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6 Mayfred Avenue
Hope Valley, SA, 5090

The official website of adventurer and author of It Takes Two To Tandem, Louise George. Louise currently resides in Adelaide, South Australia with her husband. The two regularly travel and undertake many adventures together, including riding travelling 880 miles through the United Kingdom, from John O’Groats to Lands End.


Filtering by Category: Travel without bikes

Albania: Theth to Valbone and Lake Komani

Louise George


We are picked up by a Mercedes mini van, organised by Green Garden Hostel, and driven to Theth. We felt like we’d been teleported to Nepal. Initially the road was narrow and although sealed, dodging or moving over for other traffic made the journey slow.  We drive past fields of lavender and what appear to be chamomile flowers blooming. Soon we were on a mountain road. The mountains were steep and rocky, some with pockets of dirty snow. Clouds hung low in the drizzle. The road was very narrow with steep drop offs. Later the surface deteriorated to rough gravel and embedded raised rocks. There was no room to pass on-coming vehicles, so some backing-up to wider verges was required. It took almost 3 hours to travel 70 kms.  

We arrived in drizzle at accommodation Alpbes Theth, a guesthouse that is associated with Green Garden Hostel. Meals are included and we are almost immediately sat down to lunch of bread, spinach pie, sheep milk cheese, salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, and yellow capsicum, coated in olive oil, sheep milk yoghurt, washed down with a shot of Rakija. The soft rain turned the air cold. In fact I found it hard to generate any warmth in spite of donning all of the clothes I’d brought for the hike. While packing for the trip the last thing Nev said to me was he had his bathers, because there was a blue spring, and you could swim there. I didn’t even open my bag of warm gear that I had brought for the possibility of cycling getting cool, and now I am berating myself for my stupidity, entering a mountain region unprepared. For most of the afternoon we rested in the room, I was wrapped in the quilt.

Later we were bored, and still had to wait until 8 pm for dinner, so we walked out in the soft drizzle.


When we were called for dinner, I was reluctant to go to the dining room and leave the quilt behind, but soon warmed up after a dinner of soup, chips, BBQ lamb leg, cheese, salad, bread, and vegetable slice.

We requested breakfast for 7:30 and hoped that the weather would be fine so that tomorrow we can undertake the hike we intended. Breakfast is: mountain tea, bread, omelette, homemade butter, white cheese, ricotta, honey, fig jam. Feeling very full of food, and with a pile of additional food hastily prepared for a picnic, (our hosts hadn´t realised our intention to complete the hike) we departed just after 9. The 4WD track lead us about 3 km downhill to the trail head. The sign indicates that it´s 6km to Valbone Col, so that means 6km uphill! We continue on a rocky 4wd trail, that soon turned to zigzag up the steep shingle hill. Later it was muddy underfoot through beech forest. Still we continue upwards with occasional pauses for photos. The mountain views were stunning. About 40 minutes from the top, on the edge of the forest there was a cafe! We supported the local economy by purchasing cans of Nescafé Latte, and a slice of pancake-layer-stack, glued with honey.

At the Col, nimble Nev detoured out to the highest point to get some 360 degree views. We crossed through to the other side and then began descending, crossing many shingle avalanches.  Sometimes the track was quite narrow. This is the type of surface I don’t like walking on. I’ve never slipped, but the consequences of doing so, would be treacherous. Eventually, after much descending, we arrived at a meadow that was a good place to stop for lunch. Our packed lunch was bread, white cheese, tomatoes and cucumbers. Up to now we had seen only one other couple, but at this point we passed many people going up from the Valbone side. 

The descent continued following a stark white, rocky riverbed, and we are completely surrounded by mountains. The sun was shining and it was a pleasant walk all the way to Valbone where we stepped onto tarmac opposite a luxury hotel, where we celebrated by sharing a bottle of beer.

The trail finishes near the hotel tucked in the forest

The trail finishes near the hotel tucked in the forest


The walk wasn’t over for us; we didn’t have anywhere to stay, so we continued, looking for a guesthouse with a spare room.  We met 2 French couples on bikes. They were travelling separately, and had met a month ago, and now, by chance, had met up again. It was interesting to get their perspecive of cycling in Albania. By the time we had found suitable accommodation we had walked 22.2km. I was extremely cold, and again I’d been tucked under a quilt trying to be warm, but dinner was served outside, sitting in armchairs at a small table, surrounded by peaks kissed by the last of the sun.  Tepid Moussaka with some rice mixed in, bread, pasta shells that had been cooked in a broth, (but with no sauce) salad of tomatoes and cucumbers, ricotta with chopped green pickled tomatoes stirred in. We watched as goats on the road were herded to safety for the night, and a lone horse wandered home. We declined the offer to watch the World Cup Soccer, and headed for bed.


An early start; breakfast is to be at 6:30. I used Nev´s phone to set the time not realising that the 6:00 alarm was only for Saturday, for the rides he used to go on in Australia, with his mates! Just as well I wake early. By the time I thought to check the time it was 6:15. We managed to pack ready to leave, and be at the outdoor table in time for breakfast of deep fried omelette, bread, another type of white cheese, and fig jam, washed down with mountain tea. Mountain Tea is an Albanian breakfast accompaniment. It is made by steeping the plant, stem and leaves, in hot water. It is served hot or room temperature, and has a very pleasant flavour with a hint of perfume similar to lavender. Evidently it is an endangered plant, Sideritis Raeseri, a medicinal herb, rich in antioxidants.

A minibus took us to Busan, where we needed to catch another minibus to Fierze. While we waited on the footpath what appeared to be a minibus pulled up in front of us. Yes he was going to Fierze and we had difficulty understanding the fare. Nev gave him 1500 Lek and then he snatched the remaining 600 Nev was still holding. We took off at a crazy rate. Nev and I simultaneously reaching around for seat belts, and exchanging the same thought as we looked into each other´s eyes; ¨what have we got into!¨ Nev checked Google maps and the exchange rate. It was now obvious that this vehicle, in spite of it´s disheveled state, was a taxi, and we were in the hands of a crazy Albanian driver! At a village he pulled over and he told us to get out, and pointing and waving, indicated we were to go with another man who was at the side of the road standing beside a small car. We clarified that we didn’t need to pay the man any money, then the minibus did a u-turn and disappeared. The driver of the small car lit a cigarette, and we were off, enveloped in smoke, to Fierze, only a few kilometres away. The driver stopped outside a restaurant and told us, quite sternly, to get out. So we did! On asking at the restaurant, we found it was still 3 km to the ferry and it departed in 45 minutes. We set off at a brisk walk and then decided to hitchhike. Thumbs out to the first car and it pulled over. Two young men quickly moved stuff to one side of the back seat and we squeezed in. We were offered, and ate their biscuits, and soon dropped at the ferry.

The three hour ferry ride on Lake Komani was beautiful, even though the peace was disturbed by accompanying local music, played just a little too loudly! Lake Komani is a man-made reservoir as a result of damming the Drin River. Large hills rise from the water and occasionally there is a view of mountains behind. The scenes are very picturesque but not dramatic like the country we had walked through yesterday.

As soon as we disembark the ferry we are approached by a man who asks if we need a ride to Shkoder. He has a taxi with two passengers and is happy for two more fares. We are happy to accept his offer that is cheaper than the minibus we were expecting to catch. Today, in terms of transport; you lose some; you win some! 

Sri Lanka: Ella to Colombo - including Udawalawa National Park, Talalla, Uluwatuna

Louise George


Our calf muscles are a bit stiff but we’ve planned a day of walking. It’s May Day Public Holiday; usually held 1st May but deferred this year because last Monday was a Poya Public Holiday. 

The walking route to Ella from the height of our accommodation is down a long section of concrete steps and then along the railway.  There is a narrow track beside the line but with puddles and sometimes overhanging long grasses to brush against us at face height, we do what the locals do, and take no notice of the signs pointing out the danger of walking on the line, and make our walk easier by stepping from sleeper to sleeper, first a section on solid concrete ones and later, old wooden sleepers, that squelch in the moist mud. We walked a number of kilometres, along the railway line, through the short tunnel, to Nine Arch Bridge, a span of 91 metres at a height of 24 metres. The bridge was commissioned by the British in 1941. We took our place in the queue for a photo, along with many locals who were also out walking. I took my hat off for the photo and put it on the ground with the bag. We were about to walk on, when I said to Nev that it seemed odd, but my ear felt like it was sweating. On removing my hat he told me there was a leech attached to the top of my ear. Those around me panicked and one person, (Tasmanian)who fortunately has a leech phobia, had a bag of salt to sprinkle on it. It soon curled up and dropped to the ground but not before Nev took a photo of it. The Tasmanian took great delight in stomping the leech flat. From that time, I am constantly checking myself when we walk through long grasses.

We climbed a dirt track from the railway, and on joining a road came across a juice bar, that had a view directly down to the bridge. Sipping on passionfruit juice, we’d timed it right to see the crowds on the bridge scuttle, and the morning train crossed. More climbing and steps took us to the top of Little Adam’s Peak, but by the time we arrived, cloud had obscured the view. On heading towards town, raindrops fell just as we were passing a restaurant. The impending rain and attraction of a sign of Espresso, cappuccino, latte, seemed like a great time to stop. The restaurant had no coffee and we were too late for small meals. Nev ordered and I ate a small portion of his meal. By now it was 3 p.m. and we’d booked to attend a cooking class at 5, so I didn’t want to spoil my appetite. Rain bucketed down for the next 2 hours. We shared our table with an English couple, Cherry, Keith and daughter Kate. Kate and Keith, 70, had just completed Lanka Tuk Tuk challenge, and we loved hearing of their adventure. If anyone is crazy enough, here is a link to the organisation that runs that challenge;  (A few days later, in a car park in Unawatuna we saw two Tuk Tuks emblazoned with New Zealand stickers and flags that appear to have also participated in the event).

There were four of us at the Ella Rocks Cooking class. The Sri Lanka curries are mild and flavoursome. We cooked rice, yellow dhall, bean curry, pumpkin curry and coconut roti, all from scratch, even made the coconut milk; all very delicious, with a side of avocado salad. Dessert was a sweet, nutty, cinnamon, sago pudding, a National dish called Sauw.

Here is one very simple cooking tip you may like to use: when cooking rice, add a few cloves of Garlic (in their skins) to the water. They come out creamy, just like baked garlic. You can also do this when cooking yellow lentils for dhall.

Our calf muscles are tight! We’re going to have a ‘taking it easy’ day but as Ella Hide View is perched at the top of a hill, our outing starts with a stiff walk down the steps and along the railway to Ella. It’s easy to locate the bus stop and catch a blue one, that takes over the road as it speeds downhill around tight corners, towards Wellawaya. We get off after 6 km at the Rawana Ella falls, that drop an impressive 19 metres down to the roadside. There are large boulders and warnings not to climb them, as to date 36 people have died at this waterfall. The road each side was bordered by stalls selling peeled and sliced Mango, temptingly displayed as fruit strips protruding from small plastic bags. We’d had the most amazing breakfast at Ella Hide View that had included a fruit starter of slices each of mango, papaya, watermelon, orange, pineapple, small banana and half a passion fruit; so couldn’t be tempted. There is a bus stop nearby and we enjoy the wait for a return bus, as there are monkey’s antics to be entertained by. 

Back in Ella, we’re tempted by a coffee sign, only to find there is no power to restaurants in town, so again coffee is elusive. There is stormy cloud filling the space between the steep hills that border the valley of Ella Gap, so we returned to Ella Hide View to sit out what becomes torrential rain, that fell for a few hours.  We holed up for an admin afternoon. Our view was towards little Ella Falls and they had grown from two riverlets of silver to a solid burnished brown curtain, that was held apart by a ridge of green shrubbery. We wondered if Rawana Ella was cascading over the road!

Ella Hide View do not do lunch, and after such a large breakfast we thought that wouldn’t matter, but after the accumulated walking over the past few days, by 3 p.m. I’m feeling light headed.  The easiest way to town is another railway line walk, but this time we decided to follow a sign pointing down a road to Ella City, and found ourselves walking down a steep slippery narrow road with tourist accommodation built into the slopes. No wonder the locals prefer the flat railway. From a small store we buy peanuts and cashews. These are going in my bag so we’re never caught without food again, and then we eat a hearty meal at a local restaurant.

Were winding our way to Uva Halpewaththa tea plantation when the Tuk Tuk we are passengers in, stops. It’s broken down. At the rear of the vehicle, the flap is lifted and this gives Nev the opportunity to question the driver about the engine. It’s a four stroke, one cylinder, of only 125cc, that defies the massive ‘grunt’ they have, hauling three people (including the driver) up the steep hills in this region. The problem is a fuel blockage that the driver seems unable to fix, so a replacement vehicle and driver is called for and we continue on, leaving him to sort out his problem. 

The tea factory visit is very interesting. It starts with a lecture of the history and process, followed by a tour. The high country climate grows the best quality tea but it’s still graded into white or golden (being the delicate centre leaf), and three other grades, of which the third is used for tea bags. Later I read more about the tea industry and find that the British bought the plant from China, but the Sinhalese didn’t want to work in the plantations so southern Indians (Tamils) were bought here to pick. Pickers often live in community housing on the plantations, but the wage was a low $5 (2016) per 8 hour day, and living conditions often poor. Some plantations offer medical and educational services (such as Pedro’s we visited in Nuwara Eliya that advertise as ‘ethical’ tea), but I haven’t researched to confirm the extent of these claims. We´ve seen hundreds of acres of tea being grown and wonder at the enormity of the market for the leaf, considering our own capacity of a couple of tea bags each day!

The Tuk Tuk driver detours passed Ella Hide View so we can pick up our bag, and drops us at Ella where we sit at a restaurant eating Pizza Margherita, that we save half of for the bus journey.  The bus stops at Matalla and we need to change. The next bus isn’t leaving for 30 minutes and the driver and conductor are going to lunch. We sit outside the library and eat our pizza. By the time we get back to the bus it’s full of giggling school girls (school is from 7-1). By 3 we’re at Embilipitiya, and easily make our way to Pavana resort (Google maps, one of our most used Apps).  The welcome board displays Nev’s name and one other! The very welcoming manager plonks us in the foyer, delivers a juice drink, and insists we watch a BBC elephant documentary about Udawalawa Park, that will take 50 minutes! He fiddles for about 5 minutes trying to get the video to play, and then Nev puts him out of his misery, asks for the remote and easily loads it. (From this, Shirlee deduces that Nev must work in IT!) At 4 the screen dies, and we’re told that a transformer has blown; there is no power to the town! We are now taken to our room, that is very dark. Shirlee shows us the pool outside and explains the resort has been closed for 18 months. He is the very proud new proprietor, retired from an occupation in geology, and has been in his new role for only 2 weeks; we are his first guests. Well that explains his awkward exuberance!

Later we walk the short distance to town and see three men working up the pole to fix the power outage. We sit in a dark restaurant, barely lit by one torch lantern. Fried rice, cooked on gas, is an adequate meal. Power is restored early evening but we’re going to bed as we have an early start tomorrow.

We’re waiting for our Jeep at 5:15. Shirlee has prepared a large pink plastic basket with our picnic breakfast. Pick up time is 5:30 but at 6:15 after numerous attempts to contact by phone, both the driver and the company we booked through, we are still waiting. We go out to the main road and flag down a Tuk Tuk driver. We’ve covered half the 20 kms, when the driver pulls to a stop. The left rear tyre is flat. We get out of the little vehicle and watch as the spare is brought out from behind the back flap. The nuts on the wheel that is flat are undone. Nev and I both gasp as the driver lifts the vehicle to tilt it on one side and then balances it on his knee while he replaces the wheel! Nev offers to help but none is needed! Repairs completed and we continue, almost to Udawalawa National Park, to where the hire jeeps are waiting for customers.

Udawalawa National Park is known to be a great park to see elephants, and we have a delightful three hours, stopping at times to observe groups of them, many with young. The females and babies graze oblivious of us, but one male comes right up to the front passenger window and doesn’t appear to want to move. He nudges the vehicle and the driver squirts the elephant’s trunk from his water bottle! I saw those horror movies on the bus a few days ago, and I know that if the elephant decides to be aggressive, we will be the losers. Whenever one gets too close, I scarper to the opposite side of the Jeep. To be honest I got just as much pleasure looking at the beautiful birds (eagles, kingfishers, toucan, spotted crane, Weaver birds, that build nests that hang) as I did looking at elephants.

We return to Embilipitiya just to shower, check-out and catch a bus. As usual we both nod off. It’s a much longer ride than we expected and we find we’ve caught a bus that takes the very long coastal route. It’s a hot sticky ride but eventually we get to Talalla. This is a very pretty, crescent-shaped, golden-sand beach, edged with palms. Talalla Freedom Resort at the northern end (at the top of the hill) has a spare room (in fact no-one is staying here). The beach is deserted and the turquoise ocean breaks close to the shore. A picturesque scene spoiled by the zing of mosquitoes. The only restaurant we find open is at a Talalla Retreat and the fixed price meal is very expensive, but we’re hungry. The courses of soup, salad, main and dessert are delivered in such quick succession, that we’ve eaten an enormous amount in under an hour! We drag ourselves along the beach and back up the hill to pass out in food coma!

Talalla Beach

Talalla Beach

We’ve caught two buses but it hasn’t been difficult to transition at Matara, as a chap guided us (for a fee) through the station to seats on the bus to Unawatuna. We don’t have far to travel on this section. Soon there are a few people standing in the narrow aisle. Nev’s backpack is at the front of the bus and I have mine on my lap. We’ve been following our dot on Google Maps and know we’re almost at the peninsula where our accommodation is situated. There are more people to squeeze past to move forward, so I tell Nev I’ll go to the rear door while he goes to the front. The conductor is at the back by the door, and at the stop he indicates for me to get off. I move along the roadside towards the front door, but when I’m at only half the bus length, the bus moves off. Nev has not alighted! Oh shit! I’ve got no money and didn’t take any notice of the name of the place we’re going to stay. I set off in the direction of the bus at a fast paced walk. After about a kilometre I see Nev a long way in the distance, and run to catch up. Nev continues to walk quickly, away from me. I’m afraid he will think I’m still on the bus and grab a Tuk Tuk to chase it, so I break into a sprint. Finally I catch him but I’m exhausted and dripping sweat as if I’ve just stepped out of a shower. We flag a Tuk Tuk and don’t even haggle the price. We’ve spluttered up a hill and been dropped at the beginning of a steep driveway. How have we chosen accommodation on top of the only hill on the peninsula between Unawatuna Beach and Jungle Beach?

This begins a couple of days of relaxation, at Lanka Eco Village, getting laundry done (the humidity has been so high we’ve been unable to dry the clothes we washed ourselves in Ella, and they’re a bit musty), and preparing for our next travel. We’ve enjoyed lazying by the pool, and eating more food than we need. What would relaxation be without many walks, checking out the beaches, looking for restaurants (many are closed, because there are few tourists), and returning to our accommodation dripping wet from either perspiration, or from getting caught in torrential monsoon rains.

Yesterday dawned fresh and just a smidgen cooler as the thunderstorm that had raged all night had moved on. Everything dripped under the clear sky and on our hillside the road surfaces ran like rivers and the ocean had lost its turquoise hue. Nadee our accommodation manager, when we’d commented about very few women working in the service industries, had arranged for a female Tuk Tuk driver to take us to Galle Fort.  There has been a fort here since 1589 built initially by the Portuguese that was destroyed when the Dutch took Galle in 1640. The Dutch built the edifice that stands today. Galle was the main port for 200 years. There are many historic buildings, some still used as administrative offices or museums and churches, and we wander along the ramparts for a bird’s eye view.  

Apart from the historic attraction of the Fort, we’re intrigued by the number of couples we have seen getting formal photographs taken. Some are wearing very elaborate costumes and these are always colour coordinated. Poses are conjectured against a matching backdrop.

Unlike yesterday when breakfast was a buffet, today, Monday we’re the only two at breakfast that is included in our accommodation rate, and it’s taken at Villa Thawthisa Hotel next door. It is probably the only time in our lives that we will have a waiter attending only to us, and three cooks preparing our breakfast. We have juice, coffee, toast, grilled tomatoes, mushrooms, potatoes lyonnaise, and the world’s best cheese omelette. Mind you; eggs have been part of every breakfast in Sri Lanka, and I don’t want to eat another one for a very long time!

Our last train is half an hour late. Not at all unusual, but eventually the engine and shabby carriages pull in front of the platform. We get a 2nd class seat by a wide open window and appreciate any air that comes in.  Even though we’re following the coast, there is no coolness in the breeze. Apart from long stretches alongside beaches and the Indian Ocean we have rivers and swampy mangrove areas to cross. There is the occasional resort or tidy home but as living adjacent to a railway line is not usually desirable, many of the homes are small makeshift dwellings, close to dirty ditches that are full from recent rains. I’m reminded of the Smart Traveller warning of dengue fever in Sri Lanka and hope the occasional mosquito bite I’ve had is clean.

Last sunset in Sri Lanka, from the train on the way to Colombo

Last sunset in Sri Lanka, from the train on the way to Colombo

Our final dinner is in Colombo at a local restaurant. The tasty meal is washed down with Avocado juice, that we’ve seen as available throughout the trip, but never tried. Avocados here are enormous, and of the green smooth skinned variety. We did buy two (35c each) at one point to make our breakfast eggs into smashed avocado and eggs. The juice was very tasty, with a little sugar added. If you love avocados as much as I do you might like these nifty icons by Adelaide creative, Lisa Vertudaches. There is a link from Lisa’s Instagram


The Grand Oriental Hotel has a top floor restaurant with a bird’s eye view of the Port. We try the local liquor called Arrack. Essentially it is like a brandy but made out of the fermented sap of coconut flowers. Sitting out on the balcony we watch the comings and goings of trucks out to the docked ships. For us, alcohol hasn’t featured while we´ve been traveling in Sri Lanka. Liquor is not allowed for a week either side of Vesak Poya, and the local restaurants we have eaten at do not usually sell alcohol. We did eventually go out to seek beers in Ullawatuna, and found a liquor shop that had bars covering the windows, and the bottles and staff were behind a metal grill; very high security! Later we are told that alcohol, brought to Sri Lanka by the British, is a real issue here; especially in the communities we’re poor grade Arrack is made and consumed in large quantities. Supported by the majority Buddhist nation, law forbids women to purchase alcohol.

In all the mornings here, we’ve not had a true Sri Lankan breakfast, so have to remedy that on our last morning. There are some local restaurants near the Grand Oriental so we go to look for one. We’ve only walked 100 metres and are joined by a young man who says he has seen us at the hotel; he works there the night shift and is on his way home. Can he help? He explains that the restaurants in the area will be closed as this is a Muslin area and today is the first day of Ramadan.  (Ramadan is a period of fasting, held this year from 15 May. Ramadan is observed by people of Muslim faith to commemorate the first revelation of the Quran to Muhammad). This chatty young man can show us to the best Sri Lankan restaurant at a food plaza, he is walking to his car and it’s in the same direction. When we get to the roads that converge at a roundabout with board fences securing building sites, he suggests it is difficult to walk (we’ve actually walked around this traffic island three times before without difficulty) and we should get a Tuk Tuk. Always take a government one he says, they have a meter; here is one now, and he flags the Tuk Tuk to the kerb. He tells the driver to take us to the restaurant but first he will stop at a gem shop that is on the way. Today being first day of Ramadan there is a sale from 6 a.m to 10 a.m., a once a year opportunity to get 50-60% off gem stones. It is a long ride in the Tuk Tuk in early morning traffic, and we’re both thinking this is a long way for breakfast! The vehicle pulls in front of the gem shop and we try to explain we’re not interested. It’s easier to ‘go with the flow’ so we go in to the shop, and are sat down to look at drawers of sparkling gems and jewellery. We humour the chap for five minutes and then insist we must go as we definitely do not want to buy, even with a 50% discount. The ‘government’ Tuk Tuk driver takes us to Lotus Food Court. He glances down at a dark screen I cannot read, and says the fee is R800, and would we like him to wait? We know this is a ludicrously expensive fee for the distance; pay, and say we will make our own way back. He isn’t very impressed!

Lotus Food Court has String Hoppers and Curry so we eat the same meal as the locals with the same utensils; our fingers! A very tasty breakfast, that we immediately ‘burn off’ as we power-walk the 3.3km back to the Grand Oriental, with only enough time spare for a quick shower and to get to the lobby to meet our driver. The driver of the car to the airport confirms we have been scammed! We laugh about dropping our guard, and being ‘caught out’ in the last moments of this trip. We parted with only a few dollars more for the orchestrated ride, and weren’t held at knifepoint and forced to part with large amounts of money, as he describes has happened to some tourists!


Sri Lanka: Kandy to Ella - including Nuwara Eliya and Adam’s Peak (Sri Pada)

Louise George


A Tuk Tuk driver was called for by our hostess and he delivered us to the bus station and pointed out the bus to Nuwara Eliya. It’s a blue one! I nodded into a heat induced stupor, even before leaving the bus station, and missed the first hour of travel. By then we were in tea country. The journey continues for another 2 hours of constant climbing and twisting around corners at a speed that sometimes throws the bus into a lean, as if it were a motorcycle. On one corner the jamming of brakes brought us to a complete halt, with the acrid smell of burning rubber, but we did not connect with the bus coming towards us! 

We have a stunning vista of tea plantations and vegetable garden beds. Eventually we started descending, winding past plantings of beautiful bright flowers. On the outside edge of each switchback there was a broader verge, and each of these was taken up with a vegetable stall.

We check-in to Blue Moon Hotel. The room is clean, it has an ensuite and the bonus of using shared kitchen facilities downstairs; breakfast is provided. For the three nights we stayed here, there are no other guests!

Because Nuwara Eliya is elevated, (1,868m) the air is cooler, so we set off for a late afternoon walk. It was harrowing walking on the narrow road shoulder during peak traffic. The detail on our map was scanty; in reality we had no idea where we were; so we made a decision to abandon the walk to Lovers Leap Waterfall until tomorrow.

A Tuk Tuk dropped us at Pedro Tea Estate. The factory here only operates at night when it is cooler, to ensure the tea is lighter and of a higher quality. Even though only one machine was operating, the tour was interesting. The estate was a better place to start the walk to Lovers Leap. The track took us through the tea plantation where we passed women picking, (they work an eight hour day, picking 18 kilograms) and men weeding or spraying. From the waterfall, the walk back to town is descending via narrow roads that gave us a good view of industrious local people going about their work; digging in compost, weeding and planting seedlings, and as always, someone is sweeping (the swish, swish of brush brooms is as common a sound as bird chirps).  From the main road we caught a Tuk Tuk that dropped us back to town in time for lunch. At the local restaurant a noodle meal cost R200 but the green tea was R350 each! 

Thunder and rain caught us as we wandered around Victoria Park (named to commemorate the 60th jubilee coronation of Queen Victoria), so we sat under the rotunda, for almost an hour, waiting for it to ease. Nuwara Eliya is a delightful little town. The city was founded in 1846 and the British used it to escape summer heat and found the climate was good for growing English plants, both floral and vegetable. Many large colonial houses still stand, with large lawns and brightly coloured gardens of plant varieties that are very familiar to us from our colder climate New Zealand gardens. The Grand Hotel is of Tudor design, and the local Post Office looks like it has been teleported from an English village.


Trip Advisor reviews pointed us to dinner at Sri Ambaal. We point to a variety of photos on the menu to order what are called ‘short eats’. The waiter indicates we should also have what everyone else is eating.  A plate of samosas and curry roll is delivered to the table. Then the meal of the evening is added to our stainless steel platter. It looked like a pancake, crispy around the edge, but tastes like cottage cheese fried in ghee and this is used to mop up yellow dhall and pumpkin curry, that is poured onto the platter from a stainless steel jug, then taken to the next table. What a great idea; the same meal for every diner. All very delicious, but so much food!

Finally we’re getting lucky. Were seated on the bus to Hatton. It’s a red short-length bus, with 2 seats on the right side, and 1 seat on the left. The seats are cloth, so maybe we won’t slide as much as usual, and Nev sitting near the aisle, has an arm rest. The full bus leaves the station. We’re surprised to find that the arm rest soon turns into a dickey seat, and the bus becomes very full!

At Hatton we walk to the railway station to catch a direct bus to Nallathanniya, but we’re told it’s not the season, and the direct bus is not now operating. Our choice is to either walk back to the bus station, and get two buses, or take a Tuk Tuk the 33km. Even though the ride was the usual, bumpy, noisy, fume smelling ride, we thought our choice of a Tuk Tuk was a good one.  We had a considerate driver, who was not in a desperate hurry, and was able to explain some points of interest along the way, with stops for photos of Castlereigh Reservoir. He will pick us up again at 9:30 and drop us back at Hatton station. In the meantime we have a Peak to climb.

I’m awake to other people leaving before the alarm, set for 2:45 a.m. The hotel host had encouraged us to leave at 2 a.m. (there was an opportunity here; something they could have told us!) but we figure that leaving at 3 will get us to the top of Adams Peak (Sri Pada 2243m) for sunrise. The route starts at a gentle grade on concrete or dirt trail.  Plastic sheeting encloses former tea stalls that until Vesak Poya Day (last Sunday and Monday) would have offered refreshments and souvenirs to pilgrims. The monastery is open and we are funnelled through the doorway so we can be blessed by the monk as he ties a white string around our right wrist. We then need to sign the book to record our Pilgrimage and to make the non-compulsory donation of exactly R1000 as has been recorded beside every other name. 

The climb up is tough! It’s just on 5 kilometres and around 5200 steps, of which the tread gets shorter and narrower as the gradient steepens.  We have a headlamp and small torch that are enough to guide each footfall, but even so it’s quite disconcerting with only blackness on the periphery. Fortunately the last few hundred that are extremely steep we have the assistance of a handrail. We walk for a long while with a local who appeared to be climbing at my pace, and kept encouraging me to move with “Come on, come on” but I found he really just needed my light and was slower than me.  I gave him my torch and proceeded with Nev. Many tourists were outside the temple, waiting for sunrise. We were disappointed to find many people waiting at the entrance to the temple and then more disappointed to find that it had closed a few days ago at the end of Poya, so we would not be able to see Buddha’s foot print or the place that God placed Adam when he was banished from Paradise. The sunrise was less than dramatic, but the view that unfolded before us as the sunlight drew back night’s curtain, was very impressive. Now we had to walk back down, stopping occasionally and taking our eyes from the steps, to enjoy the vista.

The 33km Tuk Tuk ride completed the morning’s exercise. Although we had the same gentle driver as yesterday it is the type of travel where I often have to tightly grip the underside of the bench seat to avoid sliding off the shiny surface, onto the road, and use my core muscles to stay balanced. A new kind of work-out!

We had booked this train, Hatton to Ella, while back in Colombo. At that time we were given 3rd class seats, being the only available. The Dutch woman waiting with us had just bought her 2nd Class ticket this morning. Nev went looking for an upgrade and only 1st Class was available. A few days ago an English couple told us they were disappointed with first class because the windows didn’t open for taking photographs, so we decided not to change. Third class was actually very suitable, with everyone seated and windows wide open. The vendors made their way to us so we snacked on samosas and other spicy ‘small eats’. The scenery was stunningly beautiful. Tea plantations, waterfalls, pine forest, eucalyptus forest, the occasional shea oak or rhododendron, and other colourful tropical trees. Small vegetable farms were replaced by jungle. Grand homes in towns indicated a degree of wealth whereas some small homes in the countryside with cladding of recycled materials, and people washing outdoors under water spouts, gave a sense of poverty. The railway was high on the ridges and the view in every direction was amazing. This was by far the most picturesque 100 kilometres we have ever covered by train.

Rain drops fell on our arrival at Ella. By the time we reached our accommodation, Ella Hide View was living up to the name. We were on the top of a hill, a couple of kilometres from town, and with the rain shower the view was now white out!

Sri Lanka: Kandy

Louise George


As we rode into Kandy passed Temple of the tooth, I spotted the name Gelateria on our right. We alight at the next stop, and walk back to an International Food Hall, that is clean, air conditioned bliss. The Latte, purchased at R760 for 2, far exceeds the bus ticket of R240 for the two of us to travel 100 kms. 

At 3 we grab a Tuk Tuk to take us to the apartment. We thought it was a couple of kilometres from the centre but hadn’t checked the topography. Kandy has a small centre that is flat, and it’s surrounded by huge hills. We have no idea where to go, and neither does the driver. He ‘guns’ the vehicle up steep inclines, and asks people a couple of times for directions. Our driver, Rasika was happy to catch some tourists, and convinces us to use his Tuk Tuk services tomorrow. Our accommodation is almost at the top of a hill, in a residential suburb. It is a small apartment, with wonderful views. Fortunately our host, who lives downstairs, offers to give us a home cooked dinner; whew we don’t need to figure how to get back down to the city.

Rasika arrives at 9 and takes us to the high into the hills to Lankathilaka, a Buddhist temple that dates back to 1344. The temple is built atop a rock, providing a view of distant hills and valleys, paddy fields and luxuriant vegetation. On our return to the vehicle we acknowledge the skill of a wood carver who is working away, surrounded by hundreds of wooden items for sale. We are intrigued with a wooden box of which the opening alludes us; no joins are visible. The wood carver shows us a very ingenious couple of moves that opens it. Now that we know what to do, even repeating the technique is difficult. Very clever!

Next stop is to be the Botanic Gardens but Rasika wants to take us to a herb garden first. We are left at the entrance and approached by a gentleman who explains that he gives a free tour and is a herbal remedy doctor. He proceeds to point out the plants and the types of remedies that they are used for; going so far as to apply the balm from the Neem plant to a patch of Nev´ś hairy legs, and ten minutes later uses a tissue to wipe it off, along with the hair. Of course the final area is a small shop selling many concoctions. We had shown an interest in a natural remedy to stop snoring but decided after being advised of the price, that I would have to put up with Nev´ś night noises.


The Royal Botanic Gardens are mentioned in tourist brochures as a ‘must see’ and because we both like gardens that is our next stop. It’s a pricey $15 entry fee but we enjoy walking for a couple of hours, in the cool of the shade of huge tree canopies, amongst the many species collections in the gardens. There has been a garden here since 1371! Most plantings have been cultivated on a larger scale from the early 1800s. When we exit, Rasika is not at the gate at the appointed time. Another Tuk Tuk driver says he is coming, so we wait. 

We are dropped next at the International Food Hall for lunch, then walk across to the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic. 

The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic is a Buddhist temple located in the former Kingdom of Kandy. The temple houses a tooth that, legend has it, was retrieved in 543BC, from Buddha’s funeral pyre, and given to King Brahmadatte and thereafter has been a royal possession. A belief grew, that whoever had the tooth had the divine right to rule. Historically the tooth was moved around and housed in other temples such as the one we saw ruins of, at Polonnawarua. The Relic is still revered, with daily ceremonies held in the temple. The history, artworks and architecture of the Palace complex also made the visit here very interesting. 

We’d arranged to meet Rasika at 4:30, but he is not at the meeting place. A security guard tells us our driver will be 5 minutes. Then we are told 20 minutes so we go back inside the food court for a cold drink. On returning to the meeting point there is still no sign of our Tuk Tuk. We’re approached by another driver who tells us he is to take us to our hotel. Not again! Our day’s fee has not been paid to Rasika and the agreement was that he deliver us to our accommodation. We don’t want to pay this guy, and we’re actually happy to wait and watch the ‘goings-on’ around us. Rasika finally shows up 40 minutes late with a “sorry”. We get in and he hurriedly drives off, giving us the impression we are a nuisance and he should be somewhere else! The trip back up the hill is hectic, almost to the point of dangerous, as at one intersection I have the grill of a bus only centremetres from my right ear! We’re bounced over the steel drainage grills in the road and delivered to the gate. Payment is made and he’s away, with no question of “what are you doing tomorrow”. I’m over Tuk Tuk drivers!

We’ve taken an administration day. Time to book ahead, catch up with the calendar and budgeting App (Trail Wallet), respond to emails, as well as use the washing machine. Midday we decide to go for a walk to look for somewhere for lunch on the main road at the base of the hill, walking vía a mapped path that goes straight down. Google tells us it’s 3 km to a highly recommended Icecream shop. By the time we’ve done the round trip, with an extension to look for a torch for me to use later when we get to Adams Peak, we’ve covered at least 8 km in the sticky heat, maneuvering around hundreds of buses (goodness knows how we ended up in the middle of the bus station), and dodging thousands of school girls (dressed in white uniforms with red ties) who at 1:30 had finished school for the day; we’re exhausted.

Later our hostess called by with cake and an offer of providing dinner tonight that we thankfully accepted. Yeah! We could cancel our thoughts of walking back down this evening. 


Sri Lanka: Colombo to Kandy - including the heritage sites of Sigiriya and Polonnawarua

Louise George

Sigiriya from Pidurangula

Sigiriya from Pidurangula

When we went to the station to purchase tickets the day before yesterday, we had been told at the Tourist counter we couldn’t prebook and that there would only be 3rd class carriages available. “For the 6:05 departure, get to the station at least by 5:45, go to Counter 3, and expect to have to do some shoving!”

Having left the huge amount of gear, (enormous suitcase and chockka full overnight bag) needed for Europe, (how we are going to carry it all on two bikes, is yet to be realised); we are down to travelling with a day-backpack each. The Grand Oriental Hotel is in a quiet area and at 5:15 a.m. there are not the many sleeping Tuk Tuk drivers we were expecting to see; in fact there are none. None show before we reach the street corner, so we decide to return to the hotel reception to see if they will call one. The receptionist comes outside, looks into the Tuk Tuk parked outside and shrugs his shoulders.  His small attempt to help, produces the same result as we got. Nothing! By the time we walk, at just under jogging pace to the station, we are hot and sweating. There is no long queue and we are pointed to Counter 2 for tickets on a 2nd class carriage. Nice surprise!  We are observed looking for Platform 4, by an astute man who appears to be deaf mute, he guides us onto a dark carriage, then produces a card that indicates he’s a ‘station scout’ and then displays a page of information about a Deaf school, and note book of people’s names, country and donations they have made; some rather large. We duly follow with a small contribution; that in his opinion doesn’t warrant an entry in the notebook, as it is quickly removed before we can write in it. The assistance was helpful, but I’m skeptical that this is a tourist scam. There are 7 people on the carriage, not the hoards with standing room only, as we expected!

Whirling ceiling fans and air from the open windows did nothing to cool the carriage. The only way to escape the cloying heat was to doze intermittently. The journey of just over 5 hours was an interesting view of paddy fields at various stages of cultivation, and fruit trees, giving the impression of subsistence farming. We had snacks for the train; peanuts, mandarin and Easter Egg. Nev went on to the platform at one of the long stops, and returned with two delicious curried egg samosas. 

We settled in to Le Grand Meaulines, and then walked the 1&1/2 km into Habarana to find lunch food. An afternoon nap snuck up on both of us, and we realised now that home (Adelaide) was six and a half hours ahead, we were probably jet lagged.  We ate dinner of a ‘set course’, many curry dishes and rice, followed by fresh fruit, then went to bed early and slept ‘like logs’, in spite of our earlier napping.

We chose to eat breakfast at 6:30, as we want to beat the heat and crowds at Sigiriya. A Tuk tuk driver, already with a passenger, offered us a free ride just 200 metres to Habarana Junction; that seemed a little odd, and only a little generous, but we climbed in. At the Junction he dropped his passenger and then offered us a paid ride to Sigiriya 17 km away. The speed limit for a Tuk Tuk is 40 kph. The driver wound that little machine up to 60 km per hour as we hurtled along a quiet road, bordered by jungle.

As soon as we’d purchased the entrance tickets we headed to the top. The sun was already out in full force. The stair climb was harrowing. Concrete was soon replaced by a steel platform, supported by steel braces that were embedded in the rock. The final section was climbing almost upright, steel steps. What an amazing view of 360 degrees was visible from atop this enormous flat rock.

Sigiriya had been a city created in 5th century AD by King Kashyapa and was composed of buildings, pathways, ponds and terraces. We wandered amongst the ruins, seeking shade wherever possible. It was fascinating trying to imagine royalty living at this height, particularly trying to visualise how difficult it must have been to get people and goods to the top of the rock. King Kashyapa had plotted the assassination of his father and overthrew his brother, so probably protection was his prime motivation to rule from such a height. Back at the base the museum gave an interesting overview of the history of the region.  

Another Tuk Tuk ride took us to Dambulla, and we started the afternoon with a ‘set lunch’. So much food!  We found these rice and curry meals the norm for a meal in Sri Lanka; similar to last night’s dinner; an enormous amount of rice (too much usually) and at least five curries. Another Tuk Tuk dropped us at Dambulla Caves. We didn’t expect to climb many steps but were quite wrong, as there was at least a twenty minute climb up to the Caves. So many steps for already weary legs!  Dambulla Caves is an area of five rock cave temples.  We have to remove our shoes and hats: the flag-stone is hot underfoot! At least in the temples it is cool.   The Caves contain about 150 Buddha statues. Some Buddha images were created here 2000 years ago. 

We ambled our way the 2km back to Dambulla, past one of Sri Lanka’s biggest wholesale markets that looked like a constant stream of trucks and Tuk Tuks arriving with bananas and pumpkins etc.  We needed to sit, and cool down, as we find the heat and humidity drains our energy, so continued to walk back to Mango Mango cafe, where we had eaten lunch, for some cool aircon and a Coke.

Almost the final excursion on this epic day, was a Tuk Tuk to Pidurangula for another climb. The driver made it quite clear we should come down at 6:30 following sunset. He would pick us up at 7, by this stone step, and the fee would be R1300. He repeated this a few times to make sure we got it! The climb was up irregular stone steps, through the treed slope of the hill, past the ruins of cave dwellings where Buddhist monks once lived, and just beyond a reclining Buddha the steps finished and the route became a rock scramble. I found it pretty scary but forced myself to push on, facing my fear to squeeze under a large flat rock slab and finally breathe in relief as we were now out to a large reasonably flat, open stone hilltop. We enjoyed the amazing views back to Sigiriya. We could see people (tiny as ants) climbing, as we had done this morning. I made my way down just after 5. I had no intention of negotiating the climb in the dark. It was almost dark when I got near the bottom and at this point a couple of naked bulbs lit the path. I realised I had the headlamp that Nev would need, and it would be completely dark when he descended. Oh dear!

A man came up to me and said the ticket office had rung him because our Tuk Tuk driver wasn’t coming now. He asked if I had come from Dambulla and I said no, because I thought ‘if he is lying to me, then I’ll lie to him’. I told him I was waiting for Nev and my driver.

Nev came down early because with the blanket of cloud it was obvious there was not going to be a brilliant sunset. In spite of the new Tuk Tuk driver pressurising us the leave with him, I insisted we wait until 7. Guess what? Our driver didn’t turn up!  By now it was dark and not many people left. The new driver wanted more rupees, he pretty much had us to ransom. I refused to go with him and arranged with the van driver of the only vehicle still in the area, to drop us at the main road and we’d catch another Tuk Tuk. I’m sitting in the van waiting for Nev to get in, when he says the Tuk Tuk driver has agreed to our original price and we’ll go with him. I was not happy and the driver was pissed off, espousing that he couldn’t drive in the Sigiriya park in the dark and he’d have to take the back roads, so he took off on an unsealed road at a great rate, dodging pot holes. We got to tarmac and he said he wanted to get his friend, in case something happened, and we turned onto another dirt road and we were left in the dark while he went to get his mate. I was freaking out. Dumb tourists in the dark, in the jungle in Sri Lanka, with a driver that they’ve pissed off, now getting reinforcements to steal our money and dispose of our bodies. Yes I was that dramatic! Nev stuffed the few items we carried, into one bag and tucked it on the floor behind his legs. The driver came back with another man, who sat beside me, and we headed to Habarana. Nev made small talk and it seems there was genuine concern of the driver that he could come to a mishap on the road, vehicle breakdown, or elephant attack, and may need support; (clearly my reaction had been irrational), and then the heavens opened. The rain was torrential and visibility almost nil! We blindly continued at a slower speed and then after about five minutes, thankfully the rain stopped. I’ve never been so pleased to arrive at a destination and headed straight indoors, leaving Nev to try and convince the driver that we did not want his services tomorrow. 

We walked in to Habarana Junction, and caught the bus to Polonnawarua. Rather than watching the scenery, we were drawn to the screen at the front of the bus aisle, that showed video clips of elephant attacks on occupied vehicles, such as an elephant’s leg weight smashing through a windscreen; motorcycle riders dropping their machines and running for their lives. Fortunately our journey was without mishap.  Bikes were offered the moment we got off the bus, and before we knew it we were cycling beside the pretty lake to the first historic sites of interest, and then back to the main archeological site entrance. 

Today is Vesak Day; a public holiday held at the time of the first full moon in May; to celebrate the birth, enlightenment and death of Buddha. Their are many families visiting the site, paying homage to Buddha.  Many wear white as a sign of respect.

It’s extremely hot and a condition of entry to many of the ancient religious areas is to remove hats and footwear. Delicate feet that have rarely been barefoot these past years are now tentatively trending the rough flagstones and desperately seeking any shade offered. Sandals, not turned upside down, become heat absorbers, and inserting the feet seems to me as painful as walking on hot coals.

Kings ruled from here 800 years ago and it was an important commercial and religious center. The Polonnawarua site is spread over many square kilometres and the bikes are a great way of getting around.

The return bus to Habarana is full, apart from the two seats directly behind the driver. A man already occupies the third space on the bench, the seat closest to the window.  Almost immediately I nod into a ‘heat exhaustion’ coma. When I finally rouse myself enough to focus, I can’t believe that we are in the hands of a maniacal driver. This guy only has one speed, and that is as fast as possible. He almost runs into the rear of vehicles in front (some are small pick-up trucks, with passengers in the back) to exert his bus-size dominance. He seems to only overtake on blind corners, scattering the small vehicles he is overtaking and forcing oncoming vehicles off the road! In one overtaking manoeuvre, we narrowly miss side-swiping a concrete bridge railing, on the opposite side of the road! We’re on a bus; not a little racing car! The bus stops at the small village just a couple of kilometres from Habarana. The driver gets off for a break, as do some of the passengers.  We then proceed to Habarana in a civilised manner. We conclude that the maniacal driving was to make up time for a break, or he was desperate to go to the toilet.

We’ve finally got it!  A Red bus is a government bus, blue buses are private; only take a red bus. At least we have a seat mid-way down the red bus. We think it’s good that we can’t see the  road ahead (we won’t be able to see any havoc the driver creates) but it’s still three hours of heat, sitting squeezed into a cramped space.  It’s Day 2 of Vesak, and many people are on the road. The bus is soon standing room only. I’m not sure when the driver started his section, but it’s been 3 hours with no breaks, and I hope he still has the concentration it takes to drive on two lanes that expand to four, or however many are needed to keep the layers of traffic moving.

Sri Lanka - Introduction

Louise George


Most tourists our age who go to Sri Lanka spend about 10 days here. They join a tour where everything is catered for, or hire a driver (as was recommended to us by the gentleman at the Colombo Tourist Office). A driver will obviously take you where you want to go, help you get tickets to tourist sites and probably even select places to stay. These can sometimes be more expensive than the budget traveller wishes to pay, but more suitable to the drivers needs. Sometimes drivers will want to take passengers to shops where they get commission. We had 21 days and a pretty relaxed schedule. We chose the ‘do it yourself’ option because we wanted flexibility, we wanted to ‘do it like the locals’ and we’re tight arses.

Our accommodation choices were always adequate rather than superior. Rooms were clean, we always had an ensuite bathroom; but sometimes the linen was a little ‘tired’. Occasionally access would be difficult if a person didn’t have good mobility; often stairs (no lifts) and at Ella Hide View the wooden stair was rickety and the handrail broken, so treacherous in the wet. Wherever possible we chose local restaurants rather than tourist restaurants. Local dishes were more flavoursome; we are not afraid of the heat of chilli, nor of eating with our fingers (although some restaurants do provide forks and spoons), and meals were usually a couple of dollars cheaper than restaurants that target tourists. Street food was often very delicious; especially mango sprinkled with salt and chilli powder.

We had a wonderful time, and given that we had 21 days, would not have travelled any differently. Maybe we would have headed for the northern beaches, rather than the southern ones, as we have been told that at this time of the year (April/May) the north is not affected by the monsoons.