Lisa Cycling in Sri Lanka
Here I am, on a cycling adventure with Exodus Travels in Sri Lanka for two weeks. I traded the cold Toronto winter for the intensely green rice paddies, warm wind, deep blue skies, and dark green tea plantations on the hills. Sri Lanka has a lot to offer in addition to their spectacular landscapes.
On my journey, our group stopped over in numerous gorgeous and peaceful temples, where we walked bare foot on centuries-old stone grounds which brought a lot of calm to our souls. I loved the Polonnaruwa temples where a lot of locals were dressed in bright colours, or all-white saris. We visited the spiritual and cultural capital, Kandy, a fascinating town, mostly because of the world famous “Temple of the Tooth”.
The city of Galle was a highlight for me. The old fort is situated on the Indian Ocean, and has beautiful old fortified walls built by the Dutch back in 1663 after they took the island from the Portuguese. It’s a really laid back area, and we were able to rest here after cycling… it was just amazing. There are wonderful beaches here that are accessible by Tuk Tuk located just a half an hour away. In the morning, the fish market was a really vibrant place to see with lots of activity of people purchasing the fresh catches of the day!
Sri Lankan people are extremely welcoming, even though a bit shy at first, they enjoyed chatting with us and were truly proud and happy to have their picture taken when asked. English is well spoken here and the locals are genuinely interested in talking with foreigners. In the south, people were always mentioning the international help they got after the Tsunami back in 2004. In Galle, a few people told me about their homes that were rebuilt by Canadians. International solidarity has been so important and meaningful for Sri Lankans.
A Cycling Tour of Sri Lanka
Our group of cyclists was made up of 13 people, mostly from the UK. The majority of the group had travelled with Exodus before, having loved their previous experiences with the company. Together our group cycled an average of 60km a day.
Cycling in the morning was my preference. I liked it because the light on the countryside would slowly wake up the colours of the landscapes, the birds and insects were making noise and it sounded beautiful. Cycling with the locals on their bikes going to work was also neat, and even seeing people storing huge items on their bicycles while riding was interesting. Often you will see two adults commuting on the same old style bicycle. The locals are smiling while biking, our group is smiling, and everybody seems quite happy to be sharing the road.
Our longest day was a 100km ride, including a long 2km descent on an impressive road surrounded with a huge precipice on one side and a cliff full of tropical vegetation on the other side, truly gorgeous! We all just took our time, going at our own pace. Nobody felt as if we were on a schedule.
Our Tour Leaders
Our group leaders included two local guides on their bikes as well as two support vehicles for our safety and pleasure, which were key! All of our bikes were perfectly tuned up every morning during the trip, so each client was really well taken care of. I became friends with Dasun, who was our tour’s bike mechanic. He was an amazing young guy from the capital of Colombo. Every day we had conversations about our lives, and I learned a lot about the culture. This is what I really loved about having local guides and teams when travelling.
The Hardest, but Best Day on Tour
Our hardest day was an optional one: an 85km ride with a 2.2km ascent from Kandy to Nuwara Elliya, that was my favourite day of the tour. If you’ve climbed Kilimanjaro or the Inca trail, you climbed about 1 km a day, so 2.2km was a huge challenge that required staying focused on your rhythm. Our trek bikes were amazing, they were quite new, offering enough gears to slowly (but surely) make it up the hills. Surrounding me was more incredible landscapes of dark green tea plantations covering the steep slopes. The views on this day were a great source of inspiration and strength during this 10 hour challenge.
At the end of the day, and when my resources were are their lowest, I saw these women who just finished their day harvesting tea and were walking along the road with their colourful dresses and carried huge white fabric bags on their back full of tea leaves. These women were on their way to have the bags weighed. They were all waving at me and gently smiling, although they were probably really tired as well. It was a truly magical moment! This day brought me incredible pleasure and satisfaction. Locals were cheering us all day, hundreds of smiles and people saying “hi”, “hurry up!”, and “come on!”.
Opting Out for an Easier Day on Tour
If you think this is too much of a challenge, no worries because our guide was arranging train tickets or a private vehicle for whoever preferred an easy day. The support vehicle is available anytime on every ride which means at any point we could jump into the vehicle if we were too tired. I am quite proud I didn’t need to do it! Our numerous tea stops were always welcomed to us for a rest and provided us with more opportunities to meet and interact with the locals. The combination of a cycling trip and being with locals all day long, encouraging us with smiles and cheering, was fantastic. We also stopped in to tea factories, the rope coco factory, temples… and other local attractions which gave our itinerary the perfect balance between cycling and culture.
During the entire trip, the pavement was surprisingly really smooth, allowing for great cycling speed. Mostly it was like being on the most perfect bike lane you’ve ever rode or seen in North America. When the war in Sri Lanka with the Tamils ended back in 2007, the government invested a lot of money to redo the roads all over the country. The few red dirt roads which allowed us to witness many moments of the local life were also really smooth. We sometimes had to deal with intense pollution and traffic to get out of the cities. I recommend to use a bandana to protect the nose and mouth, as well as some good concentration to stay safe.There are many dogs in Sri Lanka, we got used to them chasing us! A really good whistle is worth it for anybody who is scared of dogs. Otherwise don’t stop pedaling or your legs will be an easy target for them. Honestly it was not that terrible, just be aware!
The local food was truly delicious every day, for every meal. Sri Lankan cuisine is definitely close to South Indian cuisine, but also inspired by the colonial past and has amazing spices as well as multiple types of rice, lots of curries, okras, fish, coconut sambol, lentils, chutneys, fresh fruits and much more!
This trip like many other Exodus trips has premium departure dates which include beautiful 4-stars hotels all throughout. My trip was a premium; it was amazing after a dusty ride to arrive in these gorgeous properties. Most hotels had beautiful gardens with monkeys jumping around the trees, birds tweeting and a hum of insects. There was also a beautiful infinity pool surrounded by Frangipani trees. High-end service, local wood and textures made these hotel stays a highlight of the trip as well. The only downside to consider comparing with a “normal” departure is that premium hotels are further away from the towns which gives fewer opportunities to go to local restaurants at night.
I will continue to travel on a bike because the feeling of freedom, the personal reward of doing an active trip, and most of all the access to the country is truly fascinating when you’re riding. So far I biked in Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, Sri Lanka. Soon I will head to Cuba for another cycle adventure.
I hope you have enjoyed my tales of cycling in Sri Lanka!
August 14, 2014