Feb 26-Mar 1, 2017
We. Fucked. Up.
We backtracked from Nuwara Eliya to Hatton, around an hour by train in the direction we had come from in order to avoid Adam’s Peak pilgrim crowds on the weekend.
Once at the train station, it appeared that there were a group of stray dogs running the show rather than the stationmaster. One of them (in Sri Lanka dogs often travel in packs), bit a child as he walked by, completely unprovoked. The pack then swarmed another group and growled at them, attempting to bite them but then got scared away. Seeing as how we were stuck waiting on this packs’ territory, and they were walking back and forth across the small platform the whole time, it was a less than pleasant experience.
Here’s the thing about street dogs, something we have both been accustomed to throughout prior travels, this little island country has between 500,000-3 million of them (yes, estimates do vary greatly). They are literally everywhere you turn, some rabid, some sick and diseased, some naturally aggressive and others timid. This makes for nerve wracking experiences walking home at night, since there are hardly any people around and nowhere to turn for safety.
We also came across a government article that states that roughly 2,000 people per day end up at the hospital with dog related injuries in Sri Lanka. Makes you wonder how many go unreported as well. All this to say, we miss Gidget (our cute little Shih Tzu) and have had enough of these beasts cramping our style.
From the train station, we caught a local bus that defied physics to twist and turn and accelerate over windy roads that were only wide enough for one vehicle at a time. To say we were holding on for dear life would be an understatement.
After around an hour or so we pulled up to Dalhousie, the base for the Adam’s Peak trek.
This was the first time we didn’t look into or book accommodation prior to our arrival, and rain and limited options made our possibilities look rather grim.
We were shown an absolutely beautiful room, but the price was less than beautiful.
Tracy would order food there while I ran around and tried to find something that fit our budget.
I finally stumbled upon Vishni Guest, which at a quick glance looked clean and respected our budget.
When I returned with our bags and Tracy, the flaws and dirt seemed to be far easier to see. From an ant infestation in the bedroom and bathroom, to the unclean sheets and pube-like hairs on the pillows, we decided that Tracy would do the room shopping from here on out.
I assured her that we would only be there a few short hours because we would wake up at 1:30am and start our trek to the summit to be at Adam’s Peak in time for sunrise.
We ate dinner, purchased snacks and water, rented walking sticks to aid with the 5200 steps that awaited us, and packed the backpack that I would would be carrying on our pilgrimage. We were ready.
We went to bed early: like 7pm early and were ready for anything. Almost anything.
When the alarm went off at 1:30am, maybe it was the cheap tin roof of our guesthouse, but it was pissing rain, or at least that’s what it sounded like.
We snoozed until 2am, same thing. 2:30am, 3am, 3:30am, all no change.
At 5am it was still raining and we said rain or shine, we’ll at least climb part of the way up towards the summit.
Adam’s Peak has been a pilgrimage site for Sri Lankans and Buddhists for over 1000 years. Locally, it is known as Sri Pada, where Buddha left a footprint as he headed towards Nirvana.
During pilgrimage season, it may take up to 7 hours to reach the summit, but on week days between 2-3 hours, even for those who are particularly fit.
We got out of bed at around 7am and the rain was barely even a drizzle. We got on the path and were already seeing wobbly-legged pilgrims coming down after their evening ascents.
The first bit is mostly shops selling sweets, random toys and other useless items that we thought pilgrims would purchase in their fatigue-induced delirium.
We passed a beautiful archway marking the beginning of the steps as well as a few dagobas where pilgrims could stop and pray.
We soon approached whities that had done the climb overnight and surprisingly no one was drenched.
I asked a few and they said it was barely drizzling and that the conditions were rather good.
Despite all of our preparation and commitment to doing this: We blew it.
We should have followed our gut and headed out in the night.
I still figured we could have made it to the summit but we had to check out of our guest house and catch a train to Ella that afternoon, our final stop in the hill country.
When we reached what looked like the halfway point, you could easily see the steep stairway leading up to the UNESCO World Heritage recognized site.
We felt defeated, helpless and lousy. Leaving as early as 1.5-2 hours earlier, we too could have made it to the summit and back with enough time to make our onward train.
It was not meant to be that day.
Regretfully, we started to head down and made our way back to the guesthouse and to the bus to go back to Hatton.
We actually managed to get seats on the train by surveying the stops of fellow passengers and more importantly, got window seats for the train ride from Nanuoya to Ella (by bribing a child with Rotti), said to be the most dramatic scenery.
Getting the seats was quite a feat because as soon as the train starts to arrive, passengers jump on the moving train or throw their bags into seats from the windows on the exterior.
The scenery was really lovely: from sheer cliffs, to tea plantations, to little agricultural villages dotting the county side, this was truly a beautiful ride, but I still had difficulty not regretting our failure at Adam’s Peak.
We arrived in Ella and took a Tuk Tuk to our guesthouse, the Manaram Guest Inn.
This place was a little out of the way from central Ella and had a ferocious dog in a cage, but otherwise the room was decent and the family running it were extremely kind.
We dropped off our bags and made our way to town. As soon as we reached central Ella, it felt like South East Asia with its backpacker bars and cafes.
It felt very un-Sri Lankan, but they had cold beer, and that would be enough to wash away the defeat of Adam’s Peak.
To redeem ourselves, we decided to climb Mini-Adam’s Peak the following day.
It wasn’t too far from our guesthouse and we got to walk through a tea plantation with Tamil workers on our way there.
The views were really beautiful and well worth the short climb in order to reach it.
There was a Hindu temple blasting music and it made the whole experience that much more atmospheric.
After snapping some pictures for around 15 minutes, the skies just opened.
It was raining hard and we were right in the middle of the cloud but we had nowhere to go.
We waited until the rain calmed and made our way to the nearby Newburgh Green Tea factory, which is owned by the tea giant Finlays.
We were soaked but eventually got a quick tour of the factory as well as a sampling of their finest green teas.
I’m more of a black tea fan, but it was still good for what it was.
That afternoon we just hung around at the various cafes and watched as it intermittently poured.
Our next stop was back in the lowlands, and our success was really dependent on the weather.
We got on our bus towards Tissamahara and it started to absolutely piss-pour.
Usually one would assume that rain at this intensity would only last a few minutes to an hour, but even several hours after arriving in Tissa, you could barely see in front of you because of the rain’s ferocity.
We were staying at the immaculately clean Tissa Resort and we had a 7-hour long safari at Sri Lanka’s famous Yala National Park booked for the following morning. We were really counting on the weather agreeing with us.
Counting on probably isn’t the ideal choice of words, more like hoping and praying.