Sandy beaches, curry for breakfast, men wearing skirts, crazy honking rollercoasters (buses), cheap and cheerful guest houses, elephants, very smiley faces and ‘trying’ to surf. Sri Lanka, you’ve been wonderful!
I’m travelling with four friends from home so there’s quite a little pack of us. I hadn’t seen them in seven months so needless to say it was amazing giving them a big squeeze, even if it was a very sleepy hug at five o’clock in the morning when they arrived at the hostel! Not really wanting the chaos of the capital city Colombo, we stayed in Negombo the first night. The girls were absolutely gutted as they paid $40 for a tansfer to Negombo and I only paid $12! Now we all know to just grab a taxi at the airport instead of pre-arranging one!
It was libby’s birthday on the 6th October and she wanted to be in Arugam Bay so we headed there the next evening on a ‘night bus’ that was ironically called “Dream Night”. What an experience to start our trip! The bus was in no sense a sleeper bus; it was just a standard day bus with hard-backed seats. It was packed with locals and we were so sweaty – so much so that our bums were sliding off the chair as the driver launched the bus around corners at 60km! Sleep was an impossible option; just the thought of it made us laugh. Although, Chantal nodded off for a bit upright wearing her neck pillow and her head was bobbing around like a little fish. It was quite funny. Christie also caught a few winks and got a bit too comfy on the guy’s shoulder who was sitting next to her. But we made it! We actually survived that mental bus journey after seven long, sweaty and bumpy hours. For 500 rupees we really couldn’t complain, and it set the bar perfectly for bus travel in Sri Lanka!
Arugam Bay is gorgeous. It’s a lazy surf town on the East coast full of cute beach cabanas, surfers and beach bars. It’s a happening little town considering its size. We’re here in low season, which has actually been a bit of a blessing for accommodation prices. We stayed at one place called Beach Huts, which is literally a stone’s throw from the beach. It has a slack line outside which was extremely entertaining and they do the best food in Arugam Bay. Each night they have a special for dinner and it’s a set price of either 350 or 500 rupees. They also do the best guacamole and egg toast – winner.
Arugam Bay is one of the best surf spots in Sri Lanka so of course we had to get on a board. I love (trying) to surf even though I look like a manic seal trying to clamber on a rock. We made a day of it and hired our own tuk tuks to drive to Elephant Rock and it was undoubtedly one of the funniest days in Sri Lanka.! They were shabby old tuk tuks and Ellie and I pulled the short straw as ours kept cutting out. Every time it cut out we had to spend five minutes fiddling with the gears and pulling the lever. When we finally got it going we headed for Elephant Rock, with every Sri Lankan doing a double take at the sight of four British girls trying their hardest to drive two rickety tuk tuks down the road!
We went sliiiightly off track – let’s agree that driving into a cricket game at a Buddhist monastery is going ‘slightly’ off track! Then the tuk tuk crashed out again so the monks tried to help us. After that minor detour we finally found the car park! But this triumph was soon impeded by getting stuck in the sand. Ellie was driving and the rest of us had to push it out of the sand using a cardboard sheet under the wheel. What a day already and it was only 9.30am.
To get to the actual surf point you have to climb over and around the rock, which we realised after about ten minutes when we saw another person doing exactly that. Bingo! Baby waves, perfect. I’m definitely the worst in the group, I think I stood up two times? I spend most of the time nearly making it and then falling off. But someone said the best surfer is the one having the most fun so if that’s a case I’m a pro! Driving back was pretty much drama-free. When we got back to the cabana we realised how sunburnt we were. Let’s just say we all had moons for bums for a few days.
We eventually managed to remove ourselves from the lovely Arugam Bay to go to Ella, and then onto Kandy. Supposedly known as the ‘cultural capital’ of Sri Lanka, we didn’t really enjoy it. The main attraction is the Temple of the Tooth and I hate to say it but it was a huge let down. Our guesthouse owner said if we went at 5.30am before the morning ceremony we would get in for free instead of paying 1500 rupees, which we did – committed to budget travelling! But we ended up having to pay. This wasn’t a biggie but the Temple was so so crowded and we barely got to see the Tooth relic. We also felt awkward as hundreds of Buddhists were rushing to get in and we were just there, queuing on the stairs, in the way. Perhaps we were just unlucky and went at the wrong time.
Later that day we went white water rafting – a first for me and Ellie! It was quite tame and didn’t last for very long but fun nonetheless! Swimming in the river at the end was so refreshing.
After Kandy came Dambulla where we visited the Cave Temple. It’s a mission to walk up to the Temple but it was stunning. I lost count of the number of intricate rock carvings and statues of Buddha. There was a very peaceful atmosphere.
Sygria/Lion’s Rock was a bit of a travel fail. We made a super early start for what we thought would be an hours climb so we could then catch our train, but when we got there the monks who manage the entrance said it would be much longer. However, they said this after we paid and when we requested a refund after realising we didn’t have time, they flatly refused. We negotiated for a good five minutes and they eventually came round. Although disputing with monks is never going to be an ideal situation, we saw another beautiful sunrise and had a fun night drinking beer and playing Cards Against Humanity in Sygria regardless.
We then caught the train down south, having far too much fun taking stereotypical train travel photos. It’s great though, every five minutes someone walks down the aisle selling chai, peanuts, bahjis and samosas. The conductor also asked us if we wanted curry for breakfast and we obviously said yes. It came in a newspaper bag and the best part was it cost just 80 rupees! These photos also made realise I have an incredibly long neck, but I hope it’s just the angle…
Down south consisted primarily of being beach bums. We did lot’s of sunbathing, swimming, reading and checking out the different happy hours. We didn’t rate Hikkaduwa, the coastal erosion spoils the beach and nothing really seemed to be open. We did visit the Tsunami Museum though, and woah, powerful. There’s a lovely lady who runs the museum, which was her house before the wave destroyed everything in its path. You could see and feel the terror and pain in her eyes as she was giving her own account of that morning. It was a powerful reminder to seize and appreciate every single day and every loved one in our lives.
Next stop was Unawatuna. We loved it here. Sandy beach, nice bars and restaurants and good vibes. We easily could’ve stayed for another three days, but Mirissa was calling. We struck gold and found two rooms for 400 rupees each per night! Sunshine Bar quickly became our spot, and 300 rupee daiquiris at 4pm became the taste of Mirissa! This was the ‘holiday’ part of our month in Sri Lanka. Dying to see elephants since we arrived, we booked a Safari to Udawalawe National Park. We were even lucky to see a whole family, including the most gorgeous calf, crossing the road right in front of our jeep. We also saw foxes, buffalo, deer, peacocks and some very small wild cats. The day was undoubtedly fulfilled by our Udawalawe safari hat purchases, which may I add, have barely left our heads since.
Since being here I’ve basically turned into a walking, talking curry and I’ve definitely acquired a rotti belly (rotti is a Sri Lankan bread). That being said, a cooking class was a must. The lady who cooked at our guesthouse has culinary gifts from the Gods I swear, so when we found out she does cooking classes we knew who we were doing it with! We made five traditional curries: okra, tomato, pineapple, pumpkin, daal and coconut sambol, and everything was made from scratch including the curry pastes. The flavours are created mainly from (a tonne) of garlic, turmeric, cardamom, mustard seeds, ginger and curry and pandem leaves. Christie was extremely hungover that morning and after crushing the spices and garlic to make the paste, the smell got the better of her and she made a quick dash for the bathroom. We didn’t see her for the rest of the cooking class. One woman down, we successfully made enough food to feed the five thousand and man it was tasty. We now like to think we’re curry queens, and we’ll be whipping up a Sri Lankan banquet when we go home for sure.
There were two reasons why we had to go out when we had to be up at 6:15am to catch our flight: a) because it was Halloween and b) because we had to send a brilliant month in Sri Lanka off in style. We turned up at Sunshine’s halloween party where we were greeted by our new pals and the boss who was in very merry spirits. We seemed to be standing in what seemed like a makeshift VIP area with free drinks, excellent. The party started to die down, and letting our vodka-induced hunger get the better of us, we decided to go on a rotti hunt. In the distance, we saw the light, of a shabby little food joint. A stacked plate of rotti and curry sauce was put on the table and we well and truly tucked in. They definitely ripped us off though. Bellies now satisfied, we had two hours to sleep.
Waking up and getting going was actually easier than I’d imagined. It was the morning rush hour and school run so three buses refused to let us on. Libby climbed onto one and nearly left without us, and upon realising we weren’t on it too she scurried off, nearly mowing down the school girl standing behind her with her rucksack! When we were on the bus things took a turn for the worst and I felt incredibly rough. Things then went completely south when we reached Matara bus station. Let’s just say it was definitely not my finest moment. I ran for the toilet praying I’d make it with panic painted all over my face. Yep, there had to be a little queue didn’t there! Finally in the toilet sighing with relief, I realised there was no toilet roll or even a bum gun. I even checked my bag for toilet roll, a paper bag, anything! But nope, nothing. There was only one option and I’ll give you a clue – I spent the next bus journey to the airport commando. I didn’t really like those pants anyway. The girls found it incredibly funny, saying it was probably a good taster for ‘Delhi belly’.
We arrived at the airport with three hours to spare – the earliest any of us have ever been. You needed a mortgage to buy anything there, but feeling like an empty vessel, there was no option other than to give in and buy an overpriced sandwich. Despite how early we were we still managed to board the flight on the final call, typical.
Sri Lanka, you’ve been wonderful and I’ll be definitely be back.
Next stop: INDIA.