Sri Lanka - land of the speeding bus
After a full day of travel from Perth to Singapore, 6 hour stopover playing cards in KFC at Changi Airport and then midnight flight to Colombo arriving at 2.30am our driver wasn’t there. After about 20 mins he showed up, only to start falling asleep on the 40 min drive to Cinnamon Red Hotel in Colombo with Paul clapping his hands loudly in the back yelling “Hey. Wake up”. So I did. And so did the driver thankfully. We arrived alive.
Our first tuk tuk (pronounced “took took”) ride was a scam - and why wouldn’t it be I hear you ask! I’ll place a 🛎 where you should use one in this story, which is where our alarms should have gone off.
Firstly though let me explain what a tuk tuk is. It’s basically a three wheeled motorbike with room for 2 people to sit in the back. A 5 minute ride costs around 300rp ($3) Check this out.
There we were walking along minding our own business after a few hours sleep and a man befriends us 🛎 telling us all about his work and family, asking us when we arrived 🛎, how long we are here 🛎 and telling us about all the places we should visit 🛎. Then suddenly a tuk tuk pulls up and he says “so you should go see them” and bundles us in. We ask whether the tuk tuk has a meter and are told yes. And yes it did. It was covered up in the corner. Not running 🛎🛎🛎. So after a visit to a temple where we saw a hair from the head of the Buddha. Yes one hair. And yes, THE Buddah. Apparently. Then it was off to a park. Just an ordinary park. 🛎 And then we stopped at a gem factory. 🛎 At which point I said “no thanks. We don’t want to stop here”. “But there’s a one day sale!” “We don’t care” we chimed together. He begrudgingly took off, but from that point his mood changed. 🛎 It wasn’t long before he decided to drop us off in the middle of nowhere, not anywhere near where we started 🛎 and then commenced arguing with us about how much the ride we had was going to cost starting at about 2,000rp ($20), when it should have been about 800rp ($8). We settled at 1,000rp and off he tuk tuk'd. In the meantime, we began a walk through what could have been used as the set of Beirut if Hollywood was making a movie about Beirut in Sri Lanka.
We had a lunch date at Barefoot with Richie, Paul’s friend from Qantas who is also here. Barefoot is a cute outdoor eatery that has a trio playing jazz all arvo. It’s been around for years. My friend Danielle has even been there. So we had several bottles of wine, the smallest, but yummy prawns in the world and rice.
Dinner that night was at Gallery Cafe at Richie’s suggestion. A good one at that. Dinner was awesome and so was the reflux at 2am after so much food and alcohol in one day. Oh well, that’s what holidays are for. Eating. Drinking. And sleeping upright for half the night.
Our driver, Jackard (I can’t really remember his name) picked us up at 10.30am and we began the short 3 hour drive (6 hours) to Kandy. Traffic was shit. This was about the time we started to learn that in Sri Lanka, these three rules apply;
busses own the road;
tuk tuk’s think they do, and;
no other vehicles really matter.
It’s hilarious. And a tad dangerous. More about that later.
It took awhile to find the place we were supposedly staying for the night, as Jochie(?) had no idea where it was and kept stopping in the middle of the road, to ask villagers where it was, to which they just shook their heads. We started to wonder whether it actually even existed. However, we arrived at the gorgeous Ashburnham Estate at around 5pm (after leaving at 10.30am).
Ashburnham is a tea plantation and the tea managers house is where we’re staying. Take a look.
That's the foyer and general living area.
The verandah overlooking the tea estate.
It was a pretty hairy ride up the mountain to get here with thick cloud and fog moving in. But once we got here. It’s basically Nirvana.
It had rained a bit as we arrived and just before dinner we were sitting in our room and I saw a moth. Then within about 2 seconds I said “there’s another one” then basically within about 10 seconds there was the incident we now refer to as “the moth invasion”. There must have been 30 or more of them. Seriously, they were everywhere. Paul sprung into action with the aeroguard and I stood in the corner squealing and pointing every time I saw a new one. To this moment we have no idea where they all came from so suddenly. But we are glad “the moth invasion 2” did not screen again the following night before dinner. Meanwhile, there is a moth cemetery in our room. Poor things, they’ll never become butterfly’s. We found out later that it was the rain that had brought them inside, looking for shelter while they inspected our lights...over and over again until overcome with aeroguard...and the same goes for the moths!
To kick off the day at around 7am, I walked down to the waterfall. It was one of those “do I keep going or turn back” type moments most of the way after the first 10 minutes. All steps...about 500 of them (yes I counted them on the way back up), but no sight of a waterfall. It got to the point where I could hear the waterfall but I couldn’t see it and then as I walked closer the sound of the waterfall would slowly dissipate, but I kept going and yes, guess what? At the bottom was a waterfall. I took a pic and started to head back up. Here’s the proof.
As I walked back up he steps, I had to flick off a couple of leeches that had jumped onto my legs (Eeeeeek) and arrived back exhausted. When I got back some of the guests asked me where I'd been and I said down to the waterfall and they looked at me and told me I should have probably worn long socks in case any leeches jumped on me. Thanks for the tip! I got back to the bedroom, woke up Paul and told him he should go for a walk to the waterfall. Took my sneakers off, felt something on my leg but couldn't see in the dark so I just flicked it off and had no idea where it landed. I had a shower and collapsed on the bed before a stunning breakfast out on the verandah.
There are other guests here and for the most part it's pretty quiet. But one couple brought a 2 year old FFS which was whining and crying from the moment we arrived until the moment they left after breakfast the first morning with Paul and I clapping as they exited lol. No, not really. We wouldn't do that. (Yes we did).
Then our driver Jackass(?) turned up to take us to the elephant orphanage (don’t ever bother to do it) and the Temple Of The Tooth, a very sacred place for Buddhists.
On the way there, Jackall(?) pointed to a tree and said “look, bats”. We squealed “stop the car” and took these pics! Honestly, it was like watching Batman flying from tree to tree.
Look closely above, you can see hundreds of them hanging from the tree,
Now, back to the toothy temple. It supposedly has a tooth from a Prince who became Buddah. However, as you read the story, cleverly depicted part by part on the walls of the temple, at one stage the tooth got smashed by a jealous emporer, and then it went up into the sky and became a star (I’m not judging) and then it came back down to earth as a tooth again (still, not judging). These days it’s kept in a box, which is inside another box, which is in another box, and another, inside this temple, so in effect, nobody actually ever sees it (now, I'm judging).
We got there. Paid out $20 each to get in. We were then told we had to take our shoes off to go in. This is when the squealing began. As I removed my left shoe it looked like a massacre had happened to my toes! There was blood everywhere. I hadn't felt a thing though and stood there squealing as though my foot had been partly amputated...or was going to have to be. The blood was mostly dried though and I slowly realised that after my morning walk, I must have flicked the leech off in the dark of the bedroom, back into my shoe where it awaited for my fresh clean foot to go after showering. He must have had a good old time in there sucking away until I got out of the car at one point and squashed him inside my shoe because he was so bloated with my blood! Gross!
So anyway, we had nothing to clean my foot with and there were no taps around so I walked through the temple of the tooth, looking like they had extracted one from my foot! My only regret is that we didn't take a photo of my foot. Yes, super gross.
Didn’t see any of the boxes. Did see how special this place is to Buddhists.
In the car on the way back to the plantation (or as we call it now, "our plantation") Paul tries to calm me by saying “I must ask Rachel when we get back whether leeches can bury inside of you”!
Currently sitting on the verandah sipping g&t’s before dinner wondering whether I’ll have any blood left in me by morning.
By the way, this is our room.
Yes, all of this is our room. Really gorgeous.
Good news. I still have blood.
We kicked off this morning with a walk into the plantation to watch some tea picking. With high socks on. We are greeted by a bunch of women who pick the tea. Every day, day after day. All barefooted and ready to go at 7am for a full days work. One of these ladies below is 85. Guess which one!
The bags on their head hold 23kg of leaves. They fill several of them a day. Leaves are ready to be picked every 6 days and the trees can be 100 years old. By the way, we learned on this trip that the tea bags we buy at the shops contain the shit stuff they sweep up off the floor in the tea factory. Not kidding.
I don’t think the one below earns very much at all...
At 10am Janaka (I finally learnt his name on our last day with him) picked us up and we waved good bye to the team at “our plantation” and headed off for a 25km (which took 1 hour) drive back to Kandy, then a 150km (which took 3 hours) drive to Colombo and finally a 150km (another 3 hours) drive to Mirissa on the south coast of Sri Lanka arriving at 4.30pm. A long day in the car. At about the 5 hour mark in the journey Paul suggests that we helicopter back to Colombo in 5 days. He was serious.
As we drove through the little villages over the last few days, it was quite cute seeing all the school kids finish school at 1.30pm (school starts early at 7.30am) and get picked up by their parents. They all have school uniforms (provided by the government), free education (even university, including accommodation) and everyone has free medical care including hospital in Sri Lanka. Not a bad system, although the public system has long waiting times for hospital.
Unemployment is pretty low here at around 2%. Everyone has a job (just about) and most people seem pretty happy with their lot.
After experiencing quite mild temps on “our plantation”, it’s quite hot and humid here in Mirissa and reminds us of Koh Samui and the beach bars they have there. In fact we’ve commented several times this trip that Sri Lanka reminds us a lot of Samui and Thailand.
Mirissa was hit by three giant waves in the 2004 tsunami. Of its 4,695 people, two-thirds of its families lost homes, livelihoods and loved ones. More than 30,000 Sri Lankan’s died with a further 21,000 injured. Fourteen years on, you wouldn’t know, apart from a lot of the buildings looking a bit shit. But they might have before the tsunami as well. It's hard to tell.
So let me tell you about the speeding buses. Firstly, I’ve figured out the process that would be in place for bus drivers have to go through to obtain a drivers license. The theory is to watch the Sandra Bulloch movie “Speed” and Spielberg’s first ever movie “Duel”, and then do the driving test, which is simply to then answer the question “what is the speed Sandra Bulloch could not let the bus go below?” The answer of course is 50mph (80 kph). And that's it, you get your bus licence.
It appears that every bus here is permanently traveling at 80kmph and having a road duel with another bus at the same time. I am yet to see anyone getting on or off one. I’m sure there are people inside pulling the bell, trying to get off, but I fear they are not fast enough to hit the ground running at the speed the bus is doing, coz I am yet to see a bus stop to let passengers off. Not only are the buses the “lions” of the Sri Lankan traffic jungle, they roar just as loudly as they hurtle down the streets.
Every bus driver toots their horn like a wild animal being chased. Now the word “toot” doesn’t feel quite appropriate in the last sentence. Toot sounds awfully polite. They have horns like trucks and semi trailers do - some even have musical ones. They frighten the shit out of you as they come along the road and they ain’t stopping for anyone.
It is like every bus has a pregnant woman on board and it’s an emergency as they are racing to the hospital as she is about to give birth. Quite frankly she could have been on there for 9 months since getting pregnant and just hasn’t been able to get off. We even saw a couple of them racing each other through a small town near Kandy the other day. Two buses along side each other, travelling in the same direction, with one trying to overtake the other, on a road barely wide enough for one bus. Both honking their horns. With cars and tuk tuks all around them in both directions. It is simply hair-raising. Don't get on one, whatever you do.
Today was a relaxing day on the beach. The ocean is warm - like a bath - as in, you need a really good reason to get out of the ocean. You don’t pay for daybeds and you don’t get any service either - even when you want some lol. Dinner was at Zephyr (another suggestion from Richie - thank you), also on the beach.
It has become quite apparent that most tourists here are so relaxed that they have pretty much given up on any sense of fashion whatsoever. Here in Mirissa we have witnessed some severe fashion crimes (see below), like socks and sneakers on a beach at dinner, some guy who still believes cargo pants are still in, a shirt that looks like curtain material, boat shoes with socks - once again on a beach, and some sort of denim calamity that should not have left France.
Trust me, Vogue will never travel to Mirissa for a fashion photo shoot.
A few people have asked me what happened at the elephant orphanage. So I’ll gather some pics and add that next. By the way, here’s the room we’re staying in and the pool at Triple 0 Six in Mirissa. This is what about $180 a night will get you.
Today we lazed on the beach - really starting to like Mirissa and in the afternoon took a car to Galle to check out the fort. And guess what? It’s very fort-y. Yep, the Dutch built a fort. Too harsh? There are some nice, in fact beautiful old colonial places here that have been turned into hotels etc. like this one below, complete with baby grand, where we had 2 g&t’s (like the Colonials would have) for the same price that we paid for dinner later!
But I’m not sure if we were in Galle on an off day or something but there were a lot of places closed. And the ones open just sold the same stuff like posters of Ceylon, tea and sarongs. It all looked a lot better at night!
Had a great dinner at The Heritage Club before heading back to Mirissa.
Another day on the beach today and with ocean water temp of 28 degrees each day, I have to say this place has really started to grow on us. If you need a place to turn off, this could be you. Plus, it’s fun people watching, looking at the Brits and the Russians come back to the beach each day red raw from sunburn and continue to lay in the sun. Today we walked along Mirissa beach to take some pics from the mountain (hill 🙄).
Clearly people have pretty much given up on how they look (including us by this point), but there are waaay too many young people in their early 20’s from the UK and Russia and Poland who have let themselves go already (just wait for another couple of decades kids). There are also waaay too many men wearing European bathers who should not be wearing European bathers - and the ones that should be, are not! Lol. But our favorite fashion crime today has to be the beach socks that we saw on at least two Russian princesses.
Yes, they even wear them when they go in for a swim. We have no idea how they stay on. I can’t even get them to stay on and over my heel when I wear them with shoes!!! Tonight a nice dinner at Zephyr coz we liked it the other night - there’s something about running your feet through the sand while you’re sipping a pina colada and eating nice food.
For sunset on our last night we headed up a nearby side street that Paul said was “a sure thing to get to see the sunset”, so up we headed past the “don’t go past here” sign to a Buddhist temple where we had our most zen moment of the trip. A “moment in time” on top of Coconut Tree Hill, overlooking Mirissa beach and a few others in the distance.
Coconut Tree Hill is presumably the most well-known place in Mirissa. You can watch the infinite sea and Mirissa bay area from the top of this amazing place. It takes you 10-15 min walk up the street from Mirissa Beach. You can reach here through Bandaramulla temple and also you can access this place via the beach although accessing via the beach would be difficult if the sea is rough. It can be a bit tricky to get to, so for more detailed directions, I found this guide to Coconut Tree Spot | How to get there
This is an image of the famous stilt fishermen - well it’s an image of the stilt. We saw a couple in use one day but as I jumped out of the car to take a pic, a rogue fisherman with several teeth jumped out of the bushes and scared me as I approached and demanded 300rp to take a photo - which I refused to do - what a scumbag I am in hindsight. Oh well, my loss. Enjoy the stilt! Trust me, the fisherman balanced on them looks very cool. You’ll need to go to Sri Lanka to take your own pic 🙄!
To finish off, here is my fave restaurant name that we found in Galle on the Sri Lanka trip. It shows they have a sense of humor.
Sri Lanka is good. Come see it.
p.s. just don’t worry about the elephant orphanage - the name is better than the place. Sorry Richie. Sorry Danielle. They basically just round up the elephants, put them under some dark shelter shed where everyone stands around the outside and then they feed them bottles of milk in front of everyone. I didn't find it terribly cute at all. And it wasn't terribly show-biz either. But here’s a cute image I took there, which will immediately make you feel I’m being too harsh. So, go see it for yourself.Lol
Completely different inland compared to the coast;
Beautiful tea plantations you can stay on (once you find them);
You don't have to pack fashionable clothes - just anything will do;
The best tea you have ever tasted