On my first day in the city, while taking a walk to explore the town, I passed “One Love Cafe” which looked like a cool place with friendly owners, urging me to stop in for a drink. I told them I’d come back, which I’m sure they hear all the time based on the “Sure, you said that yesterday” response I got. I laughed and explained that I had just arrived an hour before so I had not in fact already used that line, and I really did mean it when I said I’d come back. Wanting to follow through on my promise I paid them a visit on my second day, after my hike to Adam’s peak and a failed afternoon nap.
Unfortunately the guy I had made the promise to the day before wasn’t working, but it was still a cool place to hang out. If the name didn’t give it away this is a total hippie hang out, the rooftop is full of comfortable seating options and decorated with colorful artwork and over-sized dream catchers. The boy working was curious about me, as most Sri Lankans have been and asked about where I was from and what my plan for tomorrow was. He suggested I visit nine arch bridge and explained the two ways of getting there. When he returned a few minutes later, bringing up drinks for some other customers, he asked if I wanted to go with him to the bridge, in his tuk tuk. He seemed friendly enough and I’m all about hanging out with the locals when I travel, so I sure, why not?
I don't’ think he believed that I’d come, and I wasn’t 100% convinced myself, but we exchanged numbers and I promised to be back at 9 am the next morning. When I woke in the morning (much too early) I was still unsure if I was going, not sure what it was that was holding me back, a weird hesitation I never used to have. I was still eating breakfast at 9 when he called and asked if I was coming, seeing he was serious I told him I’d be a little late, wrapped up my meal and headed on my way.
Pradeep was waiting for me with a big smile plastered on his face, making me all the more excited for the morning. We hopped in his tuk tuk and started on our way, but soon after leaving the downtown area were pulling over to stop. “I just have to stop at home 2 minutes, is that okay?” he asked me, followed by a “You want to come see?” Having always enjoyed previous invites home I was eager to accept the invite.
As we entered I was greeted first by his sister and her son, followed with his mother and grandmother who were waiting just inside. I was encouraged to take a seat and that’s when I knew it wasn’t going to be “2 minutes”, they offered tea, which I couldn’t reject and I was soon seated in front of a platter of sweets and a cup of sweet milky tea. Of course the words “eat, eat more” were the only ones being spoken, and this is why I have an “I eat anything” mentality, do you know how rude it is to turn down food in someone’s home?
After our snack, and a few minutes of WWE on TV (who knew that garbage was so popular in Sri Lanka) we were back in the tuk tuk and on our way to the bridge. The road was not ideal, uneven and pothole ridden, but Pradeep summed it up perfectly, “This is serious offroading”. We arrived at the bridge around 10:15 and it really is impressive, stretching 300 ft long, 80 ft high, and nearly 100 years old. Pradeep told me a train would come through at 10:50 so we had some time to kill while waiting for it (because of course I needed a train on the bridge photograph).
We took a few pictures in the tunnel before descending to the bottom of the bridge to enjoy it from an entirely different vantage point. I wasn’t expecting a climb, but quickly realized that my flip flops were not adequate for this endeavor, instead I followed in Pradeep’s barefoot steps (his shoes were apparently still at the bar) which worked well enough. I’m not downhill expert (bad knees to blame), so I was glad when Pradeep offered a hand, although I almost took us both out once. Seeing the bridge from below was pretty cool and something I would have missed had I went alone. We talked for a while before heading back to the top when we heard the train approaching, scrambling up the hill we were met by a flock of tourists, cameras ready at the top.
I took my obligatory photos of the train passing over the bridge and then it was time to go. Pradeep asked me where I wanted to go next, swimming was one option but I wasn’t really dressed for that so instead we drove over to a small temple that I never did learn the name of, which houses a rock carved standing buddha. There was a nice rock next to the Buddha, convenient for sitting and watching the world go by. Pradeep assumed that this temple doesn’t get too many western visitors because every person who laid eyes on me couldn’t seem to peel them away. Eventually I got tired of being stared at and it was almost time for Pradeep to go to work, so back to Ella we went.
When I was walking to Little Adam’s Peak the day before I saw the sign for Nine Arch bridge and considered walking there. In all honestly I almost canceled on Pradeep in favor of doing it on my own, but I’m so glad I didn’t. Going with him definitely made for a more memorable experience, a new friend, visit to a Sri Lankan home and the bonus temple stop. As I left Ella the following morning I had mixed feelings, not really wanting to depart this slice of paradise, but also eager to move on and see more. I told Pradeep I might be back in a few days, but now in Kandy I’m learning about more and more places to go here. I guess the simplest answer is that I’ll have to be coming back to Sri Lanka again.
To be quite honest I have no idea where my desire to travel to this country originated, but it festered and grew for nearly 3 years. In a sense it's a cleaner, safer, smaller India and having always had that country on my radar it seemed like the perfect test drive.