Two days after our adventure in the Bajaj for eight hours, we set off for this central highlands and the small town of Ella. We had reserved the Lonely Planet’s ‘Our Pick’, The View Point Villas, for four nights. The villas are set in a sea of tea gardens about six kilometers from the tiny hamlet. When we had emailed to make the booking we were asked to pay a deposit and learned that we could make the payment at another guesthouse in Unawatuna owned by the same person. We visited the Black Beauty Guesthouse and met the German woman who is married the Sri Lankan owner.
I should correct myself, I’m sure the Britta would consider herself an owner as well. The couple has two young children and Sana splits his time travelling between the properties making sure that every thing is running smoothly. It is easy to see that Britta has had a hand in the finer details of the guesthouses. The sheets, blankets and towels are all better quality than you find in many places we have visited in Sri Lanka. It seems that foreigner hosts have a better understanding of what foreign visitors expect in terms of these small details.
We hired a van and driver to take us to Ella, but apparently the van broke down and a car was sent in its place. Cars are generally more expensive here because they run on gasoline instead of diesel, but we weren’t charged extra. We set off just after breakfast and I was surprised to learn that we would take the same route along the south coast, all the way to Tangalla before turning north towards the hills. We had thought that we would take the highway from Galle, but learned that the road is in poor condition along that route. This meant that we would be seeing the same scenery for half of the journey, but we would be speeding along in an air-conditioned car instead of a breeze Bajaj tuk tuk.
In one respect, I was happy. Just after leaving the built-up area past Unawatuna, I had spotted a bus shelter painted with camouflage paint. I had wanted to get a photo of it because I thought it rather odd that anyone would want to hide a public bus stop from the very people who would be looking for it. I kept my eyes peeled for the amusing shelter and asked the driver to stop when it came into view. He had to back up a little for me to take the photo from the car.
I could see a large photo of a commando mounted on the back wall of the small building, and a large sign written in Sinhala script. The driver explained that it was a memorial to a fallen soldier. It was a rather stark reminder that this island paradise has only just begun what is hoped to be a lasting peace after nearly thirty years of civil war. Other than the presence of armed guards at all of the large banks in Colombo, this was the first evidence that we have seen of the conflict. The south and western parts of Sri Lanka are predominately Sinhalese and have seen far less strife than the Tamil strongholds in the north and east. We can only hope the peace holds and the whole of the island can move forward economically.
Our drive was uneventful and before we knew it we were turning off the coastal highway at Hambantota and heading north. The government is building a new airport in the area and I can only imagine the development that will be spurred by the access this will provide. We are so happy to have been able to visit Sri Lanka before things change, as we can’t imagine that rapid growth will be entirely positive.
The landscape was very different as we drove north, the terrain is not as suitable for rice paddies but we began to see large herds of water buffalo and then stands selling curd in clay pots along the road. It seems many of the people in the region weave baskets from the reeds that grow along the lakes we passed. I would have liked to purchase some baskets, but alas, no room in the suitcase. Before long we could see the hills rising in the distance and we began to climb into the forests. The air became noticeably cooler and we became excited with the prospect of long walks in the fresh air.
We reached Ella in good time and turned towards Passara to travel the 6km to our guesthouse. We almost missed it because the sign was higher on the path to the villas, but we managed to negotiate the extremely steep driveway and found ourselves in the most amazing spot imaginable. The six villas are set on a hill with beautiful gardens spilling down below them to the main building that houses the reception and kitchen. We were shown to our villa, Number 3 and immediately fell in love with the view from our terrace. Within minutes we were talking about extending our stay.