Serendib, Salike,Taprobane, Tambapanni, Lankadeepa, Ceylon....... all previous names of Sri Lanka
For the longest time, our winter holiday has been either in Vancouver with my family or in Ontario with my husband's family. This year we had no obligation to stay home so we decided that we would spend Christmas and New Years in the sun.
We had to agree on a country, which really wasn't that difficult. None of us had ever been to Sri Lanka and we had been given many recommendations from friends on what to see and do. The other great thing was that with all of our schedules, it was easy to meet in Bonn, where our daughter lives, and travel as a family.
The planning started in early April. I put requests for quotes on price and itinerary out to a number of travel companies but we weren't really satisfied with either the the places recommended or the fact that we had to travel with a group. I'm pretty resourceful so I decided to be your tour operator and book our accommodation and tours. I found some great deals on hotels for the first 8 days and an amazing colonial house for the last week. I do a lot of research on the internet when trying to book accommodation and have a 99% success rate on picking some outstanding places. My one disaster was in Sweden over 12 years ago. We lucked out on a car and driver. Someone I met from Sri Lanka recommended his cousin, Prasad Manjula Balasooriya who was fabulous from the time he picked us up at the airport till he dropped us off. Driving in Sri Lanka can be a challenge as the roads are narrow and windy so be patient when it takes you 5 hours to 150 km. If you are planning an adventure in Sri Lanka, remember that you need a visa which is easily acquired online.
One of the other things we all agreed on was that we would travel as light as possible. We didn't want to have to worry about luggage not arriving or having to wait at luggage carousels so we ended up agreeing on a regular back pack. Not the kind you see all the young traveler with..... we used just a regular everyday backpack. That alone presented a bit of a problem as we were going to be away 17 days. This is not a hard task for a man ...or should I say Mark. As long as he has his running gear and swim suit, he was happy. Now for Tash and I , this could have been a challenge but we put the reins on and accomplished our goal. Makeup consisted of sunscreen and mascara. Tash introduced me to the LUSH solid shampoo. Love, love love that product. For clothes we got it down to a pair of shorts, long pants, dress, bathing suit, a couple of tops, light jacket, runners and sandals.
We started the tour in a place in the middle of the island country at the resort Habarana Village by Cinnamon. Habarana is near Sigiriya, an ancient fortress (massive rock) 200 meters high that takes you 1260 steps to get to sweat, groan and pant your way to the top. Also in the same area is Wasgamuwa National Park. It appears that the elephant herds move from park to park depending on the water levels of the lakes.
We have always talked about doing a balloon ride somewhere while we were on vacation. I decided this would be a great Christmas present so Prasad arranged one for us. Our pilot, Justin was an extremely experienced balloonist taking us on a 25 mile journey over the local villages at about 400m. At some points, we were skimming the tree tops. We started the flight at 6am to an amazing sunrise over the mountains. Temples, farms, lakes and tourist sites dotted the horizon. Landing can be unpredictable but Justin made the perfect landing on the edge of a farm 3m from the road, making it easy for his recovery team to dismantle and pack up. While we waited, we were treated to champagne and the local school children that had gathered were offered pencils.
We also had the opportunity to visit a local village and learn about their gardens and how they cooked some of their traditional meals. This trek was a combination of modes of transportation; jeep, ox cart, boat and tuk-tuk. The one thing that struck me was the pride and satisfaction this family had living a very simple life.
After a few days in Habarana, we moved on to Kandy, the capital of the Central Province. This is where the Temple of the Tooth Relic (one of the most sacred places of worship in the Buddhist world) is situated. We visited the Tooth Relic on a Saturday when they opened the sacred room for visitors. There were so many local visitors that we by-passed the Relic Room. We also visited the Botanical Gardens, this 150 acre Garden boasts over 4000 different species of plant life. The Orchid house has over 130 different orchids of which some give off the aroma of chocolate, clove and cinnamon. The gardens are divided into 30 different areas. Three of the most fascinating areas for me were Cannonball Alley where the trees have creepers that produce fruit that look like cannonballs, Giant Burma Bamboo (8 " around and 20m high) and the Flying Fox Bats (25,000 in the Garden).
It was our plan to stay in Kandy for 4 days, but we had exhausted everything we wanted to see so we changed plans and moved on to Nuwara Eliya so that we could experience the Tea Plantations and World's End.
The road from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya went from 500m to 2200m and was crazy windy. The lushness on the top of the hills in this area was surreal as the colours were so vibrant making it look fake. As it was Christmas day, finding a hotel room was, "take whatever you can get". The place we ended up at (Collingwood) was okay but I would definitely not recommend it.
Besides the Balloon ride, the trip to World's End was probably one of the most outstanding adventures. World's End is located in Horton's Plain National Park. This park is strictly maintained regarding the number of tourists and guides, cars and even what you bring into the Park. No plastic bags are allowed. There is very little trash anywhere to be seen. There are 3 points of interest in the park, World's End, Small World's End and Baker's Falls. The circuit is approximately 9km which takes 3-4 hours to walk. The terrain can be challenging in some areas and I definitely recommend the clockwise route.
Our last week in Sri Lanka was in the southwest tourist beach town of Hikkadewa. This town was featured on Anthony Bourdain's TV show No Reservations. We were fortunate enough to rent a beautiful old colonial house called Cinnamonhill House about 500m from the beach. This property was extremely well maintained and very comfortable for just the 3 of us. The town itself has a daily market near the beach as well as a larger market on Sundays near the train station. There is a large variety of restaurants along the main road to satisfy any food preference. This is a costal town so seafood is high on the menu.
My husband and daughter spent their days getting their diving tickets while I relaxed, read or wandered the markets but our last day, we spent visiting the Tsunami Museum. I remember the day the Tsunami hit on December 26 2004. My brother was vacationing in Thailand and had to be relocated to higher ground. The area just north of Hikkadewa was hardest hit and had the worst train disaster killing 1700 people trying to escape after the first wave hit. They didn't realize that 20 minutes later the second wave would take their lives. The area has created a very sober Tsunami Museum that is worth the visit.
Although we didn't get to visit all the places we wanted, we got a great impression of the people and culture. A vacation to remember!