Greetings to everyone and welcome as always to another post in my series regarding my three month trip to Sri Lanka in early 2014 which I hope you are enjoying reading as much as I am enjoying writing it.
I can scarcely believe this is the 30th post already and I am only about half way through the journey but it is bringing back some wonderful memories of my first time in that superb country and passing the time when I am more or less unable to leave the house due to virus restrictions.
A quick word to new readers, who I am very gratified to note seem to be appearing from time to time and which is that if you wish to read the whole story from the beginning, you can do it here.
19th February, 2014.
After the exertions of the previous day I had a good lie in, lazed about my hotel and did not go outside until the fierce midday sun had passed over. This was no hardship as the Savinrose Hotel was really most agreeable and if they had served beer I might not have left it at all.
I decided that as I had gone into and around Tissa the previous day I would go and explore in the other direction so I went to the end of Lake Road where I was staying and turned right instead of left, there is always something new to discover.
Turning in this direction brought me into the centre of Debarawewa which is marked on maps as an entity in it’s own right but is effectively a suburb of Tissa and is named for the wonderful lake which I had explored the previous day.
The first place of note I saw, and it is difficult to miss, is the clock tower which sits in the middle of the only major rod junction in town. As the image shows it was constructed in 1981 so is therefore of little historical significance and it seems to serve rather more as an advertising hoarding than an horological piece. Quite honestly I find the concept of building a clock tower in the late 20th century a little anachronistic but who am I to pass judgement? It does serve another useful function in that it has the road signs on it.
I did have a look around the rest of Deberawewa but I didn’t find anything of interest, it seems like a purely functional and fairly modern commercial / residential area and so I decided to head back towards the lake which I had so enjoyed previously. I took a few back roads which I had not yet walked and came to the lake easily enough.
As I walked along the lakeshore I did not take many images. I had more than enough from the day before which I hope you enjoyed in the last episode but I could not resist the one above. I am afraid my lack of ornithological knowledge again shames me and I must issue another plea for assistance from any bird-watchers amongst my readership. I had thought some sort of pelican because of the beak but a look online suggests not as the plumage doesn’t look right. HELP!!!!!!!!!
I hadn’t planned on doing much that day and I didn’t. I retraced my steps of the day before to the are I knew had most of the hotels (for which read decent bars in my case) and was vaguely towards the centre of town where I knew all the eating houses were. I had debated the Lake Side Hotel which I had enjoyed before but decided to try somewhere else instead, primarily to give me something else to write about for Virtual Tourist which was my primary writing vehicle in those days.
From a reasonable selection I picked the Safari Hotel (now renamed the Ekho Safari) and it was another good choice if almost empty as I had more or less come to expect by now. I suspect this apparent lack of patronage and large amount of competing establishments is what keeps the standards so high, it is a matter of simple market economics.
There is little to tell you about the Safari as the place was immaculate and comfortable, service was prompt and friendly, the wi-fi was fast and the beer was cold. What else could I possibly want? Well, the stunning view out over the lake was certainly a bonus and I should mention that there were a few people taking in the view from the loungers by the pool but I could see quite enough from the bar.
I had a couple in the Safari and thought I would try somewhere else so I walked further North along the lakeside until I came to the Reny Hotel. Don’t bother looking for it, it appears to be long gone, website and all.
The Reny was nowhere near as upmarket as the Safari but it was perfectly acceptable and I have to include it here if for no other reason than the menu. I often take images of menus to remind me what was offered although I rarely publish them but in this case I had to make an exception due to one of those often hilarious mistranslations that you see whilst travelling.
Can anyone tell me what devalued pork, prawns etc. are? At first I though it was a mis-spelling of devilled but obviously not as they have rendered “Pork Deviled” more or less correctly. As Toyah Wilcox once sang, “It’s a mystery”.
Almost as much of a mystery as the devalued pork is the mystery of where I ended up next and before you ask I had only had about four beers so drunkenness is no excuse. Somehow or another I failed to take any identifying image of this establishment which is something I usually do precisely for circumstances such as this.
About the only things I can tell you are that I appear to have eaten breaded chicken drumsticks with chips (fries) and that the establishment had a pet tortoise which I spent rather a long time looking at. I like tortoises, they are very relaxing not that I needed much relaxing.
I must have made it to my bed that evening as I woke up there the next morning and if you think this day was uneventful, wait until you see the next one!
20th February, 2014.
Absolutely nothing appears to have happened today as I only took one image and that was of my evening meal in the Tissa Hotel which had become my restaurant of choice. I was really pushing the boat out as it was a rice and curry set PLUS an egg curry as I had so enjoyed it before and I knew it might be a while until I saw it on a menu again.
I have mentioned that I normally have a pretty small appetite so what prompted me to order so much food I do not know although I made a valiant effort to get through it. The reason for my splurge and why I say I might not see egg curry on a menu again soon was that I had decided to move on the next day and as there has been so little of interest in this post thus far, we shall press on with……………….
21st February, 2014.
I had decided to move but where to? I could have continued along the coast and there was still the vague notion of a complete circumnavigation of the island purely keeping the sea close on my right hand side. It was an idea which certainly appealed as it would have a sense of a proper journey beginning and ending in the same place, a bit like walking the London LOOP which I have done and written about here.
It would also have the advantage of taking in Jaffna which, for some inexplicable reason I had a great hankering to see. After a total of about nine months in Sri Lanka that hankering is still there as I have never made it further North than Trincomalee. Something interesting always seems to divert me. Maybe next time, if there will ever be a next time.
It is time now to introduce you to my friend Jo and I know she does not mind me writing about her and using her real name as I asked her before when writing on Virtual Tourist which is how I got to know her in the first place. Thankfully, after the demise of VT we are still in touch.
Jo is South African by birth but lived in London for a long time and we used to meet up regularly along with Sarah, whose wonderful blog I have no reluctance in plugging again here as it is superb and I trust that is an objective view. The three of us, along with the lovely and well-travelled Lesley, who incidentally makes the best fudge you have ever tasted, and the ludicrously peripatetic DAO (120+ countries) formed the London-Calling group on VT.
The idea of such groups was to arrange meetings, walks, picnics, meals or whatever for visiting members and was core to the ethos of the site. Whilst it was an excellent travel resource in terms of tips and reviews there was a definite sense of community that I have not encountered on any of the many other travel sites I have been associated with. Back to Jo before I get too nostalgic.
Jo had re-located to Sri Lanka and was living in Trincomalee at the time and it was her that put the idea of the highlands into my head. She had suggested that from Tissa it was an easy hop inland to Ella which she recommended. I am always in favour of local knowledge, as you know, and thought I would give it a go with quite profound effects as it turned out. OK, I would go to to Ella and I could return to the coast later, I still had plenty of time.
Tissa to Ella is only about 50 miles but it is a bit of a performance to get there. I started my journey to the bus stand in Tissa by tuk-tuk as I had the luggage. You will notice it is unmetered but the guy in my hotel had pre-arranged a price for me.
At the stand I got my ticket, the bus turned up on time and off we went. What they had not told me was that the bus did not go direct and we had to change. The bus stopped in the village you can see in the image and some people drifted off whilst others just tried to find what shade they could.
I asked a couple of people if this was Ella but it apparently wasn’t and to this day I have no idea where it was but it was indicated to me that I should stay put, fair enough. I was slightly relieved when I saw the sign indicating that this was indeed a bus stop and after a while a bus duly turned up which some of the locals ushered me onto.
I don’t think many travellers come this way to Ella and I was certainly the only European on either leg of the journey. Subsequent experience suggests that most travellers arrive by train which was evidenced by the posse of backpacks that proceeded down the main street of Ella about 15 minutes after every train arrived.
I got into Ella at lunchtime and I didn’t even have the hassle of looking for somewhere to stay. Jo had recommended the Aurora guesthouse and if memory serves had even made a reservation for me. She knew the owner, indeed she seemed to know half of Ella!
I found the guesthouse easily enough and was confronted with a fairly daunting set of steps which you can see in one the image. Nothing for it and I started lugging what was, frankly, too much kit up the stairs. I normally pack very light and I have no idea why I had so much with me this time. I know that on subsequent visits to Sri Lanka I took much, much less.
About four or five steps up I saw a young lad scampering down the steps who tried to take the bag off me. I refused on the principle that he looked about 12 years old and must have weighed six stone soaking wet but he insisted and secretly I was a little relieved. I was in my mid-50’s with a back that had undergone surgery and I knew that I could have done it at his age.
Naturally he got a tip and I was ushered into the reception / dining area where the charming owner completed the formalities and I was shown to my room which was perfectly adequate as you can see. There was hot water, which I had not needed previously but was actually quite welcome up here n the hills as it can get chilly especially in the evenings so make sure to bring at least one piece of warm clothing.
There was even a durian tree outside my door, at least I am fairly sure that is what it was but the absolute jewel in the crown was the view, which you can see and which was taken from my front door. Isn’t it gorgeous? Regrettably the sun does not set over the peak as this is looking North but you can’t have everything and I did like sitting in the evening where I could watch a beautiful sunset by the simple expedient of turning my head to the left!
It still was not 1400 hrs. so I reckoned a look round the town was in order to see why Jo had raved about it so much. The whole village is based along the A23 road which runs from the A16 near Kumbalwela to Wellawaya which is where I suspect I had changed buses.
I could not resist taking an image of the sign at the bottom of the village as I knew all about it. This was the road I had come up and, whilst it was an ascent in my case the warning was certainly in order as it is a precipitous road in places. Drivers beware.
I was not particularly hungry but I thought a bit of a snack would be in order and so I went to the Dream Café. Here is what I wrote about it, slightly abridged to avoid spoilers!
Live the Dream
“During my stay I was also to frequent the Chill Café an to be honest, there is very little to choose between the two establishments as they cater to much the same clientele (i.e. predominantly travellers), serve more or less comparable menus and drinks at more or less similar prices, have the same excellent standards of service with all the waiters speaking fluent English in almost identically spotless surroundings. Both have upstairs areas which are excellent for people watching in the main (only) street below.
They really are competing for the same market and both seem to be doing well but the interesting thing is that the two premises, which are actually adjacent, are owned by two brothers. Just to complete the family tree their Father runs the bakery down the hill and their sister has just opened a hotel up the street so they really do seem to have the village pretty well sewn up.
If I was pushed to point out differences in the two businesses it would be that the surroundings in Chill are a little more Bohemian in appearance with Dream being a little more minimalist modern in it’s decor and Dream seems to have a slightly more upbeat musical policy.
The menu is fairly extensive and starts at breakfast with Sri Lankan full breakfast offered as well as variations on curd, fresh fruit and so on. Should you crave something Western then there is French toast and even bacon rolls on offer. Moving on in the day it is a standard travellers venue menu (did you like the little piece of poetry there?) with pizzas, pasta, wraps and paninis covering the snack menu although they all look fairly substantial to one like myself with the appetite of a small bird!
If you fancy something even more substantial there is an equally enticing range. Starters are as diverse as coconut stuffed with seafood and prawn cocktail and French onion soup with croutons. Mains include fish and chips, grilled tuna, a mixed grill that looks like it might defeat the most dedicated trencherman, lemon chicken breast, peppered steak and even tempura with a tamarind sauce which sounds interesting although I have not yet sampled it.
There is a decent selection of desserts, soft drinks (smoothies, fruit juices etc.) on offer so there should be something for everyone.
I have never had a bad meal in Dream Café ((I ate there again on this and on subsequent trips)).
One final thing to note that I have mentioned elsewhere on my Sri Lankan pages is how inaccessible the country is for the mobility impaired. I don’t know if it is by accident or design but there is a ramp down from the small carpark albeit a little steep. That may provide access to the lower bar for a wheelchair or a baby buggy although the upstairs bar is a non-starter in that respect.
Yes, that was the abridged version so you can imagine what the original was like as it extended over my three different trips to Sri Lanka.
For now, a simple dish of spring rolls and cutlets proved a nice fusion of Southern Asian and Chinese cuisines, accompanied as always by a pot of tomato ketchup which they seem to love here.
I did like the Dream Café to the extent that I did not move for the rest of the day and a few beers completed my first foray into Ella. I have to say the steps previously mentioned were a bit more of a challenge at night, even though they were mercifully lit, and led to the welcome sight of my similarly illuminated cabin and a very welcome bed.
In the next post I go for a walk, a proper walk up that hill I showed you earlier where the sun rather stubbornly refuses to set so stay tuned and spread the word.