Heading home today

What a fabulous holiday we have had in Sri Lanka!

Carmel organised an amazing two week adventure for the group and we were lucky enough to be asked to join in the holiday. Wonderful travel companions, beautiful countryside and the friendliest of people along the way.

But now it’s time to come home to our beautiful family and friends and be grateful for all that we have.

After breakfast we all piled into our transfer and went to the airport. Sadly no upgrade for the Wilsons. ☹️

Luggage organised and seats sorted we set off through customs and duty free. I had forgotten how funny the duty free area was because there are shops selling fridges, dishwashers and many other appliances. Needless to say they didn’t approach us!

Back to Colombo

Today we had our final bus travel day from Galle to Colombo. Peter & Carmel are off to the Maldives whilst the rest of us are staying near the airport to be away from the busyness of the election in the of the city.

After the forward scouts sent messages about traffic conditions on their trip to the airport yesterday, we decided noon was a good time to depart so time for a coffee downtown before we loaded up and hit the road.

A mid morning coffee/cold drink before we left and then on the road for the last time! Kath and I managed one last little shop before we left – yikes! Our driver VJ excelled himself with precision reversing down the narrow lane to load us and our luggage on in the midday heat.

Hema’s boarded and performed his last head count and “Good Morning ladies and gentlemen” as well as the traditional greeting of Aywbowan!

Hema told us he was the first to vote in his booth this morning. He showed us his finger dropped in ink to prevent double voting and explained how important it was for him to travel back to Colombo last night and vote early and be back in time to join us on the bus – to go back to Colombo!

Steve then MC’d a Q&A session for Hema:

Why do Buddhist monks wear orange?

Are you married, children and what do they do?

What are the effects of Climate change in Sri Lanka?

He loved it and was a wealth of knowledge and happy to share and chat so the drive time went quickly and we were soon arriving in Colombo.

First drop off was for Carmel and Peter at the airport for their flight to the Maldives.

The rest of us headed to the airport hotel passing the Bawa designed Sri Lankan Parliament House and also the memorial for the soldiers killed in the 30 year war.

And then the funniest of statues!

We farewelled the Harrisons after successfully passing the security under car cameras.

Then in to the Grandzella Hotel – where we were close to the only guests. We were sweating on lounging in the pool but sadly someone had been sick in it and it was closed for maintenance! ☹️☹️

A late lunch at 4pm at the hotel cafe then back upstairs and into Kath and Mark’s big room for drinks. Hysterical conversations about tv shows from our childhood!! Zillions of laughs.

We virtually have the hotel to ourselves – it seemed quite surreal. Someone suggested playing hide and seek! Sooooo funny.

Down to “Crave” the restaurant at 8.30 because we had exhausted the gin and rum and decided we were hungry. Not too many customers tonight and no alcohol available either – because of the election!! Two days and no alcohol available anywhere till Monday!!

We farewelled Rob and Pam, finished our dinner and then everyone was ready for sleep in the ghost hotel!

Shopping and cooking

Such a fun day! Communal breakfast before the girls went shopping and the boys swimming. Boys’ efforts were a little disappointing cause the water was only knee deep so it was a wallow rather than a swim. The girls however were more productive! Hysterically we all ended up in the same cafe for mid morning coffee!

Then back to the hotel to organise our trip to the market to buy ingredients for our cooking classes.

Three tuk tuks to transport 9 of us to the markets to buy the vegetables. No shopping list as such – we just went to a recommended stall and chose what we wanted in our dishes. So hot but sooooo interesting!

These little green chillies are soooo hot they made our fingertips tingle when we touched them!

Even more fun was our next visit to the fish markets where we bought direct from the fisherman in the beachfront in Galle Harbour. Mmm – what to buy?? Decision made – tuna and prawns.

Then a crazy ride home to start the cooking class. The chefs were great explaining each of the ingredients and getting us involved. And best of all we got to eat the end result!

Now the best part – the eating!

Sadly after our delicious lunch it was time to farewell Mike & Helen, Kay & Trevor and Marcelle. They set off for the airport but got caught on heavy traffic – a 100 km trip took five hours! Certainly food for thought for our trip tomorrow especially considering elections are on and it will be super busy!

Farewells done, the boys went to the National Maritime Museum while the girls decided some retail therapy would be good to lift our spirits. Our excursion took us towards the Dutch Hisoital Shopping Precinct and we just happened upon a great bar called “Tequila Sunrise” where there was a happy hour for cocktails. Our honey and lime mojitos were scrumptious!

The sun had set and we thought we should find the boys – of course in a bar! Plans were made for dinner at the Fort Printers Restaurant. I think they were pleased to see us again! It was Fran & Steve’s 44th wedding anniversary and Steve supplied some Verve to toast the occasion!

Over dinner we then had many laughs as stories were shared about how each couple met and proposed. Hilarious!

Home and bed for our last night in Galle. Our adventures are nearly over.

The Foundation of Goodness

It was fun to surprise Rob with a boisterous rendition of Happy Birthday as Fran presented him with a small cake wrapped up decoratively!

Today we travelled on the bus heading east to visit the Foundation of Goodness set up post the tsunami to help families who were affected. Kay’s company Charlton Brown were great supporters for many years and have a close connection to it.

Lady Harrison (aka Carmel) explained our joint donation of non perishable goods to the aged care facility. There is no funding for these facilities and they rely on the generosity of supporters who come in and feed the residents each day. But if no one comes, they don’t get fed so they need a stash of non perishable foods for such days!

As we drove along following the coastline we saw an eerie mix of destroyed properties alongside new high rise under construction. The tsunami flowed in 2kms from coast line and new buildings were to have only been built 500metres from the water. Obviously money changed hands and rules were bent!

Hikkaduwa was a heavily populated tourist spot we passed through and on Boxing Day in 2004 it was a huge blow when the tsunami hit. Even more so in Seenigama where the centre is located. Amazingly though in the midst of all the chaos we saw a small island a few hundred metres off the coastline with a sacred temple – and it was untouched!

We finally arrived at the centre and words cannot describe the emotions we felt as we heard stories, met students and staff and were entertained by the kindy kids. We even danced the Hokey Pokey with them! It was a privilege to visit this amazing centre and learn about their programs that are transforming the lives of children and adults in many areas of Sri Lanka.

So many people are quietly contributing to the centre with US$1000000 needed each year and there are photos and stories everywhere throughout the grounds telling of the generosity and student achievement. Our guide told us of one man who had a dream and his vision and determination are ensuring the centre can provide ongoing FREE opportunities.

It was stifling hot so we were all pleased to return to the bus and air conditioning and head to a beachfront cafe for lunch. Fabulous spot with great outlook and sea breeze. Steve even went for an ocean sip while meals were being cooked!

Home for a rest before reconvening for Rob’s birthday cake then our afternoon activities took us in different directions. Some doing the Galle walking tour, others wandering to find a bar and the group I went with who visited the Geoffrey Bawa hotel – Jetwing Lighthouse Hotel.

It was an amazing place and made all the more fabulous because we connected with a beautiful employee called Rosanna who enjoyed chatting with us and took us on a tour of one of the rooms and one of the suites. They were spectacular – but underused at the moment due to tourists staying away after the Easter terrorist attacks.

The spiral staircase at the entrance of the hotel is amazing with sculpture telling the Portuguese invasion history spread over two floors.

We enjoyed a glass of rose in the deck overlooking the ocean and the sunset was just beautiful.

A quick tuk tuk ride home and we met everyone else already gathered for our last dinner altogether. Trevor & Kay and Mike & Helen leave tomorrow afternoon to go to India and Italy. Such a lovely dinner at the Galle Forte Hotel.

Heading along the coast to Galle

Everyone was pleased to board the bus this morning to get out of the muggy air and in the air conditioning!!

Today we set off for Galle – our home for the next three nights. Sad to say goodbye to the beautiful Cinnamon Grand but ready for a new adventure.

Leopard lady Marcelle had been on her third safari this morning and was finally successful spotting a leopard – yay!

It was great being on a main road today but still wildlife meandered along the roads – the concept of wandering like Brown’s cows came alive!

One of the small towns we passed through had a traffic jam cause today was the last day for political rallies and Hema our guide said elections for Sri Lankans are like football for England. They leave work early to attend and are very passionate. Elections are on this Saturday and Marcelle (our Australian Sri Lankan expert) expects there will be riots and probably a curfew on Sunday.

Lots of snacks on the bus today – chocolate biscuits, chocolate, cheese, crackers and chutney. We certainly weren’t starving!

We had a quick stop at a cafe/tourist shop/rest room and enjoyed the beautiful outlook over the beach and surf. Chris looked wistful!

Marcelle shared that she supported the charity who make lace and we visited their little shop. The women who work there used to live on the street and were picked up and given lace making skills. Everyone enjoyed shopping here and purchasing genuine handmade goods. The ladies demonstrated their skills and we were thrilled to able to support with our purchases. VJ our bus driver waited patiently in front of the fan! And the boys also waited patiently as the girls enjoyed some retail therapy!

As we drive along the coast we came across a few hundred buses parked creatively – and concluded the masses must be at a rally. Then went need the corner – and we found the rally! Oh my goodness!!! It was overwhelming. Thousands of people were heading to what looked like a sports ground and some were in the trees, dancing in the streets, trying to get inside. It was incredible and our guide said the politicians were probably not there yet!

The beautiful coastline route to Galle was dotted with remains of homes and businesses that were affected by the tsunami. Some have rebuilt but many cannot – either because of money or trauma or both!

Boats were dotted along the coastline and fishermen were selling their catches – some fresh and some dried.

We stopped to see the iconic stick fishermen on the beachfront. Our guide explained that they actually weren’t fishing – they sit on the sticks and a touter comes collecting money from tourists wanting to take photos!! Apparently they do very well when the Chinese tourists visit!

The last few kilometres were heavy with traffic and very slow but that gave us time to have a good look as we crawled towards our hotel. Apparently there is a rally near our hotel and there is a warning to stay away from rallies. Extra police are identifiable by their markings as coming from other regions and they were stationed along the main roads!

We checked into our beautiful room at the Heritage Hotel, enjoyed our welcome drink, went to our comfortable rooms then met to find a rooftop bar for a drink.

We meandered down through the streets to the Rampart Hotel for a sunset drink overlooking the ocean. Lots of fireworks from the rally going off in the background!

On then to the Fort Printers Restaurant for a delicious dinner before finishing off with a gelato. Hilariously the restaurant manager had the most offbeat glasses – one square eye and one round eye! Something to laugh about as we meandered home.

Adventures in the National Park

A 5.30am start for our morning safari and we had to ring to organise an escort to the meeting area and when he picked me up he shone the light under our cabin on three huge warthogs fast asleep in the dirt! Guests are not allowed to wander unescorted after dark as wildlife wander in through the cottages. In fact last night some of the girls were shown a couple of crocodiles on the edge of the lake nearby!

It was like Queen Street when we set off with lots of safari trucks jostling for position to get tickets and enter the park.

The sun was just rising and there was bird life abounding.

Water buffalo were wallowing, peacocks prancing, monitors sunning themselves, deers were grazing and elephants wandering.

Our biggest treat though was one elephant who was eyeballing us as he scratched each of his legs on a tree. He was almost smiling!

Sadly no leopards this morning but we enjoyed our adventure.

As the National Park is on the coastline we saw the ocean a few times before we stopped at a very poignant spot where there is a memorial for the 2004 tsunami victims.

Back to the hotel for breakfast before plans for a shower were dashed. One of the chefs told us the kitchen were preparing their Christmas cake ingredients by the pool. Of course we couldn’t miss out so off we went!

What a surprise to find all the chefs working on laying out the ingredients in the shape of an elephant!

Then the next surprise was being invited to join in – first by pouring the alcohol all over the elephant mix.

Then we helped by donning plastic gloves and mixing the ingredients together. Soooooo much fun – especially licking our “glove fingers”!!

It was very very hot in the sun so everyone retreated to their air conditioned rooms for a rest.

I decided to go on a second safari this afternoon in search of the elusive leopard but sadly we were unsuccessful – but what a fun afternoon we had.

We saw some more great animals including a mother elephant and her new baby – just gorgeous!

Then the excitement began when one elephant went a bit rogue and decided to come towards all the safari trucks! He picked on one in particular because it had fruit inside and it’s trunk went right inside. The poor passengers were crammed up against the back wall not knowing what would happen next. All the trucks were madly reversing – it was high adventure!! Then this elephant – known by the drivers as Gavalon – meandered off as if nothing had happened.

Our driver did his best for us this afternoon racing from place to place and in the phone to his mates but to no avail. We will just have to content ourselves with the thrill of the chase.

We were covered in red dust so a long hot shower was needed before drinks and dinner with everyone.

Heading south to Yala

We left the cool mountains today and heading south to the coast for our two night stay at Yala. The distance is only about 150 kilometres but the journey took many hours because of busy villages, crazy traffic, narrow roads, cows on the road, detours caused by landslides. The boys were consulting maps to ensure the best route and off we went.

The bus ride is always an adventure with hairy passing, lots of tooting, near misses and creative driving!

We passed area of jungle where the trees were laden with bee hives high up – some poor workers have to climb up to get the honey. And the sign below becomes very relevant!

At 11am on November 11 we stopped for a roadside service for Remembrance Day with beautiful green and gold jungle backdrop. Steve led our little ceremony – quite poignant.

A 70s music quiz passed the time as we tried to not watch the road. A brief stop at the Diyluma Falls – spectacular. A gathering place so entrepreneurs at work selling cooked corn cobs!

We passed through rubber plantations and rice fields before our brief stop at Wettaya.

A toilet stop at the supermarket and while we all used the facilities there was a shopping spree. Best Buy – ice cream cones and tubs of ice cream and Rob went to the hardware for spoons – excellent result with no leftovers from 4 litres of ice cream. Cones were not allowed to be eaten – they had to recycle for seconds – and everyone did!!

70s music quiz continued and some did very well – shared wisdom!!

About 3pm we knew we were getting close to the National Park when we started seeing signs like: Animals are the true owners of the jungle.

As we drove into our hotel we kept stopping as we spotted wildlife – water buffalo, water hogs and monkeys. So close to the bus but not frightened – just amazing!

Off the bus finally and greeted with a cool towel and some refreshing drinks before being tagged with our purple hospital bands and given our keys to locate our cottages.

A refreshing dip in the pool before regrouping at 5 for relaxing drinks at the bar before a delicious buffet dinner. Our hotel escort was called as guests need to have someone with them when walking through the grounds at night. Another fabulous day!

A day in heaven

An early walk up to Little Adam’s Peak got the blood pumping and the view from the top was worth the effort.

At the top an entrepreneurial man was selling coconuts!

The best part of the walk was looking back to our beautiful chalets.

A yummy breakfast and then in the bus heading to the Nine Arch Bridge. It was hysterical because the guide and the driver were trying to work out where to drop us to ensure we took the safest route to the bridge. We went back and forth about four times till we finally got the right spot. Down, down, down we went on the path then further down in many stays till we reached the track. Plenty of time before the train came for a crazy photo!!

Then out into the bridge for a wander before the trek back up. Fran and I did the stairs then decided the 300 rupees for a tuk tuk was worth it!

Most got out of the bus at the hotel but a few persisted on to see the train loop which goes through the mountain. Sadly we only got to the station and saw photos – but the highlight was meeting a local family who were in their Sunday best waiting for the train. The children were keen for a photo!

I was looking forward to my massage this afternoon – and it didn’t disappoint. Lanka gave me the best massage I’ve ever had – and that’s a big call! By the time I’d finished and returned to my room, the view from the balcony was a “cloud forest”.

Some went to Chill restaurant in town but by the time we were ready, it was way too rainy so we decided to have an early dinner at Cafe98 and bunker down.

Off to Ella

Although we’ve stayed two nights at the Grand Hotel I only experienced the buffet breakfast today as we are about to leave! It was amazing with all the usual treats but extras like a croissant oven, a chef ready to cut fresh fruit, another cooking fresh pancakes. Oh my – soooooo many choices!

And the view of the hydrangeas from the dining room window was just gorgeous.

Good thing we are leaving this morning. The hotel is a hive of activity because one of the presidential candidates is being interviewed by the UN – apparently his past is a little dodgy! The staff are very edgy about bags lying around unattended!!

Meanwhile Fran was in the kitchen having a hopper making lesson!

The press were assembled and military waiting for his arrival – a perfect time for us to leave.

So on the bus and off we went heading for Ella.

First stop for the day was Lake Gregory created by the British during their time ruling Sri Lanka. We all strolled from one end to the other checking out the gardens, the fishermen and the watercraft available to visitors.

We passed lots of plots of land growing all sorts of food – leeks, beets, potatoes.

We stopped briefly to view an amazing gold temple – Sriramjayam – and while we were stopped Mike advised today’s competition – write a limerick to be presented at dinner tonight!!

We passed evidence of extensive land slips from recent rain and workers were busy working up high on bamboo scaffolding- rather precarious!

Tea pickers were spotted working in the fields so yet another photo opportunity. The dark green plants mark where they have picked. As we snapped, they gave us a wave – probably happy to pause briefly during their busy morning.

A windy twisting road for our journey today and everyone was quietly working on their limerick writing – pressure!

The second half of our trip involved a detour due to a landslide – meaning a longer journey sadly. With all the twists and turns, a few people were feeling a little off – good thing the detour was straighter!

The town of Ella was a busy place with lots of young tourists. We wonder if the zip line ride is what brings them. Our resort – 98 Acres – is high above the town set in lush green grounds but the cloud forest was rolling in as we arrived and any view was obliterated.

Our welcome however was warm with each of us greeted with a sash with the traditional Sri Lankan greeting – Ayubowan – a hot towel and an iced tea. Our rooms were assigned and we all unpacked and drank in our fabulous homes for the next two nights.

After everyone unpacked, we reconvened at the cafe for lunch and by the time we finished, the clouds had rolled on and we could see some of the scenery surrounding this amazing resort.

Drinks in the Harrisons chalet at 5 for the limerick presentations – absolutely hilarious. Some witty, others funny and others just downright rude, crude and vulgar – and very funny too!

The buggies picked us up about 7.15 and we were ferried up to Cafe 98 for a delicious dinner. Our meals all arrived under cloches and the waiters removed all together with a flourish. Such a fun night!

Walking to World’s End

We needed to get a VERY early start to go on our walk to World’s End today. The fog comes in early so we were advised to leave at 5.30 – which we did with our water bottles and breakfast boxes. It was pitch black as we wound our way for an hour passing houses, jungle areas, climbing with hairpin turns, seeing deer grazing till we arrived at the entrance to Horton Plains National Park. We paid 24000 rupees entry fees and drove another five kilometres to the carpark where our driver pointed us in the right direction and off we went.

The first part of the track was pretty good but once we reached the turn off it changed and there was more precarious rocky areas to navigate from time to time.

All up the loop walk was about 10 kilometres long with beautiful scenic areas, waterfalls, climbs, steps and bridges. It took us about three hours to complete the walk.

Our first stop was at Mini World’s End.

Then we trekked on.

The track took us on the Horton Plains plateau until we reached the World’s End escarpment plunging nearly 900 metres. Very careful taking photos here!

As we walked we could hear the waterfall so we followed the steps down to the Baker Falls.

We were on the home stretch then and finally back in the bus for our 90 minute drive home. There was a lot more traffic and precarious passing on the narrow winding roads so thank goodness for our fabulous driver!

I arrived home in time to see Chris briefly before he went to play golf with Cath, John, Peter and Rob. Steve, Fran and Mark went to cheer them on while Mike waited for the second group of Kay, Trevor, Helen, Ann and our guide Hema to return. They set off about 6.30 and did the shorter walk.

After a refreshing shower and a very welcome coffee I went exploring the beautiful Grand Hotel with its spectacular grounds. I’ll let the pictures tell the story – especially the wise words on the trees throughout the garden.

And then there was the beautiful pool area!

Part of our package at this wonderful hotel was a High Tea in the dining room so we all frocked up and enjoyed an elegant afternoon!

Then everyone scattered to different areas – the boys particularly enjoying their game of snooker!