Leaving my castle in the sky – the ethereal, cool, meandering trails through tea plantations in the Sri Lankan Highlands, I decided to head down and East, to the surfer hangout of Aragum Bay, and then beach hop my way around the Southern Coast back to Colombo.
Sri Lanka is about the size of Otago and Southland, with a population of 20 million. It seemed to me to be a bountiful paradise. Fresh produce stalls dot the roadsides in a rainbow kaleidoscope of color. I’m sure there is an element of poverty, but in the areas I visited, by and large people seemed relaxed and to have a pretty good standard of living. The gap between the rich and poor in rural areas didn’t seem too vast, especially compared with the rude shock of northern India to come. Due to the high population, I was never far from anyone, houses, or roadside stalls. Except through the national parks.
Apparently 50 people die each year by Elephants. AND Adrenalin is a good cure for Sri Lankan coconut rum hangovers.
I had happily coasted down from the highlands towards the East Coast. I got quite a shock as I left the last few villages which were fortified with 10ft high barbed wire fences, and rolled through an eerie National Park. There were ‘Caution, Elephant’ signs, but all I saw was the occasional steaming mountain of elephant shit in the middle of the road. Eek, I understand cows, dogs, earthquakes, avalanches and even penguins, but not elephants.
From my Diary: Anyway my current problem is that Aragum Bay is a one way in, one way out kinda place, so today is devoted to finding out:
1) How dangerous are wild elephants?
2) How easy is it to get me and my bike on the back of a truck?
After considerable talk with the locals who mostly were adamant that I would see Elephants (as they were trying to sell me a tour), I was assured that Elephants are not out in the morning. So I decided to ride – AND SAW 2 WILD ELEPHANTS about 50m from the road! They weren’t bothered by me at all, just kept munching and spraying themselves! My legs were a blur, and my hangover momentarily cured!
The area around Aragum Bay had been heavily affected by the civil war, and only recently had tourists started to trickle back in – primarily eclectic surfers hunting for waves and cheap living. The East Coast had also been hit hard by the Boxing Day Tsunami. It seemed that the harder the civil war hit, the slower the recovery after the Tsunami, and there was a considerable legacy of abandoned flattened houses. Disaster recovery is so complex (speaking from post quake Christchurch), but add Civil war to the mix and well……
Beyond my wild elephant run-ins (there was more than one), life was real tough. I beach hoped my way around the coast back to Colombo. I’d cycle in the morning, and swim in the afternoon. I’ve never been to Europe, but spending a few days in Galle which was my slice of Europe. Galle is a beautiful 16th century Portuguese fort city, full of expats, art, coffee and dotted with Buddhist temples, lighthouses and mosques. I’m sure I could have become the muse of some expat artist and sipped wine in a hammock under palm fronds for the rest of my days. Ahhh too much time in the imagination of my brain while peddling a bicycle…