Hello again and welcome to yet another instalment of my trip to Sri Lanka in the early part of 2014, my first trip there but by no means my last and there will be more if long-haul travel is ever again an option for me.
A quick word to new readers, if you wish to read the whole story of this trip then you can start here.
23rd February, 2014.
After the quite energetic and completely wonderful day I had experienced the day before it was always likely that much less was going to happen on this day and so it proved but it was not entirely my fault. When I awoke it was not raining but it looked very much like it was going to and that proved to be the case later on. This is one of the problems about Ella and the highlands in general, the climate is generally a lot more pleasant than on the coast which can get oppressively hot (hence why the colonials built hill retreats) but it does rain a lot.
Ordinarily the rain would not bother me but I had something rather important to do that day, I had to move out. Believe me, I did not want to as I loved the Aurora but the owner had a party coming in and was fully booked for a few nights. I needed a new bed but in Ella that was not going to prove a problem as there are any amount of options.
I had a quick look online and then a wander round town making enquiries and eventually I got myself a room at reasonable price. I won’t name the guesthouse as it is now completely re-vamped and bears no resemblance to the place I stayed. It was nothing fancy but clean and tidy as you can see. I only booked a couple of nights as I still wasn’t sure if I would stay long in Ella. Famous last words!
I bade a very fond farewell to my wonderful host at the Aurora and promised to return for another meal and a few “pots of tea” and if that does not make sense to you then please read my previous post. The youngster who had so helpfully humped my case up the steps on my arrival was on hand to do the same in reverse on my departure and I re-located down the hill a bit but still fairly central.
After that I decided to go back to the Chill Bar and take stock or more likely take beer as it was getting pretty overcast by then. I got in there just about in time as shortly afterwards the Heavens opened and it rained as only Asia knows how to rain, it was torrential. A couple of the images show what I mean.
That was the day sorted then and there is little to report except to show you the lovely meal I had that afternoon, one of many in that fine establishment and now might be a good time to tell you about it.
I should point out that this piece is taken from my original Virtual Tourist piece but was written during a subsequent trip so apologies if it reads a little strangely. I have tried my best to edit it appropriately.
My favourite place in Ella.
“I should start this piece by saying that there are many excellent places to eat and drink in Ella as it really is very much geared to the traveller despite being a relatively small place but Cafe Chill has to be my favourite.
I first discovered Chill on my first visit to the village in 2014 although I cannot claim the credit for that as it was recommended to my by VT member and good friend Jo who was living in Sri Lanka at the time and knew Darshan the owner. Local knowledge, as is so often the case, proved to be a very useful tool as it really is an excellent place. This was proved by the fact that I set up my VTHQ there last time and again this time in 2016.
To explain that slightly obscure statement, if I stay any length of time in a place I generally try out a few of the local hostelries and then decide on one where I will spend large amounts of time mostly drinking beer, trying in vain to keep my VT pages up to date and eating occasionally.
The very first thing to note about Cafe Chill is the genuine warmth of the welcome and friendliness of the staff, all of whom speak good English incidentally. This goes way beyond the normal “if I’m nice to you, you will leave me a good tip” sort of mentality and I have even been invited to private parties with the guys (no female staff at all) after hours.
A brief anecdote should suffice to illustrate the case. I wandered in unannounced on my return trip and was imediately “mobbed” by the waiters, most of whom were unchanged from the previous visit. One of the guys who always works behind the bar whipped out his mobile (cell) ‘phone and showed me a picture he had taken of me on my previous visit. Another waiter asked me, totally unprompted, if I wanted an Americano and a glass of arrack (local firewater) which is my usual start to the day. That shows you how good they are.
Chill is a fairly large establishment, semi-open at the front and with a large dining area to the rear but you really should not miss the little “loft” up a flight of stairs and furnished with beanbags which is a great place to chill, not surprisingly given the name.
Pleasant as it is I usually give it a miss as beanbags are not a good option for a late middle aged man with a bad back. I can get into them all right, it is the getting up again that is the problem, especially after a few Lion lagers!
The whole cafe is always immaculate and very comfortable. Despite the size, it can get packed at luncthime when many of the local tour guides bring their clients here for lunch and it can be even worse in the evenings when you may well have to wait a while for a table, it really is that popular. Whilst it is predominantly a travellers establishment there are usually a few Sri Lankans there as well.
As you are sitting enjoying a drink from the extensive selection of local and imported spirits, cocktails (try some of the arrack based offerings), wines, beers and a totally mouth-watering array of soft drinks (fruit juices, smoothies, milkshakes and the like) have a look round you at some of the wonderful artwork on the walls which were all done in 2014 as well as the corporate branding, menus and the like, by a wonderful Australian artist called Louise Macauley who is a mate.
Entertainment is provided by a large screen TV in the front bar area and the usual piped music which tends to be very much of the chillout variety and appears to be provided by a radio station called Chill FM but I am sure that is purely coincidental as I don’t think they have the werewithal to run their own station.
The TV tends to show the usual Sri Lankan mix of sport if there is anything of interest on and always cricket if there is any plus Animal Planet which I have noted elsewhere seems to be the station of choice for watering holes in the country.
Additionally there is the almost obligatory wi-fi which generally has an excellent speed during the day but can slow a bit in the evening rush when it seems that just about everyone in the premises is using it.
I suppose I should tell you about the food. In a word, it is excellent. There appears to be a brigade of about 10 or a dozen (again all young males) under the supervision of what appears to be a very knowledgeable chef. They are always immaculately turned out and work in a spotless open kitchen which is always a plus point in my book.
The menu is extensive starting with breakfasts (Western and Sri Lankan) and moving on through a huge selection of pizzas, pastas, fantastic desserts, paninis, sandwiches, burgers, Western mains and just about every type of Sri Lankan dish you could ever want. The lamprais and ubiquitous rice and curry are both very good.
Lamprais is also known as Lampreys or Lumprice and consists of various types of dry curries, sambols and a deep fried boiled egg all wrapped and served in a banana leaf and it is delicious.
All the bread is baked freshly on the premises. I should mention that the pizzas are fairly large so bring your appetite! I also know that the food is extremely fresh here as I go there fairly early sometimes and watch a procession of local suppliers coming in with all sorts of produce.
The kitchen is open 1000 – 2200 daily and the bar remains open until 2359.
The toilets are immaculate if not large and the whole place is kept running smoothly by Darshan’s uncle (a charming man) when he is not there. In short, I can find nothing negative to say about Café Chill.
Very highly recommended”.
I think you could say I like it there even if it very nearly cost me a dear friendship as I shall explain later! That was a fairly short day so we shall pass on.
24th February, 2014.
The day started in a fairly standard fashion in the Chill Café and the image tells you about all you need to know about my lifestyle and probably removes any doubt as to why I was going to become quite ill five years later!
I did actually manage to drag myself away from the Chill for a while in the interests of trying somewhere now which was the Different Corner Café down the hill a bit and it was very good.
Different Corner is obviously geared solely at travellers as is evidenced by the almost obligatory Bob Marley poster and the graffiti on the wall which is actually encouraged although by the paucity of it I can only surmise that this was a relatively new venture or had been redecorated recently.
From the fairly extensive if standard Western / Sri Lankan menu (no Chinese in this case) I chose a veggie curry with dhal which is unusual for me as I am a complete carnivore but it was very tasty and extremely inexpensive. Another one to add to my growing list of excellent eating houses in Ella.
After that it was a day of doing precious little except sitting in the Chill Bar doing what I usually do namely drinking, watching cricket if there is any on and trying vainly to catch up with myself online.
Let’s pass on to………..
25th February, 2014.
When you read this day you may well see a pattern beginning to emerge. Another day of breakfast in the Chill Bar, then out somewhere else for a meal just to try somewhere new and give me something else to write about if ever I caught up with myself online.
This day I decided on the Fish & Chips restaurant, not because I wanted that dish or even that it was such a British name as I knew it was the usual mix of Sri Lankan and Western cuisine, it was just somewhere I had not tried. Frankly, I should have stayed where I was.
There was nothing wrong with Fish & Chips although the service was poor even by Sri Lankan standards which seems to be wither brilliant of pretty dire with nothing in between. I went for a biryani and there was nothing wrong with it but there was nothing particularly exciting about it either, it was fairly average in a village where you can get superb food for the same price, as I have described elsewhere on the blog.
26th / 27th February, 2014.
The 26th is easy to write about as I did not take a single image and therefore have no idea what, if anything, I did and the 27th is not much better. Morning in the Chill, out for lunch (as opposed to being out to lunch, which I definitely am) and for some utterly inexplicable reason I returned to the Fish & Chips restaurant, I do not know what had got into me. I went for an omelette this time and it turned out to be a whole lot better than their biryani.
After that I took a walk up to railway station at the top of the village as I wanted to check train times. I know Sri Lankan Railways has a website but in those days the information bore little resemblance to the actual timetables so I thought I’d get the info from the horses mouth as it were.
When I was up there I took a couple of images of the Ella Public Ground for which read Cricket Ground as any piece of open ground in Sri Lanka is a de facto pitch and I mentally named this place the Ella Oval which I think has a nice ring to it. Even though there was nothing apparently happening there was still quite a crowd standing about for whatever reason.
A couple of years later I was to attend a massive open air festival here up to my ankles in red mud after yet another series of downpours but that is a tale for another time.
Back to the Chill for the rest of the day and I even managed to go to the correct hotel to go to bed.
I think that is enough days in one post for now so to find out if I ever do anything of any interest again, stay tuned and spread the word. Spoiler alert, I do eventually!