searching for that most elusive of beasts, the air conditioned bus

Having spent the last six days sheltered from the tropical heat in the comparative cool of the hill country, the coastal climate has hit me like a large red hot steam train smashing into a small limp goldfish!

Beautiful Ella Soaring view from Ella Rock
I spent two days up in the beautiful little village of Ella, tucked into the hillside and looking over the immense views of Ella Gap that stretch all the way towards the sea. The guesthouse I stayed in, the Rawana Holiday Resort, was lovely, the couple running it were adorable and the garlic curry that I had for dinner was the most wonderful meal I’ve had yet in months! I did sweat out the garlic for the next 36 hours but no mosquitos came near me during that time so totally worth it! The second day I got up early to explore the route up to Ella Rock, a large area jutting out from the forest on the very edge of the valley. The most exciting thing had to be the first 2.5km which was walking along the train tracks, mainly because it’s precisely the kind of thing you’d never be allowed to do in England. The wooden planks were just shorter than my stride so I felt like I was doing a Geisha-walk as I tottered along them. I did run into one of the trains en route, but as there is a 15kph speed limit along most of the area, I had plenty of time to squeeze myself out of the way before it trundled slowly past! After the tracks the path wound its way up through tea plantations, past waterfalls and random buddist shrines until I popped out of the forest at the top next to a huge eucalyptus tree and simply gaped at the view. Ahead the layers of green hills slowly faded into greys and blues until they merged with the sky and behind me I could see all the greenly forested hills and tea plantations surrounding the village far below. Really stunning.

45 minutes of self-portrait taking and banana eating, I headed back down stopping to give knowledgable directions to the two of three tourist couples I passed on their way up. Turns out I was the only one sensible enough to ask their guesthouse for a detailed map before setting off (or maybe just because I know just how bad my sense of direction is!) I spent the afternoon chatting to a British couple on the terrace about their two years of working for VSO in Rwanda, some more food for thought for the post-travelling life crisis…

The hot and sweaty ride to Deniyaya and the kindness of strangers
There are air conditioned buses in Sri Lanka, and I haven’t managed to find a single one. So it was a very sticky and crowded local bus which took me three and a half hours from Ella to Pelmadulla (30 minutes of which I was standing until thankfully a few seats became free) and a further four hours from Pelmadulla south to Deniyaya, the distances are pretty small but the road is wigglier that a twisted worm and only about one and a half buses wide which produced some amusing stand offs with trucks and buses coming the other way. Couple that with a steep, certainly fatal, drop on one side of the road and you have all the ingredients for a thoroughly white-knuckle ride. Also from my seat I could appreciate just how often our driver leant all the way out of the window to spit a stream of red liquid from the tobacco he was chewing into the road, taking his eyes off the oncoming traffic for a good five seconds. I buried myself in my book and told myself it was bound to be okay. I wasn’t reassured by the amount of Buddist decoration around the driver either, in my experience the more religious the driver, the more reckless! We arrived in one piece however and Suresh, the guy next to me who I’d been chatting to for the last half hour very kindly dropped me at my guesthouse in his tuk-tuk before saying goodbye.

Three lizards, one cobra and leeches-a-plenty
Deniyaya is the nearest big village to the untouched Sinharaja Forest Reserve, a name which translates literally as the Lionking forest, there aren’t any lions of course but Sri Lankans are fairly obessed with naming everything, even the national beer, after the large maned cats. I set off with two dutch couples, a Englishman named Jim and our guide, Pali, who was lovely, entertaining, if a bit smelly due to eating garlic and onion sandwiches all day. He was, however, an expert on every bush, shrub, insect, bird and tree that we passed and it was one of the most enjoyable days I’ve had in the country so far. We stopped by a waterfall in the early afternoon to swim and have lunch and got chatting to a family from Negombo who were very entertaining. We saw golden orb spiders, which are pretty damn big and surprisingly the photographer in me is bigger than the aracnophobe in me and I managed to inch close enough for some good shots. Golden orb spiderThere were tiny kangaroo lizards, horn nosed lizards, fisher owls, black eagles, yellow headed bulbuls (small birds), huge millipeeds, giant red hornets, a spectacularly lazy cobra streched out on a tree log, spice plants and the lovely little leeches. Actually it was a dry day (despite the fact we were in the rainforest) and the leech count was pretty low. They are tiny thin black creatures that don’t do any harm but draw a little blood and I was rolling my eyes at our guide as the others squealed everytime they saw one…and then I looked down to see two of the wee blood suckers burying their way into my socks, I screamed like a litle girl and hopped around like a madwoman until I calmed down sufficiently to flick them off! Apart from the leech attack, a really good day, rounded off with dinner at Pali’s of chicken rice and curried aubergine, carrot and lotus plant stems with buffalo curd and palm honey for desert…mmmm!

Ants on the wild orchids

Onwards and southwards
So now I am back in the immense heat in the pretty dutch fort of Galle on the south coast, fighting off offers from tuk tuks drivers. I finally finished my book “Shantaram” by Gregory David Roberts which is one of the most fascinating books I’ve ever read. It’s the true life autobiography of a heroin addict who escaped from an armed robbery jail sentence in Australia, fled to Bombay where he lived in a village, started a slum clinic, worked in Bollywood and for the Bombay mafia and fought during the Russia Afghanistan war. I actually finished it for the first time a few days ago and it’s the only book I’ve ever read where, upon turning over the final page, I closed the book, opened it again at the beginning and started reading it all over again. However the time has come to move on and since the Sri Lankan bookshops firmly favour the classics, I have brought Treasure Island to entertain me on the beach.

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