Ella, Sri Lanka and Why I Didn't Really Like it.
We had a fab time staying at Superson in Uda Walawa, but we were keen to move onto the next stage of our trip (and of our guide book) so set off for Ella, 'everyone's favourite hill country village!'. We were planning to get the train, stopping off at Haputale first - but chatting to some other travellers shone a light on a different, cheaper route so we got a bus to Welawaya, changed and got another bus to Ella. It was a story of 2 halves for sure. We waited at the bus stop by the Elephant Transit Home for over an hour....another 15 mins and we promised ourselves a trip int the orphanage to watch feeding time. But alas, the bus arrived late, and too soon at the same time and we somehow crammed onto it (Oli hung off the back like a slumdog legend). It was almost the worst bus trip yet, and we've concluded that no good comes from the Colombo buses (by the time you get on, they are more rammo than the central line at rush hour). A super nice lady got up and gave me her seat, this is not the first time a kindly Sri Lankan has given their seat up for me, confirming my view that they are the nicest people around. Or maybe they think I'm pregnant.
The second bus we got on was a whole different story. We got a seat, some waadi and mango slices (with chilli, yum!) and settled in for a slow, windy crawl up the mountain into Ella. Dreamy.
At this point I should outline that we both had high expectations of Ella, and were sure we would fall in love with the place and stay for a few nights. Thus far we haven't stayed anywhere longer than 2 nights (except for the Galle incident) and I was keen for a hot shower and some chill out time in the hills. We've had rave reviews, albeit vague, and the lonely planets quote at the start of this post cemented it; Ella was the one.
The bus dropped us at the Lonely Planet recommended Curd Shop, and we got our bearings. Bearings proved difficult to find as the map in the Lonely Planet was littered with errors (a bit of a theme so far in Sri Lanka). The Curd Shop was in entirely the wrong place unhelpfully, and neither was our last choice of guest house. We trekked around every recommended guesthouse, and all had rooms, however at around 4 times the stated amount in Lonely Planet. Grrrrr. We bumped into Benoit (of Superson fame) who pointed us in the direction of a cluster of guesthouses. One of them we knew to be amazing, but way out of our price range so we plumped for Rock View guesthouse, and negotiated our enormous room down to 2300 rupees (seemed to be a bargain for Ella) .
Cheered by this good fortune, we headed to the Main Street for a beer and some dinner. The guidebook does say that your best bet is your guesthouse for dinner, but ours was a dive - so we chanced it at a couple of bars. The first, Chill Café - was clearly one of the casualties of being singled out for fame in guidebooks and was snooty, and overpriced. It was kinda cool, and had a nice upstairs snug sort of thing with bean bags and stacks of travel wankers. Also, I liked the bar chairs. We had a beer, enjoyed the free wi-fi and buggered off to the rotti shop to get some grub.
Food at the roti shop sounded good and Sri Lankan, and we opted for something a bit weird - thosai & curry, and a side of veggie spring rolls to share. What we got was one lonely cold spring roll, and a plate of spongey pancakes with cold tasteless chicken curry. Officially our worst meal yet. Oli did his best to eat the thosai, and I sulkily refused. A baby elephant on TV did cheer me up though.......
To the curd shop to salvage our evening. Please don't let the Lonely Planet let us down again! They did not, and we were rewarded with the most epic sundae dish of fresh curd and treacle with fruit and bits of cake scattered all over. Like a healthy ice cream sundae. Win! As a brief explantation, curd and honey is really traditional in Sri Lanka and particularly in Ella. It's thick fresh buffalo curd, with treacle made from the kitul palm - it tastes a bit like Greek yoghurt and honey I guess, but with so much more flavour.
That night, we slept badly (on a road, joy) and woke at 6am to walk to Little Adams Peak in a bit of a state. The temperature in the hill country is much cooler, a bit like an English summer I'd say, and its a novelty to curl up in a blanket at night. Except we didn't really have a blanket. More of a fleece scarf. The only thing that would get me up was the thought of a hot shower, so when Oli said - yeah, it's kinda hot - I knew that meant it was cold. I guess it woke us up.
Little Adams Peak is stunning, and not so little at all! We are both keen to climb Adams Peak/Sri Pada (allegedly where Adam came to earth, and the footprint of Buddha) , so I figured that this was training. It's not challenging, and is a fairly relaxing jaunt to the peak. It took us about 45 mins each way. We walked through tea plantations, and saw cows and a luxury resort along the way (helipad, anyone?). It's worth coming to Ella just for this. We then rewarded ourselves with breakfast at the curd shop. A spicy Sri Lankan omelette for Oli, and curd, treacle and muesli for me.
On the walk, we had pretty much decided we didn't really like Ella, so wanted out sharpish. One call to Bawa homestay in Haputale later, and we had 1 room booked, bags packed and were on our way on the incredibly scenic train ride (about 25 rupees for 3rd class).
Backpacking Sri Lanka seems to be quite a different experience to coming on holiday here (I know, that's super obvious!) and we found this to be really true in Ella - where the prices are high, quality low & the construction on going to house the ever increasing tourists flooding in.
Controversial as it may be, Ella is without question not my favourite hill country town!