Our intrepid travelling friend, Pam, has sent us her next instalment – this time from Sri Lanka…
Visitors to Sri Lanka often want to visit a few different places. There is a brilliant choice of destinations from the busy capital of Colombo to the fabulous beaches of the south. In and around Kandy are historic temples, many holding religious and cultural festivals and Sri Lanka has a multitude of wildlife both inland and at sea. So, the keen traveller needs to get about a bit.
The railways are excellent. They are efficient, cheap and clean, providing some wonderful scenic journeys around Sri Lanka. However, there is form of transport which you must not miss. The most exciting, the most exhilarating, the most breathtaking method of getting from A to B in Sri Lanka is by air taxi.
The romantically named Cinnamon Air runs seaplanes on regular schedules between nine lakes, reservoirs and lagoons. We were travelling from Polgolla Reservoir, Kandy, in the centre of the country to Mawalla Lagoon, on the south coast. We had been able to book our tickets on line through another exotically named company, Saffron Aviation so the cost was out of the way before our trip. At £130 each it was a pricey way to travel but worth every rupee. Particularly as it’s less than the 8am train from Manchester to London on a Monday morning.
The weather had been stormy and the rain was still drizzling down. Peering out from a tuk tuk we were looking for any spot by the waterside which could be Cinammon Air’s depot. Seeing a parked van, we stopped to ask and I suddenly heard a voice from the van call my name. Quite disconcerting when you’re in a completely strange country. It turned out this was a Cinnamon Air employee sent to divert us as the weather on the reservoir was too rough for the plane. We were to head to a golf club 10k away. The tuk tuk driver was delighted by this extended fare and off we went.
Several kilometres down the most potholed road imaginable we reached the Victoria Golf Club. And what a magnificent place this was. My pal and I, dusty, hot and dressed for the road had to sit in this palatial establishment for an hour to await further instructions. Apparently it ranks among the hundred best golf courses in the world so you can imagine the clubhouse was pretty swanky. After a series of phone calls between reception and somebody at Cinnamon Air we managed to negotiate a lift to the plane from one of the groundsmen in a four wheel drive.
There was just a jetty at the end of the rocky track, no Cinnamon depot as I had imagined. We waited along with an elderly expat couple who told us gossipy tales of the golf club and cabinet ministers. Suddenly we heard the noise of the engines, quickly getting closer and closer. Then the plane appeared, coming low over the water and splashing down, circling on the surface in a huge spray like a massive jet ski. What a frisson of excitement and anticipation I felt.
The co-pilot, all smiles and bonhomie, closely followed by a Japanese tourist, loaded with cameras who was photographing every minute of his trip. The pilot opened his window and waved and the co-pilot helped the four of us on board, gave us a brief safety chat and checked we and the Japanese chap were properly strapped in. Then, with five passengers and two crew the plane sped across the water, lifting off through a curtain of spray. Fantastic! As we left the lake below I couldn’t tell whether I was overcome with sheer terror or the thrill of the whole thing.
The views were stunning. Lakes and forests and miles of paddy fields with mist covered hills in the distance. All the way you could peer out of the window picking out the features on the landscape below. It was far too soon before the 45 minutes were over and we approached Mawalla Lagoon for a smooth ride down. Here there was a small depot and a driver waiting for us, thoughtfully ordered by one of our fellow passengers.
There is no direct train from Kandy to the south coast of Sri Lanka and to have travelled by taxi or bus would have been gruelling. Instead we were able to experience a journey which enabled us to enjoy the scenery from a different viewpoint and on a wider scale. One of those experiences you can always flick back to during life’s duller moments.