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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.