ROAD TRIP SRI LANKA

Every time we travel, we always hit the ground running.  When we landed half way across the world at 4 a.m., this was no exception.  We were promptly picked up by our friends (Mara, Nathan, Shan) and whisked away on our Sri Lankan road trip.   

On our first trip to Sri Lanka we were fortunate enough to travel with close friends, and make some great new friendships along the way.  We were so lucky to get a locals perspective and inside to all the best things to eat, see, and experience while we were in Sri Lanka.  It is always amazing to make memories and connections that last a lifetime.

Video by the talented Mara Harvey

We all needed some fuel that early in the morning (especially coming off such long flights: LA>Dubai- 16 hrs, Dubai>Colombo- 4.5 hrs).  Nothing was quite open yet, and our first stop for food in Sri Lanka was McDonald's.  That's right people: McDonald's, in Sri Lanka.  Piping hot hash brown and black coffee, don't mind if I do.  Also if we were really feeling it, they even offer curry and rice at McDonalds in Sri Lanka; now you know.  But not to worry, a couple of hours into our road trip Shan took us to a roadside restaurant for a traditional Sri Lankan breakfast.  We had chicken and fish curries, kiribath (milk rice), idiyappam (string hoppers), pittu (dense rice/coconut cake), and pol sombol (spicy coconut garnish).   Spicy, filling, and so good!  Shan also knew about a famous yogurt shop, where we had to stop for a snack.  They serve fresh buffalo curd, which was good but tasted kind of cheesy to me. 

Buddha on Ethugala

Buddha on Ethugala

After, we drove to the top of Ethugala (Elephant Rock).  There we offered a giant buddha statue blue water lilies (Sri Lanka's national flower) and took in some killer views.  Afterwards, we went on a Jeep safari to see wild Asian elephants.  The ride was rough and muddy, but it was so amazing to see this creatures up close and personal.  Also a great full body workout trying to hang on as the Jeep four-wheeled the terrain (we were sore the next day!)

Our first day's journey ended in Habarana.  We stayed at a beautiful, off the beaten path (literally) hotel called Sorowwa Resort and Spa.  We watched the sunset over the lake, drank coconut arrak, jumped in the freezing cold pool in the rain (thanks to Mara), and got a private serenade from a 3 piece band playing an accordion, bongos, and a guitar.  Doesn't get much better than that!

In the morning, we awoke to a torrential downpour.  After the rain let up some, we climbed up slippery stone stairs to the top of a hill where we visited Dambullah Temple.  Here, we took in the views and watched monkeys snack on people's offerings.  The caves have beautifully painted ceilings and are filled with hundreds of Buddha statues, including some that are lying down.  When we returned outside to retrieve our shoes, they were missing.  Apparently, the people who work there go around and collect them.  They essentially put the shoes in a shoe jail and charge people to bail them out; they claim the monkeys steal them, so they pick them up for safe keeping.  Luckily, we got them back with no hassle.

Views climbing the stairs to Dambullah Temple

Views climbing the stairs to Dambullah Temple

Our next stop was Kandy.  One of the things that Kandy is most famous for is Sri Dalada Maligawa, The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic.  Here we walked barefoot on scorching hot pavement to the home of Buddha's tooth relic.  It is kept in elaborate gold shrine inside of the palace grounds.  There are rituals for the tooth relic 3 times a day and the Kandy Esala Perahera, also known as The Festival of the Tooth once a year.  Thanks to Shan and a guard at the temple, we got access to a few parts off limits to tourists.  We got to tour the museum alone, see giant honeycombs being built by the local bees, and we got to step out onto a private balcony to snap some pictures of amazing views of the city.

Off limits balcony at the Sacred Tooth Relic

Off limits balcony at the Sacred Tooth Relic

After the Sacred Tooth Relic, we sipped Lion beer while watching a traditional Kandyan dance at the Kandy Lake Club.  The dance featured elaborate costumes, music, and fire-walkers.   Afterwards, Thilanka (our driver), suggested a good spot for street food, or what Sean referred to as "junk food".  Here we pigged out on huge portions of curry and cheese kottu.  We ended the night by telling ghost stories, while driving up a haunted road to Club Lespri, the inn where we stayed for the night.  The wind gusted so hard and loud, there was a breeze in our room without the windows being open.  After all the ghost stories, lack of sleep, and slight creepiness I felt in our room, I did not sleep easy that night. 

We awoke in the morning to a delicious home cooked breakfast and breathtaking views.  We could see for miles at the tip top of the mountain, so no wonder the winds were so strong.  As we made our way back down the hillside, a tuk-tuk stopped us and told Shan that we had a flat tire.  We found ourselves in the middle of nowhere, with flat tire and 2 broken wrenches;  that tire was stuck on there good.  Luckily, we were able to just make the best of the situation.  We flagged down two tuk-tuks and coasted our way down the hill and to the next destination.  

With some amazing effort by the tuk-tuk drivers, we made it up some seriously steep roads to the destination (we had to get out and walk at some points because the tuk couldn't do it will all the weight, feel the burn!)  Here we landed 3567 feet above sea level at the Ambuluwawa Temple.  The building has a Dr. Suess like appearance, with a spiral staircase twirling around the outside to the very tip-top of the building.  The winds were strong and the staircase seemed a little janky, but we went for it.  The views were obviously amazing and so was the adrenaline rush.  By the time we reached the top, my legs were jello and I couldn't even take out my phone to take a picture, still totally worth it!

Back at the bottom, Shan met us with some soursop; the local women sweeping the grounds gave it to him to share with us.  Soursop is a white, mushy looking fruit, but it was super juicy and delicious an awesome way to end our climbing experience.  By this time Thilanka was back with the tire repaired, so it was on to the next.

Soursop

Soursop

On our way to catch our train in Nuwara Eliya, we drove through tea many plantations and stopped at the Mackwoods Labookellie Tea Estate for a snack and some tea (obviously).   Somehow, Shan had pulled some stings, working his magic yet again, and got us a private bungalow afternoon tea session.  It was the plantations first time serving there in the newly renovated space.  We downed everything pretty fast because we had a train to catch, but the tea was delish!

The train is a must experience in Sri Lanka.  It winds through Sri Lankas beautiful country side, boasting amazing views of tea plantations, villages, nature and more.  We snacked on cassava chips, ate rice and curry, drank tea, and took in the stunning views of the Sri Lankan countryside.  The trains even have outdoor observation decks in between the train cars so you can ride outside.  TJ and I spent most of our time out there drinking in the fresh air, and soaking up the sights.  

We hopped off the train in Hatton, where Thilanka picked us up and took us back for a close up of a couple of waterfalls we had seen from the train.  From there, we made our way to our glorious inn, Hatton Summer House.  Hatton Summer House is situated atop a hill, overlooking a lake.  The property is covered in beautiful gardens and has an amazing pool area.  You best believe we took full advantage of this killer location.  We drank arak, went swimming, and even had our dinner brought out poolside.  Shan's cousin Kumar even came for a visit, gifting us with more food, arak, and fresh-from-the-plantation tea.       

Views from our room at Hatton Summer House

Views from our room at Hatton Summer House

The next morning was our last long haul drive. Destination: beach.  Driving in Sri Lanka takes a lot of time.  It is like playing hundreds of games of chicken on narrow, one lane, winding roads, with thousands of tuk-tuks, busses, trucks, cars, and motorbikes.  The whole trip, we dodged animals and passed questionably close to pedestrians on the side.  There was a lot (A LOT) of breath holding and eye closing, and at this time coming out of the mountains, mild carsickness.  On the flip side, we also experienced major adrenaline rushes and laughter, were immersed in breathtaking views, and got to see a lot of the country that most tourists wouldn't.  

The finale of our road trip around Sri Lanka couldn't have ended more perfectly.  We rented a room at the Sea Rock Villa in Bentota.  The staff greeted us with refreshing king coconuts and showed us to our room.   Every room at the place has gorgeous ocean views (the ocean was less than 100 feet away).  The grounds were beautiful, equipped with hammocks, lounge chairs, and a pristine pool.  The ocean is the warmest I felt in my entire life, and the beaches were surprisingly empty.  It felt like we had a private island all to ourselves!  We swam in the ocean and the pool, soaked up the sun, drank local Rockland White Rum and cokes, paid a cobra charmer (terrifying!), ate a whole fresh snapper, watched an epic sunset, and had a private, candlelit dinner on the beach.  

Our last night in Sri Lanka were spent eating takeout food, laughing, and playing cards with friends in their city center Colombo apartment.  The next day, we were lucky enough to be treated to a home cooked Sri Lankan meal at Shan's parents house.  The best meal that we had all trip and the perfect send off from our Sri Lankan road trip  

Sri Lanka is a sensory overload in all the right ways.  It is a country bustling with with life and color.  Everything is saturated, bright, in your face colors, including the buildings and clothing, to the tuk-tuks and temples.  The food is spicy and in your face flavorful, and the people are friendly.  The colors, textures, flavors, and way of life in Sri Lanka coordinate effortlessly together to create a vibrant, beautiful scene.     Definitely one worth visiting and experiencing for yourself one day.

A note on Sri Lankan food: 
- The food is full of flavor and is super spicy.  If you know me well or have ever eaten with me, you would know I like my food spicy, so Sri Lankan cuisine was a win right off the bat.  
- The main staples of Sri Lankan food are rice and curry.  One of my favorite dishes was dahl (a lentil curry).  - Portion sizes in are huge, even by American standards;  they definitely do not skimp on rice, curry, or sambol; you will not go hungry!
- If you want to fit in and eat like a local, forget the fork!  Sri Lankans eat with their right hand, so just dive in and scoop it all up (rice, curry, sauces, everything).  I was told I eat like an elephant when I tried to fit in; obviously didn't work out so well, but was awesome eating the traditional Sri Lankan way nonetheless.    
- Trying Sri Lankan street food is also a must.  Tasty "junk food" include different variations of kottu (stir fried flatbread, can have veggies, meat, egg, cheese), cassava chips (our favorite were the hot and spicy ones, obviously), and wadai (whole fried shrimp in a fitter).  I had no idea it was completely acceptable and super tasty at that to eat a shrimp in its entirety (head, shell, tail, and all).