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 woke to a fine, clear morning over Pinnawala; the river had been flat and grey under the previous afternoon’s overcast sky but now it sang with vibrancy. Our room at the Elephant Bay Hotel was on an upper floor and offered us a beautiful view with which to start the day.
Full of a curry and fresh fruit breakfast we set off for Saradiel’s Village on foot through paddy fields. It was easy, flat walking at first along raised banks of earth with plenty to see and photograph.
L.H., our guide, pointed out unusual plants as we walked. This stalk, for instance, held a sap that was like washing-up liquid; when the stalk was split near the leaf and you blew into it bubbles would appear.
We also had plenty of opportunities for portrait photography. Throughout the day not a single person said no when we approached them, pointed to our camera and asked if we could take a photo. Sri Lanka truly is a photographers paradise if you’re a sensitive person, like me, who will only make portraits of people they’ve had some contact with and who consent to having their photo taken. Here are a few examples of our work.
These guys were shelling coconuts.
As we neared the shade of heavy jungle – which I was happy for, my head was pounding from the heat – a bus that we’d just passed started moving away down the narrow dirt track. A lady tried to hail it from afar but despite us joining in the efforts to halt it the bus driver didn’t see us and carried on. There were only one or two buses per day serving this community, L.H. said, yet the lady didn’t look bothered at all. She stopped running for the bus, which she had now little chance of catching, and began chatting to us. There was no hint of annoyance in her voice, or her face. I found this amazing. In my own country she’d have probably shown at least some negative emotion but in Sri Lanka the people are an entirely different sort, very calm and happy, and mindful of upsetting others with shows of pointless upset.
Another lady, a little further on, invited us out of the heat and into her house for some fresh mango slices. One of our group was quite insistent that we repay her kindness with money but L.H., who’d been advising us wisely regarding tipping so far on the journey, cautioned against it.
“Sometimes it’s ok to pay, but not for this. Inviting strangers into your house for refreshments is what we do here in Sri Lanka, often, so it’s a little wrong to pay for it, and you may even cause offence if you do so.” I agree, I think. It’s not easy to work out how to say thanks for all the good that comes your way whilst on the road but a harmless way to start is to perhaps repay kindness with smiles and thanks, and see how that works out.
We finally moved out of the paddy fields and into the cool forest.
Food and medicine was growing all around. The large vine in the photo above, known as Pusswela, is well known as a natural remedy.
“When you visit a local, village doctor here,” said L.H. “he’ll ask you to go into the jungle and collect ten or more plants, then he’ll take them into a private room, throw three or four away and make the remedy with the rest. That way his potions remain secrets.”
We also saw more recognizable plants; pineapple, chili, eggplant and cashew nut, which you can see in the first photo below…
The paved path turned to dirt and we began a stiff climb that offered tremendous views.
The photo above shows the view as we neared the village of Saradiel, a local ‘Robin-Hood’ style figure who used the high rock, seen rising over the jungle in the photo, as his look out point in the mid 19th century. There’s a museum being built in the village below the rock and it’s to here that we were headed to hear the story of the man who robbed from the British and rich locals and re-distributed to the poor.
We arrived at about 2pm, it’d been a hot six hour walk and we were glad to be shown to a shady shelter by the lady who greeted us and began telling of Saradiel’s life.
The museum was a unique, slightly odd sort of place, ranged over a hillside next to an eco-lodge, telling the outlaws’ story with the aid of lifesize concrete statues.
The photo above shows a statue telling of the moment of Saradiel’s betrayal by one of his own gang to a British soldier. The outlaw was arrested shortly after the betrayal, hanged before a large crowd in 1865 and has been something of a national hero ever since.
Just down the road lunch was waiting at the home of our local LSR guide Ajith, where his wife and two daughters had laid out a table under the trees above the paddy fields where buffalo and egret rested. We were to eat fish sandwiches, fresh fruits, jellabi and three different types of traditional sweet, all of which were delicious.
We met up with the LSR van nearby, offloaded our bikes and cycled the remaining few miles through late afternoon traffic, past spice farms and trees heavy with sleeping fruit bats. Our hotel for the night was the Ambasewana Walawwa, a fine looking place that operates mostly as a wedding banquet venue but which was, however, seemingly unused to the needs of guests. We were greeted with confused stares when we asked for toilet paper, bath towels and top sheets for the bed. It was a forgettable hotel and not one we’d recommend but no matter, our mind was on other things. The next day we were due to make the 2,000 foot climb to reach Gampola; it was going to be an incredible ride.
If you’d like to know more about LSR, please visit www.lsr-srilanka.com
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 edited, half hour long version…
…and this is the hour long version.