Diving into the Maldives

The lap around the island took us a whole two minutes to walk. It was beautiful from every angle. Water the colour of blue jelly and a sprinkling of icing sugar sand. Only accessible by seaplane, fish swam just inches from the beach and there was the most soothing silence all around.

The day was shaped, not by time, but by the strength of the sun, the service of food, and the occasional shower that did nothing but delay the drying of your bikini by a minute or two.

Days started just as they ended; swimming off the back deck among fields of coral and fish. Floating in the saltiest sea water required little effort, and thus was enjoyed until the salt dried on the tips of our noses. The sun hitting the soft teal-blue ripples caused diamond-like sparkles. You could call it something like Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

The view above the water, though, is almost rivaled by the view beneath. Sinking to fifteen metres, him a little more, we danced with turtles and drifted by glittering fish.

If you ever find yourself in the sinking state, we’d recommend drifting to Drift.

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Shall we safari?

‘You won’t see a leopard’ they told us.

Back in the car that morning, we headed off to what was one of my most anticipated parts of the trip. This may just be me, but when I thought of Sri Lanka initially, I didn’t even realise you could do a safari. But you can. And you should.

First arriving in Udawalawe, and after checking in at Elephant Trail, where we did some washing in the sink for the first time in too long (pheww), we headed to the Elephant Transit Home just down the road. Supported by the British organisation Born Free, the home rescues and rehabilitates orphaned elephants, many of whom are released back into Uda Walawe National Park next door. Three times a day, you can visit as they feed the baby elephants their quota of the twenty litres of milk they drink in a day. In groups of around five at a time, the carers guide the elephants ranging from fresh to five years old into the milking area, where another carer feeds them litres of milk through a large funnel. They run, the jump, they squeak with excitement. And the babies, oh the babies. Words cannot describe how utterly spectacular they were, so I will let the pictures speak for me. All I can say is, go there.

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Next up, it was safari time. Picked up in our jeep, fitted out with canvas canopy, weighty wheels and snug seats, we climbed aboard and headed for the national park. Dusty roads and shrub for miles, our driver expertly weaved his way through unmarked roads, over potholes and through low-hanging branches. Not long down the road we saw a herd of buffalo bathing in a swamp, one in particular keen to have his photo taken, lolling around in the mud in front of us. Further on we saw our first elephant, once an orphan, now roaming the park freely. Then some lounging monitors massaging each other in a tree. A peacock or two thousand strutting his stuff, eagles soaring above us, a toucan or two, crocodiles, a snake, a jackal, the list does go on.

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At one point, our driver turned down a small path, and suddenly we lost site of any other jeep in the park. In the distance, on the road ahead, we saw a looming grey figure. Before we could make it out, we heard the trumpet of the elephant and saw it running at full pace away from us. Slowly, we rolled forwards. Before long, we came upon the most magnificent of moments. Turning the engine off, I sat speechless, and only managed to look over at him to make sure what I was seeing was real. It was.

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There in front of us, two grown female elephants stood side by side, trunks linked. Between their bodies were two calves, one a few years old and one only new. Once they were sure we were safe, they slowly unlinked, revealing their gorgeous young to us. It was surreal. It was breathtaking. It was so utterly…human. We sat there for a good ten minutes watching, seeing what they say about elephants emotions in action. They feel love, they feel fear, they feel safety.

Confident we would not surpass that moment, we drove on, discovering more and more wildlife as we went. We often never went longer than five minutes without spotting something new.

And then it happened. ‘STOP!’ ‘GO BACK!’ ‘DID YOU SEE THAT?!’ In a flash our guide was on the roof of the jeep. I’m sure it almost rolled as we all threw ourselves over the left hand side of the vehicle. He‘d seen the face, I’d seen the spots slinking away through the shrubs. It definitely was. No way. It really was. We’d seen a leopard.

Now we’ve been told a few times this trip that we’re lucky to have seen a range of different animals, but we had become a tad more doubtful each time we saw them over and over again. But this. This was was different. We had been told outright that we wouldn’t see a leopard. Our guide had never seen a leopard, only tracks. They were incredibly rare and incredibly shy. Plus, there are only seven hundred left in the country. But we saw one. And it was mind-boggling. Looking over after, I saw him pinch his arm.

Waking early the next morning, we set course for Ratnapura, the gem mining region, where we canoed down the Kalu Ganga for what felt like an eternity after the grueling couple of days hiking that had just been. Weaving in and out of gem mines that were set up with bamboo across the river, we were waved at by the friendly miners who were bobbing up and down in the shallow river collecting soil, or panning the rocks in their woven baskets by the bank. One group even showed us the stones they’d sourced after we almost ran them over with our canoe.

Physically and mentally exhausted, and with another day and a half of this planned, we reluctantly asked our driver if we could stop. It turned out to be a good thing too, because, not long after we did, he came down with pretty nasty bout of food poisoning.

That night we stayed at the Wegawatta Village Camp Site, run by the same team behind our last campsite. Of course, that’s exactly where you want to be when you have food poisoning. Just for his sake, because I know he did not enjoy himself that night, let me tell you what could have been if you were feeling better that night.

The campsite was much more remote than the last, the tents had been set up in the middle of a rubber plantation, especially for us. We were greeted with cold towels, tea and biscuits, and shown to our tents that had an attached bathroom and shower (thank god). Inside the tents, they had a battery-run fan (another thank god), comfy beds, toothbrushes and towels.

For dinner we were served another outstanding four course meal, which was prepared under a tarp that had been set up temporarily, especially for the occasion. I’d watched them lug gallons of water from the truck, while I’d been inside the tent trying to comfort him. I don’t think either of us slept that night, I was worried and he just felt downright shit. I’d highly recommend the camping though, just not food poisoning.

The next morning, after listening to our plea for rest, our driver had organised for us to visit Galle instead of canoeing, much to our delight. Galle had been on our bucket list, and we’d been kinda bummed that we were missing it. Feeling a little better, he’d managed to stomach half a banana and two bites of toast, we hit the highway headed for Galle.

Greeted with white colonial-style buildings down tiny streets converted into boutiques, bustling cafes, and a mega stone wall wrapping around it, Galle was beautiful. It was teeming with tourists, but who could blame them. The sun was beating down, and with him still feeling rough, we found the first cafe we could and sat down. Deciding he was ready to brave the boutiques, it wasn’t long before he was slumped down by the door being told by a friendly local that he needed black tea with lime. Ayurvedic apparently.

Off I sauntered to find the closest place with air-con, where they kindly closed all the doors and turned the air-con and fan on for us. We sat there for a few hours. Like a true soldier, he battled on and I got to visit a few boutiques – Stick No Bills, an awesome poster shop that I could have spent a lot of money in, Barefoot, which had everything from books to bags, sarongs to soaps. On our way to lunch at Anura’s Restaurant, we walked past schools with children yelling out the window for a photo, and the most luxurious resorts we’d seen yet, one after the other. After a sip of my coke, he order one for himself, and from then on he was all be recovered. Absolute champion.

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A sleepy ride back to the bustling Colombo, where the buildings shot out of the ground like cathedrals, and the roads widened by a few lanes. Saying goodbye to our driver, Shan, was hard, but we shook on our return. With our leftover spendies, we spoiled ourselves with room service and tucked in early in preparation for our 3am wake up call to the airport the next morning.

Sri Lanka, in a word, you’ve been swell.

E x

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Oh heck, let’s trek

I could feel my heart beating in my neck, each breath sending cold air down my dry throat. Looking up into the darkness, all I could make out was a twinkling trail of lights that led up into the clouds above. Around me, locals climbed in nothing other than thongs, children sleeping in their arms.

“You can do it,” he gently encouraged.

My legs ached with every step, my cheeks stinging from the cold wind. Fifty steps and then a break. Fifty steps and then a break. Oh another tea stall, let’s take another break.

Adam’s Peak rests at 2224m above sea level, and with almost twenty thousand steps done before 8am, we climbed it for sunrise. Setting out shortly after two in the morning, I must admit, it was a challenge for me. I blame all the curry. But then again, he managed much better than me and he’s had just as much curry.

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Deciding to put the camera down and just enjoy the sunrise, it was a pretty special moment. And then we had to go down. With the sun up though, the view of the rolling hills below us was enough to distract me from my shaking knees. If you are thinking of hiking Adam’s Peak, bring a pole. Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

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We were welcomed back into town like war heroes. It was eggs or eggs for breakfast, as my body was in need of some radical refueling. Packed and pumped for some time sitting in the car, we set off for Ella, with a few detours of course.

Lunch in Nuwara Eliya, affectionately known as Little England, due to the English-style architecture that is spotted among the tea plantations. We opted against rice and curry for lunch, in order to follow suit of course. Not a whole lot to do there, or at least we didn’t do it, but some very pretty buildings, particularly the Post Office. If you can’t decide on whether to visit Sri Lanka or England, go there.

Next stop was at Pedro Estate Tea Plantation, just out of Nuwara Eliya. For a staggering R200 (less than two bucks), we were taken around the tea processing factory, which has been in operation since the nineteenth century. Each day, eight tonnes of fresh tea is picked and processed in the factory, producing two tonnes of the dried leaves we love.  We know which leaves to pick for black tea, green tea and white tea, and all about fermentation. And finally, we saw how the tea is packed up and sent off to auctions, where the brands we know and love battle over the best brew to put their name and special twist on. Next time you sit down with a cup of the good ol’ green stuff, raise it to those who pull off back-breaking work day in, day out, to get it to you. Absolutely amazing. Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

After some long and winding roads, we ended up in Ella. A buzzing little town, packed with pubs and restaurants, fairy lights and tourist-friendly signs, things were looking good. Exhausted from the climb that felt like an eternity ago, our driver, probably after seeing me fall out of the car too many times, unable to walk, booked us a treatment at a local ayurvedic spa. After checking into our beautiful room at Hotel Mountain Heavens, with sweeping views across the valley to Little Adam’s Peak (bleh, easy!), we headed to Suwamadura Spa. For an hour and a half we, side by side, were lathered from top to toe in ayurvedic oils. I almost felt sorry for making the lovely masseuse touch my feet, but after the herbal sauna and a steam bath, all worries had simply dripped out of me. Literally.

Unfortunately, not getting to spend much time in Ella, we woke early the next morning and headed for the station. Two hours on a train, this time in second-class meaning I could get a “totally candid” photo hanging out the door of the train, and we ended up in Ohiya, the start of our six hour hike to Bambarakanda Falls, the tallest in Sri Lanka. Yep, the day after we hiked up Adam’s Peak, we walked for another six hours through paddy fields, up tea plantations, in and out of thick fog, via local villages, and down to a waterfall. We’re mad, but it was pretty mad too. Mad in a good way. Plus, he only needed to tell me to stop whining about my legs six or seven times. Not bad for me.

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That night, still unable to walk quite right, we stayed at Sri Lanka’s Eco Team Campsite in Beilhuloya. And when I say campsite, I mean glampsite. There were proper beds, pillows, doonas, and some delightful chairs out the front. The bathrooms were all modern concrete and timber, and we were served a four course meal under the light of the flame torches that surrounded us. It was like a scene from Survivor, but with more food. And much much more comfort.

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Earlier in the afternoon, we’d figured it would be a good opportunity to fly the drone he gifted me for Christmas, and after asking permission, we stood in a clearing metres from our tent, with most of the staff looking eagerly over our shoulders, and sent it up. Filming over the tents, trees and down to the glistening lake surrounded by folding mountains, it was breathtaking. The best part, without a doubt though, was that one young staff member was so taken aback by the footage we showed him later, that he asked us to send it to him. He explained, in broken English, that he had lived in the area since he was a small boy. He had hiked all over it, and seen it from every angle. But never from on top.

The standard of service at the camp was absolutely without fault, and so there was no hesitation from us that we would get him the footage. And we did. Watching him stop in his tracks as he walked back to the kitchen, fingers clutching his phone, eyes glued to the screen, was a small but pretty touching moment.

E x

Kandy is good for you

Let me see, where did I leave this?

We’ve gone a few days with little to no WiFi, and equally little to no downtime to write blogs. It’s nice in a way to disconnect, but after a while makes reconnecting a little exhausting. So let me recap.

On the sixth day, we headed to Kandy, the cultural cooking pot of the country. On the way we stopped off at the Dambulla Cave Temple, following yet another steep winding stairway lined by monkeys to up above the clouds. In five separate caves, a series of sculptures sat forged into the stone, dressed in colourful paint and dust from the two thousand years since their creation. With our wrists wrapped in yet another prayer band from the temple, we stood before the forty-seven foot Buddha statue in absolute awe.Processed with VSCO with f2 presetProcessed with VSCO with f2 presetFor lunch we stopped off at Ranweli Spice Garden where we found all of our favourite spices – vanilla, ginger, turmeric, pineapples, cocoa, lemongrass, sandalwood, and more – hanging from vines or growing in bushes in a neat little demonstration garden. We were then taken through how each is turned into oils for ayurvedic practice…while getting a neck massage. Oh, and lunch was thrown in too. So cool.

Arriving in Kandy that afternoon definitely picked up the pace. Bustling dusty streets, people hanging out of buses, and the constant tune of beeping tuk-tuks playing on repeat. Quickly, we were ushered through the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic of Lord Buddha by a short, beetle-leaf chewing guide. With another group to see shortly after us, he swiftly picked our jaws up off the ground in front of the elaborately designed temple, and directed us out.Processed with VSCO with f2 presetFor dinner that night we found our first opportunity to venture out alone, into the wilderness that is Kandy, for dinner. After perusing TripAdvisor, to ensure our first handpicked meal was a winner, we settled on the Muslim Hotel. Chicken and cheese paratha fry and chicken kottu (like a stir fry but using cut up roti) to share. Oh, and with a side of mango lassi. All for a whopping $11. A+ from us.

The next morning we took a mosey around the Botanical Gardens at Peradeniya, world class throughout Asia, where some of my highlights included the four puppies I found running through the bamboo garden, who I named and sat for a good half an hour thinking about how I could smuggle home; the lawn collection, yes it is exactly what it sounds like; the cactus garden, obviously; and the seventeen couples we saw having their wedding pictures taken, as it was an auspicious day in Sri Lankan culture.

On we went to a gem museum where we saw the incredible traditional process of gem mining, that hasn’t changed since it was first established. I ogled over a Sri Lankan blue sapphire ring resembling Kate Middleton’s, while he claimed to have misplaced his wallet conveniently. While in the frame of mind for learning, we headed to a batik studio and saw a group of ladies, laden in wax-coated aprons, drawing and dying strips of cotton cloth into wicked works of art.

With a rumble in our tummies again, we went rogue and ventured off on our own for lunch. We settled up in the hillside at a place called Slightly Chilled. Sounded like a pretty good sales pitch to us. Run by an British ex-pat, who had two of the most well-fed dogs we’ve seen in Sri Lanka so far, we headed there in hopes of something that didn’t resemble rice and curry. We ended up sharing noodles, clay-pot braised eggplant and a sizzling beef and vegetable plate.

That night we were entertained by a traditional Kandian dance performance, followed by some spiritual fire walking. The dance was a laugh and a half, and the fire walking sent us running for air-con. Processed with VSCO with f2 presetProcessed with VSCO with f2 presetWe dined that night at The Empire Cafe, where we’d enjoyed smoothies earlier that day. Him, a chai and jaggery smoothie and me, a passionfruit and kitul juice; we’d both decided to pick a flavour where we didn’t recognise one ingredient. Both turned out to be different forms of sugar syrup. For dinner we feasted under the colonial arches of the flamboyant pink restaurant on a mezze plate to start and swordfish served with a mango salad to finish. Just what the doctor ordered.

Having spent most of the trip so far in the safety of our tour van, we shook things up a bit the next day with a train trip from Peradeniya Station to Nawalapitya. R25 for a ticket (that’s a whole whooping twenty-five cents) for a one hour train ride, we piled on the loaded carriage, and made friends with the strangers we were sardined against. He even managed to be invited to hang his legs out the door of the train for some fresh air just as the hawker came by spruiking his pungent dried fish delicacies for the third time. Lucky.Processed with VSCO with f2 presetProcessed with VSCO with f2 presetAfter reuniting with our driver at the station (I’m sure he was never so glad to see us), we headed to the Kalani River, which flows from Adam’s Peak to Colomobo, for some white water rafting. The perfect GoPro fodder, we bumped and thumped our way through some pretty decent rapids until we reached relaxed water…where our guide then flipped the boat. All of a sudden I was much happier about the lack of crocodiles I’d managed to spot on the banks of the river.

Waking at 1am the next morning in the sleepy town of Delhousie, we chased the sun up Adam’s Peak, but that’s a story for the next blog.

E x

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Archiving the Ancient Cities

A day exploring the ruins of the ancient cities of Sri Lanka will surely not ruin your day. Okay, now I’ve got that out of my system, I’ll continue.

The history of Sri Lanka is long and winding. With each site we visit, we learn of a new king, a new invasion by South Indians, the Dutch, the Portuguese, the British, each meaning a new city, capital, temple or palace. The last few days have been a jungle of information, steep steps, breathtaking buildings and sweat.

Instead of attempting to explain the serpentine story of the two hundred and sixty-something kings and five ancient cities of Sri Lanka, as guide books tend to do a much better job at that than I ever could here, I’ve decided instead to archive some of the most bloggable* facts that lingered with me at the end of each day.

*I’ve also learned that bloggable is actually a word. And I’m lovin’ it.

Anuradhapura
The fortunate thing about having a car for this trip is that we’ve had the opportunity to visit places off the beaten track that many tourist don’t know about or can’t be bothered to journey out to.

Our first stop was to the ancient Buddhist library building in Padeniya Temple; a beautiful wooden temple encased in intricate carvings, from the lion heads guarding the walls to the swirling patterns scored into the doors of the temple. A small complex used by the King when he needed to escape the capital, it was definitely off the tourist-map. Processed with VSCO with f2 presetNext, we ventured on to Yapahuwa. All that remains now is a stairway so steep you have to crawl, that rises out above the clouds and is guarded by monkeys. While seemingly small, this rock fortress became the capital of Sri Lanka for eighteen years from 1272.Processed with VSCO with f2 presetFinally we reached the ancient city of Anuradhapura, the first capital of Sri Lanka and home to the oldest tree on record – the Sacred Bo Tree. Along with our guide, Channa, we bought the most beautiful lotus flowers from the stall surrounding the temple as offerings. Channa explained that the reason we offer flowers is reflective of Buddha’s teachings about life – as the flowers that we offer today will be dead tomorrow, reminding us that we should live in the present and not the past or future.Processed with VSCO with f2 presetProcessed with VSCO with f2 presetNext we moved on to Jethawanarama, or the brown stupa, believed to be the largest brick monument in the world following the pyramids in Egypt. Channa explained that using the ninety-three millions bricks that make up the stupa, you could build eight thousand and four houses. The whopping structure took forty-five years to build, but only seconds to take your breath away.Processed with VSCO with f2 presetThroughout the day we visited the ruins of architecturally astounding ponds used for water meditation (some could remain under water for up to two hours meditating), hospitals, kitchens and toilets, all of which demonstrated an incredible level of irrigation for the fifth century. Even I was impressed. About drains. Yeah.

There were stupas everywhere, some still remained submerged in soil yet to be rediscovered, all with unique quirks and designs. We had king coconuts and roti for lunch, and found many the stray furry friend along the way. One of my highlights, however, was a special place Channa took us, where no tourists go. It was a functioning monastery that had a tree which had built a cathedral with its roots. Pictures cannot do it justice.Processed with VSCO with f2 presetProcessed with VSCO with f2 preset
We ended the day at Mihintale – a hilltop complex heralded as the place where  Buddhism was first introduced into Sri Lanka, plopped atop one thousand, eight hundred and forty-three steps. At the very top you can pull yourself up a sun-drenched rock to an incredible view across the hills and valleys, even making out some of temples we’d seen previously. As the sun began to set, it all felt very Lion King-esque.Processed with VSCO with f2 presetPolonnaruwa
In the eleventh century, Polonnaruwa rose as the capital after many an invasion at Anuradhapura. Apparently, there were also less mosquitoes. Bonus.

After driving through leafy national parks, we met our guide, Rahul, who took us through our paces. The Royal Palace, where the King lived with his five wives…and five hundred concubines. The Quadrangle, where each King built a new temple to house the tooth of Buddha. The lake, which is surrounded by electric fences because on occasion  the water drops low enough for the elephants way across the bay to walk on over. And the Gal Vihara, the most impressive monument we’ve seen yet. Across one granite stone, standing seven metres high and over twenty metres long, four different sculptures of Buddha have been carved. Immense, inspiring, inconceivable. Processed with VSCO with f2 presetProcessed with VSCO with f2 presetProcessed with VSCO with f2 presetSigiriya
Woah, you really don’t realise how much you can achieve in a day until you try to write it down.

That afternoon, we headed for Sigirya. The giant rock that someone once upon a time had the splendid idea of building a kingdom on top of. Surrounded by the ruins of what sounded like an opulent ‘pleasure’ garden with ponds, pools and fountains (‘like a nightclub’ our guide told us), Sigirya was once the epicentre of the kingdom of Kassapa. We climbed rickety staircases that gripped casually to the side of the rock, passed by frescos painted god only knows how, and finally reached the summit. And what a view.Processed with VSCO with f2 presetProcessed with VSCO with f2 presetProcessed with VSCO with f2 preset

My legs may be aching but my smile is wide.

E x

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Stepping into Sri Lanka

It hit us like a tuk-tuk driving 100km per hour around a blind corner as we stepped through the doors of Colombo Airport. That smell. The one that took him straight back to the dusty streets of Kathmandu, and me to the back roads of Bangkok. Don’t get me wrong, though; we both love that smell. It was like a hit of adrenaline. We’re back.

With jetlag on our side, we woke early and headed to the beach outside our room at Rani Beach Resort, which had been veiled in darkness when we arrived the night before. Greeted with a game of beach cricket, wooden catamarans covered in colourful sails, and some “very good salesmen” trawling the beach, we already felt accomplished. And it wasn’t even 9am.

Buffet breakfast. Tick. First shower of the day. Tick. Ready for more action. Tick.

After meeting the guide for our World Expeditions tour that would start that afternoon, we headed off to the main fish markets via a tuk-tuk that was nicely haggled down in price by him. Thank god he’s here, I’m hopeless at that stuff.

We could smell it before we arrived. A stark contrast to the fish markets we’d visited in Tokyo; while store owners lined the road, spruiking their offerings, the beach was covered in meters of hessian topped with neatly arranged fish. I wondered how they stopped the birds from eating it until I saw a bird swoop down and score a small fish. The answer to my question: they don’t.

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After a friendly toothless man excitedly told me that I could watch the markets from my television, thanks to a visit from Rick Stein a few years back, we wandered through the fruit and vegetable markets. The only way to describe it was colourful, which coincidentally happens to be a pretty good summation of Sri Lanka overall so far.

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After meeting up with our group, which turned out to be just one other couple who’d traveled all the way from…Sydney, Australia, we headed to the Dutch Canal, spanning a whopping 240km for a boat ride with a bit of wildlife spotting. Monitor lizards, kingfishers, herons, owls and the occasional bit of rubbish. It was as if our guide had arranged a meeting place with each bird, as he was able to spot things our amateur eyes simply couldn’t.

The banks of the canal were littered with tin shacks sheltering small smiling children, next to large concrete complexes containing the very apparent disproportion of wealth. Breaking into more open water, we headed across the lagoon to the Muthurajawela Nature Reserve, a tropical wetland known to home crocodiles, sea eagles, monkeys, and all manner of birds. While we unfortunately (or fortunately?) didn’t see any crocodiles, we did manage to be boarded by some pirates who liked the look of our afternoon tea.

On the ride home across the lagoon, the wind whipping through my hair, I watched on as birds darted in and out of the sunset as if tiptoeing on time.

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Jumping back in the car the next morning, we headed off to the rural mountain town of Salgala, to the monastic complex housing nineteen Buddhist monks. Leaving the comfort of touristed Negombo, we finally got a glimpse of the real Sri Lanka, in all it’s nitty-gritty-ness. Streets littered with dogs, the brightest bunches of bananas hanging from the awnings of crumbling straw huts, colourful buses charging down thin streets, and fields of rice bordered by the tallest coconut trees. As the roads got bumpier, the excitement only grew.

Once we made it to the monastery, an eighty-eight year old gentleman, sari-wrapped and thong clad, with only a few teeth and not a word of English, led us around the complex and up through the forest. He explained to our guide, who translated, that there were eighteen caves in the forest that the monks reside in, but that they were originally built for the King when he fled to the mountains to avoid Indian invasions in the second century. The monks now use the caves for meditation, of which they perform from 1pm each day until the following sunrise. We walked barefoot and admired temples hidden in stone and stupas entangled in vines, but not so much as our utter admiration for the elderly gentleman who led us, using nothing but the end of an old broom as a walking stick to take him all the way up to the lookout at the top, which swept across from Colombo Harbour all the way out to Adam’s Peak and beyond. I was a sweaty mess by the top but I swear I still saw a spring in his step up there. Age is just a number, folks.

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That afternoon we headed to our hotel for the night: Elephant Bay Hotel in Pinnawala. Okay, picture this. With a grand colonial style entrance, we stepped over the sleeping guard dog and through the doors. The view directly across the lobby opened onto a magnificent river, dotted with rocks in a way that the water sparkled as it trickled over its obstacles. If you take a look over the balcony you notice a bright blue infinity pool, overlooking the gushing river. Now look a bit closer and you notice one, no two, no make that a herd of elephants bathing in the river.

The Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage was just across the road, and a few times a day they walk the elephants across the road, down the small side streets, and into the river for a release from the heat. They eat 300kg of foliage a day, and need 250 litres of water. Needless to say, we watched them all night: from our balcony, our bed, the pool and over the dinner table. That was until we met Malou, at the end of her four-month trip traveling solo from Holland, who showed an interest in our card game. As they say, the rest was history. Remember to come visit, Malou!

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I thought I’d wait a few more days before I wrote my first blog, considering I’m here for two weeks, but there has been too much excitement to write about.

I promise the next one will be shorter.

E x

 

Up and a(way with words)

Writing and traveling have become somewhat synonymous for me these days. I’m not sure whether I travel to travel or travel to write anymore, but what I am sure of is that whichever it is, I bloody love it. You could only imagine my excitement then, that seemingly monotonous day, when I read that from writing twenty-five words or less I’d won an all expenses paid trip for two to the destination of my choosing thanks to Lonely Planet and World Expeditions.

Cue inaudible screams and a cheek-straining smile for the next nine hours straight.

The chosen trip: a Sri Lankan Adventure with World Expeditions. Fourteen days of trekking through tea plantations, canoeing down the Kalu Ganga, visiting a Buddhist monastery, climbing mountains, staying at elephant sanctuaries and the likes. All the hard stuff, you know. Plus, considering the first two weeks are free we decided to add a few nights in a water villa in the Maldives to the end of the trip…semi-justifiable, right?

So get ready to tune in or tune out, depending on how high your FOMO-tolerance is because this one is going to be a good one.

Pass me my passport.

E x

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A Christmas in the Country

Off to Orange we go, after a quick pit stop in Thirlmere for his family Christmas (it’s on the way, right?). Loaded with ham, turkey and all the trimmings, plus some pretty sweet Santa sacks, we messaged mum to get the Christmas pudding in the oven and hit the road.

It would be the first time in a while that the whole family would be together again and with the parents considering moving to Orange permanently, it was kinda sorta a big deal. I’d been promised wine, wineries and warm weather, which sounded like a win to me.

Day 1.
A second round of Christmas was toasted with an early coffee from Byng Street Local Store, a meander around Cook Park, a fiddle with my new drone, plums freshly picked from the trees lining the streets outside, and a table set with a 1986 Penfolds. Adorned with Santa hats we cracked crackers, swapped stories, mesmerised with magic, and drank a drop or two. Or three. Okay, it was five.

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Day 2.
Once more shops had begun to swing open their doors again after the Christmas break, we headed to the new local Omar by Academy Coffee where we ended up staying much longer than expected after he started talking to the two guys behind the machine about coffee. No surprises there. But with the promise of a menu filled with bagels to start in the next few days, we promised to be back again soon.

A breakfast big enough to fill our Christmas-stretched stomachs at The Agrestic Grocer, followed by a visit to Thornbrook Orchard to try our hand at fruit picking (one of the last surviving forms of slavery in Australia, according to Jack). If the kilo of apricots we got for $6 didn’t fill us up, the trip to Lake Canobolas for a picnic of Christmas leftovers surely did.

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It was a chilled afternoon in front of the cricket, as he was getting a withdrawal headache from being away from it for too long, followed by a pub crawl with the parents. First stop was to the Union Bank, sitting in the beer garden staring up at the ivy covered building while sipping on a lychee spritz. Then just around the corner to the Lord Anson, an old-school English pub where we feasted like kings on chicken parmys the size of our face, which I managed to finish much to his surprise and pleasure for not having put money on it. Last but not least, we ventured to the Greenhouse, a new nine-million dollar wonderland on top of the Orange Ex-Services Club, where mum tried to sign in using her library card, and we considered buying a beer tower each but settled on a wine just because of the way the Spanish guy behind the bar said it.

Day 3.
Rise and shine and off to Racine Bakery for a breakfast of baked goods, before heading back to Omar by Academy where we are now ‘known’ enough for him to get a free coffee thrown in to his already three-shot coffee order. Convincing ourselves that it’s definitely 5pm somewhere in the world, we headed to Ross Hill Wines for the 10am tour and tasting, and were taught all the tricks of the trade by owner James Robson himself. Having tried ten wines by twelve, and now be able to talk about tannin, comment on climate and organise oak from tank, we learned that not all chardys are crap and that white wine can be cellared (if you can wait that long). Oh, and that Ross Hill is the goods.

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Next we headed to Heifer Station where I not only got introduced to my spirit animal, the llama, but also two baby llamas, along with the most randomly awesome chickens I have ever seen, a Shetland pony, and a solid-looking sheep called Brutus. Oh yeah, and there was wine. Orange is definitely starting to grow on me.

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With the hangover starting to kick in around 2pm, which is never a good sign, we headed to Groundstone Cafe for some hip food before a solid siesta in the afternoon. You know what they say – start early, end early. Just in this case it was very very early.

Having become regulars at the Racine Bakery, for dinner that night we headed to Racine La Colline, the restaurant behind the institution. Up a winding, vine-lined dirt road we found the beautiful restaurant sitting atop the hill, picturesque water tank dripping in ivy, a garden overflowing with roses and lavender, and the smell of fresh hay. Three beautiful courses were enjoyed with the sun beating softly against my city skin. Best of all, Thursday night are training night, so we both enjoyed ourselves for only $50 a pop.

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Day 4.
We made pack-up day a picking day by heading to Huntley Berry Farm on our way home. A non-for-profit farm run to support those with a disability where visitors are free to roam the paddocks of produce, picking from the plentiful berry trees and vines and pay by the kilo at the end. We scored strawberries, the best blueberries, the ripest raspberries and my first mulberries. There is heaps to choose from, even vegetables. Highly recommended.

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So Orange, with your wine and your weather, your coffee and your croissants, your rolling hills and restaurants, you’re a place I wouldn’t mind calling my second home.

You have my tick of approval, mum and dad.

E x

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Drifting to Palm Beach

What do you get when you take ten Drifters, two days, too many drinks and sweet digs in Palm Beach?

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Thanks to Josh for everything, Olly for the dance moves, Clem for the chaos, and everyone else for totally bringing it.

Merry Christmas, kids.

E x

Be Mine, Melbourne

You know you’ve got it good when you find someone who is equally as prepared, and even happier, to spend their every last cent on good food and wine. Well, that’s what I’ve got in him. So a post-exam trip to Melbourne for some serious eating, drinking and then a bit more eating, is always on the cards.

It began as any good trip to Melbourne should: $7.80 dumplings in Chinatown. We had arrived in the afternoon, and with only our two new leather weekender-bags we’d been dying to have an excuse to use, we made it to our Airbnb apartment with ease. It did help that our apartment was located right in the middle of Chinatown and no further than a block from almost every establishment on our ‘must go’ list.

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What’s on that list, you might ask? Well it’s a funny story really. We went down with no real plan of what were going to do. I say that knowing though that he definitely had places he wanted to go, and I was just happy to be, well, easy breezy.

But on our first night, he took me to Lûmé, the most incredible restaurant with a blind, experimental ten-course menu. There we met Orlando Marzo, barman extraordinaire and the man responsible with providing some of the best liquids either of our taste buds had ever had the pleasure of. As it was, he also happened to have just competed in the World Class competition for Bartender of the Year, along with our friend Christian Blair, and as if that little surprise wasn’t enough, he, along with all the staff of Lûmé, including head chef Shaun Quade, composed a list of ‘must-go’ venues especially for us. Speechless.

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I’d recommend the restaurant based on that alone. The service was second to none. They all knew our story and cared. They were fun and professional, and didn’t make me feel embarrassed when I slipped on basic etiquette of “fancy” restaurants. I’m sure we all know the story there. They pushed your chairs in whenever you sat down, and escorted you to the bathroom each time. Speaking of the bathrooms, the ladies’ was stocked up with perfume, bobby pins, and makeup wipes, and I’m informed the men’s had aftershave and beard wax.

All this, and I haven’t even mentioned the food. Each course could only be described as absolutely beautiful, if not the definition of sexy. We ate in total over twelve different meats, none being the classic beef, chicken or lamb. We tried scampi roe, and emu bone broth. We enjoyed apple-fed duck, and artichoke bread with cured eel butter. We even got to dine on a meal that looked like my dream succulent garden. Each meal inducing a jaw-drop; each meal a work of art.

I’ve attached the full menu that we were sent afterwards here.

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The next morning we jumped out of bed, only to get straight back in once we realised how cold it was. Whether we mustered the courage on the second attempt or our stomachs were starting to rumble, we made it to Higher Ground for breakfast, the sister of infamous Kettle Black café. A minced lamb fry up for him, and a roasted quince bircher for me. YUM.

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A quick stop off at Patricia‘s (because #duh), on the way to the Queen Victoria Markets to pick up ingredients for my best cheese board yet that was to come later that night. We took a stroll through the streets of Melbourne as the weather starting turning it up and the jackets started melting off. I’d introduced him to the television show Rake this holiday, and that had quickly become the go-to activity while digesting food between meals. But just around the corner, like most things, was Belleville, a place serious about their seriously-good chicken, and our next meal of the day. Think Philly cheesestick spring rolls, three cheese mac n cheese, and chargrilled watermelon salad. Mad.

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More Rake, more coffee (courtesy of Brother Baba Budan), and more feasting that night. There is nothing quite like sharing a bottle of red wine in bed to make you ditch your plans to go out in a heartbeat.

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Saturday we headed South to St Ali where, after asking for advice from the waiter on which meal to choose, I decided I wished I’d picked the buttermilk griddlecakes instead. Now, ladies and gentlemen, I may not be the best at picking meals, but I know I’ve picked a good partner. Knowing of my regret, he managed to order the griddlecakes without me knowing and even offered to finish my meal for me, knowing I’d need the space for my second breakfast. Find yourself someone who would do that for you.

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By chance, the Swans were playing at the MCG that afternoon, so we met up with his cousin and her husband to see the game. The stadium was insanely big and the game was insanely awesome. Go the Swaaaaannnnnniieeesss! A few drinks at the Boilermaker House and Heartbreaker Bar that night topped it all off.

The next morning we ventured out of the free-tram zone, requiring us to top up our MyKi cards for the first time. First stop was Industry Beans, in Fitzroy – my future post code. He had the truffle eggs with pea panna cotta, and I had cinnamon dusted brioche. We wandered the streets for a bit, while I took photos of every bit of street art and googled every ‘for sale’ sign we walked past. Needless to say, we were there for a while. We did end up at Proud Mary though, where he got a $10 long black that was “worth every cent” apparently, and there is a lot of cents in $10. To finish off our Fitzroy adventure we meandered through the Rose St Artists’ Market and dreamed of things we’d love fill our homes with. If we ever have a home in Sydney’s real estate market.

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That afternoon we met up with Sarah, a friend of his from his time back in London. Always good company, she told us stories of her latest adventures and once again put forward a great argument for me switching my allegiance from the Swans to Carlton. Looking at you, Marc Murphy.

We had coffee at Top Paddock, and then a walk along the Yarra River. Considering the stunning weather, she drove us to Bridge Street where we walked some more and talked for hours. When dropping us home, she mentioned a raffle system that the theater show The Book of Mormon does, where two hours before the performance you can enter to win $40 tickets. It would have been the most incredible way to finish the trip, but we will know for next time. Thank you so much for your hospitality, Sarah!

We visited an institution for dinner: Pellegrini’s, and what an experience that was. An Italian diner with no menu, and a ‘no-f#@k’s-given’ attitude. We weren’t sure how to get the waiters attention until a lovely couple next to us just told us that they’d come over eventually. I don’t really think there is a fixed system though, the staff seem to just yell orders back to the kitchen and then drop massive bowls of pasta in front of people. When going to pay, we told the waitress what we’d had and she stared back at us blankly for a second before responding with “ahh, just make it $55.” We handed the cash over and she threw it on the bench behind her before continuing to clean dishes. It was amazing.

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That night we went to Berlin Bar, which to get in to you have to climb a flight of stairs and ring a doorbell – an obstacle that he hadn’t managed to pass the last time he’d come on his own. The bar is styled around Berlin, split into an East side and a West side, and is pretty cool.

The next day was the last. We explored the streets one more time and talked about how much we wanted to come back already. We walked through alleyways and got a coffee at Dukes. And finally, we finished the trip the same way we had started; with dumplings. It really was the most incredible week. We did so much but felt so relaxed and rejuvenated at the same time. It was the best way to celebrate finishing exams for the semester.

Now to start planning the next trip.

E x

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