Sri Lanka,

Ella – the hiking capital of Sri Lanka

ella peak as seen from little adams peak

We had an egg hopper-breakfast planned at Pearl Beach but even though Kamal is an excellent chef, he is not equally good with schedules. We risked getting late and had to have a breakfast at the bus station instead. It turned out to be the best Rotti we had since we arrived and, at the same time, one of the cheapest as well. That is usually how it is here, the cheapest food is quite often the best!

Me and J have quite different opinions about travelling by bus in Sri Lanka. Up until now it had not been too bad but after this day’s bus rides to Ella I am hardly a spokesman for bus rides in Sri Lanka. It was incredibly hot, crowded and in addition there were Sri Lankan music pumping loud with a bass that made it impossible to sleep. It felt like an interesting cultural experience for about 15 minutes but then it was just painful. The heat was really the worst, especially when the bus was just waiting at a bus station where there were no wind to cool things off. No, this was not my cup of tea!

The last part up to Ella was, however, much nicer. We went up the serpentine roads and the view was just getting better and better and we passed water falls and astonishing views.

When we reached Ella I continued to be impressed. Ella is quite a small mountain village that has grown quickly the last couple of years

Sri Lanka,

Back in Tangalle of course

tangalle beach

We woke up our first night at a “real” hotel and used the little button on the wall that meant Room Service. It felt really luxurious to get coffee by the bed at a $5 hotell! With some caffeine in our blood we went back out on the roads again to go through the “elephant park” again and we were not disappointed.

Apparently, the elephants stand on the highway by the park because they are used to getting fed by cars passing by (locals as well as tourists). It has come to such extent that they sometimes act as a “road toll” and will not let vehicles pass unless you provide them with a toll fee, for example a water melon. As an insurance we brought a bunch of bananas as a toll fee, if it would be needed.

We managed to get by the three elephants without paying a toll (frankly, we do not want to promote this). After that it was just a matter of transportation to get back to Tangalle. After a few hours and several wrong turns later we were quite tired of sitting on that motor bike seat and I could hardly feel my butt any longer. The relief was immense to finally drive up to Tangalle and finally have an afternoon swim!

We, of course, went back to Kamal and his restaurant Pearl Beach to get another version of his fantastic Rice and Curry. After a Piña Colada in the evening we decided to ease up on

Sri Lanka,

A really bad safari in Kumana (Yala National Park)

kumana national park

No, this day did was not something to write home about. We, once again, had to set our alarm clock at 5 a.m. and woke up together with the minarets (as Arugam Bay is in the more muslim part of Sri Lanka). Our safari guy arrived in time but could only bring three of us in his first round with the tuk-tuk so the rest of us waited. And waited. It took him close to an hour before he came back with the jeep which, apparently, had broke down. The whole reason to get up that early is because the animals (especially the predators) are the most active then so it felt very annoying and we were very close to cancel the whole safari.

We continued to the park where we encountered the next bad news. The feed we paid to our safari guy (7.000 Rp) supposedly only included the rental of the jeep (and driver) but at the park we were expected to pay an additional 10.000 Rp in entrance fees! At first we felt completely ripped off but we realized there was not necessarily any foul play. Still, I was really pissed off at our safari guy for not mentioning it. We argued for a long time and discussed within the group whether we should actually continue into the park but decided to do so anyway.

We did receive a guide but he was not very good at English and did not really seem to bother to find any animals

Sri Lanka,

Elephants vs Humans

arugam bay off season

We woke rather early and had a sturdy breakfast before we said goodbye to the friendly famil and continued east towards Arugam Bay. Sarath recommended another national park, Lahugala, that we would drive through and where we possibly could see elephants so we were excited about getting away in time.

While driving through the park we do not see any elephants but we see many water buffalos, which is really cool (even though they kind of look like ordinary cows). In Africa they are counted as one of “The Big 5” together with, among else, elephants. That means that water buffalos are one of the top 5 most dificult animals to hunt. The reason is that if you miss your shot at it it will hunt…you…down… So, even if they look like gentle cows they are quite brutal which makes it a bit exciting while driving through the park.

We arrive at Arugam Bay in the afternoon and check in at the guest house Beach Hut. Arugam Bay is, during peak season, a popular beach resort (and surfing resort) but now in February it is very quiet and the majority of the stores are closed and the hotels and guest houses seem half empty. It feels like Beach Hut is really the only place that has some people! The beach (top photo) was nice but there was overcast and windy so we never really consider taking a swim.
Getting ahold of a safari jeep in Sri Lanka
When you go on jeep safaris in

Sri Lanka,

Elephants on the road!

elephant on the road sri lanka

We had already had enough adventures for a day but we were not done yet. After our late lunch we continued north, through another national park (Lunugamvehera National Park). While driving on that road a few cars flashed us with their lights which we interpreted that we were having issues with badly calibrated head light. A couple of hundred meterr later we realized why they had flashed us – on the highway an elephant stood, partially blocking our way!

This was a completely different situation than when we had bumped our way through the pothole road earlier that day. We had good visibility and a perfect road to drive away quickly if needed, so we were both very excited! A few cars in front of us passed the elephant without it bothering too much. We were, however, on a motor bike and did not know how to handle the situation.

That’s when a glad and helpful Sri Lankan appeared next to us in a car. He told us to drive parallel to him and then speed past the elephant once we got near, which we did. It was an incredibly exciting feeling to pass a giant of an elephant, within 1-2 meters, while driving 50 km/h. If it would have just decided to take a few steps forward we would have run into a wall!

A video of where we pass one of the elephants with the help of Sarath.

A few kilometers further up there was a new elephant and later another one 

Sri Lanka,

Situlpawwa – the temple city in the jungle

temple city sittulpawwa

We rented a motor bike in Tangalle (1.000 Rp / $5 per day!) to go on a small tour around central and eastern Sri Lanka. Our main targets were the village of Arugam Bay and Yala National Park. The east coast is off-season in february but we were curious to see how it looked and slightly because it was off-season. Yala National Park was also at the top of my list of places to visit in Sri Lanka since it was the home of a lot of exciting animals, especially leopards and sloth bears.

J had found out about a pilgrim village called Situlpawwa that was situated inside Yala National Park but was accessible without actually needing to enter the park itself. Apparently, one could see plenty of the animals in the park free and all by ourselves, without having to compete with other tourists or pay for a jeep safari.

We drove away early in the morning on a motor bike that looked quite shady but seemed operational, despite having rather bad brakes. We realized this a little bit too late and I did not feel to comfortable driving a motor bike with bad brakes in a traffic that could best be described in one word: Chaos.

The motor was working fine and it brought us passed Kataragama, just outside Yala National Park and we continued towards the park. I was expecting a rather obvious road leading to some sort of gates and fence (as it looks in South Africa, where I

Sri Lanka,

Tangalle – a new beach favourite

kayak paddling tangalle sri lanka

We continued our beach odyssey with a bus towards Tangalle, a beach resort at the very middle part of the south coast of Sri Lanka. It turned out to be a jackpot. Tangalle was not more swim friendly than other beaches, not really prettier than most either but the feeling of it was something completely different. Tangalle is a rather sleepy and not very well visited beach resort and, in addition, there was a lot of sea breeze in the afternoon but this was all in our taste. There were hardly any tourists around, no barkers and very few tuk tuk-drivers. The strong sea breeze made the 30 degree heat durable as well. This was exactly my kind of beach!

It was nice and cool in our room as well that we, well J of course, got to a record low price (1.000 Rp / $5 per night at Viraj Garden). The first thing we did after checking in was to go down to the beach and try to find a restaurant. We walked a few hundred meters and stopped by a place, simply because they had hammocks, and ordered a Rice and Curry. It turned out to be another jackpot. The Rice and Curry at the restaurant “Pearl Beach” was incredible and the restaurant quickly became our favourite restaurant. We finished off the day by catching up on some work and research our next targets – Yala National Park and Arugam bay.

There was not all that much to do in

Sri Lanka,

Whale watching and and a secret beach in Mirissa

bryde's whale

Our next stop on our beach hopping in southern Sri Lanka was the well visited beach resort Mirissa. Mirissa is primarily popular as a base for whale watching. Every day a dozen boats exit the harbor, full of tourists, to see the largest animal of them all: the blue whale.

Mirissa also has several beaches. Just like most beaches we visit in Sri Lanka they have quite large waves and strong undercurrents. Waves you would not let your five year old play in but for adults with a playful mind it is a lot of fun to swim, albeit a bit difficult at times. The beach of Mirissa is the obvious place to go to and this is also where we head after checking in to our guest house.

We meet up with, Eric, an old travel companion of J. He travels all over the world and happen to be in Sri Lanka at the same time as us so we hang out by the beach sipping Piña Coladas during Happy Hour.

The main beach in Mirissa is full of restaurants back to back with almost exactly the same setup: fresh fish, a long menu with Western meals, a few Sri Lankan meals and very few vegetarian meals. It is quite tiresome walking from restaurant to restaurant and see exactly the same menu setup all the time. In addition to that, each meal typically looks the same everywhere. It feels like such a waste when the country is so full of excellent food

Sri Lanka,

Surfing in Weligama

fish net

I do not remember how but we had received a recommendation to check in at Raja’s Guesthouse in Weligama. It turned out to be a great recommendation. When we arrived I found a detailed and loving illustration over Weligama with the owner Raja standing above all with open arms. It turned out to be a apt illustration of the very sympathetic owner Raja.

The further east from Hikkaduwa we are getting the more deserted the beaches get (which in my book is something positive). There are fewer restaurants, hardly any sun beds, less traffic and just lower tempo in general. Weligama is a good example of that. Here everything is about surfing and the only thing you can find on the beach is surf board rentals and surf schools.

Aside from the surfers there are also a bunch of fishermen and fisher boats. I come down on the beach an afternoon just after they have come ashore with their boat. The wave to me to help them drag the boat ashore, some 150 meters further up on the beach. The same way the locals help everyone out they expect to be helped in the same manner, because…well, that is what you do! I like that.

With aching arms I jog over the beach to the first surf shop I can find and book a surf board for 40 minutes (150 Rp = $1). It is merely the third time for me on a surf boards after two failed attempts on Bali and Costa

Sri Lanka,

Galle and Unawatuna – south coast of Sri Lanka

unawatuna beach

After we woke up and had breakfast we continued with an afternoon trip towards Galle. Parts of the city of Galle is a fort, surrounded by walls. I would say Galle is a nice day tour and perfect for a walk among the alleys with its stores and coffee shops. The fort has some 80% tourists so it feels a bit like any other tourist location in the world, like the Old Town of Stockholm – beautiful but very touristy.

 

 

After Galle we took a tuk-tuk east to spend our next day in Unawatuna. When the tuk-tuk driver started acting as a sightseeing guide (i.e. pointing out some more or less interesting lands marks on the way) my backpacker sense started tingling. Spontaneous sightseeing like this is a classic among taxi drivers and tuk-tuk drivers I have met in order to provide value, and thus, a higher price.

Of course, when we arrived, the driver demanded more than agree upon with a made up story that we had gone further than he anticipated. Altogether, it was a discussion of $1 but it was more a feeling of getting tricked that made it difficult to give up the discussion. In the end he got a bit more than agreed upon.
Unawatuna
Unawatuna has, as opposed to Hikkaduwa, no big road close to the beach on which you need to dodge buses and tuk-tuks to get to the beach (if you live on the cheap side of it). In Unawatuna there is instead a small, jerky