We spent three very relaxing days hanging out at the beaches in the area and not doing much besides surfing and drinking coconut water. After such a busy trip around Sri Lanka, hanging out in Mirissa was spectacularly restful!
We took hundreds of pictures, but our favorites are the ones captured by Owen on the nice camera. Derek took quite a few as well. These are the kind of pictures that we will treasure for many years simply because of the memories they hold. What an incredible experience to see so many wild animals is their natural habitat!
But you know us, even with grumbly bellies we managed to find some incredible things to do in Ella. Our favorite activities were the hike we did on Little Adam's Peak and the tour of a second tea factory.
Little Adam's Peak
Upon reflection, maybe Ella wasn't such a bad place to visit. If I could do it again I would have left Nuwara Eliya early, spent the day in Ella doing the above, and then continued on to Udawalawe National Park for the next night. Or vice versa.
We spent one day in Nuwara Eliya with a guide in order to visit a tea plantation, hike to the Lover's Leap waterfall, and go to the highest point in Sri Lanka.
After the waterfall, our driver asked if we wanted to go to the highest point in Sri Lanka. It's technically a military base, but they allow visitors on part of the property (as long as you have your passport with you). We decided to check it out. The drive up the mountain took some time, but the views were lovely. Oliver was a bit freaked out by the "Danger" sign with a picture of a leopard, but the only wildlife we saw was stray dogs.
Once at the top, we were on a proper military base. Soldiers were everywhere, but, as usually, they were captivated by Oliver's charm. We had the opportunity to talk with several different men which was an incredible experience by itself. We then walked up the road as far as civilians are allowed to go. At that point there was a gate and armed guards to ensure no one would pass. Well, Oliver decided he wanted to say hi to the guards and before we knew it, they invited us to come onto the compound to hike to the actual highest point in Sri Lanka on the secured military base. The altitude at this point is 2,524 m (8,281 ft). We, of course, were not allowed to take any photos of this experience. Afterward, we walked back down to our van while talking with some officers. The whole things was a little surreal and a rather unique encounter.
The interesting thing about the train system is that you cannot purchase tickets ahead of time. You show up on the day you want to travel and hope for the best. We had no trouble securing four second class tickets, but bear in mind that a ticket does not always equate to a seat. We chose second class tickets as they came most recommended. In first class, there is air conditioning (not needed) which means you cannot open the windows to take photos. Third class was not an option at the time we wanted to go, but we probably would not have picked it since we have kids along for the ride. (Their comfort helps everyone have a more enjoyable time.)
As you can see by the photos, the ride was breathtaking. Seriously, these pictures do not even do it justice. I am so glad we made this part of the trip happen. My favorite part was watching Owen develop a love of photography. Nearly every single picture in this post is one of his.
Oliver kept repeating "It's just so beautiful!" And I couldn't agree more.
There are several places one can go to interact with elephants between Colombo and Kandy, but after doing a fair bit of research, I decided this was the most ethical place. They do not have any babies because they do not breed the elephants in captivity like some other “rescues” in the area do. The have only a few elephants, the youngest of which is already 20 years old. MEF has been around for quite some time and appears to treat the elephants very well. While they do allow for rides (bareback only), we opted to do the elephant walk and then bathe the elephant in the little river on the premises.
Our elephant's name was Ranmenika and she seemed to really enjoy her walk around the grounds. The boys have a lot of fun watching her tear apart the palm leaves and watching her eat, and we learned a lot from our guide, Podi.
After our walk, we got to give Ranmenika a bath in the river. The boys were very hesitant at first but quickly got over it. Owen scrubbed away with a coconut shell and Oliver loved splashing her.
The experience we had was truly incredible, and Ramenika appeared to be a happy, healthy elephant. At no point was she in chains, and her manhout, Ananda, was very gentle with her. It was a pleasant experience, and I am happy we choose this over some of the other options in the area. It was a great way to start Sri Lankan adventure!
The restaurant was pretty local but attached to a small hotel. When we arrived, a group of men were playing a game they boys had never seen (kind of a cross between billiards and shuffle board). The took immediate interest, and before we knew it, the en had taught them how to play and relinquished the board to them. They seemed so excited that the boys found their game so interesting.
We slept well after the flight and dinner and headed out early to check out the beach and get some breakfast. Negombo was a nice place to stay the night, but I am glad we didn't book more time there. There didn't seem to be a lot going on except advertisements for day trips out of Negombo.
There is so much that goes into planning these trips we take. When we first decide where to go, I always find the task of getting everything booked incredibly daunting, but as soon as I start the process, I enjoy it immensely.
I've got flights, visas, and a night in Colombo booked, so I feel like I am off to a great start. I have received a lot of itineraries from friends, but there is no way to do it all. We'll have to pick and choose a bit. Looking at the tourism website makes me want to spend a few months there, but we only get 11 days. It'll be fun to see what we end up doing!