Posted in Travel

Ella, Sri Lanka (hiking, tea, and aggressive guides)

I don’t talk about transport in between locations on purpose, it’s just that they are an adventure in and of themselves. This time I had power in numbers as the German couple staying in the same guesthouse were also heading to Ella. With help, we boarded a very packed bus. The German’s bags fit in the luggage storage but mine did not, so with my backpack on, I was crammed into the back door stairwell and the Germans got in the front door. Thankfully there were about 3 men between me and the door so it eased my fear of being flung out on a crazy turn. I had a tiny space in front of me and when the bus stopped I didn’t think we could possibly fit more people in, but apparently 3 women could squeeze themselves into that small space. One arm was trapped against my chest and the other was stretched out with my hand gripping onto the door. I actually just laughed at the sheer ridiculousness of it all. After about an hour or so we came to a stop and were told to get off. I had no idea what was going on and hoped to spot the Germans coming out the front. Turns out it was just a tea break. When we got back on, I found a place for my pack and then jammed in with the Germans at the front for another hour. The second bus wasn’t nearly as bad and in another hour, we were in Ella. Perhaps Sunday is not the best travel day. 

Ella is a quaint little town in the hill country. It is also very touristy. There were so many guesthouses to choose from that it was actually overwhelming. In the end, I chose a place that was equidistant to Ella Rock and Little Adam’s Peak. Unfortunately I also chose a place that has a huge resort being built right in front of it. I don’t mind the scar on my view, but people who know me know how much I love noise and listening to constant hammering is anything but relaxing. I will also mention that the workers were wearing flip flops and no hard hats on site and liked to stare at me anytime I was on my deck. The family that owns the guesthouse were very sweet and helpful, so I just didn’t have the heart to break my reservation and go somewhere quieter. It just meant that I was away for most of the day.  The day I arrived, I checked out the town and was happy to discover several places that served real espresso – a rarity in Sri Lanka. I’m sure it’s some sort of blasphemy to order coffee in tea country, but I drank plenty of tea too. I found a trendy little cafe to hang out in and after secondhand smoking a pack of cigarettes (omg, Europeans love smoking, *gag*),  I tried relaxing back at the guesthouse. Nope, construction ends at five, so I went to see the sunset from the top of Little Adam’s Peak instead; sadly it was too cloudy. I ended the day with a fancy, overpriced dinner and had a yummy tea cocktail too (see, I’m drinking the tea!). I’ve also forgotten how to use a knife and fork after 3 months of using a spoon! 

Looking at Ella Rock from Little Adam’s peak

In the evening and pretty much all through the night is a cacophony of dogs barking. Starting at around 6am (and 5pm) are 45-minutes of prayers coming over the loud speaker from the Budshist temple. So yeah, it’s pretty noisy for a small little town.

The next morning I headed over to nine arch bridge and back up Little Adam’s Peak. It’s not a tough hike and the scenery was okay, but I admit I’ve been spoiled with some spectacular hikes this past year, so the bar is set pretty high. 

Nine Arch Bridge

After a decent coffee and some lunch, I walked the 7kms to the black tea factory. It took about an hour up and down hills through huge veggie patches and tea plantations. Every person I passed smiled and said hello. Tuk tuk drivers couldn’t understand why I wanted to walk. And that’s exactly why I wanted to walk, because no one else does and it gave me an opportunity to meet the locals. The tour of the tea factory was informative and interesting but I don’t have photos since I was the only person who heeded the signs saying no cameras. After another hour walk home, I was pretty exhausted and had an early night after dinner. 

Part of the scenery to the tea factory.
This woman asked me to take her photo, she then asked for a pen- I happily obliged
 

The 6am wake up prayers were fine the next day as I wanted to be up and out by 7am to climb Ella Rock. Not because it was hard but because I wanted to beat the heat. To my surprise, the coffee shop and the rotti shop were both open at 7am. I had heard about the men wanting to “help” along the trail and went prepared with very detailed directions along with photos, so I wasn’t worried. Walking along the train tracks with no one but the locals walking their children to school and the company of dogs and one cat was probably the highlight of my time in Ella. When I couldn’t imagine it getting any better, a young girl’s voice came over the loud speaker reciting prayers or singing in what sounded like Sanskrit – I imagine it came from the school since it was 7:45am. It was so lovely (see/hear video on Instagram: @yoginicam).  

Friends along the track

And then it turned. I came upon a group of men, one of them pointing that it was “this way” to Ella Rock. I knew it wasn’t, so I told them that I was fine and that I had a map. Yet one of them kept following me. I got to the turnoff and 2 other travelers were standing there, not sure if it was the correct spot but I assured them it was. They wanted to wait for the train, so I carried on. The man that had been following me conveniently stopped to wash his feet in a pond but as soon as I passed, he was up again and back on the path. I finally turned to him and said, thank you but I don’t need your help. He started yelling at me, calling me a f’ing tourist and telling me that this was his village and he was just walking home. I did my best to diffuse the situation and then waited for the other girls. We carried on but when we got to the next turn off we were supposed to take, he blocked the trail and said this was his house and we weren’t allowed to cut through. We carried on and then one very nice lady let us pass through. As an added bonus, we were “attacked” by 4 puppies. We arrived before anyone else and as others arrived, most had guides with them. The cost? 2000 rupees ($20!!). It is not a confusing trail or a very high peak so it’s quite a lucrative business. We helped a Quebec couple back down since their guide abandoned them and all went for lunch in town. 

View of Adam’s Peak from Ella Rock

I then spent the afternoon “trapped” with a pregnant cat in my lap while I read a book. Later, I discovered my new favorite drink, the Ella Mule: cardamom infused vodka, ginger beer, lime, and fresh ginger. The next morning I took the train to Haputale, just an hour away from Ella. It was a beautiful journey. 

View from train
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I'm off on my first travel adventure since my 20's. This blog is intended to keep my friends and family up-to-date while I'm away.

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