On Safari in Yala

A 5.30 start for our safari. We gathered for tea in the dark and then down to the lagoon where our safari trucks were waiting.

All aboard the trucks and off we went

The early morning light was beautiful. Serene and soft.

Down the main drive of Cinnamon Wild and along the dusty red road to the National Parks ticket office : that’s when we noticed the number of other safari trucks!

A herd of trucks? A flock of trucks? More a convoy.

First thing we spied was the peacock. Gorgeous turquoise fan tail. We loved it. But I must say, by the end of the day it was ……. get out of the way bird we have bigger things to see! Poor thing.

We were searching for the elusive leopard. Would we see it?

We saw deer, warthogs, buffalo, birds, and the amazing elephant. But no leopard.

We even saw several crocodiles. But no leopard.

We stopped at the beach which was where the tsunami hit. There is a memorial there outlining what happened. It’s hard to believe the devastation it caused. 47 lives were lost just near where we were. Strangely, no animals died. They sensed it and had moved away.

It’s sad to see where it happened. We stood on the beach and remembered.

Then it was back into the truck and off again. The search was reaching a climax. We only had an hour of our safari left.

Unfortunately we returned happy with our adventure but felt we needed more – so 6 of us decided to go on the afternoon safari. Yesterday they saw the leopard in the afternoon. Would we?

We were dusty and tired but after a swim were ready for the Christmas cake adventure. The chefs were around the pool using 30kg of fruit to make an elephant shape. Why ?

It’s something they do every year with guests. They make the shape of an elephant out of fruit and nuts. Add the alcohol then get the guests to don plastic gloves and mix it. They put it away for 1 month then bake several large cakes for Christmas.

It was so much fun!

I had an hour to rest and prepare for safari number 2!

At 2.30 the keen leopard hunters: Carmel, Peter, Marcelle, Jill, Steve and myself headed out again!

Our driver took to the challenge with a keenness we admired. He was determined. So for 4 hours we searched.

We lurked in dusty roads. We hid behind trees! We waited.

Then we saw not a leopard but a charging male elephant.

There was a truck a hundred metres ahead of us. They must have had food on board. The elephant came out of the bush and bumped up against the truck he poked his trunk and tusk into the truck!

We backed up. The man in the checked shirt nearly burst out of the back of the truck.

He had another go. The truck rocked. Would it tip over? Fortunately not.

He headed back into the bush.

Such excitement!

We continued our search when our driver got a call. There was one nearby. We raced there. There were other trucks ahead of us. The leopard was in a tree. We waited for our turn to draw level, when he left the tree and disappeared into the bush. Such disappointment.

We searched for another hour but no luck! We did see a mother elephant and her baby.

And a jackal.

We headed back to our resort.

In time to shower off the dust and dress for dinner.

The girls certainly polish up well!

We shared our story of the search for the leopard over drink – which we had to have in a cabin, as the resort wasn’t serving alcohol due to it being poya – full moon.

We found the rules for elephants at the resort.

Read it!

The last two lines are hysterical.

The Long & Winding Road to Yala

I woke to mist and low clouds. This place is amazing.

By the time we had a leisurely breakfast the sun was out , the cloud had lifted and it was beautiful.

Onto the bus for a long trip towards the south coast.

We’re headed for Yala National Park one of the largest parks in Sri Lanka. It is home to the leopard.

The main road down had suffered some landslides in the rain so we had to take a more minor road.

Our driver is a legend! He drove under hard conditions with buses and trucks, cars and tuks all forced to fight for right of way. Lots of backing up to let someone pass.

The advantage of the back road was that the scenery and local life was right up close. We passed done rubber plantations and amazing bee hives high up in trees.

We also passed some amazing waterfalls. After the heavy rain last night they were falling at full pelt.

The second one was higher and more spectacular and even a local monkey looked impressed.

Continuing on the driver looked for a suitable place to stop for our Remembrance Day service. This day at 11am on the 11th Nov Australians stop to remember those who have fought and lost their lives in conflict.

We found the perfect spot. A grove of yellow cassias trees. All green and gold , the Australian colours. Steve led the Remembrance with the poem ‘In Flanders Fields’. Very poignant.

The road continued and Jill started her Name that Tune game. She had lots of songs on her phone. But just the first few bars. They were all 70’s songs and we had to name them. We took awhile to warm up but were soon ‘in the groove’ and singing and naming those tunes! Kath was a bit of a star.

Nature called and we had to have a toilet stop in the next town. All our driver could find was a small supermarket which had one loo at the back.

It took that long for us all to go! So whilst waiting we bought some goodies for a bus lunch. We didn’t want to stop and waste time. So everyone went round and chose something for our bus picnic. There was all manner of junk food! Chips, chocolate, biscuits and cheese ( not so bad!) but the best was the big bag of cones and two tubs of ice cream. Chocolate and vanilla. Rob and Pam set up shop on the bus and Jill was the Uber of ice cream!

What a treat. We were told not to eat the cone so we could have seconds!

The fun and games continued until we turned off for Cinnamon Wild at Yala.

It’s set back from the beach but has a lagoon complete with crocodiles.

Driving into the resort we passed monkeys, warthogs, water buffalo and watched out for elephants.

The resort buildings are beautiful.

Our jungle cabin is lovely.

We are warned not to walk to, or from, the cabin after dark. Exciting.

We enjoyed a quick swim before drinks and dinner. The buffet was just great. So many choices.

We are off on safari tomorrow so an early night. Four of us girls walked back with a staff member who scanned the bush for animals. Then said ‘do you want up see the lagoon!’ We walked to the lagoon and he shone the torch around and we saw two crocodiles! Only about 100 metres from us.

A quick walk back to the cabins for an early night before our 5 am start tomorrow.

98 acres of Heaven in Ella

We are very happy staying in our comfortable Cabin in the tree plantation.

The view is constantly changing. Right at this moment it’s rainy and misty looking towards the peak we climbed this morning.

It’s beautiful.

We started our day at 7am meeting at the spa hut.

We walked out past the zipline then started our climb. Stairs. Lots of stairs. My knee is getting a work out.

Up we went. Not too far, but it caused some heavy breathing. We did it early as cloud will come over later. And it did as you can see by the photo above.

The view was spectacular.

Coming back down we passed climbers of all nationalities. The young and fit were powering up. The Germans seriously climbing and the Australians chatting to everyone.

Straight to breakfast on the cafe deck. All very lovely. Fresh papaya sliced for me. Topped with lime – delicious.

A one egg omelette was perfect.

Following breakfast another walk. This time travelling in the bus for a short way – passing several coffee shops along the way!

We came to a side road going down,down, down.

Which means up, up, up later.

We finished on the train tracks where we just had to stop for a photo. Lying down in the tracks. It was like having a hot stone massage.

Getting up was another matter!

The bridge or viaduct was built in 1921 is a feat of engineering. It’s built of stone, bricks and concrete.

It is a great example of British colonial architecture but built by a Ceylonese builder along with the British.

It’s attractive and still functions. There are 3 trains a day but not due for an hour after we were comfortably lying on the tracks.

Flanked by thick jungle and tea plantations it is a little difficult to get to. There are several routes down of various degrees of difficulty. I think the path we took was a little longer but was roughly paved with lots of steps where some of them are muddy and very steep.

It was worth the climb down and then out of nowhere, coming up we found tuk tuks to help us on the last climb!

I’m now having coffee on my balcony waiting for my 2pm massage.

Hopping into life in Sri Lanka

I was looking forward to breakfast this morning.

Yesterday we had a late high tea, complete with bubbles, so we skipped dinner. I woke up hungry !

You may have heard me mention egg hoppers , once or twice so far in this blog. I love them.

They are a light rice type pancake cooked in a bowl shaped pan and when half cooked an egg is broken into it.

After my paw paw topped with curds and treacle I headed for the hopper station.

A lovely smiling lady greeted me again this morning. I complimented her on the hopper and said I needed her to move to Brisbane to make me an egg hopper each day. She said I could buy a pan and recipe to take home and she could teach me.

So the next minute I’m behind the stove learning how to make a hopper.

Season the pan!

Rub with a mix of butter and egg yolk

Heat the pan. Spoon in the rice pancake mix. Then swirl it around.

Heat with the lid down.

Wait until the edges are browning. Crack the egg in.

Lid on. Wait

Use the spatula to loosen around edges and slide onto a plate.

It was such a fun lesson with this lovely lady.

From here it was onto the bus to the lake nearby. It’s a man made lake and gives an area for recreation- little boats, jet ski, fishing , walking but I doubt anyone swims there. It’s a little brown.

Back to the bus I was sitting up the back swaying as we went round corners.

Helen and I started writing limericks. We set a challenge to everyone to have one ready to read at drinks tonight.

It was definitely heads down to work on our limerick. Which was a blessing as the narrow road was dangerous to watch. Trucks overtaking trucks or buses overtaking tuk tuks. Not for the feint hearted.

The landscape was covered with terraces and everywhere there were vegetables growing and tea plantations. The soil is rich and the labour plentiful.

By now the constantly winding road was making me – and others, feel a little sick. We stopped for a break before heading into Ella.

This was a little surprise. It felt like a young people place. Lots of bars and coffee shops dotted along the narrow road.

Arriving at our accommodation we climbed up a stone staircase to be met by golf buggies to drive us to reception-an open air hut.

The cold tea and the little welcome sash was a fun way to greet us at this very special place. There are 28 cabins set among the tea bush plantings of a working farm. The workers walk past our cabins at breaks and at the end of the day.

Our rooms are large, rustic but so well planned the walls are made of tea boxes, there’s a huge bed with a net over it, a spacious stone bathroom and views towards cloud covered mountains.

The mist rolled as we had a late lunch then drinks in one of the rooms.

We’re doing well emptying the gin bottles. But there are 17 of us!

We read our limericks. They were great!

Here’s a sample:

There was a great gal called Carmel

Who thought it wouldn’t be harmful

To go for a trip

with old friends with some zip

Now she’s shaking her head, poor Carmel. ‘

Dinner was up in the main restaurant and was quite a performance with each dish delivered with a cloche which were ceremonially removed.

Tomorrow we are climb up Little Adams peak. Not the big Adam walk which is longer, harder and more of a pilgrimage.

Legend has it:

Adam’s Peak is a 2,243 m (7,359 ft) tall conical mountain located in central Sri Lanka. It is well known for the Sri Pada, i.e., “sacred footprint”, a 1.8 m (5 ft 11 in) rock formation near the summit, which in Buddhist tradition is held to be the footprint of Buddha , in Hi du tradition that of Shiva and in some Islamic and Christian tradition that of Adam or that of St. Thomas.

So we are not attempting the pilgrimage . We’ll do the shorter climb then back up by walking to the 9 arches railway bridge.

So to sleep in our very luxurious cabin on the tea plantation.

A Garden Walk

I opted out of the trek this morning. My poor knee wasn’t feeling great.

So the team left very early and I went for a more sedate walk through the hotel gardens and the Victoria Park gardens nearby.

Follow my trail.

Past the fountain to the children’s playground

Good morning to hotel staff and past the sculptured hedges.

Reading each of the little signs along the way.

To the one under our top floor corner room.

I followed the track down out of the hotel to the Victoria Park gardens which at 7.30 only had workers in there. It was a quiet oasis.

The children’s garden

Then out and around the town before heading back to the hotel, spotting Mike and John other non trekkers.

Breakfast was wonderful. I shared it with Mark, who also didn’t walk due to an ankle injury.

I’m now waiting for the walkers to return. I know I’ll be sorry when they tell me about their adventures.

All aboard the Nuwara express.

Our last morning in the Radh Hotel was a flurry of activity. Our travellers were hunting and gathering snacks for our train ride.

Today is the day for our 3 hour train ride to Nuwara Eliya in the heartland of tea plantations.

The hotel staff gathered to farewell us waving enthusiastically as we boarded the bus for the station.

Our driver greeted us with a smile as we boarded the bus for the short ride to the station.

We had allowed plenty of time before the train departure which was great as we had time to look around the charming station.

I love train stations- they are central to any town or city and give a snapshot of both locals and tourists. They buzz with activity and accents of all kinds.

This one was no exception. It was clean and tidy and had some great signage.

The men and women working at the station had uniforms to match their rank and importance. This man was very official but wasn’t the station master. He was sitting in his big office with windows looking out across the platforms.

To pass the time we posed for photos.

When it was time for a departure a special bell was rung. It brought everyone to a standstill.

Finally , our 10.50 blue train arrived at 11.15 ! and on we scrambled. There was a buzz of activity as everyone searched for a seat. Hema had the list and it wasn’t long until we all had our assigned seat.

Carmel has trouble securing seats and had to buy on them ‘black market’ which gave it all an air of espionage! Turns out it probably wasn’t that hard!

We settled and watched as we rumbled through the outskirts of Kandy.

Before long the food sellers arrived with their baskets of samosas, biscuits, chocolate, drinks, mangoes and mangosteen. Along with the cheese, crackers, cashews and grapes we brought we were in no danger of starvation.

We passed through lush jungle and deep ravines, waterfalls and into tea plantation country. A truely colourful interesting ride

We saw many workers in the plantations. Most workers are women – around 90% and they have a long day from around 7am -5pm with breaks. It would be back breaking work.

Children returning from school waved as we passed. They always look so smart in their white uniforms. It’s hard to imagine how they stay clean!

During the trip our group had a little home work. Each of us had to choose our 5 favourite songs. I typed them up and every had to match each person to their 5 sings! How well do we know each other? There were some great choices which did pretty much identify our age group! Winners would be revealed tonight.

We finally arrived at our station. It was great not having to deal with suitcases. Our driver had them and met us as we left the little station at Nani-oya.

Driving towards the plantation we were visiting, felt like any mountainous area above the hot coastal areas of a country. It was cooler, gardens were ablaze of colour and there was a racing track! Racing is banned in Sri Lanka and this course is allowed the only two races held a year.

We arrived at Pedro estate for our tour.

Each of us was issued with a green leaf shaped apron and led around the tea factory area. Our tiny guide explained the process from the gathering of the leaves through the drying, crushed, sifted, graded before being packaged into 50kg sacks to be sold for 50,000 Rupees. It’s controlled by the Government and most tea is sold to Iran and Russia.

We finished with cups of delicious black tea. It was mid strength. Perfect for black tea drinkers.

I purchased some orange pekoe tea as we left and headed to our hotel. What a treat. The Grand Hotel established one 1819 it is a Colonial style heritage hotel.

We were greeted with hot towels and tea before finding our rooms in the third floor. We are lucky to have an end room overlooking the gardens.

The view is gorgeous.

Drinks were in the wine tasting rooms and we had fun ‘marking’ our music quiz and singing some of the popular songs. Peter Harrison won. He must keep an ear out for people humming. He seemed to know who would choose certain songs!

Dinner was in one of the 5 restaurants on site. The Magnolia. Very nice with lots of laughter especially when Mike Grace started his joke telling.

Tomorrow most of our group are heading to the Horton Plain for a trek to a water fall to view the animal and bird life along the way.

There’s also gardens to visit and a lake to walk around. So much to do.

Temples, Cricket and lunch in Gardens in Kandy

A slower start today and we enjoyed breakfast with a beautiful selection of foods by the most gorgeous staff. So willing to help.

I made the traditional Sri Lankan breakfast ( after the egg hopper)

It is milk rice topped with treacle with a banana mashed in and topped with fresh cinnamon. Delicious.

We left for the Temple of the Tooth, a short walk through busy little street. Our street seems to be the hardware street. Shops selling basins, toilets, lawn mowers , brooms etc.

On arrival it was shoes off and a full body search including a pat down. Security is high since bombings in 1989, 1998 and again this year.

The Temple is famous throughout Sri Lanka.

The golden roofed Temple of the Sacred Tooth houses Sri Lanka’s most famous relic – a tooth of Buddha. You don’t actually see it as it’s contained in a special multi layered box. It’s heavily protected and holds not just religious significance but political as well.

There were so many locals there with offerings to leave. There are three rituals a day called Tevava. It’s similar to a puja. We happened to be there at the 9.30 one when many of the people were praying as the three drummers and trumpet player walked around the altar.

The ceremony then moves upstairs where worshipers line up with their offerings to file past the room with the tooth.

It was hectic , noisy and difficult to negotiate with our big group!

Back outside Steve our a candle for a friend

and walked through the grounds and watched as more and more locals arrived with their offerings.

Next stop was a bus ride across the lake and out to the new cricket stadium.

The cricket tragics – Mark #1 loved seeing the new oval and would love to have seen a game in action.

Back on the bus through the traffic and chaos that happens when schools are let out for the day.

We spied an outdoor laundry.

And the view back across the lake

Before arriving at the gardens for lunch. What an oasis in any city to have this green space.

We sat under a large tree eating our ‘take away ‘ lunch provided by the hotel. The wrap was nice but were not sure about the cold chips!

The trees and bamboo in the gardens were spectacular.

Our final stop before some free time was an outlook over the city. Where, of course , there was an opportunity to buy something.

A few of us went to the local markets , where we were assured we were getting local prices ! If only they realised we would probably buy more if they left us alone.

Feeling weary, our group of shoppers went to find the boys who had gone for a drink. There we were in a busy Kandy street looking for them when a man approached saying. ‘I’ll take you to the Australians’. We trusted! We followed! And two blocks later we entered a bar and there they were. Mike had paid him to find us! And he did. The wonders if the Kandy bush telegraph.

On the road to Kandy

Yoga at 6.30 is always a good idea in a foreign place. It wakes you up and gives you the chance to have a good stretch.

Yesterday afternoon I swam about a kilometre in the beautiful pool which got rid of some soreness from the climb up Sigiriya yesterday.

The grounds of the hotel were lovely and quiet as I walked to the padi museum for yoga. Staff we’re sweeping and raking to make the grounds look even more pristine than they are already.

Turns out the teacher was my lovely massage therapist from yesterday.

Pam, Kathy, Jill and myself lined up on our pink mats and bent and stretched ourselves into a sweat. It felt good.

Then off to pack up before breakfast. I’ll miss this lovely hotel as we leave this morning for Kandy. On the map it doesn’t look far but will take some time. The roads are narrow and slow and we have two stops planned.

I love looking at the jungle so close to the road and the houses perched in amongst the trees.

The first stop is at the Regent 6 Herb and Spice Farm. An absolutely hysterical guy took us around the garden telling us about the plants and what they could do for us. Apparently they can cure everything. We were given a bit of a massage and it was fun to see everyone getting into the spirit of it. I did buy some massage oil for my sore swollen knee and some sandlewood oil for my face. Let’s hope it works!

Funny experience but if you go you shouldn’t feel pressured to buy. It is overpriced!

We moved onto the Matale Heritage Centre just outside of Matale. It’s a craft centre that draws on the traditions of the area and produces beautiful batik and embroidery.

We had to leave the bus on the roadside and get tuk tuks up to the centre. It’s in a jungle with trees full of monkeys!

We arrived for lunch which local woman had prepared for us. Really lovely local Sri Lankan dishes – mostly vegetable.

There were beautiful batik table clothes and napkins and the walls of the house were painted in rich colours and patterns.

The ladies who prepared the beautiful lunch explained each dish – all very traditional.

After lunch we went to watch the ladies painting the batik.

The work involved de-starching the cloth to setting out the design, waxing, dying, and removal of the wax for a second colour by boiling off the wax, repeating this process several times over…..’

We saw the house of the batik artist who is quite famous here. She had worked with Geoffrey Bawa. Her name is Ena de Silva and she died in 2015 though her designs are still being recreated. The ladies were working on a commission for a big hotel in Galle. The designs are beautiful.

Read about Ena here. She is like the Sri Lankan version of Australia’s Margaret Olley.

http://www.sundaytimes.lk/110724/Plus/plus_01.html

It’s wonderful to know the traditional crafts of this country are still being created.

This lady took us to the little shop and we bought a few things including a beautiful hand stitched elephants for my grandchildren.

We moved on to Kandy about 40 km distance away but it was slow going. We arrived at our hotel Radh at around 5pm. It’s new and about a block back from the lake and the Temple of the Tooth.

We had our own Melbourne Cup sweep so watched the race on the hotel’s large screen. It was rather fitting that our driver and our security guard won second and third place. They won a nice amount of money and were thrilled.

We walked to the lovely old Queens Hotel and sat by the pool for a drink, paid for by our first place cup winner John.

We finished the night with a lovely light dinner – after our feast at lunch it was all that was needed.

On the road to Sigiriya

An early morning swim set me up for the day. It was quiet by the pool as the waves crashed against the the rocks below.

Breakfast on the terrace was relaxed and fun with our group coming together to plan the day ahead. Eating egg hopper with curry and dahl certainly lines the stomach.

We even had breakfast entertainment provided. A man in uniform had a slingshot and was shooting stones at the local crows. Quite a sight !

The bus with our guide Hema arrived on time at 9.45 and we headed off. Today we head to Sigiriya Rock. The ancient rock is probably the most visited site in Sri Lanka and tomorrow some of us are climbing. It has something like 12,000 to climb to reach the top where there are the remains of the palace.

The bus trip was slow, the roads fairly narrow with the usual style of driving. Cars overtaking & lots of beeping feature. We passed paddi fields, business selling all manner of things, tuk tuks not yo mention trucks! We had a short stop to buy bags of local cashews. So tasty.

We reached Karunegala and Pinnawala Elephant refuge just before the daily wash began. We had time to see the elephants where they roam, before heading down to the river to watch the elephants enjoy a little freedom.

It is a refuge for elephants injured or orphaned. It started in 1982. There are varying reports that say it’s not humane to keep the elephants like this and that they are never released back into the wild. Yes, we did see some chained. They are apparently the males who can be hard to control. But the elephants we saw in the river seemed to be really enjoying their time playing and lying in the shallows.

We had lunch on a terrace overlooking the river while the elephants were relaxed and playing. It was beautiful to watch.

It will be interesting to compare with seeing elephants in their own environment in the national park in Yala when we get there.

We continued on after lunch for the final drive past Dambula to the hotel Aliya. The bus bar opened and rum & coke and G& Ts were served. There was a little singing and the boys down the back were relaxed and having fun. We arrived at Aliya. A truely beautiful place. Our welcome was warm and our welcome drink cold and yummy. The hotel has rooms set along pebbles paths, surrounded by trees which in time should grow and disguise the resort from above.

Our room is big and comfortable with lovely leaf designs on the bed. ‘Welcome’ it said and we did feel very welcome.

Dinner was a buffet. Full of tasty curries it was hard to know where to start. But we all finished with curds and treacle a local favourite.

Tomorrow we climb Sigiriya. I hope my knee holds up. Only about 1,000 stairs.

Cave Temple and Bawa

Breakfast hoppers are becoming a favourite with the whole group. If only the lady who makes them lived in Brisbane. She makes about 200 a day! And they are delicious.

After breakfast I wandered around the hotel taking photos. It’s a beautiful design with so many attractive features. Not a Geoffrey Bawa design but so lovely and in tune with the environment.

Into the bus and away we drove through lush countryside almost jungle like right to the road.

Arriving at the gates to the temple we were told the temples in the caves were once overgrown with jungle.

We climbed the hill to the entrance removed our shoes and tackled the hot cobble stones into the temple. Time for a group photo. The boys had to cover their legs with sarongs and the ladies their legs if wear shorts above the knee and shoulders if not wearing sleeves. We made a great looking group.

There was a series of caves, each with a reclining Buddha and a series of other Buddhas.

After visiting southern India early this year I was taken back to the temples we visited. This was different. Small caves where the Buddhas were carved from rock in the caves. The ceilings were painted and the Buddha reclining on a pillow of stone that looked like a fabric tapestry. Only it was painted stone. It was extraordinary.

We headed into Dambulla to visit the fruit and vegetable market. It is a wholesale market and distribution centre with every kind of vegetable you could imagine. Most grown locally.

There was the same kind of wheeling and dealing you would expect from any wholesale market place.

From the market we headed out to the Geoffrey Bawa designed Kandalama Hotel. It has won the ‘green’ award for design for many years. It blends into the jungle environment seamlessly.

There are huge areas with minimalist designed furniture and the hotel backs into the cliff behind looking out to the reservoir in front.

Lunch on the verandah was more western style and the beef was cold.

A traditionally dressed man took us on a tour it’s beautiful but expensive. I don’t think occupancy is very high so it must be struggling to run at a profit.

The pool areas were beautiful. One has the natural rock in the pool and tiles designed to compliment it. Stunning.

Following lunch we had 45 min drive back to our hotel and some swam in the pool while some had naps before we came together for drinks on the terrace near the pool.

Our third night in the dining area had some opting for the a la carte menu over the buffet.

Kathie and I had collected everyone’s list of favourite songs. I typed them up and has them printed.

We leave here in the morning and somewhere along the way we’ll have a competition to nominate who chose which songs ? Could be tricky.

I got to type the 17 lists of 5 songs and there are a few repeat.

Yoga at 6.30 tomorrow so off to sleep in the beautiful flower decorated bed.