Welcome once again everybody to nother post in the rather long series about my first trip to Sri Lanka between February and April 2014. If you want to read the whole adventure (and it was) from the beginning, you can do so here.
22nd February, 2014.
I had been to bed fairly early the evening before and consequently woke up at a very reasonable hour. I headed out to the balcony for the morning smoke and returned fairly sharpish to put a jumper on. Up here in the hills, 3,415 feet up to be precise, it is distinctly cooler than on the coast but that is no bad thing, it is very refreshing. As I mentioned before, just be sure to pack one warm top for the evenings an early mornings like this.
Whilst I could hear a little road noise on the road below it was merely a background hum and the entire scene was peaceful and very beautiful. I had decided that I was going to do something constructive that day rather than just sit around and the idea that was half-formed in my head was to climb Little Adam’s Peak aka Small Adam’s Peak. I had read that it was 3,743 feet high with a well defined path to the summit and I thought that even as unfit as I was it would be achievable.
I swapped my usual flipflops and shorts for trainers and lightweight travel trousers, packed a fleece (which I didn’t need in the event) and set off in search of breakfast. I went into the Chill Café which was another of my friend Jo’s recommendations. Like my guesthouse, she knew the owner there as well and I shall tell you all about the Chill in due course as it will feature heavily in the next few posts.
You can see in the image above what breakfast consisted of coffee and arrack. I very rarely drink spirits and so I have not had an opportunity to tell you about arrack yet. Arrack is very much the national drink of Sri Lanka and varies from other varieties in Southern Asia in that it is almost always made from the sap of unopened coconut flowers although a rougher sugar-cane version is available.
People have asked me what arrack tastes like and the honest answer is that it tastes like arrack, it is a unique flavour but if I had to try to describe it I would say it is like a cross between rum and cognac. It varies from extremely smooth which you can drink neat (my preferred option) to fire-water costing only a few rupees a bottle which you could use to strip paint.
If it is mixed it is usually with cola, soda water, lime juice or any combination thereof but my favourite is the more traditional one of combining it with EGB, the Elephant Ginger Beer I mentioned in a previous post. Add a good splash of freshly squeezed lime juice, a drop or two of angostura bitters if you have any and you have a very passable Moscow Mule.
A couple of those and I was ready to tackle Little Adam’s Peak so down the town I went and there is no danger of getting lost as it is well signposted the entire way. I included the town sign to show you the height I mentioned. I really do my research, you know!
I have also included a image of a strange looking concrete object I saw at the side of the road and which I was to see more of later in various forms. I do not know if they are trig pints (they seem too small), mileposts (there are no distances shown), some sort of markers for underground cables (my best guess) or something completely different. As always, any and all ideas will be gratefully received.
A short distance out of town I was directed off the road and started climbing which is about what I expected. I did see a few things that slightly perplexed me and a couple of which you can see above. The first is the small structure and I am not sure if it is meant as a foul-weather shelter for hikers or something else.
The second unexplained thing was slightly more unnerving. There is no sense of scale here but the mound of earth was maybe five feet long and the “canopy”, for want of a better term, looked more ornamental that practical and the mound had items apparently deliberately placed on it. Was this some sort of grave, human or animal? I really have no idea.
What I did find slightly odd was that after I had climbed for a while I came back out onto a surfaced road where a found a still apparently functioning hand-pump, another one of those strange concrete markers, several tuk-tuks and, thankfully, a bar. It is possible to get a ride to within only a few hundred metres (the steepest, it must be said) of the summit but I was glad I had walked all the way, it really was not strenuous.
Well, the bar was an obvious choice and I was straight in there and what luck, they even had my favoured Three Coins beer which can be difficult to find. There was a lovely looking dog sleeping in the heat of the afternoon as it had warmed up considerably and the fleece was definitely not needed. I have to say that as far as views go whilst having a lunchtime beer, this was pretty special.
On reflection now I am not quite sure what the tuk-tuk drivers were doing as I only met one other hiker on the last portion from here to the summit. He was descending so it was not as if they were waiting for the return of passengers they had dropped off, I just don’t get it.
I thought I’d better get on with it as I knew I could get far too comfortable in that bar and so it was best foot forward. Again the pathfinding was child’s play, you really cannot get lost. As I ascended I suddenly found myself in the middle of a tea plantation although there was no evidence of any work going on there
A tea plantation was not unexpected but what I saw next most certainly was, a sign for the 98 acres resort helipad, surely not. Apparently so, and you can see it here. Quite honestly, given that there is a perfectly serviceable road up to the hotel and apparently nothing but a dirt track from the helipad I think arrival by car would be much more comfortable and showier if that is your thing. I had a look at the room rates of the resort out of curiosity and they are eye-watering although it does look very swish.
Somewhere in between the unsurprising tea bushes and the unexpected helipad was the cow. I didn’t expect to see one this far up but then again I had not really been thinking about it. She looked content enough grazing but I have no idea where the farm was or who owned her, this was in the back of nowhere.
Onwards and upwards and they had even provided steps for some of the steeper sections which was decent of them but detracted slightly form the “adventure” of conquering this mighty peak which brings me nicely to the name. Does it suggest that the Biblical first man was of diminutive stature? No, not at all, it is to differentiate it from Adam’s Peak, a much more famous mountain which lies some miles Northwest of here and is over twice as tall. The two are vaguely similar in profile, hence the name.
I eventually reached the summit only slightly out of breath and I had all to myself, well almost. I was greeted by a very friendly dog which you can see in the images and where it came from or who owned it I have no idea. I do not even know if it was owned as it had no collar.
Did it have a den nearby and come out to scrounge food off the tourists? Did it just trot up here from a nearby house because it liked the view? I really have no idea but (s)he was so affectionate and as soon as I set myself down on a rock to take in the wonderful surroundings (s)he was between my legs, obviously relishing the shade from a by now fairly hot sun and in no time flat was fast asleep. I probably spent longer there that I would have normally as I didn’t want to disturb the poor creature.
If the views of Little Adam’s Peak are impressive, they are nothing compared to the views from it. You have a 360° view and it is stunning including a glimpse of the road I had started from where the vehicles looked like Matchbox toys. I have climbed much higher mountains but at that moment, all alone except for my new canine pal, I really did feel on top of the world in every sense of the word.
I don’t know whether it was the sun, the arrack, the beer, the sheer euphoria of being where I was or some combination thereof but I actually did something that I simply never do and that is take a “selfie”. I just couldn’t help myself and I do apologise, you are seeing rather too much of me in the last couple of posts.
Eventually I had to move the mutt and head back down again which I always find more difficult than going up as you use muscles you do not normally exercise unless you are an athlete. I made it as far as the tuk-tuk stop and bar, so obviously a celebratory beer was called for, or possibly more than one and I continued on downhill.
I wasn’t even tempted to jump in a tuk-tuk, not out of any macho “finish the mission ” mindset but purely because I was enjoying myself so much. What a great day and it wasn’t nearly over yet.
I took a ridiculous amount of images whilst on my walk and only used a fraction of them in the main body of the text so I have created a slideshow of some of the others. many of them are similar to images above but you may enjoy them.
When I got back into town I headed straight for the Chill Bar where there was more delight for me and I am not just talking about beer. There was an ODI (one-day international) cricket tournament in full swing at the time and Sri Lanka were playing Bangladesh so I was straight in front of the TV to watch it. I know you are dying to know so I looked it up for you and Sri Lanka won by six wickets with 15 balls left. See how hard I work for you, dear readers?
You would think that was enough pleasure for one day but not a bit of it. With the cricket finished I went back up the hill to the Ella Village restaurant which was in the adjacent building to my accommodation although it is all run by the same people. This was another one of Jo’s recommendations and again it was a good one.
I had not eaten all day and was quite hungry which was just as well as the images show. I have told you in a previous post about the “minimum requirements” for a rice and curry set but this was an absolute requirement for having to loosen your belt, just look at it.
There were no less than eleven different dishes and the centrepiece was the rice steamed in the banana leaf. Every single dish was so well cooked, nothing too hot but all beautifully spiced and everything seemed to compliment everything else. After all these years I am not even going to try to recall what each dish was but, believe me, it was good and I promise you I did not empty some of the bowls for the image, I really did eat very nearly it all.
I have been debating hard about whether to discuss one aspect of the meal with you as I don’t want to cause any trouble but the cops all know what goes on and don’t bother so I think I shall tell you. I doubt if the current Ella police chief is interested in a minor infraction of the rules seven years ago.
You will see that there is a teapot and teacup on the table, very appropriate in the home of tea but all is not as it appears. Although I did not know it then the premises were not then licensed to serve alcohol but the owner obviously keeps a stash for “special guests” i.e. anyone that wants a beer.
They serve it in a teapot and teacup but it is really only for the look of the thing as everyone, cops included, knows the score. Just look at the “tea” in my cup, it has a head on it! The owner kept coming up to me with a grin and asking, “More tea, Sir”? It was bizarre.
After a few more pots of tea, I managed to scale the North Face of the Aurora guesthouse up those steps without mishap. I swear the steps to my room were steeper than Little Adam’s Peak! A last smoke and I was in bed by about ten o’clock and asleep by about five past, I was exhausted.
As I was drifting off to the land of nod, I was reflecting on what had been as near to a perfect day as any man has a right to expect. I had gone for a long solo walk in spectacular countryside, made friends with a lovely dog, watched a Sri Lankan cricket match in Sri Lanka where it is a religion and finished the day with a meal I would have broken the bank to have eaten in London, where I can get a very good curry. I know it is clichéd but it really doesn’t get much better.
To see if it can get any better in the coming days you’ll just have to stay tuned and spread the word.