Part 3/3. Riding an elephant through Sri Lanka – motorbikes, the danger of procrastination, and a #visaextensionmission in Columbo….

Last post on travelling Sri Lanka :-), once again back to July…..

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Ella to Uda Walawe national park

Heading south from Kandy bought me to a cross roads, did I turn right and west to make my way back to Columbo (which was a few days of riding), or continue south and east (to visit one of Sri Lanka famous national parks – Uda Walawe), and then head back to Columbo?

My visa was running out, and I had to get it extended….

I had 3 choices.

Option 1.   Go to Columbo now, miss out the park, and get my visa extended with no rushing, leaving plenty of time to relax and take it easy. 

Option 2.   Go direct to the Uda Walawe park, take the most direct route, with no faffing around, just decide, commit and do it.  I would have been there in max, 2 hours, having all day to chill, look around, not rush, and then head to Columbo. 

Option 3.   Procrastinate, spend time going the wrong way, then change mind, take a ‘short cut’, get myself lost in the middle of Sri Lanka at the hottest time of day, with no phone signal, no water, no GPS, not much fuel, and no understanding of the occasional road sign, with no-one (and i mean NO-ONE) around for hours. 

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I eventually arrived, tired and worn out, thankful for the occasional coconut stall that seem to be scattered across most of the country. It could have been a 2 hour journey. It was 6.

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Forced to get over myself quickly, I was picked up by a tour guide / driver as soon as I arrived at the park, and despite initial reservations, he turned out to be a great guy and hooked me in with “if I didn’t enjoy it I could pay him 2500 rupees, and if I did, I could pay him full price, 3500 rupees” (about £18).

I liked his confidence 🙂

We picked up another guide who sat beside me in the open sided truck, and as we entered into the park started to tell me the history of the area and point out birds and animals. The funny thing was, at first, I noticed things before he did (no joke) – it wasn’t that he was slow, I just seemed to be super observant.

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He looked at my backpack with the bike helmet hanging off the side, seemed surprised, and asking me where I had come from, questioned “was I really riding a bike around Sri Lanka”.

“Yep”, I replied, explaining my route so far, he laughed and said “THAT’S why you’re seeing so many things, you need to be sharp yes ? Roads dangerous yes ? Traffic bad yes?”.

“Yes”

The safari was good, and within minutes we were within meters of herds of elephants, watching the bulls fight for position (it was mating season), and females and calves slowly moving from area to area.

I think within 2 hours, I had seen over 50 Pachyderms (new word for me), as well as a few crocodiles, water buffalos, mongoose, peacock and a few colourful birds, all with the backdrop of Horton Plains where I had been a few days before.

It was chilled, at a nice pace, and a fun tourist stop for a few hours. Well recommended.

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My tour guide turned out to have a brother who had just opened a guest house, so arranging a cheaper rate for me, I checked in for the night, and woke to an extravagant traditional breakfast of hoppers, rice, and curry.

This was for one person. No wonder I am getting bigger by the day.

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Uda Walawe to Colombo city, via Kitulyulu 

Leaving the park and heading North West, I made my way towards Colombo, and had to develop a technique to manage numb cheeks. I was literally getting saddle sores…..20 mins one side and swap, repeat.

Other than the traffic the journey was uneventful – except when my back wheel locked up as the chain jumped off and on for a split second…..not fun !

Luckily (?), I was passing one of the many workshops that are scattered across the country, and within minutes I had a guy strip it back and shorten the chain for me, adjust my breaks, and asking me how far I had to go, told me to take it easy.

Repairs cost about £3….!

Deciding to break the journey up I stopped off at Kitulyulu, famous for where the blowing up of the Bridge of the River Kwai was filmed, and also a good spot for white water rafting if that’s your thing.

For me, I just needed to rest but the mosquitos had a different idea, and I realised the downside of sleeping in a cheap room near a river.

On the flip side the local kids taught me to play Carrow….a cool game where you flick flat circle shaped discs at other flat circle shaped discs trying to pot them in the corner pockets – kind of ‘pool come air hockey come billiards’.

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Forgetting the lack of sleep, I did get to see where the filming was done, and some of the views were good – Bottom right is where the bridge was attached before being blown up for the 1950’s film, bottom left is a local dog weighing up his chances in the grade 4 rapids.

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Kitulyulu to Colombo

The ride into the city was as expected – busy, and having a hotel pre booked, with air con for a night, was one of my better decisions.

I’m not sure what they thought when I rode my little 180cc bike into the rear car park, took off my helmet, and was covered in hours of road dirt, but, I was too tired to be bothered anyway.

The plan behind Colombo was to extend my visa as you get 4 weeks on arrival into SL, and then if you want to stay longer, you need to overnight in the city, get to the immigration office EARLY, and all being well, you can be in and out in a few hours.

Miss the early slot and you will spend all day in line.

I got up to be there for opening time, and was told, as I was leaving the hotel, that it would be “shut for the day because of the religious day – Eid”.

To be honest I didn’t believe it, and walking the 40 minutes to the office to prove myself wrong put me in my place!  There always seemed to be a public holiday for something here. Eid, moon day, half moon day…..

The next day proved different and I was in and out of the office within 2 hours. No hassles, just a few forms, some money to be payed (that varied on what country you came from – UAE being the most expensive, and India being the cheapest – the difference something like $80……), a few stamps and done.

However, I had left my sunglasses at a (legitimate) massage and hair salon the day before so before I could make my way north and back towards the kitesurf destinations, had to ride across town to collect them….

This proved to be a serious mission and an hour later, I was where I needed to be, losing 2 of my 9 lives to the city buses.

My day proceeded to get worse as it took me another 2 hours to get out of the city and onto the roads that I needed in order to travel up the west coast of the country, and back to the kitesurfing paradise that I had in mind.

Traffic was heavy, roads confusing, and having to constantly check my gps to figure my way through wasn’t that easy, nearly ending up on the motorway once, and witnessing 2 near pile ups caused by tuc tucs doing full 180 degree turns in the middle of the road, completely unaware of what was going on around them.

But, it was all doable, and within another few hours I was nearing my final destination of my mini road trip – back to KiteKuda for a week, and back to the kitesurfing.

I started to lose my focus on the last few miles of my journey, and just as I was getting complacent, a high topped lorry lost control in front of me, veered across one side of the road on 2 wheels, then back across the other side on the other 2 wheels, and at the last minute, veered back again, just missing a crowd of innocent people stood by the side of  the road!  My heart was in my mouth, never mind the crowd of people, and how he missed them and managed to recover the lorry I seriously do not know.  It scared the hell out of me just seeing it happen, and quickly reminded me of that well know saying that most accidents happen within a few miles of being home.

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I arrived into KiteKuda 30 minutes later, happy, and genuinely surprised to have survived this trip unscathed, my closet moments being another motorbike clipping my front wheel as I negotiated some traffic, and another, when I nearly lost out to an oncoming lorry as I attempted an overtake on a slow moving road.

And then, for the first time, I dropped my bike, in the sand, right outside kiteKuda….!

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Thankfully, it was fine as was I, but most importantly, no-one had seen it 🙂

I was back in one piece, slightly dazed from the 2 weeks of riding around, and slightly bewildered at what I had seen of the country in such a short time. The friendly people being one of the biggest highlights of the trip.

It was good to be back where I had started, and very cool to catch up with the same faces that had been in the area before I had left.  I planned to stay another week max, and then go from there.

4 weeks later, I hadn’t moved far….

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Next post, final weeks in Sri Lanka, kitesurfing, chilling, the people.

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