We arrived into Colombo after having an 9 hour layover at the Kuala Lumpur airport, which we spent at least half of the time eating at an amazing vegan restaurant and watching a movie on the iPad. No regrets.
Once we arrived into Colombo, we mistakenly got in the wrong line at immigration, which set us back about about an hour…but we eventually got everything settled, and were on our way. Luckily, we were able to hit up an ATM and get SIM cards right at the airport. We then got an overpriced cab (it got to the point where the “broker” showed photos of his family). We were tired, so we gave in and off we went. We arrived at our budget hostel (I believe it was one of the cheapest we could find), and promptly passed out. The next morning was filled with stories, laughs and a decent breakfast – shared with about 7 other people. We found out to get our India visa in order we would have to go to the Indian embassy, in hand our completed forms and a photo, and also that we could get a 3 or 6 month visa, rather than the 30 days we were expecting. We also learned of a place to get all of this sorted just a few blocks away. Off we went, finding out very quickly this wasn’t going to be a walk in the park. What felt like two hours later, we left with printed applications and four passport photos, poorly retouched to a white background, and, as all of my photos of this caliber end up, looking absolutely terrible.
Once we arrived at the Indian embassy, the man looked over our applications with an unimpressed look. “Many mistakes here!” We ended up filling out the application properly in the waiting room, and after him looking it over again, he then directed us to a third party company that applies for the visas on your behalf.
“Samantha! Famous actress!” “Samantha! Samantha!” They pull up a girl on Google. “Yes! Samantha! Beautiful!” Definitely an awkward way to start a conversation, but it was entertaining regardless.
After everything was taken care of, we found a nice little vegetarian restaurant with nice prices to match. It was heaven. Spicy curries, all kinds of rice, the works.
Later on that evening we went to a parade that we heard was incredible to see. How lucky we were to catch this! We made our way to the street, which was absolutely packed, everyone trying to catch a glimpse of the action. We quickly realized it was a long procession of elephants, chained up, wearing absolutely ridiculous costumes, with the saddest eyes. Between the elephants were people dancing, plate spinning, the works. After a few minutes, we couldn’t take it anymore and turned to go.
“Where from sir?” An old man stood, looking at me, but talking to Ian.
“Oh! Canada! Is cold?”
What we now know as typical questions were asked. They are pretty much identical to the ones asked in India as well.
“We were just leaving actually. My wife doesn’t like the parade.”
“Oh yes! Big parade! Kandy is much bigger – here is 120 elephants. Kandy has 150!”
It was clear he was talking as much as possible to be able to continue to stare at me. He kept winking at me, head bobbing, all of it. His friend was starting to get annoyed at how much he was talking. We too, were desperate to get out of there.
“Well my friend it’s been nice talking to you!”
“Yes! So nice!” He shook Ian’s hand, and then shook mine in a way that he tickled my palm with one of his fingers. Easily the creepiest and maybe one of the funniest things that has happened to me. Ian didn’t even notice, and to this day we tickle each other’s palms during a hand shake to make the other laugh.
The next morning we planned to go south, though our destination was not set in stone. Over breakfast, we met Henri, a Finnish traveller. He was going to Welligama, a quiet-ish beach town, three hours south. Next thing you know, we were all sharing a tuk tuk, on our way to Welligama via the train. Tickets in hand, we waited almost an hour for the train, which was late. I thought the waiting was bad, but getting on the train was far worse. Second class was basically “no personal space” class, and we were shoved between two of the carts, able to see the ground passing through the joint. As the ride went on, the train emptied, and by the end, we had seats.
Once we were off the train, we said our goodbyes to Henri, who was off to meet some friends of his, and we went off to find a room. We had done some research and found a decent room, but we’ve found unless you’re arriving late, if you just show up to a place, you’re likely to get a better deal. Unfortunately, this place we thought we’d stay at appeared to not exist. No one knew of the place, and it was getting late. We settled at a nice place right across the street from the beach, and our host Raj was a real gem. A bit pricier than we had hoped, but we were right across the street from the beach! We unpacked our things a bit, got into our swim suits, and crossed the street to go for a dip. The beach had no bars or restaurants, only a tiny Rasta shack playing Bob Marley tunes. Perfect. We went to check out their menu, only to find Henri there! What a surprise!
For the next few days, between local food, swimming, beach side coffee and juices, laughs, sunsets and what not, we really fell in love with Sri Lanka. One day, we decided to swim to an island off shore, which as usual, was further away than expected. We made it though, and it was amazing! We celebrated with two joints that had been carefully packed away in a water bottle, the lighter being carried in a friends high bun. A couple of days later, we even got to do some whale watching (which was really incredible! How many people can say that they’ve seen a blue whale in their life? We saw ten!), and surfing! Henri surfed, who taught Ian, who then taught me. Ian was not impressed, as I had initially declined to take part, but then basically stole his surfboard and would not give it back! Luckily, we were able to get one for me, and we spent the last few hours of daylight riding the waves.
The next morning, it was time to leave Welligama in search of something new. We took the train to Matara and then a bus to Udawalwa, a small town that thrives on the safaris of Udawalwale national park. That being said, the only people that seemed to be happy to see us were the children. On the dirt road to our 8$/night hotel, we were approached by two boys on bicycles. One was really good at wheelies, the other at speaking English. “Where from sir!” “Nice day today!” After a few more exchanges and a couple of wheelies, the boy who spoke English put his hand out and said “One thousand rupees!” We both laughed, and Ian pulled ten rupees out of his pocket “Here you go! But you’ve got a long way before you can charge a thousand!” We all laughed and they biked away, talking quickly but inaudibly.
Our hotel was worth what we paid for it, but it was clean, so that is all that matters. This time, we booked online to save some time. Online it had mentioned there was free breakfast, but we were told by the manager that booking.com is wrong, and we’ll have to report it to them. The place was also in the middle of nowhere, making planning over the internet not a possibility. We were approached by a couple of French guys, looking for others to safari with, trying to get a better deal. We ended up with a full jeep, six people.
The next morning we awoke, excited to see some wildlife. We were not disappointed! Countless elephants, buffalo, peacocks, and even some crocodiles. Unfortunately, the crocodiles appeared to be frozen. They did not move a muscle, which was disappointing. I suppose it’s important to remember that the animals are not living for you, but for itself.
We left town, thinking we could catch a bus to Nurwara Eliya, our next destination, only to find after being on the bus for two hours that there was no connecting bus. This is not good news if you’ve ever been on a bus in Sri Lanka. The drivers aren’t exactly the best or the safest, the music is super loud, with two giant subwoofers on either side of the bus and a screen with either concert footage of what seems to be like the same band, or absolutely terribly hilarious music videos. We’re talking full drama, devastating story lines, almost always ending in death and/or heartbreak.
When we got off the bus, an old man saw we looked a little lost, and directed us to a spot in the shade. He told us where to go to get to nurwara eliya, and wouldn’t leave until we were in an A/C mini bus. We tried to argue that this was too fancy for us, but we were shoved into the van, and away we went.
Another three hours later, spent with more music, more erratic driving, and more music videos, we decided to get out at a town that we saw had a train stop in it. We’d much rather take the train than deal with these buses. We backtracked a bit, stopping in an amazing place between Bandarawela and Haputale, with incredible views. The price looked cheap on Agonda, but after I hit submit, I noticed the price had doubled somehow in taxes and fees. Whoops. We got a tuk tuk to this remote little place, enjoyed the sunset, and chatted with an older couple from Europe.
The power was spotty, if there at all, and the reception was terrible. The views made it all worth it, as well as the incredible food cooked at this hotel. It was a man and his son, his son doing most of the talking, the man doing all of the cooking and staring while we ate. We tucked into bed, ready to get back on track to Nurwara Eliya.
Over breakfast the next morning, Ian mentioned his hope to find a hat. I had been giving him the gears about not wearing a hat when it’s so sunny out.
“You’ll find a beautiful hat in Nurwara Eliya!” our host proclaimed.
And that he did! After a nice train ride and a van ride into nurwara eliya, we were guided by a local who found a place that wasn’t the nicest, but the price was the best we could find. We explored the town a bit, myself finding an Ayurvedic doctor for the bites we had acquired in Colombo (I suspect bed bugs, luckily we did not unpack our bags at all and wore the same clothes, but the damage had been done), and for Ian a lovely hat, or as they call them in Sri Lanka, a “golf hat” (pronounced as one word). We also found a nice vendor at the market who had great prices and always gave samples. Most of our meals in Nurwara eliya were at this South Indian pure veg restaurant with unbelievably low prices. Dosas, rice and curry, all of it.
We also visited the botanical gardens, which were very expensive to enter, especially when we saw the local price was about 90% less than the tourist price, which became the norm the more places we went.
There was a beautiful, giant tree with a magnetic force that was impossible to let go. We also saw a dog missing a leg, who was very scared of people. It broke my heart.
On our way out, we were approached by a group of 15 or so young adults, only two girls. They asked for a photo with us. We tried to reason with them that we were not special, and there was no need, but they kept insisting. One even went so far as to say “but we like it!”. For some reason, the girls did not come into the photo.
The next morning, we set off to Horton Plains, an amazing park that also holds “Worlds End”, what a view!
A magnificent cliff top vista of grey fog rolling through a lush green valley. We also saw something else amazing – on our way to the train on a foggy, steep, winding and slippery road, a couple, riding a scooter (seriously!?), filming themselves on a selfie stick took a serious tumble. They were in shock, not to badly injured, but the fall was magnificent. The driver stopped right away, making sure they were ok, but also giving them shit – “this road is only for experts! You are not expert!”
With little time to spare, we made it to the train, which brought us to our next destination, Kandy.
As we were arriving later in the evening, we booked a hotel for the night in advance, which worked out in our favour. When we arrived, the hotel said they were pretty empty, and we could be upgraded free of charge. Nice! They also had a lovely rooftop restaurant. A nice breakfast buffet (with beautiful views and orange-haired monkeys that look like Donald trump, some of them missing limbs) Not exactly local prices, but it was a nice treat.
We spent the day exploring Kandy, got tickets for a traditional Kandyan dance from a shady “dance teacher”, a story we later found out that is used to trick tourists. He took it so far as to say that a four year old child would be walking on fire tonight, and next thing you know, Ian is buying a handkerchief supposedly made by local children to raise money for school. Later on that day, the “made in China” stamp revealed itself on the fabric, much to my displeasure, and Ian’s disappointment. He later returned the kerchief, telling the owner of the store to “keep the money, but to tell the man who sold it to me, I’m sad that he lied.” The shop keeper was embarrassed, but initially after trying the excuse that just the fabric was made in China, his story changed again. He wouldn’t feel right unless Ian took another one in a different colour. I suspect the point was missed.
The Kandyan dance was alright, at best. Interesting, but very touristy. Cameras flashing, people talking, the classic vibes. No four year olds walking on fire either.
That night at our hotel restaurant, we were able to watch the chef cook our aubergine curry – what a treat!
Typically, visiting Kandy also includes a visit to the “Temple Of The Tooth”, which houses Buddhas tooth. The locals were quick to sell us on the place, saying that twice a day there is a big parade, a can’t miss! “And you see the tooth then?” ” Absolutely! During the parade!” Luckily, we were able to confirm with a few tourists that is definitely not the case, and that the parade is very crowded. That’s a pass. We intended on going to the temple, just to say we saw the box that the tooth is housed – which is by the way only shown once a year, on an elephants back during a parade. Cool…. We arrived to see the 1500 rp pp entry fee, and a much lower price for locals – typical. That’s 13$ Canadian, which is a lot when food is less than 2$ a meal. We asked some other tourists if it was really “worth it”. We attracted another tourist, a women from India, who was also on the fence “I don’t want to waste my money! Is it good or not?” We looked through some photos our truthful tourist pals snapped – and it looked cool – but are they serious with the price?
We bid our pals farewell, and our final omen came. A huge elephant, dressed heavily and in chains, with a jerk on top of him, dangling a hook on his forehead, the elephants eyes wet with tears. Not cool – fuck this place.
We opted instead for the Buddhist museum, which had a more reasonable entry fee. It was a lot of pictures, statues and info cards. Meh.
That night, we caught a tuk tuk, who was kind enough to drive us to a hill view of Kandy, free of charge. “This is my city!”
After dinner, and during the walk back to our hotel, I made a new friend. A playful street pup who wouldn’t stop nipping at my ankles and tripping me. I decided the best course of action was to pick her up like a baby and walk with her for a while. It was the best of both worlds. We could hang out and I could walk without tripping. It worked too well though – after I put her down, she followed us for almost a kilometre. Shortly after, we discovered(ie: walked under) a massive shit tree, where presumably all birds in Kandy sit in to have a communal bathroom break. Ian was able to get out of there unscathed, me not so much. Luckily it was just a bit, but the damage was done. Fuck you birds of Kandy!
We ventured up to Dambulla next to visit Sigiriya, and ended up staying at a small homestay. After dinner, we were told that it was the owners brothers birthday. They also insisted we stay for the festivities, which included hiding, singing happy birthday to a completely different tune, being sprayed with white chemical snow, and being fed by hand by the birthday boy, and then being served first (it’s a sign of respect to serve guests first, but is awkward when you’ve just met the guy and you’re getting cake before everyone, including the guys parents). To top it off, this cake was definitely not something I would want to eat. Eggs and milk were for sure present. There is fake snow on my piece, a lot of it. It has half melted into the piece. What to do? I ate it as fast as possible to hide my displeasure, and hoped I wouldn’t be up all night. We were also given milk coffee & tea (in one cup, which was actually not bad, but I do not drink milk, so that was another fingers crossed moment), and bananas. We also arranged a tuk tuk to Sigiriya from the owners younger brother.
The next morning, the younger brother didn’t show, so we flagged a tuk tuk down after a bit of walking. 4300 rupees each, a few hours, loads of patience, some super views, and Ian cussing out an older lady for being rude to me (She couldn’t handle my speed and stopped too suddenly, so I bumped her, which caused her to turn to her husband in French and say that some monkeys have too large of backpacks…which I did not have – just my fanny pack. It didn’t make much sense, but the lookback indicated the statement was for me, so I told Ian thinking we could have a laugh. His patience level was almost at 0, so we went over and told her, with a synchronized finger wag, “ACT YOUR AGE!” I almost died laughing. She had a look on her face somewhere between a blank stare and a screw face. Typical. Really nice views, and worth seeing once, but not required to be seen again, in my opinion.
The next day we caught the bus back to Kandy with intention to take the train to the west coast, with a layover in Ragama. We of course missed it by three minutes, so we celebrated with a trip to our favourite pure veg restaurant. We then spent a long time waiting for the next train, which was of course late. On our way, we met a 10 year old girl and her family, who were so sweet. The father was in the military, and after finding out we were vegetarians, bought us some train food – strange olives (which I hate, but ate as many as I could before “saving them for later”) and some very underdone corn on the cob (I didn’t mind it, Ian was choking the kernels back). During our game of “Does Canada/Sri Lanka have”, animals edition, we got to our destination at dusk, a small stop called Borelessa. So small there was not a single tuk tuk waiting.
After a solid km of walking, we made a friend on a bicycle, who insisted we stay at “White Face” hotel. After a few times of telling him we had a reservation, he finally got the message and kept it moving.
We eventually found a tuk tuk driver who spoke a few words of English, could not read a map, could not understand us and had to stop to ask another driver, who repeated exactly what we said to the first driver, who then all of a sudden understood.
The next day we realized how far away this hotel was from anything, restaurants included. We walked in the direct sun, eventually stopping at a Pizza Hut because we seriously could not find anything else after walking 3 km. We took a tuk tuk back, and spent the afternoon playing in the extremely rough ocean. Refreshing, rude and rough.
After our swim, I decided to try to make friends with our neighbours – a family with a couple of pigs. The family did not speak English, but I figured with enough miming I could get my point across (which was that I wanted to pet their two pigs). At first they looked at me like I was crazy, but soon I had the grandma giving me giant branches to feed them. I was delighted, and they were probably happy to have someone else do the work.
After another day in far away town, we decided to spend the rest of our time back on the south coast. We took the train back to Colombo, had some lunch, and decided it would be fun to try Hikkaduwa, a beach town with lots of surfing and a turtle sanctuary. We were disappointed to find however that the town was nothing more than an overpriced money grab, so after walking around for over an hour in the dark, we hopped on a bus to Welligama, hoping to relive the good times. We arrived in good spirits, only to find our original hotel was now fully booked. After another 30 minutes of wandering around, we eventually found a place, better than the first in my opinion.
We went to the Rasta shack to find it had been torn down (by police, apparently it was illegaly on the beach) since we had left, but rebuilt and functional. We enjoyed the last few days swimming, doing yoga and eating good food. Our last day in Sri Lanka, we drove around Colombo in a tuk tuk to pick up our visas for India, ate at the first place we had eaten when we were originally in Colombo, and visited the Buddhist centre, where I got a book on Ayurveda.
We arrived to the airport ridiculously early, and on purpose, as we had heard due to construction that all planes depart at night, meaning lots of congestion and traffic, and in turn, lots of delays. We got through the many checkpoints fairly easily, until our airline clerk asked “and can I see a copy of your flight out of India?” Ummm…what? That’s six months away. “Sorry ma’am, it’s a requirement. You aren’t getting on this plane without a ticket out of India.”
We get out of line, sit on the floor and start to plan. Where are we going to go exactly? Where can we fly out of? And most importantly, what is the cheapest? We settle on a flight to Entebbe from Mumbai, 5 days before our visa expires, in August (we’ve played the over stay game too many times on this trip). We resume our place in line, get our stuff organized and are now 4 hours early for our flight. We wander, we browse, we sit on the floor to charge our phones. And still the plane is delayed taking off by over an hour, making our time at the airport 6 hours long, with 5+ security points and Check stops. Nothing can be more crazy than this right??