Sri Lanka

Trip Start Sep 16, 2013
Trip End Jun 16, 2014

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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Sri Lankaaaaaaaaaa......where to start??! 
Our initial journey from Kathmandu to Colombo didn't get us off to the best start. During our 14 hour, 3 flight, indian visa fiasco, we managed to contract a pretty serious case of food poisoning. Thankfully this kicked in just as we arrived at our hotel in Colombo at 3am and lasted for the remainder of our time in the capital city! This limited the activities we'd planned in Colombo but thanks to some very kind and generous friends of the family, we were given a private tour of the city by day and night and a delicious home cooked meal. This was the last of our luxury in Sri Lanka as we left by train to our next destination, the "cultural capital" of Kandy, located in the hill country. We took a late afternoon journey from Colombo to Kandy on an old steam train, travelling through tropical rainforests, tea plantations and seeing some of Sri Lanka's most spectacular natural beauty. Kandy is a colonial city surrounding a small lake and is most famous for a Buddhist temple which supposedly holds one of Buddha's teeth. We arrived in the early evening and ended up staying in a run down colonial hotel with a lot of character aaaand even more bed bugs. This luckily got us a discount but we carried around some pretty nasty bites for a couple of weeks. Kandy gave us our first taste of Sri Lankan cuisine which is notoriously spicy. We thought this would be the last of our time in Kandy- little did we know that we would go on to pass through the city twice more during our time in the country (once on the wrong train). 
After Kandy, we headed to Adam's Peak, which is where Adam was meant to have first stepped onto the earth, which the Sri Lankan people didn't realize was actually in Arcadia, California. The mountain is also said to contain foot imprints of the Buddha and is sacred to Hindus as well. The climb at points was treacherous due to the wet stairs and unbelievably steep incline and we're sure none of the 5,890 steps were there when Adam first arrived. We left for the mountain at around 3 AM and began our 2 1/2 hour hike straight up in the rain and cold. We actually talked about how at some points this was more difficult than Everest Base Camp. The crazy thing was that we were joined by countless devout Hindus, Christians and Buddhists of all ages (babies included) and many of them were actually doing it barefoot! Adam managed to also lose his wallet with his credit card, ID and money but miraculously at the top of the mountain just before sunrise, we were informed that a local man had found the wallet and was frantically questioning other hikers about the whereabouts of "Adam" on Adam's Peak..So the two were finally reunited on our way down!

After the hike we headed south, exhausted and barely able to walk. Little did we know that we were embarking on a 16 hour bus/train extravaganza in gruelling heat with some overly confident and possibly suicidal bus drivers. The only thing keeping us awake was the fear we had for our lives, speeding around mountain roads. Finally, after midnight, we arrived in Galle, an old Dutch fort. We stayed here for a day before heading to Unawatuna, a beautiful but touristy beach town where we spent 5 days, including a very rainy Christmas day. Our most enjoyable time in Sri Lanka was spent in Mirissa, further along the coast and a far less touristy beach than Unawatuna. After touring the the beach for cheap accommodation (which was not easy to come by), we finally stumbled upon a ramshackle bungalow just steps away from the sand. It had holes in the walls and plenty of bugs, but it was cheap and it had real character. It was absolutely perfect for what we were looking for. We stayed here for a week with Dom (Adam's best friend) and Isaac who had just come from India. It was a leisurely time filled with bodysurfing, eating, and getting ripped off by ridiculous beachside restaurants. Unfortunately we had a seemingly endless amount of experiences involving people trying to charge us more than what was originally quoted. It kind of became a theme of our time in Sri Lanka, and something that we came to expect from most of our experiences. 

After Mirissa we continued along the southern coast for a couple days before heading north again into the hill country. In order to reach the hill country, we took one of our most terrifying bus rides through the mountains up to Ella. As there were no seats left on the bus, we were forced to sit on the steps leading out the back of the bus with a wide open door, our feet hovering maybe a foot above the pavement. This alone would have been scary enough, but the bus driver was insane and didn't want to waste any time at all, especially around corners, so most of the 4 hour ride was spent clinging on for dear life to the metal railings beside us. Thankfully Ella was worth the journey and one of our favorite places in Sri Lanka. We stayed with a family in a tea plantation situated on a hill above the town. It was quiet, peaceful, and the tea was some of the best that we'd had on our trip. We were sad to have spent only two days here, and in hindsight would have stayed longer but we thought Arugam Bay on the east coast might have something interesting to offer. How wrong we were...

Arugam Bay was a ghost town and seems to depend solely on tourism. We were there in the absolute lowest of low seasons, and most of the restaurants and guesthouses were closed for months. Our second night in Arugam Bay we were sitting on our porch playing a game of cards when were heard a loud crash right outside the front of the guesthouse. We rushed outside to find that a German couple had collided with a motorcycle with two passengers, one of which was not wearing a helmet. At the time it didn't look bad, but afterwards we found out the bike had had a T-bone collision with the car and the driver (without a helmet) had been catapulted 12 feet over the car into the air before landing on his head. Within an hour he was in a coma and we still to this day are not sure what happened to him...Because we were the only people there who spoke fluent English, Laura became the main translator between the German couple and the police. We agreed to accompany them to the station to make a statement, having been told it would take an hour max. Turns out it took 6 hours and was a very interesting insight into how Sri Lankan authorities deal with such matters (apparently very slowly and very irrationally). At one point during the night a drunken hotel manager who claimed to have "seen the accident" (which he didn't) got into a brawl with the officer in charge who promptly had him beaten up and thrown in a jail cell right in front of us. The next day we were finally able to escape Arugam Bay, but we continued receiving frantic phone calls from the police officer in charge of the case, who didn't seem to understand Laura and I were not actually involved in the accident. 

We were glad to be on the road again and had a beautiful and scenic bus journey up the east coast through parts of Sri Lanka that had previously been off limits due to the war. We made a quick stop in Pollanaruwa (a city of ancient ruins) but decided to leave without visiting any of them because they were too expensive and we had bad experiences at both our guesthouse and the restaurant where we ate dinner (more monetary disputes). The next day we left for Sigiriya, which was a surprisingly quiet town for being home to such an enormous tourist attraction. The "rock fortress" of Sigiriya is an incredible sight to see and was once the plug of an ancient volcano. Again, this tourist attraction was very expensive ($40 just to get in), but after hearing about another local rock about a mile away, we rented bikes and headed there instead.  This rock cost 2 dollars to climb, was about the same size as Sigirya, had an amazing view of the surrounding valley and Sigiriya itself, and was far less trodden. We hiked through ancient Buddhist temples and arrived at the top of the massive boulder after scrambling through treacherous rocks and gullies. With only 3 other people on the top, it definitely beat the massive crowds we would have experienced on Sigiriya, and for a lot less money!

The next morning we headed to Kandy, where we stayed again for one night before heading to Negombo, a beach town next to the airport. Thanks to some very gracious family friends we went on an amazing scuba diving excursion on our final day in Sri Lanka, diving to about 45 feet. It was a very peaceful way to end our hectic month in the country. 
The next day we hopped on a plane to Thailand, very ready to find a beach and a hammock. Sri Lanka was a country filled with natural beauty and we were fortunate to have experienced it. Unfortunately, the rapid rise in tourism since the end of their civil war in 2009 has really made it a country reserved for those with money to spend, and it is often unkind to backpackers such as ourselves who are trying to travel on the cheap. That said, we think that in the future, this will settle down and Sri Lanka will hopefully become an easier place to travel for those on a budget. 

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