Saturday, November 7, 2015

Ella, Sri Lanka: Greenest, Prettiest Mountain Village

Ella! How British does that name sound??  I had this city on my radar and was super excited to visit because I'd heard it was gorgeous and cool (literally, since it's high in elevation), and very outdoorsy.

What It's All About:
Ella is a tiny mountain village located in the heart of Sri Lanka's tea country. There are tons of little mountain towns but Ella is one of the more popular ones to visit: the views are absolutely stunning, the town has a great vibe, and there's a plethora of outdoor activities to do (tea plantation visiting, hiking, nature walks, etc.)  

Ella views. Tea may have just usurped rice as my favorite crop of all time.
Ella's tiny morning veggie/fruit market

Cliffnotes of the Day:
  • After arriving and finding a homestay, I set out the next morning on one of Ella's famous hikes up a mountain called Little Adam's Peak (or Little Sri Pada). Its name comes from its larger, more famous sister mountain, the actual Adam's Peak (or Sri Pada): according to who you ask, Adam's Peak is where Adam first stepped down from heaven, or where Buddha took his last step before Nirvana, or it's also believed it's where all butterflies go to die. Needless to say, Adam's Peak is a pretty holy/revered place for some worshippers and the climb is no joke (maybe 7-8 hours; can take twice as long on holy days and holidays).  And before you all call me a sissy for hiking Little Adam's Peak instead of the real thing, Little Adam's Peak is in Ella and Adam's Peak is not (it's a couple hours away outside a town called Nuwara Eliya. So there.) 
  • Regardless, the hike up Little Adam's Peak was beautiful and the vistas were so, so pretty. One of the best parts about it is the beginning of the trail is a commonly used footpath for tea plantation workers and locals, so you encounter a lot of local characters on the way up.

Just a man walking his cow
The entire path has views of Adam's Peak, and it is so green and so stunning
And then I finally reached the top of Little Adam's Peak!
And at the summit, there were local cows, just munching away
And a very sad, very mange-ridden dog. I want to take him home and save him. Unfortunately I only had bananas in my bag, which the dog was totally unimpressed with.
You can see the crazy winding mountain road, as well as a tiny (it's actually huge but looks tiny from up here) waterfall in the distance
The hike back down on the untrimmed path. Luckily it wasn't raining, or this would be prime leech territory
  • Post-hike, I visited a nearby tea factory called the Newburgh Estate. It's special because it's a green tea factory (all the other tea plantations in the area produce black tea). Sri Lanka's tea industry is a result of the British when they occupied the country - they burned down a ton of jungle/forest and turned them into tea plantations instead, given their love of and obsession with tea (....am I British?).  Tea plantations are seriously some of the prettiest places I've ever seen in my life.
Newburgh Estate - the factory is owned by Finlay's

And this was the only photo they'd let me take, of all the tea varieties in different qualities. As if I'd steal their tea-producing secrets by taking photos of the factory tour; I can't imagine anything more boring than photographing a bunch of giant steel machines. 
Tea plantations! The prettiest! I want to drink you all
  • Randomly wandering out of the tea factory with all this rando tea knowledge in my brain, I found that I was quite near another hike to a landmark in Ella called the Nine-Arch Bridge (which I'm sure you can deduce what that looks like).  So I checked it out.  The walk was filled with animals.
I'm obviously very mature
And chickens! Chickens running astray everywhere. It made me wonder how chickens know to go home, or how people keep track of which chicken is theirs

And here is the Nine Arches Bridge! You can actually walk all the way down to the bridge to see the trains pass on it, but the walk was apparently an hour and I wasn't an-hour's-hike-worth enthralled with it
A tiny Hindu temple tucked on a side road
  • Back into town, I caught a tuk-tuk a little way down the mountain to visit Rawana Falls - a set of gorgeous waterfalls on the side of the mountain on the way up to Ella. I'd passed it the night before on the bus, and though it was dark, they looked amazing so I wanted to pay them a visit. I would also like to add that there were random waterfalls everywhere on the drive up to Ella - Rawana Falls is just the largest.  
My tuk-tuk driver picked up pretty quickly how enthralled I am with monkeys, so he would always pull off the side of the road when he saw one to show me. Apparently there are two kinds of monkeys in Ella - these are the smaller ones.
And here is Rawana Falls! You can see how huge they are by how tiny the people on them are. Apparently these falls are especially impressive at this time because it's rainy season - in dry season, the waterfalls aren't as robust
Welcoming you to Rawana Falls is an adorable monkey perched on the sign
My driver was awesome and asked if I wanted to climb up some of the falls, which I obviously did
Chilling at our hangout spot in the middle of the falls
  • My tuk-tuk driver then asked if I wanted him to show me another waterfall without all the tourists. Um yes. He drove me up the road a ways to another waterfall - this one was smaller and had no people. He then told me to remove my shoes, and we basically scaled up this waterfall together. It was incredibly dangerous - all the rocks were slippery and I was kind of worried about dying - and the driver was doing it in flip-flops = mad props.
Sitting at the top of the waterfall after managing to climb up without dying
Me and my tuk-tuk driver. The top of this waterfall was cool because it had a mini waterfall feeding into a little pool  - my driver said they come up here a bunch to relax and go swimming in the mini pool, which is awesome to envision because there's so much foliage that this section is totally invisible from the road
And then I rewarded myself with tea and cake. And Wifi, since my homestay didn't seem to have any
The sun sets on adorable little Ella town

    Fun Facts of the Day:
    • Sri Lanka is the world's fourth largest tea producer
    • Larger tea leaves = weaker = fancier, more expensive tea
    • "Thank you" in Sinhalese is pronounced "Estuuti." On that note, Sri Lanka has two main ethnic groups - the Sinhalese and the Tamil (originally from India). Sinhalese is the dominant ethnic group and language, but tensions between the two were what caused Sri Lanka's civil war (which went on from 1988 to 2009 = crazy).

    Moment of the Day:
    There's a treatment called Shirodhara in Sri Lanka, which is basically where they drip oil on your forehead for a long period of time. It's supposed to bring wellness and clarity to your mind, as well as alleviate stress/headaches, etc.  Sounds weird, but when in Rome - so I tried it out.

    And it looks just like this
    Um, WEIRDEST FEELING EVER. SO WEIRD. It tickled so much at first that it wasn't even comfortable, but after about 20-minutes, it was fine. Did I have more mental wellness after? Maybe?  Let me tell you though, the biggest takeaway was that there was SO MUCH oil in my hair.  I think I washed my hair maybe 3 times (and the oil has a very distinct smell because it's herbal oil), and the next morning, it still looked like I had bathed in a pool of grease. I've never showered so much in such a short period of time.  Come to think of it, do we think that was helpful to my mental wellness...?

      The Hotel (Homestay):
      I'd arrived in Ella in the middle of a downpour at night (typical) with no accommodations or any idea of where to stay.  I had started wandering down the street in search of a place when a lady approached me and asked me if I wanted to stay in her homestay. She claimed it was 5-minutes away (which you know means 10), and the price was super low ($12/night). Usually I'd do more diligence - but it was raining and dark and she seemed very sweet. I agreed to check it out, but her house ended up being at the bottom of this incredibly steep hill of death, and there was basically zero way I was going back up that hill in the dark while it was raining. So that matter settled itself.

      Anyhow, her homestay ended up being called Green Village Homestay, and she had just started offering up an extra room in her house for the extra income. The house was adorable, and there were three children aged 10-20. Nobody spoke much English, and the kids were all way too embarrassed to try and talk to me, but it was the sweetest family ever and I was so glad I stayed with them.

      My lovely homestay lady and her son in front of their house
      My room! Not sure I needed two beds, but so cute right!? Though let's not talk about the sheer number of insects you find indoors in the jungle. I basically lived under that mosquito net in the room.

      The highlights of the homestay were the food - the lady cooked dinner and breakfast every day for me. Dinner was served at the kitchen table, where she would hover right next to me and anxiously stare at me to see if I liked it.  And she would practice her English by asking me questions, which was the cutest. There was a lot of gesturing and acting out things, to say the least.

      Dinner, accompanied always by a giant plate of fruit that I could never finish
      Breakfast, consisting of coconut rohtti pancakes and more curries. And that aggressive fruit plate again
      And breakfast was served every morning on their front patio
      Somehow, the lady also found out about my love of monkeys (I swear this is not something I offer up) - and even though they're considered huge food-stealing pests in this section of the world, the lady, her husband, and the son all went running around the house in search of monkeys to show me. CUTEST.

      Which they didn't need to do because this one showed up and tried to steal my breakfast. No common language was needed; I'm pretty sure the lady was shouting to move all the food inside and we ran around grabbing plates of food to hide from the monkey

      It was such a treat overall getting a glimpse into a Sri Lankan family and their life, not to mention the absolute sweetness of the family. At the end of my stay, I tipped the lady something ridiculous (like $3), and she was so, so excited and kept saying "thank you, thank you madam."  Loved them.

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