|We took the train to the tiny hill town of Ella. Ella was not so much a town as a small strip of hotels, restaurants and shops geared towards tourists (not many of us here, though). The train route from Kandy to Ella is widely reported to be one of the most beautiful train rides in Asia. It didn’t disappoint! The train winds through rice and tea plantations and beautiful countryside as it slowly makes its way to higher elevations.
While we had bought a ticket, there were no assigned seats on this packed train. A member of the RR Protection Force befriended us on the train and took us under his wing trying to find us a vacant seat. No seats were available so he eventually invited us up into the luggage/conductor’s car. Far more comfortable than it sounds, we were offered to sit with the conductor and were able to enjoy great views from the open doors. Our new friend also suggested a guesthouse in Ella, which turned out to be our favorite hotel in Sri Lanka (comfortable, great food, real coffee for John (India mostly serves instant), really nice staff…)). As much as we complain about our trips on the often over-crowded and uncomfortable trains and buses, these have resulted in some of our most memorable and fun interactions with the locals. While it's nice to travel by taxi on occasion, we would certainly be missing out on meeting some fantastic people and learning more about the country through the conversations and kindness that are often extended. The train conductor even called us later in the evening to make sure we were happy with the guesthouse he had suggested.
During several hours standing in the aisle of the train (before being invited into the RR inner circle), we met Pep from Barcelona. Pep ended up joining us at the guesthouse and accompanying us on our hike to Ella Rock the next day. A Very nice and funny guy, Pep has us convinced that Spain is the most civilized place to live (half day Fridays year round, six week’s vacation, delicious food and wine, etc.) He is living the life!
Our hike to Ella Rock was around 4 hours round-trip, but not too strenuous (though it was very hot). The views over Ella Gap were beautiful, though the journey was not without danger. First, a snake was sighted and was reported , by local farmers trying to “guide us” in hopes of extorting a tip, as being a cobra. Also, Christy found a leech sucking on her ankle (quick thinking from John involving dousing the evil creature with DEET repellent and water avoided any real loss of blood).