A moment or two to catch my breath at day 7 into our trip. We have a 2 night stay at the Tamarind Lodge in Digani, a very special place in Sri Lanka. We are perched on the edge of the Victoria reservoir having coming down from the Hill Country and entered into a drier region of Sri Lanka (we are just at the end of its wet season and for the next 7 months it will be arid and parched). One huge benefit of this region is that there are no leeches.
We had an early start at 7:15am to walk down to the village the project supports. We had met the calves and some of the dairy herd; had a chance to meet a villager who makes her living rolling incense sticks (about .50p for a dozen packs) and were ambling down to the quarry when our hostess, Ayesha, received a call to say she needed to visit her manager in hospital. He has been working with the couple who run this venture for the past 15 years and, very sadly, is critically ill.
The project relies on the support that it’s visitors can bring. It is attracting many people from the Netherlands, Germany and Sweden. We are the first cycling group to stay. We will hope to meet the other villagers who make jewellery and batik before we leave tomorrow.
After a breakfast of milk rice, tuna curry and fruit we were treated to a paddle across the reservoir by a local fisherman in his fishing canoe. It is so incredibly peaceful here; no engines, no planes overhead and not even barking dogs. The hills are less forested and currently very green. Fruit is abundant with mangoes, dorian, jackfruit and coconut. Even we can see lots of bird life without the benefit of huge telescopes. It must be spectacular to see the elephants that come over the hill foraging for food in the dry season.
Monday, 23rd November
Poor Ayisha didn’t make it back to the base until gone midnight. Her manager passed away yesterday and she needed to support his poor widowed wife left with 2 small children.
John spoiled us with a variety of curries including the freshwater lobster from the reservoir – another delicious last meal at Tamarind Gardens.
Forget my previous comment re quiet dogs, evening peace was shattered by the biggest dog fight imaginable with howls, whelps, barking and fighting. Expected to see some blood on the road.
The dogs are everywhere and bizarrely they mostly look exactly the same – mid size, light tan colour, long snouts and small ears, except for the manged, hairless, sunburnt ones who look particularly pitiful. There are many dogs by the side of the road with a mangled leg or paw. We assume they just didn’t mange to get out of the road in time. It is astounding that they choose to lie in the middle of busy carriageways for their pastime. Culturally they are tolerated and even fed but never allowed inside the house.
Friday, 27 November
Where have the days gone? Now on the east coast watching the clouds billowing in from the Bay of Bengal. Monsoon approaching.
It has been an amazing trip across this diverse island with its different religions which manage to live side by side, through its hill country which, honestly, should be called mountain country. Cycling up that hill through its switchback bends in the heat was exhausting. Memorable for the relief at reaching the top.
Nuwara Eliya, Little England, tea plantation area, every inch of steep hillside covered in perfectly groomed emerald green tea plants. The English did try coffee first which was successful for 5 years until some blight destroyed the plants and so, to tea. We are now very well educated in the whole process and know that us Brits commonly drink Broken Orange Pekoe.
Where there’s an up there’s always a down and the next day was a treat of 15km downhill, racing the cars.
On to Dumballa, the Covent Garden of the country. It is the marketplace for the wholesalers for the fruit and veg, a bustling community. The soil in this area is perfect for spices and herbs. Saw my first tamarind pod (tamar a Hebrew word, d’inde of India)
On to the lower plains where there is the conflict between elephants and farmers in their paddy fields. In the dry season the elephants seek out the softer grasses (elephants in the wild die of starvation as their teeth grind down and they can no longer process the dry foliage). There is an attempt to separate the elephants from the villages with electric fences. Unfortunately, these aren’t maintained and the villagers do what they need to do to feed their families.
Sigiriya is spectacular. A huge granite outcrop of rock, inhabited by cavemen, buddhists and a very ambitious king who had the ingenuity and vision to irrigate the whole region by the construction of vast water tanks and canals. These are maintained today as invaluable resources for the rice farmers. All this constructed during a 17 yr reign in the 4th century. Incredible when today’s government fails in providing daily water for its population.
The area becomes drier and hotter as we head north east towards Passikuda Bay. Average cycling temps 33c – phew. The thoughts through my head are always “and this is without carrying our full panniers!”
So far, escaped any dodgy bellies – steer clear of the salads and eating only peeled fruit. The curries are delicious and haven’t been unbearably spicy.
Really enjoy the east of the island where tourism has yet to take hold. People seem happy to see us (probably laughing at us for cycling without umbrellas and not carrying anything to sell).
Marcus, our driver and guide loves to talk about his people and his island and is keen to share his knowledge with us. Divorce is pretty common here, mother in laws can be hell and it is better to move far away from your family if you want peace and harmony – wise advice possibly?
This evening, our last on the east coast, the only sounds are the crashing of the surf as we watch the blinking lights of the squid boats on the horizon.
After a transfer back to Ngombo and drop offs at the airport, back on the road heading towards the national parks.
A brilliant safari at Ude Walawe. How lucky were we to see mother with small infant breast feeding and close enough to hear her groans – whatever they may be meaning. The area is rich with bird life and I wonder, slightly, why Sri Lanka chose the wild fowl (looks like a rooster) as its national bird and not the majestic posing peacock, of which there are hundreds in the park, dancing with their full plumage on display.
Straight onto Tissa ready for an early safari to Yala. Didn’t feel so special as many jeeps lined up at the entrance by 6:30 am. There are lots of Japanese tourists here. Sri Lanka has a special relationship with Japan. As a principally Buddhist country after the Second World War, rather than demanding reparations they forgave. The tourists coaches we see also bring many Germans, Dutch and French to the area. It is quite unusual to hear an English accent – hoorah!
Crocs, water buffalo, wild boar and birds galore. There are leopards here but we weren’t lucky enough to see one. The Tusker we did see was disgruntled with all the jeeps pushing closer trying to snap photos. One had to reverse pretty smartish out of his way. Amusing for us as we could make a hasty getaway. The best way to do a safari here, we are advised, is to drive to one of the many small lagoons, park up and just wait for the animals to come. We didn’t have the luxury of time as pressing on we are now on the south coast – Tangalle.
Tangalle is still very undeveloped which is lovely. We lucked out to stay at a hotel undergoing refurbishment and stayed in one of their thatched bungalows. Did look lovely but pretty leaky during the evening storm. So long as it wasn’t dripping over the bed – no problem. The beach is glorious with pounding surf and no-one on it. First place we’ve been to where there are no loitering dogs. Fresh local mixed seafood, including lobster and grilled calamari for supper. Can’t get much better.
Wednesday, 2nd December
First day out fully loaded. I appreciate that my panniers are much smaller than Paul’s and much lighter. I think it’s a slight benefit for safety in that we are a little larger on the road and more visible. Still the buses hurtle by at top speed almost knocking us sideways. I also appreciate that he is doing the navigating and that the map/gear in and phone map don’t coincide. Heavy rain also is not conducive to devices working well. A little fraught at finding ourselves on a very rough mucky dirt road heading in the wrong direction. Even though the main road is fast and busy it seemed more sensible to stick to it again as difficult to go wrong. Thought we’d look for a bed for the night in Matara, a large, modern and bustling city as it turned out, so not to our liking and headed further west onto Marissa. Not so many signs for places to stay. Hiked along the beach to one lonely hotel. The did have a room available but only if non-smoking and no alcohol. Disaster. After 4 hours of cycling in 37 degrees, a cold beer is a must reward. A further hike down the beach and found Edelweiss Resort. Swiss owners with menus in German, but, fresh calamari available. Yum yum.
Mum to Steph and Chris (now both left home) renovator of homes and gardens, keen on new challenges (pretty sure our upcoming trip will be challenging to last me for a while).
Paul started me cycling again 6 years ago. I’m sure he always had this master plan in mind to do the “big one”. Subtly, he started me with the gentle cycle to the pub – only 10 kms but exhausting! My 50th present was a cycle around Sardinia. An amazing trip and hard work for me but did discover that I was able to cycle 100kms in a day. Im probably fitter than I have ever been which feels great.