DAY 165 – Heading back to Negombo
Here is a great example of the Sri Lankan ‘joie de vivre’. Yesterday, in bumper to bumper traffic, our taxi driver had to stop suddenly when pedestrians came out of nowhere blocking his path. In doing so, the van behind him screeched to a stop and hit up against our bumper. Everyone and his neighbour came out of their vehicles to investigate. All were smiling, the mood was festive. We bent in close and examined the distance between the two vehicles. A common agreement was found: “Oooo paperthiiiiiiiin!!!” Smiling, eyes shining, like everyone had won a great bet, we all returned to our vehicles rejuvenated and ready to take the traffic head-on.
On our train ride into the fresh verdant hills, Jason and I weren’t able to snag a seat nor a doorway spot so we spent the majority of the time leaning astride people’s seats, or crouching into a small ball on the aisle floor to get the weight off our feet. One family of four was squeezed into two seats, the son sandwiched against the window and the teenage daughter on the mother’s lap. This didn’t stop the father from keeping Jason’s bag under his seat and offering me a place at his feet so I could get out of the aisle. Sitting in the aisle is really okay, except that vendors selling yogurt and nuts and popcorn and samosas and all other kinds of refreshments pass by every 30 minutes or so – move over or perish! After 4 hours together, the family even shared their picnic with us, including a sweet that was strangely like Quebec’s sucre à la crème but with a Sri Lankan kick. They gave us their contact information and invited us to stay at their home in Colombo if we ever return.
The hill country has to be my highlight of Sri Lanka. Rolling green hills and ridged peaks poking through clouds, hot (sometimes only warm!) days and cool nights, tea plantations lining the valleys, and as with the rest of Sri Lanka, filled with friendly people who always greet us with a smile and a hello.
On our last day in Nuwara Eliya, we took a wrong turn and fell upon the most lively and colorful local market tucked in the nooks and crannies behind the main street. The kind of market that makes my heart sing and my head spin. I love to take portraits of people, but I’m often too shy to ask for their permission so I keep my focus on the eggplants and bananas. This time I told myself I would make it my goal to ask at least one person, and if they said no then so be it. Little did I know this would awaken a latent desire to unearth their inner supermodel. I asked one vendor if I could take her photo, and her neighbour looked at me as if to say, ‘look at my face, what about this face?’ And one by one, in a row, they asked for their turn in front of the lense. Market photo shoot ensued.
The day before this, the owner of our guesthouse was taking two couples on a tour of the area so we decided to hop in for the ride to the first and furthest point and make our way back to town on foot. The most serendipitous decision we could have made, as we found ourselves on a path winding through a most picturesque tea plantation (though they all are beautiful), a busy place where we met several tea-pickers, all women of course, who explained the whole tea-picking process. These ladies are beasts. They pick up to 8 hours a day in order to make their daily quota of 18 kilos, which they carry on their backs in a mesh filet. They only pick the youngest, greenest leaves, and so quickly their fingers are a blur. The men, in typical male fashion, point and direct, while the women schlep. The women start their day before sunrise to avoid the worst of the heat. Watching them work, and all this for 5$-8$ a day (the precise amount wasn’t clear from our conversations…), you really come to appreciate the effort that goes into each cup of tea. Farm to table in action in the hills of Sri Lanka.
At night in Nuwara Eliya, the lake in the centre of town bustles with energy, boats taking people out for a spin, sea-doos offering the same but with an added thrill, and for the low adrenaline-inclined, extremely bulky family-sized pedalos going about 50 meters/hour. We really questioned the choice of some to go fully clothed on the seadoos, and our doubt was confirmed when more than one person was thrown overboard. A truly enjoyable spectacle to watch from the sidelines.
We did some amazing hikes in the cool hill country of Sri Lanka. The first, in Horton Plains National Park, took us through frosted steppes in the early dawn to reach World’s End before the sun reached its peak. I got to wear a coat, and layers, and I LOVED it. But the temperature changes quickly! By the end of the hike, I had stripped off my coat, fleece, and long-sleeved sweater down to a t-shirt and the unfortunate black jeans I had worn (not a wise decision in hindsight). The sun is fierce, even in the heights.
In Ella, our next stop after Nuwara Eliya, we followed the main train tracks right out of town, through a valley, across a river, through some rice fields, before reaching the cliff rising to the top of Ella Rock, looking out over the lush valley. The green from the top of Ella Rock was so green it reminded me of the cartoon Ferngully. We were sweaty and euphoric from the sheer beauty. When the trains aren’t passing, the tracks act as a veritable human highway, just remember to hop to the side when she blows. Though you’ll probably feel it coming underfoot before you hear it, as those tracks are loose! We shifted a few nuts and bolts just by walking.
Since Ella, we’ve been on a wildlife safari in Tissamaharama and spotted some wild leopards and elephants, we’ve parked our bums for some fun in the surf of Mirissa, visited the charming fort town of Galle, and now we’re on our way back to where we started: Negombo, before we fly to Indonesia to meet Jason’s mom and sister for 2.5 weeks. Super pumped to have our first visitors from home!! We’ll be saying goodbye to Sri Lanka soon, and we’ve really loved this little country. It may be small, but it’s chockablock full of things to see and so, one month was not enough. We’ll have to come back someday soon!