My recent cycling trip to Sri Lanka was peppered with ‘firsts’. It was the first time I had planned an independent road-bike trip outside of Europe, it was also the first time that I hadn’t booked accommodation in advance, and the first time I had managed to persuade a friend to come along (since my ealry 20’s). There was a small amount of risk attached to all three aspects, but the one that worried me the most was not pre-booking the accommodation.
So were my fears valid? Of course not! They never are. As with all things un-planned, not booking accommodation inadvertently lead to one of the most memorable and adventurous nights of the trip. This is the story of an adventure in the Knuckles Mountains.
‘The Knuckles’ are slightly off the tourist trail, which adds greatly to their attraction, so I included them on our west to east traverse of the Island. Having put the route together I was under no illusion that it was going to be an easy day, but we had rested our hill-torn legs for a whole three days, and I was ready to roll. The ascent was hot but very picturesque and as this was well into our holiday, Kate and I had got into pattern with our riding; in an uphill scenario this meant Kate in the front and me varying distances behind. On this ascent I stopped next to a couple of roadside waterfalls to mop my beetroot coloured brow, contemplate my navel and take some pictures. At one point I slowed down to such an extent that my Garmin stopped recording. Surely I was going faster than 0 m/h?
Pictures of the ascent.
We eventually made the col and as we started to descend our thoughts turned to colonial guesthouses with large verandas and cold beers, and perhaps even a bath? It was becoming a bit of a theme for the trip (along with balcony roads, misty mountains & level crossings ……don’t ask!).
The events that unfolded over the next couple of hours were a bizarre mix of wild-goose chase, no room at the Inn and making the wrong decisions at crucial points along the way. As a consequence we found ourselves sitting outside a Forestry Commission house, homeless, hungry and totally crest-fallen, knowing that our accommodation options had run out, and the only way out of the situation was climbing back up the hill to an utterly bleak guest-house in the last village we had ridden through. I can’t really find adequate words to describe this place. Think along the lines of an ancient scout hut that hadn’t been opened up for years, with no guarantee of running water or electricity.
We turned our bikes around, climbed the hill and faced our fate, but when we arrived we were greeted by a posse of local guest-house owners, one who convinced us that his place was what we were looking for. The only trouble was it was further up the hill, and by then both of us had nothing left in our legs. With an inspired amount of sign language we managed to get the ‘Scout Hut’ guest house owner to agree to keep our bikes in his guest house. And so it was that we suddenly found ourselves and our bags being whisked away in the back of a tuk-tuk along a forest track………. into the back of beyond. When we eventually arrived we found ourselves at a clearing in the forest, outside an enchanting hut made of mud and sticks! Our host showed us to our veranda, and what a view! So it didn’t have a bath, no Lion beer, just some mattresses and an oil lamp (see top picture).
Although our new home had no more facilities (quite possibly less) than the ‘scout hut’, it was in a different league; possibly the premier league for romantic adventurers! After we had washed and changed out of our cycling kit, our host appeared with a large plate of noodles and then promptly disappeared on his tuk-tuk, leaving us to the vagaries of our unfamiliar surroundings. We amused ourselves with a lengthy game of I-spy!
The sun slowly disappeared from the valley, and the days warmth quickly started slipping away. Kate went on a hunt for some blankets and returned triumphant with a pile of sheets, so we would at least be warm in our remote forest eyrie. With no sign of our host, we watched the sunset unfold before us, first the roosting birds, then the stars, then an amazing display of fire flies. Just as we were starting to feel like a couple of abandoned babes in the wood, we heard the re-assuring hum of the tuk-tuk returning along the bumpy track, and with oil lamps lit, we were soon enjoying a pile of vegetable rice and deviled chicken. What service!
The next day we set off with un-charged phones and Garmins, but our stomachs were full, our legs were fresh and our heads were full of freshly stored memorable moments.
For me, it was an experience that was slightly outside of my comfort zone, but not so much that I didn’t enjoy it, and it was enhanced by being with someone who enjoyed it as much as me (being there with somebody who lost their cool would have been a nightmare). Thanks Kate!
Knuckles forest lodge is the kind of place that is built on someones dream, with it’s heart firmly in the right place. It has a flushing toilet (no less), a solar panal which provides enough electricity for the lights in the evening, a fire pit, a little camping ground, and a first class oil-lamp lit veranda with sweeping views of the forest.
I promised Nial I would mention it in my blog so here it is. All I would say is that you should contact them before you arrive, cos you will never find it on your own ….unless you have the luck of the devil, that is!
This is a pictorial map of the tour. The Knuckles Adventure was on Day 8/9
more info on the route-planning aspects of the trip, please click here