The drive to Ella is magical and we have taken the road less travelled for a reason. We hardly pass another vehicle on this narrow road that winds its way around the mountains and the spectacular views take my breath away.On the way we visit Bambarakanda, which at 790 feet is the tallest waterfall in Sri Lanka. The road to the lookout is narrow and I am not sure how we manoeuvre around the other passenger vans we encountered head on. There is almost no room to pass!We have to descend to the low country before we can make our ascent to Ella. The dark green hills of the tea country are momentarily replaced by the lighter green of terraced rice fields. Ceylon was once known as the ‘Granary of the East’ but today the country is no longer self sufficient in rice. Rice is of course the staple diet of most Sri Lankans and and it is not uncommon for village folk to eat rice for all 3 meals of the day. I am fortunate to see an ox and water buffalo threshing the recently harvested rice paddy the old fashioned way. Today, this process is mostly undertaken by tractors. We stop the car and the farmers beckon me closer to watch. I am surprised they speak to me in hesitant English. I respond in Sinhalese and they laugh. “She’s a Sri Lankan lady, they respond”!
I had thought that finally after months of travel in places I had stood out as a traveller or a ‘foreigner’, I would finally be able to blend in, in the country of my birth. I don’t blend in. I am not sure if it is the way I dress or the way I look but even before I open my mouth to speak, the locals I have met assume I am from ‘foreign’ lands! My guide Naufer, is constantly assuring ticket collectors that I am a local (so I can for once get that cheap local price) and vendors who hassle me to leave me be! Perhaps I should swop my shorts and singlets for the long flowing skirts and puffed sleeve tops the village girls favour but I haven’t packed a skirt and I can’t really see my self in one of those tops!
We check in to the Elle Gap Guest House for a late lunch and are ushered in to to a room with a view (see view below). On a clear day you can see right through this valley all the way to the ocean, but those days are few and far between and I didn’t get that lucky.
After a bit of a catnap I am walking through the lobby when Patrick stops me in my tracks. He has just arrived here with his uncle but is at a bit of a loss as to what there is to do around these parts. Patrick is French but has spent the last 4 years in Florida so his English is pretty good. His uncle however still lives in France and speaks hardly any English. However, we make do with lots of laughs and hand gestures and some assistance from Patrick, who translates. We make plans to go to the local pageant later in the evening and I invite him to join me trekking in the morning. It has been more than 20 years since I was last in Ella and I am excited to be here.
A friend is someone with whom you dare to be yourself. ~ Frank Crane