Surf’s Up

We were quite relieved to put The Hill Club behind us, after our disappointing venture into Sri Lanka’s colonial past and we ended up paying over the odds for a guy to drive us to our next location. Luckily it was worth it! We spent a night at a great place called Kalu’s Hideaway (randomly owned by Sri Lankan World Cup cricketing legend Romesh Kaluwitharana) on the edge of Udawalawe National Park. As dawn was breaking the next morning, we took a jeep safari into the park itself. There are approximately 550 elephants in the 119 square mile reserve and we saw them right up close, which was amazing. Many of the elephants we’d seen in Nepal had been chained up, so it was lovely to see them wondering around freely.

That afternoon we set off for the coastal town of Tangalle for a whole week of surfing. We stayed in a place called Nugasewana Eden which had its own tree house! We slept up in the tree for a night, but the lack of air con forced us into a more conventional room for the rest of our stay…!

Rob & I both describe ourselves as ‘surfers’ but I have never before attempted to surf for 7 days in a row so I was slightly worried I wouldn’t be able to move afterwards…! Our surf instructor / guide, Bandula picked us up bright and early the next morning along with his driver, Samantha (a man). We drove to the imaginatively titled ‘Blue Beach’ (!) and proceeded to demonstrate to Bandula how we normally ‘popped up’. This essentially means trying to get to your feet quickly when a wave’s coming. He said Rob & I both followed the ‘Western’ style surfing technique and he showed us his own tried and tested method. This he described as the ‘chicken wing, lizard leg, Robin Hood’. I kid you not! Basically, think about the shapes you would make if you were trying to imitate having chicken wings or a lizard leg or doing a pose like Robin Hood. Then imagine throwing those shapes on a surf board and you’ve pretty much got it! I have to say it actually proved very effective for me, although I think it was a bit too basic for Rob! Meanwhile, Rob was slightly preoccupied with a phone interview for a new job. We were nearly at the end of our trip and that interview certainly brought it home…! But despite being in holiday mode, he still managed to impress them enough to be asked in for a face to face chat when we returned to the UK 🙂

After a couple of days surfing at the Blue Beach, Bandula took us to Unakuruwa Beach. It means ‘U-Point’ and it’s a perfect right hand point break. Incredibly, we had it to ourselves for five days! If this had been pretty much anywhere else in the world, we would’ve been fighting for waves. After several days of non-stop surfing, we were both aching from the paddling and had very bruised ribs and battered knees. But Bandula was such a fantastic, patient teacher and a throughly nice guy and he made it his mission for us to keep improving. Anyway, following in Coldplay’s footsteps, we knew we were in good company….that’s right – did I mention he taught Chris Martin to surf?!

While we were in Tangalle, we also visited the nearby Rock Monastery, a giant golden Buddha statue and a natural blow hole, where sea water shoots into the sky from a cave below. But the trip we’ll remember most fondly happened after dark… Along with a lovely German couple called Sarah & Matthias, we piled into a tiny taxi and went a nearby beach where the turtles lay their eggs. It’s a pretty strange sight; we were part of a group of about 20 tourists, all slowly creeping along the sand. For obvious reasons you’re not allowed torches, so you feel a bit silly! Then, when instructed by the guide you just wait. And wait. And wait. Eventually, the turtle is deemed to be in a ‘trance-like state’ and one by one you can come and see her laying the eggs. What surprised most is the size of these turtles. They’re as big as a wheelbarrow or a smallish kitchen table! They’re very impressive and unusual creatures and I will always remember that strange night on the beach!

On our last day Bandula invited us over to his house for lunch and to meet his family. His wife Imalka cooked the best Sri Lankan curry we’ve had and it was lovely to feel so welcome – they truly made such an effort. Bandula was pretty much the pioneer of surfing in the Tangalle area back in 1991, when he was given a board by some Australian lifeguards. He’s now in his early forties (although he looks about 25) and really seems to want to give something back to his community. He’s trying to raise money for a community pool to teach the local kids to swim and he obviously wants to encourage more tourists to an area badly hit by the Boxing Day Tsunami more than a decade ago. After a week we considered him a good friend and I hope one day we’ll be back 🙂

J & R xx

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Little Britain

Although small, Sri Lanka is a very varied country – and that includes the vast changes in temperature. When we arrived in Colombo it was almost unbearably hot, so after our stay in Kandy, we headed for the hills to cool off. The Hill Country rises up in the centre of Sri Lanka to about 2,000 metres above sea level. With the gain in height, the temperature significantly drops. The temperate climate, combined with Sri Lanka’s colonial past and the miles and miles of tea plantations means the area is now known as Little England. We were quite excited about our few days in what we assumed would be vaguely familiar surroundings.

We had heard about a place called The Hill Club in Nuwara Eliya, which was built and owned by Brits connected to Sri Lanka’s colonial past. Unfortunately we discovered it’s a bit of a novelty. The Hill Club is a throwback to a bygone era where men wore dinner jackets and women weren’t allowed to participate in social occasions. Unfortunately the hotel has kept rather too many of the ‘traditions’ and has refused to modernise with the times. Rob was made to wear a jacket and tie to dine in the restaurant, which he obviously didn’t have with him as we hadn’t had many occasions to be smart during our 5 months of travels! However, he was shown to a room and told to pick something to wear from a various collection of old fashioned garments. I had one beach-type dress with me, so together we looked pretty funny 🙂 However the strict dress code for the restaurant is particularly ironic as the food itself is pretty terrible. It reminded us of bad English restaurants 20 years ago – or school dinners! Everything was overcooked. Unfortunately many of the staff were also rude, and whereas I respect that the club has a history which didn’t include women, surely in the 21st Century things have moved on a bit?! I got pretty fed up with being ignored as every question was directed at ‘Sir’. It was as if I didn’t exist. I am absolutely not a raging feminist (!) but it’s just common sense that you’re polite to all your guests, male or female.

No trip to the Hill Country is complete without going to a tea plantation, and we hired a driver who took us to a tea factory, surrounded by miles of green leaves. It really was a tea lovers paradise. The factory itself was pretty old school; many of the machines hadn’t been updated since it opened more than 100 years ago and I’m sure health and safety would’ve had a fit. But the smell of the freshly rolled tea leaves was divine – and we even got a free cuppa afterwards! On the way to the factory, the driver insisted on taking us to what seemed like every known waterfall in the Northern Hemisphere (!) but some of them were admittedly spectacular.

One of the redeeming features of The Hill Club was the fact that they had a huge DVD collection (mostly of copied DVDs….!) and so after our last faux fancy dinner we ended up watching The Queen. Even if the old colonial hotel hadn’t lived up to its past reputation, we still had HRH to make us feel at home 🙂

J&R xxx