Orson’s Travel Blog

Moto-travels

Sri Lanka’s Hill Country

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In December 2008, I had my worst accident in over 30 years of riding. It’s been a long, slow climb back to something that resembles normalcy. In almost a year and a half, I’ve experienced more hospital stays and doctor’s appointments to than I care to remember. Now, with the healing almost complete, I was itching to get back out there and enjoy life.

I had originally hoped to fly to Italy to rejoin team orson for a long overdue reunion, but alas, the Icelandic volcano had other plans. I had to come up with Plan B in a hurry. I decided that it was best to get as far away from the volcano as possible, lest I get stranded in some airport. I cast my eyes eastward to the island nation of Sri Lanka. The Tamil rebels had recently given up their decades old separatist struggle, so now seemed like a good time to visit. post haste, I purchased air fare and made bike hire arrangements over the internet.

After a 5 hour flight, I landed at Colombo, the capital city on the west coast of the island. The bike hire guy arranged to have a driver waiting for me, and before long I was at the bike shop. The air was thick with humidity along with the corresponding tropical temperatures. There must still be some tension, as I spotted pairs of armed soldiers at most intersections in Colombo. As the island’s roads are mostly two-laned with lots of traffic, a Honda XR-250 was deemed sufficient for my needs.

After taking care of the pleasantries and paperwork, I was soon on my way, heading north armed with only a map and a camera. Within the first few kilometers, I had missed my turn, so business as usual 😀 A few stops for directions and I was back on the righteous path.

Even luke warm, coconut juice hits the spot on a hot day.
Coconut milk

A word about the traffic. I have experienced riding in Goa, so I assumed I knew what riding in South Asia was all about. I didn’t know Jack. Sri Lankan traffic “goes to 11”. As in India, might makes right, with trucks and buses ruling the roads with iron fisted authority. Motorcycles are somewhat lower in the pecking order, somewhere down there with the rikshaws and pedestrians. Drivers had no qualms about pulling out to pass, even with oncoming traffic bearing down. It was the wildest game of chicken I’d ever seen. As such, I occupied the 6 inches of tarmac closest to the shoulder, and at least on one occasion, I took to the dirt apron to avoid becoming a hood ornament :crazy: No one batted an eyelash at such shenanigans as it was just the way things are done.

The tuk-tuks were the worst. Little, three-wheeled vespa taxi cabs. These guys were insane, making U-turns without looking or pulling out into oncoming traffic. Besides that, they were so slow, they always had a string of cars waiting to pass, leading to impatient drivers to make dangerous passes.

May is the beginning of the wet season, and by mid-afternoon, the skies had begun to darken. Before long, the showers came. I sought refuge in a roadside Buddhist mini-shrine with a few other local bikers.

Rain delay
Rain delay

Maybe it was because I hadn’t ridden in so long, but the XR’s saddle felt like a rock. If the XR was the last bike left in the world, I would give up riding. It wuz that hard.

Fortunately, the showers didn’t last long and I was back on the road to Kurunegala. There was a giant, golden Buddha on a hill top, but I couldn’t get close enough to get a good picture. I continued on to Habarana, my stop for the night. I found my hotel just before dark and enjoyed a hot shower along with adult beverages and dinner.

The next day, I would begin the climb into the hill country. Along the way, I passed several elephant safaris.
Elephant safari

When I stopped to snap this picture, a tout ran out and insisted that I must ride the elephants. I was equally insistent, that I must reach Kandy before the afternoon rains 😀 Most Sri Lankans I encountered were gracious hosts. As in India, if you flash them a big smile, you are almost always repaid in kind. I passed several police checkpoints, but they seemed uninterested in foreign tourists.

I made my way to Sigiriya, a World Heritage site. Sigiriya holds the ruins of an ancient fortress built atop a rock of hardened magma.
Sigiriya

Another giant Buddha near Sigiriya
Giant Buddha

Many people don’t realize that South Asian culture is even older than that of ancient Egypt. With my bad hip, I was unable to make the climb to the top of Sigiriya, and was back on the road, climbing towards Kandy, the capital city of the hill country.

Numerous roadside stalls sold all manner of coconuts, bananas, mangos, papayas and other fruit I didn’t recognise.
Fruit stall

Giant trees stretched outwards in all directions offering copious amounts of shade
Shade tree

I didn’t quite make it to Kandy in time before the afternoon rains, so once again, I sought shelter, this time in a bus stop. After about an hour delay, I continued towards Kandy, with traffic getting progressively worse. By the time I made it to the city limits, traffic was pandemonium. I just wanted to get to my hotel and take a hot shower. Looking down, I happen to notice the key was missing from the ignition 😮 Now I had to be extra careful not to stall the bike before I reached the hotel.

After some searching, I finally located my hotel and called the bike shop. Amazingly, someone had already found the keys and called his number on the key fob. As I was too tired to backtrack, I made arrangements for a driver to go retrieve the keys for me.

The view from the hotel room overlooking the river
Kandy

They tell me that the film “Bridge Over The River Kwai” was filmed somewhere in the Sri Lankan hill country.

The following morning, I headed out towards the town of Nuwara Eliya, a former British colonial enclave surrounded by tea plantations. The traffic in Kandy was still terrible, and it took me 45 minutes just to negotiate my way out of town. Once I got away from town, traffic lightened up considerably and I was actuall able to strafe some twisties. The thought of a bus passing on a blind corner kept me from getting too frisky.

The road to Nuwara Eliya
Road to Nuwara Eliya

I decided to take a different way back to Kandy
Backroad

Seeing an elderly man walking on the scorching hot pavement in his barefeet reminded me of what a soft piece of milquetoast I am.
Backroads

More giant shade trees
Giant shade trees

Hill country views. Some trees were blooming fiery, red flowers
Red flowers

Terraces and drying laundry
Terraces

Another hill country vista. Even on these narrow backroads, you would still encounter the malevolent buses
Hill country vista

Another river crossing
River crossing

Back in Kandy. Kandy had a nice town lake with a walkway and park benches. Families were out enjoying the weekend.
Town lake

After 2 nights in Kandy, it was time to return the bike to Colombo. I left Kandy and made my way down towards the coast.

Low country images
Low country

I came upon a woman with 2 porcupines. I asked if they were good eating, but she said no. They seemed docile enough, but I wasn’t gonna stick my hand in front of their faces to see what would happen.
Porcupines

Leaving the hill country, the terrain changed from terraced tea plants to rice paddies
Rice paddies

One of the dreaded tuk-tuks approaches in the distance, searching to create some form of mayhem
Tuk tuk

After getting lost one more time, I ended up having to call the bike shop, and he came and rescued me. All in all, I managed to survive the crazy traffic and rainshowers to have an enjoyable time.

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One Response

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  1. Hello from Malaysia.
    i’ve read about your accident on Pashnit.Glad to see you are ok and back on the saddle.
    Your site is excellent and an inspiration for me.
    Ride safe and take care.

    ps- Brilliant pics BTW

    Griffin

    griffin

    June 2, 2010 at 1:50 am


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