Friday, September 25, 2015

Melbourne - 26.9.15

There wasn't much to do after arriving back in Negombo other than washing the bike down - you invariably get asked at customs in Australia if you've done this - and packing it in the box. I was helped by the guest house owner and his son, but struggled to quite fit it in this time. It wasn't until I got to the airport in Colombo and was asked by the chap at check-in if I'd let the air out of the tyres before boxing the bike that I realised why it hadn't quite fitted. The airlines insist that you deflate bike tyres so that they don't explode at high altitude. This is a longstanding myth - my understanding is that the cargo hold is pressurized to the same level as the passenger compartment, and that even if the plane managed to fly into outer space the pressure differential would still be unlikely to cause the tyres to explode. And, even if the tyres were to somehow explode, it's unlikely any damage would be done to the plane. So I lied and said I had (because there was no way I was going to cut through all the tape and then rebox the bike again).

The final leg of the journey from KL to Melbourne was around 8 hours, and I was 2 rows of seats away from 3 sets of screaming infants who kept it up for most of the journey. I felt like joining in. Luckily, there were some action movies available for viewing and so I managed to block out some of the screams and sobs with the sound of explosions, punchups and gunshots. The noise-cancelling headphones are good against the sound of the plane engines but unfortunately don't cancel out the noise of children. 

I arrived back home in a maxi-taxi after a monumental wait at the oversized baggage area at Tullamarine airport, shortly before midnight, and can happily confirm that the tyres are still intact.

So, overall I was in Sri Lanka for around 23 days, and travelled 868km over 14 days of cycling - a daily average of 62km. I lost 5kg in weight, partly due to all the exercise and partly I think due to the change in diet. It was an interesting trip and I got to see a fair bit of Sri Lanka. It was hard to not compare it with India - Sri Lanka seemed a lot more ordered than India, and I saw much less poverty, slum areas and beggars. The roads were much better on average, the traffic more ordered, and vehicles actually slowed and even stopped at pedestrian crossings. English was more common. I found the food less interesting and varied compared with what is available in India. The religious breakdown differs: in Sri Lanka, around 70% of the population is Buddhist, 13% Hindu, 10% Muslim and 7% Christian (mostly Roman Catholic), whereas in India, around 80% of the population is Hindu, 14% Muslim, 2.3% Christian, 1.7% Sikh, 0.7% Buddhist and 0.4% Jain. 

As I mentioned in an earlier entry, it always amused me to see police travelling two up on their motorcycle, with one sitting imperiously at the rear, as if on a throne, and I was struck by how stern an image they endeavoured to project. I was struck by the scarecrows you could see on most building and construction sites and presumed it was about warding off 'the evil eye' or similar, although I did read one view that their intention is to distract people's attention and envy away from the expensive new building. 

It always takes a few days or longer from a trip like this to reorient back to life here. The cycling presents a tremendous focus, and thinking becomes very 'here and now', with little time spent reflecting on work, life back home and other matters. Routines become very different - I spent no time watching TV (although did watch some downloaded episodes of 'Gotham' on my tablet) and spent a lot of time reading during down time e.g. in my room or in cafes and restaurants if eating alone. I read about 12 books, mostly crime novels, while in Sri Lanka!

overall route

overall elevation

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

NEGOMBO - 23.9.15

Day 14 Cycling: NAYAKAKANDA,Wattala to NEGOMBO

Ride details (from Garmin): 
Distance: 28.67km; ODOMETER: 868.6km; Moving Time: 1:34; Elapsed Time: 1:45; Avg Speed: 17.8km/hr; Avg Moving Speed: 18.3km/hr; Max Speed:; Total Ascent: 11m; Total Descent: 10m; Max Elevation: 2m; Calories: 832C; Avg Temperature: 36.6 °C; Max Temperature:  42.0 °C

After a breakfast of omelet and chips and a coffee, I was pleased to hit the road on the final leg of my journey - back to the Angel Inn in Negombo (4000Rs a night). There was little traffic which made the score or so of police lurking in the shade at the side of the road at various locations along the way,  presumably to catch errant drivers, seem a little excessive. They typically present with very stern,  official-looking faces but occasionally break into broad smiles when waved at. It always amused me to see them on their motorcycles, one driving with the other sitting upright in the pillion position, as if on a throne.

It was a nice ride along the coast,  past fishing boats and the fish market, and past a number of quite extravagant Christian figures (e.g. Jesus, baby Jesus, Mary, a saint on a horse, etc.) often in glass cases. Elsewhere in the country,  similar glass cases held Buddha figurines, and occasionally the Hindus followed suit with statues of Ganesh or Shiva. It was hot, and I drank a litre of water during the first 20km. 

It was nice to get back here and the room seems almost too luxurious compared to what I've been staying in over the past weeks. The bike box is still here so I'll eventually get around to dismantling the bike and packing it again. Hopefully I won't have too much trouble removing the pedals this time. Overall it's gone well - no punctures (other than the one incurred here on day 1) or mechanical problems,  no accidents or near misses (well, there were probably one or two... the man with a long plastic drainpipe, and one or two trucks gave me a start yesterday). No major physical concerns either, other than some lingering bronchial issues for the first fortnight, some heat rash, and what might be described as a small lesion on the left buttock (boil, I suspect).

Time for some food and a rest I reckon...


Graves, and Jesus, on the coast

Tuesday, September 22, 2015



Ride details (from Garmin): 
Distance: 103.19km; ODOMETER: 840km; Moving Time: 6:51; Elapsed Time: 8:43; Avg Speed: 11.8km/hr; Avg Moving Speed: 15.0km/hr; Max Speed:; Total Ascent: 560m; Total Descent: 602m; Max Elevation: 60m; Calories: 3,206 C; Avg Temperature: 32.9 °C; Max Temperature:  41.0 °C

My plan for today was to avoid Colombo,  but I ended up skirting around its edges and found myself,  to my surprise, ending up on the coast, about 30km south of Negombo. 

Today's was a varied, again quite taxing ride as I was on the road for nearly 9 hours. I mostly used the Garmin to lead the way and as a result travelled along some interesting highways and byways. The bike and I travelled through villages, tea plantations, and jungle, and past quite a few Buddhist centres. The route started along the A8, then the B285 and I lost track after that. There were some very poor sections of road - some already prepared for resurfacing, and some clearly in need of resurfacing. Much of the surrounding countryside was very lush. In addition to drinking copious amounts of water, I refuelled with a large bottle of Pepsi and bought a bag of very juicy mandarins at a roadside stall for 400Rs (the labels on them indicated they were from Australia!). Toward the end of the ride, near and along the outskirts of Colombo, I began to feel a little nervous as the roads narrowed and the traffic became heavier - the buses and trucks are fairly forceful on these roads and not overly concerned about people on bicycles. Fortunately I made it without experiencing any mishaps or close calls and I was happy to discover a number of accommodation options along the coast. I managed to locate the Araliya Hotel where I'm now staying, with the volunteered assistance of a three-wheeler driver who saw me looking wistfully at the obviously very expensive Pegasus Reef Resort. After quite a bit of haggling and walking off I managed to get the absurdly overpriced 4500Rs room at the Araliya reduced to 3500Rs. It has a fan and aircon which is quite nice as it's reasonably warm around here. I wouldn't especially recommend this hotel. 

30km tomorrow morning -along the coast - and I'll be back where I started from in Negombo, having cycled around 870km. I thought I might do around 1000km in the 3 weeks I'd be cycling but I hadn't really taken the elevations in the hilly regions into account. I'll clean and pack the bike and then spend some time relaxing before the flight back to Australia. 

Monday, September 21, 2015

RATNAPURA - 21.9.15

Day 12 cycling: ELLA to RATNAPURA:

Ride details (from Garmin):
Distance: 109.1km; ODOMETER: 736.7km; Moving Time: 6:36; Elapsed Time: 9:28 (includes 90mins waiting for rain to lessen); Avg Speed: 11.5km/hr; Avg Moving Speed: 16.5km/hr; Max Speed:; Total Ascent: 1,081m; Total Descent: 2,021m; Max Elevation: 1,420m; Calories: 4,292 C; Avg Temperature: 27.3 °C; Max Temperature:  36.0 °C

Yesterday was a rest day in Ella for me and the bike. The town is geared up for tourists, in terms of all the accommodation options and the numerous cafés and restaurants in the main street. The Rawana Holiday Resort where I was staying had its own restaurant which was quite good and I used it for breakfast and lunch and an evening meal. I also ate twice at the Down Town Rotti Hut with Kerry and Chris and was introduced to the delicious kotthu roti which is now my favourite Sri Lankan meal.

There's not all that much to do in Ella other than hiking - up to Little Adam's Peak or Ella Rock (along the train tracks), or the easier walk to Rawana Falls which I did with the Kerry and Chris (also along the train tracks).

I decided that I would aim to cycle all the way back to Negombo, about 220km,  which I figured was quite achievable over 3 days, arriving back in Negombo on Wednesday as planned.

I felt cheered by the knowledge that Ella is at an altitude of around 1040m and that Negombo is at 2m. Downhill all the way, surely?! Unfortunately no...

The road I took out of Ella was downhill for a bit of the way but was then mostly a grind uphill for the first 20km (to Haputale). The first 11km - to Bandarawela - took about 90 minutes! The so-called 3 Mile Road was too steep for me to cycle - I reckon several of its uphill sections were about 18%.  The road went up and up, rising up to at least 1400m in elevation. I could feel the sense of defeat rise as the road rose up ahead of me. 3% sections began to look flat ('false flat' in cycling parlance) in contrast to the rest of the road which was typically between 6 & 8%.

Around 12:30, at the 35km mark, the ever-darkening sky erupted,  with thunder,  lightning and heavy rain. Luckily there was a concrete bunker-like bus shelter nearby so I holed up there for the next 90 minutes until the thunderstorm abated sufficiently for me to head off (it was still raining but only lightly by this time). While waiting in the bus shelter, classes at the nearby school obviously finished and soon I was surrounded by scores of students, and a couple of teachers, waiting for their bus. They all seemed very shy and giggly,  and I was surprised that no-one really took the opportunity to practise their English on me.
After a time,  the road finally began to plunge down, and the arduous uphill grinding was replaced with some wonderful downhill sections. The scenery was also quite spectacular. Overall though it was a tough day's cycling.

I eventually made it to Ratnapura and after asking a policeman came to the Ratnapura Rest House on top of a hill overlooking the city.  It was probably once a grand old colonial-style building; from the outside it looks quite posh and I feared it would be far too expensive.  I resigned myself to paying whatever, within reason, as the prospect of heading off to find somewhere else didn't enthuse me. They wanted 4500 Rs for a room but agreed to 4000Rs. The room is huge, with fan and A/C but is tired looking and very musty - quite overpriced for what's provided and the service is very lackadaisical. Finding somewhere to put the bike seemed just too difficult for them to figure out, and there was no soap or toilet paper in the room. Most places make an effort to help me carry my panniers and handlebar bag to the room, but not here.

Luckily the place has a restaurant and the fried rice & chicken was tasty. The enormous dining room was also hosting a function;  it was amusing to see that all the men sat together at one huge set of tables, the women at another and all the children at a third table. The table I selected to sit at elsewhere in the dining room had a filthy tablecloth on it. When I complained,  the waiter looked at me with a mixture of scorn and incredulity saying "well sit somewhere else then...". I was asked while eating my evening meal to pay in advance for the room, and separately for the meal, and told that checkout time was a surprisingly early 9am.

All I want to do now is take rest so that I'll be able to jump on the bike in the morning and continue pedalling toward Negombo. It's about 106km away; I don't think I'll try and do that all tomorrow - perhaps I'll leave about 30km to do so that I'll arrive there mid-morning on  Wednesday, ready to fly out on Thursday evening.

Ratnapura Rest House

Ella to Ratnapura profile

Saturday, September 19, 2015

ELLA - 19.9.15

Day 11 cycling: NUWARA ELIYA to ELLA:

Ride details (from Garmin):
Distance: 57.62km; ODOMETER: 627.6km; Moving Time: 3:37; Elapsed Time: 5:12; Avg Speed: 11.1km/hr; Avg Moving Speed: 15.9km/hr; Max Speed:; Total Ascent: 635m; Total Descent: 1,530m; Max Elevation: 1,808m; Calories: 2,287 C; Avg Temperature: 26.9 °C; Max Temperature:  34.0 °C

I woke up feeling a little glum this morning at the prospect of cycling off into a potentially very wet day, compounded by the fact that all of my cycling gear was still very damp. The bed at Park View was actually quite comfortable, but the room was quite cold and no heater was available when I enquired into the possibility. I got up fairly early, and so most of the shops were still closed when I wandered down for some food. I managed to get a coffee, an orange juice and 2 small cakes, and 2 bananas on the way. As I headed off out of town, the mist was rolling in and the poor visibility led me to attach a flashing red light to the rear of the bike. It was a cold and soggy start to the day.
However,  before long, the mist dissipated, some sun appeared, and the next 26km was all downhill... exhilarating! I hit nearly 60km/hr at times but needed to temper my speed a little because of the unpredictably of oncoming traffic and sudden incursions from the sidelines e.g. 3-wheelers, pedestrians,  blokes carrying pipes. It was a blast to be able to overtake the occasional bus, van or motorbike on the way down.
But it wasn't all bliss of course as there were a few very steep uphill sections. The Garmin, I finally realised, has some very sadistic programming... in deciding which route to take, it selects the shortest distance which on the face of it seems fìne. However it doesn't take the gradient into account and so on occasion it can direct you up some shorter but incredibly steep roads as I discovered today.
Getting to Ella felt good. It seems like quite a small and relaxed place with heaps of accommodation options and more tourists than I've encountered anywhere else this trip. It'll be a good opportunity to relax,  do my washing and decide what I'm doing next. Rawana Holiday Resort seems pretty good; I've got a room at the top with its own balcony or sundeck shared between 4 rooms, with terrific views - all for just 3000Rs. I decided I'd better go inside and do my washing when the young German woman next door came out to sunbathe in her bikini...
The Australian tourists I met yesterday,  Chris and Kerry, were smart enough to go into town to buy a bucket so they could do their washing - the Rawana, like most places, doesn't have sink plugs or even a spare bucket - and they've kindly lent it to me.

leaving Nuwara Eliya

gaudy Hindu temple

 rooftop sunbeds at Rawana Holiday Resort

my room at Rawana Holiday Resort

Friday, September 18, 2015

Nuwara Eliya - 18.9.15

Rain! - I hadn't reckoned on there being so much of it up here in the hill country. 

After performing my morning ablutions, I ventured into town and had breakfast of 2 samosas, egg roll, pineapple juice and coffee at the De Silva Food Centre and then spent some time chatting with 2 Australians who had been sitting at the next table and, as it turned, out were staying in the same guest house. I thought I'd better engage in some tourist activities and so I walked around the well-manicured Victoria Park (300 Rs admission) and had lunch at the adjoining cafe. This was surprisingly good and cheap (about 300Rs for rice and vege curries, a tea and then a coffee). 

After this,  I took a three-wheeler to the PedrTea Estate for a cup of tea and a half-hour guided tour around the factory (200Rs admission; 600Rs for the round trip). Much of the equipment is over 80 years old. Not much was happening however as most of the processing happens at night due to the timing of when the fresh tea leaves arrive and the required resting time of 14 hours.

My plan is to cycle to Ella tomorrow,  and for once I've booked a place in advance - Rawana Holiday Resort,  as suggested by the 2 aussies - so I won't have to search around town in my soggy gear (my hunch is that tomorrow will also be quite damp; it's been raining here all day on and off). Not sure what I'll do after Ella - one possibility is to just get the train to Colombo;  another is to cycle to Ratnapura and thence to the coast and back to Negombo.

Pedro Tea Estate factory

Tea leaves drying
at the Pedro Tea Estate - in my green cycling smock!

Park View Inn as seen from Victoria Park

A forlorn attempt to dry cycling gear in my room at Park View Inn - I think it became even more damp...