22 February -
Muscat, Oman – Colombo, Sri Lanka
I arrived in
Colombo in the early hours of the morning, drew a few rupees,
bought a new SIM card and discovered that Sri Lanka Air had lost
my bag. My bike, however, was there and after a lengthy process
I left the airport, minus my bag, and caught a taxi into town.
I instantly knew
that I was going to like Sri Lanka. I had a big smile on my face
as the taxi headed into town and I realized I was firmly in the
land of tuk-tuks, paan, Buddhas and monks. It was hot, it was
humid, it was green, and it was all slightly chaotic.
23 February -
I received a phone
call from the airline saying that they found my bag. Later that
day it was delivered to the Clock Inn hostel where I stayed, and
although open, only my Swiss army knife was gone. It could have
been far worse.
At last I could
reassemble the bike and go for a cycle around the old part of
town. I also cycled to the market area, but it was quite
impossible to cycle there so I just pushed the bike around the
narrow lanes. Later that evening I hailed a tuk-tuk to the
beachfront to watch the sun set. The sunset was unspectacular
and to my surprise I spotted a snake charmer. I did not even
know they still existed.
24 February -
Colombo – Bentota - 80km
I was in no hurry
and first had breakfast at the hostel, then loaded the bike and
headed south in the direction of Galle. I found cycling in Sri
Lanka exhilarating, frustrating, nerve-racking, adrenalin
pumping, jaw-droppingly beautiful, and sometimes pure madness.
I kept my hands on
the brakes and did not take my eyes off the road as I weaved
through the traffic, avoiding tuk-tuks, buses, cars, trucks, ox
carts and, from time to time, a holy cow. I passed a multitude
of temples, food stands and fruit juice stalls. I felt like I
never cleared the city limits and the traffic never eased.
Just after midday
I reached Bentota. It had plenty of places to stay, loads of
food stalls and a lovely location on the river/coast. It looked
like my kind of place so I found a room, did my laundry and then
took a walk into the village. I found food as well as an adaptor
for the strange plugs in my room. No sooner was I back when the
rain came bucketing down like it can only do in the tropics. I
smiled, put my feet up and opened a beer while watching the rain
come down. What a life.
25 February -Bentota
– Galle - 70 km
Sri Lanka is a
fascinating country with many religions. Buddhists, Hindus,
Muslims and Christians all seem to mix well and most villages
will have a church, a Buddhist stupa, a mosque, as well as a
Hindu temple. My personal favourite must be the very ornate
Hindu temples and I can hardly cycle past one without taking a
pic, and I love the Buddhist monks with their very bright robes.
I ambled along
until I reached the town of Galle, famous for its Old Dutch
ford. I found more of a citadel than a fort and today it is a
bustling town within the old walls. Needless to say, staying in
the old part proved a bit on the expensive side and I was lucky
to find myself a room for 2 000 rupees. Food was equally
expensive so I took a walk to the main gate and found some local
snacks outside the walls for 10 rupees a piece.
-Galle – Unawatuna - 7 km
Stacks of yellow
coconuts are fixtures on the side of the road, ready to be
hacked open with a machete. I normally stop and after drinking
the water, hand it back to the vendor, who will crack it open
and craft a spoon from the side so I can scrape the coconut meat
No sooner had I
left or I reached the old hippie town of Unawatuna. I turned in
to have a look and liked it so much that I found a room and
stayed there for the rest of the day. Again, I found things on
the expensive side and the fact that one is always ripped off
can be tiresome. It was, however, a pleasant place with the
usual stalls selling clothes and jewellery.
27 February -
Unawatuna – Tangalle - 80 km
I was moving
rather slowly as every now and again there were something
interesting to look at, from Buddha statues to old forts and
temples. I stopped at most of these.
In Tangalle, I
spotted a paradise-like bay with cheap-looking accommodation on
the beach and knew straightaway that it was going to be my spot
for the night. The New Beach House was everything but new, but
at $10 a night I did not complain and parked myself down with a
beer in hand.
28 February -
Tangalle - Bundala National Park, Lagoon Inn - 00 km
It was an awfully
short day, but I thought it would be nice to explore the less
visited Bundala National Park. I found a room at the Lagoon Inn
which was situated in a lush garden and run by a very friendly
couple. Nothing much came of the visit to the park as I found
that I could not cycle into the park but had to take a jeep. The
jeep ride for just one person turned out to be a bit pricey, so
I had to make do with cycling along the short entrance road.
1 March -
Bundala National Park to Kataragama - 40 km
Early in the day I
arrived in Kataragama, the holiest of towns in Sri Lanka. It is
a holy place for Buddhists, Muslims and Hindus alike. Right in
the centre of town is a large park along the banks of the Menik
Ganga. The river is used by all for bathing, a quick wash before
continuing onto the shrines, laundry and the washing of the
occasional elephant. The park is home to the Maha Devale shrine
with two large boulders outside where pilgrims smash coconuts
while muttering a prayer. It is all very fascinating.
Buddhism is the religion of about 70% of the population of Sri
Lanka. At these temples the scent of frangipanis and incense
hang thick in the air. Daily, one can see families bringing
symbolic offerings of flowers and fruit to their preferred
deities. What a colourful and fascinating world.
2 March -
Kataragama – Monaragala - 65 km
I took the “jungle
road” and had a few strange looks from the locals asking me if I
was not scared. I was not quite sure what I was supposed to be
scared of, the people or the animals. It was, however, an
uneventful ride and, although keeping an eye out, I did not even
see an elephant, let alone any other dangerous animals.
It was boiling hot
but, thankfully, there were plenty of stalls where I could get
water along the way. The coast was about 135 km away and I had
no intention of going all the way there in one go, so when I
spotted a cheap-looking room along the way, I offloaded my stuff
and enjoyed the relative cool of a room.
3 March -
Monaragala - Arugam Bay - 80 km
It was already
boiling hot before I even left and it was maybe not a good idea
to eat the leftover spicy fried rice from the previous night. It
gave me serious heartburn - I never seem to learn.
reaching Arugam Bay, I stopped at the Magul Maha Vihara Ruins, a
5th-century BC ruin, set about 1 km off the road in a densely
forested area. Built by King Dhatusena (473– 453 BC), it is said
that the site was probably part of a royal compound.
I love street food
and I’m in my element in Sri Lanka (or just Lanka as they call
it here). Here I can just drop into any of the roadside
stalls and I’m sure to get a taste of the best prawn Vadai that
the streets of Lanka have to offer. At best, it must be devoured
soon after it is taken out of the boiling hot pan of oil in its
crunchy state and eaten with a dip that could range from a green
sambol, chutney or curd.
Then there is the
famous Koththu. At night, a plethora of street side restaurants
dish up Koththu, made from what is called Godamba roti. The
Godamba roti (envision a softer version of a pita bread) is
sliced into pieces and placed on a massive heated metal tray
onto which are added meat and an assortment of vegetables. Out
comes two metal blades, and the cook becomes the most uncanny
percussionist imaginable. The result? A delicious compilation of
chopped edibles on a plate that could comprise of anything, from
roast chicken, seafood, sausages, egg, onion rings, veggies, a
selection of unidentifiable sauces and of course, plenty of
chilies and spices.
My very favourite
must be the spiced chickpeas with chili, coconut and curry
leaves (known as kadala). It is not too spicy but a
wonderful snack that can be nibbled as you go along.
I stayed another
day in Arugam Bay as it was a swing-another-day-in-a-hammock
kind of place. I had a swim in the lukewarm waters of the Indian
Ocean and basically ate my way through the day.
5 & 6 March -
Arugam Bay – Batticaloa - 115 km
It was a long, hot
day on the road and I was happy to reach Batticaloa where I
found a room. The room only had a fan and it seemed of little
help to try and cool the room. I took a walk across the bridge
to the more central part of Battialoa to find some food and an
ATM. I found both and it was after dark by the time I came back.
The next morning I was lazy to get going so I stayed another day
and took a walk to the beach, the Old Dutch Fort and had a look
at some of the other older places in town. There was not much of
interest and, as it was boiling hot, I headed back to my (not so
very cool) room.
7 March -
Batticaloa – Mutur - 115 km
The road hugged
the coast through rice paddies and a rather sparsely populated
area. I felt like the piped piper, cycling through these
villages with each and every kid on a bicycle in tow. I stopped
at a few Hindu temples along the way, and as always they were
very colourful and so were the people around it. Again, it was a
hot and humid day and by the time I reached Mutur, I decided to
stay there as it was another 30 km to the next town.
It was a strange,
hotel type of place where I’m sure they never had a foreign
tourist before. It felt like the other occupants came to have a
look and even the owner rocked up later checking if everything
was ok. He sent his house boy, as he called him, to get me some
fried rice from the local restaurant which I was grateful for.
8/9 March -
Mutur – Uppuveli - 38 km
The next town was
Trincomalee or just Trinco as they call it here. The road was
flat and followed the coast past China Bay with all its fishing
boats and then through the town of Trinco. There was nothing in
Trino I wanted to see so I pushed on another 6km’s or so to the
beachy village of Uppuveli.
I found myself a
room at the Aqua Hotel, which sounded fancier that what it was.
It was, in fact, a real nice backpacker place with a bar, a
swimming pool and plenty of tables and chairs right on the
beach. It was the kind of place where one could park off for a
few days. I had no intention of parking off for a few days, but
did stay the following day as well.
There was not
really anything to do so I took a walk along the beach into town
to buy a few things to nibble on. The Aqua Hotel had a
restaurant and although the food was mediocre, it was reasonably
priced. The walk along the beach was interesting, past rows and
rows of fishing boats and fishermen bringing in their nets. The
area was hit hard in wartime and by the 2004 tsunami, and most
of the houses looked like they would not withstand strong winds,
let alone another tsunami.
I also made use of
their internet to check where to go next. I did not really come
up with any bright ideas, except for the fact that the best
would, most likely, be to go back to Thailand and from there
cycle to Myanmar, as I have not been there before. I also
understood that Bangkok was the easiest place to get a visa for
Myanmar. I hoped it would still be like that by the time I got
10 March -
Uppuveli – Anuradhapura - 120 km
After an early
morning yoga session, I packed up and cycled off. It was already
sweltering hot by the time I left. Fortunately, the road was
fairly flat with just the slightest of tailwinds. Once in
Anuradhapura, I cycled around looking for a room but all the
names I had were full.
thing is that at touristy places there are always some touts on
bicycles looking for a lost tourist to escort to a room. I
normally avoid them, but this time they came in handy and showed
me to a room in one of the back streets for a reasonable price.
At first I was just going to stay the one night but I realized
that there were far too many interesting things to see.
I spent the
following day in the ancient city of Anuradhapura. Today
Anuradhapura is a large, sprawling complex of archaeological
wonders and ruins, built during Anuradhapura’s thousand years of
rule over Sri Lanka. Anuradhapura first became a capital in 380
BC but rose to importance long before that, around 109 – 303 BC.
I cycled around
this vast area and was very impressed with the Jetavanarama
Dagoba. Built in the third century by Mahasena, it may have
originally topped 120m, but today is about 70m. When it was
built, it was almost certainly the third-tallest monument in the
world, the first two being the Egyptian pyramids. It is said to
consist of more than 90 million bricks. A British guidebook from
the early 1900s calculated that Jetavanarama contained enough
bricks to make a 3 meter-high wall, stretching from London to
It is a
fascinating area which appeared half overgrown and overrun by
monkeys. People, however, still live in the area and the old
temples are still in use today. The most famous being the sacred
Bodhi tree. The tree is said to have been grown from a cutting
brought from the tree under which Buddha sat when he reached
enlightenment. This surely makes it the oldest historically
authenticated tree in the world. The tree itself was not very
impressive, as I expected a large tree with a very thick trunk.
Instead, it was a rather scrawny looking tree.
12 March -
Anuradhapura – Puttalam - 80 km
It was an
uneventful day and I soon reached Puttalam on the West Coast.
Just as I wanted to head south on the A3 in the direction of
Colombo, I spotted what looked like a cheap room and just there
and then decided to stay for the night. I had no reason what so
ever to do that, but I did it anyway. I did my laundry, took a
walk to the shop, bought some snacks and spent the rest of the
day playing on the internet.
13 March -
Puttalam – 105 km
I stopped numerous
times at colourful fruit stalls along the way, both for a
refreshing drink and to seek relief from the sweltering heat. It
was fascinating to watch them prepare the drinks. First, the
orange or lime was cut in half and the juice squeezed into a
glass. Then they added a pinch of salt, water and crushed ice.
Then, like world-class cocktail waiters, they mixed the
ingredients together using a plastic jug, switching the drink
from the glass to the plastic jug. With quick and precise
movements, they threw the drink from glass to jug, catching it
neatly a good meter away.
Again, I stopped
at a few temples along the way, all very colourful. The peafowl
is native to South Asia and here, in Sri Lanka, most of the
temples are decorated with these brightly coloured birds, which
give it quite a festive feel.
It was slightly
further than expected, not that it made any difference as I had
no intention of going all the way to Colombo. It started raining
and I was drenched by the time I found a nice place right on the
14/15 March –
Colombo - 50 km
It was a short
ride into Colombo but the traffic was heavy and it took all my
concentration to stay out of harm’s way. I made it back to the
Clock Inn hostel (where I stayed previously) just in time before
the rain came down again. I was happy to see that they still had
my bike box in the storeroom which saved me going to look for a
box in town.
The following day
I packed the bicycle back in the box and rearranged my panniers
so they all fitted into one bag. Later, I took a walk to the
shops and bought a few things - just why I did that, I don’t
know as I already didn’t have any space. I also popped into the
hairdresser and looked nearly like a normal person again.