Sri Lanka Part 2 – Nuwara Eliya, Ella and Hikkaduwa

Day 221: October 19, 2018

We had breakfast at a nearby restaurant sponsored by Planeterra, GAdventures non-profit organization that sponsors local projects. We had three different types of hoppers (bowl shaped pancakes similar to crepes) and roti.

Hoppers and roti

Then we started our morning driving south through the hills towards Nuwara Eliya. Along the way we stopped at the Glenloch tea plantation. The area used to be covered in forest, but now only 5% of the forest remains. It was all transformed into tea plantations by the British.

In the 18th century, the king married an Indian queen. He had no sons or brothers so the crown went to the queen’s brother. The chiefs were not happy with having an Indian ruler. The British took advantage of the conflict and swept in. Tea plantations were started in the British period. Sri Lankans didn’t like to work for the British so South Indians were brought to work in the tea plantations.

The factory we visited was 140 years old and had 100 workers outside and 40 workers inside. We had a tour of the factory and were told lots about tea.

Green tea uses only the young leaves. White tea uses only the bud. Black tea uses the full thing. The green and white tea is only steamed and dried. Black tea undergoes a different process. The leaves spend 12 hours drying then are sent to a rolling machine for 20 minutes to break the leaves into pieces. They are screened with the bigger pieces going back to the roller. Next is the fermentation phase: a fan sprays water causing the leaves to turn brown in an oxidation reaction. Next the leaves are sent to the dryer at 120 degrees for 20 minutes. Stems are then separated from the leaves with a fan. The stems have no taste so they go back to the garden as fertilizer.

Black tea drying, rolling and separating

The factory makes five tons of tea a week. Most of the tea (75%) is sent to Colombo where it is mixed by tea companies to create their own blend. We were told that orange pekoe is actually a grading of tea. Orange refers to the copper colour of high quality oxidized tea leaves prior to drying. Pekoe refers to the origin of the plant being from China.

After the tour and a tea sampling we walked around the tea fields for a bit.

Tea plantation

We left and stopped for lunch at a restaurant beside Ramboda Falls for a buffet. They even had a self-serve soft ice cream for dessert.

Ramboda Falls

Our drive continued to Nuwara Eliya. We checked into the hotel then went for an Ayurvedic massage traditional to Sri Lanka. It was very oily and not much of a massage to get knots out. We were also given steam baths. Danny’s masseuse was a little rough and he was left very very oily.

We went for supper with a couple of people from the group and enjoyed the conversation. Sometimes its nice to just be with a smaller group. After we took the bus back to the hotel to go to sleep.

Day 222: October 20, 2018

We were able to sleep in this morning. Only two people from our group chose to do a trek through Horton Plains National Park. We had breakfast in the hotel then chilled until it was lunch time. It was raining all morning so I didn’t feel very motivated to go outside.

We went for a walk through the gardens of The Grand Hotel from the British period in the early afternoon. We sat in the wrought iron furniture and imagined it was the White Sands Hotel from Anne of Green Gables.

The Grand Hotel, Nuwara Eliya

After we drove to the train station to wait for our train to Ella. The ticket was only 150 LKR ($1.14 CAD). The train was about 40 minutes late which is apparently common. It was quite rainy and foggy so we only got a bit of a view of the tea plantations and hills.

Train ride Nuwara Eliya to Ella

We arrived in Ella at 6:30 pm and were taken to the hotel. We all went out together for supper. We had kottu roti, a mixture of roti, vegetables and meat. Roti is round flat bread made from whole meal flour and water. After supper we returned to the hotel to go to bed.

Day 223: October 21, 2018

Happy two year anniversary to us!

We had breakfast in the hotel then we did a trek to the Nine Arch Bridge, a beautiful stone and brick train bridge that is 300 feet long. Along the walk I got two nice leeches on my ankles. Bug spray made them detach, but the blood was already pouring.

We arrived at the bridge and waited for the train to cross to get the perfect picture. Of course, the train was late.

Nine Arch Bridge, Ella

Once the train had passed, we walked along the tracks. I could hear our parents yelling at us in my head. We hiked up the hill and were very sweaty by the end from the heat and humidity. Our bus was waiting for us with the A/C at the top. It drove us to the base of Little Adam’s Peak which is named after Adam’s Peak due to it’s similar shape. At the summit of Adam’s Peak there is a footprint shape that is said to be the footprint of Adam when he first set foot on earth. Buddhists believe it to be that of Buddha and Hindus believe it to be that of Shiva. Among all those religions it is revered as a holy site at 2,243 m tall. Little Adam’s Peak was only 1,141 m tall.

Hike to Little Adam’s Peak, Ella

The hike was an easy 30 minute climb to a beautiful view. We went back down then the bus took us back to the hotel. We went for lunch by ourselves then chilled in our room.

Around 5:30 pm we decided to go out for supper. We walked up the road to Ceylon Tea Factory. The restaurant was very nice and we had the place to ourselves. We sat outside and enjoyed a romantic meal with time to reconnect.

Anniversary dinner in Ella
Day 224: October 22, 2018

Danny and I had breakfast up the street then we met up with the group and boarded the bus. We stopped at Rawana Falls along the side of the road. Udi bought us some mango which was so delicious.

Rawana Falls, Ella

Next we stopped at the Elephant Transit Home in Udawalawa that was established in 1995. It takes care of orphaned baby elephants until they can be released into the wild at the age of five. The elephants are free to roam the area and many wild elephants also visit the area. The home has taken care of more than 250 elephants.

The baby elephants are fed every three hours. Most are fed human baby milk formula, but if a certain elephant does not digest it properly soy milk or rice broth are tried. Funnels with tubes are used to pour the milk into the elephants’ mouths. Some of the elephants came running up and eagerly put the tube in their mouth with their trunk. The smallest was fed with a large bottle. There were tree branches laid out nearby that they snacked on afterwards. They ripped the leaves off first then tore off the bark.

Elephant Transit Home

After we had a four hour drive to Hikkaduwa, on the west coast of the island. Our hotel in Hikkaduwa was gorgeous. It was right on the beach with a swimming pool and bar.

View from our hotel in Hikkaduwa

We went next door for supper then Danny went out for drinks with some of the others while I relaxed in our room before bed.

Day 225: October 23, 2018

Danny got in around midnight the night before. We had breakfast in the hotel which was way too much food: omelettes, French toast, fruit, juice, tea, toast and pastries. We ended up wrapping the pastries and taking them to our room for lunch.

After breakfast I did some blogging and Danny had a nap. At 2:00 pm we met the group and the bus took us to the Galle Fort.

The first fort was built in Galle in 1588 by the Portuguese. The Dutch expanded the fort in the 17th century. Then the British controlled it starting in 1796 after they captured Colombo. Sri Lanka was under British influence until independence in 1948.

We started with a visit to the Dutch Reformed Church which was built in 1755. We then passed a Dutch warehouse that was used to store mostly spices. The Dutch were invited by the Sri Lankans to fight the Portuguese in 1638 which gave them a monopoly over trade. Dutch Ceylon existed from 1640 to 1796.

Dutch warehouse, Galle Fort

Next we visited the harbour then the original Portuguese fort. The Portuguese would have had 400 soldiers stationed in the fort. The walls were built using coral from the water. We saw the ammunition storage room and a meeting room. Buildings inside were still being used by the local police. If we hadn’t been led to that portion by Udi we would have never known it existed.

Portuguese Fort, Galle Fort

After we passed the hospital in the Dutch area that has been turned into a strip mall. Then we saw the lighthouse that was rebuilt by the British in 1938.

Lighthouse, Galle Fort

Next we walked along the rampart. The group split off and we walked around inside the fort with the Swiss couple on our tour. The inside of the fort was like a little town with lots of hotels and restaurants. We found one large store, “Embark”, that sells clothing and other items in support of street dogs in Sri Lanka. The branding was amazing and all the profits go to resources, sterilization, vaccinations and education of the street dogs.

We rested at a hotel for a drink and watched the sunset. We met the group soon after and went up the street for supper. At 7:30 pm we boarded the bus back to the hotel.

Day 226: October 24, 2018

We woke up and walked up the street to a little family restaurant for breakfast. We were the first people there, but the lady made us a very nice breakfast of eggs, toast and fruit.

We walked back to our hotel then put on our bathing suits. We walked up the beach and saw some sea turtles which were much larger than I expected.

Beach in front of our hotel, Hikkaduwa

We walked back the other way along the beach where it was packed with locals swimming and snorkelling. Danny and I took turns with the snorkel mask he has been carrying since Greece. The current was actually pretty strong. We both got a couple of scratches from the coral. We saw a lot of colourful fish.

Fish seen when snorkelling, Hikkaduwa

We returned to the hotel area and suntanned on the deck. I went in and out of the pool reading in between. Danny went back to see the turtles a couple of times with the snorkel. He got to swim with them which made him so happy.

Sea turtle, Hikkaduwa

We returned to the room for showers then chilled until our farewell dinner at 7:00 pm. Udi made a very nice speech and then our meals were brought out. It is interesting how people form into groups based on personalities. All the British and Irish stayed together and the rest of us stayed together.

We said our goodbyes to Udi and the drivers then they left around 9:00 pm to go back to Colombo. We stayed a bit longer then decided to say goodbye to everyone and go to bed.

Day 227: October 25, 2018

We had breakfast up the street and enjoyed watching two crows waiting for some food. We packed up and our car picked us up at 10:00 am to take us to Negombo.

We arrived at our hotel around 12:30 pm. The family who owns it was very nice. We went to our room and watched some Narcos on Netflix. For lunch, we walked up the street to an Italian place then walked back along the beach before it started to rain.

For supper, we went to a restaurant next door. Danny had vegetable curry and I had fresh fish which was super tasty. While we were at supper I got 21 mosquito bites. The mosquitoes here are super aggressive, but you rarely see them. We returned to our room and watched some news before bed.

Day 228: October 26, 2018

Breakfast was brought to our room and we ate it on the balcony. It was string hoppers with egg curry, chicken curry and pol sambol. There was also a plate of fruit.

We went down to the beach and found a nice spot to sit. We went into the water for a bit then when we came out a very friendly doggy hung out with us. Danny took him for a run, but he kept running and Danny turned back. We were in and out of the water. The waves were quite large so it wasn’t the best for swimming.

Friendly doggy on the beach in Negombo

We returned to our room, showered, then went back to the Italian place from the day before for lunch.

Our host drove us to the airport at 4:00 pm. We couldn’t check in to our flight until 7:00 pm so we chilled then when we were through security we had Pizza Hut for supper. Our flight to Kuala Lampur left at 10:55 pm.

Sri Lanka was such a nice surprise. We hadn’t originally planned to go there, but we are very glad we did. Many people referred to it as “India Minor” as it has a similar culture, but is much less busy. We haven’t been to India so we can’t confirm that. The people there were very friendly and the scenery was gorgeous. It is a bit out of the way for Canadian travellers. I don’t know if we would have gone a trip just to see it so I’m glad we got the chance this time.

Being on tour also allowed me to relax and de-stress a little bit. The beach time at the end of the tour was also a nice treat. I feel I can go move on with our trip with a fresh outlook. Danny and I have agreed that we will see how we are both feeling during our time in Phuket, Thailand. By the end of the week we will decide if we want to go home or continue and for how long.


Sri Lanka Part 1 – Dambulla, Sigiriya and Kandy

Day 217: October 15, 2018

We woke up and had breakfast in the hotel in Negombo, Sri Lanka. We met our CEO, Uditha (Udi) and he had gotten a hold of our driver from the night before. The driver was going to bring my purse which I had left in his car. He showed up just as we were heading out.

Our group has 16 people in it: mostly from Ireland, England and Australia, then one girl from New Zealand and one girl from the USA. Along our drive Udi bought helapa (almost like a pancake made of rice flour, coconut, treacle, water and salt) for us to try. It smelled like fish which gave an odd flavour.

We drove four hours to Dambulla Rock Temple which was first created in the 2nd century BC. Buddhism was introduced in the 3rd century BC. Sri Lanka is 69% Buddhist, 15% Hindu, 7.5% Christian, 7.5% Muslim and 1% other.

Dambulla Rock Temple

There were five cave temples that we entered with many Buddha statues and paintings inside. A person who builds a Buddha statue is thought to have good fortune.

Buddha statues inside one of the caves at Dambulla Rock Temple

On our way out we passed the new temple then we stopped at a buffet for lunch. We had the afternoon free at the hotel so we hung out at the pool with the group. We stayed at the hotel for supper then went to bed.

Day 218: October 16, 2018

A breakfast buffet was served in the hotel then we left at 7:30 am for Sigiriya Rock Fortress.

In the 1st and 2nd century BC the site was a monastery. In the 5th century AD King Kashyapa killed his father, but the people rejected him as their king. He ran from the capital. Knowing his brother would come to kill him, he built his new palace on top of a rock creating Sigiriya Rock Fortress. He put crocodiles in the moat around the palace and set up many traps to protect himself.

Entering the fortress we walked passed the water gardens, a network of water pavilions, pools, courtyards and water courses. The fountains used ancient hydraulic technology.

Water gardens at Sigiriya Rock Fortress

We climbed up some stairs and saw the frescoes of 23 beautiful ladies. Nearby was the “Mirror Wall”, where visitors would write their opinions of the fortress from the 7th to 14th centuries.

We climbed around the rock to the base of the “Lion Staircase”, the entrance to the main palace on the top of the rock. It was 1200 steps and 150 m to the top.

Lion Staircase at Sigiriya Rock Fortress

The remains of the palace show that it must have been expansive. The view out over the countryside was incredible. I was dripping sweat by the time we got back down.

View from the top of Sigiriya Rock Fortress

Next we saw the audience hall where the king would have had meetings. There was a cave room that would have been used by monks to meditate when the location was still a monastery. We saw the location of the temple which would have had a bo tree in the centre. There were lots of monkeys around as well.

On our drive back to the hotel Udi bought us mangoes to try. I had thought I didn’t like mangoes, but these were amazing. I find that I have to eat the best of something first for me to like it. I felt the same way about olives before we went to Europe and had fresh ones.

For lunch we travelled by boat out to a small village. The ride was very relaxing. The scenery in Sri Lanka is so green: lots of rain and lots of sun. The home we visited was made of mud and had coconut leaves for the roof.

Lake entrance and home of our village lunch

Our host showed us how to make pol sambol, a popular Sri Lankan dish. First she opened a coconut using a machete and she let us drink the water. Yum. Next she shredded the coconut then used a rock on a rock surface to crush some red chilies. She then added onions, tomatoes, salt and finally the coconut and mixed it all with the rock. She topped it with lime and it was so delicious.

For lunch there was also fried fish, daal, mango curry, rice and some other delicious dishes. We ate our food with our hands from banana leaves which is the traditional way.

Lunch time spread

On the boat ride back our guide made a very fancy hat from a lily pad then we returned to the hotel.

Danny with the lily pad hat

Everyone else went on an elephant safari. Danny and I chose to stay at the hotel and relax. We had seen lots of elephants last year when we were in Africa and we had been really close to them when we were in Chiang Mai. Instead, we watched some Netflix then went to the pool which we had to ourselves.

Danny and I are still upset with each other or maybe I’m still upset with him. I just feel we aren’t back to being ourselves yet.

We went for supper with the group in town at 7:30 pm. Sadly, most of the dishes on the menu the restaurant only had a couple sets of each. Danny and I ordered last so the first two items we wanted there were none left. Instead, we had Chinese dishes: chop suey with rice and sweet and sour chicken. It was pretty good. We returned to the hotel for a drink with the group before we headed to bed.

Day 219: October 17, 2018

We had breakfast in the hotel then stopped at a wood carving shop. We were shown the different types of wood they use and how they make different colour paints from the rainbow tree. We saw the employees carving and hand painting then walked through their shop. Everything was beautiful, but too expensive.

Wood carving and painting

Next we stopped at a spice garden which we were led through with a guide. He explained the uses of the spices we saw: vanilla, cocoa (75%+ is good for the heart), ginger (good for stomach pain), peppercorns, cloves (good for toothaches), red pineapple (balances your thyroid), nutmeg (good for migraines), aloe vera, cardamom, coffee beans, curry leaves, sandal wood (good for perfume and cosmetics) and cinnamon (good for arthritis). We were given some tea to sample then given a shoulder and neck massage. I bought some spices there to try.

Tour of the spice garden

From there, we drove to the village of Digana, home to 2,500 people in central Sri Lanka. We stayed at Tamarind Gardens which is a community based project. The property was a farm with 30 cows, some goats and some chickens. We were fed a home cooked lunch which was very delicious.

Sri Lanka has wet and dry zones. The dry zone only has three months of rain. There are no natural lakes on the island, only man-made. The area we were staying was on the border of the dry zone where water is scarce. There is also only a few feet off top soil.

Danny and I were given a separate cottage with a stunning view out to a water reservoir. The cottage was made of mud, but the foundation was concrete.

Our cottage at Tamarind Gardens

Our host took us on a tour of the local village. Over 60% of the population are employed in dolomite mining. There are private and government companies that have dolomite mines.

Our first stop was to see two ladies who produce incense. They take bamboo sticks, put black magic (a mixture of charcoal, resin and perfume) on one end and then rub it in wood powder. Together they make 10,000 sticks a day.

Woman making incense sticks

We walked passed the Kindergarten of which the town has three, one for each official language (Sinhala, Tamil and English). Higher schools are 5 km away and the children take a bus to get there. We saw some jewelry made by a local man then bags and clothing made by local mothers.

We returned to the farm and were given tea. We all sat in the dining room after and played games. We were taught a board game similar to billiards that originated in India called carrom.

We helped out in the kitchen with making string hoppers which are similar to pasta. A dough of rice flour, wheat flour, salt and water was made then put through a hand press to make strings on a straw round coaster. When we had enough, they were steamed for 7-8 minutes. They are eaten with curries similar to rice. Supper was delicious: curry, daal, pumpkin, eggplant and more. After supper we sat chatting then went to bed.

Day 220: October 18, 2018

We woke up and had a nice breakfast at the farm. The people there were very sweet and so willing to share about their lives in Sri Lanka.

Morning view from our cottage

We left and drove to a gem outlet. We were shown a film on how they mine gems in Sri Lanka. Danny and I had our mouths agape watching it. Men dug holes with hammers and chisels, the walls were supported by timber and leaves and candles were used to indicate if oxygen levels were adequate. Safety flags were flying up in my head. It seemed to be the conditions of gold rush Canada. It was hard to believe industry is still done in that way and that its being advertised.

In the bottom floors there was a mock up of a mine to walk through, but the ceilings were eight feet tall, double what they would be in a real mine. We were told that the government regulates mining so mostly hand digging is allowed. They consider this to be less harmful to the environment and a more stable source of employment. It still seems more needs to be done to regulate the safety of the mines.

We were shown how they polish the gems and how to tell a real from a fake. Then we were shown the displays of jewellery for purchase.

Next we drove to Kandy where the Kandy Kingdom was centralized from the late 15th century to the early 19th century.

Lizard in Kandy

Buddha was originally Prince Siddhartha. He had an easy life, but was not necessarily satisfied with it. He previously followed the Hindu religion, but decided to find his own way. He realized peace came from the mind and started to meditate. By removing everything from the mind he achieved enlightenment.

The Kandy Kingdom was presented with Lord Buddha’s tooth by India. We visited the Temple of the Tooth which was located inside the royal palace complex of Kandy.

The Portuguese attacked and destroyed the original temple, but a new one was built in the 18th century. A terrorist attack in 1998 destroyed the entrance, but it has since been rebuilt.

Temple of the Tooth

After the temple we entered a nearby room which had paintings showing the history of Prince Siddhartha and how the tooth came to be in the temple.

Outside we walked through an audience hall that had the traditional wood carvings of Kandy. We were then taken to our hotel. Danny and I chilled in the room until 4:00 pm. We caught the bus into town with Udi then walked to the theatre for a cultural show.

It has been nice just following a guide. It takes so much less effort and stress. If we had been alone, we would have had to figure out what bus to take, what time it drove by, where it stopped, how to pay, where to get off, etc. It is a lot of added stress when you have to do it all yourself in a place that is not familiar.

The cultural show had traditional dancing and some plate spinning. It was a lower budget than others we have seen, but it was still interesting. The experience would have been much more enhanced if it had been in the forest around a fire.

Cultural show

At the end two men did fire walking which was very exciting. We went out for supper with the group then shared a tuk tuk back to the hotel.

Sri Lanka was not in our original plans, but it has been such a nice surprise so far. Being on tour may be just the break we need from the stress of travelling. The scenery here is so beautiful, everything is so green and lush. Tomorrow we head up into the hills where it is supposed to be a bit cooler than the +30 degrees it’s been since we’ve arrived.