I said a very sad farewell to Beth, Mum and Tom and boarded the 5:30am flight from Thrivandrum to Colombo, it was only an up and down 40 minute flight but I found myself in a new country. After my 2am wake up I was not on my best form so after going through immigration, changing money and buying a Sri Lankan SIM card I was approached by a driver offering to take me to my hotel for 9000R. Being tired I couldn’t quite work out what 9000R was, epically with the Indian exchange confusion ringing in my head, but I knew 9000 was too much. We agreed 6000R and he took my to a waiting taxi who took me on the 2 hour drive to my hotel in a southern suburb of Colombo called Mount Lavinya. My driver was lovely and told me a lot about the areas we were driving through.
He asked me mid drive who my Sri Lankan friend was that had flagged him down? I explained he had claimed to be the drivers boss, to which the guy asked how much money id given him, I told him 6000R and the guy got quite cross, he had only asked for 2000R for the drive, this con man scalper had made 4000R for doing nothing.
My driver explained there were bad men in Sri Lanka who did this sort of thing. He was lovely and turned down my proffered tip stating I had already paid to much. It was a weird morning filled with scum and gems. Going from the worst of people to the best in hours.
I refused to let the con man put me off Sri Lanka and focused instead on the drivers generosity and honesty.
I took a walk along mount Lavinya beach, a beautiful stretch of beach with no rubbish in site. It was so different to India. Litter is almost no existent, there’s bins, it took me 2 hours on the road to hear my first horn and the drivers tend to stick to their lanes! I didn’t realise how used to the reverse of these things I was having been in India for 2 ½ months.
On my walk I met a local guy who showed me some of the areas affected by the 2002 tsunami and spoke about his own experience of it. It was very humbling speaking to someone who has had to rebuild their entire life!
I spent the rest of the day sleeping to make up for my early morning wake up!
The next day I went for a walk around Mount Lavinya. At one point I managed to turn one of my notoriously fragile ankles and went down like a ton of weights. Around 10 locals and 3 tuk tuks all pulled over to check on me. Offering me free rides to the hospital or back to my hotel, locals offering me to come to their house to check I was ok. I was so embarrassed by falling over I thanked them all and hobbled off, but I was really touched by so many people stopping and checking!
A quick stop at the chemist to strap up my sore, but not seriously hurt ankle followed!
I had arranged for a Tuk tuk Safari through a website. A tuk tuk arrived at my hotel and ran me through my evenings itinerary. We would visit temples and markets. It was an all inclusive price so I wouldn’t need to pay a penny for food or drinks. With this he showed me his Tuktuk, I had its own sound system, completed with AUX lead so I could play my own music, in the back was a cooler filled with beer and water and it also featured a tabled with a cashew nut filled bowl sat atop it!
It was as if a tuk tuk had been on MTVs pimp my ride. It got even better when he pulled the roof down to reveal it was convertible. We cruised around the streets of Colombo with country music blaring out the speakers, I got more than 1 odd look from locals! We stopped at a local market called the good market, it could have been straight out of an English country side, none of the craziness id seen in India’s markets, no hassling, no crowds. Instead there were 20 or so small stands selling Jams, paintings, food etc. With a live band playing on a make shift stage. I got 2 rottis filled with a dal which I gobbled down before setting off to our next stop, a 400 year old Hindu temple. It was a very pretty temple but having been to soooo many temples while in India I’m afraid I was underwhelmed. We stopped briefly for a mango lassi before heading to a street restaurant to try hoppers, these are bowl shaped pancakes filled with either sweet or savoury fillings. I felt stuffed after eating them! I’m not used to eating this much anymore!
We had a quick stop at a tea shop for a quick presentation and some green tea before going to the Gangarama Buddhist temple. Its a big temple in the middle of Colombo and is filled with a museum of sorts of all the things gifted to the head monk over his 70 years. There was a lot! Old printing presses, coins, statues, old VHS players, cars. Anything you can think off was there. At point it felt like we were walking through an old garage sale!
The temple also features a shrine filled with huge colourful statues, I wasn’t expecting them after the room with old VHS players and was somewhat taken aback. The photos don’t do them justice.
We had a flying visit to independence square and independence arcade, where I was able to have a spin at driving the tuk tuk. In all the tuk tuks I’ve been in I never once realised they have gears! I assumed they were twist and go like a scooter. Turns out they are quite hard to drive!
Independence arcade is an old Asylum that has been converted into a shopping/dining area, but has kept its original design. It was great seeing an old building that had been falling apart, repurposed and refurbished. Reading Council and HM prison services could learn a thing or two from them when it comes to the Reading Jail.
Last stop was at a street venders for my dinner (id assumed Id already had it) and I was showed with fish, chicken, parathas, Dall and curries until I felt like id burst! But they were all so tasty! We drove back to the hotel and I was dropped off. What a great way to spend 7 hours and an absolute steal for the price it was!
I walked along the rail way line that runs parallel with the beach the next day to get to a local Turtle sanctuary. Id read mixed things about it so was keen to make up my own mind.
Walking along a railway just feels so wrong! I kept expecting to be hit by an oncoming train, but you can see and hear them coming from so far away there is plenty of time to get out of their way. There are whole communities built facing the railways meaning you have to walk along them to reach them! I met people with surf boards, football teams and lots of other interesting people along my walk. People kept seeing my DSLR and asked for their photos to be taken!
I got to the sanctuary and was pleasantly surprised. I was shown around all the rescued turtles pools and told about each one, why they were there, what was wrong with them, some it was obvious as they were missing limbs, others had digestion problems from eating plastic bags. Some were to be released, others wouldn’t survive so lived there. I queried this when I was asked if I wanted to hold one and was explained it was one that was used to handling as had been there 3 years and wasn’t fit for the wild!
The volunteers told me about locals finding eggs and selling them to the conservation rather than the markets. Before the conservation was set up all the turtles used to end up in soups. Considering 4 of the 5 species are critically endangered it was a privilege to contribute to their good work!
I woke the next morning knowing I needed to leave Colombo but having no plan how or where. Id read about a town called Kitulgali around 100km where you could white water raft and do a lot of adventure activates so I decided to head there. Id planned to get the bus but was convinced by a lovely man to get a Tuktuk. For 100km!! It was an adventure to say the least! But the driver was so nice. He took me first to his house to meet his family, (and to explain to his wife he wouldn’t be home on time due to the 8 hour round trip he had agreed too) I was welcomed into the house and given green tea and felt really genuinely welcome.
This hadn’t happened to me in India for whatever reason and so I was so pleased to experience some real local hospitality.
I got to kitigala and found somewhere to sleep, an adventure camp right on the river that offered all kinds of fun activities. My driver stayed for a drink before heading out on the long drive back to Colombo. I settled in for the night ready for some white water rafting the following morning.
I befriended a group of Danish travellers and we jumped into the back of a truck to head to the top of the river. The driver must have thought he was Lewis Hamilton as he was taking the corners at a crazy pace!
We got geared up and walked down to the river, I had my go pro so they hooked me up with a helmet I could put it on which was great.
I’ve rafted a few rivers around the world, some good, some not so good. I imagine this river in the rainy season would be amazing, but being in the dry season ill demote it to just a good. It was good fun and had it been my first time rafting I would be raving about it, but its not a touch of the Ottawa river or Tully river in Canada and Australia respectively. I did enjoy myself which is the most important part and got some good footage on the camera.
The adventure camp didn’t seem to offer much else in the way of adventure so a lot of time was spent lying in a hammock by the river, which in itself is pretty fun, just not so adventurous.
I had a few beers and a buffet dinner before bidding my new Danish friends farewell and jumping on the bus to Kandy.