HIKE SURF EAT SLEEP
After a night’s sleep in Kandy, I boarded the early morning and highly hyped train south into the Sri Lanka hill country. News was that the train was the best way to get around in the mountains, mainly because it gets included on top scenic train journeys around the world. That and the fact that the bus takes the same amount of time due to winding mountain roads and potholes.
The train was as advertised, as it winded its way through the high country tea fields and mountain towns. For the first time in over a month, I felt cold! After about 4 hours, we arrived in the little town nearby Nuwara Eliya where the train stops. I got into town, found a cheap guesthouse, haggled for a room rate, and settled in to enjoy the cold weather (55°F!). I put on pants and a long sleeve shirt, and walked around the entire town center. It was a nice mountain town (even with a few pubs!), but again, I was mostly alone as there were not many people to meet. I ended up hiking to Lover’s Leap waterfall above the town, watching the World Cup at night, and enjoying warm clothes and hot coffee for the first time in months!
It was a fine few days in Nuwara Eliya, but it was time to move on. I figured out that it would be mega expensive to visit Horton Plains National Park, the main destination in the highlands, from there. Instead of taking a jeep ride to the park, then tuk-tuk past the gates, I decided to just take the train and stop at the closest place to the entrance, Ohiya.
Once I arrived in Ohiya, I just had to hope I could find a place to stay. I was the only white guy getting off the train, and the “town” was literally just the railroad stop and the 15 or so houses across the street from it. Right across the street from the station there was a run down guesthouse with a few rooms. I told them I wanted to go to Horton Plains and we negotiated a rate for all my meals, the room, and a tuk-tuk to the park. Perfect. I used the rest of the day to walk the hillsides to a tea plantation and do some laundry in the bathroom. Nice and peaceful.
At sunrise, I woke up way too early and they gave me a nice coffee and breakfast, then got driven to Horton Plains National Park. Horton Plains was another place that tourists get raped by the prices, but I had to do it. It is a high plateau in the mountains where there are deer, monkeys, and other wildlife as well as waterfalls and streams. It looked more like New Zealand and less like the tropics of Sri Lanka. The main attraction is called the World’s End, a cliff where the plateau drops about 4000 feet to the plains below. I set off early on the hike, making it to the World’s End before the dense fog rolls in at around 10am.
Next stop was a short train ride further on in the hill country to the little village of Ella. There are only about 2 roads in Ella, but it is one of the most touristy places in Sri Lanka. In this case, touristy actually does the village well as there are tons of guesthouses, hikes to go on, semi-normal restaurants, and even a swimming pool at the fancy hotel. First night I was there, I actually met people to hang out with. WOAH. Took two weeks.
Three british girls, an aussie, and I went for a late afternoon swim in the pool and because Ella is in the hill country, when the sun went down it actually got a little chilly out of the pool. Anyways, it was also the fourth of July, which no one else knew but me. So we all agreed to meet up later for dinner and to go out to the only normal place in town, Cafe Chill. It was a fun night chillin’ on bean bags in the bar, and really just amazing to have conversations with native english speakers. I hadn’t had one in awhile. Sadly, all the friends I met that day were leaving the next day.
In Ella, I had the best setup I had found yet in Sri Lanka. Nice room with my own bathroom, free breakfast (coffee, juice, eggs, toast), in the center of town, 6 puppies running around, and all for 1300 LKR (10 USD) per night. So I stayed. I spent the next three days hiking to Little Adam’s Peak and Ella Rock, reading, and eating ice cream.
When it was time to leave Ella, my next stop was Arugam Bay. Agugam Bay is a nice long strip of beach where big waves crash continuously in front of bungalows, beach cabanas, and guesthouses of varying quality right on the beach. There’s only one road and it runs parallel to the beach with restaurants, surf shops, and guesthouses all along it (and maybe one or two bars). I was excited to check out this little surf town on the southeast coast.
From a friend I met in Ella, I knew the place I wanted to stay (the Beach Hut), but when I got there, it was booked up. After walking around in the heat with my pack for about an hour getting harassed by guesthouse owners on the street, I bargained for a cheap place to stay on the beach. It was a pretty cool place, but the owner wasn’t cool. I stayed at that place for a few days until a room at the Beach Hut opened up. I met two dutch guys, and we went out surfing for a few days.
Surfing. Surfing in Arugam Bay basically consists of renting a board from a shop (8 USD/day), and hiring a tuk-tuk driver to take you to a surf spot up and down the coast (8 USD round trip). Unless you have your own board, or unless you are there long enough to befriend a tuk-tuk owner into renting theirs. There’s a lot of that going around too.
I was a pretty big beginner when it came to surfing, but this was a perfect time to learn. Arugam Bay has a lot of beginner spots and I had a lot of time. Once I moved to the Beach Hut, life was pretty much perfect. I slept in a single lightbulb shack with a pad on the bed, mosquito net, fan, drying rack, and a power outlet. With a surfboard outside my door, all I had to do in the morning was wake up, go over to the common area for breakfast, and figure out if/when I was going surfing that day. And with who. It was a pretty good life, so I stayed for the rest of my time in Sri Lanka.
If I was too tired from surfing the day before, I just chilled and read my book in the hammocks on the beach. Or I went with friends to the bar which was playing the World Cup on big screens. There was a yoga class a short beach walk away or there were awesome surfers showing their stuff at the main surf point which was also just a walk down the beach. So chill.
One day at mid-morning all the guys had a drinking competition. Needless to say, that day I didn’t surf but I like to think that as one of the two guys who didn’t puke, I was a co-winner. The obvious loser of the losers was Dave. Dave was a crazy bastard from England who couldn’t return to his country for some reason, so he was chilling in Sri Lanka for what sounded like months. If you picture a tattooed football hooligan that smokes and drinks constantly, that was Dave (really nice guy though). Dave puked first, which was reason alone for him losing, but as things got crazier through the day, we all kept drinking. At some point, Dave’s guesthouse owner (he was staying at a different place) comes over and demands he settle his bill. I guess he had been buying drinks, food, and smokes on credit for weeks now and this dude was pissed. So they yell; Dave yells that he will pay later, and the cops get called. What happened next I pieced together the next day: Dave got taken away by the cops who figured out that Dave had overstayed his visa. Now he’s fucked. He can’t go back to England and Sri Lanka doesn’t want him. Last I heard he was still in deportation camp in Sri Lanka. So yeah, he lost the drinking competition.
After meeting a bunch of awesome people, surfing a lot, reading, and relaxing, it was time to make my journey back to the west side of the country where the airport was. I took the local buses back to Ella for a night, then grabbed a direct bus to Colombo, and another local bus back to Negombo. The month in Sri Lanka went faster than I thought. I couldnt believe that the next morning I would be in a different region of the world! It had been 5 months in South/SE Asia, and in the morning I would be leaving the jungle for the sands of the Middle East desert.