This past week I biked through the island nation of Sri Lanka for 7 days. All planning and logistics were handled by Grasshopper Adventures, a bike tour company based in Asia. Paying for their services was an indulgence that allowed us to just show up and pedal.
Our route through the Central Province’s lush interior was as challenging as it was idyllic. The sharp inclines, tight switchbacks, and harrowing hairpin descents provided many opportunities to test our stamina and adrenaline functions. On the first day of biking we finished in Gampola and boarded a train for what is considered one of the most scenic train rides in the world. During the 3-hour ride, we traveled through Sri Lanka’s famed tea country with magnificent views of its terraced landscape. I shared a railcar with locals who were equally thrilled by the atmospheric experience. At one point, every passenger had their head out the window or out one of the open doors to snap pictures, wave to people, and marvel the bucolic scenery.
Our subsequent riding days featured meandering rural roads, more steep climbs, and more hair-raising downhills under virgin rainforest canopy, along tea plantations, through a few frenetic towns bursting with blinged out tuktuks, and past school yards of wide-eyed children waving ecstatically at us. Every day featured varied terrain – my favourites were the bumpy dirt roads and the smooth highways in the Southern Province where we curiously had near-exclusive domain. Curiously, stray dogs sleeping in the lanes greatly outnumbered motor vehicles (estimated ratio: 3 sleeping or somnambulant canines to 1 moped).
When we needed breaks from the undulated landscape, we stopped for wild King coconut milk (a variety of coconut used in ayurvedic brews to refresh and expel heat), tropical juices, coconut roti, wade (pronounced wah-dee), and water refills (pro tip: drink 1 bottle of water every hour). Between rides, we enjoyed a nature walk in the Sinharaja Rainforest, a hike to World’s End in Horton Plains, and a safari in Yala National Park where birds and elephants abound, but the leopard endemic to Sri Lanka eluded us.
Our final 100 kilometers from the peak of the Sinharaja Rainforest down to the fortified old city of Galle on the coast was stunning despite the relentless heat, humidity and headwind. Our arrival to Galle was jarring in that it was the first and only time during the trip that we rode in heavy urban traffic. At one point we were flanked by the crashing waves of the Indian Ocean to our left and motorised mayhem to our right; regardless, once we rolled into the walled portion of Galle and ensconced ourselves in its charm, we reveled in completing a storied 250km bike journey through Sri Lanka, the Pearl of the Indian Ocean.
For me, movement is the companion of joy. This is why dynamic experiences like biking the Florida Keys, the Camino de Santiago, the California coast to Mexico, and this ride through Sri Lanka will always be some of my most treasured travel memories. When I ride a bike, I am the engine. I am the force that sets my bike in motion up and down the contours of a country. So that makes me – a god damn force of nature.
The first of many summits
Rare flat terrain
Train tickets to Nanu Oya
Ecolodge in Sinharaja Rainforest
View of tea plantation from the train
I was not alone in appreciating this experience
Hairpin turns through rainforest mist warranted caution
Yala National Park
Chickpea and chili
Wade and coconut roti
Roadside snack shack
Caught in the rain = longer snack time