During 2014 the Trek and Run team joined others to cycle and trek over 650kms, coast to coast across Sri Lanka. We were supported on our journey by the following companies, who provided the resources we needed to make the best of our time there.
- Sri Lankan Airlines
- LSR Lanka Sportreizen
- Gears Bikeshop, Toronto
- Gore Bikewear
- Helly Hansen Clothes and Boots
- Jack Wolfskin Clothes
- Teko Socks
- Craghoppers Clothing
- Keen Boots
- Ultrasun Cream
We started out from Ambepussa in bright sun; the staff at the Ambepussa resthouse had been excellent – understated, competent and attentive - and they gave us a smiley sendoff…
We had 8km on a relatively busy, flat main road to cover before we could turn left, uphill onto a side road for the 34km that would take us to the elephants at Pinnewala. The jungle was around us at times – thick, lush with plenty of hills – and then there were villages bedecked with bright flowers and plantations of banana, pineapple, lychee and cacao nestled among the palms. Here are some roadside scenes…
Rain came, at times heavy, but however it fell it seemed to do so from a friendly sky, always cool, never cold or hot, always refreshing, never uncomfortable. We were wearing excellent cycling clothes, made by Gore Bikewear, and this undoubtedly helped keep us comfy.
We stopped at a rubber plantation where men were testing the quality of the liquid rubber, there was a strong smell of amonia. Villagers would bring bucket loads of the white liquid down from the hillsides, freshly collected from the trees, have it checked out for purity then lift and pour it into a huge storage tank, where it would wait until being transported to a production plant.
Just nearby a very green chameleon was resting on a rubber hose.
An elderly man invited us into his tea shop for refreshments. He’d worked for 30 years in the civil service, he explained, and now he was retired, taking life slow, enjoying his village life in his little shop.
We had tea and sweet cakes, and schoolkids passed us by in bright white shirts and smiled the widest smiles.
Deep in the forest giant fruit bats circled overhead and dogs stared quietly as we passed. It was a beautiful ride and as we arrived at our Pinnewala hotel we were greeted with the wonderful site of a local wedding just finishing outside.
At 2pm prompt the elephants came out of the orphanage, charged down the main street and splashed into the river.
We were later to visit the orphanage. It gets a lot of bad press but in our experience, not just here but in other countries, it’s better to have the elephants here than for them to roam wild in the sort of world we live in and become hated for just being natural. You know how it goes nowadays, people grow crops, the elephants trample them by mistake, people go hungry or get poorer then all hell breaks loose in the press and every person and their dog thinks they deserve a say, and most of them want the elephants to be removed, anyway that’s possible. In England if our native animals get troublesome we don’t bother to try to build an orphanage, we shoot them. Animals such as badgers and lifestock with no real disease at all, apart from those invented by immoral and unnatural farming methods, have all been culled in vast numbers recently. The same happens in the USA and all western countries. So it’s a bit rich when western tourists complain that an elephant in Sri Lanka has a chain around it’s legs…
And of course there are instances where staff aren’t as well trained as they should be, or they’re too brutal with the animals, and this is of course wrong, but you get bad staff anywhere, it’s not entirely the orphanage’s fault and it’s certainly not a good reason to moan about it on Trip Advisor…
So we were pleased to see these elephants given a chance in a world that is overrun with humans. They could socialise in the river twice a day, bathe, enjoy themselves.
Later we went to another place, just upriver, where we had the chance to ride an elephant. She was a gentle old girl and we enjoyed our half hour walk immensely. Her skin was tough and bristly, her ears whooshed the air and she stopped every now and again to graze from the trees.
Undoubtedly she was part of a zoo-like tourist attraction but again I’d say that this is better than the alternative we have in the west and our policy of shooting animals that no longer fit into the world we’ve created. The highlight, for me, came at the end, as she walked straight into the river and I was given a chance to bathe her.
And then it was my turn for a wash…
It was a near overwhelming experience to bathe her; as I emerged from the river I was shaking. I doubt I’ll ever have an experience like that again, incredible, amazing, I could go on but I hope you get the picture? This is something that everybody should do, I think, it will change you forever, in a good way.
If you’d like to know more about LSR, please visit www.lsr-srilanka.com
and if you’d like to discover more about the service offered by Sri Lankan Airlines - www.srilankan.com
And if you’d like to view the film of our entire bikeride across Sri Lanka, here it is!
This is the hour long version…
…and this is the edited, half hour long version…