Sri Prada

After a few nights of Couchsurfing in Colombo we took a ridiculously overcrowded train for about $1.40 to Hatton, 120 km east of Colombo and about a one hour swervy tuk-tuk ride from Sri Prada, also known as Adam’s Peak. On weekend nights during the peak season (December to May) 20,000 Sri Lankan pilgrims of every religion, but mostly Buddhist, climb to the top of the mountain to shuffle through the temple and ring the bell. Read about it here.

We arranged for a wake-up call and dinner for 11:30pm before going to bed at around 5pm. That’s a pretty early bedtime for me so I took an Ambien to make sure I got enough rest. It worked perfectly, although I was pretty groggy for dinner and somehow slept through the perilous drive to the village at the base of the mountain. If I had been more awake I probably would have noticed sooner (perhaps even in time) that the monks asking for a donation before we headed up had made a fake list of names and donation amounts of previous travelers, that all the names sounded the same and were written in the same handwriting and had donated far more than is likely. Tired as I was I just handed over the lowest commonly listed amount on the sheet of 500 rupees ($5, the average donation at places like this is usually $.50) and began the journey up. Espcially toward the top it started getting very busy on the stairs. 20,000 is a lot of people, and I couldn’t believe how many were older than 70 or younger than 7, mostly barefoot. The harder it is to go up, the more blessings you get for your efforts.




The first thing I noticed as we began the hike at 1am was that a steady stream of pilgrims were going both up and going down, constantly and evenly for almost the entire way up. It seemed that people start going up at sunset and more people show up all night long to be able to complete the return trip by the time the sun gets really hot the next morning. We saw about five other Westerners during the 8 hours we spent on the mountain. Needless to say, we stuck out like a sore thumb and were the subject of countless comments and jokes by Sri Lankans. We never knew what they were saying but it’s easy to tell you’re the center of attention when someone yells out, twenty people laugh and when you look around fifty people are smiling at you. It was always friendly so we didn’t mind. Even if we did mind, what could be done anyway? The funniest part was that we were repeatedly asked “where are you going!” by enthusiastic Sri Lankans wanting to practice their English. It was pretty obvious where we were going. Up.

After spending two hours in barely moving traffic at the top we were launched through the temple, rang the bell and tried to watch the sunrise but failed due to the rain and clouds. I’m very glad I bought this hat for 50 rupees. I was sweating a ton and that combined with the mist and the cold mountain air made my head quite cold. This experience was really awesome and eye-opening, but my legs were brutally sore for several days. If you ever go to Sri Lanka, definitely do this hike, but make sure you stretch first.




Sigiriya

Two days later, with extremely sore calves, we spent the morning climbing up Sigiriya.




As the following informational plaque explains, there was a Buddhist temple on top until it became a palace and military fort. After some research on the internet I learned that it was never in fact a palace or a fort: it has only ever been a temple. The locals are adamant about their version of the story and continue to teach that it was a palace. I guess the history is dependent on the storyteller.





The modern way up the rock is built into to cliff face. For thousands of years monks used shallow footholds gouged into the stone.




Standing on the highest point of the rock next to the fallacious “palace” sign I admired the views. From the top you can see lower surrounding platforms with temple ruins, the “royal pool” and long distance views of the area.








The signs offered insight into the metaphysical and philosophical ramifications of tempting gravity from great heights.




Kristof brought his flute with him like he does to lots of places. Mostly people stare at him more openly and longer than if he hadn’t pulled out a long, loud plastic flute. Sometimes they ask him to play. In a grove near the base of the rock a sign warned us about noise-hating bees, but Kristof insisted the sounds were soothing to bees.




In another grove he was persuaded by a group of men to play something. He played The Kristof Song, his most practiced tune. I should record it sometime and post it.




Trincomalee

From within the Golden Triangle we took a train to Trinco on the northeastern coast. This is where Sri Lanka was hardest hit by the 2004 tsunami that killed over 30,000 people. Some ships are still washed up on the beach, their owners unable to afford renovating or removing them. The area was fairly dependent on the tourism industry before the tsunami and now, and for the past several years things have been tough out here for all the families with drastically reduced or destroyed incomes. Trincomalee was a Tamil Tigers controlled area as well, and you can see that from all the groups of military soldiers with automatic weapons patrolling the beaches and roads. On this particular beach it seemed that Westerners were smiled at and Sri Lankans were interrogated. The beach itself, however, is very nice with views of Pidgeon Island, which we decided to go to.




We rented a boat to take us across the channel to the island and after setting up camp did some snorkeling. I managed to take some decent pictures and we saw a couple interesting oceanic creatures but I couldn’t keep it up for long as I started feeling sick and dehydrated.




About 90% of the way around the island I got a little confused about how far we had gone, so I turned back and tried to return to the beach. Kristof finished off the 10% and walked around to find me in the water. I washed up on a different part of the beach from where I started and wandered around trying to find my stuff. At some point, semi-delirous with sun-stroke and fever, I got lost on the point and got sick among the rocks. Do I look happy? This was the beginning of my performing the Trinco two-step every twenty minutes for the next four days. I took my Z-pack antibacterials every day and it had mostly cleared up by the time we arrived in India.




Around the time we were leaving the island (and subsequently leave Trinco and Sri Lanka) we saw a big family of about two dozen Sri Lankans also trying to leave. They had one boat and driver available to them and every time he returned for another trip to the Trinco beach the entire family sprinted over to him and attempted to climb inside en masse. Each time he had to yell at them until all but six or seven got out, then would return for more and resist the onslaught again. Really funny stuff.



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