Sri Lanka

Gihilla ennang, Sri Lanka! (The Final Chapter)

Before I lament the snail’s pace at which this school year is coming to an end, I need to begin by saying I should be at work right now. It’s 2pm on a Wednesday, and I am writing a new blog post from the comfort of my couch, nibbling on a fresh batch of pomegranate white chocolate chunk cookies (crafted by yours truly—there are a few perks living in the Middle East, one of them being that we’re situated so close to the regions where pomegranates are grown).  Instead of facilitating literature circles and grading papers, school was canceled today due to a power outage. (I believe this is day #8 they’ve called off this year… and we don’t have to make any of those days up!) The day started out like any other day, and then at around 9:30am everything shut down. The school was eerily quiet, and I was thankful to be on a planning period. An hour and a half later—during which I held class in the dark—they cancelled the day and we all went home. I’m not quite sure what caused the outage, but as they say, never look a gift horse in the mouth.

I come to you today with the FINAL blog post on Sri Lanka. It’s been a long journey, but it’s gotten me through the last few weeks of school. (We’ve only got 18 school days left!) To assist in brevity, I fused the last three days of Sri Lanka together into a single post. Hold on tight, and try not to book your plane ticket! Our journey begins when we head to Hatton to climb Adam’s Peak…

We arrived in Hatton at around 4:30pm. We stayed at “Slightly Chilled” guesthouse, which was perfect for our climb. It included dinner and breakfast the next morning, and had an amazing view of the peak from the dining area. The picture above was taking as Sean and I sipped tea and played cribbage. The plan for climbing Adam’s Peak is this: You’ve got to wake up at around 2:30am and start the hike at 3am so that you can get to the top by sunrise. I forgot to mention a very important aspect of this endeavor—Adam’s Peak, known by most as “Sri Pada”, or ‘sacred footprint’ is one of the holiest sites in Buddhism, and popular for pilgrimages. It is also sacred for Christians, Muslims, and Hindus. For Muslims and Christians, it is where Adam was cast out of the Garden of Eden. For Buddhists, the ‘footprint’ on the top of the peak was left by Buddha. For Hindus, it is the footprint of Lord Shiva.

With an elevation of 7,359 feet, we wanted to be on top of it.

There are 5,200 steps to the top.

The tricky part was convincing Sean to wake up at 3am to climb it…

The evening before our trek, we walked to the beginning of the trail head. (I know, unnecessary walking, we aren’t looking any pity here.) We were touched by the translated English sign for all pilgrims and tourists trekking up Adam’s Peak.

After dinner, when the sun had set, we snapped a picture of our soon-to-be route up the peak. Just writing this can I feel my knees shaking from all the steps…

There were Buddhist shrines all the way up. We snapped a few pictures, but the chilly temperature and thrill of getting to the top for sunrise kept us going.

Once at the top, the sun began to rise around 5:45am. It was truly stunning.

Sean was saying, “Thank you, dear wife, for encouraging me to complete the hike for the sunrise. You’re right. It is completely worth it. You are so wise.”

One of the most interesting things about making it to the top for sunrise is the Brocken spectre cast on the opposite side of the sunrise. You can see the peak’s shadow on the clouds! It was incredibly difficult to capture on camera, but the affect was haunting.

True pilgrims ring a bell when they reach the top. They are supposed to ring the bell the number of times they made the pilgrimage. We saw one man ring the bell over 25 times… I didn’t know which was more inspiring; him, or the sunrise.

A new days is dawning, even for puppy dogs.

On our way down we managed to snap a few pictures, in awe of what we had accomplished.

As we took a tuk tuk back to the train station, we paused for this great photo—can you spot Adam’s Peak in the background? 🙂

Our last destination was Kandy, the largest town we would be spending our time in. It was about two and a half hours from the airport, and we had been recommended by friends to stay in the “Kandy Mansion”. Skeptical at first, when we got there I was COMPLETELY blown away. For $50 a night, we were staying in LUXURY! It was truly a mansion, built by the Sri Lankan elite in the late 1800’s. It had a colonial feel to it, even though it was built by a Sri Lankan native. Ghandi stayed there, as well as Gregory Peck when he was filming his movie, “The Purple Plain”. Located outside the city of Kandy, it was built in the rainforest with sweeping verandas, spacious, architecturally beautiful interiors, amazing meals, and, oh yeah, a pool!

Our room at the Kandy Mansion.

The inside of the Kandy Mansion.

Moth (also at the Kandy Mansion…)

Sean in the doorway of the Mansion.

The next day, we went into the town of Kandy. There is a lake, with an island in the center, which used to be the Chief’s harem!

Kandy streets. (We were in love with the tuk tuks by the end of the trip!)

Our entire trip, I was in love with how beautiful the women looked in their saris. We stumbled upon a touristy clothing store, and the two ladies who worked there were more than eager to doll me up in one!

The sad news? I looked pathetic. I had nowhere near the grace and beauty of the women I saw on the streets. I’d like to blame it on the thick fabric… had I been dressed in a lighter version instead of the heavier cloth it would have been more delicate… but I know this is a lie that I tell myself. My cultural heritage is that of lederhosen and bratwurst.

This was me before I saw the pictures—optimistic at the thought of resembling the local women… little did I know…

After we perused the town a bit, we quickly got sick of the crowds and car exhaust (we get enough of that in Kuwait), so we headed to the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens.

Sean had fun playing George of the Jungle.

He also learned that pineapples grow on bushes!

We found a bat colony. Can you spy all of the bats in the trees? There were over forty trees housing bats… I was afraid to stand too long underneath them…

We concluded our vacation with a swim in the pool and a last meal of rice and curry. Sri Lanka really is a dream come true. When all the world turns to concrete and parking lots, I will retreat to Sri Lanka, where the beauty of the natural world is only paralleled by the kindness of the people.

The final countdown until we leave Kuwait begins! We fly out on June 10… which means 33 days left in the sandbox… Don’t worry, you will be treated with at least a few more blogs of our adventures here before summer begins. Until then, keep smiling!

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Categories: Sri Lanka | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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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Sri Lanka: The Birthplace of Lipton Tea! In which Sean and Kim explore tea plantations, meet a buddhist monk, touch a carnivorous plant, and practice Zumba moves on the side of a mountain.

I truly hope you are not yet bored with my photo montage of Sri Lanka, for there are still more stories to still and highlights to be had. Today I would like to speak to the highlight of the hill country in Sri Lanka, the tea plantations. After our two idyllic days in Ella (which still remain the favorite part of our trip), it was time to travel to Hatton, home of Horton’s Plains National Park and World’s End viewpoint.

We had originally planned to take the train to Hatton, but were having second thoughts around the breakfast table. I knew that our hotel in Hatton was very remote, so we thought we should do some exploring around the area before checking into our hotel. We spoke with Martin and Karen at our Ella homestay, and they recommended we have a guy drive us around in his tuk tuk for the afternoon. They had a friend named Lanka (yes, that is his name) who commonly takes tourists around for a fee. I spoke with Lanka and negotiated a cost of 4,000 rupees for an afternoon tour across the country. 4,000 rupees = $32. A four hour private tour for $32? Yes, please!

We had originally planned on traveling with Lanka for six or seven hours to visit various waterfalls, but realized our plans were too ambitious. It generally clouds up around 3 or so, which meant that less is more. Instead he recommended “Lipton’s Seat” and the tea plantations, along with a tea factory tour. We were happy to oblige.

Lipton’s Seat, to quote Lonely Planet, is where “The Scottish tea baron Sir Thomas Lipton used to survey his burgeoning empire.” Yes, that is correct; the tea being grown in Sri Lanka is grown for all the Lipton iced teas you are drinking back home. It was a wild realization that I came to—that all of the rolling hills of tea plantations I was seeing is the tea that is fueling our consumerist, caffeine-driven society. Every time I walked into a restaurant and ordered an iced tea, every time I pulled a “Brisk” off the shelf in a gas station, every time I served tea to customers at Fairtrade Coffeehouse on State Street, someone had to HAND PICK that tea for my personal satisfaction. All that talk about ‘fair trade’ and ‘organic’ doesn’t remove the fact that there are still human beings on the other side of the world working ten hour shifts filling burlap sacks with tea leaves so that we can have another tasty beverage. It made me feel somewhat selfish…

…But I digress. Onto the photographs!

Our last morning at the bed and breakfast in Ella. Sean is sitting at the outdoor dining table. It is built with a deliberate overhang off the side of the slope, so that you really feel you are suspended in the trees with the monkeys… *sigh*

Before we left to Sri Lanka, Sean and I were nervous about having indigestion due to the change in diet and the cleanliness of the water. A good friend of mine here in Kuwait told me to eat “the local yogurt”. She claimed that while she was in Sri Lanka she had “buffalo curd”, made from the local water buffalo, in which the natural bacteria that is present in Sri Lankan food helped her remain healthy from any illness. Sean responded with, “There is no way on earth I am eating ‘buffalo curd’, Sharon…” Little did he know that buffalo curd is the MOST DELICIOUS thing on the face of the earth! In the photo above, the earthenware pot is filled with fresh buffalo curd. It tasted like a very thick, creamy yogurt. You top it with the syrup made from the local palm trees and a few slices of banana, and you are in heaven. Needless to say, we were free from any bathroom-related illnesses the entire trip!

Before we left Ella, we had one more hike on our itinerary. Named “Little Adam’s Peak”, you reach the summit by walking through private tea plantations. Along the way, we met a guy who was selling handmade jewelry that his parents create. After close inspection, he informed me that the “beads” were actually seeds from the trees that had been sun dried. A friend of mine also told me that the red beads were also what the Sri Lankans used to use for currency. I made a few purchases before continuing on our trek…

You can see the summit of Little Adam’s Peak in the background…

Sean at the top of Little Adam’s Peak.

On our way down, we saw a bearded dragon!

Once we returned back to our homestay, Lanka picked us up and we began our travel through the tea plantations. You can see Lanka’s tuk tuk in the background of the above photo. The first thing he did was to stop on the side of the road to show us this flower. He explained that this flower is carnivorous, and anybody who has taken Botany 100 could see why. (If you were paying attention in class…) The bug is attracted to the sugary liquid in the bowl of the plant, so they make their way into the opening, which is coated with hairs that point in one direction. Once inside, the bug cannot escape due to the hair that has trapped him in! Yum…

Lanka took us on  a *very* scenic route through the hill country…

A family swimming, bathing, and washing their tuk tuk. There is something unspeakably beautiful about seeing human beings living so closely in communion with nature…

On our trip Lanka stopped near a Buddhist monastery. We saw this little boy outside in his saffron robes. We did not see many Buddhist monks while on our trip, so he was very interesting to us!

The stupa at the monastery. A stupa is a mound-like structure containing Buddhist relics and is used as a place of worship.

Then, Lanka’s tuk tuk began to climb. And I mean switchbacks up, up, and UP. We were climbing us the side of a tea plantation on the side of the mountain. The above photo is on a large Ceylon tea plantation.

Sri Lanka is the third largest producer of tea in the world! They export Ceylon tea (black, green, and white), which you can order in any coffee shop around the world. Try it next time you are at your local cafe. Thomas Lipton, founder of Lipton teas, helped Sri Lankan tea grow to it’s international success in the late 1890’s. Sri Lanka actually used to be named “Ceylon” until 1972, which is why Ceylon tea is called what it is today. Any Ceylon tea you order has come from Sri Lanka.

A very Dr. Seuss-like landscape… The humidity, cool temperatures, and rainfall make this region ideal for growing tea.

The bags and bags of tea leaves after an afternoon’s picking…

The Dambatenne Tea Factory gives tours for only a few rupees. Lanka was nice enough to wait for us while we took a tour of the factory!

We had a personal tour of the factory (not many tourists make it into these high-altitude regions where tea plantations are abundant and locals make their living). In the above picture you can see the rows and rows of leaves that are being dried by an air-circulation system.

In the above picture you can see that after the tea has been ground and roasted, it is being sorted by quality in these sorting machines. The machines act as a sifter, where the finest, highest quality teas are pulled by magnets into one part, and the lower quality tea falls through.

After the tea factory, we would up in the town of Haputale, where Lanka bid us a fond farewell. As it was 3pm, we contacted our hotel, and they sent a man in a tuk tuk to pick us up. We were very disappointed upon arriving at the hotel property as it was all covered in clouds. This hotel was in the middle of NOWHERE. The tuk tuk ride took forty five minutes, half of which was on dirt roads through a rainforest. I was very nervous, apprehensive, and upset. I had originally thought, due to the information on their website, that the hotel was on the border of the national park. Well, they might have been, but they were on the BOTTOM of the valley, not on the plateau on the TOP of the valley, where the national park was actually located. I shed a few tears on the tuk tuk ride that kept winding down, down, down into the heart of the valley when I realized that we were likely not going to make it to the national park during our stay…

Determined to enjoy myself, however, I pranced through the fog amusing Sean and taking my mind off the cloudy weather.

Little did I know that once the clouds cleared in the morning, we would be perched on the edge of the most beautiful cliff on the entire island…

This is the same view above, where I am surrounded by clouds. In the morning, my spirits lifted at the prospect of getting to explore such a beautiful landscape. While we may not be able to visit the national park, we still were going to be able to climb a few mountains, play in the rainforests, and enjoy the beauty around us.

The pool at our hotel. I know, what was I complaining about?

The next post will be quite the narrative treat. As I said above, any hope of actually hiking in the national park was out of the question. Therefore, we spoke with a man at the hotel (whose English was VERY limited), 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.

Looking forward to sharing the experience with you…

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Sri Lanka: Ella, Part 1

To resume my photo exhibition of all that is beautiful in Sri Lanka, I bring you to my favorite place on the entire island, Ella. Ella is a small town in the hill country, known for it’s idyllic waterfalls, cascading cliffs, peaceful lifestyle, wildlife, and flowers. I had died and gone to heaven.

First, Sean put together an amazing video that he took on his pocket camera. He’s got a small camera that is about the size of a credit card. The quality isn’t the most amazing, but he is able to take video everywhere we go. I hope you enjoy the video as much as I do : )

To continue, let us begin the documentary on my dream village, Ella…

As the train rolls into Ella the tea plantations become more sparse as the jungle becomes wilder and the hills grow hillier.

The Buddha temple in front of the train station. I love how colorful this religion is!

After riding the rails all afternoon, Sean and I went on a hike to stretch our legs. Unfortunately, everywhere in the hill country clouds up around 3pm. Even though our views were cut short, we had fun playing in the fog!

Take note of this photograph for the moment. In the pictures below, we returned to this waterfall the next day. Instead of a wall of swirling mist, you will be pleasantly surprised!

The bed and breakfast we stayed at in Ella was called “Waterfalls Homestay”. It was run by an Australian couple that got tired of their 9-5’s back in Australia, so they moved to Sri Lanka and opened up the most dreamy B&B on the face of the earth.

We spent quite a bit of time with the other people at the B&B, along with the owners Marty and Karen. They had the most beautiful property and open-air patio imaginable. They cooked dinner and breakfast for you, run by their personal Sri Lankan chef Kalam.

Their place only has three rooms, as it is more of a homestay than a B&B. Sean is standing at the door of our room. I wish I had gotten a photo of the inside; it was just as beautiful as the exterior!

In the morning, we awoke to breakfast on the patio across from the waterfall. Monkeys were doing backflips through the trees as I sipped coffee out of a french press. (Did I mention it was $50 a night?)

The first morning of our stay, we had “hoppers” for breakfast. Hoppers are a Sri Lankan favorite, which I had for breakfast and lunch a few times, but not enough! I really loved them; you have a special skillet for them, which is a metal bowl that is held over the stove by a handle. Inside the bowl you pour a coconut-crepe-thing, swirling it around to create your outside. then you lightly fry an egg in the center. Heavenly!

We set back on the hiking trail in the morning, following the railroad tracks we took into Ella the day before.

Due to the hills and heavy rains, there is a lot of terrace farming in Sri Lanka.

Our first hike was to the top of Ella Rock, which you can see as the highest peak in this picture. It was the same hike we naively set out on in the fog the day before. We are so glad we attempted a round two!

At the top of Ella Rock. (Dad, aren’t you proud of my sun protection? 😉 )

At the top of Ella Rock, where we ran into two Canadian female teachers from the American International School in Guangzhou, China. We met up with them later in the village for a few drinks and quality educator conversation!

Can you spy where I am?

Here is the same photo as the above picture that was clouded out by mist. What a difference a clear day makes!

Swimming in the waterfall was a real treat after we hiked all the way up to the top of Ella Rock.

Monkeys were spying on us!

We found two snakes mating on our hike! It was the wildest thing; they would rapidly intertwine with one another in a frantic dance.

They were incredibly large snakes – we made sure to keep our distance!

After making it to the top of Ella Rock, we treated ourselves to a piña colada and cribbage over lunch. (Don’t worry, I’m pretty sure I won the game…)

I would like to close this post with one of my favorite things about Sri Lanka: the curry! If you order “curry”, what you get is a large plate of rice with all of the above side bowls. Starting at the very top we have a coconut sambol (the orange mix). In the lower right-hand corner is a dal (lentil) stew. The rest, I honestly have no idea. All I know is that they are the most delectable curried vegetables I have ever tasted.

Next time I will finish our trip in Ella, our tuk tuk adventure, and our mysterious journey to the ends of the earth! (Or should I say… “World’s End”…)

I hope the sun shines in your corner of the world this afternoon. Love and miss you all!

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Sri Lanka: The Train & Nuwara Eliya

Greetings, Friends and Family! I am writing from the comfort of my couch here in Kuwait, with sunburned shoulders, sore feet, and 800 more pictures on my computer than when I left. As much as it is good to be back in my own home, I have to tell you, I would leave it all for a minute to move to Sri Lanka. It was truly my version of paradise.

Imagine… rolling hills, mountains, rainforests, beaches, monkeys, birds, lizards, music, dancing, (beer), smiling faces, women in skirts and men in tank tops, coconuts, trails to the peaks of mountains, waterfall swimming holes, and color, COLOR, COLOR! So much color, everywhere you look. That is the thing I miss most, living here in Kuwait, is the color. Sure, there are green palm trees planted along the blue Arabian Gulf, but that’s not the same as unrestrained, natural, vibrant color as far as the eye can see. Even the clothing and self-adornment in Sri Lanka is beautifully colorful. And this is just one reason why I took 800 pictures in one week…

Sean had an excellent time as well. We were both a little apprehensive, never having traveled this far East before, let alone to a country that is so geographically diverse. We hoped we would be able to navigate the trains, understand the direction we wanted to go, and communicate well enough to get there. Let alone Sean’s phobia of spicy food… Regardless to say, everything worked out absolutely perfectly.

The only thing I would change would be to return to Sri Lanka with more TIME. Eight days is not enough time to see such a diverse island. There is no way we could see all of the temples, beaches, and mountains the island has to offer in only eight days. Therefore we chose only one small portion of area to visit, “The Hill Country”. It takes hours upon hours to travel around Sri Lanka (imagine 3 hours to go 50 miles), so we used the train line to get around within a small area, so that we would maximize our time and get a true picture of what the hill country is truly like. I had heard too many horror stories of people trying to book a “whole island tour” in one week, and being driven to death, spending six hours in a car each day. Dear Reader, if you are planning a trip to Sri Lanka, remember that less is more! We chose less of the country to see, and enjoyed ourselves so much more because of it.

Alas, I talk to much. With so much mention of all the photos I have, it would only be rude not to share.

In Colombo, on our first day, boarding the train. We landed at 5am and took the 10am train into the hill country. While waiting for the train, we explored Colombo a bit, and quickly decided we wanted OUT of the hectic city life! The train ticket (a 5 hour train ride) cost only $8 per person to ride in first class! We only brought backpacking packs along, which made it incredibly easy to travel wherever (and however) we liked.

The view from the train before it left the station.

As we left Colombo, it was relatively flat land for the first hour and a half. I spent a lot of time snapping pictures of the greenery.

There is a whole system that revolves around the train; while most people use the train for transportation, others use the train tracks as a quick way to walk from here to there. I endlessly saw people carrying baskets of banana leaves on their heads, men walking with their tools for the day, and schoolchildren walking along the tracks on the way home from school. People sell their wares on the side of the tracks when the train stops, and others may their wages by maintaining the tracks. It is an amazing culture to witness! We even followed the train tracks for one of the hikes that we took 🙂

A Buddhist temple from the view of the train. Buddhism is the main religion on the island, with Hinduism, Muslim, and Christianity following.

We had been awake for 36 hours at this point. The advantage of buying a first class ticket? Reclining seats!

Train station. The car closest to us on the other train is the first class “observation cabin”. You can tell by the large windows on the end of the car. First class simply means that you are guaranteed a seat, and that there is about half as many people in that cabin as there would be in a second-class car, and even fewer than the crowded, standing-room-only third-class car.

As we traveled farther inland we approached the hill country. Sri Lanka is second only to India in Ceylon (black) tea production. When you are sipping down that iced tea at your local Starbucks, or buying Lipton black tea at the grocery store, you may very well be drinking Sri Lankan tea! Lipton is the largest buyer of Sri Lankan tea. In the above photo you are able to see a tea plantation. The climate and the rolling hills make for a perfect environment for growing tea.

Tea plantations arose in Sri Lanka under British rule (yes, they drive on the left side of the road here, just like England). Tea became popular once the coffee plantations failed due to a bad growing season. Once the tea plantations began they have proven a great success to this day.

This man on the left side of the photo was my favorite thing about riding the trains; delicious Sri Lankan snacks sold for pennies! Whenever the train would stop, he would hop off and walk along the windows selling fried lentil patties and donut-like fritters. They were delicious! On the ride side of the photo you can see Sri Lankans in their everyday clothes; the man in a polo shirt and the woman in a colorful, flowing dress.  (Kinda like what I like to wear! I’m telling you, it’s my dream home.)

Bougainvillaea tree in the foreground, tea plantation in the background. The small houses in the right-hand corner are only a sneak peak at the poverty we saw around the tea plantations.

Many of you may recall that Sri Lanka had a long period of instability, and the group that made headlines was known as the “Tamil Tigers”. Long story short, there is no more instability or unrest in Sri Lanka. There are two main ethnic groups: the Sinhalese and the Tamils. The Tamils were originally brought to Sri Lanka from Southern India for work. The fighting arose between the two groups when the Sinhalese government wanted to make Sinhalese the official language, angering the Tamils. The Tamil people wanted representation in the government as well as an official language that wouldn’t set one group above the other, and thus the fighting began. The conflict ended in 2009 in favor of the Sinhalese.

The reason I am sharing this information is because many of the workers on the tea plantations are Tamil. I will notify you when I believe a photograph has a group of Tamil people versus Sinhalese. To me, it was difficult to tell the differences, but it is very insulting to them if you were to confuse one with the other.

On a brighter note, outside of our first lodging for the night, Sean ran across two boys playing. They came up to us FIRST, asking how we were and where we were from. Everyone in the entire country was so incredibly friendly!

The first place we stayed was called “Mount View Cottage” and was in Nuwara Eliya. We got off at the Nanu Oya train station and got a ride to the town of Nuwara Eliya, only 15 minutes away. The hotel was complete heaven! Hotel is actually inaccurate; it was more of a homestay. You are staying in one of three rooms in a Sri Lankan couples’ home. The food was excellent; the above picture is me in the dining room. The balcony overlooks their garden where they gather all of their vegetables for the meals! We would return in a heartbeat.

As we left MountView Cottage, we had to take one last photograph of the place. If you look hard enough, you can see our host waving goodbye 🙂

Ah, the most interesting mode of transportation, the “tuk tuk”. A tuk tuk is a three-wheeled vehicle that is very popular in Sri Lanka. They are cheaper than taxis, and definitely less safe, but all the more fun and entertaining! There is only room for the driver in the front, and two people in the back. (However I had seen at least seven people crammed into one tuk tuk at least a few times during our trip!) We normally hired a tuk tuk when we wanted to travel a short distance – they are very cheap and actually quite a bit of fun! I like to think of it as a cross between a lawnmower and a go-kart…

As we were leaving MountView Cottage, we came across a school for children with special needs. They were holding band practice, marching down the street! I loved how every student had a role to play in the marching band, and that the community was taking pride in their children of ALL abilities, showcasing their talents with pride. (I told you, it’s my dream home!)

In the park, this sign speaks for itself. (Note the three languages on the sign: Sinhalese, Tamil, and English.)

We explored a beautiful botanical garden in Nuwara Eliya. Sean, of course, bee-lined it for the monkey bars 🙂

A woman who was maintaining the park offered to pose under the bougainvilleas. I love how her dress matches the flowers! (I told you, my dream home!)

In order to get back to the train station, we took a bus from Nuwara Eliya to Nanu Oya. It cost something like fifty cents! I loved how the buss driver decorated his bus. (Also note: The steering wheel is on the right side!)

From Nuwara Eliya, we got on the train to travel to Ella. For this leg of the journey, however, we didn’t get seats in first class. (Note the “2” on the side of the train, which indicates second class.) Instead of sit inside the stuffy cabin with our backpacks on our knees, we chose seats with a more scenic view…

We loved hanging out the side of the train watching the mountains and rainforests roll by. That was probably my favorite leg of our entire journey through all of Sri Lanka! (Don’t worry, I held on tightly whenever we rounded a bend 😉 )

I can’t wait to share more photos with you, but enough is enough for tonight. Stay tuned for our second adventure in Sri Lanka: Ella, Little Adam’s Peak, Waterfalls, Monkeys, and Buffalo Curd! (Yum!)

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