Ratnapura, Haputale, Nuwara Eliya, Arugam Bay and Uppuveli Thurs. 18 – Thurs. 25 August 2011
First stop on the route was Ratnapura or "City of Gems" a very green tropical town which has long been a centre for the trading of (you've guessed it!) gemstones.
As ever we left Colombo later than planned so it was already nearly dark when we got there. auspicious day to get married!) they tucked us out of the way behind the staff accommodation (presumably so we wouldn't blight the wedding pictures!) where we tied our shower tent to the vintage Morris Minor which was awaiting restoration. Great spot with a lovely view down over the town, very atmospheric -all rotating ceiling fans and wooden floors. See details of this and other government run hotels in the region on their site www.resthousechain.info
We'd done a bit of research about where to park and headed straight (after a couple of stops to ask directions) to the government owned Ratnapura Resthouse. A faded colonial mansion this was a great spot to camp. As there was a wedding party the next day (another auspicious day to get married!) they tucked us out of the way behind the staff accommodation (presumably so we wouldn't blight the wedding pictures!) where we tied our shower tent to the vintage Morris Minor which was awaiting restoration. Great spot with a lovely view down over the town, very atmospheric -all rotating ceiling fans and wooden floors. See details of this and other government run hotels in the region on their sitewww.resthousechain.info
Next morning the drive on towards Haputale the hub of "tea country" was very scenic starting to climb up into the hills. We stopped off to buy a bottle of local honey which was decanted into Arrack bottles- hopefully they washed them first!
Haputable stands at 1580 metres and has a pleasantly cool climate and stunning views over the tea plantations and rolling hills to left and right. century. Most of them are Hindu and the green plantations are dotted with brightly coloured southern Indian style temples, though the missionaries also made some headway amongst the tea workers and you see quite a few Christian statues too.
Its population is largely Tamil, the descendants of the tea workers or "Plantation Tamils" brought over by the British from the 19 century. Most of them are Hindu and the green plantations are dotted with brightly coloured southern Indian style temples, though the missionaries also made some headway amongst the tea workers and you see quite a few Christian statues too.
This was the area where Thomas Lipton first began planting tea and we took a drive up to "Lipton's Seat" a scenic look out which marks the spot where the great man allegedly once sat and surveyed his empire.
It was a gorgeous drive winding up past the homes of the tea workers, and the managers' bungalows with beautifully manicured rolling carpets of tea on either side.
We've been to quite a few tea areas now on our trip and we both agreed that these were the most stunning to date in terms of scenery.
The climb grew increasing steep and we had to walk the last half Km or so as the track was still being constructed but the view up there made it worthwhile. A lovely area with lots of walks it'd have been nice to stay a bit longer but we decided to press on to Nuwara Eliya our next destination.
Nuwara Eliya is commonly known as "Little England" and the temperature certainly feels more like old Blighty - we'd now climbed to 1889 metres and it actually felt a bit chilly. We'd done away with the duvets (stored underneath the truck ) and were just sleeping under a sheet but that night we dug out our sleeping bags. There didn't look like anywhere ideal for camping at first sight - all floodlit parking areas - and we decided to try the Grand Hotel the place to stay in town on the basis that these fancy places often have good sized parking.
We had to wait a while in reception whilst the decision was taken, but eventually the "Front Office Executive" Ms. Annemarie Aluthgamage - agreed we could camp in their "lower car park' "but" she said eyeing our dusty shorts beneath a raised eye brow "we do have a dinner dress code." Actually it wasn't too bad just long pants, jeans were fine, so we had to dig those out -first time we'd worn them in ages. We went to the Coffee Shop restaurant and it was lovely -if a bit more pricey than we're used to.
Unfortunately it wasn't a great night's sleep. Well it started well - a lovely quiet spot we showered and went to sleep only to be woken up several times by concerned security guards ..it seems our permission hadn't filtered through, and they kept telling us we weren't allowed to be there.
Eventually they brought the (English speaking) night manager and we managed to convince him we were "licensed to park" so finally we were left alone. Unfortunately by this point we were so wide awake that we couldn't get off to sleep again for hours! A good parking spot but definitely speak to management and make them convey orders down the line if you don't want a broken night's sleep! See their site on www.tangerinehotels.com We were surprised next morning to find ourselves parked overlooking a beautifully 18 hole golf course. We were sleeping between an avenue of 200 year old spruces. There was a big sign saying that parking was at your own risk due to the danger of falling branches -but luckily we didn't see it until the next morning!
We decided to miss breakfast as it was very pricey and just had a coffee -which at 850 LKR was more than we usually pay for breakfast! Should have asked first and we wouldn't have bothered. Definitely pricier to travel at this level! We went into town where had a great breakfast of egg hoppers for half the price of 1 coffee!
The town centre did have an "English" feel - an old fashioned pink post office, some grand old colonial style buildings on the high street, the old clock tower and of course the ongoing threat of rain and incoming clouds! Good English veggies grown in the area, as well as a few rose gardens all to make the pioneers of tea and rubber feel at home! There is a whole industry supplying cheap wet weather gear here -we went through a market where Andrew was offered a Colombo jacket for just $10 Aus.…bargain! We've already got our North Fake specials from Nepal though.
We had a quick look at the Hill Club before we left. Next door to the Grand this place wasn't as slick but was a real piece of history. We had been going to try to camp there but they have a strict dress code for dinner (shirt and tie) so we decided against. A members' only club still it only allowed British males in until 1970!! Now you can become a temporary member for 100LKR and -ye gads!!- ladies are even admitted a very shocking development of just a few years ago, though it still has the feel of another century. We drove in one gate and out the other to take some pictures -lovely gardens. Apparently membership conveys reciprocal membership rights with a few London clubs. You can just imagine all the Brits donning ties and heading down for a 5 course roast beef dinner after a day on the tea/rubber/coffee plantations!
We had a big drive ahead of us to hit the coast and so by midmorning we set off driving first to Badulla. This part of the drive was slow progress -with a great deal of road works ongoing. Apparently now the war has really ended a great deal of effort is going into improving all the roads to help boost tourism to all these areas.
Once we hit the A4 heading out to the coast progress was easier. We really felt we'd left the hills behind-we'd started off that morning in jeans and long sleeves and had to stop to change as the sticky humidity of the plains returned. The scenery here was hugely different -dry savannah -like expanses looking like Africa. Appropriately enough we then saw an elephant crossing warning sign. Late afternoon would have been about the right time for the herd to be heading home -but sadly we didn't see them!
So -again we hit the surf spot of Arugam Bay. After asking at a couple (one wanted more than rooms cost just for us to park -more tourist savvy /greedy here!) we found a very nice place to pull up just across the road from the surf break making Andrew very happy!
A family home Chandrapala Place has just a few basic cabanas sharing toilet and shower facilities which we were also welcome to use. Cabanas cost 500 LKR and we paid the bargain price of 200. Nice spot.
As I type on Tuesday 23 August Andrew has enjoyed a few days surfing. The waves have dropped off now- from 4 foot yesterday to 1 foot now. Whilst it's not a view to express in front of the diehard surfers that we now live amongst (a real racial mixture predominantly Israelis, but lots of South American, Europeans and Aussies too) I am quite pleased and had a good swim today-usually it's way too boisterous out there for me! Tomorrow we head off to another beach at Trincomalee (Trinco) enroute to Jaffna where we hope to go to the climax of the huge Hindu festival there featuring juggernauts and self-mutilation. Gruesome but fascinating!
Update:We drove on up the coast and had just one night at Uppuvelli a beach resort just north of Trincomalee. It was fairly dark when we got there and we just headed straight to the area with a number of cheap little guesthouses right on the beach which is where we stayed last year when we came without the car.
Thankfully they let us camp there and we had a good fish dinner on the beach. As we didn't want to miss the "big day" in the Jaffna festival we only had time for a quick swim before heading off the next morning.
I love this stretch of coast, as it was until recently the centre of war hostilities it's still completely unspoilt by tourism, and with clear calm sea and soft sand it's perfect for swimming. We'll definitely stop here on the way back down but for now -on the morning of Thursday 25 August -we begin the drive north towards Jaffna.