Another day, another adventure -- this time, in Sigriya, Sri Lanka. After two weeks at Elsewhere Surf Camp (when I arrived, I'd only planned on staying for one -- go figure :P), I did an elephant safari before heading up north to the Cultural Triangle.
I was flying out the next night, so I didn’t have time to do what I normally do: show up without a plan, wander around, get a feel for the place, talk to everyone I see, etc.
So in order to get the most I could from the limited time I had, and after some extensive Googling (which I had plenty of time to do on the drive from Udawalawe to Kandy, since my driver -- who I hired through Sri Lanka Exclusive, or SLE, Tours -- got hopelessly lost and took me to the wrong destination), I decided that the number one place I wanted to see in Sigiriya was Hiriwadunna.
Hiriwadunna is a small village near Habanara, and just fifteen minutes from the famous Sigiriya fortress. A visit offered a rare and exclusive glance into the lives of rural people, and the opportunity to participate in food preparation, boat rides, and other traditions.
After reading a few reviews, I booked a $30 half-day tour through Beyond Escape Sri Lanka. Booking was quick and easy. They WhatsApp'ed me to let me know what time to expect my pickup, and next thing I knew...
They didn't actually let me drive. But I liked their silly, playful approach. :P
The tour, operated by a small local company called Janaka, had begun! The tuk tuk drove me down a dirt road, past several ox carts, before dropping me off at a barn. To my surprise, I was the only person who booked that day, so it was a completely private tour.
So into the ox cart I climbed!
At first, I vaguely wished I had someone else to talk to -- but the "tour" quickly started feeling like more of a homestay. Bouncing down a narrow path between the rice fields, I realized that driving an ox cart was a much more nuanced skill that I’d thought. Although he didn’t speak much English, he definitely spoke bird. Whenever we saw the fluttering of wings or heard a song coming from the trees, he would point and tell me the name (and perhaps even a fact or two) about the bird.
Among other things, we saw chameleons (see it?!),
See it? It's tricky. That's why, on my next trip, I'm bringing a zoom lens FOR SURE.
egrets, butterflies, and other wildlife as we drove further into the countryside.
See the egrets? Also -- SEE THE FORTRESS????
I have no idea how long the ox cart ride lasted. Could have been ten minutes, could have been sixty! I was totally immersed in everything that was happening, so I have no idea.
But after some amount of time, we arrived at a narrow bridge. Too narrow for the ox cart to cross. The driver indicated that we'd arrived, so I got out.
There, I met up with my second guide, and began my "trek" (which was really more like 15-minute stroll) through the grasslands. As we walked, we passed several lookouts in the trees -- which my guide told me were for elephant watching! I kept my eyes open, but didn't see any. (It's more of a sunset and sunrise kind of thing.)
Soon, we arrives at a small, open-air home with a wood oven inside. That's where I met --
Remember earlier, when I said this "tour" felt like a homestay? That quickly became even more the case as the kindest, sweetest, and toughest lady I'd met in a long time walked me through two traditional recipes: coconut roti
and sambol -- which included shredding the coconut on a special piece of furniture...
And then grinding the coconut with four other ingredients: lime, salt, chili pepper, and onion.
So simple, yet so delicious! I definitely did NOT need to eat breakfast before this trek. (This looks small -- but I ate three of them!)
After we finished, we had a cup of Sri Lankan spice tea:
Instead of adding sugar or honey, you take a small bite of one of those little brown things, which they make right there in Sri Lanka (I'm pretty sure she said they're made of coconuts, but it wasn't 100% clear to me).
And then! It was time for another "mini hike," this one to my boat!
The lake eventually opened up into a large body of water -- but for the first ten or fifteen minutes of the paddle, it was almost as though we weren't in a lake at all. It was that full of lotus and other lake plants.
I’m not sure if I have the words to describe how perfect this part of the tour was -- it didn’t even feel real. It felt like I’d stepped into an idyllic, vibrant painting, complete with several bird species, lotus and water lilies, and unique views of Lion Rock.
Because I was by myself, it was silent when I wanted it to be -- but, of course, my guides were there to answer any questions and point out wildlife I might have missed.
About halfway through the ride, one of the guides picked a lotus leaf and fashioned it into a hat for me -- complete with floral adornments.
Such a tourist! But I don't even care. I only have one day in Sigiriya, and I wanted to do it all! Besides, if you "travel shame", you're super lame (and probably not that good at traveling).
“I’m such a tourist,” I thought to myself as he placed the hat on my head. “But I actually totally love this.”
At the end of the boat ride (which, yet again, could have lasted any amount of time -- I was so immersed in it that I have no sense of duration), a tuk tuk was waiting to take me on a short but scenic drive to another local home -- where a huge lunch was waiting!
It was the traditional Sri Lanka Seven Curry lunch, with fish and chicken and vegetables.
For the second time that morning, I regretted having breakfast. I was determined to try everything, even if that meant I would explode.
(Luckily, I didn’t -- but it was a pretty close call.)
The woman who made the meal was assisted by her mother and two young boys, who took a break from playing in front of the house to bring me water, napkins, and anything else they thought I might need -- and then asking for a high five!
It was a great adventure for a solo traveler -- but it would have been equally amazing for a couple, a group, or a family.
All this stuff happened in under half a day -- and it was by far my favorite part of visiting Sri Lanka's Cultural Triangle. Apart from surfing, it was my favorite adventure in Sri Lanka, and I can't recommend the Beyond Escapes Hiriwadunna Village Tour highly enough. Just... really. Don't eat breakfast first.
About the Author
Eva is a content specialist with a passion for play, travel... and a little bit of girl power. Read more >
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