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Sri Lanka - Tea, floods, cricket and curry

Sri Lanka - Tea, floods, cricket and curry

Old Mar 21st, 2011, 08:21 AM
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The tea country is just gorgeous! We had considered this train ride when we went, but just didn't have the time. It's good to hear a first-hand account of it... and the warning to bring our ipods.
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Old Mar 27th, 2011, 02:03 AM
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ONWARDS TO ELLA
We wake early, eat breakfast and bein the agonizing climb up the steps of the hotel to where our car is parked. The stiffness in our legs has really set in and we are really glad we decided not to rise at 5.00am for the , rather strenuous hike to Worlds End. Instead we set off for Adisham to have a look around the grand, English style mansion which was bought by the Benedictine monastic order and is now a monastery. We have a look around the building ( only part of which is open to the public) and admire the fantastic views out over the valley. The monks are busy selling there famous range of pickles, preserves and cordials made on the premises.

After a while we leave for Ella and on the way stop at the Mlesna tea centre to taste and buy some teas. After having tasted quite a few we buy a couple of kilos of “Broken Orange Pekoe” which is both delicious and extremely refreshing as well as some smaller bags of other varieties.

Finally, we arrive in Ella and our guest house, Mountain Heavens in a great location directly overlooking Ella Gap. The guesthouse is built down the side of the hill and our room is the last one with French windows directly on to the garden. A very plain and simple hotel and a bit rough around the edges (Carolyn says it is in dire need of a woman’s touch) but comfortable enough.

Namunu drives us to “Little Adams Peak”, a hill on the side of the valley. We start off on the ascent, our legs still sore, but halfway up we decide enough is enough and give up, partly because of the legs and partly because of the heat as it is now mid afternoon. On the way back down a man invites us to his coconut stall where we rest awhile and each drink a coconut (very refreshing!) then eat the flesh with a spoon – delicious!

This is our final evening with Namunu and we will be sad to part as he has been and exceptional driver/guide and great company. We take him for dinner that evening and he tells us a little more of himself. He put himself through college to gain a degree in engineering but only worked briefly at that until he bought himself a car to move into the tourism industry where he mostly works for Jetwing the luxury tour operators, who own some of Sri Lanka’s best hotels. His first love is photography and he told us the story of how he took the “perfect picture” of a leopard in Yala NP and showed it to a friend who then persuaded his company to buy it for great deal of rupees which Namunu then used to purchase a professional Nikon SLR kit to take yet more pictures, Very enterprising and a great guide for keen photographers visiting Sri lanka as he has lots of tips and knowledge to share.

It was our intention to head down to Tissamarama and visit Yala NP, but try as we may all rooms are taken. In the end Namunu fixes us a place to in Tangalla so the next morning that is where we head driving south out of the hill country down through Uda Walawe NP where we stop along the way to have a look at the wild elephants congregating by the electric fence eagerly awaiting feeding by tourist who by bananas from the many stalls along the road.
By mid afternoon we arrive in the southern coastal town of Tangalla and head for the hotel Namunu has booked for us. Looks very nice with spacious round cabanas scattered throughout the gardens except that the hotel is overbooked and the manager asks us to wait whilst he prepares our room. Sensing that something is not quite right we ask to look at the room immediately and are shown through the managers private lounge where there are about 8 members of his family sitting around and into his own private bedroom where his wife is busily clearing out all their personal possessions. We ask the price of this extremely dingy room (no mozzie net, no aircon)and find that it is the same as the nice smart cabanas. He won’t negotiate on the rate so we leave and drive on to the next village of Goyambokka and manage to get a room at the Goyambokka Guest house. The rate is half that of the previous place but it doesn’t have aircon or hot water but it is in a great location 50yards from the beach.
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Old Mar 31st, 2011, 11:12 AM
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I've been a lurker for years. This is my first post. I've enjoyed your trip report and am very excited to visit Sri Lanka which I'm doing this May. I know the rainy season. I have a practical question...What kind of foot gear did you wear? With the heavy flooding and the mud, did you need high rubber boots? What would you recommend? Thanks.
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Old Apr 1st, 2011, 12:10 AM
  #44  
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Welcome to Fordors asia Fourm mmstraveller. I used Keens Newport H2 sandals and have done for years. Extremely comfortable, robust with fantastic grip. The uppers are made of nylon webbing so if you do go wading through water they dry really quickly. Have walked many miles all over the world in these with no complaint.

Dont bother with rubber boots much too hot.

I also took a pair of Rohan hiking trainers (if you are American , I think you would call them sneakers???). I think I only used the once when climbing Adams Peak.

Enjoy your time in Sri Lanka. Where are you planning on visiting?
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Old Apr 1st, 2011, 11:30 AM
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Thank you for your welcome and info...besides comfort look for good tread soles and quick drying footwear.
I envy your itinerary. I'm doing the "amazing race" around Sri Lanka. I'll only be in country for 6 nights. Visiting Sigiriya, Polonnaruw, Kandy and Nuwara Eliya.
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Old Apr 2nd, 2011, 01:10 AM
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You seem to have picked the best bits!
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Old Apr 2nd, 2011, 12:24 PM
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Just checking in - have caught up now on the last 2 or 3 weeks. Great report!
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Old Apr 4th, 2011, 02:16 AM
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Thanks Craig - here is the next installment:

GOYAMBOKKA TO WELIGAMA

After checking in we head off to the beach and are really pleasantly surprised. It is a beautiful sandy cove, maybe 150 yards wide, edged with palm trees and only a handful of people about. We sit down at one of the half a dozen small fish restaurants and order a couple of beers whilst we peruse the menus. We are shown the fish by the owner and eventually settle upon a plate of king prawns and chips which we share – delicious.

That night at the guesthouse we meet some of our fellow guests over dinner of Sri Lankan curry and rice. We chat with an eccentric Englishman in his seventies who has many interesting tales to tell of the area. He has been coming here for many years to escape the English winter for a few months. I can think of worse places to be!

Over the next few days we just chill by the beach, visit the market in Tangalla and, having decided that bus travel was not for us, we negotiate a fare with a tuk tuk driver to take us to or next stop along the coast at Weligama.

We have chosen our tuk tuk driver with great care. He is a rarity in Sri Lanka, a careful driver. We start out at 09.00 before it get to hot and the drive along the coast is really pleasant (if you ignore the psychotic bus drivers overtaking blindly at 60+mph!). We drive through the large town of Martara and the small beach village of Mirissa (which looks so nice we resolve to return in a couple of days) before arriving at our destination of Weligama and our hotel, the Neptune Resort. We check into our cabana which is quite nice but expensive for the area. Our bags have been carried to our room by one of the workers who, even before he has put the bags down, is demanding “tip, tip, tip!” extremely rudely. I ignore him.

There is a big four poster bed in the room which rocks precariously when we touch it. I return to reception to find the hotel manager to fix the bed and the shower which we have discovered is not working. On the way I am “greeted” by the hotel owner who, rather than welcoming us to her establishment, simply tells me to turn off the light outside of our room! I tell her I will get around to it once all the room problems have been fixed. I resolve to find another place to stay for the remainder of our stay in Weligama. Eventually get everything fixed and head off into Weligama town, about 1km down the road.

As we walk along the beach we pop into the hotel next to ours and book a room for the next 4 nights – not as flash but much nicer and really friendly and helpful owners. A bit further along the road we notice a terrible smell! There is an open sewer leading from the town and depositing the whole of Weligama town’s human effluent into the sea. No swimming for us from this beach!

The town itself seems quite unaffected by tourism compared with others we have visited and is very much a normal town with lots of interesting shops. It seems to be predominantly Muslim rather than Buddhist and has a number of interesting restaurants including one juice bar which does a fantastic array of “short eats” – a place which we will frequent regularly for lunch.

After spending some time in the town we continue along the bay passing the fish market and a few stalls selling fish right on the roadside. Unfortunately, many of the admittedly delicious looking tuna are very small indeed and it seems that fishermen have no appreciation of the concept of conserving fish stocks. We are offered a few fish as we walk along but, apart from the freshest sashimi since Tsjuki, what would we do with it? Very cheap though at 400 rupees per kilo – less than 10% of the price we would pay back home!
Over the next few days we wander far and wide around the area, there are no particular tourist sites of interest but it is nice just to chill and chat to the locals. Carolyn stops and chats to a couple of ladies who are busy weaving lace outside their shop. The workmanship is exquisite and apparently, the area is famous for its lace production. She buys what seems like yards and yards (for what purpose I am not yet sure!).

The food in the area naturally enough is mostly based upon fish, mostly grilled, sometimes curry. The quality and freshness is excellent. After speaking to one or two of the cooks and reading up a little before we came we set off for a supermarket around the back of the bus station to purchase some spices to take home. This particular place is like an Aladdin’s cave of spice with an amazing array of spices straight from the sack. We end up buying a total of 6kgs (14lbs) of coriander, cumin, fennel, cloves, dried chili, chili powder, poppy seeds, fenugreek, screwpine and some I had never even heard of but where included in some recipes we had picked up along the way. Our bags will certainly be fragrant by the time we get home!

Before we move on we take a walk of around 5-6kms along the beach road to Merissa, the next village along the bay. It is a small but very pretty place with a great little beach which has excellent surfing (so we are told!). It is also a major centre for whale watching with many boats offering rides 5 or 6 kms out to sea to find the Sperm and Blue whales who frequent the deep water channels around the south and east coasts of Sri Lanka. However as we have already spent some time up close with the whale in Argentina we elect to give this a miss and head back for our final night in Weligama before heading off in the morning for another tuk tuk ride along the coast to our penultimate stop of Galle.
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Old Apr 5th, 2011, 11:20 PM
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I seem to have missed this section out!

TRAIN TO THE HILL COUNTRY

We love train travel and try to incorporate it into our travel plans wherever we may be. The train system in Sri Lanka was built by the British in the 19th century and it seems largely unchanged since then. The station is about 10 miles outside of Kandy and sits at the junction of 3 different lines and as such it is a key rail hub for the whole country. We had been worrying a bit out our tickets as Reddot, despite numerous requests had not confirmed they had the tickets or indeed how we were to collect them. Hover upon arrival at the station we met another English couple who were travelling with Reddot and their driver had a ticket for all four of us. We have a look in the control room which really hasn’t changed since colonial times and se the antiquated switch gear. – each train carries a key to the points on a giant hoops and the guard leans out of the train as it comes into the station (or leaves) and it is grabbed by one of the platform attendants who uses it to change the points.
We board the train and take up our reserved seats at the rear of the observation car which is right at the end of the train. We are facing backwards and so have a great view all the way to Hatton. Very interesting to see life along the tracks as it winds its way through the countryside and villages ever upwards into the hill country. Once the train has passed by the villagers step back on to the track and use it as a main thoroughfare. We see monks, school children even cows wandering along the track in our wake.
We climb ever higher at what seems like a very slow speed which is just as well as even at this slow pace the train is rocking from side to side. As we climb higher the landscape increasingly is given over to tea production and it seems that every inch of land, no matter how steep , is covered in tea bushes. This is exactly like the photographs I recall from my grandparent’s house when they were tea planters out here. It is incredible to think that all of this was once covered with jungle. After about 4 hours and millions of tea bushes we arrive at our destination of Hatton. Namunu has driven all the way from Kandy and arrives 5 minutes later.
We set off on the next leg of the journey to our destination of Dalhousie. It is a spectacular drive through incredibly beautiful scenery of tea plantations dotted with the planters bungalows, dramatic hills and lakes, thankfully set against a backdrop of clear blue skies.
As we pull over to view a church along the way, I mention to our driver that my grandparents used to live somewhere in the area but I am not sure exactly where but we would like to take a look at one of the bungalows. He seems a little unsure but takes us up along winding roads right into the hills and eventually we arrive at the very imposing main gates of the Norwood Tea Estate. After a brief chat with the guard we are allowed in and are greeted by the reception manager. We had not realized that this was one of the famed “Tea Trails” bungalows but we explain my family connection to the area and the manager is happy to show us around. This really is a superb place to stay (I can see why Kathie was so impressed with her experience of the Tea Trails!). It really is like an English country house , very elegant in every respect. If ever we return to Sri Lanka, this is where we must stay.
After this, all too brief, diversion we continue on to our home for the next 2 days, the Slightly Chilled guest house. This is a basic but very comfortable and well run guesthouse and the primary reason we chose it is because it is right next to Adam’s Peak which we are planning to climb that night. We are delighted to find that we have been given the best room in the house with an L shaped balcony overlooking both the peak and the tea plantation. Possibly one of the best views from a room of anywhere we have stayed in the world .
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Old May 24th, 2011, 03:28 PM
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Thank you, Crellston, for your extensive trip report. It really helps me think about my potential first trip to Sri Lanka.
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Old Mar 29th, 2012, 02:43 PM
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hi crellston,

thanks for the report which I found whilst doing some research on Sri Lanka.

most informative, and I certainly know to give reddot a wide berth, if we decide to go.

shame that it's become to crowded - we were going to go about 25 years ago but the first of the wars broke out and we decided to go to the Gambia instead. [no regrets, DD was born 9 months later!]

every time we thought about going, there was another emergency. now everyone is heading there, just like we'd like to.
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Old May 22nd, 2012, 02:19 AM
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Great report. Thanks
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