Sri Lanka in a Nutshell

Trip Start Feb 03, 2011
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17
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Trip End Jul 26, 2011


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Flag of Sri Lanka  ,
Friday, April 8, 2011

I'm very sorry for not keeping this blog better up-to-date during my stay in Sri Lanka.  All in all I've been very impressed with Sri Lanka and it continues creeping up on my charts of places to come back to.  Two weeks is not enough time to fully experience all this country has to offer.  But, as always, Liz and I did the best we could to squeeze in a lot, while at the same time trying not to rush it.  I think we did this successfully.  Since I've been home from Sri Lanka for over two weeks now, my dates, temple names, and I'm sure many other details are already foggy in my memory, so instead here are some of my most memorable and enjoyable moments throughout my time in Sri Lanka.

ADAM'S PEAK
The fifth highest peak in Sri Lanka, it's also a very important pilgrimage site for both Christians and Buddhists.  There is apparently a footprint indented into the rockface at the very top of the mountain and Buddhists believe it is the footprint of Buddha while Christians in the area believe it is the footprint of Adam (of Adam and Eve).  The entire hike is only about 2 1/2 km BUT it is all uphill, complete with 5500 steps!  To do the mountain right, it has to be hiked during the night to reach the summit in time for sunrise.  So, this is exactly what Liz and I did.  We set an alarm for 1:30AM and by 2AM we were sitting down for tea, then on our way up this behemoth of a hill!  It was a gruelling hike, the ultimate stair master.  There were a few times I had to dig deep, but honestly, I would do it again and it wasn't anything too intense.  I decided at the base of the mountain that I'd finish the hike, and if I had to find inner strength somewhere I'd pull it from my Grampy Ralph, who's birthday was the day before.  I figured he's the most determined, hard-working and downright stubborn person I know (among other great qualities like most generous and kind with an amazingly strong faith).  I didn't really have to channel that "inner strength" or have any moments where I wasn't going to finish or anything, but it felt good to have him, and all my grandparents for that matter, in my thoughts on the 3 hour hike up the mountain.  If anything I found inspiration as I passed the 70+ year olds who were also progressing up the mountain to reach the pilgrimage site for sunrise...impressive!  Needless to say, at sunrise the view was completely stunning.  Misty mountains, shimmering lakes, rolling hills, small villages...  Beautiful.  We hiked back down in record timing, deciding to run instead of walk so we wouldn't get jelly-legged.  All in all, a great experience and highly recommended.

SIGIRYA
An ancient, abandoned kingdom atop a huge, odd-shaped rock that juts out of a relatively flat landscape.  After touring the very well-done museum, Liz and I hiked Sigirya at mid-day.  It was incredibly hot which obviously led to some crazy amounts of sweating.  So worth it though to tour the ancient ruins at the top and soak in the amazing views.  Basically, Sigirya is Sri Lanka's version of Peru's Macchu Picchu.  Later on, in the evening just before sunset, Liz and I hiked a mountain 2 1/2 kms from Sigirya.  There were no other tourists and the trail leading to the top was much less marked.  At one point, we had to shimmy up a rockface then swing from a branch to get higher onto the rocks.  But, we made it to the top and the view was even better than from Sigirya, because of course, we had Sigirya in plain sight as well!  It was cooler, and with not one other tourist in sight, it was just Liz and I there to soak in the sights.  One of my favourite moments in Sri Lanka.  

UNAWATUNA
After climbing Adam's Peak we returned to our hotel and ate breakfast.  We decided we were going to get from Delhouse (Adam's Peak) to Unawatuna, which is only about 250 kms away.  We caught a tuk-tuk around 9:30AM, took 5 buses, followed by another tuk-tuk before reaching the beach at Unawatuna around 11PM that night.  By this point we'd been awake almost 22 hours and hiked a mountain!  All to drive 250 kms!  The road systems in Sri Lanka have got to be the most frustrating in the world!  Though they are in good shape (no potholes, etc.) they are two-lane only and are very congested, which slows traffic to a constant 30-40km/hour speed.  Add that to the buses frequent stops and you've got yourself a brutally long, hot and sweaty journey.  The buses also fill up to the max with people so it can be a quite uncomfortable journey as well, with kids and other people's bags being thrown on your lap for parts of the ride!  Insane!  But, waking up on the beach was well worth it!  We stayed in Unawatuna for the following 5 days and quickly fell into the rhythm of life there, which is SLOW!  So relaxing and met some great people.  Also celebrated my 23rd birthday on the beach.  I was treated to dinner by Hugh, a kind Australian man we'd met, then drinks by 2 Canadian guys, Adam and Lar, who we were partying with.  It was a really great night (from what I remember!)  Basically everyday was spent on the beach and every night at a new restaurant (on the beach).

NUWARA ELIYA
After an amazing train ride through the tea plantations and rolling hillside of Central Sri Lanka we arrived in Nuwara Eliya, a small town which is booming for two reasons: 1) making tea and 2) tourists coming to drink that tea.  But it's a really beautiful spot, although since we rose almost 2000 metres more above sea level you could feel quite a difference in the temperature.  The hotel room bed even had a heavy comforter, which at night we needed to use!  Big difference from other parts of Sri Lanka where using any blanket at night is too much!  Anyways, the morning after our arrival here we woke early and hired a jeep to take us to Horton Plains National Park.  After entering the park we spent the morning hiking on foot throughout the park to a place called "The End of the World".  It's a straight-edge drop some 2km above small villages with mountains in the backdrop.  Pretty nice!  We also hiked to some waterfalls, but it was too chilly to swim.

So, I know I'm missing LOTS, but these were some of the biggest highlights for me.  I would recommend anyone to visit this part of the world.  Sri Lanka's reputation is a bit tarnished due to it's recently ended civil war and state of the country after the devastation caused by the tsunami.  But, everything about Sri Lanka was amazing!  The people, the highlands, the beaches, the ancient ruins, the landscapes...everything!  (Well, maybe the roads could use a little work...)  

I had to leave Sri Lanka on April 8, and say goodbye to Liz as she continued onto Negombo with the two Canadians we met, Adam and Lar.  Liz is now travelling solo and with friends through Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.  She was a great person to travel with and we had tons of fun together!  Her bargaining skills, sense of direction, great sense of humour and outgoing personality all helped in making the trip everything it was.  I wish her al the best!  
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