Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Sri Lanka: More steps than a bad 90s pop group.

On Sunday we left the disappointingly average Colombo and headed for Kandy. Surely a place bearing the name "Kandy" is obligated to live up to the expectations that comes with it. Having said that, Sunshine in Melbourne does a fantastic job at contradicting this theory.

At 8:40am we entered the busy Colombo station and bought first class tickets for 500 rupees, which equates to just under $5. First class isn't as special as it sounds. Basically you sit in the same type of carriage as everyone else, but get a fancy (make that grimey and unclean) viewing window that looks out the back of the train (we were in the last carriage). You're also only sharing with about 17 other people as opposed to 300 and several goats. The train is a rusty old diesel engine that could be as old as Sri Lanka itself. Considering how bumpy the ride is, I'm surprised the old thing manages to stay in one piece.

The train left Colombo on schedule and as we had previously read, the journey did not disappoint. The train sneaks between kilometers of dense green rainforests, occasionally clearing so that you get a glimpse of the breathtaking Sri Lankan countryside. It's quite surprising just how mountainous this island is. We left our seats in first class to go check out the view from the storage cabin which had its loading doors opened wide allowing us to get a better look. Workplace Safety isn't a high priority in Sri Lanka. We sat in the door way and dangled our legs out the side of the train as we bounced along the countryside. After a couple of near misses, which would have most certainly ended in me becoming a double amputee, I decided it would be probably best if I returned to my seat.
A Sri Lankan cattle wagon (train) 

We got to Kandy after roughly three hours and set off on the increasingly frustrating task of finding a hostel or guest house. We had pre-decided on one particular guest house to avoid having to wander around the streets of a country which has yet to embrace tourism, but this still didn't help our plight. Sri Lanka is the first country I have been to where taxi and tuk tuk drivers don't have the faintest idea where anything is. This is despite us showing them numerous maps and addresses. We even managed to somehow get an off duty policeman drive us to our destination and he barely bad a clue.

After a couple frustrating hours we finally arrived at our guest house. We were pleasantly surprised to find another couple of backpackers staying there. These guys were a cool couple from Sydney who were starting the beginning of a seven month trip and Sri Lanka was their first destination. They had just come from the south so it was nice to get some info on where to go, which meant our itinerary changed for 40th time.

We did some exploring around Kandy and we're relieved to find it an awesome little city with a great vibe. There's a nice big lake in the middle and pretty cool temple which apparently possesses a tooth of Buddha that has super powers. Apparently it floats and stuff, but you don't get to see it. Lame.
Don't mess with the hornets 

The next day we decided to pay a driver to take us out to a place called sigiriya which has a massive Uluru type rock with a temple on top of it. For some reason Sri Lankans enjoy ripping off tourists and had set the entry fee at $30, which seems to be standard practice throughout the country. It'd be nice if they recognised that we're not all wealthy tea barons who wear monocles and play croquet. Despite the steep cost, the place was actually pretty awesome. It's about 1500 steps to the summit and it's worth it just for the view from the top. Just make sure you don't get attacked by the hornets at the bottom. There's not much left of the temple that was originally built on the top of the rock, but the view of the surrounding countryside is pretty damn impressive. After shaking a bloke who wanted a tip for following us half way up the rock we headed for home.
The view from sigiriya 

We hadn't eaten for the entire day meaning I could eat the arse out of a low flying duck. Thankfully it didn't come to that and we had the pleasure of cooking with our guest house host. She put on an amazing spread of local Sri Lankan food which to call amazing would be an insult. It was easily the best food we'd had. The food here is a bit of a combination of Indian and Chinese food and is actually solid unlike Indian. Thankfully my stomach has coped quite well with it and I haven't experienced any Delhi belly just yet.

After much deliberating with the help of our new Sydney side friends, we decided to join them and head for Adams peak. Adams peak is a 5000 step monster mountain with a temple on the top. We didn't really know what we were getting ourselves into when we signed up.

The journey would begin the morning after at 2am and we would arrive at the summit just for sunrise. This place is nestled in Sri Lanka's highlands so the temperature is bloody cold. If the 2am start was enough for you, it wouldn't have mattered if you started this climb at 11 in the morning after 3 red bulls and 4 cups of the coffee. The ascent lulls you into a false sense of security with some nice low gradient inclines and friendly steps before smashing you with cobbled platforms and near vertical sections. By the half way point I was keeling over in total exhaustion. 

We finally managed to hit the top at about 5:30 just in time for the sun to rise. The ascent is almost completely in darkness, only illuminated by the occasional light to guide your path. This means you have no idea what to expect when the sun finally pokes from behind the thick mist and clouds which envelope the peak. We joined the throng of shivering tourists and waited for the moment. I can honestly say that when it happened it was one the most amazing experiences I've ever had. You are literally above the clouds and it looks almost exactly like it does when you look out the window of a plane. On this particular day the clouds were too thick to see the ground, but it was still very surreal.
It might look heavenly, but the walk up was hell

We made the descent back to our hostel which was much more enjoyable than the ascent. The entire mountain is surrounded by view after view of amazing scenery and it makes the climb well worth the pain. Currently I feel as though I have developed parkinsons disease or something as I can't even hold my legs still. I don't even want to think about how painful tomorrow will be.
One of many amazing views

So now I'm going to have a nap, hopefully wake up, drink some local rum and figure out the next stupid thing to do.