After spending four days in Kandy it was time to leave as I had enough gin and tonics for the rest of my life. Not too early in the morning I packed my bag, reconnected with Bip Bop and continued our journey towards the south to the mountains.
Right after the botanical park I made a detour to a Buddhist temple. I don’t usually plan to visit any specific temples as I ultimately run into a few of them anyway but that one had been specifically recommended at Slightly Chilled bar. Most tourists don’t even know that it exists at all. It’s even left out of most of the guidebooks. After one and a half hour ride I arrived to Ambuluwawe National Park which is actually only a smallish mountain with a forest and a weird temple on top of it.
Going uphill was the first real test for Bip Bop as we were only riding on mostly flat terrain before. But Bip Bop was hammered out of hard steel so climbing up on a 20 degree road which had more holes than asphalt wasn’t a problem for her. In half an hour we gained 700 meters. The last section of the route was really really steep and I just couldn’t risk it so I parked Bip Bop and continued the climb on foot. While Bip Bop was resting, I got completely knackered. I wasn’t used to this kind of walking at all. Once I got up the view was breathtaking . For the first time in a long time I could finally see mountains, valleys and other geographic formations I cannot even name. And the temple was even cooler. I’m not an architect so I don’t even want to guess what style it was built in but if it was like one of Gaudi’s designs. Maybe a young, drunk and angry Gaudi. Not a straight line or surface, only curves and random design solutions. It was like they built an ordinary temple and then before the whole structure could have set they just shook the hell out of it and left it like that.
The staircase was inside but as the tower got narrower they continued it on the outside. All in all it didn’t look really welcoming. From the bottom it didn’t seem so scary at all but as the staircase and the whole tower got narrower the world around me was shaking in direct proportion to my sense of danger. The railing, which had holes bigger than a baby hippo, was lower than my hip. The staircase was so tight and slippery that I could only advance sideways. If that’s not enough the whole wall of the tower was more of a convex shape so me like a suction cup I stuck to the wall and slowly made my way up step by step. At the top, the diameter of the tower wasn’t more than 1 meter so I only had like 20 centimeters to stand on. And I was up at 50 meters. Every part of my body that could tremble was trembling. However, as soon as I got up and the trembling stopped and I could finally enjoy the view while my non-existing hair was blown by the wind.
A few minutes of enjoyment proved to be enough and I hurried all the way down. I did it! I overcame my fear! Fuck. I haven’t taken any photos as I was so busy being in a mild shock. What to do, what to do? (This is a phrase used by Sri Lankans for everything.) Get back up again. I had wackier ideas in the past. For the second time I rushed up like a delirious chamois. The trembling started again but it was more subtle this time. I got up much easily and it boosted my confidence. Great. Take a few photos and let’s get out of here. I went down again. But wait. Let’s try something. What if I went up again? Why not? Let’s see what happens. Can I really overcome my fear by doing the same stuff all over again and getting used to it? Yes, it’s possible. For the third time it felt like a walk in the park. A freakishly narrow and slippery park. The only variable I didn’t include in my little experiment is that the stairs were really slippery and I was wearing flip flops. Also the newly acquired confidence brought out the daredevil in me and it was of course recipe for injuries . As it was suspected, at 47 meters off the ground, on a tiny staircase my feet slipped and I swayed out like pendulum. Luckily I could regain my balance by catching some funky feature on the wall but it was a close call. Fuck this. This was a stupid idea. No more experiments. Let’s get out of here. But at least I learned that the level of confidence is direct opposite of the level of stupidity. At least in my case.
After I got down, on the way back to Bip Bop I gave some food and water to a few stray dogs just to balance out my karma. I have no idea how they can survive there? There is nothing to eat or drink and rarely if ever anybody turns up. I returned to Bip Bop and with the combination of the clutch, brake and handbrake we got off the mountain in one piece. Going downward was much scarier than going up as I was constantly freaking out. I didn’t want to push the brake all the time as I was worried it might overheat. I could have been stopped by the guard rails if the builders hadn’t forgotten to build one. By the end of the journey I really needed a new t-shirt. And a new seat cover for Bip Bop too.
After Ambuluwawa, I was really looking forward to getting to the real mountains and seeing Sri Lanka’s highest city, Nuwara Eliya. I’d like to say that the road was much more pleasant than before but getting up to 1900m within 20kms means more bends and steeper slopes than ever before. At least I was no longer worried that my faithful friend could get up or not but I was more concerned about not falling out from Bip Bop at every bend. That would have been a pity to roll into the tea plantation. The road was literally made out of bends. Not a single straight line. And constant uphill. Traveling by 15km/h was just slow enough not to make any progress but fast enough to get hurt if I fall out. And obviously the buses are trucks couldn’t care less. They were just pushing it like they were driving on a straight 6 lane road. In my whole life I never ever gripped the steering wheel that hard. I tried to admire the landscape but it was absolutely impossible. Naturally, I miscalculated the distance and the time it would take me to get there as I also stopped a few times, which had a direct consequence on the fact that by the time I was just over half way it began to get dark. Anything, but darkness. Like in a bad action movie I was against the big countdown clock. If the Sun goes down I die. I drove as fast as I could. How much time do I have to stay alive? Will I reach the city in time? No, I didn’t. But the sunset was gorgeous. And I survived.
The other obvious detail I didn’t take into account was the temperature. In the past month I was wearing only a t-shirt, a sarong/scarf and flip flops. As soon as I got up to nearly 2000 meters it became evident that I should have put more thought into my trip. And it became even more evident that it was cold up there when I saw a guy selling coats and hats next to the road. I could have stopped and pulled out my sweatshirt and my shoes from the bottom of my pack as my toes were also freezing, but I just wanted to get there as soon as I could. Mildly frozen, exhausted and hungry I arrived at Nuwara Eliya which seemed unimaginable one hour before.
Once I arrived I booked a room at a home stay just for a night as I wanted to see the city before booking something longer. At first everything looked fine. The room was clean and comfy. The host was really welcoming and helpful. Too helpful in fact. He was overflowing with good intentions. He couldn’t leave me alone. Not even for 5 minutes. I had a separate room but he knocked on my door every minute to inquiry if everything was fine. Yes, I’m good. But I would be even more fine if you didn’t knock on the door. He was a really nice man. He just drove me crazy a bit. I tried to relax but I just couldn’t. He even followed me to the bathroom. Everything good, Sir? Why wouldn’t it be? It was 5 minutes ago. Not much happened since. I was invited to have dinner with them but I thought it was better to go out and be alone for a bit till my mind and my body get in line with my thoughts.
Since I was only eating Sri Lankan food for for the past month I kinda had enough of it so I ordered a pizza at Pizza Hut. Yeah I know. But the body sometimes needs some junk food. After my lovely dinner I only wanted to go home and drink an ice cold beer and sleep off the day. I could only buy a lukewarm local beer half of which I managed to pour into my bed. I was so exhausted I forgot how to drink liquid. I genuinely felt that the worst part of my Sri Lankan trip was about happen. I think the fatigue finally caught up with me. And the worst was yet to come.
The following day after my host stuffed me with breakfast and packed enough food for 3 days it was time to look for another accommodation. To my surprise Bip Bop was gone again. She probably needed a proper rest as she ended up in a garage. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t her idea so I guess the host took my keys while I was sleeping and moved her. I hope not. When I saw Bip Bop I didn’t believe my eyes. She stood there all wet and shiny. My lovely host gave her a good clean. She just stood there in all her glory. After I walked around her and checked it was really her I said goodbye to my host and we left. On the way out my host made sure that I left a positive feedback about him. I would have loved to write but what should I write? He was really nice and kind but a bit too much. Which is good and bad at the same time. I wouldn’t like to stay at his place again as it was just too overwhelming. But on the other hand the place was nice and clean. It’s a tricky one. I still haven’t left a review as I just don’t know what to say.
At the other accommodation it was the complete opposite. They didn’t give a shit about me. I waited for my room for hours. Besides, the place was really hard to find and it wasn’t even there where it was supposed to be so every night I had to drive back to the city instead of just walking. The mosquito net was missing again which made me chase one fu..ing mosquito all night. On top of that they closed the front door of the house so I couldn’t even get out for a cigarette. And because I had to drive the police had the chance to stop me and gave me a warning for not giving way to another car, but I already wrote about it. For the second time I couldn’t find cold beer anywhere. I forgot to have dinner and once I realized it everything was closed. The whole place turned against me! I was sure then that I was going to face a few shitty days and I would be grumpy and miserable. I’m not sure it was only me or the place put me off so much. I just couldn’t bring myself to like the city. It was the complete opposite of Kandy. I was expecting Nuwara Eliya to be a small mountain town with nice little streets. Instead, the city consisted of either run down guest houses or big and expensive hotels. Rich and mostly white people were playing golf while Tamil men were mowing and watering the lawn. Next to the the golf course there was a huge horse track where skinny and not so good looking horses were eating dried out grass while kids were playing cricket next to them. I didn’t see any local women in the city as they were busy working on the tea plantations. For me the place was really depressing, even the tourists looked miserable. The only good thing I found and enjoyed was a big lake where I could at least sit down and enjoy the surrounding mountains and speak to a few Sri Lankan tourists.
One morning I drove to a hotel to have a proper breakfast which I didn’t have for some time. Again, It was like being in a movie. A nicely dressed Tamil woman wearing white gloves served me the most expensive breakfast I ever had. The decor was from the colonial era and I felt like a spoilt kid who can afford to spend 2 days wage on a croissant and tea. Everything was completely artificial and soulless. If I remember correctly Zandi wanted to go to the place to have dinner but they didn’t let them in as they weren’t dressed formally. The only cozy place I found to eat was a small pizzeria owned by an Italian guy. The place, which wasn’t bigger than 10 square meter, however, was run by a local woman. She was a really good cook. Her pizza was the best I had in Sri Lanka. Not that I had many. She was helped out by her two little daughters but not because they wanted to but she couldn’t leave her children to anyone to look after them. Her husband was working in a factory all day and her sisters and mother were working on the fields. But at least she didn’t have to work 14 hours a day and harvest tea. I really wanted to like the city but it was the most depressing place I’ve visited in Sri Lanka.
The following day I didn’t even try to get to know the city better so I decided to explore the surrounding mountains and the villages around. I drove towards Ramboda which is famous for its nearby waterfalls. I usually don’t get hyped by waterfalls but at least it’s water. When I saw the sign pointing towards the place I didn’t even slow down to stop. The parking lot was so full of tourists that they had to queue to even get to the footpath leading to the waterfalls. I drove past them to find a more tranquil setting. According to the GPS, a large water reservoir was close by which promised to be interesting or at least it was off the beaten path. Soon after I left the main road I met the real Tamil inhabitants.
Sri Lanka population is 75% Sinhalese and 10 % Tamil. The Sinhalese people have migrated from northern India, most of them are Buddhists and they live mainly in the western, southern and central part of Sri Lanka. Sri Lankan Tamils, who came from South India, mostly live in the North and eastern part of Sri Lanka and they are hindus. Moors and Malaysian live in urban areas but they are less than 5% of the population. There is another group that inhabits central Sir Lanka. Indian Tamils were brought to the island by the British hundreds of years ago solely to work on tea plantations. The mountain range is a natural dividing line between the two populations.
Most of the Indian Tamils, around half a million people, are stateless meaning that they are neither citizen of Sri Lanka nor India. They have absolutely no rights whatsoever. They live in small houses around the plantations where they work. Generations live under one roof and they have no or little chance to change their lives. The women work on plantations while men in factories or whatever they can do, driving a tuktuk, selling coconut or chewing gums. I had a chance to speak to one of them and he told me he made 10-15Rs on every coconut he sold. Just as a point of reference. A meal costs around 200Rs in a local really cheap place. A tea plantation worker earns around 7-800Rs a day. That’s nothing. They are barely surviving. They just earn enough to survive. Pure slavery all over the place. The factories are owned by big corporates and run by local Sinhales people which is already enough to create some tension.
Tourism can help a little as it gives people a chance to earn extra money. But tourism only started in the last 10-12 years. 20 years ago there was no tourism at all. There weren’t even tuktuks in the country. Since then more and more people arrive which is good for them but it can also be misleading. Many families invest a lot of money into extending their homes to offer rooms but it’s a big investment and they don’t know how to run a guest house. They just don’t have the experience. They aim for the rich tourists by offering swimming pool or aircon but the rooms or the surroundings are just not nice enough to draw these kinds of people. And there is already a surplus, the competition is high and ultimately they lose money.
But let’s go back to Ramboda. The road leading to the reservoir was the most scenic road I’d seen. When the road wasn’t running across a plantation it was hedged by huge trees with purple flowers. Monkeys were running around and birds were flying everywhere. I stopped at a few local shops to buy some water or chocolate. They looked at me as if I was an alien. They were really friendly hence they didn’t speak any English. The reservoir itself wasn’t a big deal but the road leading to it was worth the time. No vehicles were allowed to cross the dam so I had to leave Bip Bop behind. As I was wandering around I noticed a few locals running up and down on the wrong side of the damn. I mean, for me it looked the wrong side as normally I would walk on top of the embankment not on the steep side over the water. Obviously, I wanted to check what was going on. They were painting some numbers and signs with tiny brushes. In slippers. Without any kind of safety equipment. That’s why I love Sri Lanka. They just don’t give a shit about these things. It would have been impossible in Europe. They would close down the whole road, hire 3 people to secure one who is actually carrying out the work. Here one guy was holding one end of the rope while the other was doing his job. He just stood there. He could have done nothing if the other guy had slipped and fallen. I guess he was just keeping him company. Spiritual support. I prefer these memories and experiences more than flashing into the eyes of a tea plantation worker just to get the ultimate shot of the day.
After my little trip to the dam I felt alive and positive again. But to keep my good spirit up I had to leave the city and find a less depressing environment.
In my next post I finally write about why I climbed 6000 stairs just to see a sunset which I obviously missed completely. I also return to Kandy and I manage to function after not sleeping for 36 hours.