... spicy sambol, steep steps, safari, sun and surf.
29.11.2012 - 09.12.2012 28 °C
We touched down at Colombo Airport at around 3.30am and were quickly through customs. There is an official taxi desk inside the airport so we arranged for a driver to take us to Colombo Fort railway station at a cost of 2500 rupees. We watched the day dawn as we raced through the traffic for our 7am departure. Much like the other countries we have visited in SE Asia, the general rule on the road is that the biggest vehicle wins. We spent a fair amount of the time driving around tuk tuks by utilising the oncoming traffic's lane, ducking back for cover to avoid collisions. There is much tooting of horns but it's not aggressive, it's simply to let people know that you are passing so as to avoid any sudden moves.
In the brightness, and heat, of the morning, we arrived at the railway station. Jen had pre-booked tickets and had wisely chosen first class travel, which meant we would have some air conditioned comfort after flying overnight. We found the Expo ticket office and got our tickets without any problem.
First class was a small single carriage behind the engine. We climbed aboard and found our seats. Before too long we embarked on the journey to Kandy, Sri Lanka's second largest city. The porters kindly brought us hot face towels so we were able to freshen up before receiving a morning cup of tea. we relaxed and watched the countryside as we passed. Lunch was served - a savoury roll and more tea. In a couple of hours we arrived at Kandy railway station.
As we exited the station we were eagerly approached by taxi and tuktuk drivers. We declined and headed for the main road, trying to clear our fatigued heads and get away from the pressure of the drivers touting for business. We walked for about ten minutes before agreeing a price with a tuktuk driver and heading to our guesthouse. The tuk tuk battled it's way up the hill. At times, we all inadvertently leaned forward in our seats, so steep was the road. The journey seemed to take an age. We passed a woman and a driver trying desperately to shove a large goat into a tuk tuk, we took this as a good omen and shortly thereafter arrived at the gate of our guesthouse.
The Paradise Kandy is a lovely, Dutch style, guesthouse nestled high on Richmond Hill overlooking the town of Kandy. We were greeted by the manager, Nayagam, and his staff. Our bags were taken up to our suite and we were invited to take a seat and have some tea. The view was really lovely and the location was blissfully quiet. We had a quick chat and explained that we had not slept since the previous day. Nayagam suggested we have a short nap. He said he would have lunch ready for us when we woke, and that he would arrange for a driver to take us into town later in the afternoon for a look at some of the sights. We agreed, excused ourselves, and went for a shower and some much needed sleep. We woke at about 1pm and came downstairs. It was apparant that we were the only guests so it felt much more like we were staying in a home rather than a guesthouse. Nayagam is not only an excellent host but also a talented cook. He asked what we would like for dinner that night. We said we were most interested in trying traditional Sri Lankan cuisine. He told us of his many years as a cook and suggested he prepare a range of traditional dishes. Naturally we agreed.
At 2pm our tuktuk, and driver Cyril, collected us and first took us to the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens. He left us to enjoy a couple of relaxing hours, strolling through the grounds. We found an amazing array of plants set amongst the palms, coco de mer, huge pines, and our favourite mara trees. We saw our first palm squirrels, very cute and twitchy little creatures. We relaxed with a drink, sitting in the sunshine, on the great lawn before returning to the main gate.
Cyril collected us and we drove to see some traditional Kandyan dancing. The performance was about 45 minutes long and featured a number of drummers playing waist-slung double headed hand drums, and tamborine. They were accompanied by a horanava, which looks a bit like a clarinet (in size and shape) and has a very similar sound to the wind instruments played in Thailand, or areas in the Middle East. The dancers were clad in traditional costumes. The men danced in pairs mostly, and each would appear adorned in a different style of dress. They wore various traditional costumes and the Sri Lankan masks we had seen in our guidebook and in many of the shops. They featured peacock feathers, snakes, and flames, beautifully and colourfully painted. The female dancers were very graceful and used very subtle gestures of the hands and head. The men were very energetic, and leapt around the stage, the performance culminating in a series of acrobatic back flips across the length of the stage. The event was capped off by some fire walking. The performance was attended exclusively by tourists, and while the constant camera flashes, and movement in or out of seats, was distracting and annoying, it is of genuine cultural value and very much worth attending. That said, I am sure it would be a more authentic experience as part of a festival.
We walked back towards the centre of town, and visited Sri Dalada Maligawa - The Temple of the Relic. Dusk was upon us and the temple looked splendid all lit up. It has many ornate rooms, across two levels. On the upper level, a long line of visitors waited to pass the entrance to the Tooth Relic chamber. The chamber is said to house one of the Buddha's teeth, rescued from his remains after his cremation in India. We walked from the temple back to town and found Cyril. When we returned to the guesthouse we were treated to the delicious tastes of Sri Lanka - chicken curry, sambal, eggplant, long beans in garlic, finely shredded and spiced cabbage, and fresh chillies. Nayagam, and his two colleagues looked after us brilliantly well. At the end of our meal we were just about dead on our feet. We slept very soundly that night.
We rose early and sat on the balcony watching the day begin, staggered by the beauty of the view. Mornings bring a cool breeze up from the valley and as the early morning fog lifts, Kandy is revealed to the eyes and the ears. Bird calls fill the air and dogs bark morning greetings to each other. We were greeted by the staff and were invited down for breakfast. We discovered a beautiful table, bathed in sunlight, and set with fresh juice, fruits, curry, sambol, and polroti (coconut roti) with butter and jam. It looked amazing. We had never eaten curry for breakfast before but after the first bite we were eager converts. We felt really pampered as we sat quietly in the cool breeze, on our first Kandy morning. We spent the day visiting the sights which interested us most, namely a tea factory, the Bahiravakanda temple, and the Millennium Elephant foundation. We had arranged a tuk tuk and, before long, we were weaving our way in and out of traffic, and gasping for fresh air. On our way to see the elephants, we stopped occasionally to take a photo. We encountered Macacque monkeys by the roadside, hundreds of bats hanging in trees in the bright morning sun, and even some porcupines.
We arrived at the Millennium Elephant Foundation and paid 2000 rupees for a basic package which included a short ride. We had previously spent time at the Thai Elephant Conservation Centre, in Lampang, Thailand. It is a huge natural forest where the Elephants are well looked after. We thoroughly enjoyed our time there. Sadly, the moment we were rushed through the main entrance, dragged through the museum, and virtually thrown on the back of an elephant, which had just returned two other tourists from a ride, we realised this was the polar opposite of the Thailand experience. We immediately felt uncomfortable, even guilty, participating in this zoo like farce. The elephant, it's ears covered in open sores, was constantly poked and prodded by the mahout as it automatically walked the short circuit around the facility. We had a guide imploring us to smile as he took photos but we felt terrible sitting on the back of this majestic creature in such an awful circumstance. Thankfully, after about 10 minutes, we climbed off the elephant. We were then confronted by both the demand of the mahout for a tip, and the touting of an east end londoner to feed the elephant a pre prepared plate of fruit, at a cost of 200 rupee. We gave the mahout a tip to stop him harassing us and asked the cockney if tourists constantly feed the elephant all day. We asked if food intake was monitored and the diet was balanced and appropriate. He assured us that all the food was weighed and recorded against each animal. We didn't feel convinced. The facility felt like a circus sideshow. Using animals inappropriately to fleece tourists from dawn to dusk. We watched one of the animals walked down to a section of water where it was commanded to lie on one side, before being placed on a short chain which tethered it to a point which kept it lying down. A tourist then waded into the water and washed the elephant. We left.
Our driver kept trying to convince us that we wanted to go to a gem museum. We kept trying to convince him that we had no interest. We told him we would like to go to a tea factory and off we went. After a few minutes we turned off the main road and into the carpark of. you guessed it, the gem museum! A man greeted us and invited us in, our flat refusal to exit the vehicle seemed to end any further debate.
Happily, our next stop was a Tea factory. A very pleasant and informative young woman took us through the facility, explaining the various stages of production. The machinery was very old but in excellent order. We learned a little about the different types of tea produced there and were invited to sample some. We were left to look at the gift shop but there was no pressure what-so-ever to buy. We picked up a couple of really lovely items.
Next stop was wood carving. We learned about the different types of wood and what type of carving each was best suited to. We were also shown the natural colours used for painting items, like the traditional masks. We took a slow walk around the shop floor and were amazed at the quality of the workmanship. There were some magnificent pieces, most far too large to even consider taking back home on the plane, we decided on a Peacock Mask, an elephant and a meditating Buddha. The mask symbolises peace and harmony so we thought it an excellent item to hang at home. Our last stop for the day was one we had been most looking forward to. From almost anywhere in town you can see a large white, meditating Buddha sitting high on a hill, as if watching over Kandy. The Bahiravakanda Buddha is more than 80 feet high and sits atop 'Gnome Mountain'. Legend tells of hundreds of sacrifices made, by the Kings of Kandy, to appease a wicked gnome which lived here. Now the site offers a peaceful place to take in the remarkable views over Kandy Town.
We had a final delicious breakfast at the Paridise before heading off for our next leg. We thanked Nayagam and his staff for looking after us so well and took off towards Dalhousie, our next destination. Our driver, from the first day in Kandy, had swapped his Tuk Tuk for a small car and for an agreed price of 7000 rupee we were again weaving left and right as we avoided buses, trucks, motorbikes, Tuk tuks, people, and dogs. Once we escaped the noise and congestion of Kandy, and surrounds, the air was free of smog and the countryside spectacular. We climbed higher up into the hills and entered the tea plantation areas. Tea bushes marked endless straight horizontal lines across the hillsides. The valleys peppered with coconut palm, mara, and bright orange/red African tulips. We passed workers toiling either in the field or carrying bags, or tools, along the roadside. Always offering a nod of the head or a smile. We have become increasingly conscious of the fact that we have been born into an easy life while others are, in all likelihood, going to spend theirs in slogging manual work.
We stopped occasionally to take a photo of the incredible views across the valleys. The last 25km became slower, harder work for our driver due to the poor condition of the tight winding roads. At about midday we arrived at the Slightly Chilled Guesthouse. We invited Cyril to join us for some tea. He accepted, but I think only out of obligation. Our intent was to be courteous but we suspect it only served to cause a delay in his return journey.
We checked in to our room and found it had a balcony from which we could sit facing the challenge which awaited us, Siri Padaya and the 5500 steps which lead to it's peak. We took a walk to familiarise ourselves with the starting point of the trail in the hope that we would find it in the dark that night. about 100 metres up from our hotel we met a very friendly dog who decided to take the walk with us.The town consists of one main, unpacked, road and an open square car parking area. We stopped in at one of the shops and had a cold drink. The dog sat outside until we were done and then we all walked down the hill to the river. As with everywhere we had been so far, everyone we passed smiled broadly and greeted us with an energetic "Hello" we returned the greetings in kind. We crossed the bridge and found what looked like the start of the trail. Our four legged friend wandered off up a hill pausing to look back at us every few steps. Unconvinced that we had located the start point we decided to retreat to the hotel and check our guidebook and consult with the staff. The dog caught up with us and walked as far as his house, and went back to sleep where we had first found him. Sitting back in our room we read about the climb, and how all the local dogs know the route and will often accompany travellers and pilgrims up Siri Padaya. We had not gone quite far enough to reach the well marked start point. Had we followed our canine companion he would have shown us. That evening we set out our boots coats, chocolate, torches, had a hearty meal of curries and rice, and got some sleep.
At 1am the alarm went off. We rose without hesitation and donned our gear. The staff were up and saw us off wishing us good luck. We kept an eye out for our little mate, but there was no sign of him. We didn't see anyone else on our way to the start point. The pilgrimage doesn't occur until January so the trail was absent of any light, or the many tea stalls and activity which makes the climb so vibrant during the peak period. Much as we would have loved to witness the festivities, we loved the solitude and silence, the darkness and nervousness.
We crossed the bridge and rounded the corner until we came upon the start of the trail to Adam's Peak (Siri Padaya). We paused, took a deep breath, and began the climb. We were feeling really energised and excited but were careful not to adopt an unsustainable pace. The ground was uneven and tree roots, and wet season rains, had taken areas of the path away. We could see about 4 feet ahead of us as we climbed in single file. About 15 mins into the trail we came to a large reclining Buddha, we lit some incense before continuing on. Shortly thereafter, two monks stopped us and tied orange string bands onto our wrists. As they were tying the bands they recited a short sutra to bestow good blessings upon us.
Over the next couple of kilometres we started to see a few other climbers. We would pass, and in turn be passed, like leapfrogging up the mountain. It was gratifying to know that the embarrassment we felt at being passed as we stood motionless, trying to get our breath back and heart rates down, would be experienced in the reverse somewhere further up the track. What was of lasting shame was being passed by a sprightly little dog, who stopped to say hello before he flew past us, on three legs!
About 90 minutes in, we were well above the cloud line. The sound of the river had faded away. The trail was bathed in the light of a full moon, and the sky shimmered with stars. We checked our Garmins and were really pleased with our pace. In fact, we were well ahead of schedule and thinking we had it in the bag. We spoke too soon. The steps were very deep and high, the gradient so steep we had to pull ourselves up each step with the help of the handrail. Our lungs burned dry and cold, but our legs went to jelly if we paused too long. We kept a very slow, steady pace. At this stage the trail was narrow and we were conscious of the fact that we were unable to set too slow a pace without holding someone up, so we all pushed on until we reached a clearing whereupon about twelve of us stood in silence, sipping water or eating some chocolate, while we recovered some energy.
We continued on up the steps, at a slow and steady pace. The steps were divided, and narrow, which offerred us the opportunity to grab a rail with each hand and pull ourselves upward. We saw what looked like a tea stall ahead, there were several people seated there, eating or drinking. As we drew closer we could see the temple in front of us. We were finally at the end of the climb. The wind was strong and very cold, so we put all our extra layers on. We drank and ate as we waited for the sun to appear. Happily, the people were very quiet. I suspect we were all just taking in the experience silently.
We took an occasional photo and before long, the sky, just above the horizon, began to glow with the first hints of sunrise. We watched the sun rise into the morning sky, revealing the landscape as it did.
The temple gates were opened and we made out way to the three bells which are mounted on the NW corner of the temple. We paused and reflected on this experience, on how fortunate we were to have the opportunity to travel to this beautiful part of the world. It is customary to strike the bell the number of times you have made the journey.
We each sounded the bell once and there was beauty in the strong, even tone, ringing out from the mountain top. We spent a considerable time taking in the view. In the morning sun, Siri Padaya cast a huge, perfectly triangular shadow across the land to the West. We took photographs and then started the journey home.
About a minute into the return journey, I felt a sharp pain in my right knee. I stopped and stretched, and massaged, the area, but with little effect. We had barely started down the mountain and I was in trouble. I was able to use the handrail to take most of my weight, like a single crutch, and this helped me in the steepest sections. I did however develop a somewhat ridiculous, but almost pain free, style of descent which I employed whenever possible. We christened it the 'Demented Cowboy' and it basically required that I adopt a very wide stance and run down the steps, straight-legged. My joy at having a break from the pain was only matched by our collective fear that I would slip and tumble to my ultimate end! Suffice it to say that the technique was a great success and eventually, we found ourselves on the relatively even ground at the base of the mountain.
As we trod the path along the river toward the tea plantations, we felt what we thought was rain starting to fall. It wasn't rain though, it was a family of very cheeky Macaque monkeys pelting us with twigs and seeds. They followed us in the trees for a while before descending to the path and walking just ahead, or behind us. They were curious and confident enough to come within only a few feet of us. We parted company when they headed into the forest and down to the river. We found some spring in our step as we passed the now familiar buildings on the approach to our accommodation. We stopped for photos at the end of the trail before heading to our room for well earned sleep.
When we woke, later that afternoon, we sat on the balcony and gazed at the mountain. Hardly able to believe we had just made the trek there and back again. We sat in the warm sun with the sound of the river drifting up from the valley. Sri Lanka was proving a vast, beautiful country, and we were only five days into our trip. We ate dinner and got to sleep early. At 05:30 we bid farewell to Dalhousie and made to journey East to our next destination, Kataragama.
The Gem River Edge Eco Lodge is situated in Kataragama, about 250km South East of Colombo. It sits beside the Gem River and is located close to Yala National Park. It is only a short tuk tuk ride to the centre of Kataragama and a large multi-faith Temple.
It is an eco friendly place which provides a really relaxing experience in harmony with the natural surroundings. The rooms are cosy and comfortable, with mosquito nets, and ceiling fan. The cold water shower was not an issue as we were generally feeling hot and sticky at day's end anyway.
The Gem River Edge has plenty of space to sit and watch the palm squirrels, birds, butterflies and monkeys. There are three dogs who live at the guesthouse (all vegetarians) and they have to vigilantly guard their food because every time they wander off, one or more monkeys quickly climb down and start furiously helping themselves to the rice in their feed bowls.The setting is one of natural beauty and the cuisine is worthy of specific mention. Every meal was prepared from fresh, organic ingredients and 'Uncle' cooked them in the traditional Sri Lankan style, using terracotta pots. Carla, Muna and the staff were helpful and informative. On our first evening we travelled into Kataragama town centre. We walked around looking at the various stalls and shops. They were filled with floral, or fruit filled, offerings for the devotees visiting the Temple for Puja.
As it neared the time for the evening Puja, we joined the crowds heading towards the temple with their offerings of fruit and flowers, dressed mainly in all white. Small children noticed us quickly and we even saw one girl actually stop, point at us from about 2 meters away and call out to her brother who was walking behind, to show him the foreigners on their way to the Puja, before they both laughed loudly. People stopped us to tell us the direction of the temples (the way we were already heading), or to just find out where we were from. Children often asked for bon-bons, chocolate or money, but this time it actually seemed more a chance to practice some English rather than actually wanting anything from us.
We walked around the inside of the temple area, watching some of the rituals take place and offerings being given. We lit some incense and received a blessing inside the Buddhist temple. We have been to many Buddhist Temples, but this was the first place we had seen a ritual whereby a devotee lights a coconut on fire, holds it like a candle while praying, then makes a circular movement above the head before smashing it into a small fenced area when the flame went out. We caught up with the only other couple staying at Gem River Edge, a Belgian couple named Cedric & Sophie. We spoke with a few locals keen to share some information about our respective lives, shared some fresh fruit, and observed the various rituals undertaken at each of the small temples.
A group of teenage boys arrived, dressed in similar costumes to those worn by the dancers we had seen in Kandy. Their families proudly photographed them before the drummers started up and the dancing began. Kataragama doesn't seem to be a very large town but there were many people at the temple. The puja happens each and every night, at dusk, and there is no shortage of dancers, offerings made, and prayer. We wandered back to town and got a tuk tuk to the guesthouse.
The next morning we rose at 05:00, showered and lathered ourselves in mosquito repellent. A four wheel drive arrived to take ourselves, along with Cedric & Sophie, on a wildlife safari in Yala National Park. Gelath, from the guesthouse, accompanied us as guide and cook for the day. We entered the park via the East gate, rather than the common route through the main gate. It turned out to be fortunate because within only about 20 mins Cedric quietly, but excitedly, called out "Leopard...leopard" we stopped the vehicle and slowly reversed back about 10 metres. There, through the lush green underbrush we saw Yala's prized inhabitant. A single leopard stood and stared right at us. Too proud to flee, it matched our gaze before very slowly walking off through the jungle. We could hardly believe our good fortune. Gelath informed us that it was becoming very rare to see the leopards. Only six live in the whole of Yala and to see one so close was quite incredible.
As we drove on we saw peacock and pea hen, water buffalo, crocodile, iguana, and deer. We were excited and hungry when we made a stop at a stretch of beach for breakfast. Chairs and a table were unpacked and Gelath served us 'Hoppers' for breakfast. A sort of bowl shaped, paper thin, pancake. Made from coconut milk and rice flour, we had them with some strawberry jam and a small sugar banana. They were a huge hit with all of us.
We chatted about the wildlife we had seen and Cedric reminded us how lucky we were to have him, and his leopard spotting expertise, on our safari. After breakfast we piled back into the jeep and went off in search of more wildlife. We were hoping to see some elephants up close, and were hoping we might even spot a bear. Before long we got our first wish as we came upon a large female elephant with her young calf in tow. We sat and watched them feeding for a few minutes before they were joined by a large male who came along side our vehicle. We thought he might take issue with our presence at any moment, but the trio trod past us and continued into the jungle. The road was rough and very bumpy. We bounced around in the back of the jeep as it raced and strained through the deep mud puddles and rocky ridges which marked the roads after the monsoon season. We took some time out for a break beside the river. We relaxed in the shade of the huge trees, and watched the water flowing past. The river was full and flowed quickly as the rainy season had only recently ended. We returned to the beach for our lunch and had a walk along the sand, soaked our feet in the warm water, and even took a short nap. We woke refreshed and ready for more safari. As the light started to disappear, we reluctantly gave up any hope of seeing a bear. We saw many more animals after the heat of the day had disappeared. Many elephants and water buffalo took to the lush green plains to graze. We saw flamingo, hornbill, black faced monkeys, dozens of crocodile, mongoose, deer and peacock before our day drew to a close.
As dusk decended we drove to the ancient Sithulpawwa Rock Temple. We climbed to the top of the structure and gazed out over the thick jungle of Yala. We tried to trace out some of the spots we had been earlier in the day. A large group of monkeys were seated on the steps down from the temple. They were unfussed by our presence and sat quietly in small groups looking out over the forest and enjoying the cool breeze. At the base of the temple we visited a large reclining Buddha before heading back to the jeep and making our way back home. We soaked in the cold shower and scrubbed off the thick base layer of dirt and dust accumulated on safari.
That evening we dined on fresh vegetable curry, coconut sambol, chutney, and fresh fruit. I took the opportunity to taste the buffalo curd, served with local honey, for my desert. It tasted much like a very strong, quite tart, yoghurt. At 10:00 the following morning we said farewell to the staff and started the drive to the South coast of Sri Lanka and our next destination, Unawatuna.
We arrived in Thalpe (just out of Unawatuna) in the early afternoon, and checked in to what we thought would be our last accommodation of the trip. It was a little bit of luxury, not the sort of accommodation we would normally choose, but at the time of booking it seemed like a nice treat to stay somewhere where we could pamper ourselves before the long flight home. After checking in we sat on the balcony, overlooking the beach, eating dips and bread and sipping on some icy drinks. The room was nice and the balcony provided a fine view of the ocean.
That night we ate in the restaurant, our first selections were not available and the prices were a little unreasonable. The following morning we decided to look for somewhere else to stay, even though we had pre-paid for a couple of nights. Whilst their website looks very impressive, this resort style, luxury hotel had very little to offer, their 'private beach' did not actually exist (it was more of a rocky wave barrier and a red flag indicated it was not safe to enter the water), the 'pool' was the size of a jacuzzi and was located virtually in the restaurant. The very average restaurant charged three times London prices, in addition to adding a service charge, VAT and then expected a tip. We could have managed most of those things (even the 80s style decor and Russian mob boss clientele) but, for two Australians, living in London for nearly 7 years, being so close to the sea and sun and not being able to swim (safely) was pure torture. Sadly, the hotel had no local flavour at all, and like many of the hotels in the Thalpe end of Unawatuna, it was foreign owned. The very next day, we relocated to a beautiful, Dutch Colonial guesthouse, less than 10 meters from the sandy white beach at Unawatuna, which was run by some super friendly local people and had all the Sri Lankan style which the former place had lacked.
We spent the following days ambling between our balcony, various restaurants and cafes, and the sandy beaches. We were lucky to be there right before the start of the tourist rush. The impact of the 2004 Tsunami was not immediately noticeable but walking a little further towards the temple on the point it became very apparent. There are remnants of many buildings which were washed away or reduced to rubble, memorials to people lost, and it was impossible not to stop and imagine the sheer terror endured here that Boxing Day morning. An elderly local man, who was walking along the beach near us, was unable to speak, but managed to communicate his experience that day, and how he ran to the temple and prayed. He pointed out business after business, house after house, holding up the number of fingers to represent the people lost to the Tsunami at each place.
Whilst in Unawatuna we thought we should make the journey into the fortified city of Galle, which is about 5km away. While inside the European world heritage site itself (within the walls), we had a rather peaceful time, walking around the streets and looking out across the water. Once we left the fort walls, and night fell, it was not quite so peaceful. We had an endless number of people giving us their scripts for the same con, over and over again... "My wife is in the hospital and I need to collect a prescription...there is an ATM right there...." ..."Hello! Do you remember me? I am the chef from your hotel, I need to borrow some money until later when I can give it back to you"... and our favourite "We will take you to the official Government souvenir shop...". The delivery of these lines by the experienced conmen around the bus station area was perfectly executed, if a little unoriginal. It was the only time, since we arrived in Sri Lanka, that we actually felt worn out by the need to be constantly on guard. Our plan to have a lazy evening wandering around the markets of Galle town was abandoned as we jumped in the first tuk-tuk we saw and headed back to Unawatuna for some dinner and a sleep.
After a couple of glorious days, relaxing on the beach, the last thing we wanted to do was spend our remaining time in Sri Lanka, in a big city. We decided against a return to Colombo for our last night, and instead stayed on in Unawatuna. The staff at the hotel arranged for a driver to take us to Colombo airport on our final day. The drive from Unawatuna to Colombo is now quite quick and easy (about 4 hours), courtesy of the new motorway. The first half of the journey was a breeze and, when we reached the outskirts of Colombo, our driver's expert road skills, though terrifying, ensured we made it to the airport right on time. He had prefaced the white knuckled inner-city driving with the statement "If you followed the driving rules... you would catch your flight... next week!!". He got us there on time and we are alive to tell the story.
The flight home was long and depressing, as it usually is after such an amazing adventure, and the lengthy stop at Abu Dhabi did not make the home leg any easier. Within hours of arriving back in the cold and rain of London, we started looking at houses for sale in Sri Lanka... well, never say never eh?