We found an airbnb rental a short Tuk Tuk ride from the beaches near Unawatuna. Two bedrooms and a large living room, kitchen diner for the same price we were paying for a double room in a hotel so it seemed to make sense. At first we felt a little away from it all after being at the beach and in hotels for so long but after the first morning of Kellogg’s Chocco's and racing round the house making as much noise as humanly possible we realised how much we’d missed a family home.
I’d even missed cooking (never thought that would happen!) Although it was slightly different cooking on a plug in dual electric hob to being used to ovens, grills, microwaves and 4 or 5 hobs at your disposal. We pulled off a variety of pasta and stir-fry delights and even enjoyed a leisurely bottle of chilled white wine with dinner one night.
The delight of having a bath for the kids to splash around and get a proper good wash was almost equal to the joy of having our own washing machine so with a number of boiling kettles poured into the top-loader we finally had some half clean clothes.
By the time the second morning came around we were flagging down our local Tune Pan driver for morning fresh baked bread and breakfast Rotis (a flatbread filled with eggs, veggies and hot spices!)
By the end of the week, the kids had learnt some basic Sinhalese and were buying the rotis for us. If only we had been a bit closer to a shop or the beach or had our own Tuk Tuk we would have stayed !longer. It has cemented in my head the idea that if we can find somewhere we !ike we’d love to settle in one place for a month. It feels like you get a c!oser to real life experience when living in your own home. Plus it’s a lot less money (breakfast loaves and rotis were 50p total)
We also got to see some other beaches whilst staying in the house. Jungle beach we visited on a Sunday – Sunday Funday in Sri Lanka when families along with groups of friends spend the day partying, down the beach. Young groups of guys drinking from early in the morning is a common site on a Sunday here but I guess that’s not so far removed from the Friday/Saturday night rituals in the UK.
In general it is always in good humour and the atmosphere at Jungle beach was lively but friendly when we were there. Jess and Otto helped bury a big Sri Lankan guy with their beach spades. And we swam in the sea in the pouring rain (me fu!ly clothed as we were the only Westerners on the beach and the Sri Lankan modesty doesn’t really sit well with swim suits or bikinis).
The heavens opened for our trek back up through the jungle back to the road. The steps had turned into a multitude of mini-waterfalls which made the carrying of two tired toddlers a bit tough but we needed the exercise. Travelling is making us lazy!
Beachside again! Firstly, more culture in the ancient city of Polonnawaru, followed by a return to Kandy for shopping and sampling KFC and more local fare. Otto went a bit with the ketchup to accompany his rice and omelette (the staple fare in the local spicy rotti/curry restaurants)
We were considering moving on from Kandy to a rafting resort, Kitugala, but after costing everything up: taxis - £75; accommodation - £100; rafting - £60, and checking how much we'd spent already we realised we needed to cut down a little. So instead we took the train down to Galle for Unawatuna.
The train was a journey of two halves. We set off to get the midday train from Kandy which turned out to be running 3 hours late with a strong possibility it would be cancelled, so we booked an expensive seat on the exporail carriage leaving at 3 instead. When I say expensive, it was £7.50 for the 3hr journey.
We had the best seats on the train, right at the front of the exporail carriage 1C and 1D if anyone ever takes the same trip. Huge legroom (wasted on us, but useful for making floorbeds for the kids). Fantastic views and you can keep an eye on your luggage (not that anything seems likely to happen to it here). Air con. Movies. Free tea and coffee. Free chocolate muffins - my absolute favourite treat ever). All in all a pleasureable experience.
But it was all change in Colombo. Mikey left the children, the bags and me on the platform whilst he went to buy tickets and for twenty minutes we watched countless trains filled to the brim, leaving with some pandemonium from the platforms: commuters jumping down onto the tracks to race over to moving trains, jostling to hang onto a doorway handle which already had about 20 people hanging off, and every possible space inside the carriages sardine like with bodies.
Friday night at 6pm leaving the capital for the suburbs and then south for the beaches. What were we thinking? Unsurprisingly, we were the only tourists attempting to board our train, but also the only people with kids and the only people with any luggage. It wasn't looking very promising.
However, we made it on after running down to the end of the platform (a good trick learned from London rush hour on the Northern Line). And with the kindness and assistance of lots of people in our carriage we got on. Someone gave their seat up for me so I had both Jessica and Otto on my lap and there was a carriage crowd surf with our bags to find a space for them in the luggage racks up high. We survived with a 20 turn round of ‘the wheels on the bus’ which saw chickens, crocodiles and elephants riding on board. We thinned out a little after a while and were able to get one of the Hudls we've brought with us and Frozen provided the entertainment for the remainder of the trip. Not only for me and the kids but also for the various commuters watching over our shoulders.
Our arrival in Galle, in typical thunderstorm, was then followed by a swift tuk tuk ride to our hotel, Wimals, where at 9pm (9 hours after we set off) the kids were put to bed and we were brought fried rice and cold beer. Phew!
Today the weather has been a delight. I think I've got my first sunburn (the Lady Diana suncream available here is not up to much) but we've had a great day on the beach and in the swimming pool.
We met up with a lovely Dutch family we've been e-mailing and ended the day with cocktails and ice-creams. All is good.
Unawatuna has changed in remarkable ways since we were here 4 years ago. The beach has got bigger - we thought it was a trick of our memories until we spoke to one of the staff at a beachside restaurant who confirmed there was a major re-construction of the beach itself with tonnes of sand being transported onto the beach adding about 30 metres to the tide line. But some of the same hotels and restaurants are still here: Lucky Tuna, Tartagula, Flower Garden, all familiar to us from the previous visit. Lucky Tuna is still playing the Brian Adams album that Ted left for them on the first visit.
weather continues to be a bit mixed so we are continuing inland before heading back beach side.
We left Kandy yesterday. Kandy is the biggest city we've seen yet - it even has a KFC, but alas no Chicken Cottage.
We didn't explore much of Kandy but we did find a really nice playpark which the kids spent Saturday and Sunday morning in. It was full of slides, swings, climbing frames and loads of playmates so was a big hit. We were the only white people in there but otherwise it was exactly like a play park on a weekend at home - dads on duty and kids running riot.
We also found a great bar/restaurant - Slightly Chilled Lounge, which had great views over the lake, good food, lovely staff and cold beers and cocktails. And relax...
We have travelled by taxi to Sigirya - the site of the ancient palace of King Kasyapa built in AD477 it was the ancient capital, built as a city and fortress with a huge lion gate leading to the top of a 200 metre sheer rock.
History lesson over. It has 1200 steps, many of which are slippery rock or rickety iron and is beset with swarms of wasps, thieving monkeys and poisonous snakes. The perfect morning jaunt for a family of 4!
Anyway, despite the searing heat and the nervous mother we all made it to the top. Jessica walked up every step to the top and Otto walked all but one flight (the steep iron lion staircase near the top). I felt suitably proud of them both and they earned a lollipop for their efforteffortss and a carry down. Thankfully, we had a carrier for one so I could still use both hands coming down. Which helped the nerves somewhat.
rain travel truly is the best way to get around this island with its unfathomable distances. A 60km journey can easily take 2.5 hours in a taxi and if you’re considering local buses then add at least another hour on maybe double it. The train is cheap and mostly comfortable – if you avoid the cockroach coach we were on in the south. You also benefit from stunning views which you can appreciate best from (carefully) hanging out the open doors!
The southern route from Colombo to Matara mostly follows the coast sometimesjust metres from the sea, while the central hill country route takes you round dramatic hillsides covered in tea plantations or lush forests and spectacular waterfalls.
Plus there’s an abundance of lovely people ready to play hit balloon: although this game is fraught with danger (two balloons were lost out the window from Nuwara Eliya to Kandy.
Nuwara Eliya highlights:
King Fern cottage was an excellent choice: rooms are built into the jungle hillside overlooking a golf course. It serves good food, cold beer and even has a pool table.
Victoria park: Otto fell in the lake trying to conquer the stepping stones on his own but the park was lovely. It has a slightly run down play park also which was the first swings and slide action we’ve seen in Sri Lanka.
Horses: they’re everywhere. As well as a golf course, Nuwara Eliya is also home to a race track, albeit a dilapidated one. As such, there are lots of stables around and an abundance of ponies wandering tge streets, which made for a change from the cows. Jess took a ride on Best of the Best. I’m unsure if he would have much of a chance at Newmarket but he was about right for our 3yr old.
It continues to rain, so we have left the coast and headed for the hills. Quite literally.
A taxi from Arugam Bay to Ella and in the midst of the misty tea plantations we found a little home from home at Chamodya Homestay. Unfortunately there are only three rooms there and it is very popular so we could only stay for one night but it was a very welcome break from the sand and the rats who had become our unwelcome squatters in our beach front paradise!!?
From there we took the 11am train this morning from Ella to Nanuoya for the lofty, Nuwara Eliya. At 1890 metres above sea level it's pretty chilly and I'm glad I brought a jumper. Mikes rather rashly jettisoned his only jumper on arrival in Bentota so is now as I type walking into town in the hope of buying a fleece.
The train is reputed to be one of the most scenic in the world and it lived up to its reputation. We paid 1000lk which is around 5GBP for the 3 hr journey in the 1st class observation car, which sits right at the rear of the train with large windows facing out behind to admire the view.
Photos will follow, when I can find somewhere to upload my camera SD card. Up until now, all the photos have been from Mikey's phone of Jessica's small unbreakable camera, but as Mikey's phone has now gone the same way as Mikey's sunglasses and Jessica's bag (left in a taxi and lost) we await some from the big camera.
We are now holed up in King Fern Cottage, in a room with a trapdoor to get in! Staying here for two nights before we embark on the train journey to Kandy.
So we've made it all the way to A-Bay. In a roundabout way.
We left Mirissa onTuesday after another day on the beach. The kids spent hours playing with their new best friend, Lola. She even let Otto borrow her trains and played cats!
The sea here is beautiful but dangerous and we were reminded that the biggest fear we have wherever we go, is water. We are always teaching the children the importance of safety in the water and we're continuing our attempts at teaching them to swim. Grandparents don't fret, they are never in the sea without us hanging on to them and their arm bands on. That said they did try body boarding with Mikey - which Jess loved and Otto hated (he's not so keen on getting water splashed on his face).
Wednesday saw us at the Elephant Transit Home in Uduwalawe National Park, where they raise and integrate orphaned elephants back into the wild.
Followed up by a swim at a luxury hotel, which was way beyond our budget, but only cost us £5 to swim for the day. We met a lovely Canadian/Russian couple who had a 3year old girl, Alecia, so again the children are finding lots of playmates.
Thursday we travelled to Mongarala up in the hills where we were almost the only white people there. We got the VIP room opened up for us in a cafe when we went to buy two bread buns and two cokes (which I felt suitably embarrassed about but it felt rude to refuse)
And now we're here, Arugam Bay. On the East Coast of Sri Lanka. It's fairly full of western tourists and there are about a gazillion places to stay. The weather is still hot and sunny, despite it being apparently monsoon season on this coast! We plan to stay for a few weeks but we'll see how it pans out.
The grand plan was always to stay in Sri Lanka for two to three months, which was always going to involve a trip to immigration in Colombo to apply for an extension to the standard 30day tourist visa. It should take a day or two to get the passports and visa back at which point we will begin travelling over to Arugam Bay in the East via more beaches and some baby elephants.
Jess and Otto are loving the tuk tuks here and are settling in to our new lifestyle on the road really well (in fact, possibly I'd say they are adapting quicker than Mikey and I). They even enjoyed getting their pictures taken -for the first time since we arrived here in Sri Lanka- possibly helped by the addition of rocking horses in the studio!
I can't believe it's only been one week since we left London!
Love to everyone at home xx
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Kelly and Mikey (but mostly Kelly). We sold up in the UK to travel with our two littluns for a year or so. If you want to know more click the about us!