Sri Lanka - We Went, We Saw, She Conquered Us

Right, where do we begin? Do we start with drooling into our pot noodles over the memories of the bloody excellent Sri Lankan food, or shall we make a futile effort to describe the country with simple words? And even if we did try, which of the places, traits or people do we rave about first? The crisp tea country where you can bathe in Earl Grey, the welcoming people, the lush jungle and wildlife, or the vast beaches that would make even Poseidon spit out his gin in awe?

We asked our mighty pioneers to help us out with this gargantuan dilemma.

Sri Lanka is called Serendib for a reason. From deserts to ancient mountain palaces, from tea plantations to beach oases, as it unfolds in front of you at 40ishkm/hr from the luxurious front seat of your rickshaw, you absorb it gently - or not - as it’s also an utter adventure. Because - as you must – you throw away plans, point your beast forward and you take the ‘un-route’.
— Hamish Bell, team Tuk Tuk EleNZ
The best part of the run was the amazing diversity of the country. One day we were in the mountains, the next we were cruising by the beach.
— Nicholas Richards, Team Mad Dogs
The whole of Sri Lanka was what I imagined it to be and more; truly amazing. It is pretty hard to single out one particular place or experience in a week when all your senses are assaulted and overloaded to the max, that defined the whole adventure.
— Martin Humphries, team The Devils in Skirts

The pictures speak volumes too:

The Adventure

Although on the surface Sri Lanka might seem like a more organised and tidier version of India, there is a shedload of adventure to be had. Being the only person on planet earth who has been a pioneer of all three Rickshaw Runs, Mr Matt knows a thing or two about rickshaws and… er… runs. Add photographer and all-round adventurer Ms Mila into the mix and between them, they have a pretty impressive 8 Rickshaw Runs under their belts. Cocky as they were, Sri Lanka still managed to chew them up and make them grin, thus claiming their respect and apology.

I have to be honest, I thought Sri Lanka was going to be a walk in the park. Turns out I was extremely, and very happily, wrong. Other than the heat, which gives you a good clobbering the second you step off the aircraft, the first thing that hits you is the air itself. Hot, musty, jungly, spicy and exotic. Ripe with adventure.
— Mr Matt
There is travel, and then there is adventuring in Sri Lanka with a rickshaw. I can thankfully say my life has positively evolved after meeting the Sri Lankan land and its people. Adventures from now on will be tough to match after those idyllic and serendipitous ten days.
— Mitchell Joyce, Kings of the Third Wheel

And if you did find yourself on a good road which wouldn’t challenge even your gran, put your cup of chai aside and take the first left. Any left. Or right. There’s also the Devil’s Steps to drive down if you want to get royally… lost.

Precisely because many roads in Sri Lanka are so well maintained and as flat as a pancake made with a steamroller, we all went on the lookout for the smaller roads. The roads less travelled. The roads that aren’t really roads. They didn’t disappoint.
— Mr Matt
The 5 of us woke up in a bed in some family’s 2nd story loft and we made a rule that the map and our personal interactions with locals would be our only guide to our next stop on the east coast.
— Mitchel Joyce, Kings of the Third Wheel

Indeed the best way to move forward, chaps.

The People

The people? When they first smile at you and offer you pretty much everything they have, because you think you’ve seen it all and are actually a bit of a dick, you start thinking what they’d ask for in return. But they don’t. They are simply nice. Just like that. And you leave surprised and a little bit ashamed. Even when the police stop you and you reach for your vehicle documents, they start telling you about their birthplace and you end up sending regards and selfies to their wives and children.

Sri Lankan’s have an unwavering care and concern not only for one another but for anyone. Every time we broke down, the 3-minute rule was solidified: whenever you broke down, looked lost or needed an influx of divine intervention - Sri Lanka delivered.
— Mitchel Joyce, Kings of the Third Wheel
Then there are the amazing people - at roadside stalls, villages - and in mechanical workshops (where you inevitably end up at least once). And the food - oh the food!
— Hamish Bell, Team Tuk Tuk EleNZ

Yup, we thought Indian food is hard to beat. Turns out it isn’t. Enter Sri Lankan dal, pol roti and shorteats. If you like food, you'll like Sri Lanka. We'll just leave that there.

The Island

The North is undoubtedly the more rugged part of the island and also the less travelled. This is the place to be if you want to find yourself in the middle of nowhere, where some people have hardly seen foreign faces. And if you see perfectly circular ditches beside a small road in a field, then yes, these may well be from landmines. Thankfully all removed but do listen to the locals if they frantically wave their hands in a ‘don’t fucking go there’ gestures. It's a sobering thought. Jaffna is a jewel and Point Pedro, the northernmost point of Sri Lanka, is a sleepy little village unquestionably worth a visit.

The centre of Sri Lankan Buddhism, Anradhapura, is home to the biggest stupas on the island and to the Sri Maha Bodhi Tree. A sapling of the Bodhi Tree in Bodhgaya, India, under which Gautama Buddha reached enlightenment, was brought to Sri Lanka about 2600 years ago. This makes it the oldest recorded human-planted tree in the world with an uninterrupted lineage of guardians. That.

Trincomalee, where deer roam through the city, the beaches are endless and the Hindu temples, well they're a bit weird. The Swayambhu lingam, a stone phallus brought from a Tibetan mountaintop is the reason all trees around the Koneswaram temple to be decorated with toy cribs, in hope of fertility. A mighty Lord Shiva statue tops it all, frankly quite remarkable. And right below, in the ocean, there are blue whales. We’ve heard those are quite fertile too. If sharks tickle your fancy more, then Shark Point Reef is just behind the corner.

Central Sri Lanka is all cave temples, rock palaces, tea country and in our case, massive thunderstorms territory. Each one of those is capable of leaving you overwhelmed and if you’re lucky enough you get to dive in it all at once. We don’t need to sing songs of praise to Sigiriya, Kandy and Dambulla, we’ll again let the pictures speak:

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If we can allow ourselves one tip, that would be to go to Pidurangala Rock at sunrise and see Sigiriya from there. You’ll thank us for that one.

The South sees Galle, the astonishing and superbly preserved fort town, as well as Sri Lanka's tribute to Hawaii's 7-mile miracle surf shore between Kabalana and Madiha. Small beaches, harbours and lighthouses, it's all worth a peek.

And finally, the tea country. Impressive, lush, and high on tannic acid. The Tudor-style two-storey red-brick clock-towered (we ran out of hyphens) building in Nuwara Eliya is the oldest post office in Sri Lanka and home to a miniscule postal museum - about 1 square meter in size. Ella is grand and the toy train is almost, but only almost, as fun as a rickshaw.

The Wildlife

The wildlife in Sri Lanka is mental. There’s shit crawling around everywhere. We saw snakes, elephants, mongooses, scorpions, monitor lizards, crocodiles, more birds than Bill Oddie’s shed and, of course, all the usual buffaloes, cows, goats, pigs, dogs, butterflies and insects. The noise at night and in the jungle is almost deafening.
— Mr Matt
Finally, it’s the friends you make, the change in perspective that comes with adventure, and the never-ending nagging in your mind once you get home about when you can do the next one! It changed my world at 50 - so throw off the chains and get to it.
— Hamish Bell, Spirit of The Rickshaw Run Sri Lanka Pioneers Edition

You can follow the updates from the October Sri Lankan Rickshaw Run over on our tracking map. Or better than watching other people have fun in Sri Lanka by rickshaw, sign up to do it yourself next April here.