Nuwara Eliya – day 8/136

Thanks Nicola for giving me a ‘break’ from blog writing – surprisingly how much I missed doing it!!! So, today is Nic’s last full day of in Sri Lanka and we needed to get the rest of the planned itinerary ticked off (cause both Jayne and I are incredibly OCD!). After a toast laden breakfast at the hotel and a quick phone to Europcar to let them know that the check engine light had come on in the car (which, apparently, is because the car needs a service and is not something we should worry about… Hmmmmmm!). We headed first to the Pedro tea estate which still uses the 19th century engineering to process the tea leaves.   After donning some rather attractive green aprons, we had a half-hour guided tour which was actually quite interesting and it was good to see all the processes that tea goes through before it’s ready to be brewed.       Certainly makes you think about how much the tea pickers are getting when PG Tips can sell tea bags for such a low cost… Pedro tea estate specialises in a very light tea, so they only process the tea at night when it’s colder so we didn’t get to see many of the machines in action. We did get to try a cup of their famous ‘Lovers Leap’ tea – Nic and I weren’t fans so Jayne got all three cups!!!    After the tour, we headed across the road for a 5km round trip through the tea plantations to the nearby waterfall. Ended up asking for directions mid-route from a tractor who ended up giving us a lift until the foot-only track. The waterfall itself was nice (although we have seen bigger and better this week!).  Didn’t want to linger as we knew we needed to get started driving back toward Colombo to drop Nic off at the airport. Headed first towards Kandy and the drive down the hill area was okay despite some kamikaze drivers overtaking us on blind corners and making us all sweat slightly! Decided to skip Kandy town centre after the mayhem of trying to enter the city, opting instead for a restaurant on the outskirts of town. Despite it being a Sri Lankan restaurant, there was only one Sri Lankan dish on the menu and when Nic ordered it, they didn’t have it! 

Feeling full, we headed next door to the supermarket to pick up dinner (Nic), supplies (Jayne and Katherine) and ice cream before continuing driving towards the airport.  As darkness descended, the roads became a little bit more hair raising and all of us felt a bit uncomfortable with the driving of others, especially TukTuks. Was slightly better when we headed off the main road onto a B road although narrower lanes proved equally difficult when people refused to pull over. Fortunately, due to Jayne’s awesome driving skills, we arrived at the airport (no thanks to my shit navigation skills!). A quick and teary goodbye to Nic as she entered the airport (we were not allowed in without a ticket) and we were back in the car trying to decided what to do and where to go. Decided to head back down the coast for some rest and relaxation on the beach. Drove until we were shattered, deciding that neither of us had the energy to start searching for somewhere to sleep so we pulled up by the beach and slept in the car.

Saturday 20th February 2016

Horton Plains – day 7/135

NJ joining the seasoned travellers day 7
Ella – Horton Plains – Nuwara Eliya
After a very restless sleep on all counts – me because of being rudely awakened in the night by a creature pulling at my hair and scaring the living day lights out of me. I sat up straight and by the time I plucked up the courage to switch on my nightlight, found the family cat curled up asleep just under my pillow. After failing to budge it, I lay down next to it for the rest of the night, not really able to relax. The other two woke in the night too and thought it was hilarious enough to take a photo – not sure if it’s blog worthy or not… 
We had ordered breakfast in the home stay and found the sun blazing through the trees, enough for me to have to wear sunglasses for breakfast what a change to yesterday! Fresh fruit, bread, sachet butter and jam or an unknown variety (served in a yoghurt pot) plus tea – which I actually drank and quite enjoyed πŸ™‚
Off on the road just before 9 and a long a windy road brought us to Katherine and Jayne ‘s eighth and final UNESCO sight in Sri Lanka. All the guides advised us to get up onto the mountain by 7 to get the full benefit of the views, but we weighed up the issues of driving in the dark and the likelihood of hundreds of people being up there early too and decided we would enjoy a lie in, a leisurely drive and hopefully experience a quiet walk and be lucky enough to still see the view.
Horton Plains is the only National Park in Sri Lanka you are allowed to enter without a guide, but you are only allowed to walk on the path so you don’t really need a guide and shouldn’t get lost. Annoyingly to enter we had to pay : an individual fee, a group fee(!) and a fee for the car, plus taxes. We just hoped it was worth it πŸ˜‰ as soon as we entered the park we saw a huge stag by the side of the road. It was so still I though it was a statue, until it ran off into the bushes – already worth it!
As soon as we got out of the car, another deer (sambur) approached us warily – clearly looking for food. Jayne was able to get some amazing close up photos as it was more than happy hanging around.   
The walking round trip is just under 10km with a few steep climbs and drops, and takes in the mini world’s end, world’s end proper (or greater depending on which sign you read) and Baker’s waterfall. The big draw, and the reason to get up so early is that the almost 900m drop off the end of the world gives an amazing view on a good day all the way to the south coast through the valley. After about 10am the clouds created by evaporation from the valley floor shroud the view in a wall of white mist and you can’t see anything. However, when we arrived although the mist was there, with a little patience every so often it cleared enough to see the villages and tea plantations far below and even once we saw the reservoir in the far distance.   
This area is an example of the very rare cloud forest (only first heard of when I visited Costa Rica and now I’ve been to two!). The trees are stumpy and covered in lichen, literally hanging off the branches. Lots of endemic wildlife in the area – lots of the birds were out and about – jayne was trying to teach me how to spot hawks, Falcons and eagles, but I was a very poor student.  
For much of the walk we had the path to ourselves and were glad to have missed the 2/3 large groups of school kids going in the other direction as well as all the hundreds of tourists that had arrived early by looking at the number of minivans in the car park.
The waterfall was very impressive.      I could sit and watch water fall over a cliff for hours, unfortunately the seats were very wet and covered in mud, so after hundreds of photos (jayne) we made our way back up the path. Once we arrived at the visitor centre we went into the museum which explained the formation, history and current threats to the area. Elephants used to roam this area, hunted to extinction but there are still leopards, but they are rarely spotted (see what I did there?!) 

Another hour’s drive down even windier roads brought us into Nuwara Eliya the launch place for trips into the national park. We eventually found our hotel and after last night’s rather cosy room we feel we’re in luxury with room to swing more than just a cat and a really hot shower. We are a bit out of town but we decided to walk in and see what was ‘happening’ as we have eaten in our hotels 3 nights running. A bustling high street with mostly local shops and very little choice for food. We had a repeat of my first dinner – kottu – although this time with cheese (almost with chicken, but I spotted a huge bone and sent it back!) which was not too spicy (probably too bland for the other two)
A shorter walk home and into bed – ready for my very long day and going home tomorrow. 😦

Friday 19th February 2016

Ella – day 6/134

NJ joining the seasoned travellers day 6
Uda Walawe – Ella
Having sorted our bill last night we were able to leave as soon as we were ready so we were on the road by 8 o’clock looking for somewhere to stop for breakfast, but after not seeing anywhere for a while we opened up the ginger biscuits which kept us going. 
Not a very eventful journey – clear roads and sensible drivers – and before I knew it we were turning off the road to go to Buduruagala. The tuk tuk drivers stopped us, worried that our car couldn’t go up the road to the site, but Jayne waved them off determined to prove them wrong. The road wasn’t as bumpy as yesterday or the day before, but the problem was more that it was single track. Luckily we didn’t meet anyone coming the other way on the way in, and only missed a coach (full size) by seconds on the way out. 
Once skidding to a halt in the muddy car park we got our entrance tickets and walked up to the rock. The carvings were made over 1000 years ago and the central standing Buddha is the largest in Sri Lanka at 15 metres tall (although it looked much bigger than that close up).     
Back in the car just outside Ella we stopped at the Rawana waterfall and after the recent rains the waterfall looked in full flow. On the bridge men were randomly selling rocks and euros! We managed to resist…     The countryside around this area is stunning, perhaps even more so with the mist and low cloud giving it a secretive air. We made it up to our home stay with Jayne being persuaded to go right to the door and then turning back and parking on the main road as the slope down into the parking space was so steep.

We decided to head off for a wander with no particular destination in mind, and immediately got advised to turn back as we were apparently heading down to the school! Jayne decided to head back home for a rest after all that driving, so Katherine and I continued our wander, eventually finding the railway track and started to follow it. I was happy as long as there was a pathway next to it that we could jump onto should a train appear, so turned back after only a short trek towards the ‘rock’. Having read the guidebook after returning, I’m glad we didn’t attempt the climb as its difficult at the best of times, let alone with the heavy rain obscuring the path down.  We wandered off into some padi fields, passed a small waterfall and then down to a view of the ‘little falls’ which looked pretty big to me. Back on the tracks we went over an iron bridge and soon came into the town. – no trains passing all afternoon but by this time the rain was coming down really heavily so we decided to treat ourselves to a banana and honey(me)/chocolate (Katherine) rotti in a local eatery.   We did ask if we could take one back for Jayne, but they said that we couldn’t as it wouldn’t make it. The sun decided to come out for a bit so we started our walk back up the hill but the rain soon started again, completely drenching us and didn’t stop until we were back – but at least we gave the owners something to laugh at.  We decided we would take up the owners offer of a family dinner as it meant we could shower and not go back out in the rain again. After a very cold, weak shower, I decided to turn the tap the other way and hot water came pouring out. Much to my delight as I was fully lathered up with hair full of conditioner!

Dinner was delicious, a range of veggie dishes with rice, and banana and pineapple for dessert. The best Katherine and Jayne have had in Sri Lanka (or so they told the owner) although the family didn’t eat with us – preferring to eat in the kitchen – although she did hover for rather a long time watching us eat which was a little unnerving. Inside catching up on the book which I’ve hardly had a chance to open since arriving as its a little chilly outside and I’m sure heading for another early night. It’s not rock and roll but I like it πŸ™‚
N

Thursday 18th February 2016

Uda Walawe National Park – day 5/133

NJ joining the seasoned travellers – day 5
Uda Walawe National Park
Having decided to do the full day jeep safari I was very grateful for my long lie in – everyone else in the hotel went for the daybreak one starting at 530 and were a little bleary eyed on their return. We had been put off the daybreak one as although this is a good time to see lots of elephants, it is also the busiest time and there might be 30 jeeps around one herd of elephants.
A breakfast of coconut rotti (as requested by jayne) fried egg and daal balls was actually very nice. We were picked up on time and after dropping off a bag of laundry at we suspect was the driver’s mum’s house we headed for the park entrance.  
We had the jeep to ourselves – there doesn’t seem to be any push to fill the jeeps which is a good thing for us as we can stop and start when we like, but not so sure about how environmentally friendly it is.  Our driver/guide had little English, but knew all the names for the animals and birds we saw which was good enough. 

At the start of the day we were in a convoy of about 3 jeeps, but very quickly headed off some lesser used tracks and found ourselves alone for most of the day. Almost immediately we came across a group of females including a baby which seemed more than happy for us to sit and watch them munching on the vegetation.   The guide book says that this park rivals the ones in Africa was seeing elephants – I haven’t been to Africa yet, so couldn’t possibly comment, but the fact that they don’t run off when they see or hear humans is definitely a bonus – and perhaps why Jayne managed to take almost 700 photos (not all of elephants) today. Thinking this would be are only sighting, time and again we came across small groups (always females) or solitary males, although we did see one single female and wondered what she had done wrong to get kicked out of her family.        It was mesmerising watching the elephants kicking up the grass with their feet, brushing the mud off with their trunks before scoffing the lot without pausing for breath.

Although the elephants are the main draw, there is an abundance of wildlife which we were lucky enough to see including monitor lizards, peacocks, bee eaters, hummingbirds, painted storks, owls, eagles, hawks, crocodiles, water buffalo and mongoose. Some of the animals were scared off by the noise or movement of the jeep, others sat very still thinking we couldn’t see them. How our driver spotted some of the things he saw through branches or camouflaged against the tree I will never know. Jayne continued to be a good spotter of birds in particular, naming them all causing a wry smile from our guide.
After getting hungry we realised it was 230 – how time flies when you are having fun – and asked him to make a stop so we could find out what was in our lunch boxes. We were allowed out of the jeep and sat and had sandwiches (of unknown variety), sausages (not me), bananas (not Katherine), pineapple, cake and a chewy sweet ginger substance all in a tupperware box as we looked across the lake at a large herd of elephants.    
Back in the jeep and suddenly there seemed to be people everywhere. Any time we stopped another 2/3/6 jeeps would stop behind, in front or try to get passed and made the whole thing a little less enjoyable. We had been spoiled with what seemed like a very private tour all day. We definitely made the right choice in doing the full day, but it might have been even better to have finished slightly earlier – particularly as we had seen so many animals already.  
We made our way back to the hotel picking up the laundry on the way to find everyone from yesterday gone (most people only stay one night, do the early morning safari and then head off somewhere else) and a new influx of people in their place. Decided to have dinner in the hotel again as the walk up the road to the town seems very long after a long day (how come we are so tired when we have been sat in a jeep all day) and, after checking again as we drove through, we still hadn’t seen any restaurants on the main road. Perhaps we don’t know what we’re missing!
A similar dinner to last night but with an international guest list – Dutch, French, Czechs plus us πŸ™‚ then another early night. It has been lovely to stay in one place for 2 nights, but we heading off again tomorrow earlyish.
N πŸ™‚

Wednesday 17th February 2016

Sinharaja – day 4/132

NJ joining the seasoned travellers day 4
Deniyaya – Sinharaja Forest – Uda Walawe National Park
A great nights sleep in my own room – no fan or air con but temp was perfect. A luxurious lie in was spoiled somewhat by my alarm going off an hour early – I had obviously put the clock on an hour by mistake – after deciding that it actually only was 6.20 by checking my iPad and my phone, I got back to sleep for half an hour. 
Had breakfast at the bakery, before squeezing into our tuk tuk for a very bumpy ride to the entrance to the forest. Our driver kept stopping and pulling leaves and branches from the roadside bushes and passing them back for us to eat/smell. We (well mostly Katherine and Jayne) tried cinnamon, pepper (fantastic face from Katherine after biting into one of the berries) and ginger as well as looking at rice, tea leaves and wild pineapple.
Eventually arrived at the pick up point in the middle of nowhere, but soon our guide arrived on his motorbike and immediately told us to tuck our trousers inside our socks to avoid the leeches. Despite this being the instructions to anyone entering the forest most of the people we passed today were in sandals, shorts or even hot pants. This seemed to be an enforced diversion for them rather than a planned excursion and they clearly hadn’t read the guide book. We were asked almost immediately if we wanted to see more animals or more waterfalls and the unanimous answer was animals which seemed to please him and off we trotted into the forest.

The Sinharaja (lion king) forest is named after the lions that once roamed the areas and is UNESCO protected as it is the last remaining primary rainforest in the country. Now the only big cat is the leopard which is rarely seen (our guide hasn’t even seen it) of which they think there might be only one left. We quickly started to spot wildlife – Jayne has an expert eye – and it quickly became a competition between her and the guide to see who could spot the next animal. Although he was a bit put out that between us we knew quite a lot about rainforests, birds and animals, we soon eased him by being so enthusiastic about each new sighting. Woodpeckers, giant black squirrels (and they are huge – jayne’s favourite – unsurprisingly as she got very excited seeing normal grey squirrels in my back garden when she came to visit) millipedes, lizards, monkeys, the Sri Lankan magpie (very rare, but is nesting so he knew where to look) a blue bird (jayne will kill me for that!) snakes and huge spiders were all ticked off the list.                 Our guide got quite attached to Jayne’s camera and would spend ages trying to get the fist pump shot – often getting in really close (dangerously so with the snake) but was so pleased with himself we couldn’t deny him his fun.

We arrived at the waterfall and too many slippery rocks and the prospect of walking back with wet clothes was a step too far for me, so Katherine and jayne set off, clambering over the rocks daintily and were soon gone from view. I enjoyed sitting watching as different groups arrived and left, before the rain started. It was only a light drizzle and was quite refreshing in the heat, so it wasn’t a problem. The waterfall looked amazing (from their photos) and was Katherine’s highlight of the day.  It didn’t feel long before they were re-emerging from the forest path and making their way back across the rocks towards me. We started to make our way back and quickly stopped to eat our prepared lunch (rice and curry) which I found so hot I gave most of it to the dogs that had been following us since we started, but Katherine and jayne thoroughly enjoyed theirs – no waterfall, and no curry, I’m a bigger wuss than I thought!   The rain stopped after a short time which our guide was pleased about as he was shocked we didn’t have rain coats with us. We finished the walk after spotting a very rare white monkey and our tuk tuk wasn’t where we left him. Our guide said he was waiting down the road and he got on his bike and left us to walk the last little bit by ourselves. As he came passed he told Jayne to get on the back (a first for her) but stopped only 50 yards later as there was our tuk tuk.

Another bumpy ride back, this time almost knocking an old lady over, before getting in the car and setting of west to our next stop. A slow but less stressful journey for both driver and passengers as the roads were single track and full of potholes for most of the route and much less traffic to overtake or be over/undertaken by but the views out the window were stunning as we came down from the mountains.    
We checked in to our hotel and discussed options for tomorrow while being distracted by our very talkative neighbours and waiting for dinner to be served. Dinner was amazing with a selection of different veggie dishes (aubergine, green beans, daal, spinach) and not too spicy! Dessert was fresh papaya and banana – lovely.
I think we have all had too much fresh air as we were all pooped and in bed by 10. 
N πŸ™‚

Tuesday 16th February 2016

Mirissa – day 3/131

NJ joining the seasoned travellers day 3
Mirissa – Deniyaya
Is this a holiday?!?! 5.20 alarm call this morning, but so worth it. Quickly dressed and packed and down the road to catch the boat for our whale watching tour.
A very full boat, with a real mix of guests, young and old and a huge crew (well 7). After arriving at 6 we didn’t leave until 7, so could have had another hour in bed 😦 as soon as we set off we had a safety briefing. The safety in question was of the whales and the sea – not one mention of our safety, although we had been instructed to put our life jackets on as soon as we left port. Knew they had their priorities right πŸ™‚  It made us feel quite relieved that they took the welfare of the whales so seriously, explaining the position of the boat to not affect the whales as they surface otherwise I would have been concerned when we were racing to what appeared to be on top of them. The first stop was for a huge pod of dolphins which alternated from being chased by us and the local fishing boats and then them chasing us. Such beautiful creatures πŸ™‚   

We knew a whale had been sighted as we could see a circle of boats in the distance, but our boat steered clear. We came upon another group of boats just in time to see the tale fin ascend as the whale dived beneath the sea.   
From then on, it was just a waiting and watching game while being force fed ‘breakfast and snacks’ (a whole plate of different fruits; omelette or fried egg and sausages; fruit juice; chocolate Swiss roll!
I’m very pleased to say that I spotted 2 whales out the back of the boat, both which surfaced a few times, one right next to the boat (and jayne got a fantastic photo ;)) I thought that as I got off the boat they would be taking me to one side and begging for me to stay on as part of the crew, but unfortunately that didn’t happen! I probably should mention that both Katherine and Jayne also spotted different whales too, but my spot was definitely the best!
They are absolutely enormous, and u can’t quite appreciate the size as they are still some way from the boat, and you never see the whole animal out of the water. Truly magnificent animals and I feel honoured to have seen them in their natural habitat (not sure anyone would want to try and house one, but they could very well have been extinct by now thanks to us.
Our captain had an argument with a speed boat carrying far too many passengers which chased the whale that was behind us (something you are not allowed to do) but they didn’t seem repentant. It’s all very well having rules, but if there is no one there to enforce them, there’s little point in having them in the first place.  We felt very pleased to have spent a little more money for this trip knowing that we were with a reputable company who know what they are doing and are interested in protecting the whales and ignorants (people).

On our way back to port the rain came down and all those on the top deck had to squeeze into our section for the last 15 minutes which was cosy, but luckily the rain had stopped by the time we arrive back in Mirissa.

A 2 hour drive up into the mountains along very windy roads brought us to Deniyaya (I keep wanting to sing Bumbalaya – right spelling steve?) which is at the entrance to Sinharaja forest (another UNESCO site to tick off Jayne’s list). We are staying in a community project hotel which is charming – basic, but clean with two trees growing through the roof of my ‘bungalow’- and has a bakery. I resisted for longer than the other two, but ended up succumbing to the smells wafting my way and had what looked like an almond pastry but turned out to be bread with sugar on the top! 
After chilling in the reception area, I felt the need to wander and explore the town – perhaps to spread the travel love to other establishments as we are trekking with these guys tomorrow as well. As soon as we set off the rain came down – gently and refreshingly at first and then heavy enough for us to head for the bus station for cover. Apparently this is the first rain Katherine and jayne have seen in the whole 4 months of travelling – my fault of course, I’ve brought it over with me, first to Mirissa this morning and now here. Just hoping that it doesn’t rain too much tomorrow as we have opted for the 5-6 hour trek into the forest.
We only spotted one restaurant in the whole town, so after walking back to pick up jayne, having a cold showers and changing into long trousers (mossie alert I feel) we headed back to find the only English speaker wasn’t there. However the chef understood our order, but was most put out that k and I ordered rice (not his domain) but we heard him gettIng his frustrations out on the hot plate while chopping the veg and noodles for jayne!
A very early night for all after our long day – but wanted to stay up in reception for a bit as they have more comfy chairs and a brighter light, but he wants to close up.
N

Monday 15th February 2016

Galle – day 2/130 (Nicola)

NJ joining the seasoned travellers – day 2
Colombo – Galle – Mirissa 
After dropping off to sleep almost immediately, I woke a few times due to the air con which the 4th person in our room had whacked up high. Clearly not cold enough to actually get up and turn it down, but was awake enough to hear jayne get up and then I panicked as my alarm hadn’t gone off too (forgetting that I had set it for half an hour later!)
We enjoyed an included breakfast of juice and omelette before waving jayne off on her journey south and had a lazy hour or so watching American tv (with subtitles) before catching the bus (without backpacks) to the train station. Very easily got tickets to Galle on the south coast and watched as the platform filled with a mixture of locals and tourists. We discussed the fact that all the other tourists were probably very impressed with how light we were travelling (a day sac and my handbag!) and I told Katherine of an article I had read in a magazine about a lady who had travelled for 3 weeks with only one dress and 3 pairs of knickers – we both agreed that we couldn’t do that – she didn’t even have a book! 
The best train journey in Sri Lanka didn’t really live up to its hype (although I don’t know what any other journey is like) but the sea views out the window were lovely and watching the city turn to countryside turn to beach villas on our side of the track was an enjoyable way to spend the morning.  
Expecting to meet jayne in the fort at a coffee shop, we were surprised to see her waiting at the barrier (apparently seeing us walking up the platform was the highlight of her day!). A walk up the road brought us to the fort – a UNESCO world heritage site.
The site of this fort (built in 1663) is pretty hard to beat with beautiful sea views on 3 sides. As you peer down into the sea from the ramparts the coral and fish are clearly visible as people cool off or snorkel in the water. We walked along the wall leisurely (as it was the hottest (36 degrees) part of the day (mad dogs…) roughly following the lonely planet walking tour. Headed into the centre for an amble around the shops/churches and temples before heading back onto the wall to back where we started (and where a valentine’s concert was taking place down below). I actually enjoyed everything today, but my highlight was managing to eat a Mango ice lolly without getting any down me, despite the fact that it was melting quicker than I could eat it.  As jayne had driven back up to Galle (rather than getting the bus) we made our way to the car and headed towards Mirissa a little further down the coast ready for our whale watching tour early tomorrow.

On the way we stopped at the turtle hatchery (Katherine’s highlight of the day) – right on the beach they have built a guarded sand area where they bury the eggs they find in labelled and dated sections where they stay until they hatch 65 days later. They release the turtles back onto the beach (apparently they need to waddle down to the ocean themselves otherwise they can’t find their way back 30 years later when they are ready to lay their own eggs) either that day (the green turtles), or after a few days (Olive Ridley) until they are bit more hardy, or 8 months later (the very rare loggerheads) to supposedly give them an even better chance of survival (however, from a large batch there were only about 6 still left in the tank that we saw. – so not sure how much they are increasing their chances by). There were quite a lot more of the tiny Olive Ridleys which were very cute, flapping about making their way to our side of the pool or sleeping with their tiny heads above the water, mouths agape.   
A number of rescued turtles were in the other pools – caught in nets and delivered by the fishermen – most will eventually be released back into the ocean, however, the ones without a fin (cut off by the very sharp nylon nets) can’t dive down so would not survive if put back in the ocean. 
Another short drive brought us into Mirissa – a beach lovers Mecca. We headed for the beach and walked in the water (jayne and Katherine) or as far up the sand as physically possible (me) along the beach front deciding which restaurant to choose (apparently my second responsibility.) Most of the restaurants are built onto the sand (apparently illegal and at risk of being pulled down – not that I knew this at the time) and the incoming tide was lapping at the diners/drinkers feet.
Surfers were catching waves to the right even as the sun was disappearing and hopefully stopped before it was pitch black although they could have been aided by the laser beams from each of the restaurants enticing customers in. We enjoyed dinner on the beach before heading to our family run hotel right off the beaten track.    No air con so we should be warm enough tonight – probably will be complaining that I was too warm tomorrow πŸ™‚ 

A slight reversing into the driveway calamity, while the owners looked on with increasing worry, but all good in the end.

Saturday 14th February 2016

Galle – day 130 (Jayne)

I must have passed out last night, as Kat and Nic were commenting on how cold they were during the night, while I didn’t even hear the other guest arrive in the early hours. Apprehension started to build about my long drive and breakfast was a blur. I knew I had to get petrol before hitting the expressway and was hoping (and managed) to find some before continuing on the route I thought I needed to go. I passed through several hamlets, street traders setting up for the day and bus all ready at the depots. I was on the southern expressway soon enough travelling through varied landscapes but not appreciating the view with all the concentration. 

I did pull over at one point. The car was rattling slightly and a passing car was either pointing to the wheels or describing something obscure between themselves. The only thing I could see of concern was a repaired puncture on the back right wheel, but nothing that would cause a racket. So, on I went and pulled over after paying the exit fee for the toll booth and turned on the wonderful maps.me app to direct me the final 8.5km to the hotel. Sure enough, a silent engine driving through tiny villages meant I needed to start using the horn a bit, I had to swerve for a dopey monitor lizard who was kamikaze and I arrived… nowhere! No sign of the accommodation and some locals said it was straight on, others backwards, until eventually a kind gentleman jumped on the back of a bike and we went on an adventure. 
Parked up down back roads while they went knocking at doors and showing others where I suspected the hotel to be on the map. It was only when they were calling it a break did they hand me back my phone and I got to search through photos for a screen shot of the accommodation and the address. They felt like right idiots, so the bike was now zooming down the road and the local in the passenger seat was finally learning that I wasn’t moving till he put on his seat belt. Back to where we originally were the two lads went shouting for guest owners to wake up/ come out and they didn’t seem all best pleased at the interruption. The gentleman and myself were put out that there has never been a sign on their house and the locals didn’t even know it was called ‘Grand Villa’. 
Bags dumped, a pointless attempt and exchange of words seeing if they wanted/needed anything in Galle and I was back off, driving down the coast road to meet Katherine and Nicola so I can tick off UNESCO site #6 from Sri Lanka’s list. The sea was beautiful – the ocean waves breaking a frothy white over turquoise – it reminded me of one of those foamy bath bombs that fizzing and turns the water extraordinary colours and a layer of bubbles. Continuing through more villages and hamlets the surf schools lessened and the fish stalls increased. Parking down a side road in Galle, I marched to the train station knowing that I’d be there before them and put some literary creation to my part of the day’s blog.   Sunday 14th February 2016

Colombo – day 1/129 (Nicola)

NJ joining the seasoned travellers!
Day one is a split log as my day (and a half) was a little different to their’s πŸ™‚
Managed to leave school on time much to my surprise and headed south with Derek’s dog most put out as I was in his seat. Arrived at the airport with plenty of time to spare and ate and shopped before forcing myself to sit down before my bank started ringing concerned with all the unusual activity on my account. Jen and Angela you will be most impressed at my bypassing the burger bars and instead eating sweet potato falafel and remembering to eat my 2 satsumas before they got sqaushed on the flight.
Flight was called on time, but we boarded late (I later learned because the incoming flight was delayed) and was greeted by ladies in full stomach baring saris – was interested to see if they had to do the whole service in this outfit. (They did!) 
Journey was uneventful except to say I had the nicest lady sitting next to me flying to Sri Lanka to see her grandson who is out here working. She’s on the same flight back, so would be lovely to sit next to her again to find out what she got up to. 
The only memorable moment was as soon as the seatbelt lights went off one lady jumped up, opened an overhead locker and a duty free bottle fell out whacking another passenger on the head! 
I have to say I was very impressed with the airline, leg room and service despite no subtitles on any of the entertainment (thank goodness for bbc I player downloads) and a veggie dinner and breakfast of curry and the chocolate brownie replaced with a very pink vegan jelly- prob a good thing). So if any of u need to fly Sri Lankan airlines I would recommend them! 
Only landed a few minutes late so must have had the wind behind us and walked through the the doors to see Katherine and Jayne holding an iPad sign with my name and subtitle (travel whore) on it. I can just imagine them both giggling to themselves waiting for me to come through the the gates. We went to pick up the car (I am sure jayne will fill u in) and I unzipped the bottom of my trousers and put my flip flops on – I was officially on holiday while jayne filled out all the paperwork.
A short journey into Colombo and our hotel. Problems with the car meant that Jayne stayed in the hotel to receive a replacement while Katherine and I headed into the city to do some sightseeing as we won’t have time when we return before my flight home. 
We hopped on a public bus (Katherine being my guide) and strolled (or where possible strode) round the market – the sounds, sights and smells are unmistakably Asian. Wasn’t quite sure what all the items were, but everything was very handily priced so we couldn’t be conned with a ‘tourist price’. As the stall holders tried to get our attention, was confused as to what they thought we would do with the wide range of vegetables they were offering – at least the fruit I could imagine eating as a snack.
We went to visit the oldest Dutch church, the clock tower, the mosque right in the centre of a shopping street and finally trying to find the old hospital before walking back to the hotel along the sea front.   This was the quite clearly the place to be with everyone out and about seeing and being seen. Even a horse walking along the promenade which got a bit close for comfort behind us making us both jump.      Got back to the hotel and went straight out for dinner at a place k and j love – was very spicy for me (but that’s not saying a lot) and lashings of ginger beer. A real locals place complete with no women (except us) and a resident rat trying to come downstairs to join us in the dining area πŸ™‚

A short walk home, a well needed shower and an early night as didn’t really sleep on the plane and we have an early start tomorrow.
N (guest blogger)

Saturday 13th February 2016

Colombo – day 129 (Jayne)

The lady on the bunk bed below me came in at some ridiculous hour and wouldn’t stop squirming. A quick chat in the morning and I had pieced together that she had gone clubbing and stumbled in to the hostel for a bed. That’s all well and good for her that she has the money to throw around like that, but my hard earned sleep was interrupted and I gave up trying to pretend at 05:00. Thus, I left an anniversary postcard under Katherine’s pillow with some chocolate – the ice, cold, air conditioned room enabling this rare treat – and caught up on some finances on the iPad. 
Breakfast and blogs complete, we headed off on our merry adventure to collect Nicola from the airport. The bus from the fort to the airport which should have been 45mins to an hour, took in total 2hrs 5mins, with us moving a significant total of 1km in 45mins – some dignitary was visiting some of the towns on this particular route and traffic ground to a halt. It was a silly mistake to assume we’d be there in no time at all, and we hadn’t brought any water with us. Ouch!
With personal name card in the arrival hall and printed itinerary in hand we collected Nicola and went down the road to collect the rental car from Europcar. Kat and Nic caught up on gossip while I listened to a couple returning their vehicle argue about how they shouldn’t have been fined by a policeman earlier that week and the paperwork was supposed to have been sorted yesterday. Stupidly long time later we were headed down the road and in to the town by the airport to get some water and check to see if the ‘check engine light’ would turn off. It stayed off until about 20m past the junction off the expressway (typical eh!?). 
The (automatic) car stalled several times at the toll booth, the traffic lights and the roundabouts, each place getting significantly scarier and more stressful as we drove further into Colombo capital. I wanted to get safely to the hostel and get the manager or staff (who are fantastic) to help call Europcar to have it sorted. A seamlessly painless call by the concierge and they were sending out a replacement car, no questions asked. It was all a little too suspicious for our likings. They clearly knew it was a dodgy car!
I had to wait for the new car to arrive and sort out the additional paperwork so I waved goodbye to the dastardly duo and I set about repacking my bag, now that I was restocked with make-up and electronics. Thanks Nic xx!
A fancy new car arrived at 17:15 while everything was in heaps of a mess in the dorm room, but I had to grab the important stuff and get in a test drive before they left. He wasn’t impressed with me pulling down one way streets and having the car tick over in idle, but I couldn’t face the long drive the next day with anything temperamental. All sorted, I cleared up the mess and awaited the others return from the city. 

Saturday 13th February 2016