Our time in the beautiful mountain town of Ella was short. After just 2 nights here, we were simply now ready to leave and awoke with a heavy heart. It felt like salt in our wounds to see the sun shining down across the valley, especially after the rainy two days we had experienced here. It would have been the perfect day to check out the iconic Nine Arch Bridge or hike Ella Rock! There was still so much we hadn't seen of this glorious treasure.
On the bright side, we had our first lie-in of the trip! I could have punched the sky with joy. The nights in Sri Lanka are so noisy so it can be tricky to get a decent night's sleep, especially if you are a light sleeper like me. Looking back at my pictures from the previous days and seeing my huge bags under my eyes showed me that extreme tiredness was not a good look which made it all the more wonderful that I woke up refreshed at 10am.
As luck would have it, it was probably one of the most least-ideal days to have a lie-in. Our host from our next accommodation had been trying to contact me to push our taxi time forward by 2 hours and we'd as a result get half price off the taxi fare. The time he was proposing was 11am which meant we'd have to rush like mad to pack up our bags. We needn't have rushed however as it was already too late as the driver for our 1pm pick-up was already on his way.
Today we'd be travelling south from Ella town to the town of Udawalawe which sits just outside Udawalawe national park, arguably the best place in the whole of Asia to see wild Asian elephants. It was roughly a 3 hour drive to get there.
Now that we didn't have to rush, we could enjoy our fantastic breakfast at a leisurely rate.
When 1pm came and went, I started to feel a bit concerned about our lift. It was now 20 minutes past 1 and I'd not heard anything from our driver or seen a car arrive below the AirBnB. I had seen a white car lie in wait a little bit further down the road but it had been there since before 1pm so I concluded it wasn't our taxi.
Unsure if he was lost, we turned to our host who gazed at the white vehicle situated just a few metres down the road. She asked one of her son's to go down to the road to check.
"That's your taxi to Udawalawe." He reported.
I turned red with embarrassment. When I looked at the car again I then noticed the branding of our accommodation on the side. How could I be so stupid? I'd kept him waiting for over 20 minutes due to my negligence! Of course, I apologised profusely to our driver who either wasn't too bothered or he was very good at hiding it. He helped us load our bags into the boot and we waved goodbye to Chamodya Homestay, who had been very good to us. They had provided us with an unforgettable experience and opened our eyes to the kindness of the Sri Lankan people and their fantastic cooking!
The drive yielded some incredible views. We started off by winding through Ella town on narrow roads that gripped the sides of majestic mountains coated in forest. It seemed there was no end to the sharp twists and turns as we gradually descended from the mountains. Hairpin bends were in abundance.
We passed a cascading waterfall which caught my attention. Our driver informed us that this was Ravana Waterfall and I couldn't resist stopping off for some photos. Little did I know, however, that you had to pay to take photos of the waterfall! It was also the only place that I got hounded at by ben trying to sell precious stones. All this took away from the natural beauty of the falls which was disappointing. The conclusion I had to draw was that the waterfall just wasn't worth the hype. I've seen several waterfalls during my travels and although beautiful, there was nothing that justified the 50 Sri Lankan Rupees we had to pay and the numerous tourists we passed. The best way to describe the experience unfortunately is that it is a tourist trap.
Our journey continued. It wasn't long until we were out of the mountains. However, as soon as our tyres hit the flat ground, the heavens opened up and heavy rain began to pour. The water was streaming like a shower, making it difficult to see the road ahead or any of our surroundings. However torrential downpours are short-lived in Sri Lanka and soon the rain stopped pouring, though the world around us was still backdropped by ominous grey clouds.
We drove past rice paddies and through small villages. Palm trees began to return and a more tropical environment enveloped us.
Our drive was approaching the two hour mark. We had passed numerous fruit stalls at the side of the road. Our driver suddenly asked, "Do you want coconut?"
I was unsure what he meant at first but then as he abruptly pulled up beside a stall, I understood and was excited at the idea of trying Sri Lankan coconut. I didn't know at this point that my love affair with fresh coconut was about to begin. I'd had coconut in the Seychelles and whilst it was palatable, I didn't love it. So I honestly didn't expect to fall as hard as I did.
It was 70 Sri Lankan rupees for a coconut which Lewis and I decided we should share. That equates to just 31p, a bargain compared to prices back home in UK. The shop owner grabbed a coconut from branch on a table and sliced the top open before carving the top of the coconut until it was good to drink from. I then had my first sip of coconut. It was love at first sip!
We were now on to the last leg of our journey and entering a wild part of the island. Udawalawe national park stretched to the right of the road, bordered only by a low fence. I was delighted to spot buffalo and even a Malabar pied hornbill on our drive! It was a shame I didn't get a photograph of the hornbill. At first glance I thought it was a toucan, until I discovered that toucans don't live in Sri Lanka. The bright yellow beak was a thing of wonder!
Just when I thought the drive couldn't get any better, it did! On the other side of the road, just within the border to Udawalawe national park was a large grey creature which at first glance looked like a giant boulder. It was none other than a beautiful Sri Lankan elephant, casually munching on long grass stems, its majestic ears flapping in contentment. It felt incredible that we weren't even in the national park or on safari and already we had seen an elephant. It was just unbelievable. If this much wildlife could be seen just driving through the area, just think how much could be seen on safari!
We actually saw 2 more elephants on our drive! The second was beside the border, like the first. The third elephant was harder to spot. We passed a huge lake known as Udawalawe Reservoir. In the middle of the great expanse of water was a small islet. In the centre of the islet, sheltered by several trees was an elephant. It was quite a sight! The elephant must have swam across to the islet.
The last part of the journey really captivated me. With a huge lake on one side and cascading falls on the other which crashed down into lush forests, it felt like we were in the wilds of Sri Lanka. The dark sky was ominously close, acting as a dramatic backdrop looming peaks in the near distance.
Finally our taxi rattled into Udawalawe town and down a narrow dirt track to our AirBnB for the night. Our accommodation was called 'The Countryside' and it would be our first accommodation that wasn't within somebody's home. Here we had our own private lodge which was beautifully decorated. It also had air conditioning! Best of all, we had a kettle in our room for unlimited tea!
There was at least two other cottages in the complex and we were surrounded by beautiful bananas. I saw banana trees as well as jackfruit trees. Jackfruit are funny-looking things. They are prickly green plants and grown in abundance around Sri Lanka.
It was also here that I saw the first cat of the entire trip! Sri Lanka has no shortage of dogs but cats seemed to be a rarity. I was also pleased that it seemed to love sleeping right outside our cottage. Yay, a little buddy!
It had been quite an extensive travel day so for the rest of the day we relaxed before having a delicious Sri Lankan meal at the lodge's restaurant and then retiring for the night in our lovely air-conditioned room. It was actually the first night that I heard quiet. Either the air-con was drowning out any barking or honking outside or we were in a quieter area. I don't care what the reason - I was just thrilled to get the first good night's sleep that I'd had in ages.