to see how some local produce is grown and enjoyed a fresh pineapple. After checking in to the Camillia, we piled back in the van to visit Sigriya (Lion Rock) The museum was interesting and educated us on the history of the rock which dates back to 500 AD. The climb wasn’t difficult, but 1,200 steps in 32 degrees with high humidity is a work out. We were one of the last ones out of the park which was nice for some final pictures with no tourists.
A shower was much appreciated and the buffet dinner amazing. Today we earned it!
The next morning the drive started with a mongoose running across the road in front of us. On the way to Anuradhapura we stopped at a roadside stand to try guava which they dust with a chili and salt spice combination that really brings out the flavour.
Anuradhapura was the first capital city of Sri Lanka and boasts ome beautiful ruins. It has 8 sacred places and an bo tree that is supposed to be the oldest tree in the world. They claim it dates back to 245 BC. Grey langur monkeys were very entertaining.
Next we drove to Poḷonnaruwa, the second capitol of Sri Lanka. The ruins there are even more impressive. The water systems alone are amazing and new ruins are still being excavated. There are signs everywhere “Don’t feed the animals” yet STILL people do it. Then they wonder why the monkeys are agressive? If you REALLY love animals, DON’T DO IT! One day, one of those monkeys is going to bite someone and will have to be killed.
By the time we got back to our hotel we were sweaty and tired. I immediately changed and went for a swim as there’s a huge pool on site that I haven’t had time to enjoy. A good brisk swim is perfect after a long day.
Dinner was another amazing buffet.
Today we packed up and left Habanara and made a couple of stops on our way to Kandy. First was a spice garden where we learned about the medicinal properties of many spices. We were treated to a cup of tea and a head massage before going to the store. I might have tried a few of the “cures” if they weren’t so expensive. They claimed to cure asthma and excema which I thought might be worth a try for a couple of loved ones who suffer those conditions, but since I highly doubt it works, it wasn’t worth it to me to spend a lot on it.
Next stop was the Dambulla caves which was a real surprise. They’re certainly not what I expected in a cave. There’s 5 caves that the public can view. They’ve been dug out of the rock in the side of a hill and filled with Buddha’s carved out of the rock and beautiful paintings. Some of it dates back to 500 BC. They’re really incredible.
Anura pointed out monks walking along the road, telling us they’re from Thailand. He could tell by their robes. We asked him to pull over so we could watch. He did and we found out that they’d flown from Thailand and were walking all around Sri Lanka visiting all the religious sights. On some parts of the journey, local people lined the street laying out palm leaves for them to walk on. Most were in barefeet and carrying all their possesions. It was an amazing sight. Palm Sunday Buddhist style!
Once in Kandy we stopped at the police station where Adeline needed to report some money stolen. That was an interesting story but it’s hers and I’ll let her tell it 😉
After checking into the hotel Thilanka, we went for a quick swim, then walked to the Kandy Dance theatre where we watched them perform Sri Lankan dances in traditional costumes. The finale was the fire dance and walking on hot coals. Wow. The whole show was really good and the finale made us feel like we were whimps when we complained how hot the stones in the temples were when we had to walk barefoot.
Adeline and Wendy decided not to go to the Temple of the Tooth so Sue and I went alone. We should have gone with the girls. The temple was ridiculously crowded and we couldn’t even get CLOSE to seeing the container of the tooth. For us it was a waste of 1500 rupees. Sri Lanka knows how to seriously overcharge foreigners for everything. Most attractions are more than a hundred times the fee locals pay. I don’t mind paying more. I think it shoud be that way but in this country it’s just ridiculous. Then every time you turn around they’re asking for donations. Right. I already paid plenty.
We left Kandy after checking out the market and stopped at a tea factory. There were a few stops along the way for photo ops as the scenery is gorgeous. Tea “gardens” covered the hills, huge trees, rivers, waterfalls and a beautiful lake made the drive wonderful for us, not so much maybe for Anura who had to navigate the crazy, windy roads.
The village of Dalhousie is nestled under Adam’s Peak and caters very much to trekkers. The others had lunch but I was feeling in desperate need of a good walk so I took off. A tuk tuk driver offered to take me to a waterfall. I asked how far and he said 2.6 km. I figured I could easily walk that far. I passed more beautiful scenery and lots of friendly people but after a half hour, no waterfall. There was practically no traffic on the road so it was very pleasant. I finally asked a man working in a tea garden. He said oh hes, about 2 km. Ok. These are very long kilometres and it looked like rain so I decided to head back. Then it rained. I didn’t mind. My backpack is fairly waterproof so the camera was safe and the rain cooled me off. Kid’s coming home from school had umbrellas and I’m pretty sure they thought I was nuts as I smiled and said “hi” as we passed each other. They all returned my greetings anyway.
Sue and Wendy wanted to walk so we went in the other direction and checked out the village and the start of the trek to Adam’s peak. I wanted an ice cream but the man had no change for a 1,000 rupee bill (less than $10) for 150 rupee ice cream. They never have change. It’s ridiculous. Oh well. I didn’t need it that bad.
After a tasty typical Sri Lankan dinner of rice and an assortment of curries, Wendy and Adeline headed for bed as they were getting up at 2 am to do the trek. Sue and I had decided to pass. We have no need to climb mountains anymore. Been there done that. 😉
The next morning we were eating breakfast when the girls returned, tired and very sweaty in spite of the cold. It had been raining for hours before they left but it nicely stopped for their ascent. They made REALLY good time and we congratulated them on their achievement.
The drive out of the mountains was just as nice with more waterfalls and gorgeous scenery. Anura dropped us off at the Nuwara train station. Our assigned seats were in first class with air conditioning so we couldn’t open the windows. I found a seat in second class with an open window which was nice until it started to rain. Adeline and Wendy had been up front with the conductor and said the views were great from there so I went forward. Sure enough, the “gurde” (conductor) was a really nice fellow who would tell me which side of the train was going to have the best view and I went back and forth between doors. When the train stopped, he’d put on his cap, open the appropriate door and blow his whistle or wave the green flag. I spent the rest of the journey with him. He even offered me part of his lunch. He didn’t have much English but I understood he wanted something Canadian when he showed me had a $5 bill. I didn’t have a THING on me so I gave him a pen from a Canadian business. He was happy. Note to self “always carry some pins or something”.
Anura picked us up in Ella and we carried on to the outskirts of Yala National park, on the look out for elephants. We did see a tortoise on the side of the road but the poor thing had been hit by a car or something.
Thursday March 29th.
At 4 am we met Anura in the parking lot, complete with a boxed breakfast prepared by the hotel. The aim was to be first in line at the Yala National park gate. We succeeded. Anura said he’s never been first before. The office opened at 5:30 am to purchase tickets and the gate at 6 am. Within the first 10 minutes we saw two leopards lazing about on a rock. This is when being first pays off as we had the BEST view and there was a huge line up of jeeps behind us. We spent the next few hours enduring a Sri Lankan massage (park roads are very basic) and watching for animals. It’s no African safari but it was nice.
Back at the hotel I enjoyed a nice swim before packing up to head to Mirissa. Galle Fort was our first stop. We walked the rampart again and it was so hot my shirt was soaked with sweat in no time.
Next we went to the same turtle hatchery we’d done a couple of weeks prior. I didn’t mind as we learned even more about the ancient creatures.
Next we stopped to take photos of the pole fishermen. Anura made a deal with them. They climbed the poles and pretended to fish and we’d pay them 2,000 rupees. I don’t usually pay for photos but these guys likely make more money off tourism these days than fishing. The photos were worth it.
Poor Wendy and Adeline were suffering serious muscle pain from their trek up Adam’s peak and our rooms were on the second floor. No elevator. After checking in we went for dinner. Down two flights of stairs, across the lobby and up two flights of stairs. Two nights of little sleep and they’ve got to be exhausted. This is VACATION?! Haha!
Since we’re on VACATION (HAHAHA) we met Anura at 6 am to walk to the port for our whale watching adventure. By 7 am we headed out with “Rajas and the Whales” on a mission to find great blue whales. The crew gave us a lot of information about the whales and dolphins we hoped to see. En route the gave us each a plateful of assorted fruit and later a choice of eggs. We weren’t expecting that! The whales were elusive. At one point a school of dolphins swim along with us and I saw a few flying fish but no whales. After a couple hours the crew shouted and we were treated to a view of a mother and baby brydes whale. We motored on again and finally one of the crew shouted ‘BLUE WHALE”! We watched the magnificent creature come up 4 times before we headed back to Mirissa port.
Anura picked us up and we headed back to the Paradise Beach hotel. Adeline and Wendy went for a massage. Sue went for a swim and I walked the beach. We spent the rest of day relaxing and enjoying some down time.
I was awake stupid early again so put on the swim suit and headed for the beach to watch the sunrise. Surfers start early and there were a few people doing yoga on the beach before 6 am as well. After a swim in the pool, then breakfast, I spent the rest of the morning swimming in the ocean and baking on the beach. It’s my last chance for ocean time.
Sue and I were in the room around 1 pm and I was in the shower when a Paradise hotel staff member came to the door, demanding we get out of the room. Off to Sri Lanka had made arrangements for late checkout. We had till 2 pm but apparently they didn’t get the memo. They were quite rude about it. What did he want me to do? Leave NAKED?! Sheesh. Adeline and Wendy said they called their room every 5 minutes and let themselves IN when they didn’t answer. Nagging doesn’t make you pack faster!!
We’ve had more “attitude” from staff at these fancy hotels then we’ve ever had at our usual guesthouse or hostel. The waiter gave us At the Camillia my bed didn’t have a top sheet. I asked twice and finally just got a blanket. When they tidied the room (we didn’t want them to) they took our towels and didn’t replace them. When Sue asked for towels they came and CHECKED to make sure we didn’t have double. Like we’d steal towels? The Hotel in Kandy, Thilanka we looked ourselves out of our room by pushing the knob button which was apparently a no-no and there was a tiny sign below the knob saying so. When the guy came to unlock it (all he had to do was use another key!) he pointed to the sign and said “Don’t you READ?” Um yeah, sorry. He also asked if the guy who showed us the room told us. I didn’t say no as that would get the poor, underpaid porter in trouble. So. Moral of the story? The more you pay for the accommodation, the snootier the staff can be. Having said that, there were lots of very kind, friendly people especially those paid the least.
Namal picked us up and drove us to Colombo where he showed us highlights of the city. Since it was a holiday for the full moon, traffic was light. Everyone was on the beach. Next we drove to Negombo and enjoyed a nice dinner at Lord’s. After that was the fish massage. That’s a ticklish adventure. 😉 Namal dropped us off at our guesthouse and we said goodbye to Adeline and Wendy.
The morning was spent checking out the local shops. Despite a tuk tuk driver telling us all would be closed for Easter, we found lots of shops open. It reminded me of the Bangkok tuk tuk scam when they tell you the Grand Palace is closed. It’s not. They just want to take you elsewhere.
Note to future travelers. If you want souvenirs, DON’T wait till you get to the airport. Prices are 3 times what they are in town.
Again our luggage was well xrayed (in fact I wonder how much radiation my stuff can handle?) and we continued our trip to Singapore. Emirates may have spoiled me to all other airlines.