On day six of our adventure through Sri Lanka, we left Nuwara Eliya. Our driver took us to the train station so we could take a scenic train journey from Nanu Oya to Ella. Sigh. Another train. I feel like every vacation I have had in the last two years has involved a train ride. However, this was only going to be a 2.5 hour train trip, so I figured I could handle it.
Our driver escorted us into the train, found us a compartment to sit in, and waved his goodbyes. He told me to look for him at the Ella station in about 2.5 hours. The compartment we were in quickly filled up with a bunch of children (possibly a field trip?), so it was Kassandra, me, about 40 boys, and a few teacher chaperones. The four boys sitting next to us were absolutely adorable. I loved watching how they carefully rationed the crackers their teacher had given them as a snack. They didn’t say much to us – their English was not as strong as the boys buying ice cream the day before. They just sat there eyeing us quizzically. They all fell asleep within ten minutes of the train ride.
After about 30 minutes, the children got off at their stop and new people filter in. We had a mix of people sitting next to us. They would stay for awhile and get off at different stops. I had more fun watching the various people coming and going than viewing the outside nature.
You might be wondering how many people could we possibly have seen during a 2.5 hour trip. Well, it ended up being a 5 hour train ride. The last 2.5 hours of it spent in constant anxiety that I would miss our station. Not all of the stations very clearly marked, so I keep stressing out that I had missed our station.
When we finally arrived in Ella, I was quite relieved to see our driver patiently waiting for us. Another reminder that all transportation in Sri Lanka takes longer than expected. On our way to Tissamaharama, we stopped to see the Rawana waterfalls and then to have lunch.
After more and more driving – that was after all the theme of this vacation, we made it to Tissamaharama and checked into the Priyankara hotel. Between the train trip and the long car ride, we were exhausted and went to bed fairly early to rest up before our 4am wake up time to go to the Yala National Park.
At Yala National Park, we drove around in jeeps in search of animals in their natural habitat. Some of the animals that we saw included water buffalo, crocodiles, spotted deer, numerous kinds of birds, wild boars, monkeys, and elephants.
The tour guide was determined to find us a Sri Lankan leopard for us to view and photograph. We drove around in circles asking other tour guides, who were also looking for the elusive leopards, if there had been any sightings. Unfortunately the closest we came to spotting the leopards was finding these paw prints in the dirt, oh and the sign that says to report people disturbing the animals.
After Yala National Park, we had time to take a quick shower back at the hotel. The upside was that at least there was some water, but the downside was that the water pressure was basically non-existent.
It was at this point that I started not feeling very well. Actually even the night before Yala, I wasn’t feeling all that great, but I chalked it up to the ongoing headache that I hadn’t been able to shake for several weeks (and while we are at it, I still have this headache three months later – if anyone has a magical cure, please let me know). So, when our driver tried to get us to go see the Galle Dutch Fort and the Weligama Stilt Fishing on the way to Hikkaduwa, I didn’t even try to persuade Kassandra. I just told the driver no. It was also at this point that the driver stopped hiding his slight annoyance that I didn’t want to do many of the typical tourist things. He did force me to stop and take a picture of the boats, which was probably a good decision since it was quite pretty.
We checked into the Chaaya Tranz Hotel in Hikkaduwa just in time for me to never want to leave the comforts of our hotel room. I mean really, why would I want to leave when there was a bathroom two feet away? That’s basically where I spent the last three days of our vacation. The good news is that this hotel had a working shower. Well, it worked as long as we held the spray hose and didn’t use the overhead fountain part of the shower. At this point of our trip, I didn’t mind holding the spray hose since it meant actually being able to wash my hair. The hotel also had a nice buffet, but unfortunately thanks to my upset stomach, I wasn’t really able to enjoy any of it.
We had an incredible view from our hotel room, and I was able to enjoy it while reading a book on the balcony. Every morning, two sea turtles would show up along the beach. I managed to make my way down to the water on our last day to take a picture of them.
And then before I knew it, the ten day vacation was over and it was time to head back to Abu Dhabi. After every vacation, I like to take some time to reflect on what I learned from the experience. With this vacation, I realized that for as much as I have complained about getting lost and not having a clue what I am doing on a trip, I need a little bit of that. This vacation was so structured that I feel like I missed out on really experience the true essence of Sri Lanka. Yes, it was nice not worrying about anything or roaming the streets lost, but at the same time we didn’t have much of a chance to stumble upon something unexpected. I think it is the unexpected that creates the memories that will last a lifetime. So when I got back from this vacation, and my friends and coworkers asked how it was, I just replied with – it was ok – been there, done that, don’t feel the need to do it again.