Ella-Kandy-Colombo – The Long Road Home.

Day 8:

Our final day in Sri Lanka! The week went by quickly, and so did the changes in scenery that took us through the city, up to the cooler mountains, and down to where the hiking trails were. A week for us definitely wasn’t enough to see all that Sri Lanka has to offer – their beaches, Colombo city, their safaris, nature reserves, Galle fort… It is a country laden with culture, history and nature, not to mention incredible food!

img_6925

Although Venura’s cooking may not have trumped Suranji’s, Flo and I thoroughly appreciated all the effort he put in to making each morning that extra bit special with the array of food he put out for us. Before we left, Venura handed me a package wrapped in brown paper and said it was a small gift for us. Later, when we were in the car, I opened it and was beyond words – he’d printed out the photo he’d taken of Flo and I the very first morning we were there at breakfast and framed it. Small gestures are so impactful!

If you recall from when we first landed in Kandy, Roy, the man who drove us through the night, was our go-to to drive us all the way back to the airport. We were deeply touched by his sincerity and we found out that he also called Villa Arunala to make sure Flo and I had arrived safely.

Roy arrived at Dream Catcher Resort promptly at 12pm as arranged and away we went. We went a more difficult route winding round the mountains because we had to return to Kandy to pick up the jackets we’d absent-mindedly left at Arun’s. On the way, Roy hearing that we hadn’t visited any tea plantations brought us to Damro – a plantation and factory that he thinks is possibly the best in Sri Lanka.

img_6930

At first, my suspicious mind wandered if he was getting commission and that we’d have to pay an entry fee. Shamefully, I was wrong. We were treated to a short tour around the factory showing us how tea leaves are dried

img_6931

Rolled

img_6932

Ground… And sometimes Fermented (as is the case for black tea)…

img_6933

And finally Graded and Packed.

img_6935

We were later brought back up where our guide showed us the different kinds of teas and their strengths based on how finely they were ground, how fermented they were, and whether they were white teas, greens teas or black teas.

img_6937

Thereafter, we were served a pot of complimentary Afternoon Tea to share.

img_6940

It was really smooth and light on the palate.

We then returned to Roy who took us further on to this random shop that had a rooftop terrace. The terrace was completely bare but we went up as instructed and we were treated to this gorgeous view!

img_6943

Blue skies, white puffy clouds, a large lake…

img_6950

And waterfalls!

img_6947

In fact, on our drive back to Kandy, we saw waterfalls aplenty especially with all the recent rainfall.

We arrived in Kandy around 6pm and picked up our belongings before we decided to have our final meal back at where we had our first Sri Lankan dinner – Sri Rasmya. I really wanted to try the Jackfruit Curry but they didn’t have any. So we ended up with Potato Curry, Pol Sambol and Dhal once more. This time, we were also served Seeni Sambol (spicy caramelised onion relish) to have with our hoppers (two plain ones for me and an egg hopper for Flo) and string hoppers for Flo.

Again, the server tried to ply us with food but we resisted. I’m less into the string hoppers compared to Flo so we had to ask him to take a pack away since we wouldn’t have been able to finish it even if we tried.

img_6951

The freshly cooked hoppers here were the best once more. This meal rounded up our stay in Sri Lanka perfectly. Further, Flo and I fell in love with this sweet, oily, spicy concoction of caramelised onions.

img_6952

I’ve already looked up recipes for it and if I can get my hands on curry leaves tomorrow, I’ll try my hand and making some. This is something I tried looking in the supermarkets for earlier today (here in Singapore) but found none. (P.S. I just made a batch of this Seeni Sambol. Much less oil and perhaps not as awesome as a result but I tasted it and I think it’s still pretty damn delicious. Will share the recipe soon!)

img_6963

Also, if you’re in Sri Lanka, buy cashews! I bought a packet of burnt cashews at Cargills and have just about finished them already. They are highly addictive and the nuts are extra large. They also sell them in other flavours. I think one of the popular ones is Devilled Cashews. They’re not very cheap but lordy lord! They are mighty delicious. Can’t get them here either.

Other edible souvenirs you might be interested in are their teas, street snacks, coconut oil and coconut aminos. All can be bought at their local supermarket. I bought two small 375ml bottles of organic virgin coconut oil (Marina brand as recommended by Suranji) at 440 rupees each (SGD 3.36) which is wayyyy cheaper than anything you can find here.

In general, food in Sri Lanka is very affordable. At touristy spots, a meal for two including non-alcoholic drinks come to about 1000-1500 rupees (SGD10 more or less) and more local eateries, it can be around 500-600 rupees (SGD4 plus or minus). We found that most meals tend to be carb-heavy so you can always order to share since they tend to be very generous with their rice or noodles. Of course, this depends on how big an appetite you have. Flat breads are also quite filling, as well as their filled parathas with their curries being free-flow from our experience.

One thing that happened to me during our holiday was that I somehow got insanely bloated. I’m not too sure it was because of the higher salt content in their food compared to what I’m used to, or the different kinds of foods I was consuming, so as much as the food was delicious, it was uncomfortable physically for me. Upon coming home though, downing lots of water and returning to my normal diet flushed everything out of my system and the bloating disappeared within a couple days.

Anyway…

img_6953

We were at the airport perfectly timed just before 10am for our 1am flight home. Roy was the best and if any of you have plans to visit Sri Lanka and need a driver, let me know and I’ll pass you his contact.

We had some time to burn so we headed to Coffee Bean. Note that everything at the airport at charged in US Dollars, so this cuppa Tropical Passion Latte came at a very pretty penny. They were out of chai and matcha so I made do. It wasn’t too bad warm but cold, it was just bleh.

Short story:

Since Flo and I had already checked in online, we were queuing up at the counter for ‘baggage drop’. We were behind this Sri Lankan family and within half a minute of standing behind them, this Singaporean man (I’d say he’s in his early to mid-forties) confidently walks right in front of this family and stands there. I was appalled but since they said nothing, I kept mum.

Then, he gestured to his group of friends behind, asking them to join him. At first, they didn’t. About 5 minutes later, this man turned around again and called them to come once again. This time, one of his friends moved forward. Annoyed, I stepped towards this grown man and told him that I saw him blatantly cut the queue and to please join it at the back.

He insisted that he’d been there before I arrived. I told him No. That I saw him walk right into the line. A few more times he said he’d been standing there all along but I was adamant about what I saw. So he switched tactics and said that he was with the Sri Lankan family. I looked at them and quickly, the father waved his hands and said ‘No, we’re not with him’.

The Singaporean man still tried to maintain his story and I was outraged. Seriously dude! A grown man still playing at childish deeds. I told him that he was such an ugly Singaporean and that I was embarrassed we come from the same country. At least display some level of respect to other people when in a foreign country right?! It was only when the porter came and told him to join his friends at the back did he finally leave.

The Sri Lankan mother thanked me after but really, I was more apologetic to her that she had to experience that and see how rude the actions of some Singaporeans can be. Sure, it can happen to anyone, anywhere, and by people of other nationalities. In this case though, it happened to be someone from my own country and that to me, is shameful and disturbing.

Our flight home was a rather bumpy one with turbulent weather, but there was nothing like coming home and sliding into our own bed, albeit for a mere hour before we got up to run errands and play with my nieces and nephew rest of our Sunday.

Thanks Sri Lanka, for the memories, for finding Kumari’s family, for the warmth and hospitality, for the food.

Advertisements

Ella, Sri Lanka – Nine Arch Bridge & Little Adam’s Peak.

Day 7:

img_6854

After another of Venura’s epic breakfasts, Flo and I hopped back onto the railway tracks down the slope from his place to start our trek towards the Nine Arch Bridge. This time, we headed in the opposite direction to Ella Rock, and back towards Ella Town.

img_6865

We passed the Ella Station where most visitors hop on and hop off the train.

img_6866

To get to the bridge, we essentially had to keep following the tracks. From Kithaella where we started, it took us about an hour or so before we reached the tunnel that led out to the iconic attraction Ella has become known for.

img_6867

And no, you cannot pass through the tunnel without taking one of them silhouette-y photos.

img_6870

img_4551

Once we passed through the tunnel, we were right by the Nine Arch Bridge and just in time for the 11.45am train that was due to pass.

img_6871

The train came a few minutes past its scheduled timing which was fine by us – better 5 minutes late and an hour, and everyone had their cameras on the ready to capture its passing. About 30 seconds before the train could be seen, we were able to hear it horn and its chugging.

DCIM100MEDIADJI_0725.JPG

Flo managed to fly his drone up in time to capture some awesome shots of the bridge as well as the train from top down.

img_6879

Be warned that beneath the arches are a number of humongous hives!

DCIM100MEDIADJI_0727.JPG

We hung around a short while after the train had passed until my bladder threatened to burst. Thankfully, right next to the bridge sits Nine Arch Cafe where I was able to relieve myself and start the walk back to Ella Town.

I was wondering how people walking along the tracks would know when a train was about to pass. We soon found out when we heard a train whistle from afar. Still, we couldn’t ascertain quite where it was and continued walking. Soon after, we heard voices yelling ‘Train coming!’. Flo and I found a bald patch of grass to stand on and within a couple of minutes, the train had come and gone.

img_4573

I’m assuming that’s how passers-by find out to move aside – by verbal warnings. Granted, just next to Ella Station there’s a sign that says not to walk on the tracks but realistically, that’s a difficult thing to do especially with the tall grass that lines both sides at some points, as well as wet, heavy mud after rain that encourages one to step on the wooden or concrete slabs that form the track.

It was quite a bit hotter as well walking back to town. The sun decided to beat down on us and Flo, who worried about being cold, was decked in jeans, which made the trek back particularly tiring.

Once at Ella Town, we decided to lunch at The Curd Shop. I had read that Sri Lankan buffalo curd is quite delightful especially when sweetened with their local treacle. I assume that in most eateries, it is served as simply as it sounds.

Flo ordered a Tuna Sandwich which turned out to be a 5 slices of bread! Two layers had salty tuna, there was a layer of egg, one of cheese, and another of fresh vegetables with a second slice of cheese. We shared this although I mainly tasted it because I didn’t find it particularly appetising.

img_6886

My order of Traditional Curd with Treacle, which I had assumed was the simplest sounding one, turned out to be quite a fancy affair with the curd topped with thinly sliced apples, oranges, a scoop of vanilla ice-cream, chocolate wafer rolls, and a cherry on top.

img_6884

I had the ice-cream moved to Flo’s Vanilla Malt Milkshake (which was sweetness overload!), and had to remove the orange slices in order to dig in.

img_6888

Surprisingly, as sugary as it looked, it turned out to be very good! The curd itself was much like greek yoghurt and the treacle was not too sweet at all. I enjoyed the julienned apples which were refreshing and crunchy. Flo also gave it his thumbs up. And craving a bit of sugar, I tried some of the ice-cream and while definitely not a high-end vanilla bean ice-cream, it was still creamy and comforting. Still, for the price – about 420 rupees (SGD3.20) if I remember correctly, it was high, especially seeing that you can get the same for a quarter to half the price at other dining places. Perhaps without the frills but you don’t need that.

After cooling down a bit, Flo and I decided to walk to the other side of town and up Little Adam’s Peak. This is the little brother of Adam’s Peak which is located at Nallathanniya, Dalhousie – smack in the middle of Kandy and Nuwara Eliya.

img_6892

We followed the trail up which was easy-going. Then we reached a base point that said it’d be 300 steps to reach to top. I counted. And I lost count because eventually, when you’re higher up, the steps disappear anyway.

As with at Ella Rock, by the time we got to the highest point of Little Adam’s Rock, the mist had caught up with us.

img_6895

Unlike at Ella’s Rock, we were granted a few seconds of clear skies every so often because the mist moved quite quickly with the winds.

img_6889

We were down from our climb just after 3pm, so a return trip around Little Adam’s took us under an hour half. We considered popping by a Green Tea Plantation on our way back down to Ella Town but decided that we were too tired and apparently, it’s not advisable to go after 3pm because production would have stopped for the day. So we went all the way back down, stopping for drinks at Ceylon Tea Factory before carrying on to Cafe Chill.

We reached Cafe Chill around 5pm, thinking we were early enough to score a beanbag each at their top level where they had an area simply for lounging. We figured we’d earned it after all the walking! Sadly, all the beanies were taken and we were assigned a sensible table with chairs.

The weather had started to cool down so we both had a pot of tea each – Ginger Lemon and Honey for the man who was starting to feel a little under the weather, and for me, a Sri Lankan herbal tea.

img_6898

I had no idea what to expect for the herbal tea but I really liked it! It was soothing, warming, lightly sweetened and had accents of ginger that warmed me right up. Ok so I just looked up where I can buy Sri Lankan herbal tea here in Singapore and it looks like it’s not easy to get here. Boo!

We stayed at Cafe Chill a bit longer, thinking we’d then head to Matey Hut for dinner since it apparently serves up one of the best rice and curries, but then the heaven’s opened and we decided to make do with Cafe Chill’s rice and curry – just to complete the Sri Lankan food experience. We didn’t get round to eating Lamprais – rice wrapped in banana leaf and steamed with a myriad of curries and an egg.

img_6920

It didn’t impress me so much in terms of presentation but the curries themselves were good. Probably not the best in town but still good enough to quell our curiosity and satisfy us. Around the mound of rice, there was the mandatory Parippu (dhal), Gotukola Sambol (pennywort salad), Ala Hoddi (potato curry), Pol Sambol, Pathola Maluwa (snake gourd curry), Beetroot Curry, Wambatu Moju (pickled eggplant), and Wattaka Kalu Pol (pumpkin curry) as well as Poppadums for some texture.

I spied a seafood soup on the menu and my imagination brought me to a hearty stew brimming with prawns and fish and mussels. Alas, it came in a little soup bowl with toast on the side.

img_6921

No real chunks of seafood although there were little bits of fish swimming around. The flavour of the soup though, was actually punchy and akin to a seafood bisque. So not quite what I was expecting but definitely better than it looked.

Cafe Chill is probably better known for their beers, fresh squeezed juices, pizzas and burgers. I did see quite a few orders of lamprais being served too, but I suggest to try a place that’s more on the down-low – that’s where all the best foods tend to be found. Cafe Chill is generally filled with tourists and backpackers, and not somewhere the locals throng to. If you’re missing home, this is where you’ll want to be for both the food and the atmosphere.

Ella, Sri Lanka – Hello Ella & Ella’s Rock.

Day 5 *Continued:

Flo and I were determined to soldier our way onto the train to Ella especially seeing that the station was packed with tourists and backpackers heading the same way. When the train slid into Nanuoya Station, we tried to find the second class cabins, only to wind up in third class in our haste to board. It wasn’t at all a bad thing though! There was more space than when we travelled from Kandy-Nanuoya, and we managed to get a seat each. In fact, just about everyone there got a seat so it felt a lot more roomy and comfortable so in my opinion, take third class.

Without so many people milling around the aisles and doorway, we managed to take some shots by the doors. The train travels slow enough to hang out from the trains, but please don’t do it if you don’t feel confident about not letting go. The train is slow enough but not all that slow.

img_4510

The weather was decent during our trip but there were scattered showers here and there, as well as heavy mist that obstructed some of the view.

img_4501

There were a lot of greenery as we went onwards towards Ella, and tea plantations were spread everywhere.

img_6738

There were also beautiful waterfalls and rapids that we saw along the way. And monkeys!

img_6805

We were advised by our host to alight at Kithaella, just one stop before the main Ella station, as his ‘hotel’ was more easily accessible from there.

img_6808

In fact, it was only about a 5 minute walk, uphill the entire way, to his place. We arrived mid afternoon and settled into our room which was clean, and thoughtfully put together albeit more basic. We had a nice view from the balcony of the natural landscape set before us and the next three mornings, we were woken up by the calls of the resident peacocks around.

img_6827

Around 5pm, our host drove us to Ella Town which is essentially a single road with restaurants and bars lined up along both sides. In fact, we were really blessed that throughout our stay in Ella, we didn’t have to hire a single tuk tuk because our host graciously ferried us up and down once a day.

img_6818

Upon his recommendation, we went to 360 Ella to unwind after our day of travel. Weather here was really cool in the evening, but nothing a pullover or sweater wouldn’t do to keep you warm. We had some drinks there, smoked a bit of shisha, and with my food from the morning breakfast buffet still sitting snugly in my belly, I sat back at dinner time and watched Flo dig into his Chicken and Egg Kottu Rotti.

img_6820

Kottu Rotti is basically vegetables, rotti and your protein of choice all cooked together and chopped up on a flat top. You’ll never fail to hear the chop-chop-chopping in the making of this dish wherever you go. It’s not much of a looked but I tried some and the flavour was pretty good. I can see the appeal. I didn’t take too much to the rotti being in there though because it absorbs liquid and tends to take on a softer, mushier texture. Flo really enjoyed this especially eaten with some sambar.

Day 6:

As with our stay at Villa Arunala, we were once again treated to the wonderful Sri Lankan hospitality at Dream Catcher Resort. Venura spent every morning we were there preparing a feast for us – omelette was a daily fixture, as were fresh fruit, toast with butter and jam, but he made sure that each day we were there, we had a different local breakfast dish to try.

This first morning we had dosa with a side of pol sambol, and lawariya – string hoppers stuffed with coconut and palm sugar.

img_6825

These were very much similar to Kueh dadar with the coconut-palm sugar filling. We both took to this but as we left it for last, we were too full to clean the plate. We were treated to Pol Rotti (Coconut rotti) and Pani Pol (Stuffed coconut pancakes) the next day, and on our last morning, we had plain and egg hoppers with Venura’s homemade dhal. That dhal was the best we had throughout our trip. No joke!

img_6826

Fuelled up, we decided to tackle Ella Rock. It’s said to be the more challenging one compared to Little Adam’s Peak which is also situated within the Ella vicinity. The location of our homestay meant that we didn’t have to travel quite so far to reach the base of Ella Rock. All we had to do was follow the railway tracks until we reached a small turning on the left.

img_4521

img_4522

A couple minutes off and we went over a bridge that crossed over some rapids.

img_4524

We had to cross a tea plantation and then hike up until we reached a plateau. There, the scenery was pretty cool but the mist coming in meant that it wasn’t quite a clear as we’d have liked.

img_4531

We were there breathing in the cool late morning air thinking that the hike was a breeze. Until we walked further in and realised that that was kind of the halfway point. Thereafter, the difficulty level increased with us having to scale boulders and steeper inclines. We were decked out in our hiking shoes and so, were pretty impressed with some of the locals who were clad in their flip-flops making their way up.

The humidity and creeping temperatures of the afternoon made sure we were sweating bucketloads by the time we reached the clearing at the top.

img_4533

No view for us but hey! We reached the top and that, to me, was quite an accomplishment.

img_4527

It was just after midday when we reached the peak, which meant that it took us about an hour half to get to the top.

img_4534

We cooled down and spent a while there hoping that the haunting mist would clear but it stubbornly stayed.

img_4536

We left after rehydrating ourselves and downing a banana each, but chose to take a different route home instead of scaling down the slippery slopes that we had clambered up. This path was less trying but longer, and with hardly anyone walking those tracks, there were periods where it almost felt as though we were the only ones around for miles on end. Thank God for GoogleMaps and to be fair, we did pass by some locals every so often who made sure to check that we weren’t lost.

Just shortly before we reached the railway tracks, this old man at his back garden insisted we were following the wrong path and then hopped barefoot out to lead us ‘the shorter way’ back. It involved walking along lots of vegetation that crowded the barely-visible path and at one point, I walked out back onto a clearing and looked down to see these really gross leeches on my shoes, and one hanging on my ankle. Luckily, no blood was lost as I squealed and had Flo and the man pick them all off of me. After crossing two slim iron planks that ran over a narrow stream, we were at the railway tracks once more. The old man asked for some money but we told him we had none. I felt bad but we didn’t ask him for help and many times, we told him we were ok to go alone but he kept trudging on ahead. Anyway, things didn’t get ugly. He accepted our refusal and we went our separate ways.

The rest of the day turned out to be a very wet one. Very very wet. Flo and I cooped ourselves up in our room waiting for the rain to die down but it persisted all the way until hungry bellies got us to head into Ella Town for dinner. We were really grateful to Venura for driving us as the rain blasted away. Flo and I decided to head straight back to 360 Ella since the downpour made it near impossible to walk around and choose a different restaurant.

I chose the chapati set with fish curry – they served bone dry chicken with curry instead so I informed the server about the mix up. He returned with fish curry which was also chewy and dry. That said, the curry sauce was yummy.

img_6852

There was also a side of pol sambol and vegetable sambar which I lapped up. The sambol had a strange acidity to it so I didn’t take much of it lest it’d gone bad. The chapati were served warm but was quite thick compared to ones I’m used to.

Flo opted for the Stir-fried Chicken Noodles which were tasty. He loved the chilli sambal they provided on the side, and had to have seconds of the chilli to go with his noodles.

img_6853

Service this second time wasn’t great though. We were charged 175 rupees for coke light when their price of normal coke was only 100 rupees. It’s not that we have a problem paying more, it’s just that we weren’t informed beforehand of the higher charge for coke light, nor was there a pricing on their menu to let customers know. We queried our bill and the server told us that if we had a problem, we could mention is to their manager. We did, and he simply apologised and said that their menu wasn’t updated, and that it would be in the coming New Year.

Anyway, it’s more the principle of it that we were unhappy with. We did find out that across all the eateries in Ella Town, diet coke is generally charged at a higher price. We would have simply appreciated being told if the menu didn’t reflect that. While we didn’t return to 360 the rest of our stay, I have to admit that their food is decent and their live music is really good. So it’s definitely a nice place to chill especially when Ella’s most popular eatery – Cafe Chill, is crammed with people.