On the bus ride to Ella we talked a lot with Louise, agreed to visit Ella as a group of three and just had a fun time. As we approached the inner parts of Sri Lanka the talking stopped, as soon as we saw the first mountains showing through the forest roof with peaks covered in thick mist. We all gazed out of the windows in amazement, watching the mountains revealing themselves from time to time: enormous yet distant, covered in fog… mystical. It still rained like it did in Arugam Bay but here it added a lot to the landscapes feeling because the clouds and the fog blocked the view and hid parts of the landscape completely. Which left just enough space for our imagination to wonder what might be behind this white blanket… expecting a wonderful city to emerge from it after the very next turn.
Ella was far from this though: Really touristic, with lots of (expensive) bars and restaurants, hotels and businesses. There were more foreigners walking around than in every other part of Sri Lanka we have seen – more foreigners than locals actually. It was crowded and not at all the little fairy-tale like city in the misty mountains I imagined during the bus ride, instead it was more of a really touristic nightmare… But the hills around the city made up for that because those really seemed to have come straight out of someones imagination. We did not intend to stay in the city for a long time anyways… the plan for everyone in Ella is to experience the surrounding countryside and to return to Ella for accomodation and food. So after we arrived and found a hotel, we used the rest of the day to go to a nearby waterfall, that we had seen shortly from the bus already. Luckily we got picked up by some local Rambutan farmers for free. It would have been a long walk otherwise (roughly 6 km). On the back of a truck filled with chests of Rambutan, talking to the farmer, we went to the fall. In the end we even bought some of his fruits as a little thank you. Rambutan is closely related to Litschi. They taste nearly the same but Rambutan fruits are actually a bit bigger and the ones we had came fresh from the tree, so they were of perfect quality and taste. The waterfall looked even bigger from up-close: Giant water masses rushing down the stones, generating quite an amount of noise and tiny droplets of water in the air.
Climbing up the dry stones next to the giant fall though was forbidden. When I tried, a police officer came to take me back down… It is very dangerous, I was told and I just tried to explain him, that it is not. On second thought though he was right. Normally climbing around waterfalls would be perfectly fine as long as one is in a good shape and careful enough. But when it rains up higher in the mountains the waterfalls can swell up to several times their size in mere minutes. The way up might be dry and easy, but the way down could get really hard (or impossible) really fast. The view from a bit higher up was worth the little risk and the chat with the police officer though ^^.
Luckily they were not mad at me at all because it is allowed to climb up to the point were I had been in normal sunny weather conditions. During sunshine in the summer, people even bath in the little natural pool created by the water. Even though we could not bath nor climb up to a higher viewpoint, the waterfall was quite the sight and we spent the whole afternoon sitting on a stone watching it rushing down the mountain and taking photographs of the surrounding.
We went back to Ella by hitchhiking again. It is so much easier if you are with a girl… For real now: 1 out of 2 cars driving by stopped when Louise put her thumb out to ask ^^.
We did not even spent five minutes walking like that. It was amazing how fast we found a car and on top of that the driver was a really cool guy, too. When we arrived in the hotel in the evening we played board games with two Skandinavian travellers we met there… we had a blast, even though I suck at the French, fast reaction-based game Louise showed us.
On the next day we ventured out to climb up to the Ella Rock after our superb breakfast in the hotel.
The Ella Rock is one of the top sights in Ella (who would have guessed haha) but actually it is situated relatively far from the city. To get there we walked along the street for quite some time and did not hitchhike because we thought hitchhiking without knowing where to hop off exactly might have been a rather bad idea. At least we had an amazing view over the valley, because unlike the day before the sun did shine to its fullest (Flo got a really bad sun burn this day).
Then we went up through a little jungle path, guided by a little boy from a nearby village.
He seemed to be rather friendly so Louise gave him some money as a little thank you for leading us to the right path… but the boy wanted MORE! Imagine a greedy little kid, shouting at us for not paying him enough, even though he offered to help us for free in the first place. A nice and friendly person that turns around and shows a completely different face as soon as there is the chance of gaining some more money… we were quite shocked. Anyways… After he left us, we were on our own and the path changed. The jungle opened up but and in its stead there was gras covering the way from left and right. In the middle of it there was a smaller rock from which we had a fantastic view over the landscape already. After this vantage point though the path got worse, the grass higher and denser.
Rather afraid of stepping into snakes and getting hundreds of little insects and ticks into our cloths and hair, we tried to move through it rather quickly. After this tricky part we got onto the proper tourist trek though and the way got a lot easier. We walked through giant ancient forests, tea plantations and across breathtaking views of the valleys and mountains stretching all the way into the distance.
Once we were up on the top it got even better. The Ella Rock is a cliff formation, several hundred meters in height with a superb view across most of the surrounding landscape. Looking down from up there we felt humble and I was a bit afraid of the height at first.
But then I decided to go down to the edge slowly. There was a little worn down path leading to it. Little pebbles under my bare feet went loose after I stepped onto them, rolling down and falling over the edge disappearing silently into the abyss. Because of those loose stones I was really, really careful and moved closer to the edge just inch by inch so I could look down into the valley directly.
It was breathtaking but I think I must have looked quite hilarious on my way down to the edge, nearly sitting, with the body really close to the ground, searching for places to put my feet without slipping, taking tiny really careful steps… On my way up I was even more careful, nearly lying on the ground, crawling up again. Sadly Flo could not take any pictures because I had the camera-bag on me. After a while we decided to go back down again and visit the Nine Arch Bridge, which is another rather famous thing to see around Ella. We thought about going there over the railway tracks, because the Nine Arch Bridge is actually a bridge in use by the Sri Lankan railway system and you can reach it by walking over the tracks. On our way to the tracks we walked through beautiful tea plantations, along rice fields and a small river with little waterfalls. It was beautiful.
When we reached the tracks we did not know in which direction we needed to go though, so we figured out it would be the best to visit our hotel first and ask them. Maybe they would know. Because our hotel was close to the Ella railway station and we knew in which direction Ella was roughly, we just took the way that was the easiest to follow – the railway tracks themselves. Compared to our jungle path earlier this day it was actually a really nice but also a bit dangerous route.
Once we were back at the hotel it turned out that the bridge would have been quite far away and it was already getting late so we decided to take a Tuk Tuk to get there before it was completely dark outside… after a lot of negotiating and bargaining we got a really good price for a both way Tuk Tuk with the waiting charge already included. Pure luxury for Flo and me because normally we try to walk most smaller distances. The bridge itself was quite spectacular even though crowded by tourist much like the Ella Rock and most of Ella when I come to think of it. It was an old building and reminded me a lot of Roman Architecture and the famous Roman Aquaeducts, because it had the same type of archs, giving the whole structure, consisting only of brick and mortar, an integral stability, enough to withstand the enormous forces of the weather and the passing trains. These characteristic archs and the fact that it has exactly nine of them gave rise to the bridges name.
We sat down on top of the border stones of the bridge looking down onto the forest floor below. Again there was this feeling of adrenaline pumping through the veins.
Just when we turned to go back to our Tuk Tuk we heard somebody talking about a train being really close to arrive/go by. So we balanced on the rails and waited for a short time and really. Far in the distance we heard the horns of the train signaling its arrival and a little while later, we saw it coming out of the nearby tunnel. But as fast as it came, it was gone again.
Still we where quite excited about having seen a train crossing the Nine Arch Bridge, because sometimes people wait for hours to see one and we had seen the last train of the day, without even planning to do so – another lucky coincidence once again. Back at our hotel we planned what to do next and decided to go to Kandy by train in the morning. We had been told that it is generally the best time for this particular train ride because the train itself should be mostly empty early in the morning, making the roughly seven hour journey to Kandy a lot more enjoyable. So we asked the hotel owner to prepare a take-away breakfast for us so that we had enough time to catch the earliest train but in the end did not manage to go to bed early enough and decided that we would actually like to sleep longer. So we wrote a little note to her… well… she did not see it and woke us up at 6:00 am smiling at us like: “Here is your breakfast!” I think our reaction was quite the opposite of what she expected. But anyways we really needed to hurry to get to the station in time (we did not pack our bags the day before) and even though half asleep we catched our train to Kandy heading away from Ella, tired but excited about our next adventure: Ella-Kandy the most scenic trainride imaginable.