The descent into the Maldives is spectacular, even though the weather isn’t fantastic with lots of grey heavy clouds around, I feel a rush of excitement as I begin to see the turquoise rims around the tiny islands dotted underneath me which is a beautiful sight.
We land, I reclaim my luggage and as I approach the customs desks I am handed an ‘entry form’ to complete. I pass through customs, being asked which hotels I am staying in……..how long I am planning to stay………when do I leave and where am I flying onto, I know the answers to all of these questions, easy!………
As I exit the arrivals hall out into the street the heavens open and I realise that the tunic that I am wearing over leggings is not suitable attire for ‘rain’. My earlier rush of excitement reduces as I acknowledge that I hadn’t banked on this weather, it wasn’t in my plan, what if it’s like this for the full five days ‘Oh shit what have I done!’
I stand undercover and people watch, hoping that I may see something that will A. Post me in the direction of something to do for 7 hours, until the ‘Dhoni’ is due or B. Find where I can enquire about a shared speedboat to Maafushi. I realise that although I have GBP, USD and Sri Lankan LKR I have no Maldives currency, better than that I don’t even know what the currency is, or what the exchange rate to GBP is (A piece of research that I intended to complete whilst in Sri Lanka but failed to do.)
I find an ATM which doesn’t accept my card, so I head back into the airport to seek out a travel counter to exchange some currency. As I do so I see a young man holding up a board ‘Speedboat to Maafushi’…….Result!………I am happy! Not only do I negotiate a one way trip to Maafushi for 20USD with the holder of the board but also change some currency with him. Although at the time I have no idea what I should of been expecting in terms of exchange rate. (Note to self…really really important to know what the currency is of the country you’re in and have some idea of the exchange rate!)
The rain passes and I share the speedboat with another 4 people, then after a bumpy 30 minute ride, we arrive at Maafushi as the heavens open up once again. We climb onto land and I am aware that my tunic is now, to some extent, see through due to the rain, so I wrap myself in a large cotton shawl, even though the temperature is close to 30 degrees Celsius. As we wait on the harbour for our luggage to follow us from the speedboat, I am greeted by another young man asking ‘Lisa ?’ ‘Yes that’s me’ I reply he smiles, says hello and then ushers me towards a scooter.
‘Come’ he says as he climbs on, I position myself behind him wondering what will happen to my luggage? This is the second time in a week that I have been on the back of a scooter driven by a man much younger than myself……..it’s quite nice……….I am driven a short distance to The Arena Beach Hotel at the other side of the island, looking less than glamorous, wrapped in a wet shawl. The image that I had built in my head of my arrival on the Maldives is a million miles from this reality.
The Hotel is very welcoming and after checking in I am told that my room will be available shortly. I sit in the lounge and make small talk with two Spanish gentlemen who sit beside me. They tell me that they have been here for 3 days and it hasn’t stopped raining…..not what I wanted to hear….they were waiting to depart and told me that although they had enjoyed their stay on the island, other than snorkelling and taking trips to surrounding islands there was pretty much nothing else to do. I am not too concerned as the whole point of travelling all this way to the Maldives was to snorkel and that can be done in the rain.
As I sit in the reception my thoughts turn to the distance that I have travelled to be here and that I have finally arrived at my first port of call on the Maldives, ‘Maafushi.’ Soon enough I am shown to my room, which is great and as it was a very early start in Sri Lanka this morning I am shattered. I climb into bed for a ‘Nanna nap’ and when I wake the sun is shining, Yippeeee!!!
Nisha tells me that he needs to visit the barbers shortly for a haircut and shave as he had not been able to get to one recently due the busy tourist season. Again I wonder how being on the road for long periods of time impacts on family life for drivers here and the logistics of living out of the boot of your car. I make a decision to eat on the beach this evening in the restaurant attached to the hotel and realise that I probably do not have enough money to get me through the evening, Nisha tells me there is an ATM but not within walking distance and so we head back to the moped hire shop, while Nisha explains that I have forgotten to go to the ATM and we are given the moped free of charge.
We drive through a busy shopping street and after replenishing my purse with another ridiculously high number of Sri Lanka Rupees, I ask Nisha whether he wants to stop at a barbers on the way back……….he looks puzzled ‘Are you sure he asks, guests don’t normally see that it is ok for me to have a haircut whilst I am their driver?’ ‘Of course no problem at all’ I tell him ‘if you see a barbers on the way back, pull over I am happy to wait’. We drive past several barbers and find one that is empty. Nisha takes to the barber’s chair whilst I sit patiently observing whilst listening to the Singhala chatter between the two.
The moped is returned and I head to my room and spend some time on the hotel communal balcony to the front of the building watching the comings and goings of Unawatuna. I shower and change then head down onto the beach for dinner which is Tuna along with a couple of G&T’s. I sit on the beach watching a distant thunder storm out to sea and marvel at the lightening display that I am treated to, the air is very ‘humid’ and I suspect that the storm that I am now watching will soon be hanging over Unawatuna. I enjoy the relaxed, welcoming atmosphere here and observe a couple of ‘solo travellers’ also dining, happy in their own company, which is nice to see.
Soon enough the storm is upon the beach and the heavens open with force……I am pleased that I have managed to savour my dinner before mother nature works her magic and I head back to my room for another restful night’s sleep, with thoughts of the Maldives now in my mind. The following morning I am awake early and decide to head to the beach before breakfast. As I tiptoe out of my room and down the stairs, (being mindful that most people on their holidays do not want to be woken at 5.45am) I see the ‘night porter’ asleep on the sofa in the reception area.
I negotiate the locked front door to the hotel, without waking him and head past the restaurant onto the beach. There are a few people pottering around and it’s nice to soak up the tranquillity of the early morning and the stillness of the ocean. I spend time swimming and lying on the sand as the day begins to heat up and I recognise a couple of the hotel staff as they walk along the sea front and acknowledge me with a ‘Good morning Madam.’ I take breakfast and meet Nisha who asks whether I want to spend any more time in Unawatuna before heading to Negombo which is where I will spend the night before my early morning flight to Male.
The Hotel manager at Samaya Tranz tells me that it is ok for me to use a shower in one of the hotel rooms later this afternoon, if I wanted to spend more time on the beach and I accept the offer. Nisha tells me that Mirissa beach is just along the coast from here which has good snorkelling water and so we head back to the moped hire shop, and make our way to Mirissa. The beach here is stunning and the sea is a little choppy for snorkelling but great for swimming. I spend a couple of hours swimming and walking on the sand whilst reflecting on the last 5 days in this beautiful country
I feel lucky that the direct flights to Male from Manchester had been so expensive and I was given the opportunity to explore the possibility of accessing the Maldives via Sri Lanka, as had the flights been cheaper then I would of never given Sri Lanka a second thought. We return to the hotel where I shower and thank the staff for their hospitality and we are on our way to Negombo. The drive is via the highway and so not the scenic driving that I have been treated to since my arrival here, we stop at a service station for lunch which is samosa type patties and again delicious, then we arrive at Villa 7 in the early evening.
After checking in and arranging to have dinner here tonight I spend some time going through my bag and washing some items that have already been worn before going down to the outside seating area alongside the hotel kitchen. The feel of Villa 7 is really welcoming and reflects the hospitality that I have experienced throughout my time in Sri Lanka. An elderly English couple are also dining and they invite me to join their table, which I accept. They explain that they noticed I arrived here with Nisha earlier and that he had been their driver last week. They go on to tell me that Nisha had taken care of ‘Wendy’ after she had become ill with a stomach bug, collecting medication for her from the pharmacy which had cleared her symptoms, for which they are very grateful.
Dinner tonight is king prawns which are taste bud heaven and as I have an early morning flight, I say my farewells and head to my room for my last nights sleep before I head to the Maldives !
I have a wonderful nights sleep at Yala Peace Cottage and wake looking forward to our next port of call which is Unawatuna and the ocean! Breakfast whilst watching peacocks in fabulous, as is the hospitality of the staff here and I leave knowing that I will most definitely return to this place to explore more of what Yala has to offer.
The drive to Unawatuna is again filled with ‘food for the soul’ views and we stop off several times at roadside stalls for Coconut milk and more Vegetable buns. Nisha is really good company and we have now developed some kind of friendship that you cannot help but form when you have spent so much time travelling with somebody that you get along with. I learn more and more about the Buddhist culture here in Sri Lanka and how their view of the world is formed. I find it refreshing how communities here look after each other and how people manage to avoid exchanging money wherever possible, instead exchanging services and goods between each other. Tourism is a huge income for this country which has made a massive difference to the lifestyles that people here have developed.
Wherever we have travelled throughout Sri Lanka there is lots of recognition from people who know Nisha. He tells me that before he became a Driver he had a Tuk Tuk and had spent several years running this as a business for himself but much prefers offering Driver Service to guests now, as it takes him all over Sri Lanka and the variety he says is good for him.
We arrive in Unawatuna mid afternoon and after checking into Samaya Tranz which is positioned right on the beach. I head down to the ocean which is a small bay and the sea has a ‘choppy’ tide to it this afternoon. I walk along the sand and cover most of seafront of Unawatuna then head back in the direcion that I have come, where Nisha is chatting to staff on the sand. I ask whether there is anywhere else along the coast here where the sea will be calmer and Nisha says there is a place nearby ‘Jungle Beach’ which we can get to using a moped as the route down to the sea there is tricky in a car.
Ummm I consider the dangers of mopeds in foreign countries and cast my mind back to conversations that I have had with the ‘offspring’ along the lines of ‘Please please don’t use mopeds whilst on holiday, they are very dangerous and the roads there are not as stable as roads here? Nisha tells me that his guests do not usually ask him to drive them on mopeds but he is happy to do so if I want to visit ‘Jungle Beach’. He goes on to point out that whilst driving there we could visit Galle……… My ‘midlife’ crisis gets the better of me and before I know it we have hired a moped for the equivalent of £4 and I am climbing onto the back whilst Nisha takes to the front. I remind Nisha that I have children at home and that he must drive carefully. He acknowledges my plea and we are off……
Nisha is particularly careful whilst driving, he checks that I am ok on the back, reassuring me that he has lots of experience of riding mopeds and that I am safe. I put full trust in him and enjoy my first moped experience. We arrive in Galle, which is quiet and the small cobbled roads here are empty. Nisha asks whether I want to drive……I’ve never driven/rode a moped before and my thoughts are ‘in for a penny in for a pound’ so I have a 30 second lesson on how to accelerate and how to brake and we are off. I take to riding a moped like a duck to water and thoroughly enjoy nipping in and out of side streets whilst Nisha fears for his life on the back.
We pull in and decide to take a walk around the fort which is beautiful, I am hungry again so we find a street food cart and order pancakes. We sit at the fort people watching whist eating before continuing on our way to ‘Jungle Beach’. As Nisha warned the road down to the ocean is small and bumpy and as we arrive there, we park in a small moped bay and take a short walk to the beach which has maybe a dozen people dotted around it. Nisha takes to the shade whilst I enjoy my first Sri Lankan ocean swim and I am blissfully happy.
This place is simply beautiful and I enjoy floating around in a completely relaxed state with no idea of what time or day it is. I remember that I have 6 sleeps in Sri Lanka, before I fly onto the Maldives and I count how many places I have already stayed. Today is day 5 and I am surprised that although I am to leave Sri Lanka the day after tomorrow, I have not had a single thought of the Maldives whilst I have been here.
I watch the people on the beach whilst I swim and I notice Nisha has been approached by a couple of males who stand with him chatting. People leave the beach and a wedding party arrive with a photographer taking shots of the happy couple as they pose for various pictures on the waters edge. I am patient in making a decision to head back to the sand as I don’t want to find myself in the background of a Sri Lankan wedding photograph. An opportunity arises and I return to where Nisha is patiently waiting.
He tells me that he had been approached by two ‘lady boys’ who had asked him whether it was ok for them to drink alcohol on the beach….the look on his face tells me that he wasn’t keen to engage in afternoon conversation with them. We head back to Unawatuna, return the moped and make our way back to the hotel Samaya Tranz.
After a hearty breakfast (I know I’m still full from last night’s curries but the food here is just delicious !) and lots of coffee and water. I am fighting fit and explaining myself to Nisha, who had to come and wake me this morning after my introduction to Arrack……….I make the decision to climb ‘Little Adam’s Peak’ giving me an opportunity to clear my head and prepare myself for this afternoon’s Safari in Yala, which fills me with excitement.
Nisha takes the climb with me and explains that he has done this many many times and although he has climbed the larger version of Adams Peak back in Dallhousie this is much more manageable and enjoyable. The climb isn’t too strenuous and absolutely worth the views that go on and on for miles. We pass a snake charmer on route who is surrounded by a family with small children and they are delighted to see traditional entertainment in action.
After taking in the views at the top of the peak, we make our way back to the centre of Ella which is now awash with backpackers and has an air of excitement about it. We climb back into the car which immediately gives relief to the now stifling temperatures outside and begin our journey onto Yala.
The route that we drive along is again a feast for the eyes, the scenery here in Sri Lanka is simply stunning and you can’t help but get sucked into the hustle and bustle of its daily routine. We tail more than one or two buses on route, and I marvel at the skills of the passengers as they literally jump on and off the bus whilst it is in motion.
We arrive in Yala and I can sense an immediate calmness to the place, leaving behind the chaos that so much of Sri Lanka has with it. Nisha tells me this is his hometown and that he will be able to visit his family tonight and do some washing. It occurs to me that drivers here, during the busy periods of tourism in Sri Lanka, could literally be away from home for months at a time and wonder what that means in terms of the impact on their family lives etc.
As we leave the main road we find ourselves on a track leaving behind the noise of traffic and horns. There are peacocks dotted all around as we pass along tbe lane and as we drive towards a small cluster of cottages a sense of calm and tranquillity washes over me.
Yala Peace Cottage is pretty much what it says it is, a peaceful place to rest during an otherwise busy schedule whilst travelling around Sri Lanka. I check in, am shown to my room, which in actual fact is a full cottage and is adorable. I hadn’t upto this point, realised how much of a busy time this was turning into and I appreciate the opportunity to take things slow and relax. Nisha tells me that there is a barbecue here tonight and asks whether I would like to dine at Yala Cottage, ‘Of course, that would be great’ is my reply.
Nisha has arranged a jeep to collect me from here and take me to Yala National Park which is where I will do my Safari this afternoon and I am thoroughly looking forward to this experience, as I focus my attention on the animals that I might see if I am lucky.
I take some time to unpack AGAIN! And I walk down to the ‘restaurant/reception’ I am welcomed with smiling faces and lots of interest by the staff here in how my trip has gone so far in ‘Sri Lanka’. Again the friendliness and welcoming manner of these people is like a breath of fresh air and I spend some time chatting whilst I wait to be collected.
The Jeep arrives and I am treated to the most wonderful experience. There is only me in the Jeep and I wasn’t really sure what to expect in terms of how the Safari would work. Back in the UK whilst researching it wasn’t clear where you would arrange your Jeep from with the National Parks giving you prices for entrance fees but no clear guidance on how do you get a Jeep ? It was my understanding that you arrive at the Park, pay your entrance fee then climb into a Jeep that the Park provided along with other tourists.
This isn’t the case at all and the Safari’s here are obviously big business for Sri Lanka, with lots of independent Safari Jeep companies offering their service, where they collect you from your accommodation and then drop you back there afterwards.
I am lucky today and I get to see lots of animals, that you would normally have to complete a full day Safari for, ……..I sight Elephants, lots of different types of birds, a sloth bear, wild water buffalo, crocodiles and various other small mamals. During the Safari we stop at the ocean and I notice a memorial for those who lost their lives in the Tsunami. How stupid of me not to know that Sri Lanka was ‘hit’ so badly by the devastation of this trauma back in 2004.
The sun is setting as we head back to Yala Peace Cottage which is beautiful and I pinch myself ‘I’ve just done a flipping Safari in Sri Lanka’. I have a moment of ‘everything is ok with my world’ contentment and feel lucky to be here. During the drive back I notice lots of people coming into the street wearing only white and I sense excitement in the air. Tonight is a ‘full moon’ and so a national holiday in Sri Lanka, (obviously doesn’t apply to Safari Jeep Drivers) and every month the full moon is celebrated as people call at the temple, during the evening dressed in white to pray.
I arrive back at the cottage, shower and head down to the restaurant where the barbecue is already fired up and a bonfire is burning alongside. This creates a fabulous atmosphere which I soak up whilst dining on Barbecued fish and chicken. I am contentedly exhausted as I reflect back on the last 4 days which in some ways feel like 8 and others feel like 1 and the wonderful feeling that I have which is comparable with ‘being in love’. The barbecued food is really good, the staff here are so wonderful and the atmosphere is fabulous, this is the kind of place that makes ‘travelling solo’ so enjoyable, I wish I was staying longer……………
As we leave this small place I remember to ask Nisha about last night’s prayers. He tells me that there are two dates in the year, depending on the moon, which dictate the crowd gathering for prayer here at Dalhousie, that I witnessed last night. Again tradition has it that Adams Peak is also believed to have harboured ‘the buddha’s tooth’ for a short period as it made its journey from India to its final resting place at ‘Temple of the Tooth’ hence the quantity of Buddhists that arrived last night in their bus loads.
The drive from Dalhousie to Ella is a mixed bag, we head through the busyness of Nuwara Eliya then get lost in the winding roads that take you through stunning scenery including waterfalls and tea plantations. We stop off at the Sita Hindu Temple, which is beautiful on route to the quaintness of Ella. We arrive here at some point in the afternoon, it must be later on because I am hungry………I am completely at ease and have now lost track of days and time. I know that I have 6 sleeps whilst I am in Sri Lanka and that I am about to check into the Rawana Hotel Resort where I will have my third sleep in my Sri Lanka experience.
As we arrive in Ella it is quiet. There are shops and bars as well as ‘Little Adams Peak’ which some people climb instead of tackling its much bigger neighbour at Dalhousie. Maybe I will consider this in the morning before we leave for Yala.
Whilst in Bali a couple of years back myself and the ‘offsping’ all experienced a local cooking class which was marvellous. We then dined on the feast that we had created with other tourists, that we had peeled/chopped/fried/boiled and grinned with throughout the afternoon, it was a great experience, something that I was hoping I could repeat in Sri Lanka.
When I had researched ‘Cooking classes in Sri Lanka’ back in the UK I didn’t really get very far and whilst I was arranging the tour with the ‘original driver who I shall say no more about’ I had mentioned the possibility of seeking a class out. After discussing this with Nisha he had assured me that the hotel I would be staying in tonight would be able to accommodate my request and I can cook my own dinner……….I am excited as I had experienced nothing but wonderful flavours whilst dining in Sri Lanka and this afternoon I was particularly hungry.
I check in and after being shown to my room, Nisha tells me that I can cook here and to head to the kitchen for 4pm…….Fabulous ! I unpack and sit out on the communal balcony which my room opens onto and soak up the scenery whilst reflecting on how lucky I feel to be here and how all of my anxieties and concerns back in the UK about taking this first ‘solo trip’ have now disappeared.
I make my way over to the restaurant after checking my phone and seeing that it is now just after 4pm and I present myself with clean hands at the kitchen door and patiently await my instructions……..A tired looking ‘Senior’ with very few teeth observes me and I see him look in the direction of the kitchen, there is an exchange of rapid ‘chatter.’ A younger gent comes to the door and I explain that I am here to do the ‘Cooking class’ he looks at me with a blank expression……….umm something isn’t right, I explain that my driver Nisha had told me to come here for 4pm and I can be taught all there is to know about Sri Lankan cooking……..nope still no recognition from him.
I am looking forward to this and I am not prepared to let this ‘supposed’ opportunity go, so I stand my ground and say I have arranged to help you in the kitchen and I show him the dollar, “2000 LKR I was told to help you in the kitchen” there is a flicker of recognition and I am told to wait around the corner “Sit at the table and I will tell you when you can come”…………..I am not waiting long before the ‘Senior’ comes to collect me and takes me through the door into the kitchen. I was a little surprised at the health and safety aspect of the kitchen area, where hygiene clearly is not in keeping with the standards back in the UK.
That said the work surface was clean and Chef was particular about the washing of hands……There is only me engaging in the ‘Cooking class’ and it’s a very different experience to Bali but just as rewarding and extremely enjoyable.
The next couple of hours are spent with me frantically writing down recipes chopping and stirring whilst drinking tea that is fed to me in copious amounts. I am asked “Why are you travelling alone?” “I like my own company” is my reply, there is a seconds silence before an ‘umm’, before we continue with the stirring……….The two hours pass and there is a feast of different dishes, deviled chicken, aubergine curry, spinach curry, garlic curry (which is my favourite) a selection of different vegetables and rice and I am told to take a seat through in the restaurant where I will be served the delights that I have just helped to prepare.
Regardless of my earlier concerns about the kitchen hygiene, the dishes are delicious and I am unable to stop at the point of my stomach shouting ‘enough I am full’, I completely overindulge…….but it is my holidays and I have managed to restrain myself so far. I do my best to make a large dint in the platter of 8 different dished placed in front of me and after washing this down with two diet cokes I am full to bursting !
I thank the kitchen staff and Chef, hand over my 2000 LKR and head to my room, where I shower and sit out on the communal balcony to the front of the hotel, nursing my bloated stomach……….The air is humid and as I sit in my thoughts the guests to the left side of my room join me. They are English and we exchange ‘Hello, how are you and before I know it, in true British style, I am playing cards and being introduced to the delights of Sri Lankan Coconut Arrack.
Arrack is very similar in taste to Malibu which takes me back to a much younger self…….and I quickly realise that Arrack is a lot stronger!
I am woken the next morning, way past the agreed meeting time of 9am by Nisha knocking on my bedroom door ‘Hello….. Lisa Lisa are you ok ?’ I am pulled from my dream, where a Buddhist had offered me his white shirt so that I could attend at the temple and I had exchanged this for a grey ‘hoody’ that is way too small for him?! I wake wondering why my head hurts, why Nisha is knocking at my door asking if I am ok and why I made the decision to overindulge in such a HUGE dinner last night…….These thoughts are followed by ‘Have I swopped my grey hoody for someone’s white shirt ? Why did I think it was a good idea to consume really strong local Sri Lankan liquor ? Then I remember ‘Oh yes I’m entering my Mid Life Crisis’
After paying the bill, I meander back towards the long flight of steps that take me to my bed for the night. I can see the outline of Adam’s Peak in the distance as I walk towards the Villa and when I arrive it’s obvious that something of interest is occurring in Dalhousie this evening. The area is now filled with colourful buses and people engaging in noisy chatter. The earlier quietness of this small place has now been replaced with a buzz of activity and it’s impossible to resist the sense of excitement that fills the air.
I climb the steps to my room feeling a little less fit than I would of given myself credit for, however the climb is worth the effort as the views are fabulous, especially as I am now looking down on the street activity below. I reflect on my research of this area back in the UK and remember the name ‘Dalhousie’ is taken from a nearby tea estate and there is more to this quiet’ish’ part of Sri Lanka than meets the eye.
It is believed that the Buddha himself visited Adam’s peak (or Sri Pada as it’s known locally) and according to Sinhala tradition, left his footmark at the summit on his third and final visit to Sri Lanka. Some say that this footmark is actually impressed upon a sapphire that lies beneath the temple which has been built to protect the sacred imprint. Many Sri Lankan devotees aspire to make a pilgrimage to this holy place at least once in their lifetime. Tradition being to begin the climb in the early hours of the morning so you reach the summit in time for sunrise.
I sit out on the front balcony and soak up the atmosphere that is getting more intense as the size of the crowd below increases. Soon enough a loud speaker fires up and then what I guess is Buddhist prayer begins to be recited. I wonder what significance this place has where people clearly travel a distance to engage in prayer together and I make a mental note to ask Nisha in the morning.
As I sit quietly in my own thoughts, listening to the prayer, one of the staff from the Villa passes by on his way down towards the main building and tells me to be mindful of the monkeys that inhabit the area adjacent to the villas here. ‘Make sure you secure the window inside as it has been known for monkeys to climb into bedrooms during the night’ Flipping heck that would be a shocker to wake up to !……..
I reflect on my time already spent in Sri Lanka and the impression that it has made on me in this short period, the colours, the smells, the noises, the Buddhist culture all make for a fascinating place and even though the last two days have been busy I feel relaxed and contented. I soon begin to yawn and before heading to bed I make a decision not to wake at 1.30am to make the accent in the dark to watch the sun rise over Adam’s Peak.
I feel I would benefit much more from another good nights sleep than I would undertaking approx. 6 hours exercise in the middle of the night. I double checking the window is securely fastened……….then double check it again, before climbing into bed and falling into another restful night sleep. The following morning I shower and dress, I repack my bag again! before heading to the restaurant which is where I was told breakfast is served. This morning I find several ‘table’s for one’ and I choose the table nearest the front of the villa where I can watch the activities of the locals of Dalhousie, as they go about their daily business
I flick through the rough guide again, looking forward to todays drive which will take us to Ella, through scenic countryside and tea plantations. Breakfast once again is eggs, toast, fruit, and lots of coffee. The waiter asks me for my room key so that my bag can be brought to reception and I gratefully hand this over as I thank him.
After breakfast I meander around the area at the front of the villa, which is now empty of buses and is made up of mainly stalls selling touristy things, catching hikers as they return from the early morning walk to the summit. Today is cloudy and very humid I suspect there will be another thunderstorm at some point today, which will hopefully cool the temperature slightly as it is just over one hour since I showered and already I am wishing that I could take another one.
Nisha arrives at reception and my bag is placed in the boot of his car, I thank the staff here who have been helpful, climb into the passenger seat, and whilst enjoying the welcomed coolness of the air con, we leave Dalhousie and begin our drive towards Ella.
I wake on what is technically my second morning in Sri Lanka, however my body clock is registering that yesterday was just an extraordinarily long day from leaving the UK to arriving at Kandy Mount Villa and so today is my first morning waking up in this beautiful country. I had a very restful night’s sleep and wake feeling refreshed at just after 8.30am. Sri Lanka time is currently five and a half hours in front of the UK, so I am pleased that my internal clock appears to have reset itself without any problems and I am hungry !
I climb from my bed and open the doors from my bedroom onto the small balcony that I sat on last night and immediately feel the heat of the morning sun which is already hot. Although it was dark when I arrived here last night I could still make out the abundance of trees and tropical greenery that the villa overlooks and in the morning sunshine the views are fantastic. I shower and repack what I had unpacked last night then make my way back to the reception area.
Nisha is already in reception chatting to the hotel manager and I am welcomed with a ‘Good Morning Madam’ from the two of them. The hotel Manager informs me that breakfast is served on the rooftop terrace and points me in the direction of the stairs that I have just descended. I climb up to the top of the Villa which again has stunning open views and there are several tables set up over the terrace, I spot the ‘table for one’ and I take my seat. Breakfast is served, which consists of fresh juice, fruit, omelette and toast along with numerous cups of coffee, which are all good and I eat heartily although I don’t quite finish off what is put in front of me. (Those of you who know me, will know that this is no mean feat, as I have a particularly good appetite.)
I flick through the ‘Rough Guide’ and try to remember what todays itinerary consists of, I am pretty sure there is a visit to the Botanical Garden, along with an opportunity to peruse some shops, as Kandy is the bigger of the towns/cities in the area. I will then head to Dalhousie which is where Adam’s Peak is situated and if I like I can wake up tomorrow morning at 2am to climb the 2,243m mountain in time to watch the sun rise………….lets see how today goes.
I spend some time looking in shops and weighing up what ‘gifts’ I can take back to the UK for the offspring and make a decision to purchase some ‘gems’ for the females of the group and a sarong for the male. I am confident that they will be happy. I also potter around general stores and purchase a selection of elephants and other goodies that catch my eye. After a couple of hours perusing and having my first attempt at Sinhalese ‘Istuti’ (thank you), the people I attempt this will all react positively with smiles and a ‘You’re welcome’ I catch back up with Nisha and we begin the drive over to Dalhousie, stopping off to visit the Botanical Gardens which are beautiful and it is nice to be able to stretch my legs.
As we head back to the car I notice ENORMOUS BATS ! flying overhead, I have had numerous encounters with Bats as a keen Lake District Camper but these bad boys are something else…………cruising around up above with no fear of the sunlight……behaving like they’re not nocturnal ?? I was not expecting this in Sri Lanka.
The heat of the day is already taking its toll and I am pleased to get back to the car and am grateful for the air con that doesn’t take long to kick in. The drive takes us through some excellent scenery and we stop at what looks like an ice cream van, which is parked up at the side of the road and is selling bread. I buy vegetable buns for lunch which are delicious, very similar to a bread roll filled with a mix of delicious seasoning definitely containing fenugreek.
We continue on our way weaving through bending roads and stopping off several times to ‘take in the views’. It feels like a long time since I left the UK and I have no idea at all what time it is, which I like. We arrive at our destination and I guess it must be late afternoon, early evening because once again I am hungry. I check into the hotel and am shown my room which is at the very top of a hillside but once again has fantastic views and I am grateful for the young man who carries my luggage on his shoulder taking to the long climbing stairs like a mountain goat to a Cliffside.
I have notice that the people I have met during my short time in Sri Lanka all have a really open and likeable manner, much more so than in some of the European countries that I have visited as a tourist and I get the sense that they genuinely want to make sure that your stay here in Sri Lanka is a wonderful time. I unpack again !! shower and change then take a walk around this small town, whose only attraction, from what I can see, is Adam’s Peak.
I take dinner in a restaurant further along the road, Wasthala Inn and have a plate of Devilled chicken which is good and a bottle of beer, whilst sitting out on a veranda overlooking the river. The location of this place is fab and the views from the restaurant are once again a treat for the eyes. I am conscious of the noise that comes with Sri Lanka which is a mix of very fast conversational chatter, chaotic traffic, moped exhausts and lots of interesting bird song, the likes I have never heard before.
As I sit soaking up the early evening atmosphere I am aware that buses are arriving in high numbers and wonder what their occupants have come to see, in this place where there appears to be nothing but a small amount of Hotels and Restaurants and a mountain ?
Our first place to visit in Kandy is the Temple of the Tooth and Nisha explains the temple, which houses the Sacred Tooth Relic of ‘The Buddha’ himself, is possibly the most sacred Buddhist shrine in the world not only recognised by Buddhists here in Sri Lanka but also by Buddhists everywhere. I ask how did the buddha’s tooth end up in Kandy and I am told that Legend has it when the Buddha was cremated in 543 BC at Kushinagar in North India, various parts of his remains were rescued from the fire, including one of his teeth. The Tooth was then smuggled into Sri Lanka, hidden (according to legend) in the hair of a Orissan Princess……….all fascinating stuff !
The drive to the Temple is short,, this is a very busy city and is bustling with locals going about their daily routine, there is noise, bright colours and a buzz in the air and I soak up the atmosphere as we head towards the next port of call. The traffic is ‘chaotic’ and Nisha’s calm demeanour coupled with his experienced driving skills, instil a sense of confidence in his abilities to negotiate the roads. I reflect on my own experiences of driving whilst in Italy and the differences in how drivers react to each other in busy traffic. There is a lot of horn sounding here although not in an irritable ‘get out of my space’ way, more of a ‘hello just letting you know I am here’ way, which I find refreshing.
We find a parking space close to the temple and as we enter and pay, we are closely followed by a group of ‘female Buddhist monks’ which delights me and I am keen to observe them in this holy place. Nisha picks up on my excitement at seeing the monks and says that I am lucky to have seen the females as they are much rarer than the male monks here. He then slows his pace and turns to face the group as they walk towards us and asks if I would be able to have a photograph taken with them, they acknowledge the request and tell us to follow.
As we do, we head into a covered walk way where there are fewer people and as we exit the other end Nisha is told that this is where we can take a photograph, I am happy ! The picture is taken, I thank the monks and they carry on their way to the temple where I later see them meditating and spend a little time quietly observing, whilst they engage in this religious practise.
After completing our trip around the Temple we continue on our way and visit other places of interest in Kandy including several viewpoints and busy shopping streets. Nisha tells me that my original ‘driver’ (whose name I shall keep anonymous……….) had called, he would like to meet me later this evening to check that I am happy with Nisha’s service and (obviously) collect his ‘Regal Chivas’ along with half payment for the tour which is what we had agreed before I left the UK, with the rest to be paid on my return to the Airport at the end of my trip. At least he has made the effort to meet with me and not just asked for the ‘goods’ to be handed over to Nisha.
The last port of call for my first day in Sri Lanka is a visit to a traditional Kandy dance performance, which is where I am to hand over my hard-earned cash and whiskey. As we arrive at the venue the heavens open and I am treated to a short-lived, spectacular thunder-storm which clears the ‘muggy air’. As arranged I meet and hand over the ‘dollar and liquor’ to the ‘original driver’ and although I do want to highlight my discomfort felt in Dubai airport, where he messaged me to let me know he would not be picking me up, I am more than happy with Nisha’s services as my driver and so I hold my tongue, smile, hand over the goods, and say goodbye.
The heavens are still open and the rain is hammering down as both Nisha and I make our way to the hall where the performance is to take place and although this is only a minute away from the car, when we arrive at the entrance I am drenched…..Nisha directs me to where I should go and tells me he will be waiting outside at the end of the dance.
I take a programme and find a seat which is probably 10 rows from the front of the stage and sit patiently, hoping that the humidity in the hall, will soon dry me out. As I wait for the show to begin, I feel the demands of my journey from the UK, coupled with the very long day that I have had and I struggle to stop my head from dropping to the side as I slip in and out of sleep whilst sat upright in the chair.
I am aware that I resemble the ‘Churchill’s nodding dog’ but there is nothing that I can do to prevent the exhaustion from getting the better of me. The show begins and I am able to keep awake whilst the drums are beating and dancers perform, the show is fabulous, however I am pleased to reach the end, as I now know that I am heading to my first nights’ accommodation and bed!
Kandy Mount Hotel is a short drive away and I am welcomed by staff here and shown to my room, which I am more than happy with. There had been some conflicting reviews of this hotel on TripAdvisor, some showing photographs of unkempt parts of bedrooms and showers etc. This was not my experience at all and I would most definitely return here given the opportunity to visit Sri Lanka again.
I thank Nisha for my wonderful first day and he tells me that he will meet me in the hotel reception tomorrow morning at 9am. I unpack, shower and then sit on the balcony looking out into the darkness, listening to distant thunder and feeling the humidity of the evening, reflecting on the days activities. I WhatsApp the offspring who are all keen to know how my first day has gone and as I update them on the ‘driver issue’ at Dubai airport, followed by my first 19 hours in Sri Lanka, they are content that I am having a good time and that I am safe.