Monday, 16 January 2017

Arugam Bay - Cookery classes and beach asses!

Our day started with breakfast in a cute artsy cafe and a walk to a tea plantation but it was shut! Dammit, and turns out all of them shut on a Sunday as it was a Poya day. Boooo. So instead we came back to town and by then it was time for our taxi. He stopped off along the way at some waterfalls and coming up to Arugam Bay we drove through a National Park and we stopped to view wild elephants and buffalo in the plains.

When we arrived it was late afternoon so we found some beach accommodation, 500 rupees a night each for a bungalow/cababa right on the beach front in a cute little treehouse type place with hammocks etc - total chill out zone. It is low season on the east coast as its supposed to be monsoon season but we had really good weather. We had read about a really good cooking course that was eco friendly, was set up after the tsunami as a way to fund money for the community and it still was still all going for a good cause, plus it was taught by local people so it seemed great. So we went and booked that for the following evening and went for a good prawn curry and sunset on the beach.

The next day after our last few hectic days was a chill day on the beach, lunch and then our cooking course. It started at 4.30pm and lasted until around 9pm. It only cost us 2500 rupees each and we made 8 dishes in total including coconut sambol and rice. We thought as there was only two of us doing it there would be enough curry for two...nope! There was enough ingredients per dish for around 10 people! We had to invite other people along to help us eat it and then told the guy running it to eat too!

We learnt how to make; fish curry, coconut sambol - where we grated coconuts and also learnt how to produce coconut milk and coconut cream from them - okra curry, pumpkin curry, a vegetable called Snakegourd curry, aubergine salad (more like cooked aubergine in coconut oil and spices), dhal, and plantain curry. I made sure I wrote down the recipes so that I can make it all at home. It was delicious but by the time we had tasted everything we could barely eat much when it came to the final sit-down meal! However we met a good group of people by inviting them to eat. A Spanish couple and two guys from Australia.

We had spent all day also deciding where we were going next. We knew it would be a national park but we weren't sure which one we should do - there's so many in Sri Lanka!! We eventually decided on Yala National Park as its the best place to try to see Leopards. So we decided we would need to get an early bus, which the Spanish couple were also taking, so it was another early morning for us!

Our time in Arugam bay had been brief but because it was low season it was wonderfully qquiet and we had managed to have the whole beach pretty much to ourselves. Its supposed to be a great surfing spot and we could tell with the rough waves! If I ever come back to Sri Lanka it will be to the east and north during high season to see what its all about!

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Bella Ella! Packed Trains, mountain views, homestay and...dogs?

We woke up early, had some coffee and pegged it down to the station with our stuff for 7.30am. Upon realising the que was already large and the ticket office was already open we lined up with not much hope. However we managed to secure 2nd class standing, and it was THE actual holiday today so we knew it was going to be a rammed journey. It was a good 7hrs to Ella through mountains and tea plantations so it was going to be a looooong day!

We took our stance on the platform and when the train came, which was 45mins late, we pounced on those open doors - it was already packed to the brims and our platform was also packed so it was literally a stamped and fight of the fittest to get on that damn train! But we managed to squeeze our way on and get our backpacks off before it left the station, but it was literally like being a sardine, or a cattle off to the slaughter house. It was SO busy! Even the locals were saying they had never seen the trains this packed. We also noticed out the window that our 'friends' from last night hadn't made it on! Suckers.

We were in for a very uncomfortable 7hrs. They say travel can often test your limits, perserverence, and patience. Well this was definitely one of those moments! Not only was it packed but we also had food sellers trying to go through the carriages and ticket controllers - like what the actual? Often it was like 7hrs of standing in yoga positions, one legged, crouching, contorted, bending over seats and people! But it was a pretty good atmosphere, a lot of the locals had seats and many of them gave them up for us foreigners who had been standing a while, even if it was just 30mins it was a relief to our bodies. We were saved by amazing Samosas though!

Upon arriving at around 4pm we had booked a beautiful quiet homestay and they picked us up at the station - yay! We then just took the afternoon to chill on our beautiful balcony in the jungle with a view of Ella Rock, and walk down to the town centre for dinner. We had booked breakfast and the following nights dinner at our homestay as we had heard from reviews how good it was. We were starving so found a localish place amongst all the tourist traps and had traditional rice and curry and then went for sweet rotti deserts.

The next day we decided to do a whole day of walking. Whether it was our decision to or the fact we wandered further than we should of we aren't sure lol. We awoke and had a wonderful breakfast delivered to our balcony, fresh fruit, toast, omelette, coconut rotti's and our favourite coconut pancakes!! Plus tea and coffee and fresh fruit juice. Yum! We then gave our laundry to a local family down the way to do, even though it was more expensive than the commercial places but we wanted to give it to a local family to spread our cash evenly.

Then our first destination was a hike to 9 arches bridge, a famous train bridge constructed by the British with, you guessed it, 9 arches. It took us a while to find - typical Sri Lankan maps! But we were helped by smiling villagers and I had left my trainors on the train, don't ask how, so was hiking in flip flops an getting down to the bridge was pretty hefty. We then decided to walk back the way most people came, without realising it was a walk through tiny villages that was a good 5km from town. We did meet a beautiful young girl who wanted to practise her English, and chatted to us for ages, she was very chatty but also very lovely. And lots of smiling villagers who pointed us in the right direction. But we did ignore some sound advice of a 'shortcut' into town thinking it was dodgy, but actually the way we decided to take took us even further away from town - the shortcut actually was a good shortcut - doh! I looked on google maps and found we were a good 45mins away from Ella! By then we had been walking for around 4-5hrs so we decided to try and hail down a tuk tuk, but typical, when you are away from touristy areas, the moment you need a tuk tuk to hassle you, there's none, or they are all taken by locals! So we hitched a ride in a tuk tuk with a local woman.

We decided as we were in town to head back to the place we ate in yesterday and have lunch - another Kottu! Then we headed out of town again and went on a hike to 'Little Adams Peak' a small mountain overlooking all the tea plantations and Ella, plus looking out to Ella Rock. It was stunning if a little dizzy with the height of it!

We then went back and chilled before our homestay cooked us the most delicious meal ever! Traditional sri Lankan curry which was over 7 curry dishes with rice and poppadoms!

We were wanting to head to Arugam Bay tomorrow but wanted to stop by a tea plantation before leaving, which meant we would miss all the bus connection (it would take 6-7 hrs with two connections, and if you know Sri Lankan local buses, there are no tourist buses, there are no coaches that stop for toilet breaks. These are local local, no toilet stops, loud music, crazy driving, packed to the brim and you have to flag them down on the side of the road and as you climbed the stairs with your backpack on they take off!) So we decided for £25 each, we would take a direct taxi - shame I know but we would have plenty of time for more buses! So we booked with our homestay owners husband for 1pm the next day.

That night we had a horrendous sleep because a local woman who was up for the night with the owners had brought her on-heat pet dog up and chained her to a post, however she kept getting loose and getting herself trapped, so all we could keep hearing was her whimpering and then to make matters worse there were 3 male dogs on her tail trying to hump her, so she was constantly trying to defend herself while chained up. Plus one of the males was obviously rabies ridden as he was just acting bat-shit crazy. So Tashya spent a good half an hour trying free this poor dog so she could defend herself better. While having 3 hostile male dogs around us, but she was super protective and dove to our defense if ever one tried to get too close. We managed to eventually free her and just hoped she didn't go missing otherwise we would have to lie to our homestay owners that we had nothing to do with her getting free of her chains. We went to great lengths to make it look like she'd managed to free herself lol. And eventually we managed to sleep.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

National Holidays, broken down train and Kandy days!

So Tashya arrived in the evening and the next day, after a breakfast of traditional Sri Lankan coconut pancakes (these quickly became a favourite of ours) from a little stool down the road, and a coffee from a bakery nearby, we decided on a rough route and were headed inland towards the hill country!

So we packed our bags and grabbed a local bus to the train station thinking we could just hop on the next available train. Error. Not only do trains get pretty packed but it was also the beginning of a Poya holiday (full moon holiday). Shit. Every train to Kandy that day was fully booked, there wasn't even standing tickets available. However, we went to the ticket reservation booth and were told the only availability was in a private carriage, first class and air conditioned for 1000 rupees. When the normal classes were 150 rupees we were like, Jesus that's too expensive. But then we worked out how much that was in pounds...£7!! For a 3hr journey first class. So we quickly scrambled to the window and booked what were possibly the last tickets!

It was a two hour wait til the train so we amused ourselves on the platform by trying snacks (I'm quickly becoming addicted to Samosas, fried vegetable pancake rolls and coconut pancakes - they are filled with coconut, honey and spices.) And watching the packed trains roll in and out of the station.

Our carriage was pretty plush, reclining chairs, aircon, water, wash cloths handed to us - defo worth £7, wouldn't get in on British railways!

Two hours went by and we suddenly grounded to an abrupt stop, about half an hour from Kandy. By then it was about 5.30pm, and then we saw the commander walking down the track towards the 2nd and 3rd class carriages, and then all the locals start to get off and walk along the track! So we asked what was going on, turned out the engine had broken and we were waiting for another one to be brought out. Yay! So we waited as it went dark, obviously all the locals knew we weren't far and so walked to the next station and got tuk tuks but the rest of us just had to wait.

Luckily we were only delayed by an hour, and when we got to Kandy we hadn't booked accommodation so we went in search of a place we had seen online, luckily they had beds. It was a pretty cool open plan place, kitchen and living room downstairs with the dorm in the loft compartment upstairs with a view/balcony looking out over the hills of Kandy.

We went out for a local meal, actually frequented by the stewards from our train so we knew it must be good. I tried a Kottu there, which is veg, chicken/fish, mixed with chopped up Rotti with a spicy sauce - its delicious and became something I had again and again.

The next day we spent walking around Kandy. We first had to go in search of other accommodation as the place we were staying at were full for the 2nd night. So we found somewhere in the city centre also not far from the station as we knew the train to Ella the next day left super early. We went to the station to try and buy tickets to Ella, however again, turns out all the reserved seating was gone and a limited number of 2nd class standing tickets were left but we could only buy them from 8am in the morning - 45mins before the first train departed. Yay, more fun! Guess we would be up early to wait in line!

We walked the city centre, stopped to have a traditional milk tea - a bit like a Chai, with hot frothy milk and super sweet. And grabbed some of our favourite pancakes and snacks for our walk around the lake which took us past a giant monitor lizard.

We then decided to go to the forest in the hills behind, which took us ages to find, we kept getting lost down little backstreets and into peoples houses lol. It was a lovely quiet walk around protected forest, with barking deer, wild Boars, lizards and turtles and lots of cool birds and a viewpoint. However the map they gave us was Sri Lankan in its directions in that it didn't match anything! So we got completely lost and ended up going a way we didn't want to but it did show us some of the amazing animals there so we were happy.

We then headed back to our old hostel to pack up our bags as we had checked out but hadn't actually moved our stuff! And we chilled for a bit as we were super exhausted after walking so much. Some new guests came and with them was the most annoying Canadian woman ever who basically lived to talk at you. You could tell the backpackers she was with were relieved she latched onto us for a bit lol. She was also a super gullable person with all these ailments and she had gone to a spice garden that day (we had read most of them are scams that make you pay for things you don't want and say these herbal treatments are good for your health but are actually shit. She had gone in and believed everything they told her and bought over $300 worth of products - one was a hair removal cream that was supposed to stop your hair from growing after a while - its just Veet! Lol so we made our excuses to get away from her and went for a meal back at our local find. But before we left we fiund out they were all trying for the train to Ella tomorrow too, nooooooo! So we made a pact that we would get up earlier to try and a. Avoid her and b. Get tickets before them lol. So we got a tuk tuk over to our new place, where we basically showered and went to bed due to having to be up at 6.30am to nail these tickets to Ella!

Monday, 9 January 2017

Sri Lanka - early days!


So I'm now blogging from my new destination - Sri Lanka!

I'm here for one month, and I have a fellow backpacker joining me - Tashya, who was one of the girls I did my advanced diving course with. So she joins me tonight and then the real travelling starts here!

I landed on the 6th at 1am and quickly caught an Uber (cheaper than a taxi, where locals use their own car for rides) - as if Asia has Uber now - thats just so weird and it's almost lazy - but yea, i couldn't be assed with taxi haggling at that time of morning, so maybe it's a god-send! However, it was an interesting ride as my 23-year-old driver couldn't stop himself from babbling on about his problems with his German ex-kind-of-girlfriend and his current and past sex-life. Already I was beginning to switch back to my India-me and learnt to switch off and shut up. Luckily his accent was pretty hard to understand so i just nodded and made the appropriate words to go along with his conversation. He then had the balls to ask me about my sex life 'so how is your good sex life? how many partners have you had good christina?' lol! Oh my days, it was like being back in India but kinda funny as here they have a humour to it, it's very brash and very rude, but they kind of don't mean it that way. Plus it's normally from the younger ones who want to escape the society 'norms' and think us western women are the people to be this open with...a little stereotype there!

He dropped me off at my hostel in Negombo Beach where a little middle-aged lady, Latta greeted me in her bobble hat and tired eyes and called everyone 'darling'. It was a very basic hostel, but the fact that the lady who managed it was so cute and kind of like your mother, you didn't really mind it's flaws like no wifi and dark fan-only rooms, plus it was across the road from the beach so, I really had nothing to moan about! it was so funny though as bless her, she stays up for her late check-ins, and so while she was writing out my reciept, she was falling asleep! So it took a while to check in but i managed to finally get some kind of sleep, until I was woken up by some rude Chinese people in my room at 6.30am who decided to greet their friend checking-in by turning on the light and shouting!

That day I met a lovely french girl who was coming to the end of her trip and we spent the day together eating curry and rice, chilling on the beach and going out for a meal in the evening, while trying to avoid all the tuk tuk drivers wanting to get you in one! She had actually missed her flight to India that morning because they wouldn't let her board without a return ticket, which she didn't have as she was staying for 6 months and didn't know when she would leave.

The next day I decided to pay the high price of $3 to use the pool of one of the beach resorts to avoid the beach sellers and local oggling eyes as I was on my own. So after 12 hours sleep, finally, I was able to have some relaxation after being on the road these last few days. I also went for another local curry and rice at a lovely place down the road which was delicious and I am beginning to enjoy eating with my hands again - especially as Maude the french girl had given me a little extra tip to help - use the thumb to push it into the mouth!

I also met Johnathon, a local from Jaffna who had been traveling India and Asia for a while and was back for his Australian cousins wedding. We spent the afternoon by the pool chatting, talking about Sri Lanka, travelling etc and he introduced me to some local mangoes and something called a Wood Apple - which is weird but after a while you get used to the taste!

My evening meal was across the road from the hostel at Mr Crab, the freshest seafood in town, and I paid the high price of 6gbp for grilled prawns in garlic butter, chips and salad! It was yum!

I left for Colombo the next day (yesterday) and by the advice of Latta took the local bus (all of 20 rupees - when 171 is one pound) to Negombo Bus station, and then the local bus from there to Colombo which was 56 rupees. I managed to haggle a tuttuk driver down to a very good price and checked into my hostel along Galle (pronounced Gawl) road, near the beach front, which is very plush at 13 pounds a night, where I will await Tashya's arrival!

At lunch I ate at a very local place where all the men couldn't believe a foreign girl was eating with her hands, and she does it so well they gasped! Last night i went down to Galle Face beach front where it's tradition amongst the locals to hang out, fly kites, eat speciality snacks and watch the sunset, I obviously also tried those speciality snacks. Today I will head down to Fort area probably and check that out, not before having some more delicious cuisine!
P.S Photo's will be added once uploaded!