A very very brief stopover in Kandy gave us the opportunity to take in a bustling city. Opting not to spend the hours in line for the busy tourist spots, we took a walk around the lake and through the back streets and markets.
The primary reason for visiting Kandy was actually to pick up the train to Ella. This is a 7-8 hour journey, but totally worth the investment. I love exploring new places on foot, hiking through countries for days at a time to allow the time and space to fully take in both detail and ambience. However, I also love trains, and the suspension of time that happens there. There’s nothing to do but allow yourself to be moved from one place to another, freeing up brain space for observation and musing.
This train journey in particular is stunning. Despite having tickets for actual seats, it seemed a lot more interesting to sit in the open doorways of the train and watch the countryside roll by.
After a relaxing couple of nights in Ella, a backpacker hotspot with a wonderful resort on a hill that provided an afternoon of luxury after a hike out to Nine Arch Bridge, we headed out towards Udawalawe National Park.
A bit of research had turned up a recommendation for an individual jeep safari, beginning before dawn. Whilst the early start means that it’s possible to see the nocturnal and crepuscular creatures before they slow down and hide from the head of midday, animals like the crocodiles don’t start to move until the temperatures start to rise.
I made a list of everything as we drove around, but couldn’t quite photograph everything!
- Peacocks (including several sitting high up in the trees!)
- Spotted deer
- Weaver bird nests hanging from trees
- Sea eagle
- White throated kingfisher (incredible!)
- Crested hawk eagle
- Jungle fowl (the national bird of Sri Lanka)
- White-bellied sea eagle
- Wild ducks
- Cattle egret
- Blue-tailed bee-eater
- Little green bee-eater
- Ring-necked parakeet (we have those at home, though…)
- Orange-bellied green pigeon
- Brownfish owl
- Serpent eagle
- Woolly-necked stork
- Pond heron
- Common mynah
- Painted stork
- Grey langur
Of course the stars of the shows are always the elephants, and this morning a very impressive tusked beast wandered across the path. The excitement of the guide suggested this was not a super-common experience!
It would have been hard to top the first week, so after Udawalawe we headed to the beach for a bit of surfing and yoga at Elsewhere surf camp in Weligama. It was nice to hand over the arrangements for a while, and just take the lessons, meals and outings that the camp had to offer. I’m a mountain person. A fire child, with no business being anywhere near the sea. I love the idea of ocean-people, and I see how much they are at home in the water, but for me it takes an adjustment. Standing up on a surfboard after getting dunked over and over again will forever be a moment of pride!
Fishpoint also deserves a special mention. A group of us had headed out to explore, rather than join the day-long party boat, and had discovered Fishpoint, right on the beach. It’s a tiny place where the fish that you pick is cooked fresh right in front of you. The options are whatever has been caught that day, and most have recognisable names; tilapia, snapper etc. But where there isn’t an obvious English word, they are pointed out by whatever is available. In our case one being “fierce fish”. It tasted good.
The final stop on this island tour was a half-day in Galle. A city built by the Portuguese in 1588 and fortified by the Dutch in the 17th century, there’s a lot to see. It feels vaguely European, and is perfect for exploring on foot. It’s right on the water, and whilst it is pretty touristy, it is certainly beautiful. One very impressive moment came whilst just taking a break on a section of the spectacular ramparts. A young man approached us, introducing himself as a student of engineering at the university. He said he spends hours at the Fort to speak with the tourists in efforts to improve his English. Genius.
The lighthouse is also pretty great.