04.01.2024 - 19.01.2024
One of the best things about travelling is that time slows down. The first part of our trip has felt like two months condensed into two weeks.
After a smooth flight from Cork to Colombo we headed straight to Ahangama, a surf town on the south coast. A combination of our post new year wariness and a little jetlag brought a slower pace to our days. We awoke to our first taste of fresh Dahl and warm coconut Roti, which has become a favourite. Raja's cafe on the beach became our breakfast spot for the next 3 days, a locally run (hopefully owned) curry and rice hangout. Our spice tolerance still needs breaking in! Fin went out for a morning surf and quickly realised the swell was too big and he was way out of his depth - fitness levels not upto scratch. His ego reignited after winning many backgammon battles.
Next we took the local bus from Ahangama to Hiriketia. It took us a while to settle into the organised chaos of the bus drivers flavourful driving, clinging on while standing for most of the journey. We were greeted in Hiriketia by Benj, Soph and baby Fabain - lovely to see familiar faces! We stayed at Vinu's Place, a homestay hosted by a wonderful Sri Lankan family who cooked for us beautifully. Some glorious days starting with a 6am surf, hanging with friends, new and old. Fabian seemed to be loving every moment, making it look very easy to have a 6 month old abroad. Sadly Fin took ill on our last day, so our plans to head to Colombo to meet up with family and friends were parked. We extended our stay with Vinu and family, who brought Fin hot cothamale, a Sri Lankan herbal remedy. It was interesting to see the vast development of places along the coast, both in Hiriketia and Ahangama, mostly by foreigners. We were told Hiriketia was almost undiscovered by foreigners 10 years ago. While we were less taken by the more western influences, it was interesting to see the varied architecture - polished concrete top to toe, very 'on brand'. Shame to see a lack of natural materials or timber structure, but money rules.
Our next stop took us along the coast towards Tangalle, staying 5km inland by a small lake. We found a jungle cabana built by Nuwan and his family, which seemed the perfect place to hibernate while Fin recovered. A mixture of vernacular craft and hotelier, we were treated like kings and queens. Gorgeous vegetarian curries, sunrises over the lake and a theatrical bird display like no other.
Day 9 took us further inland to Udewalawe national park to stay at Banyan Camp. This was a recommended highlight place to stay, and a highlight it was. A rustic jungle retreat by a lake in the jungle, self-built by a Sri Lankan and Indian couple. An eclectic mix of buildings to stay in, cob houses with wine bottles in the walls, timber structures which have grown in the water and absorbed moisture before being used structurally, floating docks, reused Mercedes van into a bedroom. They also had a beautiful communal space surrounded by water and wildlife, a space we loved and an opportunity to meet other travellers. We became hooked on solitaire (the board game). Our first morning, we took paddle boards out into the lake in hope we might catch elephants. No luck, but we sighted a small crocodile and incredible bird life. We hiked a small rock for sunset within the elephant corridor, again in hope we might catch a glimpse of elephants travelling from the national park eastwards. To no prevail, but the views were absolutely worth the walk. After a morning deliberating, we opted to fork out 2 days budget on a safari. We were conscious of being stuck in queues of jeeps and the hassle and disruption this brings to the wildlife. But we quickly got over it and joined the grockles on tour. A memorable few hours, sightings of elephants, crocs and THE BIRDS, wow. The sass and elegance from cuckoos and kingfishers as they lined up for photos.
1. Sri Lankan people are wonderful
2. Our tolerance to spice is terrible
3. Life is better with fresh coconut roti
4. Monkeys will steel your food
5. Sri Lankan mangos are incredible
6. Ignorance is bliss (particularly regarding snakes)
7. Not getting up for sunrise is criminal
8. We actually do love architecture
20.01.2024 - 02.02.2024
Our next stop was Ella, a picturesque town set in the mountains. A 10 minute walk along the railway track from the centre of town took us to Dawn's homestay,xtravagant breakfasts of fresh fruit, vegetables samosa, panipol pancakes, and dhal Roti on our terrace was a pretty solid way to start our three days here! We were surprised to see the buzzing backpacker nightlife in Ella, which we avoided...maybe we are getting old? On the plus side, our earlier night helped fuel a sunrise hike up little Adams peak the following morning. A fresh king coconut at the top whilst taking in the 360 views. Another highlight was the local cooking class that we took with Shashini. We thought it was the best meal we'd had in Sri Lanka thus far, local cuisine connoisseur after 2 hours, naturally.
After much confusion at the station desk, we managed to get an online ticket (at a premium) for the iconic Ella - Kandy train ride. We rode 3rd class, which was actually pretty luxury - 8 hours never went by so fast. We got off at Gampola, a few stops before Kandy, and took a tuktuk over the mountains towards Guava House to meet up with Ranj, Shaunagh and Sach. Woweee what a sublime spot, nestled in the jungle. Bravo Ranj, very impressed with your architectural handiwork! We spent three luxurious days catching up with family, eating delicious food prepared by Janthi and Ranj, and trading long lost family stories. We left feeling rejuvenated and inspired to take some of essence of Guava house back with us into the future. Thank you for having us Shaunagh and Ranj.
Next we caught the local bus to Kandy. Note to self set off earlier, riding the buses in the midday heat is tough. We seemed to be allergic to the cities, and headed straight through Kandy to Digana, to our next stop, Pepper cottage. A small barn up high in the hills of the edge of the knuckle mountain range. The homestay had been renovated, set up and run by a very interesting Dutch womam who we managed to catch on our last night. Each meal is shared communally around a long table, with an array of nationalities all trying to converse and share stories. Regrettably, our limited yet over enthusiastic French made an appearance. A highlight of our stay was a temple visit and rock walk, up to 360 views. Apparently the birthplace of Buddha. We shared tea and stories with Sri Lankan travellers, and learnt about the local coffee plantation. A slight resemblance to drinking hot soil, but the story and passion turned it into one of the best cappuccinos I'd ever had.
A 5am wakeup of drums and chants for pula day from the local temple, we caught another breath taking sunrise over the knuckle mountains. That day we travelled from Digana to Matale and opted for the local bus again. A longer and harder way to travel, but you have much more opportunity to engage with locals and their routines. We obviously look like deers in the headlights trying to find our next bus, and everyone is so helpful and friendly. London, take note. We visited the Aluwihare temple on Pula day on the way. After a very bumpy Tuk Tuk ride we arrived at Silver Hill, a remote spice farm in the middle of the jungle. The place was closed for maintenance but we had managed to convince them to give us a last minute booking for a couple of nights. We spent the next 2 days indulging ourselves in the spectacular sucluded jungle.
Feeling recharged we caught a train from Kurunegala to Colombo. Shaunagh and Ranj kindly offered to host us again in their lovely apartment in Central Colombo. We timed our stay in Colombo to line up with a night of live music and theatre hosted by Sach and Hiran. It did not disappoint. Very excited to see where their creativity takes them next.
Our final stop in Sri Lanka was Galle. We rented a lovely characterful apartment in the Galle Fort where we spent 4 days surfing, eating, relaxing and feeling very lucky how good life is right now. We took a day trip to Bentota to check out some of Jefery Bawa's architecture before heading back to Colombo to catch a our flight to Mumbai for the next leg our our trip. Sri Lanka has been the perfect start of our travels. We will miss the beaches and the beautifully friendly people.