Tag: travel tips

A Postcard From Sri Lanka Part 2: Tissamaharema, Ella & Colombo

A Postcard From Sri Lanka Part 2: Tissamaharema, Ella & Colombo

You know those moments that are so surreal, you don’t know whether to believe they’re actually happening?

This is one of those moments.

I’m writing this sitting in the back of a tuk tuk. I’ve got Tom on one side, who is falling asleep in the most uncomfortable-looking position. At my feet, behind my head and on my other side are our two massive backpacks, two smaller (but equally heavy) rucksacks, our rather hefty camera and the packed breakfast that our hotel all the way back in Tissa insisted on making us. Oh and there’s also Ramas- our tuk tuk driver’s 8(ish) year old son who has come along for the six hour ride and is perched on my backpack on the floor.

Why, you might ask, are we making the 6-hour journey from Newark Eliya in central Sri Lanka, to the capital of Colombo, which is on the Western Coast a good 200 kilometres away, in the back of a bloody tuk tuk.

Now there’s a story.

Tonight is our last night in Sri Lanka before catching a flight to Bangkok tomorrow evening. We need to get to Colombo today because that’s where the airport is. Except it’s not exactly going to plan…

Postcard from Sri Lanka Part 2: Tissamaharema, Ella & Colombo

Tissamaharema

We had a lovely couple of days in Tissamaharema after leaving our beach paradise in Unawatuna. Tissa is the doorway to Yala National Park in the Southeast of the country. It’s famous for its leopard population, as well as elephants, buffalo and deer. Not to mention the crocodiles that lurk just below the water.

On Saturday afternoon we set of in an open jeep with a personal driver. He took us on a brilliant safari tour around Yala. Being huge animal lovers, Tom and I were so excited and had a great time spotting the animals – although I was gutted that we didn’t get to see a leopard. It relies so much on being in the right place at the right time, and unfortunately, luck just wasn’t on our side.

Postcard from Sri Lanka Part 2: Tissamaharema, Ella & Colombo

Still it was a great way to spend the afternoon. Especially as we got right up close to the most ginormous elephant which was actually blocking the roads on the way to Yala. Experience of a lifetime.

The guesthouse where we were staying was very quiet and relaxing after the hustle and bustle of Unawatuna. We had a morning just lounging by the pool before being treated to a traditional Sri Lankan breakfast. Which turned out to be lentil curry and noodles. Very delicious but equally strange to be eating at 10 o-clock in the morning.

Postcard from Sri Lanka Part 2: Tissamaharema, Ella & Colombo

 

The Ella – Kandy Train Route

Early on Sunday we packed our bags and took a taxi to Ella, which is a couple of hours north of Tissa. From what we could make of the online timetables, there was a train at 9.24 which would take us from Ella, to Kandy and then on to Colombo in around 10 hours.

If you’ve done any research at all into travelling Sri Lanka, you’ll have heard of the Ella-Kandy train route. It’s supposedly one of the most scenic in the world. It takes you high up through the tea-country and offers spectacular views of mountains, valleys and waterfalls.

Supposedly.

The thing is, Sunday is apparently THE day to travel in Sri Lanka. Even some of the locals said that they’d never experienced the train THAT busy. It was impossible to reserve a seat and there was no first class option to speak of. We made do with a second class ticket and hoped for the best. Which we quickly realised was not going to happen. Having pushed our way onto the train (and Tom physically had to push me due to the fact that I was carrying my whole bodyweight on my back) we took two steps and simply couldn’t go any further.

There must have been well over 100 people altogether in that one carriage. Along with about 20-30 other people, we were crammed into the doorway section, unable to take a step in any direction, let alone sit down.

Imagine London rush hour times by a billion. Where your face is smushed into someone’s armpit and people’s rucksacks keep hitting you on the back of the head. I had a little old Sri Lankan lady genuinely sitting ON me at one point and I was so grateful that I wore my hiking boots because I wouldn’t have any toes left to speak of otherwise.

Postcard from Sri Lanka Part 2: Tissamaharema, Ella & Colombo

As the train rolled through the stunning scenery metres above the ground, all I could see was an arm here, a backpack there and the denim on Tom’s shirt that I was being further and further pushed into.

I honestly wish that I was writing about a more pleasant experience right now. Telling about the waterfalls we went past and the great experience we had hanging out the doorways and taking photos.

But full disclosure, it wasn’t like that at all, and I couldn’t hack it. It’s one thing at rush hour where you only have to survive a few stops. But there was no way I was going to be able to stay like that for no less than 9 hours. Absolutely not. No way. I’d rather climb back up Adam’s Peak.

I felt less guilty when the woman next to us, a seasoned backpacker who had spent 9 months going around South America, Asia, India and Sri Lanka, said that she was going to get off at the next stop and book a different mode of transport. If she couldn’t cope, then I’m not ashamed that we couldn’t either!

About two hours in, without a word, Tom and I decided to cut our losses (the train tickets had set us back a grand total of £3) and escape. Asap.

Colombo

So that’s how we ended up in a small town just outside of Nuwara Eliya. And when I say small town I mean mud paths and a few huts. And the singular tuk-tuk driver, who, (after checking with his wife that it was ok) agreed to take us all the way to the capital for about 8000 rupees (30 odd quid).

A few hours later, after stopping only a couple of times for pee breaks, we arrived in Colombo. With numb bottoms and very hungry. But safe, and dry. And happy.

Even having a shower in our lovely hotel in Colombo felt like a luxury after the day’s events. And we learned a lesson – never go by train in Sri Lanka on a Sunday. You’re welcome.

This was probably our first ” hardcore backpacker” experience and it certainly won’t be the last. But we made it to Colombo in time to rest, and toast to our bad decisions, before the journey continues in Thailand.

Have you had any holiday mishaps or backpacker fails? Or is everything all it’s cracked up to be? I’d love to hear in the comments!

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Travel Fitness Log: Workout #3 (Adam’s Peak)

Travel Fitness Log: Workout #3 (Adam’s Peak)

So it didn’t really cross my mind to log our hike up Adams Peak (Sri Pada) in Sri Lanka as a workout. I thought it’d be more of a friendly walk, something I’d write about in my postcards section.

But trudging back to our guest house, soaking wet and very tired after no less than six hours of steady, high intensity cardio… Well if that’s not a workout then I don’t know what is!

Adams Peak, or Sri Pada, is a hike up the mountains in the tea plantations in central Sri Lanka. It’s a Buddhist pilgrimage. The idea is that you set off something like 3am in the morning and get to the top in time to watch the sun rise at around 6am.

So that’s what we did.

Donned in our waterproof jackets and hiking boots and thankfully with the torches that we had packed ‘just in case’ (it was pitch black outside) we set out to climb the 5000 odd steps that led up to the Sacred Footprint of the Buddha.

Travel Fitness Workout Log, #3 Adam's Peak

When I say 6 hours of steady cardio I’m not lying. It’s three hours ish to the top. Never-ending stone steps that were so steep I genuinely had to use my hands for some of them. They were as tall as I am!

I mean if you fancy recreating this workout for yourself, all you need to do is set the stair master in the gym for three hours or so- whilst wearing a blindfold and heavy hiking boots. And that doesn’t even account for coming back down!

Half an hour from the top we stopped at a solitary little hut/shop. The owner invited us in for coconut roti and some strong sweet coffee. It was heaven, and gave us the energy we needed to push through that last stretch.Travel Fitness Workout Log, #3 Adam's Peak

I’d like to say that we got there in time for a spectacular sunrise. Unfortunately, the weather was so wet that it was literally like stepping into a cloud. Grey mist everywhere with strong winds that made frost form on our eyelashes.

It was the views on the way back that made it all worth it. Legs shaking and glutes burning, we made the trip down, seeing what we had missed in the darkness on the way up. Luscious green vegetation, waterfalls and little temples everywhere. It was gorgeous. There’s nothing like a spectacular view to make you forget fatigue and doms.

It may not have been the best workout for muscle building, but the constant cardio certainly made us look and feel a lot leaner! And much more fun than three hours on the stair master.

Travel Fitness Workout Log, #3 Adam's Peak

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A Postcard From Sri Lanka Part 1: Adam’s Peak, Unawatuna & Galle

A Postcard From Sri Lanka Part 1: Adam’s Peak, Unawatuna & Galle

I realise that I’ll probably say this about a lot of the countries that I’m going to over the course of the next year or so- but I have completely fallen in love with Sri Lanka.

The moment in we set off in our car from the airport (with a brilliant driver who perfectly navigated the steep and windy roads up through the tea country) the queues at customs, the sleepless flight and the constantly crying toddler on the plane from Dubai were suddenly all worth it.

Postcard from Sri Lanka Part 1: Adam's Peak, Unawatuna & Galle

Adam’s Peak (Sri Pada)

First destination on our list was a tiny village called Delhousie, high up in the mountains in central Sri Lanka. We were here for a quick, one-night stay so that we could experience the tea plantations, and tackle Adams Peak.

Adams Peak, or Sri Pada, is a cone-shaped mountain some 2,500 metres high. There’s a rock formation near the summit known as the “Sacred Footprint”. Buddhists and travellers alike tackle the hike up to the top as a sort of Buddhist pilgrimage. 5000 odd steps take you up into the clouds and the idea is that you set off early enough that you reach the top in time to watch the sun rise.

This is not an easy feat. So much so that I’m actually including it as one of my travel-fitness workouts– and if you read the post later this week then you’ll understand why!

It was pitch black, 3am, when we set off, complete with hiking boots, torches and anoraks. We’re not in peak traveller season at the moment, so the majority of our journey we faced alone. Just a couple of passers by and then a small group of people gathered at the top.

Unsurprisingly, the trek back down was not only significantly easier on the legs. It was also much more spectacular, given that it was light enough to actually see the rolling hills and waterfalls that surrounded us.

The wildlife here is incredible. Everywhere you look there are monkeys and chipmunks and tiny colourful birds.

Postcard from Sri Lanka Part 1: Adam's Peak, Unawatuna & Galle

We arrived back at our hostel for around 9am, where the hosts quickly set about cooking us eggs and roti for our breakfast. Roti are Sri Lankan bready-pancakes. They’re usually served with Chilli or coconut, and Tom and I have quickly become obsessed!

Exhausted from our pilgrimage, we had a bit of an accidental nap after breakfast! We only woke when our driver had arrived to take us away from the tea country and down to the beach.

 

 

Unawatuna & Galle

Unawatuna is a small beach village next to Galle. It was as different to Adams Peak as you could possibly get, although equally beautiful. Much more built up, there were guesthouses and little restaurants everywhere.

We stayed in a gorgeous guesthouse called The French Lotus. They did our laundry and served us fresh fruit, yoghurt and scrambled eggs for breakfast everyday. They served homemade passionfruit jam which was simply delicious. It was like heaven.

Unawatuna is all about the beach. It’s got that white sand, clear water, palm-trees-in-the-sunset feel, which Tom and I took full advantage of.

Both of us tried surfing for the very first time. Sri Lanka is surfers heaven, and there was an endless amount of surf schools lining the beaches. It was a lot of fun and our instructors were great. Although neither Tom or I were amazing, they did manage to get us standing up and catching a few waves in the hour that we had!

We did a day trip to Galle on one day. A port city and a UNESCO heritage site, Galle is known for its tall stone sea walls and the Dutch colonial architecture. It’s a beautiful town just to wander around, with lots of car-free streets where you can look over the Fort out to the horizon.

We were both somewhat reluctant to leave our little seaside haven. However the lure of spotting some leopards on safari and the world famous train journey from Ella to Kandy eventually won. After one more French Lotus breakfast, we packed our bags and said goodbye.

 

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