Archive for February 24th, 2012

February 24, 2012

A Trailstar, a dog and no real plan

by backpackingbongos

A pile of kit sits by the front door, including a rucksack complete with the necessary items for an overnighter.  Reuben keeps on sniffing his pack which is full of luxuries such as a smelly blanket and meaty sticks.  Another couple of bags are full of coal and wood.

I don’t really have a full plan as to do with all that stuff to be honest.  All I do know is that I fancy a night wild camping somewhere very remote in my trailstar followed by a night in a bothy.  I think I’m coming down with a cold so nothing heroic, just the act of being outside for a couple of days.

I’m gonna point the car in the direction of mid Wales.

A couple of days where I will make up the rules as I go along.

February 24, 2012

Salty beach bums in Sri Lanka

by backpackingbongos

The time had come after being wedged into my seat for six hours.  The slackening of the face, the jerking forward of the head and the drool on the chin.  I finally fell asleep.  Unfortunately almost as soon as this minor miracle happened the airplane cabin lights came on and a steward ceremoniously woke me up and presented me with curry for breakfast.  It was 3.30am.  Sadly the economy class ordeal still had another six hours to run.

I find arriving far from home after a long haul flight satisfyingly bewildering.  We just about managed to keep our wits about us whilst replacing familiar money to that with many digits.  We then stepped outside into a tropical world.  The cold and monochrome of the UK was replaced by heat, humidity and vivid brightness.  My jeans immediately felt like they were made of asbestos.  Thankfully our taxi had aircon to cool our nerves as we set off towards Colombo with a blaring of horns.

I should point out that Sri Lanka features quite prominently in the world’s top ten number of road fatalities.  Our guidebook was pretty keen to point out that if anything bad happened whilst in the country, it was likely to involve being squashed by a bus.  The road was in good condition, most of the cars are pretty flash, but the standard of driving on display was to be frank rather appalling.  The journey to Mount Lavinia was like being in a real life version of wacky races.

Mount Lavinia is a suburb of the capital Colombo, with its beach it was a perfect place to hole up for a couple of days to kick off the jet lag.  Our guesthouse was like something from a really posh architecture magazine.  We had a wonderful colonial style room bigger than a badminton court, dominated by a giant four-poster bed.  Our balcony opened out with views of the garden below.

Throughout our stay I kept expecting the manager to appear telling us there had been a mistake and we would be kicked out.  It was far more lovely than anything I have ever stayed in and all for the price of a Travel lodge in the UK.  Thankfully the rest of our accommodation during the two weeks was of an equally high standard.

As this is a backpacking and hiking blog I won’t go into great detail about the rest of the trip.  Sitting on a beach and then deciding on which restaurant to eat curry and drink beer does not make for particularly interesting reading.  Here are a few photos that give a general flavour of the island instead.

Unawatuna is considered to be the most popular beach for independent travellers.  Usually the sea in Sri Lanka is too rough for swimming with strong currents.  However here there is a crescent-shaped bay meaning the warm waters are safe.  It is still far from being a tropical paradise due to the huge amount of accommodation jammed right up to the beach front.  However it was pretty chilled and with excellent restaurants a good place to while away a few days.

In Sri Lanka you are never very far away from one of the street dogs.  There were many heartbreaking sights, although this one sheltering on the beach looked happy and healthy enough.

The city of Galle is a good place to escape the beaches.  The old fort area being a particularly chilled place to amble about and take in some colonial architecture.

Watch what they put in the soft drinks………….

My favourite place we visited was Marakolliya, an isolated beach in the far south of the country.  Access off the main road was along several kilometres of dirt road until we came to a parking area.  Previously a rudimentary ferry took you across the mangrove swamps but this has just been replaced by a wooden footbridge.  A handful of cabanas hidden among the coconut groves and a small restaurant is all that there is.  Now this is tropical paradise!

As you can see, even the restaurant was pretty low-key.

The completely deserted beach.

Minimal beachfront development.

Unfortunately the sea was too rough to swim in apart from a small rock pool.  Upon arrival we were told that under no circumstances should we go in the sea.  Some of those breakers were massive!

Behind the beach was a network of lagoons lined with mangroves.

The only light for miles at night.

The back of our cabana opened out directly onto the lagoon.  One morning this monitor lizard was right outside our door.

Several kayaks were supplied for guests to use, I spent many happy hours slowly paddling.  Whilst watching the numerous colourful birds I spent a lot of time worrying if there were crocodiles about.  I did see one huge monitor lizard slide into the water which got my heart beating.

As a break from the beaches we spent three nights at a guest house located on a cinnamon plantation.  We were the only guests which made for a strange atmosphere as the place had a large amount of staff.  Everywhere you went they were lurking in the shadows ready to be of assistance.  The made to order curries in the evening were simply divine.  I can highly recommend garlic curry if you ever go to Sri Lanka!

A few minutes walk from our guest house was a villa which is available to rent for $850 a night.  It was empty so we were able to avail ourselves of the facilities for free, which I have to say were rather top-notch.  Somehow it felt wrong sitting in loungers next to a pool we had all to ourselves!

The dirt track through the cinnamon plantations to our guesthouse.

Views across the lush landscape.

One evening as the full moon rose the air was filled with music and chanting from the temples below.

We were then treated to an amazing natural light show.

I noticed that the courtyard walls of our guesthouse was covered in these perfectly camouflaged spiders.

Late one night I have to admit that I had to request assistance from one of the ‘house boys’ to remove a spider from our room.  Seriously it was one big spider!

We spent our last night at Negombo which is a very shabby beach resort to the north of Colombo, a short journey from the airport.  This was the only place we visited that had a real Sri Lankan flavour.  Being Saturday the beach was packed with locals who had come from the city to enjoy the sunset.  A fine end to a very chilled fortnight.

It was fun watching these lads watching two young and pretty tourists in their swimwear!