I was quite relieved to be leaving Kandy for Ella. Something about the town was just not vibing right with me. I was excited about the fact that I was about to take one of the most scenic train rides in the world! The route from Kandy to Ella is a 6 hour journey operated by the well-known blue train. I know I said this blog was not going to contain staged perfect photos, but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t keen to get the infamous Instagram pic hanging out of the train with the tea fields in the background.
My mood instantly changed when I arrived at Kandy train station and I saw the platform filled with mostly western tourists. Please don’t get me wrong, I love authentic experiences, but after being alone with locals for a while, it was nice to experience that comradery feeling you get with other travellers.
I collected my ticket and made my way to the snack vendors to stock up for the trip. I ended up getting mostly cakes and sweet items as I feel the fare better on long trips…..and also the fact that I have a major sweet tooth! I was a little adventurous and tried a Sri Lanka treat called Pain Walalu. It was like a slightly harder Churro, twisted into a knot, with honey syrup. I bought two and decided to try one on the platform before the train arrived. Big mistake. Little did I know, whilst I was savouring my treat, the sticky syrup was dripping out of the pastry and down all over my shirt. I then decided to try to clean it by pouring water on myself as I didn’t want to be sticky for the trip. I was wearing a dark shirt so you couldn’t see the stain, so I just looked like some weird chick pouring water on her boobs!
The train was split into 3 classes, 1st, 2nd and 3rd. After doing some research, people advised against 1st class as the windows don’t open because of the air conditioning and the windows are a little smaller and a bit dirty to see out of. Second class is the most popular but also quite crowded. I was holding a 3rd class ticket and I was worried. I had seen the commuter trains and they were filthy and over crowded. Was I going to have to share my seat with a family of six and their chickens? The answer was no. It was not crowded at all, in fact we had spare seats. 3/4 of the compartment were other backpackers and I shared my little area with a lovely couple from Germany. The only downside was that the seats were straight uprights, they didn’t recline. But that was ok. I popped my headphones on and got lost in my thoughts and scenery.
The hype about the train trip was spot on. It was breath-taking as the train wound around mountains, tea fields and forests. I could feel the weather getting cooler. I did hang out the door for a while and I felt happy and content. I didn’t get the idyllic picture, but I would rather enjoy the moment than see it through a camera lens.
As the train pulled into Ella, I strapped on my backpack and made my way to the hostel. I fell in love with Ella straight away. There was one main road with restaurants! Finally I knew I could get a meal. I was a little concerned about my hostel as it was called “Hangover Hostel”. It was not a party hostel, in fact It was very chilled. As I entered the room I was greeted by the girls who I was to share with. A lovely girl from the Netherlands and a girl from Chile. I finally didn’t feel alone like I had been feeling since my arrival in Sri Lanka. After a nice hot shower I went to find some dinner. I found a place where I had an amazing lasagna, that was nice and cheesy and actually made with beef! This was the best western food I had eaten in a month. Dessert was a Sri Lankan roti with banana and chunks of melted chocolate in side. After a few rum and cokes I went back to the hostel and settled in for the night. This was also the first comfortable bed I had slept in since leaving home! Today was what I like to call a “travel win”.
The next day I got up at my leisure and headed down to a coffee shop around the corner. They had proper barista coffee and all day breakfast. I indulged in some fresh fruit and yoghurt. This was so lovely my diet had been lacking in fresh food lately due to hygiene concerns in India and Nepal. I was not worried in Ella as this was pretty much a tourist town for hiking, something I was just not interested in doing though. I blame still being traumatised from my trip to China where hiking pretty much meant hours on stairs and not paths. After breakfast, I headed back to grab my laptop and sat out on the outdoor deck of the hostel. It was so peaceful. I managed to organise the rest of my time in Sri Lanka with an itinerary and worked on my writing.
After 3 hours of computer time and “life admin”, I went for some lunch. I was not going to skip a meal in this town! I went to what became my favourite spot, Cafe Chill. I had a juicy (beef) burger for lunch. Afterwards, with a full belly and contentment, I went searching for a masage. The day before was the first time I had to ditch the wheels on my bag and use it as a backpack and I had hurt my shoulder. It didn’t help that I put my little pack on a single shoulder as well instead of the usual “pregnant” look of big bag on the back and small one on your front. I found a place next to the coffee shop and negotiated a better than advised price for a one hour massage. I had to basically pole vault onto the massage table as it was so tall. I guess it was designed for those ridicolously good-looking people of normal height who love to go trekking. I climbed up and my Sri Lankan masseuse started the massage. First thing I noticed was her hands. They were not like the beautifully smooth ones I am use to in Bali, they were rough like sandpaper!! The upside is you get an exfoliation scrub for free…..
I felt great afterwards though which was the main thing.The afternoon rolled around with a lovely storm. I headed back to my comfy bed, snuggled up and watched a movie.
The next day I was up bright and early as I had organised to go on a morning tea plantation tour. I felt like I should do something with my time whilst in Ella other than eat and relax! I had my own guide and a tuk tuk with a driver. The drive certainly woke me up as we hooned through the streets and weaved up the mountains, sometimes dangerously close to the edges whilst playing chicken with buses. As I have said in other posts I love tuk tuks. I was very much enjoying the crisp mountain air which was such a welcomed change from humidity and heat.
Our first stop was to a look out called “Liptons seat”. It was a spot Sir Lipton, yes as in Lipton tea, would bring his family and friends to picnic and look out over his tea fields. When we first got to the top, the view was all white. Clouds everywhere. It was very mystical looking. But what surprised me was that within a matter of minutes, it cleared and there was an amazing view. After snapping a few photos, we made our way back through the winding tea fields, watching the ladies at work picking the leaves. Did you know they must pick a minimum of 16-18 kilos a day of dead leaves?
We made a pit stop and my guide produced some cups and we had morning tea with tea and coconut biscuits amongst the tea fields! I loved it. Next we were off to the tea factory. It was the original factory Sir Lipton started, but is now owned by another company. I love factory tours. I am always intrigued by how things are made, but never really think of it until I am presented with the opportunity to see it first hand. The equipment looked like it hadn’t changed in decades and the factory floor reminded me a bit of the Willy Wonka factory.
After the tour I went for lunch, yes hungry again, back to my favourite spot. During lunch the afternoon storm hit. It was bucketing down and not really rain you want to walk in. So I hunkered down with my kindle and ordered a pot of tea until it let up.
The lovely girls that were in my dorm room the first night had moved on and now it was a Dutch dorm. I was the only female in a 6 bed dorm with majority of loud Dutch guys. They were nice and out most of the time, but when they were in the room, they were annoying. It didn’t help that our bathroom door had become swollen by moisture and couldn’t be shut properly without slamming it with a great deal of force. The first night with the girls I was scared to go to the toilet during the night because I didn’t want to disturb them. With the boys I started to care less and just added a little “sorry” every time I slammed the door. There was also multiple awkward encounters with the guy in the opposite bunk. I snore. I know I do. My first night with the girls I was not concerned about my snoring as I was really tired from my travel day, I had had a few drinks with dinner and I knew most of them were leaving in the morning. The first night with the boys however, I was a little bit more self-conscious. I was almost scared to fall asleep which makes the situation even worse as I tend to make a weird noise, a mix between a sigh and a groan with a hint of dying animal when I am relaxed and fighting against falling asleep, you know, when you are “resting your eyes”. I heard the guy from the opposite bunk whisper loudly “Hey, roll over, I can hear you sleeping!!”. Turns out I snore more on my left side than my right, because subsequent nights after, I would hear “roll over!” Hissed at me. Meh, I didn’t worry too much, every dorm needs a snorer!!
It was a Saturday night. Back to Cafe Chill, which was packed! I treated myself with cocktails while I enjoyed reading Joel Creasy’s book on my kindle. As silly as it sounds, I really enjoyed myself. I got lost in the storey as it was referencing a lot of places from home and Joel reminds me of my best friend. A lovely last evening in Ella.
Next morning was another leisurely wake up. Check out was at 11am, so I left my bags and headed back to Chill for a last lunch. A massive Caesar salad with all the trimmings, anchovies and bacon tasted like heaven!
At 2pm my driver arrived. I had organised a taxi to my next destination, Udawalawe. It’s time to see some more Elephants!