I have to admit my heart sank as I arrived in Ella. After the isolated nirvana of Haputale I was not prepared for the tourist mayhem which has taken over this beautiful town. And I don't mean bumbling backpackers, we're talking hot pants, 2-4-1 cocktails and perma tans. The town is awash with bars, Hawaiian themed restaurants and chain owned gift shops. Perhaps I wouldn't be in this mindset though if I'd planned my trip the other way round. I'm staying in a homestay where my host, Ruwan, might be the smiliest person I've ever met. He's a fantastic cook and presents me with a four course breakfast each morning on my balcony. As I write this I've just eaten an omelette, two pancakes, three pieces of toast and a plate of fruit. Something's got to get me up those hills!
On my first night I wandered around town and was quickly lured in by one of the many places offering Ayurvedic massage. A welcome cure for my aching legs from all the climbing. My iPhone tells me I've been climbing 100 flights of stairs a day, so if that doesn't deserve a massage I don't know what does. I then settled into one of the few restaurants not advertising Spag Bol and ordered a beer. They brought me a pot of tea and a cup and saucer. Perhaps they misunderstood. I poured myself a cup and to my amazement discovered that it was in fact frothy beer coming out of the spout and not tea. I can only imagine this is Sri Lanka's take on hipster.
In spite of feeling somewhat dissatisfied with the town itself the scenery is undeniably stunning. Ella Gap is the most famous view, where you look down through staggered hills and on a clear day can see the sea fifty or more miles away. The hills are covered in trees and tea plantations and recede into the distance in a misty blue haze. A painter's paradise. I've spent the last couple of days climbing, walking and painting until I can paint no more. I've often been totally alone for hours but equally as often been surrounded by twenty tourists with no sense of personal space. There's some statistic that in the last year there were more photographs taken than the entire time previously since the camera was invented. The same applies to me in the last week. I decided to stick a business card to my easel so at least they can look me up when they get home, however this only means have hundreds of extraordinary takes on my already extraordinary name recited in my ear throughout the day.
The night before last I had (a delicious) dinner at the home stay and was joined by one of the other guests, Gary. A civil engineer from Maidenhead who despite being a sexgenarian, has run five marathons in the last three years. He's a keen photographer and seems to have travelled around almost every country in the world. He asked if he could take a couple of snaps of me painting and it turned out we were both planning to head to the famous Nine Arch Bridge the next day so we agreed to go together.
The Harry Potter like bridge was built in the British Colonial period and stretches 91 metres across a tropical palm tree filled ravine at 24 metres high. Gary and I enjoyed a lovely walk there before I found myself a rickety wooden platform perched in the edge of the hill with a stonking view of the bridge and an unnerving view through the planks below. As I was painting a spectator who owned a cafe nearby brought me a cup of tea which I paid for with a 50 rupee note. He pointed out had a picture of the bridge on!
Gary took some great photos, we had such a happy time and he incredibly sweetly bought the painting I did.
It's my last day in Ella and I wish I was spending more time in the hills and not going off to the coast, but it's always good to leave wanting more.