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I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re doing something. ~ Neil Gaiman

Weligama, Sri Lanka

December 31 – January 1, 2015

Weligama Beach in front of Fisherman's Bay Hotel

Weligama Beach in front of Fisherman’s Bay Hotel

In a nutshell, all you need to start your new year off right…good company. Whether that is spending the evening cuddled up with someone you love or a festive night with close friends, either way you can’t go wrong. We were lucky to have both. And even more fortunate to be spending it on a beautiful beach in Sri Lanka.

New Year’s Eve

After leaving Yala, we headed to Weligama where we would meet back up with our friends and begin an evening of celebrations – a birthday and New Year’s Eve. I often find myself with my eye glued to one side of the camera and as much as I like photography, I realize that this little habit can really prevent me from being present in the moment. For this reason, I (for the most part) hid my camera and let the night unfold shutter free.

Yep, for the most part.

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My love…

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My beautiful friends…

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…and a little debauchery.

New Year’s Day

After nursing a bit of a hangover, we headed out to go snorkeling. We rented equipment from a company right around the corner from where we were staying (Fisherman’s Bay Hotel) and then headed directly out past the boats in front. I’m not a fan of going far out from the shore or too far away from a boat so I spent the time following everyone’s flippers rather than looking at the beautiful fish. Regardless of me allowing my fears to take over, I still can say that I saw enough to know there must be better places nearby to snorkel. My highlight was finding a sea cucumber, or did someone toss it at me? Either way, they seem to always give me a good laugh.

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Hydration station on the way to Mirissa Beach

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Coconuts!

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Alex not wasting a single bit of her coconut ūüôā

Want to read more about our trip to Sri Lanka? Check out our itinerary here. Check back soon for my next post about our stay in Mirissa.

 

 

 

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Keeping one’s guests supplied with liquor is the first law of hospitality. ~ Margaret Way

Yala, Sri Lanka

December 30 – 31, 2014

Whole fish, shrimp, rice and curry made straight from the hearts of our host and hostess

Whole fish, shrimp, rice and curry made straight from the hearts of our host and hostess

It only occurs to me nearly a year later as I sit and reminisce about our overnight stay in Yala, Sri Lanka that maybe I don’t fully understand the nature of true hospitality. Have I ever taken in a stranger and made them feel at home and cared for as if they are family or dear friends? I haven’t and in many ways, I feel ashamed to say that it seems very awkward to me. I love entertaining and having guests over but I have never simply opened up my home to strangers. I have always been on the receiving end and never given it too much thought; this doesn’t mean that I take any of my experiences for granted as I’ve always felt and expressed my gratitude to those whom have welcomed me.

Is genuine hospitality lacking in¬†our American culture? Or have I just been ignorant of the beautiful opportunities to meet and welcome strangers in my home? Am I too wrapped up in my own life to give up my home and time to welcome someone I don’t know?… After giving this more thought, I hope to challenge myself to grow and to reciprocate the next time an opportunity arises.

Road Trip from Hill Country to the South

After spending four days in the hill country, Jonathan and I headed south. Our goal was to make it to the coast by New Year’s Eve to meet up with our friends. To break up the long drive, our driver, U.P., suggested we stop in Yala for the night and stay at his sister’s guesthouse. This would also allow us to venture out for another safari since Yala National Park is only a short drive from the guesthouse.

A Family Affair

After spending nearly a week with our driver, he quickly learned that the best way to get us excited was finding us a good bite or meal. We often found ourselves pulling off on the side of the road, many little pit stops of sorts, to try local delicacies or to pick up a handful of fruit or coconuts to quench our thirst. Jonathan and I talked about food around the clock and U.P. shared with us his love of cooking as well. As we neared his sister’s guesthouse for the night, he decided to pick up some fresh fish and vegetables so he could cook us a dinner once we arrived.

After showering up and settling in we were invited to a huge dinner prepared by U.P. and his sister in their home. The time they spent working hard in the heat to make sure that we had an incredible dinner was unbelievable. The family made us feel as if we were part of their own clan coming home after being away for a long time. It was special and quite a genuine display of hospitality. After dinner, we enjoyed a bonfire in the yard.

Our evening ended with many rounds of arrack, a Middle Eastern liquor. ¬†U.P. insisted we try it. ¬†I was not a fan as it tasted too sweet for me but I sincerely enjoyed every minute around the fire. ¬†I couldn’t help but to be filled with a warm feeling. It was as if we were part of their family rather than strangers passing through.

Traveling to Sri Lanka?

Hiring a driver while traveling in Sri Lanka was easy. It helped us relax and not worry about directions and also gave us the advantage of having a local’s opinion on everything. ¬†A driver can also suggest excursions and plan them for you if you like. ¬†I highly recommend doing this . We often could not get phone service so getting directions would have been difficult and it was rare to see road signs in the hill country. Interested in hiring our same driver, you can connect with him via his website (www.srilankaturist.com). ¬†I loved his sister’s guesthouse too so if you are interested you can find more information on her Trip Advisor account or her website www.jcguest.com.

Want to read more about our Sri Lankan itinerary? Find more in this post, A Winter Escape. Prior to arriving in Yala we went on a safari in Uda Walawe National Park. Next up, we head to Weligama to meet up with friends and celebrate the New Year. Check back soon for this post!

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Not all those who wander are lost. ~ J.R.R. Tolkien

Uda Walawe National Park, Sri Lanka

December 30, 2014

Elephant spotting at Udawalawe National Park

Elephant spotting at Uda Walawe National Park

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always had a love for animals, especially large animals in the wild. From the time we booked our flights to arriving in Sri Lanka, I could not contain my excitement about experiencing my first safari. I looked forward to this moment more than any other in the trip.

Did the safari end up being the highlight of my Sri Lankan travel? ¬†No, even though I expected it to be. As I’ve grown older, I’ve become exceedingly aware of the impact we (humans) have on our environment and how our actions can have a tremendous impact (negative and positive) on the lives and habitats of some of the world’s most amazing creatures. The safari left me with such mixed feelings; I was elated at having seen so many animals in the open wild yet troubled by the ‘footprint’ we were leaving behind.

About Uda Walawe National Park

With over 500 elephants estimated to live in the park, Uda Walawe rivals the most popular East African national parks. Other than elephants, you can see wild buffalo, samba deer, leopards, crocodiles and masses of birds.

We visited the park in the late afternoon. I highly recommend this time as we were able to see at least 50 elephants or more. Although the park was busy with many other jeeps on the paths, I heard it is much more crowded in the early morning. We saw plenty of other animals although we were never able to spot any leopards. One thing to note, the jeeps at UWNP seat about 8 people. A guide for your jeep is included in the entrance fee.

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Deciding between a safari at Uda Walawe or Yala?

Question yourself no further. Jonathan and I went on both safaris (look for my post on Yala next week). Between the two parks, we by far preferred Uda Walawe over Yala. We saw many more animals at UWNP and it was not nearly as crowded. Had we just done Yala, I would have been disappointed with my first safari experience.

Want to read more about our Sri Lankan itinerary? Find more in this post, A Winter Escape. Prior to arriving at Uda Walawe National Park we spent the morning hiking in Ella. Next up, we head to Yala for another safari and a wonderful evening provided by our driver and his sister at her guesthouse.

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Think of the beauty still left around you and be happy. ~ Anne Frank

Ella, Sri Lanka

December 30, 2014

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Feeling on top of the world at Little Adam’s Peak

Captivating. Simply put, no other words will do. Standing atop Little Adam’s Peak I feel a gush of joy and the type of weightlessness that only seems to accompany true happiness. The mountains crest¬†and roll in every direction. I fight the urge to immediately photograph the views and remind myself to experience the moment as is.

The Hike to the Top

Little Adam’s Peak is a relatively easy hike. It’s nearly 3 miles round trip (about 35-40 min hike each way). The first 25 minutes or so uphill are quite easy but the last remaining bit is steep and the stairs in the hillside aren’t easy to navigate. The path leading you up winds through a tea plantation. If you are hiking early, you will see the tea pickers hard at work.

Tea plantation workers on the path up to Little Adam's Peak

Tea plantation workers on the path up to Little Adam’s Peak

Collected tea leaves in bags

Collected tea leaves in bags

Village girls exchanging smiles for rupees

Village girls exchanging smiles for rupees

The Views

Imagine 360 degrees of pure beauty. Sri Lanka’s landscape in the hill country is like none I’ve ever seen. Much of the mountains are covered in tea trees. This gives the mountain sides a texture unlike anything else. The green is lush and at various times of day, the clouds descend upon the peaks adding a beautiful softness. Without a great camera handy, I never felt like I could truly capture the beauty before me but luckily, the views were so fantastic I will never forget them.

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Taking a break and capturing the moment!

Taking a break and capturing the moment!

Considering Ella?

If you’re undecided on whether to stay in Ella, I would suggest that you at least make time for the quick hike up to Little Adam’s Peak, especially if you are driving through anyway. What a better way to break up a long drive from one town to the next?! As far as whether to stay nearby, I don’t think it’s necessary to spend a night in the area but if you are looking for a place that’s close and want to escape further into the mountains, check out my previous post on Bandarawela. It’s a very short drive and can be combined with Little Adam’s Peak in your itinerary.

To read more about our Sri Lankan itinerary, check out this post. Next up, we head to Udawalawe National Park for a safari, check back soon for the newest update!

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To seek is to suffer.  To seek nothing is bliss.  ~ Bodhidharma

Kitulgala, Sri Lanka

December 27 – 29, 2014

Breathtaking views found on the drive from Colombo to Kitugala

Breathtaking views found on the drive from Colombo to Kitulgala

A light mist dances all around.  A soothing waterfall ebbs gently from the mountain creating a hypnotic sound, mother natures own therapeutic drug.  Perched on a branch six feet away, a kingfisher stands entranced by the tranquility of Kitulgala.  I, too, sit motionless.  Here, even the most turbulent mind will succumb to peace.

Getting There

We left Colombo early morning on the 27th.  Our plan was to head inward towards the hill country.  Our first stop outside the capital, Kitulgala, was a bit off the beaten path.  Tucked away into the low mountains, Kitulgala is an unlikely destination and usually just a passageway for travelers making their way from Colombo to Nuwara Eliya.  In the most recent years, this town has grown more popular as a white water rafting and jungle trekking destination.  Maps can be deceiving considering the roads to hill country are not flat nor straight.  What seemed like it should take an hour ended up being a four hour drive.  Luckily, the views were jaw dropping and made time pass by quickly.

Lodging & Food:  Royal River Resort

Exploring:  white water rafting

Royal River Resort

If you are looking for a serious escape and don’t mind a 30 minute, 6km drive deep into the jungle and away from everything else then you will be in heaven at Royal River Resort. ¬†This four room resort is situated (literally built into) a waterfall that cascades across every view from any one of the rooms, pool, or dining area. ¬†Each room has a fireplace and a balcony. ¬†Other than swimming, reading, and dining at this resort, there’s not much else to do and you have to account for a long semi-scary drive to the main road. ¬†That being said, you can arrange any excursions with the staff or your driver if you hired one. ¬†This was the perfect place to decompress, adjust to the time change and recharge for the rest of our journey through Sri Lanka.

Royal River Resort:  Kitulgala, Sri Lanka

Royal River Resort: Kitulgala, Sri Lanka

Inside views at Royal River Resort

Inside views at Royal River Resort; the fireplace was my favorite feature, especially on our first cool, rainy night.

Authentic rice and curry meal at the resort; not on the menu but you can request it (make sure to do so about 6 hours in advance)

Authentic rice and curry meal at the resort; not on the menu but you can request it (make sure to do so about 6 hours in advance).  This was for two people!

White Water Rafting on the Kelani River

On our second day, we decided to request a white water rafting trip (through our driver) and were connected with the company, White Water Rafting 99 (no website). ¬†I grew up near great rafting in southern WV so in comparison, this was more like a lazy river ride with a few class 3 or 4 rapids. ¬†That being said, this is so worth your trip just for the views. ¬†I did not have my camera with me so I didn’t get to capture any of it. ¬†To give you an idea of how beautiful this area is, watch¬†The Bridge on the River Kwai. ¬†It was filmed on the Kelani River and your rafting experience will take you past where the bridge was destroyed. ¬†One tip if you go rafting: DON’T SWALLOW THE WATER.

Going to Sri Lanka?

I highly recommend staying a night or two in Kitulgala, mainly to stay at the Royal River Resort. As long as you aren’t afraid of long, narrow roads leading you away from civilization you will be in heaven! ¬†My suggestion is to plan this stop on your way to Nuwara Eliya or Ella from Colombo or reverse.

After we left Kitulgala, we headed further east towards Nuwara Eliya to visit a tea plantation. To read more about our Sri Lankan itinerary, click here. For more about our previous stop in Colombo, click here.

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The traveler sees what he sees, the tourists sees what he has come to see.  ~ Gilbert K. Chesterton

COLOMBO, SRI LANKA

December 26 & January 3, 2015

Manning Market

Manning Market

Colombo was a starting and ending point for our road trip around hill country and the south of Sri Lanka.¬† I arrived with very little expectations.¬† What I had read about Colombo left me unimpressed.¬† Sometimes this is a great thing because you can be easily surprised and delighted¬†by the unexpected.¬† After a full day of wondering the city in search of good eats and interesting places I was left feeling confident that we made the best decision to stay only one night in Colombo.¬† My lens is very narrow and I am sure I missed a lot of what Colombo has to offer¬†but if one place doesn’t have an initial draw, why wait to be convinced?¬† Life is short.¬† Move on.

Colombo (The Beginning)

Lodging: Decoco Guest House

Food:  Pilawoos (Hotel de), Sponge Bakery, Arpico

Drink:  Castle Hotel 

Explore:  Manning Market, sunset at Galle Face Green

Lodging

Guest houses are a dime a dozen in Sri Lanka.¬† Decoco Guest House was a nice place to stay for a night.¬† Was it fantastic? No…but it was certainly fine.¬† The owners were very accommodating and helped us with a few unusually difficult situations that we’ve never had to handle in another country.¬† Other than that I would say this guest house was quite average.¬† The location is hard to find on¬†your own¬†and also hard for drivers to find; if you are choosing a place based on location, I would suggest you skip Decoco.

Food

After settling our things at the guesthouse we headed out to explore for the day.¬† When staying in a city for as little as 24 hours, you have to decide wisely on how to spend your time.¬† Food was our number one must do, especially after so many endless hours in flight and in airports.¬† One of my favorite ways to experience food, culture, and the people of a new place is to visit the city’s markets.¬† We started our journey by heading to Manning Market.¬† It’s¬†Colombo’s wholesale fruit and vegetable market.¬† It is cheap, if that is what you are looking for.¬†¬†After roaming for nearly 45 minutes,¬†everything seemed unappealing. ¬†We left hungry¬†but I knew just the place to brighten our spirits…

Hotel de Pilawoos…not a hotel but a 24/7 joint that serves the city’s best short eats.¬† We sat down and devoured two huge plates of kotthu roti.¬† This is hangover food at its best and is the meal everyone should have¬†after a long flight.¬† Get the kotthu with cheese, I promise you, you will like it.¬† Spicy, with loads of texture from the chopped roti¬†and a¬†bit of creaminess from the cheese.¬† Dig in!

Kotthu Roti at Hotel de Pilawoos: 417 Galle Road

Kotthu Roti at Hotel de Pilawoos: 417 Galle Roada

Although we had plenty to eat, Jonathan always manages to find room for something sweet. ¬†A short walk down the street from Pilawoos and we find ourselves in Sponge bakery. ¬†Another miss. ¬†But that doesn’t stop him from finishing his plate.

Passion fruit and yogurt cake at Sponge

Passion fruit and yogurt cake at Sponge

We had plans to meet up with some friends who were having an unfortunate stay at the hospital so for dinner we headed to a grocery store with the hopes of finding some easily transportable edibles. ¬†We went to Arpico which reminded me of a super Walmart with more interesting groceries. ¬†I mention this because if you find yourself in need of anything from snacking cheese to perfume…you will find it at Arpico.

Exploring

With a little guidance from Lonely Planet, we decided to walk toward Galle Face Green. ¬†It’s recommended as a fantastic spot to indulge in some treats from street vendors and to watch the sunset. Jonathan and I have fun just about anywhere and Galle Face Green was no exception but I wouldn’t recommend it as a place for street food or to see the sunset (unless it’s an unusually clear day). ¬†However, it was nice for people watching and there’s something worthy of your time if you take in a bit of the culture here. ¬†After an hour of lounging on the wall by the beach, I began to gather how connected Sri Lankan families are. ¬†There were so many families walking or playing together. ¬†Everyone seemed happy and enjoying their time connecting with each other and the outdoors. This seemed to me like a daily pleasure rather than a family vacationing together. ¬†A lesson our society could stand to learn, where the couch and television are too often the centerpiece of the evening.

Galle Face Green

Galle Face Green

Drinks

Intrigued by Lonely Planet’s description of Castle Hotel (a misnomer at best) as a “timeless boozer offering up cheap drafts” and located in “once-posh surroundings”, we headed that way; other options were nearly all overpriced cocktails in locales swimming with tourists. ¬†Upon arriving, I sensed this moment was going to be a game changer for me. Something about the looks I received upon entering, the dim lighting and lack of any appeal to the interior had me on guard.

Priding ourselves on our ability to face discomfort in the eye, we proceeded to find a table and order some drafts. It was quickly evident, a female in this bar was not a typical or likely occurrence. We were offered a seat in a different section of the bar when we entered but turned it down to be in the main area where it seemed more lively. ¬†I think that was the first hint we overlooked, the second came when our table was approached by a man who took our order without ever looking at me. ¬†He would only address Jonathan until I finally spoke up on our second or third round. He wasn’t unfriendly by any means and eventually gave me a kind smile. Uncomfortable as I was, the cold drafts were quite welcoming. I always hope to be considerate of others’ beliefs and customs yet never apologetic for being a female. ¬†So I sat with a bit of uncertainty. ¬†At the end, I withstood the initial desire to leave and rather enjoyed the hour or so at Castle Hotel. ¬†I would return again…next time, without any trepidation. ¬†In fact, I highly recommend it. ¬†From this post, it appears that it may not exist much longer.

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Castle Hotel

Colombo (The Ending)

Lodging: Cinnamon Grand Hotel 

Food:  Beach Wadiya

I have to say, by the time we were headed back to Colombo I was very sad, and not because I didn’t fully enjoy it the first time. ¬†I was sad to come to the realization that our travels were quickly coming to an end and we were also having to part ways with two of our best friends. ¬†The country blew my expectations out of the water. ¬†It was absolutely one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. ¬†I would go back in a heartbeat to experience the rest of the country we were unable to see. ¬†I look forward to sharing the next steps in our Sri Lankan journey. ¬†Up next, two nights in Kitugala. Stay tuned!

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Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.  ~ Unknown

 Sri Lanka

December 24 – January 4, 2014

Sri Lanka Flag

The first snow fall of the season always fills me with a sense of calm.¬† I can’t help but to stare up into the sky and try to follow a snowflake dancing its way home to¬†a final destination.¬† Something about stopping and taking in the beauty of the first winter snow day entrances me.¬† The chill in the air, the tingling of cheeks and the desire to cozy up to someone you love is a grand feeling.

As blissful as the moment is,¬†it is sadly, only a brief one. When living in a city of over eight million people and nearly 14,000 taxis the once beautiful snowfall quickly turns to grimy piles that seize up¬†the¬†already limited¬†space on the sidewalks.¬† You¬†suddenly realize you’re¬†under dressed¬†and are¬†a long walk from home, the subways are packed and every taxi in sight is taken.¬† This is when the moment of bliss disappears and you begin fantasizing of the warm sun on your face and lazy days at the beach or in the park.

The Escape

I’m not quite sure what led us to Sri Lanka other than the fact that our friends, David and Alexandra,¬†threw it out as a suggestion.¬†¬†My first thought…it is warm.¬† My second thought…I’ve never been.¬† My third thought…I’m all in!¬† Goodbye dirty snow piles.¬† Goodbye oversized down coat.¬†¬†Hello breathtaking mountains!¬† Hello sun-kissed island!¬† Hello hiking boots and bikini!
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Itinerary Overview

Colombo:  Eating & Exploring the city

Kitugala: Relaxing and White water rafting

Nuwara Eliya:  Tea Plantation & Factory

Bandarawela:  Ayurvedic Massage & Scenic Overviews

Ella:¬† Hiking Little Adam’s Peak

Udawalawe National Park:  Safari

Yala:  Safari

Weligama:¬† New Year’s Eve on the beach and snorkeling

Marissa: Whale watching and lazy beach days

Galle:  Ananda Spice Garden and lunch

Colombo:  Eat, Drink, and Relax

Interested in what we did in each city?  Follow my blog or check back soon for posts on each of the above destinations.  Also, look forward to tips on where to stay and how to find the best driver to take you everywhere your heart desires!

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