Negombo, Pinnawala, Sigiriya, Kandy, Dambulla, Nuwara Eliya and Adam's Peak!
18.02.2013 - 25.02.2013 30 °C
After a late night flight from Bali to Singapore, a day in the airport of sleeping on the floor and one more flight we made it to Sri Lanka late last Monday night. We were greeted by Cam (who happened to be the one to see us off at the beginning of our trip in Niagara Falls ) and all of a sudden it felt like we were never gone. We took a tuk-tuk to his Dads place and had a few catch up drinks before going to bed.
Cam's step-mom Phyllis also had a friend from Canada (Shauna) visiting at the same time and she had a whole week of activities planned out for all us starting at 6:30 am the next day! It was really nice to sit back and let someone else make the plans for the week, we had an excellent driver hired named Buddika to take us to all the sights and all accomodations were already planned out, it was a great holiday from our holiday!
Our first day we headed out to the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage. Pinnawala has the largest herd of captive elephants in the world. I think there was 82 elephants there in total spanning 3 generations. The orphanage was established to help abandoned or wounded young elephants back to health, sometimes orphans get separated from their herds due to developmental projects or get stuck in pits or ravines trying to get to water in the dry seasons. They have also started a succesful bredding program there as well so there are lots of babies too Here was our first glimpse of the beautiful creatures crossing the road to head down to the river for bath time!
The herd goes down to the river twice a day to drink and be bathed, it was so cool watching them stop traffic passing through town! We followed them down to the river and just watched in awe for an hour or two, Phyllis knew of a secret spot where we could get close enough to feed them, then we headed to another area of the orphange to meet the two newest members of the herd Nigala and Waruna ! By the time we were done watching the babies play around in the water the rest of the herd were back in the area where they stay for most of the day. What a fantastic experience it was! The only time I've ever seen an elephant was one at Estevan Circus haha! Jordan and I are already getting excited to see them again in Thailand ! We took a million photos but heres a few of the best!
After we were done at the orphange we hopped back in the van and headed out to Sigiriya, our driver Buddika is born and raised in Sri Lanka and made many unexpected stops for things to see that we would have never noticed otherwise here is a picture of Jordan buying some local cigarettes, tobacco wrapped in a tobacco leaf ! Were not sure why but the locals seemed to think it was quite funny whenever one of us would light one up, Im assuming its because they think they are crap and only tourists smoke them but oh well we all enjoyed them haha.
That was the first of many Buddist Temples that we came across. It was right beside our little hotel out in the bush.
Another great find by our driver, although about halfway through our 5 o'clock cocktail hour we lost power and it took them until almost 11 pm before it was back on again. So we made the best of it and had a candle lit dinner at the restaurant, which was pretty impressive for them not having any power.
The next day we set out to climb Sigiriya, an ancient rock fortress surrounded by gardens and reservoirs. It is believed that Sigiriya was inhabited during prehistoric times, and was used as a shelter for monks in the 5th century BC. It is also known for its ancient paintings or frescos that are on the walls at the very top inside of caves and it is one of the eight Unesco World Heritage sites in the country. The 1202 steps to the top were just a warm up for what was to come later in the week ...
This next picture was only about 3/4 of the way up to give you an idea of how high we climbed ...
But it was all worth it when we got to the top! What a view! We spent about an hour on top recovering and taking in the scenery before heading down and continuing on our way...
As we were heading to our next stop the Dambulla Cave Temple, we found a traditional Batik shop where they make handmade sarongs, wall murals and all kinds of other textiles, we got a full lesson on how they are all made and the process is quite interesting, one piece can take as much as up to two or three weeks to finish because every color is added using wax one at at time and it needs to dry and be cleaned in between each color.
We made it to the Dambulla Cave Temple in the afternoon and explored its 5 caves full of statues of Buddha and ancient paintings. Sri Lankans from prehistoric times lived in these caves before Buddhism and there are burial sites with human skeletons about 2700 years old in the area. Your not allowed to wear your shoes into the Buddhist Temple so they make you "check" your shoes for a small fee, about 200 feet before you reach the temple. Ok so your shoes are off and it's about 35 degrees outside and the sun has been shinning on the black tile all day. Ooh, ahh ohh ahh hot, hot, hot and your in the caves with burnt tootsies. The ceilings and walls are painted completely in each cave and it reminded me of some the tombs in The Valley of the Kings in Egypt.
After the temple we were back on the road to Nuwara Eliya and along the way we stopped at a Spice Garden, which we all thought was going to be spices grown locally for cooking but it turned out to be more of a herbal medicine garden. Attached to the garden was the college of Herbal Medicine and the tour guides were students working towards their Doctrine of Medicine. Our tour guide had been taking Medicine for 7 years and had one to go and took us all through the gardens showing us all the traditional herbs used to cure almost anything! After we were done that anyone that wanted to have a 'mini-treatment' for free could do so, Jordan and I opted out but Shauna Cam and Phyllis all got massages before the Doctor came in and did a pulse reading on all of us, and letting us know what our bodies were telling us. He was definitely dead on with a few things so we all made a pact to work on the things he told us to and to try to be healthier and happier in the future.
We made it to our really nice bed and breakfast that night had a great meal and a few cocktails and were up the next day heading to the Sacred Tooth Temple in Kandy, which houses the relic of the tooth of Buddha. There is a showing twice a day of the casing that holds the tooth but the only time anyone ever gets to see it is if there has been a severe drought in the country. Agriculture is so important to the people here and it is said that during a drought, when the tooth is exposed rain will fall from the skies and save the people.
The next day we spent shopping in Nuwara Eliya , they have a lot of textile factories here and you can buy really cheap Columbia or North face gear directly from the factories, they are just usually missing the tags or a zipper or something. After shopping we had a a quick lunch and were back on the road heading to Dalhouse, our starting off point for climbing Adam's Peak. The scenery on the way there was unbelievable, mountains covered in tropical trees and tea plantations, and what a rodeo! The roads are solid switchbacks and bumpy as hell so we had to stop along the way for a few breaks to let our stomachs settle, but every time we did the views were amazing.
That last picture is pepper laid out to dry on the side of the road. So after 4 hours of intense driving (well, for Buddika anyways) we finally got our first glimpse of the mountain that we would be climbing in no less than 8 hours and my guts just about fell out of the bottom of my stomach haha! I couldn't believe how big it was. I immediately thought 'I need to start stretching'. haha
We made it to our 'prosaic' hotel (which we found out quickly meant boring or dull) and started mentally preparing for our climb. Our plan was to grab a good supper and go straight to bed as we needed to be up and running at 1:30 am in order to make it to the top for the epic sunrise. The trek was 7 kms straight up with 5200 steps to the top. It was expected that we would take about 3 hours to get to the top and about the same on the way down, which is known to be the hardest part. As we were having supper we started to take note of how many local buses were filing in to the small town, there must have been easily a hundred buses packed with locals partying and celebrating the long weekend because of poya day (full moon). We wondered when they were all leaving to go to the top, how many people were going to be on this hill and how it would affect our climb, we found out soon enough.
1:30am came quickly or 2:00 if you were Cam haha, and we started off on our journey in the middle of the night. The first 45 minutes or so wasn't too bad a steady incline but not too steep with small steps, at this point I'm thinking 'hmph this isn't bad, what was I so worried about?' We watched locals climb along side us in bare feet and women carrying toddlers up with them, the stamina and the drive it must take these people to get to the top (once every year I might add) was inspiring. Well after that initial acsent, it turned into a gruelling feat of climbing uneven step after step after step straight up for the next hour and a half, at this point I was thinking this was a test of physical endurance and we were doing okay, until we got about three quarters of the way up and boom! Complete gridlock. At first the break was very welcomed as I had sweat dripping from every inch of my body and I felt my legs could hardly hold up my own body weight anymore, but that break turned out to last about two hours! I went from sweating to freezing half way up a mountain at 4 am and the enlightenment of the whole experience was starting to dwindle, quickly. Jordan had made it much further than us initially so when we were standing in the gridlock with the top step within arms reach (or so we thought) and he had turned around because we hadn't moved in two hours, we convinced him to get back in our line and tough it out once more and make it to the top. We didn't climb 4800 steps just to turn around before sunrise and head back down! Well we should have listened to him. We stood for at least another hour without moving, jammed packed on those steps like sardines. I'm sure you can imagine how people would quickly loose patience and my tolerance of body contact was at its absolute max. People starting shoving elbows and literally prying our arms apart to get one more person ahead, god forbid you leave an inch of space between you and the next person because all you had to do was blink and a whole family of Sri Lankans had budged thier way into it. At one point I actually yelled in an old mans face (which is not like me at all) and said "NO! THERE S NO ROOM FOR YOU!" he found a way to push himself past me anyways.... we seen some tourists coming back down on the otherside and asked how much longer to the top and their best estimate was another 3 hours. At this point the sun has already come up in less than ideal conditions, some had a good view I was too short and was stuck behind a tree and missed the whole thing, we were exhausted and so frustrated that we were ready to start knocking locals out literally . Clearly it was ruining the whole experience and like Phyllis said " part of being intelligent individuals, is knowing when to cut your losses and give up" so thats exactly what we did. As all the people that were trying to push and shove their way past us were smiling that we were climbing out of line, we were feeling better already being on the downside instead of the up, although for at least another hour the way down was packed as well but it quickly fell apart after that and we took our shaky jello legs one painful step at time down 7 more kms to the bottom. So it turns out Adams Peak on Poya day weekend is not a test of physical endurance like one would think but much more so a test of patience and tolerance. I think we made out fairly well, no one got into any fights and we all made it to the bottom in one piece (barely). The experience is one we will never forget and even though we didn't get to see the sun rise from the top, the view of where we were when it did come out, was like being on another planet, and that was definetly worth it
Heres a picture of our Dream Team! Phyllis Shauna Cam Jordan and I . The people you travel with always make the experience and this one was definitely one for the books! Thanks again Phyllis and Bruce for all of your hospitality, hopefully see all three of you out in BC soon!!