Here’s Flashpacker Ariella’s account of our Sri Lanka group adventure:
Ayubowan from Sri Lanka
A beautiful word that simply means “may you have more life time” and as we roam our way around the island that is all we really want – to have more life time to cherish our experiences on this Sri Lanka group adventure.
My Sri Lanka group adventure can best be described as an assault on the senses from the moment I step outside the terminal at Bandaranaike International Airport and enveloped by the heavy air of humidity through to the pensive moments before departure, feeling blessed to have grown from the richness of the melting pot of Ceylonese cultures.
Our journey begins in Negombo, nestled between the cerulean Laccadive Sea to the west and Negombo Lagoon to the east. Here it is easy to whittle away an entire day, where the toughest choice is to have a swim in the pool or gaze at the endless Sea from your private cabana as the sea breeze kisses your face.
While in Negombo, we check out the Fish Market and some local night life – your mission will be to find the bar to leave your mark on the walls! This is a good place to get hooked on the local Lion Lager and sample the Sri Lankan coconut arrack in one of the many cocktails on offer. Flag down one of the many tuk-tuk drivers to get you safely back to the stunning Jetwing Lagoon hotel.
Then it is time to follow the Sea south to Kosgoda Turtle Hatching and Conservation Project. This experience brings squeals of delight from the group as we try our very best to give these cute baby turtles a fighting chance in life by releasing them in to the Sea – good luck little ones!
Our Sri Lanka group adventure carries on South where we stop at Hikkaduwa to pay our respects to the 30,196 people who lost their lives in the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami. This stirred desperate emotions in me as I thought of the local people who were caught unaware. They would have had no idea why the ocean was receding for kilometres and would have flocked to the shore line to see such a strange event occurring.
Next stop along the coast is the charming city of Galle where we stop to explore the world heritage fortress. Here I admire the colonial architecture clashing with the everyday lives of the local people and it makes for some wonderful photography, from the cricket match taking part on the main square to the perfectly poised gentleman resting in the cool shade of the archways.
Weligama brings us smiles of joy as we come upon the stilt fishermen who are only too happy to pose for our snaps. Some of our group even get to hone their traditional fishing skills by jumping up on a stilt. Our learned guide Ajith informs us this stilt fishing style is still used here to help with long term sustainability of overfishing and gives these fishing villages a source of food and work as well as a cultural identity.
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After another delicious curry buffet lunch stop our group high tails it east to Yala National Park where a twilight game drive awaits us. At this point the photographers in our group can barely contain their excitement – who will manage to photograph the elusive leopard? We pile into open Jeeps and admire the beautiful richness of the ochre Earth – the colours I cannot describe but I can assure you it will get in your eyes, up your nose and in your ears and you will relish every minute of it! There is so much to see and thankfully we have our Park guide on-board so our snappers did not miss a single photo opportunity. We were blessed to see an elephant cooling off in one of the many watering holes – a truly memorable experience in the wild.
Just when we come to terms with missing out on the leopard at Yala, Sarah does us all proud and captures some of the most perfect snaps of a magnificent leopard on the dawn game drive. Everyone is buzzing and her perseverance has paid off big time.
Just when we had all acclimatised to the blanket of humidity we marvel at the cooler climate that is lush tea country: Ella. The lush valleys that open up before us from our prime vantage point at 98 Acres Hotel really must be seen to be believed. Sunrise and sunset take on a whole new meaning in Ella as the sun brings life to the world below and then shrouds it in secrecy in the evening.
It is day 5 and we are whisked away to Halpé Tea perched 1,230 metres above sea level. The air in the drying room is so rich and heady and intoxicating it makes us all crave for a fresh brew. No trip to a tea factory would be complete without savouring a cup or two and our prayers are answered as we finish the tour trying different blends and stocking up on our favourites.
Our next stop is a thrilling train ride from Ella Station to Demodara where we travel in 3rd class and the locals are just as intrigued by having us aboard – their faces worn from sunshine and labour make for interesting and smiley snaps – our photographers were in heaven.
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We continue our journey north through the Central Province to Kandy – the spiritual centre of Sri Lanka and it has me bewitched. I feel it pulsing through my veins and it gives me goose bumps, there is energy here that is thousands of years old but with the vigour of youthfulness that only utter devotion can manifest. We visit the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic – the resting place of a tooth of Buddha and am hypnotised by the rhythmic drumming of the Davula and haunting sound of the Horanewa and it stays with me our entire time in the temple – I feel so alive. I cannot think of anything in our Western world that we devote such infinite adulation. I surrender to the feeling of verklempt and let it wash over me – the sounds, the smells and try to take myself back in time to where life was of such a simple nature.
Further north our base is the beautiful Amaya Lake Hotel for 2 nights are we are greeted by drummers who beckon our group to come and join the fun – what a welcome! But it is not all fun and games here for we have to prep for our game of cricket against the hotel staff and boy do they bowl a mean ball! Our competition must have sensed our lack of skill and were terrific sports at going easy on us. If I had to choose I would have to say the ‘Player of the Match’ went to Andy for taking a marvellous sitter of our Captain Lee and Hannah was hands down ‘Best on Ground’. What a great way to wind down day 7 by the serene lake and knowing cocktails would be soon served in the swim-up bar.
Lucky we were tired from cricket and retired early as we had a huge day ahead at Sigiriya – all 1,217 steps! We join the throngs of people to make our way up the ancient fortress and wonder how on Earth such a structure would have been constructed way back in 477 CE. Our visit here is jam packed with beautifully lit photograph opportunities – Sri Lanka is turning out to be a photographer’s paradise.
Thankful for the air conditioned bus, cold hand towels and fresh fruit we make our way to Suriyagama School in Habarana armed with gifts for the kids. They all look immaculate in their pressed uniforms and grinning wildly at our presence. I look forward to following The Flash Pack’s commitment to constructing new fences, security screens and amenities and know any future Flash Packers will love being a part of this community project.
We are well and truly ready to eat so we make a beeline for a local farmer’s house for the real deal in Ceylonese cuisine. Our tastebuds have accustomed by this stage so we are thrilled to see our favourite dishes being prepared right in front of us – the coconut sambal being the winner. Here we take our lunch under a cool, thatched hut and gaze upon the farmer’s working the land.
Bellies full, we head off for an adventure packed afternoon by cycling our way around Polunnaruwa – I think we needed it after our wonderful lunch! Here, the stunning photo opportunities present at every stop and we laugh like school kids as we pedal our way across the ruins and cherish the special memories we are making together.
By day 9 we have seen the best Sri Lanka has to offer so it’s time to hit the Laccadive Sea once more for the final leg of our journey and we are all busting for some R&R time, beachfront in Kalpitiya. It is true what they say “Sunny Kalpitiya is where beaches go to holiday” and we are not disappointed. From the beach style shacks to the glorious infinity pool overlooking the sea to the general barefoot vibe of the place, I think we would all love for time to stand still here. It’s time to do as much or as little as we want, from the dolphin tours to beach volleyball or simply enjoying one last Lion Lager – a truly magic way to round out the tour.
I feel emotional as I sit back at Bandaranaike International Airport, gazing at the tarmac. I will miss my Flash Pack Sri Lanka group adventure crew but take comfort that we have shared great memories to last a lifetime. That is the beauty of travel – it stirs something in us that rock our core and makes our cells dance with light. We flow in unison with a universal energy, riding every ebb and flow, so naturally drifting from place to space.
What is the remedy to recover from a euphoric high? Like anything addictive – is to keep searching for that good feeling. So I guess it’s time to start planning my next adventure.
See you out there, somewhere!
Images: Ariella D’Orsi