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June 7, 2014
After a fantastic breakfast made by Buddhi’s mom at our Mountain View Guesthouse, Kim and I headed out to hike to the top of Ella Rock. Repeating past experiences, we took a couple of wrong turns that, umm, enhanced the difficulty level and adventure of the hike, but eventually made it up to the top. The view was not as nice as Lipton’s Seat, but it’s always a good feeling to get to the peak of a hill/mountain and look down upon the heights you’ve conquered.Looking down and in the opposite direction of Ella, we spotted a waterfall up in the hills in the distance. With the luxury of not having to move on to another city later in the day, and not wanting to backtrack on the way we came up the hill, Kim and I made it our mission to get to those falls. And a mission it was.
Following an ancient tuk-tuk trail along the ridge opposite to Ella from the top of Ella’s Rock, we walked. And walked. And walked. We kept on heading off in the direction of nothingness, with only halfhearted and often conflicting points from locals to guide us. Our lack of ability to accurately express “waterfalls” via charades-like movements did not help our cause. Even a friendly dog that decided to tag along for the hike abandoned us after a couple hours.
At one point, a pickup truck with a couple guys inside and a loudspeaker on top blaring some local tunes rolled past us. They parked just ahead of us at a curve in the road on a hill overlooking not much of anything, stopped the music, and subsequently the guy riding shotgun rattled off a couple minutes of who-knows-what via microphone. Once finished, the music was turned back on, they did a U-turn, and with a wave to our perplexed faces went back the way they came. Later in the day we asked what they were up to, thinking it must’ve had some cultural significance. The reply we were given is, and I’m paraphrasing, “Out in the country of Sri Lanka 50% of the people are hard working and normal. The other 50% are crazy. There is no explanation for what those guys were doing. They’re part of the crazy 50%”. How many times do we see something interesting when traveling and assume it’s a cultural peculiarity, when it’s actually just crazy people being crazy?
Arriving at a fork in the road, we followed a little girl on her way back from school, hoping that she’d be living close to water, and perhaps even better, falling-water. This not surprisingly may have unnerved the poor girl. We were soon unnerved ourselves when a green gate appeared, blocking the road. The girl went around. We didn’t, not wanting to raise alarm and end up bit by a Sri Lankan guard dog or stomped by a guard elephant. Instead, we decided to give asking the girl a shot. After another hopeless attempt of acting out what a waterfall is, she stared at us wide-eyed from the other side of the fence, shook her head mutely, and turned around and walked away at a brisker pace than before. We were forced to backtrack and take the other fork in the road.
Some three kilometers later, on the verge of giving up and worried by the shortening day (it was 3pm by then) and the 20km that Google maps told us separated us from Ella, we were on the verge of accepting defeat and looking for a hitchhike back to civilization. On one last-ditch attempt we took the advice of a very smiley man in a particularly small waist towel and about ten words of English in his vocabulary. His guidance took us to a surprisingly well-kept estate that looked almost like an Italian or French wine-villa. It was here, at what turned out to be called the Amba Estate, where we finally came across somebody, the manager, who spoke good English and could guide us on our way.
It turned out we were mercifully on the right path, and that the waterfalls were nearby. They were on a private property owned by a retired British couple, so he had to make a phone call to get the to open a gate to a suspension bridge that would take us to the falls. He then pointed us on our way (always unnerving, due to past failures in following such “simple” instructions), and off we went.
With fate back on our side, we had no trouble meeting with Kanna who opened the gate and served as our private escort to the falls. Fifteen minutes later, we arrived. The falls were magnificent. Having our own private waterfalls to bask in and enjoy was easily worth the five-hour walk and 500-rupee-each admission. According to Kanna, barely anybody visited the falls. Only the rare guest at the hotel they were located on the property of, Ravana’s Secret, a couple local kids here and there, and he himself ever visited. The day had turned from a failure to a huge success.
After the falls, Kanna invited us to tour the property. The owner, a British retiree, came out to show us around and tell us a bit about how she came to get such a piece of paradise and how she was enjoying it. Afterwards, our new friend Kanna invited us to his home on the property for tea, to meet his young wife and daughter, and to swap details on life in Canada versus life in Sri Lanka. Following that, he drove us in his tuk-tuk down the road to the main highway to take a bus back to Ella and have dinner and a well-earned victory beer or two.Oh yeah, and only a couple hundred meters into the way out from Kanna’s place to the main road we drove out through the same green gate where we unsuccessfully tried to ask the young girl and were forced to turn around. We had been so close!
- Rappelling and canyoning down Ravana Ella falls would be an amazing experience. There’s one level of falls after another for quite a ways. If they can do it for tourists in Switzerland, there’s gotta be a way to do it in Sri Lanka
- The utensil of choice of Sri Lankans is the right hand. For Westerners it is the fork, knife, and spoon, so these are always offered to us at Sri Lankan restaurants. In that case, why don’t they also offer chopsticks to Asian tourists?
- I really appreciate how Sri Lankans don’t sweat small change. If the bus ticket is 32 each, so 64 total, and you pay with a 100 bill, they’ll give you 40 changes without second thought.
- Go to Ravana Ella falls. Not the lower ones by the highway, but the ones higher up. They are on private land, so you will need to contact the guys at Ravana’s Secret hotel. They’ll send you someone to show you the way and charge a 500 rupee per person entrance fee, which is easily worth it. If you’re up for a good hike, do the same as we did, heading from Ella Town, up over Ella’s Rock, and along the ridge towards the waterfall. Just ask for some directions and get an emergency contact number beforehand in case you get lost.