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...two travellers in search of the world's wildlife

4 January 2020

Tea country

22 December 2019

We left Kandy at a lazy 10am and started down the winding mountain roads to Ella. It turns out to be an almost five hour drive, excluding breaks. This is quite different to driving in the UK or, for example, the USA because you have to keep your concentration on the road and everything around you for the whole journey. Lemme tell you, five hours of watching for tuktuks pulling out, dogs wandering

Tea covered hills

Tea covered hills

off the verge, trucks parked randomly in the road around a corner, it tires you out. The worst are probably the big buses.

The first thing you hear is a distant horn blast behind you, then you check your rear mirror and it is absolutely full of the big blue bus that is now standing right on your bumper. Then he overtakes you, just like that. It’s probably on a blind corner, they don’t actually care. They are in a hurry and the other traffic will accommodate; maybe the van coming the other way will slam on its brakes, maybe you will have to pull half onto the verge so the bus can veer back into your lane, it’s all good. Obnoxious bastards.

Very civilised

Very civilised

South of Kandy we enter the hill country, or tea country as I’d call it. Everywhere are glossy green plantations of Camelia sinensis, and occasionally the big old tea factories that turn the improbably shiny leaves into tea. These buildings are big four-storey factories with corrugated metal walls dotted with numerous old windows, painted in company colours and charmingly dishevelled. They all offer tours, tastings and sales so we stopped at one and enjoyed a very good cup of tea and cake.

We also stopped in Nuwara Eliya for lunch. The guidebook describes it as a charming “hill station” town with a scatter of colonial buildings and a verdant park. It’s a good case of accuracy in word if not spirit. Yes, there’s a park, and yes there are a handful of colonial buildings scattered around. But the town itself is just a typical Sri Lankan town; concrete buildings cheek-by-jowl with garish signs, loads of smoggy traffic on all the roads and no pavements to walk on. So charming.

Kottu for lunch

Kottu for lunch

We finally reach Ella at around 5pm. This is one place in Sri Lanka that does basically hit our expectations: it is an absolutely classic backpacker enclave. Every bar and restaurant has lights outside and music thumping out from within, espresso and cappucino is on offer at every door and everyone we see is either a tourist or is selling to tourists. The number of homestays and guesthouses is endless. Pick any two of the following words: sky, spice, inn, garden, green, home, paradise, Ella, lodge. Now put them in whichever order you prefer. You have almost certainly hit upon the name of a place to stay in Ella.

Our own place to stay is Spice Lodge (see?). There are about a hundred rough stone steps leading up to it from the road. There are just two rather nice little modern jungle chalets with tables and beds made of packing crates (very hipster!) but otherwise rather well equipped. Nevertheless, it feels a lot like a homestay: a rather old mother and father and a younger daughter who did most of the talking. I looked again at those steps. There’s no way I was letting that gaunt old fella in his sarong carry both of our suitcases up 100 rough steps. Ugh.

Christmassy at Spice Lodge, Ella

Christmassy at Spice Lodge, Ella

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