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...
So into the ox cart I climbed!
Among other things, we saw chameleons (see it?!),
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.
Soon, we arrives at a small, open-air home with a wood oven inside. That's where I met --
And then! It was time for another "mini hike," this one to my boat!
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.
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!
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.