Sri Lanka Part Eight
It was in the town of Hali-ela, where I thought I’d lost the car keys but had them in my pocket, where I had bought packets of spices that I really did lose and never cooked with, that we turned west, away from Badulla, up into hill country.
A sundried man gave driving directions: it would be two and a half hours, he said.
But the A5 — it’s an A-Class road.
“It is thirty-two miles,” he articulated, too much like a soothsayer reading a bad omen.
“Okay, fifty kilometers.”
“Yes. Thirty-two miles.”
“So… about fifty kilometers.”
“Yes. Thirty-two miles.”
Three and-a-half hours later, we were there. If you are ever in Hali-ela, you mustn’t argue with the man outside the appa stand.
The road up to Nuwara Eliya (NOOR-elleeya) climbs thousands of feet through stepped rice paddies and valleys lusher than anything the coast has ever touched. A young girl in pink brewed a small, open pot of tea in a lone hut by the roadside. Someone who might have been her brother laughed with her at everything we did.
Two-way stretches are squeezed into one-lane free-for-alls around omnipresent construction sites or scraped up dirt roads that pretend to be getting work done. Heavenly swathes of asphalt spring up at random, as if certain towns decided to pitch in, once and for all, and pave the living shit out of their one-hundred meters.
We drove past the towering waterfalls that line the “highway” at times, and the many monkeys that guard them, our car bleeding green coolant.
Closer to Nuwara Eliya, a region known as “Little England”, every few minutes is the driveway to a tea plantation, perched higher up in the hills. We followed one detour that lead to a closed factory, guarded by a man with very few qualms about letting us explore, and even fewer teeth.
The roads grew crowded, and darker, and most every turn still haunted us with a version of the deep drainage ditch that had nearly swallowed the car whole only hours earlier. The hillside threatened to crumble in places made of clay, and from greenery, spouted water from streams or faucets to make rivers across the road.
But once it was completely dark, and signs to Nuwara Eliya became signs for Kandy, the mission was focused: no scenery to see, no more dirt roads (near Kandy, highways show some respect). We were determined to make it to a real place to stop; we had been awake and driving since nearly five a.m. (except for when the car was steaming in a hole), but the feeling of almost-thereness was like the finest coffee, or a mild cocaine.
Most bends down out of the nighttime foothills are complete U-turns, many of them guaranteed neckaches at more than 270-degrees around, but the tar is smooth, the signs are clear, and the buses are all asleep.
More pictures from across Sri Lanka, here: