Until about a month ago, I had no plans to travel this spring. Then, one freezing cold March morning, I received an email from Yair, who's been journeying through India for the past twelve weeks. He was in Sri Lanka, he said, and it was beautiful. It was warm. He'd met incredible people; eaten unforgettable food; traveled through forests and across beaches, over mountains and through crowded, cacophonous cities. He said I'd love it. He said to come. So I did.
I arrived two weeks later. Almost immediately after I landed (at 5AM, after thirty hours of travel), we hopped on a rented scooter and rode from Colombo to the beach town of Hikkaduwa, stopping to eat breakfast and take a dip at this spectacular paradise along the way (pictured below). Before leaving, I climbed out onto the end of a palm tree for a better view; as you can see, I couldn't quite figure out how to get down, so I had to scoot my way off.
Early the next morning, after I'd (somewhat) recovered from my jet lag, we took a walk on the beach in Hikkaduwa, and were lucky enough to stumble on a group of fishermen heading out to sea. Yair valiantly helped push the boat into the water. I watched.
Since I was on the verge of sleep at nearly any given hour of the day, the first half of my visit was spent slowly making our way along the island's southern coast. We visited Galle Fort, where we circumnavigated the stone walls in the middle of a lightning storm; followed wild peacocks in the alleyways of Tangalle; and ate lunch seaside in Mirissa.
Everywhere we went, the food was unbelievable. I loved stopping for roadside roti, sampling exotic fruits, and sitting down to sprawling, multi-course meals. Breakfast, especially, was an event: pictured six photos down are string hoppers, one of my favorite Sri Lankan discoveries. String hoppers are stacks of small, flat pancakes made of rice noodles. We ate them with fish curry, dhal, and an amazing spicy garnish called coconut sambol.
Five days in, we headed into the mountains. We rode through rice paddies at sunrise and hiked to waterfalls hidden in the hills on the way. (There I am below, hiking in a dress - the only way I know how! Also, note the cow we spotted in the countryside one afternoon, with a perfect heart patch on her rear.)
This picture was taken on a particularly windy day, on a mountainside by the train tracks in Haputale. I love how Yair looks like part of the foliage, and the way that triangular tree in the background resembles some sort of ruin. The next day, we'd travel to Kitugala, which is best-known as the site where The Bridge on the River Kwai was filmed. We stayed one night in a tent by the river, reading and going for swims in the bracing current.
I'll never forget the sunrises and sunsets we saw each day. Photographs don't do them justice - no one will believe these are real, we found ourselves saying.
The photos below are of our trip to the Sinharaja Forest Reserve, where Yair was able to climb monstrous jungle vines to his heart's content, and where I was able to learn bits and pieces about Ayurvedic medicine. At one point, our tour guide plucked a snail off the side of a tree and offered to pour its juices into my ear. "Good for ear aches," he explained, though I politely declined.
Lastly, though our time on public transit was brief, I wanted to share these shots of the beautiful train we rode in the mountains midway through my trip. We took it only one stop, but I loved the opportunity to see the landscape - blanketed in endless rows of tea - from the blustery side door of a train car.
-Watching surfers conquer waves in Hikkaduwa. The area is touristy, but I loved its beach-town vibe. Sit on the sand, order hot ginger tea, people-watch to your heart's content.
-Stumbling on a cricket match in Tangalle and exploring the markets in town afterward. We stayed in a cabana at the Cinnabar Resort here for two days, which was one of my favorite finds - and just $15 a night. They even have a treehouse available for booking (alas, when we were there, it was occupied).
-Taking in the amazing views at the Leisure Mount View Holiday Inn in beautiful Haputale. Hashan, our host, cooked us massive, delicious meals, including an absolutely mind-blowing pumpkin curry. Lucky for me, I left with the recipe.
-Hiking in the Sinharaja Forest Reserve. We stayed at Rainforest View, which was located near one of the entrances of the forest.
-And, last but certainly not least: eating, of course. Try kothu roti, string hoppers, a smorgasbord of spicy curries, and buffalo curd with treacle honey. The fresh seafood and exotic fruits are also not to be missed (I had the best papaya, coconut, and mango of my life there). I also loved wandering the streets and buying snacks from local carts and vendors - I didn't always recognize what I was purchasing, but I loved just about everything. (I'll be doing a separate post on Sri Lankan snacking soon - stay tuned.)