Day eight: Adventures in Kitulgala Forest Reserve
In the morning you will visit the Royal Botanical Garden, exploring the 300 varieties of orchids, a stately avenue of royal palms, the extraordinary, aptly-named cannonball fruit tree and 40m high Burma bamboo. Another big hit is the giant Javan fig tree on the great lawn, with its colossal central trunk and umbrella-like canopy of branches.
Afterwards proceed to Kitulgala, a major eco-tourism venue in Sri Lanka. It is a real paradise for those who love adventure experiences in the mountains, since it offers numerous hill trails that journey across clear rivers, dense forests, waterfalls, and lush tea plantations. The activities are: river rafting, jungle trekking, water sliding and confidence jumps. Here you will stay in a resort close to nature without luxury facilities.
The sunrise over the mountains today is stunning, and I step out onto our balcony to enjoy the colours of the morning.
We don't get to the city of Kandy after all. It’s Monday and the traffic is very heavy as we leave our mountain hotel. Tom needs to change some money, but according to the driver, it’s best to change money in one of the villages outside of the city. I’m not sure why, but who am I to argue? I forgot. It’s doesn’t pay to ask because all we get is a long litany as a response, most of it unintelligible. Then we get the lecture on which bank we can and cannot use. Tom says he’d like to use the Bank of Ceylon.
We pass the Botanic Gardens and we opt not to stop as we’ve had a late start and we want to arrive in Kitulgala early, so that we can see whether we would like to participate in the activities offered at the adventure resort. I did see a cannonball tree at the very first temple we visited and was awestruck at the beauty of the flowers it produces. However, I know that if I got into the Gardens, I would find it very hard to drag myself away from the 300 varieties of orchids; I would want to take a photo of each one of them.
We drive through winding roads for what appears to be hours, and as we approach a medium-sized town we stop to go to the bank.
I wish I had a camera, because I’m sure nobody would believe this…
We enter the bank and it’s packed. There are people everywhere. The interior of the bank is like one of the oldest banks I have ever seen. There are two long queues for the tellers along the back wall. The staff stand behind wooden grilles, and the queue progresses painfully slowly. Along the left side wall is a line of chairs, most of which are occupied by very old people. In the centre of the bank is a glass office, in which the manager is seated. Tom heads straight to one of the three desks on the right side of the building. There is a sign hanging over the nearest one, which says ‘Customer Service’. There are two chairs at the customer side of each desk. We hang around until one of the attendants is free and we approach the desk and sit down. A very nice lady handles the transaction easily and efficiently. Her English is impeccable. The door to the vault is open and leaning against it is a guard holding a rifle, which looks as though it’s a relic from the civil war – The American Civil War, that is. The damn thing is nearly as tall as he. I do wonder whether he’s ever had cause to use it, or indeed whether it’s even loaded. There is another guard with an equally unwieldy rifle guarding the manager sitting in his glass office. Every now and then, the guards leave their posts and wander around the bank gripping their rifles and staring at the people in the queues. It takes about ten minutes for our transaction to be completed and we are like the centre of attention as all eyes are on the suspicious-looking white couple. I don't think the guards have taken their collective eyes off us since we had entered the bank about fifteen minutes ago.
When we return to the car, our driver is on the phone. In fact, he’s on the phone constantly, and sometimes even drives whilst speaking on it. I’m not sure whether he’s reporting back to the tour company or to his wife. It’s frustrating.
After driving for about four hours, we arrive at our destination for the day. Fortunately, the day is still young, and for the first time since arriving, we have the opportunity to have our clothes washed at the equivalent to forty cents per piece, washed, dried, and folded. Whilst that is being done, Tom decides to go white-water rafting. I do mention that perhaps our insurance won’t cover extreme sports, but off he goes!
Our room overlooks the river and we actually have a small rapid in front of it. I watch the rafts as they come down the small drop and swirl in the white water. I’m not too sure how long Tom will take to get to this point, so I just wait, ducking into the room periodically to cool off. As basic as our room is, there is air conditioning, so it’s comfortable enough.
Then several boats appear and one at a time, the guide sitting the back of the inflatable craft stiffens and sits back whilst controlling the raft in its descent, keeping it well away from the rocks. He has a go-pro on his helmet, capturing the whole ride on film. Then suddenly, I see him! Tom is at the front of the inflatable and as a wave flows over the front of the boat, soaking him to the skin. Somehow he’s found himself in the ‘sandbag’ position, protecting the others in the boat from getting too wet as he bears the brunt of the splashback.
He returns a while later, still wet, but exhilarated with the experience.
Did I say that the accommodation was basic? There is no top sheet on the bed; just a couple of pieces of fabric, which could not possibly be a bed covering. Again, if we had been prepared, we could have brought our sleeping bag liners with us. Everything about this place is basic, but it's comfortable. I checked the website and I can assure you that the photos of the food offerings are far nicer-looking on the website than in real life.
Tomorrow is another day, and I'm looking forward to visiting the tea plantations. There will be no compromises. This is what I came to Sri Lanka to see.
TOUR: Across the Best Sites of Sri Lanka - Capital Lanka Tours
DISTANCE TRAVELLED: 61 kms
ACCOMMODATION: Adventure Base Camp, Kitulgala http://adventurebckitulgala.com/ Room 1 - not bad.