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Gone walkabout

Sri Lanka

SRI LANKA | Sunday, 30 September 2012 | Views [3394]

 Sri Lanka 5th September 2012 Only 3 hour flight with Air Asia and we arrive in Colombo. You would think that after travelling for 4 months we would have everything worked out for this new country, where to go, what to do, what to see. Well we kind of have a rough idea as we make our way from the airport to Colombo city by local  bus  1.5 hrs 15 rup or 11 cents. We buy a southbound train ticket to Galle for 50 rup or 35 cents then a Tuk Tuk to Unawatuna.

A long day of planes, trains, and automobiles. Of course, we are greeted at each stage along the way by dodgy local men trying to scam a few rupees ($) from us.  Unawatuna is a coastal resort town still recovering from the 2004 tsunami. Damage and devastation is still evident today. Many of the guesthouses have tried to rebuild around the existing rubble. They have no idea about rising sea levels, as they build right down to water level. Our room, right on the beach, seemed really damp when we moved in. We find out that 2 days earlier big seas came right through the place and our room had a foot of water running through it. Didn't kill the hundreds of cockroaches we shared rooms with!  We catch a bus further along the south coast looking for potential surf spots.

Midigama is a 2 horse town, known to surfers mainly, as there is bugger all here. One restaurant run by a local lady who makes the best curries imaginable. We eat here every meal, no menu, she just feeds us. We don't even bother asking the price until we leave, usually $1.5 - $2 each. 2 nights here we stay at Rams Guesthouse. 10 metres from the water, our concrete room was one of the few that survived the tsunami. Most of the guesthouse was destroyed. I ask Ram how long he has been here. He says "I was born in this house, along with my 3 brothers, my father and grandfather ". Once again, we get real life accounts of that life changing moment occurring at 9.20am on Boxing Day, 2004.  Over 40 thousand Sri Lankans died, most along the southern and eastern coastline. But, life goes on for these people. Just like most of what we have seen in SE Asia, life just goes on, just how it has for generations. Today we plan on heading further east along the south coast toward another sleepy outpost called  Tangala. Breakfast with our favourite lady, more curry!

Then psyche ourselves up for the bus trip. The buses! Catching a bus here literally means standing on the narrow roadside and flag down a bus as it comes screaming towards you. Sri Lankan bus drivers win the prize for the most radical drivers I have ever seen! With 60 people crammed on board, it feels like you are sitting in a go-kart as you fly along overtaking and dodging every bicycle, Tuk Tuk, moped, truck, and helpless pedestrians scrambling for safety within inches of death. Very cheap transport, though. Only 2/3 cents per km. LEEANNE We stay at a beautiful guesthouse called frangipani on the beach. Bathrooms so nice 2250 r. Went to market to stock up on fresh fruit, loads of avocado, pawpaw, mangoes coming out your ear.

Also 5 different types of tea. Oh I love our inversion element for tea time. After a lovely fruit breakfast we head off to walk the beach but don't get far before we are roped into helping the local fisherman drag the net. Thinking it would take half an hour we enthusiastically help along with another couple we meet, Kate from melb and her pommie husband Pete. (they live in palma Majorca). So over 2 hours later the nets are in with a unanimous disappointment there was lucky to be 2 kilo of little fish with one or two longer thrown in.  We have a long swim a sit on the deck chairs then the rain comes in. A perfect excuse for cards (shithead) with Kate and Pete. Off to the roti house for a cheap dinner and a few more hands of cards. The next morning is a repeat of the net fiasco but with a few more fish.

We are invited to a local fishos house for lunch. We are aware of many scams in Sri Lanka and our guard is up. The family is very poor but make a really lovely lunch. There was def a little pressure to help out and we gave them 500 r knowing that whatever we gave it would not be enough.  We catch a bus to Una Wallawe in preparation for an early morning safari with Kate and Pete. The jeep ride was fun, there were loads of wild elephants but all in all overrated . Buffalo really we have seen sooooo many millions lol, the countryside was very like western nsw bush. We take 3 buses to aragum bay, Kate and Pete head to Ella.  The buses up through the centre seem a smidgeon calmer and not as overcrowded. I did have a laugh at Monagarola when we looked around and at least 20 Sri lankans had surrounded us watching us eat and generally passing the time by repeating the same questions over and over.  The bus to aragum bay was the school bus, there were hundred of white uniformed teenagers giggling and squashing on board. The kids definately dont have the attitude western teenagers have. When you thought not another could hang out the door the bus would stop in front of another a school and more would squeeze on.

Eventually the bus started to empty and we could see outside and to our horror the blackness of the sky. The last hour to the bay was torrential rain and when we were pushed from the bus (you have to be so quick to alight or board the bus, most of the time they only slow to 2nd gear) into a hurricane at the bay. Now this was a town that was anhialated by the tsunami and this season has been their first good one in 8 year after the rebuilding from the tsunami and the Tamil war so we were a little worried, no power, trees down all over flooding and leaking roofs.  The staff from a 4 star hotel signaled us to come inside to get out of the rain and rang a guest house to sent a Tuk Tuk for us. After a few hours the rain eased and we walked the main drag, finding somewhere for a feed and then thought to have an early night after a huge day, of coarse when we went to get into bed it was soaked and we had to move rooms. Waking to beautiful clear skies we move closer to the main break, Mohammed at sunrise guesthouse answers pay me what you think is fair when we query the price of the room.lol Day is spent surfing walking and doing yoga. Lovely day.

As long as you overlook the open mouthed staring haha, especially in your cossies. Days blend into each other. Kate and Pete arrive, we hire motor bikes ( the traffic is lighter here that the west coast) and tour the outlying beaches. Whiskey point is divine so is peanut farm. Great outpost surfing beaches.

 We so shouldn't have done the safari  just on the bikes we see huge monkeys, peacocks and yes a wild elephant on its daily stroll. 

Paul The funniest thing to happen at our guesthouse. We had been staying a few days already and becoming pretty well comfortable, when the owner asks if is OK if a group of holidaying Sri Lankans can stay a couple of nights. We say 'why not' after all it is your place! Well, shortly after a bus arrives and out piles 23 people. They make do sharing 5 small rooms. We sit and watch them unload the bus, mostly off the roof, everything imaginable to set up a camp kitchen. Leeanne helps the women prepare the veges and noodles, curries are made, fish is cut up ready for the frypans.

It's like watching master chef at full speed! Of course, we are invited to join them for dinner and compulsory shots of 'hard liquor' . Time to bring the uke out and sing a few tunes, they have bought their own traditional drums, so we have a band! I stumble off to bed after too many shots and a lousy rendition of 'Hotel California'.

After 6 days in Arugam Bay we say goodbye to our 'faulty towers' host Mohammed and make our way inland and up into the hills to Ella. 2 bus changes and 5 hours travel we book into the Rawana guesthouse in Ella. It's kind of good to have a sand free room and a lot cooler, too. We pay only 1000rp $7.50/nt. Every night they serve up the best set meal of assorted curry dishes. Really popular with the backpackers, as you have to order early to make sure you get a feed. The must do thing to do here is climb Ella Rock. After walking along the train track you try to dodge the 'guides' offering to show you the way up the hill. They sabotage tracks and say you are on the wrong track, only to find out that all tracks will get you to the top. The views are unreal. So many tea plantations!  we then catch a train a short way up the track to Hapetale. The train system here in Sri Lanka reminds me of the trains in Australia, only go back 40 years! The tickets are little cardboard stubs, the station control room still use the old English machines, the trains are 90percent timber, and rattle and roll on dodgy worn out tracks! The view makes the trips worthwhile. We are in tea country. Famous Scottsman, Thomas Lipton, bought up much of the plantations here to help grow his world famous tea empire. A tour of a tea factory is worth doing.  The weather turns ugly, reminds me of Katoomba. Foggy and cold. Time to move on from Hapetale, so we splurge on 1st class train ticket to Kandy. Worth the $5 ea for our 6 hour trip through more mountain country with endless tea plantations stretching forever. The 1st class carriage is comfortable with dirty old fabric seats that recline. It's Saturday, so we share the carriage with wealthy Sri Lankans heading to Kandy or Colombo for the weekend. Cameras  clicking as excitement fills the air. I smell the air of Australia as tall gum trees appear on the hillside. Eucalyptus oil reminds me of home, but I'm reminded quickly of we're I am when locals bring out their home cooked food. They offer us some kind of round ball coated in what looks like sawdust. I eat mine and half of Leeanne's and spend the next hour trying to get the bits out of my teeth! We make it into Kandy, a large town set in the hills. Lots of people so we are on our toes as we walk around and check the place out. Golden View guesthouse is a good choice. Cheap and helpful staff. We catch up with Pete and Kate, our SL travel buddies, and jag some free tickets to the T20 world cup match between New Zealand and Pakistan. No worries which team we will support! We find lots of black clothes, Leeanne gets out her black eyeliner and decorates everyone's faces and we join the thousands heading out to the ground by bus. Well, the carnival and party starts real quick as we get our beers and sit amongst the fanatic supporters. Fireworks, flame throwers, drums, bugles, dancing girls, hundreds of coppers, loud music pumped through giant speakers. You name it...it was all happening! By the end of the match we are all pretty well smashed, and stumble our way out and try to catch a bus back into town (15km) no luck, buses jam packed. We thumb a ride back in the back of a ute. 8 of us plus the 7 guys already in the back. Bodies hanging out everywhere! Some local bloke miraculously brings out a giant bowl of chocolate desert from nowhere. Next thing we are all grabbing handfuls of the stuff and having a real pig out! This is just one example of the the random moments that await the backpacking traveller.

Always good for a laugh, especially when it's shared with like minded people. We say goodbye to Kandy, and our new friends, and bus it up the middle of SL to Sigarya. Finding a cheap guesthouse is easy (1300rp). Think Uluru but add hundreds of steps, hand painted frescoes of beautiful topless maidens, ruins on the summit and even Lions feet entrance which are the remains of an original sphinx.

One of the main drawbacks for budget travelers in Sri Lanka is the entrance fee to these sights. It doesn't sound a lot compared to back home but the $30 entrance is our daily budget here. The locals pay just 50 rupee or 30 cents. Such a huge difference puts a lot of people off. We chose which sight we wanted to visit carefully and were happy with our choice of Sigirya. Nearly 2000 years old surrounded by amazing gardens the sight is a challenging climb and has fantastic views of the surrounding country. We catch another 2 buses to Uppevali beach near Trincomalee. This area is just beginning to recover from the war with the Tamils and the government is spending a lot of money on improving the roads which made for a very bumpy, hot uncomfortable trip. The beaches in Sri Lanka are beautiful but generally still working fishing villages. So there are always boats, nets fishing and men hanging around. Our guesthouse is next door to a beautiful resort who don't seem to mind outside guests using the pool, wifi and watching the cricket. Even though we don't buy anything they still give us towels by the pool. Living it up on cheapskate tours. Leeanne works overtime on wifi ( usually poor reception) and buys tickets for Australia vs India T20 in Colombo. Yes! So we take a train back to Colombo 9 hours 370 rupee or $2.50 very comfortable good train. Accommodation in Colombo is usually expensive, so we take a chance on a real cheapy .... YMCA. The building is 120 years old, lots of rooms catering for lonely Sri Lankan men looking for social recreational activities like checkers, billiards, yoga, prayer meetings and sing-alongs. They have a fantastic restaurant/canteen which is cheap and really popular serving SL curries, hoppers, tea and coffee. We check into our room after walking through a maze of dark corridors, smelly toilets and showers we have to share, to be pleasantly surprised that brand new foam mattresses and sheets have been replaced in all the rooms.

The old dirty mattresses and pillows are stacked  floor to ceiling in a big pile outside our room. We both feel lucky to have new bedding, and settle in for our first night in Colombo......until....in the middle of the night we both wake up to find dozens of bed bugs (some the size of match heads) crawling over us. The place was infested with the blood sucking bastards! So much for the new mattresses! Covered in hundreds of bites we get dressed up in green and gold, and head off to the cricket and watch the Aussies give the Indians a hiding. Lots of slanging matches in the stands as I have to hold Leeanne back from belting an Indian bloke sitting behind us after he abruptly told Leeanne to "Sit ! Madam." after we hit another "6" off the Indian bowlers. LEEANNE proudly waves her bottom in his face. Not sure why they left early (goodbye India thanks for coming) We can't get out of the YMCA quick enough the next morning (itchy as hell) and catch a bus 1.5hrs up to Negombo for our last 2 nights before flying out of SL for KL. Finding a clean room gives a chance to empty our backpacks (yes we did have a couple of bed bug travel companions in our luggage! ) and clean up and nurse our injuries (bites) with any medication we can get our hands on! One of the joys of travelling....it seems to happen to most we meet at some point in time. Especially when you try and travel on the cheap. Part of the experience. Many experiences travelling this way, most of which are truly amazing, educational and worth a million dollars! Sri Lanka has been a great place to travel. Adventures, good value, generally not many tourists, friendly people (sometimes too friendly and a bit in your face) beautiful stunning scenery reminds us of home but on a smaller scale. Fantastic food. 

Tags: aragum bay, colombo, ella, kandy, midigama, sri lanka, tangalle, unawatuna, uppevali

 

 

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