hitching a ride in a tea truck, ceylon-style

From Buduruwagala we went on to Ella, stopping at Ravana Ella Falls and a little part-Hindu, part-Buddhist temple on the way (see slideshow iii). Andrea wanted to swim at the falls but decided against it. There were a few guys showering nearby, and lots of families with kids.

view_ellaguesthouse08Ella is a small town in the gorgeous hill country of Sri Lanka. Samantha took us to the guesthouse he’d recommended and he did well. The room was lovely and the views were amazing (at right, the last ten photos of slideshow iii, and the mostly dark image with the doors are at/from the Ambiente guesthouse). We ate lunch, then he left us at little Adam’s Peak for a hike and took off for the trip back to Tangalle. When Samantha left us on the road, he pointed out where we could catch a taxi or rickshaw back, and off we went.

The climb was fairly easy and, like the beach and Buduruwagala, we were alone amidst crazy-gorgeous beauty. Once at the top, we sat and admired before turning back, as it was getting late. When we got back to the road, there was no traffic at all. We weren’t entirely sure which way town was, as we came out a different way than we went in. We came across a guard at the entry to an imposing tea factory. He couldn’t understand our attempts to communicate, but he found someone who told us we could walk toward the taxi stand in one direction, or toward town, a few miles away in the other. We opted for the taxi station as it was getting dark and we weren’t keen to walk the curvy-hilled streets in the dark. Before long a tea truck come by and slowed down. The cab was full, but they asked us if we wanted a ride, and told us to hop into the back of the truck full of tea leaves. We did. The truck was less fancy that the one pictured, which I snapped on our tea factory tour the next day. Its bed had solid sides and no cover, so we were free to fall out on a sharp turn. All part of the excitement.

tea truck ella sri lankaThis was good fun, if a bit wet. We flew in one direction then the other with each curve. When people spotted us, they laughed and waved. We went through a small village, then another. I asked Andrea if we weren’t in fact going in the opposite direction of Ella, slightly concerned particularly after we passed a gaggle of parked rickshaws and continued on out of town. That the hill country is full of Tamils wasn’t a concern, as they have a different history than the Tamils of the north, and most of the problems of the civil war took place there, in Jaffna, at the northern tip of the island. Nonetheless, there’d been a bomb in Matara, the town next to Tangalle, just before we left ashtangalanka. There weren’t meant to be problems in the south, particularly not of that scale, so we were somewhat more alert.

When we finally slowed on the street outside of town, there were a few parked vehicles and rickshaws. One pickup was filled with men, one of whom was dressed in all black with black shades (at dusk) and a black headband. Oooh, not a good look. But I ignored him as we clambered out of the truck, brushed off the leaves, and went to the rickshaw. We had no choice but to go with him back to Ella, and didn’t have much bargaining power, but we bargained anyway. And back we went along the road toward town, back past the gaggle of rickshaws in town which, at this level, we could see had no drivers but were parked for the night. Ten more minutes of winding roads and we were back in Ella. We walked around town, got some water, then went back to the guesthouse for dinner. We had less-than-tasty, room-temperature crepes that took them thirty minutes to conjure as we swatted bugs in the grim cafe before we finally hit the sheets for some reading under the mosquito netβ€”now with light! What luxury.

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