#Bucketlist Expedition To Ella With Jetwing Travels
By Shabna Cader
I had been taking screenshots of sights and places in Ella for the last two years. Whenever I thought about travelling there it was always the problem of sorting out transport that halted me. The train was constantly booked and overbooked. You couldn’t book 30 days in advance either and hiring a car didn’t appeal me, as I didn’t want to do much of the driving. I also didn’t want to have to pay a hefty amount for a cab service. My dream trip to Ella was therefore put aside over and over again.
That was until two weeks ago.
A post popped up on the Jetwing Travels Instagram account regarding a Bucket List Expedition to Ella, all expense paid sort of thing, for two nights. I immediately jumped on the idea because I’d have been stupid not to. Accomodation was sorted. Food and beverage and even snacks were sorted. Hiking expeditions were sorted, albeit one adventure sport that was excluded. Most of all, transport was sorted. I was hooked. In a matter of a day or two, after having looked over all the details and having spoken to the persons in-charge, I had made full advance payment and was raring to go!
Ella is typically a six to seven hour drive. If you drive like a maniac I suppose five and half hours would do. People typically take the route via Ratnapura to get there but are a tad vary of the fact that the road has many bends and can cause motion sickness. On my trip via Jetwing Travels, in which we travelled by a very comfortable and spruced van, we took the Southern Expressway all the way up to Mattala, connected straight to Wellawaya and then onto the last leg towards Ella. This route does an hour to the total drive but ensures no crazy bends and winding roads.
Joining in on this trip from Jetwing Travels was Ayesh Vimukthi - Tour Executive and Chathura Fernando - Team Leader. Our driver for the weekend was Hilmy Cassim. Our little group consisted of two other females, and two other males. I liked the notion of a small group as it meant it would be easier to get to know one another, and also that we’d each be given a good dose of attention by the executive and leader.
In keeping with health standards and guidelines issued by the PHO, we were given sanitisers, and our temperatures were checked before boarding the van. Dinner was a delectable selection of food from a local restaurant, which we had on the way, so as to spare time. Having left Colombo at
7 p.m. and with two small stops along the way, we finally reached our destinations - Tomorrowland - 30 minutes past midnight.
Tomorrowland is quite the hippie and boho accommodation but I was keen on having a different experience altogether and chose to sleep in a camping tent that was laid out at the front of the building, giving me a view of the town and beautiful Ella landscape come daylight.
Sleeping in a tent has its own quirks and I very much enjoyed it. The weather was bearable, although as we were situated atop a hill, the sky tends to brighten up way earlier than usual. By 6a.m. you could see your whereabouts quite clearly and the sun was beginning to peek through the top left mountain from my view. It was the ideal field of vision as I set myself up for my morning meditation and yoga practice. The fresh, clean and crisp air certainly enhanced the experienced.
We’d been told breakfast would be ready from 7a.m. to 9 a.m. and we’d immediately thereafter head over to hike towards the famous Nine Arch Bridge. Breakfast was a simple yet soulful affair of kola kenda, plate of fruit, string hoppers, eggs, a coconut sambol and tea. Tummies filled, backpacks and hiking gear on the ready, we drove towards a winding pathway where we were dropped off and began descending towards the bridge.
There are many pathways one can take towards the bridge, and little snack shacks along the way. Ella had experienced some rain the day before and certain parts of the pathway tended to be a bit muddy and soft but apart from that, hiking downward on various slopes was a good challenge. Our little group was already beginning to warm up to one another and we occasionally stopped for multiple photo opportunities along the way. The path we chose only took us about 15-20 minutes to get onto the railway tracks.
More photo opportunities aside, we were told the 9.30 a.m. train had been delayed so that was a good deal. Some of us traversed all the way down to the bottom of the bridge. Once back up, we had some cool coconut water to refresh ourselves against the morning heat and then decided to walk along the tracks a bit ahead and then walk back. The moment we got back, we heard the sound of the train approaching from the station up ahead. We were definitely lucky to have caught visual of it actually crossing the bridge and going on its merry way.
Lunch was a typically yet hearty and tasteful affair of rice and curry at 360 Ella. The sky let out a good bout of rain during this time and then slowed its pace. We were given the option of taking an added excursion of sorts; a zipline adventure sport at Flying Ravana. Us, three girls and one of the boys, agreed on it, as well as Ayesh from the main team. The drizzle continued for the rest of the afternoon but that didn’t bring our spirits and energy down.
We were a determined bunch alright and I think the positive vibes were what kept me sane as I have a fear of heights. The zip line slides at a maximum of 80 Kmph and is a length of 550M. The statistics blew my mind but I stayed very much in control as each of us gave in our details, checked our weight and got prepared with gear for the ride.
The five of us joked about a lot of things along the way; who should go first and test the wires out in case it drops and we’re doomed, what if we grab the wrong pedestal or hook halfway through and so on. Silly notions but the chatter certainly kept us occupied until it was each of our turns. When it came to mine, I couldn’t quite believe what I was just about to do. The platform was high, the end platform looked too far away and the weather was a bit chilly.
But I got hooked on to the wire, the okay was given from the other end, and the gate was slowly opened, as I was inched towards the edge. On count of three, it was let go, and take off.
I can’t begin to quite explain what the experience was like. There’s a rush of adrenaline for sure, a flush of air thrashing through as you slide against the winds. I thought I’d be too afraid to look around but in my mind, I told myself to have a look and take in the natural beauty. The soft peaks of the mountainscapes, the little bushes of tea plants, and the beautiful sky (even though it was drizzling) clouded in mist. I loved every moment of it. We greeted each other afterwards with high fives, grateful hugs and wide stupid grins. We did it!
After a little break, we then headed onto our hike to the top of Little Adam’s Peak. There’s a clear pathway or two towards this, and a couple of stairs to begin with but once you hit a certain height, it’s just nature and you all the way. I’ve not been mountain climbing or hiking in my life, but I was motivated to try new things and have new experiences during this expedition, and many times along the way, within the two days spent, I stopped to feel a sense of gratitude towards what was. Mountainous landscapes and views can be quite breathtaking, literally. Depending on your level of skill, you could be a little out of breath and then when you take in your surrounding, it’s awe inspiring. The rain came down a tad hard midway, but it added to the experience as we traversed along, broke to rest at various points, and also took time to take too many photographs.
The initial plan had been to experience the sunset at the peak, but it wasn’t quite possible with the gloomy weather and so we gradually headed down and made our way back towards the van, and back to base. Sore muscles aside, it has been a good and gratifying day. As light dimmed and sky turned midnight, a bonfire was set up outside and a chef brought in from one of the top restaurants from Ella was prepping a BBQ feast. Time flies when you’re in good company and having an enjoyable time. We recapped our day in many different versions and ways, laughed and laughed some more, and treated ourselves to some delicious meats and accompaniments for a couple of hours before turning in for the night.
Our second and last night in Ella included a moderately-difficult hike to Ella Rock. The plan was to have an early breakfast and head off as soon as possible, but you and I both know how Sri Lankan timing goes. This isn’t about finding any fault, but it was simply a matter of each of us taking our own time, moving a bit slow as we were still feeling a lot of the aches and sore muscles from the day before.
Our hike to Little Adam’s Peak was a good ‘training’ for what lay ahead. There are no clear pathways and certainly no stairs along the way. There are steep climbs and rocky roads. To get there we took the train to Kithalella and hiked from there. Social distancing was tended to before entering the station but it all was thrown aside inside the train. It seemed that many other groups had the same idea and were also joining in on the hike. There’s two to three spots where you can stop to take a break and catch your breath, and also get a decent view of the surrounding. It also meant more photo opportunities. As we peaked, we took many more photographs and then sat along a few logs to dig into some healthy fruit snacks.
It took longer than expected to peak and then traverse all the way back down, and we once we got back to base it was a tornado of people scurrying to shower, pack belongings and getting ready to leave for lunch and then Colombo. Our lunch spot for the day was the Ravana View Restaurant, sitting just a few metres ahead of the beautiful waterfall. Hilmy was kind enough to give us a rundown of the myth behind the falls, much to our entertainment. After yet another hearty and filling meal of rice and curry, we walked towards Ravana Falls, took a few photographs and then was well on our way home. We’d taken a slightly different route and as a surprise bonus to our expedition was driven towards Diyaluma Falls, the second highest waterfall on the island.
I may not have the complete opportunity to express just how fantastic the entire expedition was, but it must be said that everything was well organised, and that each of us were treated admirably. It was well worth the buck, and I believe this would be the first of many more excursions and expeditions I will partake in with Jetwing Travels. My humble gratitude towards the team, both Ayesh and Chathura, and also Hilmy for their generous hospitality.
Until next time!