A journey through the hill country.
My final presentation was on a Friday. I had taken the train into Colombo that morning at five am. I cycled to Hikkaduwa station under the stars. The train journey was long but I was excited and awake. By the time the presentation was over, I was tired, elated and emotional. It had gone well. I got back to Sura Medura and was overwhelmed, by everything. I had ‘finished’ and now I had time to reflect on the work and my experiences. I had two weeks left in Sri Lanka and the idea of returning back to Scotland popped into reality.
Two days later I left for a ten day tour around central and southern Sri Lanka. I started in Ulpotha Eco Village, not far from Siguriya and Kandy. I was invited there to witness and record a concert by some locals who were to perform some traditional Kavi – folk song poetry. Ulpotha is such a serene and beautiful place. I thoroughly enjoyed my peaceful two night stay in a mud hut house set in the forest, going to sleep each night to the sounds of insects and birds.
I journeyed on, into the busy and much more harsh environment of Kandy. A plan was made after stepping of the train to go for a drink somewhere so I asked where a nice, cheap, local pub could be found…..I was taken to a quiet hotel bar with a beautiful view of the city and the bright Buddha’s which topped the surround hills. As magical as this was, my enjoyment and experience of Kandy was tainted considerably by the constant overcharging and general uncomfortable treatment of me as a visitor and ‘tourist’. I hoped to communicate to at least one of the locals that even though I was a foreigner, I was not a tourist with loads of money and even if I was, I would still expect a fairer level of service for what I was paying for. It was still an interesting visit and a vital learning experience of how to hold your own as a traveller. I was back in the commercial and tourist world – far away from the eco village retreat I had just come from.
I made trips to the many temples around Kandy, the botanical gardens and to the impressive Sigiriya.
I looked forward to leaving the exhausting Kandy and getting to my next destination – Ella. Ella is a seven hour train journey through the hills and mountains south eastwards from Kandy. The train journey through the landscape was incredible and one I’d encourage others to take.
Once in Ella, I was surprised again by the tourist prices and tried to find some more local curry and rice shops. I failed the first night, but the following day, I went on a bike ride and found some more local places. I saw many hindu temples and waterfalls. The journey back to my guesthouse from Ella Falls one evening was particularly breathtaking. As I glided through the valley the sun light fell on the steep, angular, green hills in such a dramatic way. I was reminded of Scotland and my love of large landscapes which seem to hold so much drama and emotion and strength that the only way I can describe how it feels like is when you get a big, strong hug from someone you love and it makes you feel excited, secure and safe all at once.
That evening I travelled down south to Tissa where I stayed for four nights exploring the surroundings with help from a local travelling companion. I was taken up to a rock to an old temple, devoured and abandoned by scaffolding. I was taken to a massive lake as well as crop fields or Chena. I had my first bath in a river with locals at which I had to wear a sarong. It was hard to swim but I eventually got used to it and spent three hours playing and floating in the river as small, thin rat snakes slithered along the branches above and various birds including herons and storks passed us overhead, occasionally joining us in the water.
The most memorable experience of this time was staying overnight in the chena with a local family and helping to make rotty for dinner. We sat outside around a fire and sang songs. It was in this setting that I experienced one of the workers singing kavi by lamp light. His voice was fragile but strong, flexible and gentle. His much younger relative, a spritely, intelligent young girl of around nine soon started up as well but with the more simplified version of ‘make a hoo!’ This was game of call and response with the other workers across the fields in which you made a loud ‘hoo’ sound and they replied in the same way. The continuous calling back and forth was useful in keeping at bay crop eating elephants as well as just being a lot of fun. I slept in a treehouse that night with fire crackers within arms reach in case I had to scare away elephants.
That concluded my tour and I was back in Hikkaduwa the next day. I spent my final days surfing as much as possible and getting multiple bruises in the process. I’d a tearful good bye.
I fell in love with a country and made very good friends. I was humbled from the first day by the people I met and those I observed. I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the people and the environment.
Sri Lanka, we shall meet again.