Sri Lanka - forts, elephants and mountains (10 day itinerary)
We decided to go to Sri Lanka on a whim. We wanted to go somewhere where the sun would be shining and we could just book a flight in and out and make no other travel arrangements. To be honest I knew very little about Sri Lanka, other than the stories I had heard from my sister who had traveled there a few months before. Her report summarized the experience to good food, friendly people and a worth while destination.
So, armed with a little information, we booked a flight to Colombo, the nations capital. We were on a tight time frame. Dean had just started a new job and they were hesitant to let him go anywhere for more than a week, and I had finished up one job and was just about to start another one. We made do with what little time we had.
It is important, when faced with a small amount of time, to decide on what is realistic to do in the time frame you have. We had a good idea of the distance between cities and how long it would take to cover that distance. But anyone who had traveled in Asia will appreciate that in reality the time it takes if often much longer.
We decided we would cover parts of the south and centre of Sri Lanka in a loop, so we did not double back. Our entry and exit point was Colombo so we worked in a anti clockwise direction from there.
For Australian's we must obtain a visa before entry, when we arrived we noticed that my date of birth was incorrect on my visa papers. I have no idea how I overlooked this but I was in panic mode. I needn't have been, I was able to fix the issue there and then but I did have to pay the visa cost again - expensive mistake.
Day One - Three - Colombo to Galle
Upon arrival into Colombo we got straight out of the city and took a 3 hour and very crowded train ride to Galle but we made it, sweaty and hungry. We had not arranged any accommodation so we wandered into a place on Lighthouse Road and were offered a selection of really nice rooms to chose from. This seems to be the way Sri Lankan accommodation goes. It is very easy to turn up and find something decent at a great price. With that in mind traditional 'backpackers' are much more difficult to find, instead guesthouses are the bread and butter which may make things more expensive for solo travelers as rooms are generally more expensive than a bed in a dorm. As we were traveling as a couple we found this worked out great.
We spent a couple of days in Galle, famous for it's fort, built by the Portuguese and latter improved upon by the Dutch. The influences of both these colonial powers can be seen throughout the town. It is surrounded by beaches and imbibed with history.
Day Four - Udawalawe
From Galle we embarked on an extremely long day beginning at 4am. The trip was to take around 6 hours and consisted of 2 buses, both of which navigated the tight curves of the roads with speed. The second bus was so crowded Dean and I had to stand. With the temperature being over 30 degrees Celsius the doors of the bus were opened to allow the air to pass through. We hung on for dear life as that bus sped around the corner, I thought at any moment I may slip out the door never to be seen again.
But we made it to Udawalawe, we were there for the elephant sanctuary. We had heard of so many all over the country but this, we were told, was the least traversed and offered the most authentic experience. We arrived into town, I shouldn't call it a town, there was not even a bus stop. We found accommodation at one of the few guest houses and arranged a safari jeep for the same afternoon.
There is, apparently, a herd of around 250 elephants in Udawalawe National Park, and we saw a lot of them. We were in the park for a few hours and as the afternoon wore on the dark clouds rolled in and it began to rain. Soon there was thunder and lightning. Watching the lightning crash behind the elephants was an experience I will never forget. It was if the park came alive with the rain, and in that moment it was evident how much life comes from water.
Day Five - Haputale
After a decent nights sleep we took another lengthy journey, this time to Haputale. This sleepy little town has become one of our favourite, you can read more about it here. We came to climb liptons seat, a famous vantage point which over looks a very large tea estate, and had we had more time we would have chilled out here for several days.
We also visited St. Benidict's Monastery which, with all the swirling mist, gave the impression of being haunted. If you do go make sure you try the wood apple jam. It looks like a moldy wooden apple, so bizarre.
Day Six - Ella
When we arrived in Haputale it was Sinhalese New Year, the next day when we arrived in Ella barely anything was open. We found food where we could, taking whatever was available, which now looking back on it was a bad choice. We should have stuck to packaged snacks instead of curds, which require refrigeration. We hiked little adams peak and took a much needed rest day.
Day Seven and Eight - Nuwara Eliya
Now this is where our journey took an unexpected twist. We had not booked anything for our stay thus far, but as it was Sinhalese new year we had to book in Nuwara Eliya and it happened to come out to about $70 a night for an available hotel room, far past our budget. But we came to do the famous 'World's End' so we committed.
We went to stock up on snacks for the trip. Dean complained of not feeling too well. I thought he was being a little sensitive, it happens when you travel some times. But he insisted, and a couple of moments later, when we were crossing the street, he said he couldn't see anymore. We rushed back to the hotel and began the worst 24 hours of sickness either one of us have experienced when traveling. We were both vomiting and on the loo, thank goodness we had a private room, and seriously dehydrated, lucky we had hydralite.
Needless to say we missed out on Worlds End.
Day Nine and Ten- Negombo
The next day consisted of a painfully long train ride to Negombo, through Kandy, What was supposed to take around 8 hours ended up taking nearly 12 hours. One thing you need to know about Sri Lanka is that what ever the quoted travel time is add a few more hours on top of that and you have a realistic estimation.
For the remaining days we explored Colombo, hung out at the beach until we felt better, which was not until one year after returning. The food poisoning we had caused a lot of issues upon return to Australia. I guess that emphasises the need for a good emergency kit and to be up to date with your shots. We certainly learnt our lesson.
Here is how our trip panned out:
9 April - Depart from Melbourne and transit stop in Kuala Lumpur
10 April - Arrive in Colombo, train to Galle
11 April - Galle
12 April - Galle to Matara to UdaWalawe
13 April - UdaWalawe to Pelmadulla to Haputale
14 April - Haputale to Ella
15 April - Ella to Nuwara Eliya
16 April - Nuwara Eliya
17 April - Nuwara Eliya to Negombo
18 April - Negombo and Colombo
19 April - Negombo and Colombo
20 April - Colombo to Kuala Lumpur
It was short, it was sweet, and we saw a lot. There was not much time for sleeping but such is life when you work full time, as we did at the time.