Currently: It’s 7am and we’re in Malaysia! Just for a few hours on our way to Thailand. It’s just Ethan and I now, but more on that later. First, read about our crazy train ride to Ella!
July 8 cont’d.
We got our tickets for the train in second class, but we knew that wouldn’t guarantee us seats as the trains are always overbooked and overcrowded unless you buy 1st class. When we got to the platform, it was literally completely filled with white tourists. It’s the most white people I think we’ve seen on the whole trip! This train ride is the most popular one in all of Sri Lanka because of the views of the mountains. We had no idea just how popular it was. There was no way we were getting a seat!
The train pulled up on time and we scrambled on only to be disappointed because the seats were already full. We shuffled around trying to figure out where it would be most comfortable to stand. We ended up in the doorway area with a couple other people. As the train left this Sri Lankan guy stumbled his way to the doorway slamming into me as we went. I immediately realized he was drunk because he smelled like a bottle of whiskey. He was mumbling and could barely see straight, but he sat down in the doorway with his legs hanging out. It took all of 30 seconds for his upper half to slump over and in 30 more seconds, he was passed out completely on the floor. We were all a little shocked and couldn’t help but laugh, but there was no way that was a safe place for this guy.
There was another local guy there who helped us shuffle him to a safer position and Ethan and Emily took his spot in the doorway with their feet hanging out. I stood closer to the other door for most of the trip, watching the drunk man slump over onto Ethan’s back and then eventually pass out again sprawled out in the hallway. The views were pretty great on the train, but I’m not sure the uncomfortableness was worth it. It took about 3 hours, but we finally made it to Ella.
Upon leaving the train there were more people waiting to tell us about their guesthouses and all that, but the town is teeny tiny so we decided to just walk. The first place we tried was too expensive so we started heading back toward one that was near the train station. As we walked this older lady approached and in very broken English asked if we needed a room. We said yes, and she said that she had a place for us. We assumed she was taking us to a guesthouse, but we ended up back on the road to the train station. We were all super confused then she led us into a small house. She was pointing to some rooms and saying a bunch of stuff we couldn’t understand then I asked “is this your house?” She said, “Yes! Homestay!” We all kind of looked at each other and decided we could check out her rooms. She had two rooms available, but one of them had room for the three of us. We asked her if she had wifi and after realizing it wasn’t plugged in she got an extension cord and once it was on, it worked great. We weren’t really sure what to do and I think we kinda of felt bad because it seemed like she was excited to have guests. We decided we could do at least one night and maybe move if we decided to stay in Ella one more night.
We dropped our stuff then told her we were leaving to get dinner. She launched into a pitch for her to make us dinner that we all could barely understand, but it was going to cost twice as much as we normally spend on dinner and there was a good chance I wouldn’t even like it. We said no and explained that we wanted to see the town and that we were going on a short hike, but I think she was super disappointed. It was awkward. We found a place to get some food, then headed out for Little Adam’s Peak. “Big” Adam’s Peak is a popular, but long hike up a mountain that many Sri Lankan’s do as a spiritual pilgrimage. I’m not sure why this one is called Little Adam’s peak, but I’m glad we were only doing this one as it was only going to take a couple hours instead of the 4-5 hours it takes to do the other one.
The “hike” is mostly along a road and the very last part is up some rather steep stairs. We missed the turn for the stairs and ended up taking a trail created by one of the guesthouses. The trail takes you out to their helipad, which was cool, but I have no idea why they have one. Maybe helicopter tours? Anyway, we eventually made it back on the right path and found the stairs. After some huffing and puffing we made it to the top just after the sunset. It was super windy, but beautiful and we stayed up there for a while taking pictures and taking in the scenery.
July 9. We woke up kind of early so we could do another hike and since the lady was so persistent we agreed to let her make us breakfast. Well, apparently she wasn’t in the mood to wait for us to get around because she made it and then set it on the table before we were ready. By the time we came out it was cold and gross. I managed to gulp down 3/4 of the banana pancake and some weird roti thing. She had also made some chapati, which is like a thick tortilla, but it was hard as a brick by the time I got to it. I worked my way through half of it then gave up. Emily barely ate her food and I think the lady was mad, but it was really gross and she shouldn’t have made it so early!
We got a late start and it was already super hot. The first part of this hike is along the railroad tracks, which was kind of cool but also a little terrifying. No trains came though and we made it to our turn off that took us over a bridge then up into the brush. There were a bunch of guides by the turn off, but we thought we had good enough directions not to need one. We headed out onto a path only to have it immediately fork to the left. Ethan went left and came upon a guy who said to go right. So we went right, and followed that for a while until it suddenly came to a dead end. What!? We turned around and found another path that took us uphill and to more paths. It was so confusing. A local guy saw us and pointed us in what we hoped was the right direction. We followed him for a bit then realized he would probably just keep going and expect money at some point. We told him we were ok and that we needed a break and he just kind of wandered off into the jungle. Super weird.
We started discussing our next destination in Sri Lanka and it didn’t quite go well. We couldn’t agree on what to do and ended up splitting up. Ethan kept hiking and Emily and I stood and talked about what we should do. Ethan was actually not that far away but we thought he had kept going so we started walking on what we assumed was the trail, but there was no sign of him. We stopped in the shade and this European couple came along wondering if we were on the right path. We had no idea, but decided to walk with them. We told them that we were with another person who we assumed was ahead of us. Then they started telling us that they had seen a guy in a red shirt about 10 minutes back, but weren’t able to talk to him. I asked if he was wearing a red and white hat and they said yes. Crap! That was Ethan! We said thanks and wheeled around to try and find him. It only took about 5 minutes as he had started heading this way after he couldn’t find us near the spot where we had split. At that point, Em and I were too tired to continue so we headed back while Ethan kept hiking.
The walk back was just as confusing as the way up, but somehow we figured it out. A train did end up coming and we had to hustle to get to a wider place on the tracks so we didn’t get hit. Yikes! Once we got back we went to a place just down the road from the lady’s house for some smoothies. It took Ethan a long time to reach the top and make it back down and we still had to decide where to go next. Eventually, we settled on going to Uda Walawe national park for a day then heading to a beach town for two nights.
We quickly used the lady’s wifi to figure what bus we needed and headed to the end of the road to try and catch it. It took about ten minutes, but one finally rolled up and we double checked their destination and found some seats. We were all jazzed because we all had actual seats! The first bus was only about an hour then we had to get another one, but it didn’t leave for 30 minutes. While we waited this crazy guy was chatting us up and talking about how we needed to have children and that after we left Sri Lanka we would have 4 kids. He told Emily she would hate married and have two. It was the strangest encounter and all the while this younger guy was standing there just laughing and I think he was telling the guy to leave us alone. When the bus finally came the younger guy helped us put our luggage on and saved us some seats. He barely spoke any English, but he was so nice.
Uduwalawe National Park is known for its big herds of elephants. As we got close to town we crossed a dam that creates a reservoir that is surrounded by the national park. Out on a peninsula in the reservoir were about 30 elephants just hanging out. It was so cool, but we didn’t think to get off the bus because we didn’t really know where we were going. To get into the park you have to hire a jeep and a “guide” so a few minutes after we saw the elephants they had us get off the bus where the jeep drivers sit and wait for tourists. We had already arranged a jeep with the hotel we were staying with though so we had to walk another had mile to get to our place. We were so annoyed.
We kept asking people and they kept saying “oh 1 kilometer more!” That happened like 5 times. We finally made it and the owner was there waiting for us as it is the low season and they weren’t expecting anyone else. We had dinner in town and went to bed early so we could wake up at 5:30 to go see some elephants!