After a few days lazing at the beach in Mirissa, it is time to head inland and continue our journey around Sri Lanka. Our next destination is a four-hour drive away, along windy roads from the beach town of Mirissa to Ella in the hills. We had booked in advance a large and comfortable taxi to get us there, though we started to question the glowing reviews as we waited for over an hour, but the driver eventually arrived in a nice van, mumbling something about having an accident.
We were thankful to have a comfortable van with good aircon for the trip with the hot weather. It was an uneventful drive except for Casper feeling carsick and throwing up in the van. The driver did not seem too concerned, though we did have to pay extra for cleaning.
We asked to stop for lunch on the way, and were concerned we had been taken to a typical tourist restaurant with overpriced low-quality food that paid out high commissions to the drivers. It may well have been the case, it was an expensive place (by our standards), but we decided to stay and take the opportunity to taste a few dishes from the buffet style menu that we had not tried before.
We had booked Tunnel Gap Homestay in Ella also due to the good reviews, which we quickly discovered were justified with a friendly welcome by Suthra, the owner. We were basically staying in her quaint house and she made us feel very welcome. It was only a short walk from town, but it felt like we were in the highland forest set amongst a tea plantation.
It was an easy walk into town and we decided upon dinner at Restaurant 360, mainly for the chocolate roti we spied on the menu which would be a dessert winner for the kids. Rob was also very happy to discover Indian dosai on the menu, having realised that the close proximity to southern India should mean that they would do an authentic job of decent Indian food.
The next day we walked to Little Adam’s Peak. For us with the kids, this was a much more pleasant option than the main Adam’s Peak which involves a steep hike up 5,000–6,000 steps taking many hours. The final 312 steps (yes, we counted them!) to walk up the smaller version was hard enough. It was a very pleasant day though, walking mostly up a gradual incline past magnificent views and ladies picking leaves in the tea plantations, before a steep final section to magnificent views of the countryside.
Back in Ella town we had lunch at a restaurant aptly called Chill, just what we needed after the tiring adventure in the morning. Lazing on the beanbags under the bamboo in the large room upstairs was a pleasurable way to unwind, refuel and recuperate.
In the evening Clare and Olive went to a cooking class, getting slightly lost finding the place in the back streets of town. It was a relaxed setting, to learn some skills to understand the traditional Sri Lankan spices and tastes, to find out how to prepare and make some of the dishes we have been eating. Rob took the opportunity to head out for dinner with just the boys.
Next day, we went on the Uva Halpewatte Tea Factory tour. It was a bumpy ride there in a rickshaw, then a steep ascent to the factory situated high on a hill. It was disappointing that they did not allow any photos to be taken inside, though we were able to snap off a few quickies. Although the guide was a little difficult to understand, it was great to learn from the centre of the tea making world about the different types of tea and how they are made. Oh and the smell was very distinct.
After purchasing our fill of local tea from the lovely gift store, we got our rickshaw driver to drop us off at Nine Arches Bridge, where we waited for over an hour, along with the many other tourists, for the train to come along, just for the opportunity for that iconic photo.
We bided our time just strolling to and fro across the bridge, hoping that the train would not come suddenly. Jetson was fascinated by the locals playing a game, even though he had no idea of the rules. After the train eventually passed across the bridge, we followed it, walking through the tunnel and along the tracks back to town. The walk was a lot longer than we expected, and hot along the tracks.
We must have had a good experience yesterday at the Chill restaurant, as we went back to eat there again. Rob ducked across the road to an ATM and nearly lost his card. He was so busy counting the cash and looking out for thieves, he forgot his card in the machine and had to be chased down by the local who next came to use the machine. It’s that sort of town.
We finished our time in Ella with a homemade Sri Lankan dinner made for us at the homestay by Suthra. It was sad to go, as it was a great place to stay, with a beautiful host, chilled-out town and very scenic surroundings. It was also very nice getting lovely gifts from Suthra. We know it will only get busier away from here.
We dragged our bags up to the train station, it’s great being able to walk everywhere. We are taking the blue train from Ella to Kandy. We look forward to this much anticipated iconic journey through the hill country and tea plantations of central Sri Lanka.