Cycle Touring in Sri Lanka 6: Ten days on me tod – Part 2

Photo - New career option
New career paths opening up

I left you in Part 1 having just ridden 89km from Kandy to Dalhousie and then climbed the 5300 steps up and back down Adam’s Peak. My legs were in a right state. I hit the sack hoping to at least get 30km down the road to Hatton the following day.

I woke up not much better, and after a hearty breakfast slung a leg over the bike to find things really were pretty bad. An hour down the road though, and I was absolutely astonished that my legs were loosening up quite nicely, so I passed the turning for Hatton and headed towards the hills – only a bit up and then a long way down I thought – and Balangoda. This ended up being a seriously enjoyable ride – the roads weren’t great but the scenery was, and the people I came across were really lovely; the tea-picking ladies shouted hello and laughed at me heartily, the schoolchildren looked joyful instead of murderous when they chased me down the road, and things were generally great. I could look back for the first two hours of the ride and see Adam’s Peak towering over the rest of the scenery too, which was good for the pride!

Photo: Adam's Peak
Adams Peak from 2 hours away

As I crossed the top of the mountains, the scenery spread out below me and the weather changed dramatically; gone was the cool(ish), clear mountain air, and here was hot, humid, misty jungle. So I did the decent thing – I ate a banana and gave it hammer and tongs down the twisty mountain road through the tea plantations, forests and villages for the next hour. Absolutely brilliant. The road was still really poor in places, but following the principle that the faster you go the more you skim across the top (tenuous, and not a recommended strategy on a loaded touring bike) Wiggins and I decided it that things were going well, and cracked on. Any doubts I had about the suitability of my wheels, the strength of my pannier racks and the effectiveness of my brakes (will the discs overheat?! No!) are now gone. I stopped when a bird of prey parked up in a tree next to the road for a look around (see pic!) before its pal turned up and they went for a flap about together, which was rather lovely. I then carried on giving it the full Steve Peat (You do know the 3 x Downhill World Cup Champ from Sheffield? This was more Steve Peat on a touring bike, mind) into the scenery below.

Photo - Balangoda Raptor
Balangoda Bird of Prey

By the time I got to my intended stop for the night, I was on a bit of a high despite a bus load of sneery teenage schoolkids, and after a couple of bananas (King bananas – twice the price, but REALLY nice!) and a coconut I decided that I may as well push on another 45km to Ratnapura. It was a bit of a dull grind along a reasonably flat A-road, thankfully. I slept really well that night, having done 135km and eaten a tasty dinner in the Guest House, served by a man who wanted me to sponsor him to come to the UK so he could share in our plentiful work opportunities and fabulous easy wealth.

That push to Ratnapura had put me in a position to get to the surf town of Hikkaduwa the next day. I got there, but only after a surprise mountain range (a bit bigger than the Pennines, so not sure how I missed it), a detour on a road so minor that it turned into a dirt track that you couldn’t have driven down, another detour due to a bridge shown on google maps but not yet completed, and a minor altercation with a tuk tuk driver. He cut me up really badly, I yelled obscenities that he presumably didn’t understand, he came past again later and actually apologised! How often do drivers – let alone taxi drivers – do that at home? Especially once you’ve already yelled the obscenities? This should have been a 120km day, but ended up being 140km due to all the navigational errors. I was bushed.

Photo - The bridge that was not
Not a bridge

This was also the day when I heard that Linds hadn’t got the job that she’d flown home for. Bad times! She got to final interview and the school had nothing negative to say about her. They told her that they couldn’t choose between her and another candidate so went for the other on the grounds that they had been teaching for longer. She was really gutted to have missed out for such a weak reason having gone to such lengths to get to the interview, but hey ho. She’s seen her parents, her sister, niece and nephew and all our friends, and she’s still a brilliant teacher so no doubt she will end up with a cracking job even if there’s a bit of supply work to get through first. And if she hadn’t gone for it, we’d always have said what if.

The two days R&R I earned myself in Hikkaduwa by getting there a day earlier than I expected got off to a slow start, mainly because I very quickly remembered that I have very little interest in sitting on beaches when I’m with my wife, and absolutely none without her. Fortunately I had the distraction of Kingfisher Airlines cancelling our flight to India due to their declining fortunes, so got busy very quickly booking another. At the moment they’re saying that we’ll get the money back, but I’ll believe that when I see it! After that I wandered to a local rotti shop for lunch, found a beachside bar that could give me a surf lesson the next day when my wobbly jelly legs were better, and spent the afternoon on the laptop sipping Lion Beer and watching the surfers. After a spot of dinner at another excellent local rotti shop run by a nice young chap called Eranda, I went back to the Guesthouse and sat down to read, feeling a bit lonely to be honest, and rather wishing I had my wife back. It was the first day I’d stopped for long enough to think about it.

I went back to Eranda’s rotti shop for brunch the next day, and it turned out that Eranda had a good mate called Pasanda who could teach me to surf for a slightly lower rate than the bar down the road. Bingo. Especially as this meant that my first attempt at surfing wouldn’t be outside the hippin-hoppin-happening surf bar where everyone was too cool for school, and were either great at surfing already, or so young, tanned and sexy that they looked great trying even if they were rubbish. I signed up on the spot, and wandered down to his Uncle’s surf shop with Pasanda to collect my board. There are probably several models of ironing board that would have been better than this thing. One fin was hanging off broken, the whole thing was clearly ancient and about as smooth and flat as the local B roads, and it had seen more repairs than I’ve seen rice and curries in the last 7 weeks. And not all of them were successful – there was a particularly large jagged piece of fibreglass sticking out of the top of the board at exactly the place where my sternum was when I was paddling it. It turned out not to be too important though, because after 20 minutes of utter basics, the waves which I’d been watching since arriving in Hikkaduwa nearly 48 hours previous, just stopped. We agreed to reconvene later that day at high tide for another attempt.

Photo - Worst surfboard in Sri Lanka
The worst surfboard in Sri Lanka?

At high tide my teacher Pasanda didn’t show up, and Eranda was so embarrassed that he invited me to his house for a beer. I happily accepted the offer before getting the heeby-jeebies in the tuk-tuk on the way there, and texting all the details I could think of to Linds so at least someone knew where to look for a body. Ridiculous, of course – I enjoyed splendid hospitality from Eranda and his wife and Mother, including dry fried fish, fresh jack-fruit from the garden, and when they realised how impressed I was with that I got a full tour of the garden and the fruit growing therein – coconut, pineapple, jack-fruit, and several others I don’t know the English (or indeed, the Sinhala) for. After two Lion beers, I was feeling a bit merry and poor old Eranda was clearly concentrating very hard on walking straight, so his good friend from the Navy drove me back to town in his tuk-tuk.

Photo - Eranda and Family
Eranda and Family

Having resolved not to have a miserable night in again, I took Eranda’s advice and after dinner at the rotti shop I headed to Mambo’s Night Club. The England cricket tour were passing through town, so plenty of the Barmy Army turned up and I got a bit of a dance in with some guys from darn Sarth. Easily pleased with my hour on the dance floor, and sober enough to be well aware that things could only go downhill from this point, I went home to bed.

I even managed to get up in time for my final arranged attempt at surfing with Pasanda, at 7am. Sadly he didn’t, and neither did the waves. I had tea and curry at Eranda’s rotti shop, then went back to the guesthouse to pack my things to begin riding back to Negombo to meet Lindso. I headed straight up the main A2 Coast Road, and was making pretty fast progress when I caught up with a couple of local racers. Let’s hope for their sake that they were warming down after a long run or something. We went through the usual stilted conversations, exchanged numbers, and they told me that 15km down the road was a shop that sold the ‘racer handles’ (tri-bars without the arm rest) that they all used. This was good, because I had a plan!

Photo - Sri Lankan Racing Cyclists
Sri Lankan Road-Racers.... Not fat

The gear system on my Bob Jackson custom tourer is a Rohloff internal hub gear. This is an extraordinarily reliable and durable system, but the only shifter that Rohloff make for it is a twist-shift style one designed to fit on the flat handlebars of mountain and hybrid bikes, not the drop bars that I use on my tourer. The fix for this so far has been to use a bar extension plugged into the right hand end of the drop bar onto which the twist-shifter fits. I’ve never been pleased with the aesthetic of this, it makes my very wide bars even wider, it puts the shifter totally in the way of harm and it also demands a huge cable run. Aussie Adrian was using a sawn-off tri bar instead, and I decided to copy him! I found the bike shop in Balapitya, and £9 and a sawn up pair of nice new tri-bars later, and I was on my way. It’s not a pretty solution, but it’s much better than the previous set-up.One day I will treat Sir Bob to the recently released Gilles Berthoud shifter, but at over £100 it won’t be soon!

My planned stay for the night was at Kalutara, and I got there at about 3pm and set about looking for a place to sleep. As I cruised down towards the beach, thee view across the river to the enormous pagoda caught my eye so I stopped to take a photo. As I framed it something else caught my eye and I turned to see an enormous water-monitor in the river a few feet away! The tuk-tuk driver next to me was also quite impressed by it – these huge lizards and their land cousins seem to be well liked, and despite appearances they aren’t dangerous. I asked the driver if they eat fish, and from what I gather the answer was no. To be honest though we had so little vocabulary in common that monitor lizards could dine on nothing but trifle and pork pies for all I know.

Photo - Water Monitor
Water Monitor

I had a pretty bad time finding a room in Kalutara. Most were pretty awful (‘look – it has window! You can open if you like. And here – electric light. Working!’) and I also got pursued – actually chased down the street – by a tout, who followed me back to the first guesthouse I’d been to, and had an extensive argument with the proprietor along the lines that he was due a commission for my stay there. The only reason I wasn’t already in a room at this place was because someone had it booked until 4pm (that funny price for the day / price for the night thing again) and so I’d decided to look round a few more while I waited. This same tout later found me sat on the beach and tried to get me to change my mind again, using the argument that the guy I’d been dealing with was a drunkard. I’ve become a lot better at asserting myself in these situation since we began travelling in Asia, and he soon left. As it turned out he was right about the drinking though!

After a night’s sleep in a room with a fabulous spider’s web headboard, an even better misquote on the wall (see below) and a less fabulous collection of cockroaches in the bathroom, I set off early again for my last day riding alone. Negombo is about 100km up the coast from Kalutara, but Colombo is between the two of them and I had no particular desire to spend the day on the hectic roads in and around the capital, so I planned a route that looped inland. I ended up doing 132km, and it would have been about 120 were it ont for the practical-joke road system in Gampah, which cunningly sent me back the way I’d come without me even realising it, and the fact that I missed a turning and acually ended up entering Negombo from the North instead of the South! Ah well. I bumped into more slow-seeming racers as well, and it turned out that they were members of the SL Army Cycle Team. Again, I hope they were on a rest day, because if not they had no business getting overtaken by me!

Photo - Keep thy eyes before marriage
Well Boss we couldn't fit all the words on and 'open' didn't seem that important really

Getting Linds back is great. It was good having a week travelling on my own – something I’ve never done before – and I think that it is something I would like to repeat for a weekend every year or so, probably with a small tent and a change of clothes on the bike and not much else. At the end of the day though there were so many moments I wished she’d shared, and without her company I had to set myself ludicrous things to do like climbing that ruddy mountain in the middle of 350km of riding just to keep myself occupied.

She is also glad to be back, but going home has made her realise that she is now ready to go home. After 7 months, she’s pretty much had enough of sleeping in a different room every night and the stresses of getting by in a foreign culture. She misses our friends and family. We both agree though that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us and we would kick ourselves forever if we went home now, so we have one week left in Sri Lanka, and then we will be flying over to India to begin the next, and most intimidating, chapter of our travels. But more on that later.

Route Maps – MapMyRide

Dalhousie to Ratnapura

Ratnapura to Hikkaduwa

Hikkaduwa to Kalutale

Kalutale to Negombo