A Travellerspoint blog

Day 10, 11 and 12 - Ella

Heading north in Sri Lanka

sunny 85 °F

16 April 2017

We left Tissa and Shiraz (the manager at Ainur Lanka) arranged for a driver to take us to Ella. Train travel from here isn't practical (more like non existent) and with the holiday, neither is the bus. It's a little more expensive but we're not splurging on a lot of other things so might as well be for comfort.

Traffic into Ella was steady. It was Sunday and I think everyone in Sri Lanka is on holiday. Our driver had the address to our guesthouse - Dinaro. He had to ask a couple tuk tuk drivers for directions but we were shortly taking a right off of Main Street. Up a narrow road and right onto a dirt road ..and then a left on a smaller dirt road. Our driver was determined to get us to our destination. I would have dropped us off and told us to walk. We finally found the sign to our guesthouse and then it was out of the van and a short walk up a steep dirt path.
The road up to Dinaro

The road up to Dinaro

At the top of the hill, ahead of us we saw an older building that looked like it needed some work and nothing like the pictures on Booking.com. Luckily, that wasn't ours - our guesthouse was the building next door.

As we rounded the cement brick wall, out of one of the two rooms came came our host. His English is sparse but his smile brilliant. "I finish cleaning"...no worries, the chairs on the front porch are comfortable. We'll wait.

Dinaro Guest

Dinaro Guest

Staying in Dinaro, we're definitely away from the tourist area. Ella, we discover, is pretty much a tourist town but for SriLankans and foreigners alike.
Chaminda finished cleaning and we settled in our rooms - queen sized beds, super clean bathroom, fan and mosquito netting. Breakfast is an additional $3 per day per person. We're handed a menu for the next morning. Five choices, of which four are pure Sri Lankan - just how we like it.
With bags secured, we head towards town with a quick stop at the train station to get information on trains leaving for Nuwara Eliya on the 19th. We're told that all 2nd class seats are sold out but there are first class seats for 1000Rp ($6.50), we grab them. I inquire about seats from Nuwara Eliya to Kandy (actually from the train station outside town - Nanu Oya) but am told I'll have to check at the train station there when we arrive.
Tickets in hand we head towards Ella for a late lunch. Downtown Roti Hut looks good. Seats upstairs on the 3rd floor with a great breeze and overlooking the street below. Masala Dosa for me, Jim had rice and curry (wrapped in a banana leaf) and Brenda had vegetable Kottu ( spicy chopped, stir fried roti with veggies) and a couple cold Lion beers. This will more than last us the day.

Rice and Curry - Jim's favorite

Rice and Curry - Jim's favorite

Masala Dosa

Masala Dosa

Downtown Roti Hut

Downtown Roti Hut

It's Sunday, so most of the shops are closed. We wander back up the hill. Jim and Brenda's cribbage competition continues.

17 April 2017

Great night sleep. Our plan was hike Little Adam's Peak and we wanted to get an early start so we asked for breakfast at 0730. Breakfast was delivered right on time, by a woman and her daughter who live down the road. Both smiled and waved as they passed the dishes through the barbed wire fence to Chaminda.

Wonderful way to start the day........

We headed out about 0800, starting with a walk into town (about 10 minutes), down the road and up the other main road towards the trailhead. Actually, it was up and up and then once we hit the trailhead it was up some more until we arrived at a stone staircase. And then it was up again to the summit. Beautiful vista from a couple different levels. We chatted with a couple (Liz - or maybe Lisa -Brenda and I heard two different names) and Simon from the UK) for a bit and realized we'd all be heading towards the same direction - Nine Arches Bridge. The USA - UK contingent was formed. We hiked back down the staircase and out the trail to the road, took a right and it was up and up and up again. With the help of another couple was found a shortcut, down a dirt path and we were very lucky that we did. The trail narrowed to a footpath running behind a small house and out to a dirt yard. We came around the house and found a few seats, a ramada and the most beautiful unobstructed view of the bridge. The young men living there had transformed this spot into an nice little rest, observation area - complete with tea, coffee and snacks. I decided since we are in Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon), it was time for a tea break.

View from Little Adam's Peak

View from Little Adam's Peak

Nine Arches Bridge (lover view)

Nine Arches Bridge (lover view)

A spot of tea above the tracks

A spot of tea above the tracks

Nine Arches Bridge (upper view)

Nine Arches Bridge (upper view)


Waiting for the train from this level was great. Once it passed, we scaled down a very narrow, steep path to the railroad tracks. Once the train passed another one does doesn't come along for a few hours so many people walk the tracks towards the train station just outside town. It was a long, hot walk. With thirst and hunger quenching first on all our list it was into town for lunch.

When we finally got back to Dinaro - my pedometer read 20K+ steps. I think I earned that beer.

18 April 2017

Breakfast was again a masterpiece. Over the last couple of days we've tried everything on the menu: string hoppers, hoppers, potato curry, curried dal, rice and curry and coconut roti. These dishes were always accompanied by fresh fruit (the local papaya is like none I've had before) and of course, tea.

Prior to breakfast we experienced a little surprise. Upon first opening our door I notice one of the men from next door walking into the yard with a piece of cloth and a long stick....no idea what he was up to. Well.....he proceeded to use the cloth on his feet to assist him to climb the very tall, very thin tree and when he got almost to the top - with the stick - wacked down a bunch of betel nuts....and then slide right back down the tree. Regarding betel nuts - they are used by many people in SEAsia as a "mood enhancer" but in reality it's really bad for you - is known to cause oral and esophageal cancer. I think I'll pass.

Amazing as it may seem, we have not shopped at all on this trip so we decide to see what the shops have to offer. Being a tea growing region, Jim, of course, is headed to the tea shop. Brenda and I notice a little shop on the way down from Dinaro but first...try to find Ella Spice Garden to see if they have openings for their cooking class.

With Jim off on his tea hurt, Brenda and I finally find Ella Spice Garden. The sign (hiding in plain site) took us down an alley, up a hill and through an ornate gate into a beautiful, multi-level spice garden. We talk with the owners father and find out that there is only one space available. I encourage Brenda to take it - I'm hoping for a yummy meal Sri Lankan meal the next time we visit Chandler :-).

Mission accomplished we gather Jim and head back to Dinaro, but not before stopping at ........Brass shop. They have some nice souvenirs and some unique items. Jim likes quirky reminders of our trip - his acquisition is an old (antique) metal betel nut cutter. I inquire as to whether we will have problem with customs to which Madu (the owner) responds, "oh, it's not that old!". I had to laugh. After a short English lesson and a few purchases, we head up the hill.

Brenda spent the evening at class and Jim and I watched the passing crowds from the upper level of Downtown Roti Hut.

Our time in Ella and especially staying at Dinaro was lovely....Tomorrow we're taking the train to Nuwara Eliya (train stop Nanu Oya) for a quick one night stop.

Posted by pjburke 03:56 Archived in Sri Lanka Comments (1)

Day 8 and 9 - Off to Tissa and Yala National Park

.....and Happy New Year!!!Off to Tissa and Big Game Hunting ....with a camera, of course

semi-overcast 92 °F

14 April 2017

Happy New Year!!!!

My first wake up call this morning was about 0330, to the sound of CHOP......CHOP....CHOP. Is someone chopping wood or fish - no clue.

I drift back to sleep. And then about 0530...BOOM, BOOM, BOOM - over and over. Fireworks...all over town. I head out to the balcony and find Brenda already there. There is the remnants of smoke and sulfur in the air and sound of bottle rockets flying into the air. We find out that this is the traditional time for fireworks on Sinhalese New Year. I think I'm a little partial to midnight!!

No going back to sleep this time! Breakfast is scheduled for 0830 which gives us time to pack and get ready to leave.

Breakfast this morning is a masterpiece: All of our favorites along with milk rice and more New Years specialities.

New Years Breakfast - Mirissa Harbour View

New Years Breakfast - Mirissa Harbour View

Our driver has arrived and with a tear or two, we say good-bye to Mama, Papa and Sujani. We wish them well but no goodbyes - just - "until we meet again".

Mama, Papa and Sujani

Mama, Papa and Sujani

Traffic is very light due to the holiday and we make it to Tissa (Tissamaharama) in about 2 1/2 hours, arriving at our next stop - Ainur Lanka Resort www.ainurlankaresort.com We are greeted with a refreshing fruit drink by Shiraz the resort manager. He is our contact with Sujani. Through the glass windows is the inviting site of a large swimming pool.
Glimpse from our porch - Ainur Lanka

Glimpse from our porch - Ainur Lanka

Our room - Ainur Lanka

Our room - Ainur Lanka

Outside our room at Ainur Lanka

Outside our room at Ainur Lanka

Being a holiday, many things are closed so this will be a down day for us - a little nap, pool time and dinner. Similar to holidays at home. Tomorrow we're off to Yala National Park for a morning safari.

15 April 2017

Again, an early morning. Up at 0500 for a 0515 pick up. Shiraz is there to hand us off to our driver Madu. There is a German family also staying at the hotel who will be going but they have five people so the three of us have our own jeep. Not sure what the price normally is but Sujani arranged for $150US (entrance included) for the three of us. The Jeep is comfortable and more than enough room for just three. Off we go.

Our chariot awaits..

Our chariot awaits..

Jim getting ready for his Safari Adventure - Yala National Park

Jim getting ready for his Safari Adventure - Yala National Park

Our first stop is the ticket office for the park. We're not the first ones there. Many jeeps and many tourists line the road and fill the dirt parking areas. This is still the holiday weekend so it looks like a lot of Sri Lankans are on holiday. Madu leaves us to stand in line to get the entrance ticket. We wander, buy some water and observe while one of the local monkeys slyly steals a candy bar from the inside seat of one of the jeeps. He was so quick and then sat in the tree right above the jeep and ate the bar - fearlessly.

Madu is back with Sonica (a park guide) and we're off. It's almost like jockeying for position. There is about a 15 minute ride down a very bumpy road to get into the heart of the park but Madu stops and shows us wildlife along the way. We spent the next four hours, sometimes with other jeeps and sometimes alone - observing the wildlife and the scenery. I think the pictures will tell the story. There was one beachside stop for a bathroom break (good facilities), for a walk on the beautiful beach and to observe what used to be a building that was decimated during the 2004 tsunami. There is a memorial for the 47 people who died the 26th of December 2017 at that spot. Strangely, it has been documented that, prior to the tsunami hitting this area, many of the animals headed into the park. A study by National Geographic reported that the only animals to die that day were two water buffalos.
Memorial to those that died in 2004 Tsunami

Memorial to those that died in 2004 Tsunami

[right]The Beach off Yala

The Beach off Yala

The First Group of Elephants

The First Group of Elephants

[/right]Mom and Baby in Yala National Park

Mom and Baby in Yala National Park

The road is really bumpy and the ride exhilarating and exhausting. Our safari ends about 1100 and we were greeted again by Shiraz with a tasty brunch.
Shiraz has become a great resource and just a "good guy" to talk to. The hotel is fairly new and owned (for now) by a couple from Kazakhstan. It seems that Shiraz has had the same problem as Surf View in Mirissa - on holidays - workers just don't show up. He's been wearing all the hats this weekend...but always with a smile.

Note: I'm having a hard time uploading pictures. I'll work something out - maybe on shutterfly.com and post it when it's ready.

Our stay in Tissa is short and it's off to Ella tomorrow.

Posted by pjburke 07:34 Archived in Sri Lanka Comments (3)

Day 7 - Galle

Another bus adventure

rain 91 °F

13 April 2017

Off to Galle

Galle is one of the largest and oldest cities on the southern coast of Sri Lanka. One of the highlights is the Galle Fort (aka Dutch Fort) was built by the Portugese back in the mid 1500's and fortified by the Dutch in the 1700's. This area is rich in early archaeological and anthropological significance. A little info about the fort: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galle_Fort

After another one of Sunjani's wonderful breakfast, she drove Jim, Brenda and me to the bus stop and waited to make sure that we got on the right bus (100 Rp). It's New Year's Eve and the bus is crowded but after a stop or two we get seats for the hour ride into Galle.
It definitely was an interesting bus ride. Not sure if all Sri Lankan bus drivers drive like this but my thought was this guy got up on the wrong side this morning. Fast, fast, fast....STOP and start again.

Our bus ride to Galle

Our bus ride to Galle

The bus let's us out right infront of the fort and of course we were approached by a tuk tuk driver. We declined and we made our way around to the front gate. It was here were we were approached by a 2nd driver. We chatted and ended up taking him up on his offer - 2 tuk tuks - one hour. With the heat and humidity continuing, not such a bad idea.

Galle Fort Main Gate

Galle Fort Main Gate

Brenda taking the Tuk Tuk Lead

Brenda taking the Tuk Tuk Lead



Travel note: Regarding tuk tuks - in Sri Lanka there are hundreds of them. As opposed to Bangkok where they are primarily used by unsuspecting tourists, here they are used by locals and tourists alike. Just make sure that you've agreed on a price. In Colombo, some of the tuk tuks are actually metered like taxis (45 Rp per Kilometer)

Back to Galle, we tell our drivers "just highlights - no shops". Brenda was in the lead tuk tuk and for about an hour we saw a few highlights, walked a little of the fort wall, saw a Buddhist Temple and also a small museum. Jim told Brenda he wanted to get to an ATM and the driver asked Brenda if she would like to go to a non-tourist carving shop. Knowing what to expect, we said yes. We stop at an ATM inside the fort area and it had a small sign -" not available for foreigners". That was a first but of course our driver knew of another one. We head out of the Fort and into the market area. It was crazy with holiday shoppers but he found another ATM for us. Then it was on to the carving shop. It seemed like a bit of a ride but finally we arrived. Because of the holiday, the workers had off but we saw some beautiful pieces and, of course, there was a shop. One of the things that Southern Sri Lanka is famous for is their carved masks and it was something that I was going to look for. Well, I found them. I'm really not sure if got a good deal or not but I'm bringing one home. We also got to meet the main carver's family - Mom was the "money lady". From there it was back to the bus station. This is where it's always good to hold your ground. The driver asked for about 3x what is original charge was. Nope...not falling for that.
Outer areas of the Dutch Fort

Outer areas of the Dutch Fort

Galle Lighthouse

Galle Lighthouse

Inside the Fort

Inside the Fort

Outside the Buddhist Temple - Galle Fort

Outside the Buddhist Temple - Galle Fort

Reclining Buddha

Reclining Buddha

The only area of the fort destroyed by the 2004 Tsunami

The only area of the fort destroyed by the 2004 Tsunami

Our bus was there and on we went - this time we got a seat and just in time. It poured on the ride back. This driver was the total opposite of our earlier driver. By the time we made it to Mirissa, the rain had stopped. Oh yes..it was time for a beer. We made it back to our guesthouse just as it started to rain again...this time it didn't stop. In fact, it just rained harder and harder and the wind really picked up. Things started blowing around on the 2nd floor area. Not the time to sit on balcony, we were in our room when we noticed that we were starting to get water in under the door. Everything up off the floor!!! Sujani's Mom came up and we all started laying down towels. And then the thunder and lightening came....Mama did not like that at all. This woman lived through the tsunami of 2004 and was downright scared. She asked us to go downstairs into their living room until it was safe.

After about an hour - the storm passed with just a light drizzle remaining. No harm, no foul. Jim was tired but Brenda and I were hungry so with our umbrellas we headed for food. We stopped at Surf View but soon learned that most of the staff didn't show up because of the holiday so they had to close. (Don't think that would fly in the US.) So we went next door to Sea Creatures. I think they must have been the only place on the beach open - it was BUSY!!

Walking back in the light rain, sadly, I remember this is our last night in Mirissa. This is a place where three nights could have easily turned into four or five or even more.

Posted by pjburke 21:18 Archived in Sri Lanka Comments (3)

Day 6 - Mirissa

Off to see the whales

semi-overcast 91 °F

12 April 2017

Up early...again...this time for whale watching.

Sujani makes sure that we're up at 0530 so that we're ready by 0600. It's a short walk through the fish market to the outer edge of the marina area to the boat. The road into the fish market was crazy - last minute shopping for the holiday.

Our neighbor down the road

Our neighbor down the road

Interesting way to support boat in dry dock

Interesting way to support boat in dry dock

We arrive at the boat and go upstairs and are directed to cushions on the deck at the front of the boat. We are told these are the best seats. Not sure how this is going to work but we'll see.

Our boat

Our boat

Full boat

Full boat


The boat gets fuller and fuller and fuller - truthfully I was a litte concerned about over crowding. We're each given a lifejacket and asked to wear it. I notice that there are some type of police official watching each boat. Before we leave,a Coast Guard officer comes on board - I think he is checking to make sure that we all have our vests on. I'm still skeptical ...but on we go. I can swim.

A storm was predicted for today but the seas don't seem rough - thankfully. Along the way to open sea, we find a couple schools of spinner dolphins. The captain is making sure that everyone is able to see. The goal is to see whales and we do. This is a migration area for blue whales and we were lucky enough to see two or three....or the same one three times - not sure. I do have to say that the staff was great. They watched out for the young children and also for those getting seasick.
Spinners.....

Spinners.....

More spinners

More spinners

Thar she blows....our first spotting

Thar she blows....our first spotting

That's a pretty big whale

That's a pretty big whale

No breach but we got a tail....

No breach but we got a tail....


On the way back, when I could stand up, I chatted with a young man who had walked over from Sujani's with us. It turns out he is Suhil (I hope I spelled that correctly), Sujani's sister's brother in law. His English is great and I come to find out he is the chef at a sushi restaurant in Colombo. We talked all the way back...about work, life, travel. The trip back seems so much shorter - always does when you have good conversation.

Suhil.....sushi chef!!

Suhil.....sushi chef!!

Back at our guesthouse - Sujani has breakfast/brunch waiting for us. Eggs, toast, etc but this morning we were treated with fish rolls (kind of like a spicy fish egg roll with chopped hard boiled egg inside....yum..and ...we get to try the duedil. It's good - not as sweet as I thought it would be. Not sure what to compare it to - maybe heavy fudge consistency with crunchy things inside.

The heat is rising along with the humidity and a nap is in our future. A little journal work and Jim and Brenda continue their cribbage competition. It wasn't long before it started to rain, so it was dinner and an early night as we'll be off for a day trip to Galle tomorrow.

Posted by pjburke 06:04 Archived in Sri Lanka Comments (2)

Day 5 - checking out Mirissa

semi-overcast 91 °F

11 April 2017

Slept really well. The bed is very comfortable. I had read some comments on one of the websites, that indicated that there was a lot of road noise at this guesthouse. Yes, there is noise...but not a lot. Definitely didn't affect my sleeping and I'm a fairly light sleeper.

Our room at Mirissa Harbour View

Our room at Mirissa Harbour View


Mirissa Harbour View has a beautiful view of the ....harbour. It's a bit crazy here this weekend. The main fish harbour/market is just down the street and everyone is stocking up for the holiday. Also, I think, in general, with the heat in this area, people get up earlier to avoid the scorching afternoons. This road is also the route to the whale watching boats which take off every morning at 0700 but the parade of tourists starts about 0615.

View from our 2nd floor balcony

View from our 2nd floor balcony

Harbour front view

Harbour front view

Our breakfast is served on the upstairs, open air porch by the lovely Sujani. This is the home of Sujani's Mom (Mama or Sandra) and her Dad (Papa) and she is the manager. She doesn't live here but she might as well....she is always here - cooking, greeting guests, driving guests, making reservations, etc. She does it all and always with a smile.

Breakfast started with Egg Hoppers (similar to a small bowl shaped crepe with a cooked egg), a wrapped sweet with shredded coconut and honey inside, roti, plain hoppers, toast, fresh fruit, fruit juice, coffee or tea.. all for breakfast. We find, there is no need for lunch.

Breakfast - Mirissa Harbour View Style

Breakfast - Mirissa Harbour View Style

Sujani loves to chat with her guests and we talk about where we are going next. We'll be leaving here for Tissa (short for Tissamaharama) on Friday the 14th which is New Year's Day and I will need her help to secure transportation. The nation pretty much shuts down (bad planning on my part). We also discuss where we're staying and how much we're paying at our next location....her eyes widen. Ohhh No!!! Way too much.. She makes some phone calls and lets me look up the places on the internet. Both are great ,and half the price we were going to pay. I've booked our previous hotel with Booking.com so there is not a charge to cancel. I cancel and she books us in at Ainur Lanka Resort in Tissa. She also makes sure that we will get breakfast, dinner and has arranged for a safari to Yala National Park as well as arranging for a taxi to take us to Tissa. Sujani also asks if we'd like to go snorkeling that afternoon. Sure...she takes care of the reservation.

Brenda and Jim take a walk to the fish market and I work on the blog before heading out for our snorkeling trip.

Sujani drives us to Mirissa Dive Shop. The owner lets us know that there would be some fish and a turtle or two but that the coral was not in good condition. After the tsunami in 2004 the coral was smothered by sand but made a come back and then last year the water temperatures reached record highs of about 90 degrees causing coral bleaching. We decided to snorkel anyways.

Choppy but beautiful...the Indian Ocean

Choppy but beautiful...the Indian Ocean

Brenda and our snorkeling staff

Brenda and our snorkeling staff



We could tell that there was a storm coming in - the water, though beautiful, was very choppy and it was interesting getting in and out of the boat. It was an ok day. Snorkeling was not great but the three guys who swam with us worked really hard to try and show us what there was to see.

While waiting for our tuk tuk after the snorkel we noticed some ladies stirring a large wok shaped pot of "something". I made a note to ask Sujani when we got back what it was. I didn't have to wait long to find out. When we got back, Sujani and the ladies in her family were also stirring a similar pot. I find out it is a traditional sweet called duedil. Each family makes their own "special" recipe. It's a five hour process which includes continuous stirring. Duedil contains sugar, freshly grated coconut milk, rice flour and each person's special spice mixture.

Making deubil

Making deubil

Deudil - almost done

Deudil - almost done


Journal up date and then off to dinner. Back to Surf View and the surf is up - the surfers are loving the waves.

JIm and Ganga

JIm and Ganga

Posted by pjburke 05:34 Archived in Sri Lanka Comments (3)

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