Sri Lanka: The Long Walk

Sea

I’m not jealous of the pond
that’s sleeping so quietly
in the middle of the forest.
I’m the sea,
I’m not afraid of the storm.
The sea’s dream is always
turbulence.
If I don’t have waves and storms,
I won’t be the sea anymore.
I’ll be the pond—
and stinking.
– Shafee’e Kadkani (Translated by Ali Maza-heri)

Having encountered this poem today in a compilation of Arabic poetry, it seemed natural to include in my post on a particular adventure Sean and I had in Sri Lanka.

I hope you don’t mind the extent to which I am posting on Sri Lanka, but it such a place of beauty and wonder that I cannot help but dwell on and extend the delight of the senses as we bring our final month in Kuwait to a close. Don’t get me wrong, I am stocking up on some great local photographs for a few concluding Kuwait blog posts, but I just can’t move on from Sri Lanka quite yet!

After leaving Ella, the place where dreams go to live forever, we moved on to Horton’s Plains National Park. Horton’s Plains is known for having a steep escarpment that drops thousands of feet onto a valley floor below. A straight drop—no guard rails, no slope, no nothing. Just a few weeks before we visited Sri Lanka, a German tourist actually tripped on the viewing platform and tumbled off the Plains into the valley below. (If he was lucky, he went to Ella in the afterlife…) Needless to say, I was incredibly excited to visit a National Park in Sri Lanka, so I booked a hotel titled “World’s End Lodge”.  Remember the valley floor where the tourist tumbled hundreds of feet down? That’s where the lodge was. As I said in my last post…

“…any hope of actually hiking in the national park was out of the question. Therefore, we spoke with a man at the hotel…and got a vague idea of a tentative hike for the next day. Little did we know we would gain—and lose—3,000 feet in elevation, walk through a village that has probably never seen white people before in their lives, completely lose the trail, get bitten by leeches, and have the time of our lives.”

Here, ladies and gentlemen, is where I narrate that hike.

We set out early in the morning, on a small path that was not well-trodden. Brushing spiderwebs out of our faces and dew drops off our cheeks, we began to climb upward through the rainforest. The path was not part of any national park, and the man at the hotel said, “It’s very long…” We soldiered on. In the above picture, you can see our hotel as we began to climb the mountain.

Already you can see a fantastic view that we were treated to only twenty minutes into our hike. Here is where the storm began brewing…

While Sean stood near a puddle to take a picture of me, all of a sudden he broke into a writhing spasm, screaming and jerking his arms and legs. I had no idea what to do, and upon looking down at his foot, I realized he was trying to peel off his sock while he shoe was still on. As he pulled the sock away from his skin, I saw a long, wiggling leech stuck onto his skin! When he managed to pull the leech off his skin, he began to bleed. Growing up in Wisconsin, we were used to leeches that thrive in lakes and ponds, not crawling along the ground in wet areas and jump onto any passer by. When the leech was thrown on the ground, it rose up on it’s hind legs and began moving TOWARDS Sean again!

After the leech fiasco, we managed to take a few lovely photographs. As you can see, Horton’s Plains rises in the background behind us. Where we are standing was a “viewpoint” the man at the hotel recommended us to trek to. Here, he said the path ended, and we would begin, in his words, “hiking up mountainside”.

He was not kidding about the “up mountainside” part. When we began to climb, we managed to eke out a lightly trodden path, simply of tamped down leaves through the rainforest. As we climbed, we heard a coughing ahead of us. We eventually gained on a man hiking along the same trail we were traveling on. He was a Sri Lankan man in his… I would estimate… sixties? He was older, and he was all skin and bones. And he was barefoot. And he was carrying a thirty pound bag on his head. He managed to hike at the same pace as us all the way up the mountain, and you can see him in the background of the above photo. We all took a break together, shared crackers and bananas with one another, and appreciated each others’ company. Through the language barrier, we managed to enjoy a fleeting moment of community and understanding. A moment that no National Park could charge admission for.

Another view as we climbed up the mountain. Horton’s Plains was growing closer…

At last, we came to a plateau, with an isolated tea plantation nestled between the hills. Where else to go but into the village?

As we approached the village, children came out to visit us, shouting, “Hi!”, “Hello!” and asking for school pens.

As we walked along the road, we saw beautiful terraced farming.

The path began to wind down to the valley floor again. We were as high as we were going to get on our hike. Our next stop? Bambarakanda falls, the highest waterfall in Sri Lanka! When the guy at our hotel told us we could make a loop, he said we could find a tuk tuk (three-wheeled taxi) at Bambarakanda falls. He said it was a long hike, but as long as we continued to say “Bambarakanda?”, we would be pointed in the right direction by any local. Try saying it, I dare you! It rolls off the tongue rather nicely, “Bam-ba-ra-kanda” (For you linguists out there, all of the “a”s are long, and roll the ‘r’.)

By noon, we had been hiking for four and a half hours. We set out at 7:30am to avoid the afternoon showers. We reached a conundrum when the road we were following ended in a cow pasture. After asking a few local picking tea, “Bambarakanda?”, we were pointed down a slope, through another forest, and through another tea plantation. If you’ve ever seen or read Lord Of The Rings, we were living it. It as at this point that I truly became afraid. We had no idea where Bambarakanda was, and even if we got lost, how would we get out? Sure, we could ask someone with a car to drive us to the nearest town, but these villages (like in the above photo) had only one community car, which was used as a storage shed rather than a mode of transportation. I swore we were doomed.

As doomed as we may have been, finding a tree growing out of a rock made up for my despair. In hindsight, I wish we had spent an hour or two relaxing under the tree and soaking up it’s beauty. Instead, I was fearing that our five hours of walking, thunder clouds rolling in, and complete lack of any trail would turn our paradise vacation into a battle between us and the elements for survival.

But I digress. Honestly, I am sure that if we were in any trouble at all, any one of the local villages would help us immediately. The people we met on our journey were the nicest, friendliest people you could imagine. We were never in any danger. The only danger we truly had were leeches and the likelihood of some nasty post-hike blisters.

After forty switchbacks, we popped out in front of Bambarakanda! Sure enough, there it was, Sri Lanka’s highest waterfall.

As you can see in the above two pictures, the clouds rolled in just as we neared the end of our hike. We didn’t dare venture to the base of the falls—we made it indoors just as we were hit by a torrential rain.

What I find the most awesome about our hike was that we were two or three thousand feet higher in elevation a few hours ago, where the source of the falls began. We saw the mountainside villages, the children playing in the fields, and the valley floor below. Once we left the highlands, all those huts and smiles back up there seemed like a daydream.

If our day couldn’t possibly get any better, I was determined to continue walking until we found a place to sit, eat, and gather our wits about us before finding a tuk tuk. Sure enough, after another forty-five minutes of trekking, we find, “Bambarakanda Lover’s Cafe”. It was the upstairs of someone’s home, which looked to me like a den that highschoolers would put together back in America for weekend poetry readings.

We ordered a big bowl of fried rice, the only thing on the lack-of-a-menu, and rested our aching limbs which it rained cats and dogs outside. We saw the mother of the man who took our order enter her kitchen to prepare our meal, and we were truly amazed by our adventure. You could not put an entry fee on the experience we had. You could not capture it in a single photograph or postcard. It was real, true Sri Lanka. I don’t know if I would do it all over again if I had the chance (we figured it out and we ended up walking twelve miles), but I do know that for the rest of my life I will look back on these photos with a smile.

…I hope I can say the same for Sean 🙂

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Categories: Sri Lanka | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “Sri Lanka: The Long Walk

  1. Becky Simondsen

    Kim, thanks for posting these beautiful pictures, it’s always a good escape to look at them and read about the wonderful things you’ve been up to!

    • Hi Becky,
      I’m glad you enjoy reading the blog! A year ago I felt silly handing out little paper slips at Aunt Betsy & Uncle Bob’s house, saying, “Read my blog! Read my blog!” But now I am so happy to feel that people are enjoying it and I have been able to stay close with all of my family and friends back home. I hope things are going well for you, I can’t wait to catch up this summer : )

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