50 things we’ve learnt during our 28 days in Sri Lanka.

1. Your feet will never be clean… No matter how hard you scrub.

2. A morning shower is pointless… You are covered in sweat two metres after walking out the room!

3. Milo chocolate milk is like drinking calorific drops of heaven – it should be a sin.

4. People genuinely want to help you for no other reason than they can. 

5. They smile… All the time!! And not in a creepy way. 

6. Tourist prices for attractions will destroy your budget and make you weep. 

7. Local food is the best in guest houses and where police men eat.

8. Ice cream and Milo for lunch is perfectly acceptable. 

9. You burn your feet walking around the temples in bare feet!

10. You can be stuck in a traffic jam caused by wild elephants.

11. Sri Lankan spicy is not the same as Indian spicy… We’re bad ass and need more chilli!!!

12. They don’t have Limca, and Elephant Ginger Beer doesn’t quite hit the same spot.

13. There are two types of tourists in Sri Lanka… One dresses in hot pants and crop tops, the others are more respectful – and the locals appreciate the latter one!

14. The Sri Lankan radio DJ’s clearly have a thing for Boyzone, Westlife and Ronan Keating.

15. It is worth getting up at 4.45m… But only to see a blue whale!

16. Umbrellas are used for three reasons… Sun shades, occasional rain and concealment canopies for snogging!!!

17. People don’t give you directions – they hop on their bike to show you or walk you directly to the door!

18. Sometimes Jayne just needs a nap!!!

19. Melted chocolate from home is the best gift ever.

20. Sri Lankan double beds are a European single.

21. When it rains, it rains hard!

22. Sugar doesn’t ‘delete’ itself in hot drinks.

23. Not all ATM’s will accept your card, even if they took it in a different town.

24. We can look at wild elephants for a long time.

25. It is okay to walk along the train tracks to get to your destination.

26. It is illegal to play music in a National Park. 

27. You need a ticket to get into the airport or the train station.

28. Guesthouse curries range drastically in price and often the cheapest ones are the nicest!

29. Both of us still get sunburnt after 4 months away in the sun.

30. ‘Are you married?’ is the follow up question to ‘Where are you from?’.

31. Jayne and I are still cousin-sisters.

32. Those who can, drive. Those who can’t drive, drive TukTuks.

33. Happiness is hearing the approaching bread van TukTuk playing ‘Für Elise’.

34. Everything is endemic to that area.

35. Giant squirrels are pretty big!

36. Pot holes can, and are, filled with coconuts.

37. Sleeping in a car over night is not as easy as it sounds in a tropical climate.

38. The water is very soft in Sri Lanka – our hair has been unruly for weeks!!

39. Sometimes it is necessary to overtake on hair pin bends (and I will close my eyes whilst Jayne does it!). 

40. Policemen are shocked to see a tourist with a Sri Lankan driving license – and all officers nearby will demand to see it.

41. Red buses are driven by Kamikaze drivers or ex-TukTuk drivers (we can’t decide!!)

42. Scooters and bicycles have surf board racks. 

43. Land monitor lizards have stand offs with buses… And win, every time!

44. An automatic car frees up your left hand for snacking capabilities!

45. A beer on the beach watching the sunset is the perfect way to end a day.

46. Women in Sri Lanka tie their sari’s differently than Indian women… And I find the Sri Lankan way more elegant.

47. Flat tyre on an expressway is not fun… Especially when you have to wave down another car for a jack.

48. Stuffed rotis are sublime, especially those loaded with garlic.

49. The expressways are used by tourists and trucks so are always surprisingly quiet!

50. You’ll never have enough time in Sri Lanka to visit everywhere you want to go.

Travelling – day 139

Woke up, showered, dressed and packed the last few bits into our backpacks before getting into the lovely air conditioned car for the final leg of our journey. Headed to the nearby supermarket to pick up something for breakfast. (Un)fortunately, they only had Milo and chocolate Swiss roll as a suitable food item for breakfast… What can you do?!? Headed along the road looking for the signs to direct us to the Southern Expressway. Got about 5km away from our guesthouse when we realised that the expressway is only advertised in the opposite direction!! A speedy u-turn and we were now headed in the right direction. Had been driving up the expressway for about 20 minutes when the front left tyre burst. Having never happened to either of us before, we were both surprisingly calm as Jayne put on the hazard lights and steered the car to the hard shoulder. We got out the spare tyre and started to loosen nuts when we realised that Europcar hadn’t supplied us with a jack… Tried to ask some locals in a house nearby who had obviously heard the wheel pop and came to investigate but they didn’t have one either. Managed, after several failed attempts, to flag down a car that was driving down the expressway (filled with Canadian tourists). Their Sri Lankan driver lent us his jack and gave us a hand to change the wheel over so we could keep going to the airport.   He very kindly stayed behind us for about 20km to make sure we were okay as we drove cautiously slowly up the expressway, knowing full well that we didn’t have time for another emergency! Fortunately, the rest of the drive was without incident, although the getting between the outer circular expressway and the airport expressway made us realise how glad we were that the car was going back. Arrived at Europcar to deliver the car and proceeded to have a small heated discussion about the lack of car jack… A quick rummage by one of the mechanics found the jack under the passenger seat (apparently, it is a sensible place to keep it – although I still would go for storing it with the spare wheel and other tools!). As the tyre was not a puncture, we had to pay £20 to replace it but we took Europcar complaint email address as neither of us feel we should have to pay for everyday wear and tear damage… Watch this space! Got to the airport with two hours until our flight was due to take off and felt a bit rushed going through the excessive amounts of security checks just to enter the check in desk area, only to find out our flight was delayed by 1.5hours! Headed through to the departure lounge to find everything priced in dollars and about 3 times the price of anything we have paid in Sri Lanka. Despite this, I felt that Jayne could use a special treat based on today’s stressful drive so we had a sneaky Burger King before heading to our gate. A fairly painless flight with Mihin Lanka and we were in the Maldives. Slightly giddy walking through the airport with our hotel rep to the ferry jetty – we were the only tourists on board and clearly the only ones excited by the mode of transport we were using!! A short walk to the hotel to drop off our bags before heading back out to grab something small to eat and to check out the ferry jetty we need to get for tomorrow to Dhiffushi.  

Tuesday 23rd February 2016

Hikkaduwa – day 138

Woke up early, without alarms, and decided to head out to Hikkaduwa marine National Park again before it go too hot. Lathered both of us with water resistant sun cream and, stopping at the nearby shop to buy some more sweet bread, we headed down to the beach. Had a breakfast of Milo’s and bread, which gave the local dive staff a bit of a giggle – apparently it is their breakfast of choice too!! Headed back out to sea to snorkel around the big rocks – much the same marine life as yesterday with some baby yellow zebra fish (Sergeant Majors) and some unusual fish that even Jayne had never seen before (or knew their name!!).   Swam past massive shoals of parrot fish which are the biggest ones I think I have ever seen. Saw a couple of cuttlefish, pipefish and a shoal of a type of barracuda. Headed back to shore when we began to feel tired, swimming past tourists in a fishing boat, clearly surprised that you didn’t need to be rowed the 500m to the snorkelling site. Headed back to the guesthouse to get out of the midday sun and do some jobs ready for our flight tomorrow to the Maldives. I got to Skype Clare for the first time in nearly two months so we had a good two hour chat!! Sorted out our bags, reshuffling all the shampoo/conditioner/sun cream that we had bought or stolen from Nicola!! Headed back out to the beach to walk along the coastline, stopping further down to watch a kite surfer zip back and forth through the waves and sitting down to watch the sun set again. Not as spectacular as last night but I’m not complaining – even obscured by clouds, it was still beautiful.     A touch of retail therapy to buy bikinis ready for the Maldives before finding a roti restaurant for dinner. Ate far too much(!) – as this restaurant uses the rotis like wraps. Had a chicken, cheese, tomato and garlic roti (which was so good, we ordered a second one!), an avocado, cheese and tomato roti and, because it was our last night in Sri Lanka, we ordered our favourite chicken and cheese kottu. Feeling very full, it was nice that we had a little 2km walk back to the guesthouse to burn off some of that food! Packed our bags and climbed into bed, both shattered from too much sea and sun!

Monday 22nd February 2016

Hikkaduwa – day 137

Hmmmmmm… Sleeping in the car in a tropical climate is not fun!!! Thought, having parked up by the beach, it would be lovely and romantic – waking up with the sunrise and listening to the waves crash over sand. Reality?!? Sweating to death in a micro oven or opening the windows to be devoured by mosquitos!! Jayne opted for the front seat, whereas I made myself a little cocoon in the back balancing on the spare wheel and wedging my feet between door and boot. Surprisingly, I actually got some sleep although Jayne was less fortunate being on another one of her mosquito murder missions again. Watched the sunrise over the houses whilst the beach became alive with early morning surfers. Sat watching them whilst eating some sweet bread and drinking Milo’s (made everything seem better!!).   Had a chat about what to do over the next few days and decided to head towards the Marine National Park in Hikkaduwa, just south of Colombo. Managed to find a very nice and clean guesthouse just off the main road and after a quick shower to wash off the layers of car sweat(!), we headed to the beach with our new masks and snorkels. The reef just off the beach had some amazing marine life and within minutes of getting into the water, we had spotted a turtle and some massive parrot, unicorn and napoleons wrasse fish.   We decided to snorkel over to the reef by the big rocks that all the fishermen were trying to convince us to pay them to row us over. The reef was nice as it was less damaged by morons walking all over it and the marine life seemed quite large compared to up north in Kalpitya. Decided to head back to the guesthouse after about an hour for a much needed sleep in a real bed (we’re both clearly getting too old for sleeping anywhere other than a mattress!!). Woke up and headed back to the beach, via the wine store to pick up a couple of beers. Found a nice spot with a washed up log to sit on to watch the sun set as surfers continued catching waves around us. Slightly embarrassing moment watching Russian women pose like playboy models in the surf for their boyfriends and a very pasty white surfer trying to show his skills in front of the Sri Lankan ones… Who outshone him in every possible way! Continued walking along the beach until we stopped at an Italian restaurant for dinner. Had a massive three course feast of chicken liver pate, prawn salad, pizza, carbonara pasta, chocolate cake and Nutella with vanilla ice cream pancakes. Waddled back to the guesthouse, past TukTuk drivers who would wait in the shadows until you were about to pass to jump out and ask if your needed a taxi – they were lucky I didn’t punch any of them out of fright! A quick shower to wash off the sea salt and we both passed out!

Sunday 21st February 2016

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 🙂
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 😉 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 🙂

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 🙂 then another early night. It has been lovely to stay in one place for 2 nights, but we heading off again tomorrow earlyish.
N 🙂

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 🙂

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 🙂  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 🙂   

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.

Monday 15th February 2016