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The LSR & Sri Lankan Airlines Coast to Coast Adventure
During 2015 I joined a small group of artists to cycle and trek over 650kms, coast to coast across the island of Sri Lanka. We were supported on our journey by the following companies, who provided the resources we needed to make the best of our time there.
Our tour started at the established beach resort of Negombo on the west coast and finished at the far newer beach resort of Passikudah in the east. Five of us set off cycling; there was LH our local guide, Hannah and Jane from England who were only coming to the half way point with us, and then there was Lamia from Canada and myself from England who intended to complete the entire journey. I should note here that none of us were experienced cyclists, or super endurance athletes, just regular people with a varying level of fitness from marathon runner level (me) to fairly sedentary (Lamia), and the advenutre was arranged with this in mind. The main goal of our journey was to become the first team of tourists to cross the country by human power alone but alongside that I and Lamia aimed to record the trip, and the people we met along the way, with a mixture of writing, film and photographs.
LSR arranged all the equipment - decent hybrid bikes, helmets - and provided everything we needed during the adventure, from unlimited fresh water and fruits as we rode to all of our meals and hotels. The only thing we had to consider was our clothing. It had to be up to cycling in hot conditions (our hottest day was 41 degrees), wet conditions (we started our trip in the monsoon season) and reasonably long distances (our longest day of cycling was 100km but averaged 40km) so this meant, for me, that we had to wear top quality gear like Gore Bikewear, especially their padded shorts! As for the hiking, we'd be going from humid tropical forest to over 2,200 metres and since I had no idea if this meant we'd be cold or not we decided on Helly Hansen for most of our kit as it's solid travel wear and then Jack Wolfskin waterproofs and fleeces for the possible mountain cold (yet in the end, I only used my fleece and jacket just once, at the very top of Adam's Peak when the wind was strong and I wanted a walk about, although if I'd have had no coat I could have easily stayed sheltered and comfortable in the pilgrims refuge).
The adventure had been arranged so that no matter how physically tired we became, we had options. Our team van was large enough to fit all of our bikes in the back as well as us riders in the middle seats so if any of us were only capable of a couple of hours cycling one day, no problem, we could load our bike into the van and ride in air conditioned comfort for the rest of the distance. Even if we woke up feeling that we didn't want to do anything, that was possible too, we'd just ride in the van all day. I never took that option and I did manage to cycle and hike the entire distance, but the option was there all the same and Lamia usually spent a little time in the van each day as she'd only learnt to ride a bike a couple of months earlier and wasn't the strongest or most confident cyclist.
We cycled to the pace of the slowest rider and this worked out fine. Apart from one long day of 100kms most days were much less than this and although a fast rider could have covered our alloted distances in two or three hours we generally took five or six hours, allowing us to enjoy the countryside and stop for roadside drinks and photos as we wanted. I'd say that whatever your physical abilities, you could take part in an adventure likes ours, although if you're the sort of cyclist who loves to race at top speed you might not enjoy it. I'd also add that to me there seems little point in cycling through such a beautiful country at top speed, you'll want to be going a slow/steady pace in order to get the most out of it.
Mostly our hotels were very comfortable, occasionally they were luxurious, on two occasions we slept on concrete floors in pilgrims shelters as there was no other option on the mountain climb and then for one night we stayed in a local family home, which for us was one of the great highlights of the entire trip.
Food was always plentiful, tasty and well cooked and I avoided sickness entirely. Lamia wasn't so lucky but her sickness lasted just one night and was probably more due to the heat than the food. Generally there was a good mix of local and Western dishes, a typical meal might include rice, lentils, fish or chicken, salad, and a variety of vegetable side dishes and fruit/ice cream/cakes for dessert.
For those of you who want to plot our route on Google Maps, here is our day to day program as it was presented to us before we arrived (and it stayed true to this throughout). This is not to say that the route of this adventure is fixed (LSR are thinking of making it a yearly event), it might well change. Talk to LSR if you want to see anything in particular in the country, we mentioned several things we ourselves wanted to experience and they managed to incorporate them into our adventure easily.
4th May - Arrival, acclimatisation and overnight stay at the Catamaran Beach Hotel, Negombo
5th May - Prepare for the adventure, test run of bikes in Negombo, miscellaneous purchases from the local markets.
6th May - Start biking to Ambepussa, approx 5 hours on tar roads. Overnight stay at the Ambepussa Rest House, which was built during the British period at the then terminal point of the first railway line from Colombo.
7th May - Cycle for another five hours to Pinnawala – location for the Elephant Orphanage where we can bathe the animals in the river. Overnight stay at the Elephant Bay Hotel, Pinnawala.
8th May - A 4 hour hike to Uthuwankanda – location for the look out point for “ Saradiel ”, who was a local Robin Hood figure in the 19th century. After this, cycle to Aranayaka. Overnight stay at the Ambasevana Hotel, Aranayaka.
9th May - Cycle to Gampola crossing the 2,000ft Ma-Oya Pass and passing the Ambuluwawa Religious Complex. Overnight stay at the Bom Vino Hotel, Gampola
10th May - Cycle for six hours to Kitulgala – location for David Lean’s Academy Award winning film “Bridge on the River Kwai”. Overnight stay at The Rest House, Kitulgala
11th May - Rest Day. Overnight stay at the Rest House, Kitulgala
12th May - Cycle on tar and through rubber plantations for seven hours to Maliboda. Overnight stay at a local home.
13th May - After breakfast start hiking to reach the most difficult path to the summit of the Adam’s Peak coming from Kuruwita/Erathna (there are three major routes up to the summit through Hatton/Dalhouise, Ratnapoura/Sri Palabaddala and Kuruwita/Erathna) through the Peak Wilderness Nature Reserve- Altitude Gain is be more than 1000 meters (400 to 1413). Overnight stay at a pilgrims shelter.
14th May - VESAK FULL MOON DAY – THE MOST IMPORTANT DAY FOR BUDDHISTS THE WORLD OVER WHICH ALSO SIGNALS THE END OF THE ADAM’S PEAK PILGRIMAGE SEASON WHICH STARTED IN DECEMBER. A hike to reach the summit of Adam’s Peak – the Holy Mountain - 2243 meters. Overnight stay in a pilgrims shelter.
15th May - Start the descent down from the Dalhouise side of Adam's Peak and witness the religious festivities. Overnight at the Punsisi Guest House, Dalhouise
16th May - Cycle through tea plantations to Dickoya, passing beautiful lakes. Overnight stay at the Upper/Lower Glencairn Bungalow, Dickoya, the former home of the great Victorian photographer Julia Margaret Cameron.
17th May - Cycle to Belihuloya through the Peak Wilderness Nature Reserve, including a magnificent afternoon of purely downhill biking. Overnight stay at the Water Garden Hotel, Belihuloya.
18th May - Relax. Overnight stay at the Water Garden Hotel, Belihuloya.
19th May - Cycle six hours, mostly flat and downhill with great views, to Koslanda. Overnight stay at the Living Heritage Guest House in Koslanda in the vicinity of the Diyaluma Water Falls, the 2nd highest in Sri Lanka.
20th May - Cycle eight hours on tar to Moneragala. Overnight stay at the Rest House, Moneragala.
21st May - Cycle for six hours on tar to Ampara. In this area we start to see the new infrastructure developments that have taken place in the eastern province under the 'Reawakening of the East' programme that's been implemented after the three decade long civil war. Overnight stay at the Monty Hotel, Ampara.
22nd May - Cycle for six hours to Batticoloa (famous for the Singing Fish in the lagoon) passing Kattankudi which is supposed to be the longest town in Sri Lanka and is predominantly home to a large Muslim population. Visit the famous Portuguese/Dutch Fort and overnight stay at the Hotel East Lagoon, Batticoloa
23rd May - Cycle to Passikudah, the most recently developed National Holiday Resort in Sri Lanka where there are 14 new hotels being added with almost 1000 rooms. Overnight stay at The Marina Hotel, Passikudah.
If you’d like to view the film of our entire adventure across Sri Lanka there are two.
First is the edited, half hour long version and after that is the hour long version.
I made some Pinhole Photographs, and 35mm Artistamps, as we travelled. It was a thrill to make images at Upper/Lower Glencairn Bungalow, Dickoya, the former home of the great Victorian photographer Julia Margaret Cameron. The present manager had no idea of Cameron or her work so we introduced him to her before moving on and doing the same to the Reverand who now oversees the church at which Cameron and her husband are buried.
Making images in a tropical climate presents new challenges; the ferocity of the sun means the exposure times that work well in more northern parts of the globe are way off, and a large amount of testing has to be done before decent images can be produced. There's also the intense heat, which tended to make the photographic paper stick together in the changing bag, resulting in a great many damaged images. Here's an example of what Lamia and I created during the journey.
And for photographers, here's another article that Lamia and I wrote regarding our journey,
and Sri Lanka itself, and the photo opportunities it provided - Sri Lanka; Portrait Photography at it's finest
If you’d like to know more about LSR, please visit www.lsr-srilanka.com
And if you’d like to know more about the service offered by Sri Lankan Airlines - www.srilankan.com