The colonial styled, wrought iron and rusting, ‘off white’ chairs sit proudly on the lawn of the Icebear. The enormous German Shepherd patrols the area and fights his instinct to demolish one of the arrogant ducks mincing about the lawn. He’s so incredibly furry that dog, I wonder if the Swiss owner was craving some mountainous chilly thoughts when he purchased the hound and neglected to think of the Sri Lankan imposing heat. Perhaps when he ambles upstairs to his large wooden room, he flicks a switch and there begins an intense air conditioning system, and a fake fire. By the orange glow, he sits and contemplates his land, moose haired hat donning his head, his nose slowly turning pink.
I sit on one of the hard chairs and ponder the landscape. The sea engulfs my vision and the sun, my clarity, as spots appear and then I am blind. A gate and fence cordons off the Icebear from the rest of the beach. Children sit on the cemented fence roots and mess around, whilst a woman offers her banana leaf wraps on the beach. (On our last day we are to sample one of these, our money spent and our stomachs growling- delicious. We also taste one of the van sellers bhajis and resolve we can not eat at our favourite Sri Lankan haunt back home for at least a year. They are not the same.) There are eccentric sculptures entwined in the garden, hidden unless you look twice, and the waxy plants ferociously beam their breast for the sun to see and the energy takes them higher. Such a lush country, Sri Lanka is brim full of vegetation and wildlife. The chickens stare at the ducks, and then at the dog.
This our last night, the Icebear is the most luxurious place we have stayed whilst in Sri Lanka. We started here on our second night after a confusing first night staying in a collapsing, insect ridden, overpriced venue. Despite my 14 months traveling at 19, now at 25 and at four in the morning, I was unable to convey my desires and directions to the airport taxi driver and we ended up in a place of his pocket’s choosing. The shame! I resolved to stay somewhere better for our second night and so we came to the Icebear. With classical music playing instead of street shouts, it was a sensational place, simple, relaxing and very European.
Terrible! We had to leave after this one night, and experience this country at least as much as one can in two weeks.
So, we boarded a broken seated, shiny and all worshipping bus to the mountains. Although the seats were made for smaller people and the driving was beyond frightening, I was convinced that we were gaining a ‘real’ travel experience. So, seven hours later and sweating we dismounted the bus at Kandy and hiked up to Forest Glen. Here we were met with kindness and smiles. They were waxing the floor, which housed a piano, a computer and many books. It seemed like a gigantic space. We took off our shoes. The older lady took us to our room upstairs where we fought the urge to sleep for ions of time and instead explored the city of Kandy.
Here we ate at the Muslim Hotel an establishment rammed with Sri Lankan men. We sat down and vaguely pointed at the menu. A small child was sick on the floor on the table next to us. Cardboard was placed over the mess and the parents shortly left without a blink. Our food was a monstrosity of fried pancake, meat, vegetables and bread. It was utterly amazing. We finished it off with a local biscuit that tasted like super sweet shortbread.
At breakfast the next day, the lady at Forest Glen told us that it is actually a school as well as a hostel. She rushed about making us eggs and apologized for leaving without chatting too much as she had to open the school. Of course this was fine, but I would have liked to have chatted to her more, as she seemed so gentle and wise. We saw the kids turn up as we trundled past to go to the train station. Dressed in white shirts, blue shorts and caps, they were proud of their smart appearance.
From Kandy we went up to Adam’s Peak, the holy mountain with thousands of steps. We climbed this with hundreds of people, including the elderly and disabled at 2am, for the spectacular sunrise. It was freezing up there, but humbling and worth every step. Jelly legs ensued on our descent.
We then travelled across to Ella, deep in the mountain region. We stayed at a beautiful place with a bearded man who invited us to be part of his huge family and taught us his philosophies on life as well as games like Cur-rum. We also visited tea plantations and I indulged in many helpings of buffalo curd and honey. The journey back south, through the mountains was full of green, rain, natural heaven and danger. The trains move ferociously! We snacked on the food that the train snack sellers were offering, all fried, it filled our bellies. I, having drank so much tea, had to constantly use the hole in the train floor toilet and was nearly decapitated by the window falling down. However if sat by the gaping open door, the sights and smells were only epic.
I never thought I would see leopards, but we saw six on safari in Yala National Park. Our two excitable drivers sped us around until we saw the leopard family reclining in the trees and then stretching out before us. As well as the big cats, we saw elephants and reptiles trying to down bunny rabbits. A sobering moment was seeing the monument for the victims of the Tsunami. No animals were injured but over 20 people died. The monument is the same height as the waves were that boxing day. They didn’t stand a chance.
The next week was spent in colonial cities like the Dutch, Galle and British, Columbia. The latter involved staying with a successful older gentleman with two Doctor children living abroad and a travel enthusiast wife. He has been everywhere it seems, and his calmness and persona was so modest and inspirational. The week was also spent surfing in Midigama, a road, a beach, a collection of shacks. Together with a French surf instructor and a renowned surf spot. Travelers stayed there for months and months.