Asia,  Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka: workaway at Ishanka & Anna’s

Like I said in my previous article, while we were trying one more time to buy train tickets (you need to book in advance, or so it seems), two people canceled their booking one morning, so we bought theirs! How lucky is that?

How and how much?

To do this trip, you’ll need to go to the official website Sri Lanka Railways but only to check as you cannot buy on the website itself. So you will need to go to the station however PLAN AHEAD. 

For your information, the trip between Kandy and Ella lasts for 7 hours, yet honestly, time flies so fast aboard this train. As of 2022, the ticket costs 270 LKR (or Rs. for rupees), which is about 1,33 US$ (no, it’s not a mistake, it’s that cheap) for the second class and the third class is 150 Rs. (about 0,74 US$).

However, Dante and I are paying 600 Rs EACH, which is 2,96 US$ so be sure to plan a larger amount of money when you’ll prepare your trip.

If you don’t want to bother organizing anything, you can book your trips through my partner Bookaway: here (they are my partner, you’ll find all the disclaimers on the ‘who am I‘ if you want more information).

On the way to Ella

That was not our choice to have 2nd class tickets as we had those from other guys. It’s been advised all the time anyway as the trip is pretty long. You won’t need to run, unlike our trip to Kandy. 

I’m a bit baffled at some segregating signs at the train station in Kandy:

"Soyez polis devant les femmes" mais pas devant les hommes...Panneau apposé devant la salle de repos pour les femmes
"Be polite in front of women", so first apparently it’s not obvious to be polite and you can be impolite in front of men... Sign in front of a ladies' restroom... What?
Et encore une nouvelle race : une salle de repos pour le clergé
Another kind of human: cleric restroom. They cannot be bothered to be mingled with plebs
Salle de repos pour les hommes étrangers uniquement
Foreign men restroom... 

That trip is famous worldwide to be one of the most beautiful train trips and I dare to say that I agree with that postulate (say the girl who barely travels by train). Something that is catching my attention is that the stations often have flowers, which makes them pretty. Me gusta.

J'aime les gares, elles sont souvent belles et fleuries.
En attendant que le train passe
Waiting until the train passed.
Arrêt à une gare. Plus très sûre de qui a pris la photo, je pose les deux filigranes.
When we stopped at a station. I’m not quite sure who took this picture, which is why I put both watermarks.
Vue tout à fait normal au Sri Lanka

Unfortunately, our seats are on the left side of the train and we realize later that the best views are seen on the right side if you go from Kandy to Ella. Still, the left side is amazing. The landscapes are so stunning!

Something buggers me quite a lot however is the fact that our wagon, and the other ones as far as I can see, is only filled with white tourists. That’s super strange to see, it feels off! That’s why I usually like to book the cheapest transportation possible, cause it seems to be what the locals do, and I don’t want to only experience the beauty of the place, I wanna meet and kind of feel how the people live. Also, the 3rd class wagon is full of Sinhalese… 

I feel a bit ashamed as many tourists hang themselves outside the doors since they are not all closed. I guess they feel “brave”, “adventurous” but I highly doubt they would do such a thing “back home” They probably just want that social media picture, to be original (that’s sarcasm) as they are all just posing, so I suppose it is not only for the adrenaline. What wouldn’t we do for a few likes on an online platform, right? 

Pourquoi, en effet je me pose vraiment la question : est-ce la recherche de l'adrénaline, est-ce la recherche de quelques 'like' sur instagram ou facebook ? Je ne sais pas, toujours est-il que c'est inconscient.
Why, indeed, I am truly wondering.
Des petites jambes qui dépassent et cette fille qui j'espère est d'accord pour avoir sa tête sur mon blog
Some legs are showing and a girl who I hope is okay to appear on my blog.

But anyway, we enjoy A LOT the scenery between lush forests and rice terraces, a true delight!

Train bleu sur un décor de verdure

Workaway at Ella

If we are heading towards Ella however, that is not for tourism. I contacted Ishanka on workaway, a Sinhalese owning a guesthouse, Arawe Retreat. It also has a big field where they grow rice when the time is right. That is also why we do not go to Nuwara Eliya and Adam’s peak, to-go places in the country. Even though we only stay a week, I am still extremely fond of the memories and the precious people we meet there. 

As we arrive, Anna, Ishanka’s partner, and Ishanka show us their cute little “hamlet”. It feels so peaceful, surrounded by a rich nature! They also have got three friendly kittens. Anna is a yoga teacher, specializing in Ashtanga Yoga and offers me some lessons. I like it more as it is more active than the yoga I’ve been doing so far, a good balance between yoga and workout. 


Moreover, the place where we sleep does not have any walls (we do have a roof). At night, we are part of all the sounds we are not used to hearing, like some faraway scream or cry of the animals around (like owls, foxes, and such). Yet, instead of being terrifying, they happen to be captivating. Okay, we are not completely immersed in the wild night as we have got a mosquito net. Plus, how to be afraid with those magnificent and mighty guardians as we can see in the following picture?

La "chambre" où nous dormons, sans mur
The room where we sleep without any wall
Cette photo a été prise quand nous revenons à Ella au retour de notre exploration de l'île pour dire au-revoir. Le chat s'est couché sur mon sac, c'est si mignon !
That picture has been taken when we come back to Ella after we visit the island aboard our proud tuk-tuk. The cat took a nap on my bag, so cute!
Gardien de la, apparemment
Guardian of the night... Who seems to be me! 

The memory I cherish the most from this place is the evening we arrived. As we are talking with Anna and Ishanka after dinner, Ishanka tells us to look over: suddenly, hundreds of fireflies flutter around everywhere. Up to this day, it is still one of the best spectacles given for me to see: fireflies seem to weave a galaxy on the rice terrace background. If one has to be more pragmatic, it is just a firefly orgy, but the spectacle is striking nonetheless. We all stay here, silent, to enjoy the scene for a while. So much that we forget to go get our camera to immortalize the moment. Or we think to ourselves: “We’ll do it tomorrow”. Unfortunately, it never happened to that extent. The moral of the story, as old as ever, never put off what can be done on the same day.

Anyway, some fly every night in our “room”, which is always pleasant to see. 

Never wait for the right moment to take a picture: there’s no “right moment”.

Petit panaché de photos de Arawe Retreat, que je ne sais pas où mettre

The fauna of Sri Lanka is crazy. The sounds seem surreal as if you were listening to the audio effects of Jurrasic Park, as Dante would put it. 

I love this lizard, calotes calotes, endemic to India and Sri Lanka. I thought he was a little chameleon as he changed the color of his head. Every day is a school day. Birds’ variety is also remarkable! 

Calotes calotes, lézard se rencontrant uniquement en Inde et au Sri Lanka, que j'ai confondu d'abord avec un caméléon puisque sa tête change de couleur. J'apprends ce jour que les lézards peuvent aussi changer de couleur.
Calotes calotes, lizard living only in India and Sri Lanka, which I first confused with a chameleon since its head changes color. I learned this day that lizards can also change color.
Mynah !
Barbu à front d'or
Psilopogon flavifrons - Yellow-fronted Barbet

I like to work there, as Ishanka lets us be very independent and trust us in what we do. Our project is to replace a decaying roof with the available hay for the new bathrooms for guests. Dante and I choose to imitate the principle of a tiled roof. So we attach bundles of hay to a straight branch to place them on top of each other. Underneath, we put some tarps to protect from the rain (yeah, hay is not the best waterproof cover). That is probably the hardest part, to be honest, as we cannot go on top as it is too feeble. We need to find another way so that the tarps cover the whole area. Hence, we decide to attach one end with a rope to a rock and throw it to the other end. It is effective sometimes, and sometimes absolutely not. The main downside is that the sun is boiling, as we could have expected. 

Lunch is prepared every day by Jegan, a Tamil man (if I remember correctly), very shy but super nice. Most of the time, he prepares rice with vegetables with a delicious chili paste made by a friend of Ishanka. 

Dante, Jegan et moi
L'un des repas habituels que nous prenons
Repas sur une vue de l'habitation d'Ishanka et Anna
A perfect frame for meals, isn’t it? It seems that I made a mistake on the watermark 2020 © dMb

Furthermore, on the third day, a French couple, Benoît and Olivia, arrive as guests for their honeymoon. They are incredible people, so interesting to talk to! I love them! We get along enough to meet again when later we happen to be in Negombo at the same time, just before their flight back to Paris and before we rent our tuk-tuk. We even see them again even later when Dante and I are in Paris! 

Ishanka and Anna bring us all to a local shop to learn how to prepare “hoppers”, kind of a very thin crepe. 

Benoît qui apprend à faire les hoppers
Benoît learning how to make hoppers

I also take part in the kitchen sometimes, for example, I make a chocolate mousse. However, as we have nothing to beat the egg whites until stiff, Dante finds this great alternative using a tool attached to a screw-gun. 

On the property, we can find jackfruits trees. Jackfruits are similar to the infamous durian, except that they have got smaller and more regular spikes. Ishanka opens one for us to try. Unfortunately, I am allergic to them (lovin’ my life). Not to waste it and so that I can eat it, we decide to make jam out of it, which we take with us everywhere. I can also tell you that jackfruit is very sticky on fabric. My backpack took quite a long time to be free of that flesh of the fruit when the jar opened inside of it. 

What is there to do in Ella?

During our free time, Dante and I often go to the same coffee shop called Dream Café. We get acquainted with our new personal favorite employee Prakash who offers us dessert or tea. Whenever we go there, almost daily, he always comes to talk to us. That’s how we learn that he works an indecent amount of hours for a pretty low income… 

Moreover, we take an obligatory visit to the Nine Arch Bridge (named so because… it has nine arches), located in the forest of Ella Reserve. To go there, we got to follow the train railway. Safety first. That’s a lovely place with, again, a lot of different fauna to observe.

Ne cherchez rien, c'est seulement la lumière et le jeu d'ombre
Don’t try to find anything, I am just playing with the light. 

Ishanka generously lends us his motorbike to go around. We go visit the local ‘hill’, Little Adam’s Peak. When we arrive, a kid tells us he’s going to keep an eye on our bike. On top of the mount, stray dogs make it their shelter. I am reading later about that place. Some people advise bringing a little something for the dogs to eat. I am not sure whether it is the right thing to do yet to be fair, the mom seems weak.

There’s also one scam you need to be wary of. As I am doing my own thing, taking pictures of the landscape and some birds, a woman dressed in the colorful traditional cloth comes. She tells me with a smile to take a picture of her. I am a bit reluctant but do not think too much and execute the action. I also forget the country I am in for a moment. As soon as I take the picture, she extends her hand with that smile. Now I understand immediately and cannot believe I fell for this stupid scam. My photo is not even great as I don’t want to be too intrusive! I should’ve said: “let’s make it right, then, if I have to pay”! 

La photo que je prenais avant que la dame n'arrive
The photo I was taking before my gullibility was shattered. 
Le portrait raté

Here, you can see me



On peut voir ici que je prends cette dame en photo sur sa demande



Et là, on me voit donner l’argent alors que je me fais arnaquer en beauté

When we come back to our vehicle, the kid tells us that the helmet fell off and the visor and some pieces of plastic broke. Amazing day. He invites us to come to visit his family. We refuse as we want to return the bike as soon as possible to Ishanka and Anna just in case they need it. Also, honestly, it is a bit hard to say what is a scam and what is not.

Finally, we pay a visit to Rawana Ella waterfall. It is a pretty place but it is just next to the road and loaded with people taking a bath. It seems that we can take a walk further than just the first waterfall we can see, but when we visit that place we were renting our tuk-tuk. So we do not feel safe leaving our belongings anywhere, with all the people and tourists. So, I am counting on you to give me the information. 

I said it in the previous article and I just wrote it MANY times. We are not quite sure of which itinerary to follow and how to proceed for the rest of the Sinhalese trip when Ishanka tells us about the possibility of renting a tuk-tuk for ourselves. That’s one pretty unique experience, isn’t it! 

At first, we are not looking too much into it, it seems too expensive for cheap f*** like Dante and me. Yet the more we read about it the more the idea is very exciting. Hey, carpe diem or not carpe diem?? Let’s gift ourselves with that luxury!

Therefore, we are heading back to my favorite city, Colombo, in a shiny bus (to know why it is my favorite city, I invite you to read my previous article). To be precise, we are going to Negombo (now everything makes sense). Sri Lanka, here we come with our beautiful tuk-tuk for guaranteed freedom (except to visit waterfalls)!

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