Rain meant that my trip to the hill country was a bit shorter than I expected. Still, it was a welcome break - the first I've really had since coming here four months ago. The nine hours of bus journey went pretty well, all things considered. I spotted a couple of landmarks that my dad mentioned he knew when he was in Colombo as a ten year old, eighty years ago. He'll be chuffed when I tell him! The transfer of bus in Colombo was reasonably painless and quick, and I doubt we could have got to Kandy much quicker even if the bus had been non-stop, due to the traffic. In the last 20km or so the scenery opened up and started to look attractive and lush as we got away from Colombo.
Kandy is a bustling city nestling in the shadow of some large hills. I wanted to see its layout so next morning I climbed the steep little hill to the huge, white Buddha which overlooks the town. It would have been a perfect viewing point had I been willing to stump up the Rs.200 entry fee. OK, OK, so that's only £1.30-ish, but it's the principle - I didn't want to see the Buddha, I just wanted to see the countryside from his vantage point, the place he was monopolising! Natural viewing points such as this should be public property in my opinion, and free for all, including foreigners! Besides, funds are a bit limited for this volunteer (you could say I have different spending priorities, or perhaps, more accurately, I'm just plain mean!) and I was still reeling from the Rs.3000 a night accommodation costs and the Rs.5,500 ticket for Kandy's Esala Perahera. Anyway, the views I got from not-quite-at-the-top were better than nothing: I could see the lay of the land, Kandy Lake and the surrounding hills, and took a couple of photos.
Kandy Lake is nice-enough in itself, but there's busy traffic round three-quarters of it so the peace and air quality is spoiled, in my opinion. I walked round part of it and avoided the worst bit by turning back. There was a rather magnificent lizard lazing in the sun at the side of the lake which I missed the first time so I was well-rewarded! After lunch I went inside the compound of the Temple of the Tooth but didn't get a ticket to go inside the buildings. There were a few of the fifty elephants for the perahera tethered about the place but thoughtlessly, none had shade. One smart creature had thrown a leafy branch on its back to keep the sun off and got angry when I came a bit too close, with much ear-flapping and straining at its chains. I didn't hang around long!
After much debating with myself I decided that the Rs.5,500 was just too much to pay to see the perahera. I mean, that's about US$50, Euro39, or £32! And that just to have a covered seat to see what the locals see for free from the pavements. So... that evening I got to the pavement in plenty of time, grabbed an unoccupied space, and all seemed to be going well. What I hadn't counted on was the selfishness of Sri Lankans and the umbrella-rage when it started to rain. There was elbowing and jostling and arguing, and positioning of umbrellas so that neighbours got wet... In the end I just stood at the back, but because I'd been told it'd start at 7pm, then 7:30, then 8pm, then 8:30, and it STILL hadn't started, and I was feeling miserable after four hours of waiting and fed up with the behaviour, I just decided to call it a day and slunk off without seeing anything.
Next day I took a train trip to Ella. I'd hoped I could get in the observation carriage at the back of the train but no such luck - they didn't take bookings from that particular station :( Nor did I manage to find a seat in the carriage I eventually squeezed onto - they'd all been occupied since the train left Colombo. It was a case of either standing or taking turns to perch on the edge of someone's seat when space allowed. Hardly better than being on a bus - it was very crowded, but at least there wasn't all the swaying and aggressive acceleration and braking. Some pretty worrying noises and lurches though! Never mind, I did get to meet a couple of nice nurses, extended families and fellow travellers, even if I didn't get to see much out of the windows.
The ride was seven or eight hours and by the time we got to Ella it was raining. I grabbed a tuk tuk and stayed at Hill Top Guest House which had been recommended by a friend (thank you, Nora!) Next morning it'd stopped and I discovered that the location was perfect for views of "Ella Gap" from the roof - see the movie below. However, more rain was forecast and, because I'd been told that the local tracks were very dodgy in the wet, I decided I may as well go back home to Tangalle. I did get a bit of a gentle hike in though - down the snaking road which descends the hills, and there were some excellent views. About six or seven kilometres out of Ella there's the Rawana Water Falls and I stopped there for a few photos, only to be accosted by touts selling worthless lumps of stone or pestering for foreign coins or offering to sell coins. Tedious!
And then, as predicted, it started to rain! Fortunately, after only ten minutes, an express bus came flying down the hill from Ella and I managed to flag it down. I spent the next four hours hanging onto a pole near the front, badly bruising my shoulder in the process, trying not to have my feet stamped on, putting up with smelly bodies pressed against me and trying to make sure no one else insinuated their way into this prized spot! I succeeded but was mighty relieved when we finally pulled into Tangalle. Home!