Haputale evening

Fran has been here already 2 hours while I have been waiting upstairs.

We are in a quandary about how to do dinner. It’s after 7 and it’s raining and the cloud is low. The town is a misty blur with some stores still open, especially the wine shops. Little dives with fridges full of super strength beers and shelves of arrack. The one we went into has a small partitioned off area where men, it’s all men, can drink I observed. Our beers are wrapped in newspaper. We mange to eat at a Muslim curry stall, but all that is left is fried rice. Fran insists on going to the bar with the bright signage, the high cliffs resort. The entrance isn’t obvious and we have to be guided in. The atmosphere to begin with is a little word. Fran the only female. It feels brown, dated. Fran of course wants a bottle of wine. We discover gamini, the batman has never opened a bottle of wine before. It takes 15 minutes to pull the cork and everyone in the bar gives it a go. The locals are civil and friendly and gamini warms to us, taking his photo endears us to him and he gives us mangoes to take home.

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Little Adam

Little Adams peak in low cloud
Cloud is Blowing through the tea plantations hundreds of metres below. Tamil women younger than they look, sat on the path under trees drinking tea from bottles labelled whiskey,, scooping handfuls of red rice from lunch boxes. This is the tea planters lunchtime. They ask if I want to take their photo, which I do then hand them a few rupees.A women with betel stained teeth mimes picking tea and asks me to take a photo in exchange for a few more rupees. I meet a lady on the way up called kanti. She tells me she runs a library for kids and teaches them handicrafts. I promise to visit her.
The views are amazing, the cloud drifts and conceals then reveals little Adams peak, ravana falls and the road snaking along and up Ella gap.

On my way back I buy some seed necklace from a girl and her mother. She shows me the plant that the seeds come from. They dry as red or grey or black seeds. I tell Her aim. From Brighton and she produces a faded card of Brighton pavilion given to her by another traveller.
Children chase me ask if I want to take a photo. They want sweets and school pens. Pass a small shack on the edge of a plants settlement. Young teen boy in pink shirt with gents fashion written on the back calls me over for a wood apple shake.clothes washed and spread out to dry on the thick bushes.
It’s not raining .
I chat with the boy. He is called Jackson. A very young looking 16. He is Tamil, parents are tea pickets. He is working in his school holiday. He likes volleyball and gardening. He dances and body pops for me. Sassi, his boss appears and breaks this spell.. He is also Jackson’s volleyball coach, a bit pushy but kind. He offers to show me the little muddy village where they both live. A shack with cows, where the cow hand shows me his pride. Women carrying jugs of water from the stream, I offer to help one. The houses are roofed with leaking metal sheeting. The walls stone. Dim, dingy. An outside communal toilet. Sassi’s house is full of posters of Indian actors and volleyball trophies. Jackson lives with 6 family members in one house. They cook over wood fires. We go to the playground next to the little Hindu temple. I make some videos of the local boys playing cricket with a bat hewn from a tree trunk. I also have a turn at batting.

I take lunch at the cafe. It is meagre poor and overpriced. Jackson is attentive and smiley. We arrange to meet in the evening. I’m going to treat them to beer. We write the appointed time on each other’s hand.
I have a headache. From the change in climate? Heat? Altitude? Maybe from being unaccustomed to tea.
On the road back I do visit the children’s library and am amazed by kanti’s resourcefulness. She is building a shack, at hatching it with palm leaves, as a place to sell her cushion covers. I decline a head massage from the guy with the shop next door. I think it might make a migraine even worse.
After a sleep I meet the tamil guys at dusk. We walk up and down looking for a place to eat. They choose an unwelcoming soulless place where the beer is costly. Sassi tells me Jackson is hungry. I don’t really want to buy them dinner…is this mean? By fluke Fran is the other side of the window that separates the restaurant from an Internet shop. I relent and buy the boys a roti kotthu. Their eyes light up at the sight of meat. They say this is the first time they have eaten out since April. This is a treat for them. They shake my hand. Thank you my friend. You are good heart. Fran joins us she and sassi sketch each other. Jackson looks cold and tired. 8.30 is his bed time. He is wearing a pink and black hoody emblazoned with the words punk coulture, which I try to explain, but this means nothing. Unsurprisingly. We talk more. Sassi claims to have a girlfriend. Jackson says he doesn’t like doesn’t like. He has 20 computers in his school. Sassi tells me he only owns 2 shirts. He asks me for at shirt. I tell him impossible. Tonight he and Jackson’s re wearing their best clothes.
Birthdays
Jackson 3 February
Sassi 2 November
They leave at 8.30, it’s time for their bedtime.
Fran and I go to another place. Where she ensues in a confused discussion. About wine. It’s a. Bit like being in Brighton. The curry and rice is feeble, but as luck would have it the waiters maths are not too good and we get undercharged. By 10pm the town is shutting down and there are hardly any tuk tuks. At the junction in that dark are cops. I spot a couple of tuk tuks that have stopped a little up the road. I go and chat to the drivers. They tell me they are drunk so they won’t proceed and get stopped by the police. Finally we find a sober one, with 3 guys in the back. Fran clambers in for a dicey ride home.

Haputale

To Haputale

Over breakfast I chat to Rolf, the German next doe, about that German identity thing and how even now he feels some kind of imposed shame and regret that he can’t say Germany is great or good, or even speak its virtues. A long important history, rich in culture, invention and innovation, all sullied by 12 years of hitler. Changing the subject. Siva, the manger tells us about giant vegetables. His best story is the massive freak papaya out of which flew 2 bats when hacked in half. I’m not sure whether to believe this.
At Ella station I’m met by Fran. The train to Haputale is quite full, and I stand by the open door for the sinuous slow climb through jungle and tea plantations up 400 meters to Haputale, which is perched atop a ridge with staggering views, down on the clouds and the undulating toylike landscape beneath. At the station we are touted by the owner of the abc guesthouse, named after his sons first initials. He has 3. The place is on the hillside with a n amazing view from my balcony. The price is good too. The road leading down from abc is being extended with occasional explosive blasts.
The town is certainly less touristy than Ella. In fact I hardly see a white face. There are numerous shacks selling freshly fried snacks, alcohol shops selling a rack by the quart. Many poor faces. A withered hind woman who tugs our sleeves and shoves out a hand. She bugs me so much later on that I have to gesticulate wildly and shout at her to stop following me. Alcohol and betel seem common here. A mango seller gives me his phone number, insists I visit him for dinner. I think it could be a mistake….I chat to a snack firer and take his picture along with two curious cops. I sit on the fence by the railway waiting for Fran and share my snacks with a bedraggled old guy selling destroyed looking found shoes.
We have decided to go to the Benedictine monastery which is housed in a mansion built high in the kills by an English tea planter. The book says its 3 km away. I want to walk, Fran takes a tuk tuk. The walk is much further, more like 3 miles. It winds up along the ridge through the tea plantations and through a nature reserve. I hear wild boar, I think, making a fearful sound of pain and aggression. The monastery is curious if nothing else. I cannot see the view for the clouds. The garden has many fruit trees and the monks, who is font see either. Make jams and chutneys. I buy a wood apple jam and then look at the three rooms we are allowed access to.
Like a junk shop
Battered reel to reel tape recorder, a pair of 1940s era radios! some cracked wash bowls! a large scale and some rusty weights a cluster of tarnished crucifixes. A screw down printing press, an old black hole punch. A martellii desk fan
The sign in the first room reads silence. So much for the sound of the video tape playing. The living room contains fake leather well sat in arm chairs. An aura of sombreness and dullness. Think wooden doors with rounded doorways. A clock stopped at 1.45 am or pm. A severe portrait of an austere ecclesiastical looking from above a wooden gireplace. Dreary sofa covered with a plastic dust sheet.
Fran has set off back ahead of me. I finally find her grimacing at a tea stall by the road. She has naively taken a betel parcel and is chewing it unaware of what it is. She makes a bit of a scene and asks for tea to relieve the bitterness and numbness. Somehow we lose each other on the walk down. I take a slight wrong turn back in Haputale and cheeky cricket playing kids ask me for money.
Sun has now set on my balcony. The road builders have built a fire and the mosque is calling to prayer.

Tissa to Ella

Leaving tissa, arriving in Ella

Today is poja, the full moon. It seems that everyone is doing something special. The safari park for example was visited by many locals. In the road I see many boys in white sarongs returning from the temples. On the veranda at travellers home the tv is showing a Monk delivering prayers to an outdoor crowd. Before leaving I take some pics of the workers in the muddy paddies, say goodbye to the guide, Simla, who is already on his bike heading home. I make fond goodbyes to umani and Ivon sings me another song, one he wrote. About love, quite sad, but joyous at the same time.

Ebert hears from a driver called gamini who is returning to Ella, so he organises a cheapish ride for me. The journey includes a stop at a roadside Curry shack, where a 1950s valve radio is broadcasting jolly Sri Lankan music.

From the car I see smartly dressed kids, families stopping to buy melons at fruit stalls. Lazy dogs skulk over road or lie in the middle. They are king. One bares his teeth at another Gamini tells me he needs to keep down the speed

Cops often stop and pocket a bribe.

Then I remember the rather comic and slightly disturbing sight from the day before of a Motorbike driving school behind tissa bus station. Wobbly new riders Weaving around 4 cones. I wonder whether there really is a licence, and what it means.

We take a short detail through some villages, along dusty tracks where kids are playing cricket, past more peacocks fanning their tails to a a temple grounds. We are here for me to view the 9th. Century 52 ft high buduruwadala Buddhas carved into the rock face.

As we climb through Ellagap we arrive at the foot of Ravana falls. Gamini oddly gets his car washed while I wander among the locals. An old barefoot man in a baseball hat pushes some crystals into my hand. I later give him some English coins. I snap some pics of a jolly family on a day out, on the bridge. Ther are guys roasting corn over fires, betel stained old men offering to be my guide. Meet me at the curd shop…a couple of awkward shy monks. I plough into a conversation which is rather undeveloped. The focus is reversed when he asks me about my religion, so I wax lyrical about Buddhism as the most acceptable one.

We arrive in Ella at dusk. Gamini takes me to a “friend'” ‘ s guesthouse above a place called fish an d chips. I immediately sense it is a dump, and foolishly check in then check out again 30 minutes later.the noise and rattle and shake from the traffic,passers hand music from the restaurant are unbearable. The owner is reluctant to let me go and tries to persuade me to stay in another property which is off the road in the darkness, it feels a bit lonely and creepy. I pay off the disgruntled owner and climb in the darkness 100 meters to ravana holiday resort . I follow a German couple who happen to be my neighbours: Yvonne and giacomo. Wee chat on the veranda and they invite me to share their amazing banquet of curries.

It’s rainy, misty, a bit chilly. I can’t reach Fran, though I know she is in Ella somewhere.

Ella rock

Ella rock
Hike to Ella rock
But first the local market. Local women squatting on the ground weighing out tomatoes with hand balances. 2 cows, one with an unsightly possibly pregnant bulge roam the street. I think it’s a tumour. It’s huge and disturbing.
There is an old guy who has made a bus shelter his home, lining it with cardboard boxes.
Along the railway line lined with pretty flowers, overgrown railway trucks, one serving as a shrine. Scattered cow herders and wood choppers. Accompanied by a local for a couple of miles. The sign post has been removed by locals to trick you into needing a guide
A woman escorts me back down the line past the Buddha tree and down to the top of the colossal ravana falls. Over a bridge and up the path following the map from the guest house which is actually spot on. The woman catches me up and takes me up a path I know to be wrong but let her lead me through thick vegetation tp the junction by the jackfruit tree. After a mother 10 minutes I decide to get shot and pay her off. I begin climbing the rocky path through the trees and catch up with a fellow walker, ivo from Switzerland. We spend the rest of the walk together, climbing to the top where the view is immense with Ella gap being picked out in the sun. We pause for a while and talka. Lot of developing and undeveloped culture, the intervention of the west especially Cameron’s visit to Sri Lanka.
The walk down seems simpler and quick, maybe because of our talking. Kids asking for crayons or Bon bons are disappointed by us. We take a more direct route back to the guesthouse and spy some monkeys eating from the jackfruit trees.

After a shower I walk up the main drag, buy some tea then bump into a refreshed Fran, coming from a massage. I do the same, having Ayurvedic oil massage from a woman called Aisha. It’s a strange feeling in many ways to surrender your body to a stranger not knowing what pain or otherwise she might inflict, or even what parts of your body she might explore. I can see how it might be arousing, but obviously not for me!
Fran, ivo and I meet for dinner, the banquet rice and curry that I ate with the Germans. Equally good. I have an email from Dave and Donna. They are also in Ella, and I try to find them, but fail. So we end up drinking cocktails in a modern cafe playing rave. Everything is closing at 9.30. Finding an open place to buy beer is impossible. Finding a tuk tuk for Fran verges on the undoable also. We stand in the darkness watching tanker drivers and buses playing chicken with the defiant mutts in the road. We manage to find a tuk tuk for Fran which is a blessing, as walking back to her place looked daunting.

Yala national park

What did I see in yala?
Leopard x 3. Lounging on a rock like something out of Kipling. Sprawled on a tree camouflaged almost beyond recognition. I wonder how aware they are of us? Sitting there in our jeeps, forbidden to step on the path, straining with our underpowered lenses to capture a woeful and disappointing faraway shot. Something to show friends. Look I did see a leopard. The jeeps converge en masses each time one is spotted, drivers liaising by phone then putting their foot down on bumpy rutted muddy paths ignoring the deer, peacocks and whatever else may be in the undergrowth to get us to the place in time to catch a glimpse of the big cat. The 20 or so jeeps vie for position reversing, squeezing together. It’s a circus and exactly what I hoped we wouldn’t be doing.
The park is extensive and very beautiful. Big rocks. One that looks like an elephant. One with hundreds of black faced monkeys scampering around. Lakes, wetland, filled with storks, hornbills, crocodiles blending into the rock, pink lilies. Herds of deer, males with metre high antlers, another spotted breed hanging out at the edge of the forest. Peacocks display their plumage to disinterested females. Eagles swoop, a serpent eagle squats on a mount looking for prey. Wild boar moosie along the path. A stray baby elephant stumbles through the bush then behind our jeep to find its mother on the other side.
Birds are in colossal abundance. Little yellow green and orange kingfishers, cormorants, cuckoos, ones I don’t know the names of. I should try to research these.
By the beach is the base of an ex-bungalow. All that remains from a camp from before the tsunami. There is a memorial to the 40 or so tourists killed on that day.