Peace Out Kekirawa
Hallelujah! After a month, we are retiring from our teaching professions. Although I will not miss teaching, it was sad saying goodbye to our host family and the other volunteers. They made Kekirawa feel like home. We taught our last class at the learning center and hopped on a bus to Kandy.
I have to give credit to the Sri Lankan bus drivers. They are such crazy drivers and sure know how to make each ride thrilling. I am talking an edge-of-your-seat experience every time. However, as much as I enjoy the bus drivers, the second in command is the real MVP. I call him the “hype man”.
The hype man is the driver’s wing man and hangs out the door quickly shouting through the list of stops, like an auctioneer. Then hype man roams the aisle collecting money for bus tickets. Even if the bus is packed to the rafters, he is able to get from one end of the bus to the other, no problem. Seriously the whole thing is quite a production and definitely worth the 75 cents.
On the bus from Kekirawa to Kandy, Jake made a new friend, who invited us to stay at his house. This is not the first time its happened, but we are still not used to these offers. We were raised not to talk to strangers. I am sure my mom would have strangled me if I invited one home to stay with us.
We rolled into the big town of Kandy and had some business to attend to. The train to Ella is insta famous. It’s said to be one of the most scenic train rides in the world. But since it is so popular, it often sells out. It was Déjà vu to our train ticket buying experience in Colombo.
The line was full of anxious tourists with big backpacks, sweaty shirts and red cheeks. We finally get to the front, only to be told there are no more tickets. Back to the train station in the morning. More waiting in the wrong lines. And finally we get tickets to Ella. Easy.
As we were waiting for the train an older man chased us down for a selfie. He had many questions about the US, especially about Trump and iPhones. He talked about how much he has learned from people around the world. Then just like he was casually showing us his coin collection or something, he scrolled through every single selfie on his phone with foreigners.
When the train came, he showed us where to sit to get the most epic views. Not sure if I should be honored or worried that an awkwardly close, unflattering, sweaty selfie with Jake and I are now part of his collection. But it was worth it for the insider knowledge, because the train ride was beautiful!
The train slowly snaked through fields and up the mountain among the lush, tea plantations. We went through long tunnels and over bridges with scary, steep drop offs. We blasted through villages and waved to locals walking along the tracks. The further up we went, the greener it got and the more it cooled off. It started to feel like home!
3rd class tickets are only about $1.50. The best seats are in the doorways, where you can sit with your feet hanging out. The train ride ended up being almost 7 hours. I did not pack enough snacks.
Arriving in Ella, we noticed two things – a lot of beer and a lot of tourists. We had not run into many tourists in Sri Lanka, but it was evident as soon as we stepped off the train that Ella would be different. Lots of dread locked, Rastafarian hippies lounged on the sidewalks. Almost every cafe and restaurant had “chill” in the name. Even the stray dogs were extra zen. It was obvious why so many people flock to Ella – the place has good vibes!
Our home stay was located outside of town. It was built on the hillside overlooking the Nine Arch Bridge. I don’t usually get excited about things like bridges, but the Nine Arch Bridge is a game changer. The bridge is epic. It was built without any steel, since all the steel was used for wartime efforts. The local name translates to “Nine Skies Bridge.” If you stand under it you can see the sky through the nine arches.
The weather in Ella was a nice change from sweat city. Most afternoons, fog and rainstorms would roll in. The air was cool and refreshing. However, the highlight was the being surrounded by tea plantations. The rolling hills were covered in neat rows of lush greenery. We watched workers slowly moving along, picking leaves, loading up giant bags on the back. It was peaceful.
One day we climbed Little Adam’s Peak and the view did not disappoint. We started early in hopes of beating the crowd. From the top, we were surrounded by steep mountains. We could barely make out the winding roads below. Traffic sounds echoed up from below (people use their horns very liberally in SE Asia). But the best part was there were plenty of dogs for me to pet at the top.
Don’t worry – I got a three part rabies vaccination before the trip just so I could give some good belly rubs to all the strays.
The road to our homestay was busy and narrow, without any street lights. One night we had just finished up dinner in town. It was raining hard and none of the tuk-tuk drivers wanted to take us up the hill. Finally, a young tuk-tuk driver with hair like Coolio agreed to take us – but only halfway up the hill.
We agreed and jumped in. It didn’t take long to realize he was a terrible driver. He was more concerned about keeping his cigarette lit than staying on the road. We are swerving and bumping all over.
About three minutes in, we hit a pothole and heard a loud pop. Coolio let out a string of Sri Lankan curse words (I am guessing). He pulled over and realized the tire was annihilated. He had to wave down another tuk-tuk drivers so he could borrow some tools. Then he had Jake lift up the tuk-tuk so it was resting on one wheel and he got to work.
So here we were standing in the pouring rain. Jake holding up a tuk-tuk on its side. And I am holding up my iPhone flashlight. While Coolio was trying to change the tire for almost an hour. The tools he had gotten from the other tuk-tuk driver were all wrong. Eventually he was able to use a rock and a flip flop to change the tire. It was incredible!
Coolio felt really bad about the situation and was profusely apologizing for the situation. Little did he know, Jake and I were really excited about getting a firsthand lesson on how to change a tuk-tuk tire. We were picking up our own tuk-tuk the next day for an epic road trip down the coast. We were stoked about the free tuk-tuk maintenance lesson!
Once we were up and running, he agreed to just take us all the way. However, about three minutes in, the tuk-tuk died. There was no salvaging this poor rickshaw. Let’s just say it wasn’t his night. We wished him luck, got out and hoofed it through the storm and the mud puddles back to the home stay.
We were wet and cold by the time we got back. Changing into dry clothes, I realized something stuck to my foot. It looked like a slug, in between my toes. I screamed, ripped it off and threw it across the room. My foot was bleeding. It was a leech. So disgusting. I was freaking out. I began reading about leeches online and they quickly became my least favorite animals. Apparently when a leech bites you they inject an anesthetic, so you can’t feel them. Then they release anticoagulant so your blood wont clot. Which explains why my foot bled for about 3-4 hours. Jake found my leech freak out very entertaining.
The next morning we got up early to watch sunrise from the Nine Arch Bridge. It was a 10-15 minute walk through the jungle. Once the sun started coming up, Jake realized he had leeches in between his toes. He was hollering, jumping around and swatting at his feet like a crazy person. Payback.
We took the train one stop from Ella to Demodara. This station featured a famous civil engineering marvel, known as the Demodara Loop. This gets credit for transporting tea from the region, resulting in Sri Lanka’s rise to the top tea exporter. Lipton started a plantation in the area to provide to the UK markets.
The hills were too steep to build the track, so builders had to get creative. The idea was suggested by a farmer that the track makes a loop the same way he tied his turban. The rail line winds around the mountain and comes in directly under the station, through a tunnel which has been excavated through the mountain.
We got off in Demodara and walked around town. Even though it was only 6 km from Ella, it felt like a different world. No tourists and no beer. Locals were very excited to come and say hi. School kids were running after us calling out “hello”. We planned to take the bus back to Ella, but the bus never came.
Very few buses actually had signs or numbers, since the hype man takes care of that. We had to resort to running up to each bus to see if it would stop at Ella. Every time the hype man told us our bus would be coming in “2 minutes”. After an hour and a half we gave up and took the train back to Ella. Its all good because we got to ride the spiral loop!
Pit and Peak
Pit: Creatures that suck your blood and buses that never show up.
Peak: I completed my Econ midterm on the rooftop of our homestay, overlooking the Nine Arch Bridge. I am not sure if I was more excited about the view or being half way done with the misery known as econ.