A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about hiking

The King of Hungary

sunny
View Urban Reverie Late 2019 on urbanreverie's travel map.

There was a movie I once saw when I was about thirteen, I forget its name and I have not seen it since. The premise of this movie is that aliens have invaded Earth but because the aliens have adopted a human form, nobody can tell. These aliens are indistinguishable from humans except for a strange, stilted manner. But there is this one man who is given a pair of sunglasses which enables him to clearly see who is an alien - the sunglasses reveal their true form as grotesque reptiles - and who isn't.

I feel like I have been given this pair of sunglasses and that I see that everybody around me is an alien. Hungarians would have to be the strangest, oddest, most alien people I have ever known. They are not grotesque reptiles, anything but, but they are decidedly eccentric.

I find it hard to put my finger on just how exactly Hungarians are so strange. They are certainly a very harsh, distant people with a coarseness of manner that verges on brutality. It is rare to see a Hungarian smile or laugh or cry or indeed have any facial expression other than an indifferent frown. When they walk down the street in the opposite direction to me, there is never that mutual I'll-move-over-a-bit-and-you-move-over-a-bit-too compromise that is general in Australia or indeed most countries. Hungarians will just keep walking dead straight at a breathless pace as if I am invisible, either bumping into me spilling my coffee everywhere or forcing me to jump onto the street. Conversations, whether in Hungarian or English, are very awkward and formal, perhaps even robotic. When Hungarians are polite (which isn't often) it feels like they're just following a textbook or computer script. When Hungarians are helpful (which isn't often) it is only because they feel they have to be and they let it be known in no uncertain terms that they would rather not help you.

Hungarians are, in general, an attractive people; I see far more people who I consider good looking in just one hour in Budapest than I do in a whole day in Sydney. There is no defining physical characteristic that Hungarians share, save for an indescribable yet vaguely unsettling intensity in their eyes and faces. Some Hungarians are as dark as Turks, but just as many are as fair as Swedes. Green eyes are somewhat common, but so are blue, brown and hazel eyes. Complexions are often preternaturally smooth; it's not uncommon to see a fifty-year-old woman in Budapest with the skin of a twenty-year-old.

Also unnaturally smooth are autumn leaves, which I learned today and which you will learn to if you keep reading this entry.

The day started very early. Long-time followers of my travel blogs would know that one of my weird hobbies when I travel is climbing the highest points of the countries I visit, as long as those peaks are within my fitness level and reasonably handy to transport of some description. The highest point of the Republic of Hungary, Kékestető, is 1,014 metres above sea level - three metres below the Blue Mountains town of Katoomba to the west of Sydney.

I had researched my trip to Kékestető the MÁV (Hungarian State Railways) website. It advised me to catch a train from Budapest Keleti station at 07:15, then get off at Pécel in Budapest's outer eastern suburbs at 07:45, where I was to change to a trackwork bus to Hatvan at 07:52. The main line between Budapest and Hungary's northeastern cities such as Miskolc and Eger has been closed for months between Pécel and Hatvan due to the total reconstruction of that section of track. At Hatvan I was to change to another train at 08:54, and I would then change at Vámosgyörk for a short branch line shuttle to Gyöngyös at the base of Kékestető at 09:08, arriving at Gyöngyös at 09:23 to catch a bus up to the summit and enjoy a full day's bushwalking among the fiery autumn colours.

I got up nice and early, caught the trolley bus from my street to the extraordinarily beautiful Keleti station at 06:45, had plenty of time to buy my ticket and grab some pastries and a coffee for breakfast at a station café. I settled into my seat, ate my breakfast, had my ticket stamped by the conductor, everything was sweet.

After half an hour of gliding through the eastern suburbs, all passengers were dumped onto a narrow ground-level temporary platform at Pécel. It was about a three hundred metre walk to the trackwork bus stop. I had a seven-minute connection time and my progress was impeded by heavy rail construction vehicles constantly entering and exiting the rail corridor, doing U-turns and stopping for no reason.

It was hard to find my stop. There were two stops, one for the all-stops trackwork buses that only went as far as Aszód and the other for express buses to Hatvan that I needed, but the guidance signs only pointed to the all-stations stop so I walked right past my stop. I finally found my stop. It was 07:50. There was no bus in sight. I looked at the timetable on the bus stop pole. It had already departed at 07:45. The MÁV website was full of crap.

I hope that Hungarians don't understand English swear words because I think I shouted quite a few. It was a wait of another hour for the 08:45 bus. There was absolutely nothing on the station street, just a few houses andstreams of commuters and schoolchildren heading for the buses and the trains. There was a bus shelter nearby, one of the older style ones with stupid metal plates on both ends that prevent you from seeing approaching buses, and decided to sit down in there until 08:45 became nearer.

At about 08:20 I heard an engine sound of a bus grinding past. I leapt out of my seat to see that an express bus was leaving. I think I shouted even more swear words.

At 08:45 another express bus finally appeared. A whole lot of passengers boarded. Then the bus got stuck in traffic. The bus followed the clpsed railway line quite closely and we were constantly stuck in long queues behind slow-moving rail consruction equipment. Then we hit rush hour in Gödöllő which was choked with school traffic.

After an excruciating wait we finally hit the M3 motorway where we had a clear run to Hatvan. I boarded the 09:54 train from which I disembarked at Vámosgyörk at 10:06. I walked over to the timetable sticky-taped to the station window. The next train to Gyöngyös was at 11:08.

F#@$.

Vámosgyörk is a tiny village. Its sole feature of note is that its station is the junction where the short branch to the much larger town of Gyöngyös meets the main line to Miskolc. It is a dusty, god-forsaken village of crooked power poles and dusty streets and barking dogs and cracked plaster and bored unemployed people sitting in the streets gossiping while rocking babies in their prams back and forth.

The only businesses open were the Magyar Posta post office and a pub. I have run out of mobile data on my Magyar Telekom SIM card. Mobile phone recharges are ridiculously easy to buy in Australia - every newsagent, every petrol station, every suoermarket, every convenience store and every post office will sell mobile recharges in the form of a little printed docket with a code on it; you call your telco's recharge number, punch in the code, and voilà! Your phone now has extra minutes and gigabytes!

Would to God that it were so easy in Hungary. I decided to try my luck at the post office opposite the station. I have written before that post offices are the most reliable window into the soul of a country. Hungary must be an extremely melancholy country because I have never seen such a depressing post office before. The interior was all baby poo green and scratched plywood panelling and pure despairing agony. I could feel my will to live being drained very quickly while waiting in the Vámosgyörk post office. I noticed while I was waiting in the queue that they sold lotto tickets. That makes perfect sense. If I lived here I would be tempted to buy one so I could win big and move to another country where I didn't have to endure waiting in such an abysmal post office ever again.

I finally reached the head of the queue and I explained in my very best Hungarian that I needed more data on my Telekom SIM card. The post office lady sighed, said they didn't sell mobile recharges, then another employee corrected her, then they had a short argument, and then the woman sighed again as if to say "I don't want to help you but I guess I have to", and she brought out an enormous operstional manual in a lever-arch folder which she paged through furiously trying to find how to sell mobile data.

Eventually she gave up. She sighed again and said in German that she was calling Magyar Telekom. She didn't speak a word of English, my German is far better than my Hungarian, so we did business in German. In a country where it is not an official language, and a language that is not the mother tongue of either of us.

After a long wait the Telekom agent put her through to another agent who could speak English, and the post office lady gave the phone to me. The Telekom agent told me that to top up my mobile phone credit, I would need to download the Magyar Telekom app to my phone and purcase data throigh the app. She said she would send me a link to download the app via SMS. I thanked her, the conversation ended, I gave the phone back to the postal worker and left the post office, and I received the SMS. I clicked on the download link, except it didn't work - because I have no data!

Bugger it. I still had half an hour until my train to Gyöngyös. So I went to the pub. The pub was far busier than any pub has the right to be at half past ten in the morning on a weekday. I was tempted to buy a beer myself after the morning from hell, but I practiced uncharacteristic self-control and bought a Coke instesd. I couldn't wait to leave. Every single eye in that joint was burning laser beams into my skull.

Finally it was time to take the short train ride to Gyöngyös across the flat grainy plains, Kékestető and the Mátra mountain range looming ever nearer. After fifteen minutes I jumped off the train - Hungarian railway platforms are so low tnat this is often the best choice - at Gyöngyös. What wqs supoosed to be a simple two-hour trip turned into a four-hoir fiasco. Take a bow, MÁV. It really does take a very unique brand of incompetence to make a one hundred kilometre journey over four hours long just because you don't know how to provide correct information on your website.

Gyöngyös really is a marvellous, prosperous little town of antique shops and tree-lined streets and expensive toy stores and bric-a-brac places and lots of luxury cars on the streets. Gyöngyös is Hungary's Bowral, the kind of place where I imagine successful cardiologists and law professors retire to after reaching the very pinnacle of their professions in Budapest at the end of a long and fulfilling career.

I bought a topographic hiking map of the Mátra ranges at a camping goods shop and splashed out on an expensive lasagna at a fancy restaurant on the oh-so-genteel main square. I deserved it after what I had been through that morning. Also, the restaurant had wifi. I finally was able to download the Magyar Telekom app to my phone. I opened the app, fudged my way through impenetrable Hungarian, a language that is more difficult than hacking through a bamboo forest with a blunt machete, and finally managed to get to a page where I could buy another five hundred megabytes of data for three thousand forints. I entered in my credit card details and then - donk-donk! International cards are not accepted! Please try again!

The genteel town square of Gyöngyös wasn't quite so genteel after I let fly with a few more choice swear words.

I decided to forget about buying more data and just use wifi whenever I can find it. Honestly, it should not be that difficult to buy mobile data. Doesn't Magyar Telekom want my business? Didn't communism fall in 1989?

I went into the nearby tourist information centre for more information about Kékestető, which buses to catch, activities to do on the summit, etc. I was the only customer and the employee was so kind-hearted and softly-spoken and empathetic and soothing that my heart melted. When you meet someone in Hungary who is mild and coueteous and agreeable it becomes a most treasured memory, like a beaming ruby sparkling on top of a compost heap. The tourist information lady gave me all the information I needed, made sympathetic cluck-clucks after I told her about the fiasco with the trains, pointed out things about Kékestető my prior research hadn't revealed, and I had to restrain myself from asking for her hand in marriage right then and there.

I walked a couple of blocks to the bus station and waited a short while for a bus up to the summit, it didn't take long to get up there. It was only a few minutes walk from the summit bus stop to the hughest point of Hungary, a small boulder on a plinth painted in the red, white and green of the Hungarian flag and the words "KÉKESTETŐ 1014m". I stood next to the plinth and proclaimed "Én Magyarország királya vagyok!" -- I am the king of Hungary!

Next to the plinth was a makeshift memorial of small remembrance sttones, sculptures, photographs, candles and keepsakes. This is a memorial to various dead motorcyclists - and only motorcyclists. Why only motorcyclists and why here on Kékestető, I do not know.

Near to the summit is a television transmission tower. A small fee admits you into the lift up to the two observation decks, one enclosed and the other in the open air. The Mátra mountains are a small range running east to west with expansive plains to the north and south. Though the air was very hazy, there was still a great view. The mountain itself was covered in autumn trees, a riot of colour.

It was time to start walking. My original plan was to get to the summit by mid-morning and spend the whole day bushwalking, making my way down the mountain back to Gyöngyös, but the troubles with the trains meant I had to truncate that walk. I decided on a much shorter nine kilometre walk only part of the way down the mountain.

It was beautiful. I am an Australian. Our trees are all evergreen. Autumn forests are only something I have ever seen in movies and in children's books. How great it was to walk through scenes of red, brown, yellow, green. How awesome it was to feel the soft leaves crunch under my feet, to pick up a whole hesp of leaves and throw them into the soft cool breeze, to kick the leaves as I skipped along.

It's all innocent fun - on flat ground. I had no idea just how dangerous it is to walk on thick autumn leaves going downhill. And considering that I started at the highest point of Hungary - it was all downhill.

Some parts of the trail I chose were so dangerous that the safest way I could descend was to sit on the ground and slide down the hill, my sensitive male bits hitting every single hidden rock on the way. In other places I found the best way was to make myself fall from tree to tree like a ball in a pinball machine, each tree breaking my fall. At other times I crouched down so I could keep a firm hold on a pallen log as I skilled down the lesfy slope.

I slowed down to an average speed of 1.5 kilometres an hour. There was no way I was going to finish nine kilometres by sunset. So I deciddd to truncate my walk halfway at a little place called Mátraháza at the 4.7 kilometre mark.

I started to gain confidence with walking on leaves - or I thought I did. There was one downhill stretch that I thought I would be able to negotiate while staying upright. Unfortunately I was wrong. I slipped and the bone in my left buttock landed straight onto a very jagged rock hidden under the leaves. I am writing this four days later and it still hurts when I get up out of a chair.

I was sorely temlted to call 112 and get the ambulance service to rescue me with a helicopter. But I oersevered. Im weird like that. When I want to do something, I get it done. I was going to make it back to Mátraháza and Budapest and unbearable pain in my left buttocks be damned.

I took it slowly. Soon the terrain became much flatter and I could walk normally again. I soon rejoined Highway 24 and from there it was a short walk to Mátraháza following the very helpful colour-coded markers painted on the trees every twenty metres. (Why can't Australian national parks have this? Bushwalking in Europe is so much easier.)

Mátraháza is little more than a forest guesthouse and a bus stop on the highway. There was a small crowd of visitors and bushwalkers waiting for the next direct bus back to Budapest. I asked a few people if they had any painkillers, I explained what happened, but I was ignored by most people or I just got a very brusque "no" as they turned away and then ignored me. One old man though heard me and he offered two painkillers and told me to take one now and the other the next morning. Yet more Hungarian kindness! It doesn't happen too often. He was still very blunt and very distant, but his kindness in offering me the tablets was worth more than gold to me.

I didn't know there were frequent direct buses from Kékestető all the way to Budapest. If I had known it wouldn't have made too much difference. I like trains too much. But it was a relief that I didn't have to put myself through the trains and trackwork buses again.

After about one hour forty, I got back to Budapest, and on the street I'm staying on, I found a fancy restaurant, Magdalena Merlo. Even though I was very sore and wearing filthy hiking clothes I wasn't turned away. I had one of the greatest meals I have ever eaten - paprikás (a chicken thigh cooked in creamy paprika sauce) with ewe's cheese dumplings, Gundel palacsinta (crepe-like pancakes stuffed with chopped walnuts and raisins and drenched in flambéed red wine chocolate sauce), and for a drink, a very large glass of Egri Bikavér (also known in English as Bull's Blood from Eger). I rarely drink wine, I don't like it, but Bikavér - it is truly the nectar of the gods! The meal was expensive, about 6,800 forints, but after all I had been through that day, I had been such a good boy and I deserved it!

Topping it off was a three-piece orchestra (violin, cello and xylophone) playing sentimental Hungarian favourites. They took requests. A West Ham supporter from England at the next table asked for "I'll Be Blowing Bubbles" which the band didn't know. I requested "Szomorú Vasárnap" -- Gloomy Sunday. This song was famous in the 1930s and 1940s. It was banned by the BBC for supposedly setting off a string of suicides because the song was so melancholy. This tear-jerking song about lovers being reunited in death, for some reason, has lomg greatly appealed to me. There are plenty of different adsptations on YouTube, feel free to check them out, but none were as good as at Magdalena Merlo. I was moved to tears and at the end the entire restaurant applauded and shouted "bravo!"

What a fantastic way for one of the most challenging days in all of my travels to end. Things can only look up from here.

Keleti station

Keleti station

Keleti station

Keleti station

Trains at Pécel (my train from Keleti on the left)

Trains at Pécel (my train from Keleti on the left)

Train from Hatvan to Vámosgyörk

Train from Hatvan to Vámosgyörk

Train from Vámosgyörk to Gyöngyös

Train from Vámosgyörk to Gyöngyös

Main street of Gyöngyös

Main street of Gyöngyös

Village of Vámosgyörk

Village of Vámosgyörk

The King of Hungary

The King of Hungary

Kékestető TV tower

Kékestető TV tower

View from Kékestető TV tower

View from Kékestető TV tower

Autumn leaves on Kékestető

Autumn leaves on Kékestető

Paprikás & ewe’s cheese dumplings

Paprikás & ewe’s cheese dumplings

Posted by urbanreverie 16:32 Archived in Hungary Tagged mountains budapest hiking buses railways mobile bushwalking kékestető Comments (0)

The importance of earned success

overcast 19 °C
View Urban Reverie 2019 on urbanreverie's travel map.

Ella, Sri Lanka
Friday, 8 February 2019

I set my alarm for a quarter to five; I had planned to spend the morning doing a return trip to the Main Line terminus at Badulla and back over the famous Nine Arch Bridge. But when the phone honked its alarm I decided that I needed a sleep-in instead. I haven't had many recently. I also had difficulty getting to sleep the night before. Ella is full of tourist bars and clubs that are open twenty-four hours and the doof-doof-doof of the dance music from many of the establishments echoed across the valleys and into my room. Also, Ella might be cooler than the coastal plains but it is still very humid. A fan would have been wonderful. There is a wall-mounted swivel fan but there is only one power point. The opportunity cost of having a mobile phone without a flat battery was difficulty getting to sleep in a stuffy room.

I slept through to a quarter to eight then just spent a lazy hour playing with my phone. I'm on holiday. I'm allowed to chill occasionally. I bathed and dressed and went upstairs for another breakfast included in the price of my accommodation.

I then strolled down the highway into Ella's town centre. I came across Jason and his young family. Jason was a bit worse for wear having drunk far more than I did. He expressed hope that he could come to the bar again tonight for drinks, but if he couldn't make it, which in his hungover state was more than likely, we exchanged our goodbyes.

The first item on my agenda on Ella's main street was to buy a hat. This is more important than it sounds. Of all parts of my body, it is my head that has always been most susceptible to sunburn. I have now used two-thirds of the tube of sunscreen I brought from Australia and I am only nine days into my three-week holiday. Sunscreen is rarer than unobtainium in Sri Lanka. I am rationing my sunscreen by spreading it as thinly as Vegemite on toast. The less of my body that I have to apply sunscreen to, the longer my supply will last.

I walked down the main drag looking at every single building to see what they sold. There were huge tacky tropical beach-style pubs with thatched roofs and log railings, there were henna tattoo parlours, there were herbal remedy shops, there were hair-braiding joints, there were massage therapists, there were all the useless things that you find in tropical holiday destinations popular with dirty smelly feral hippies of the sort who think "vaccine" is a dirty word.

I was about to give up when I saw a little shop that sold things like purses, shawls, belts and the like. I went inside and saw a small assemblage of men's hats in the back left corner. I made a beeline for them. Most of the hats had brims that were far too narrow and would be pretty useless as protection from the sun. But I did see a stack of cricket hats. An acceptable temporary substitute for my beloved straw hat. I tried them on. They were designed for tiny little South Asian skulls and not big fat European skulls like mine. They had no chinstrap so there is no way they could have stayed in place on my head.

Oh well. I would have to make do without a hat for the time being. I had an active day planned. There are two major peaks popular with hikers near Ella - Ella Rock to the south and Little Adam's Peak to the east. Ella Rock is an enormous precipice that looms over the A23 highway like Emperor Palpatine's hooded cloak. It seemed well beyond my ability. So I chose the somewhat less challenging Little Adam's Peak.

You can reach the trail up to Little Adam's Peak by walking east along the road to Passara for a couple of kilometres, then following the ant's trail of all the other travellers turning off the road and up a side lane. The lower part of the trail goes through tea plantations. This is the first time I have seen tea bushes. I stopped at one bush, plucked a tender bright green young leaf, and smelled it. It didn't smell like tea at all, it just smelled like a leaf. I tried crushing the leaf by rubbing it between my thumb and fingers. Still no tea smell. I decided to chew the leaf. Wow! It was like drinking ten cups of tea at once. My mouth was immediately assaulted by the bitter tannins and the heady aroma of a nice cup of tea went down the back of my throat and up into my nasal cavity. It was powerful stuff.

Soon I reached the Ravana Zipline where souls braver than mine paid US$20 for the privilege of being strapped into a harness and sent flying at speed hundreds of feet over the tea plantations across the valley. One young lady ended up chickening out and tore her harness off and ran away. I can't say I blame her, it looked terrifying.

At the zipline the trail, which until now had been a gently graded vehicular track, became a very steep staircase. Some steps were very narrow, other steps were wide, some were unevenly spaced. As I ascended the air got cooler, the wind got stronger, and the shade got thinner until it was completely absent.

After a while I reached the ridgeline of Little Adam's Peak. Little Adam's Peak is actually a northwest-southeast trending ridge a few hundred metres long with three distinct peaks. The northwestern peak seems to be the highest, featuring the remains of a survey trig station and two golden Buddhas sitting in small shelters. The middle peak is the easiest to reach and is separated from the northwestern peak by a shallow col; the trail delivers hikers to this col.

The southeastern peak at the end of the ridge is separated from the middle peak by a very steep V-shaped col. The tracks to the middle and northwestern peaks are well-graded and smooth, they are negotiable by people with minimum hiking experience. The track that traversed the deep col to the southeastern peak was rough, narrow and steep.

Being at the end of the ridge, I knew that the southeastern peak would offer the best uninterrupted views south along the deep valley towards the southern coastal plains. I just had to give it a try.

I set myself a goal and took off and almost instantly regretted it. The descent down the V to the southeastern col required much scrambling. There were several places where I had to sit down and slide myself down from one step to the next. I reached the bottom of the V and instantly the descent turned into ascent without any flat interval.

The ascent was almost as hard. It required getting my hands dirty as I clung to rocks and handholds to lift myself up to the next step. While I was doing this, stopping frequently to puff and pant and sip my bottle of water, I was reminded of this blog I follow called "Ask A Korean!"

The Korean, the anonymous brains behind AAK!, once wrote an excellent post wherein he discussed the nature of happiness. His central concept is that happiness does not come from pleasure. If happiness depended on pleasure, then we would all just spend our days hooked up to a morphine drip until the day we died.

So happiness doesn't come from the mere hedonistic pursuit of pleasure. Happiness comes from success; specifically, earned success. The success that comes from putting yourself through unpleasant and challenging situations, from going through adversity and coming out of it stronger, from studying hard, working hard, and building a better life for yourself and your family that your parents could never dream of, and presumably from climbing some bloody mountain in Sri Lanka just to get a better view of some valley you travelled through by road yesterday.

I finally reached the top of the southeastern peak. I was not disappointed! The view was divine. Before me was spread a long, narrow valley that got wider as it neared the horizon. At the bottom was a twisting, rushing, rocky river that looked like a whitewater rafter's dream. Either side of this valley to the east and west, giant jagged mountains soared almost vertically out of this valley, the lower elevations garnished with terraced tea plantations. On the western side was the bare face of Ella Rock keeping a watchful eye over the whole scene and just south of that was Ravana Falls gushing down the mountainside. Following the contours on the western mountains below Ella Rock was the A23 highway twisting and turning as it followed the shape of the side of the mountain range. Back to the northwest perched on a high saddle between the two mountain ranges was the town of Ella with a gleaming white stupa perched on a ridge above it.

The Korean is right. Happiness does come from earned success. This view was mostly obscured to the people standing on the middle and northwestern peaks because the southeastern peak obscures it. The view belonged only to those who had the fortitude to set themselves a goal and stick to it.

I sat down on a rock and drank half a litre of water and a whole bag of rambutans I had bought from a hawker on the bus while it was waiting to depart Wellawaya. Firm, fresh, juicy rambutans. I must say this - the quality of fruit and vegetables in Sri Lanka is superb. (Except the apples. But you'd taste disgusting too if you were locked in a shipping container from the United States for a month.) Never have I had tastier, fresher produce than in Sri Lanka, and in such enormous variety. It is nothing like the bland homogeneous rubbish Australians get served by the evil empire of the Coles-Woolworths duopoly like Cavendish bananas that are so huge they don't fit in a lunchbox and taste like candles, or tough, stringy green beans that can only be cut with a samurai sword, or mangoes that break down into messy goo as soon as you cut them open. Maybe Australia wouldn't have such an obesity crisis if fruit and vegetables at the supermarkets were actually appealing.

On the top of the southeastern peak were a variety of hardy, sturdy people, all much younger than me. Two of them were Australians, two lifelong friends not long out of the same high school and who work for the same smoke detector testing company in Sydney. We all agreed that it was a splendid thing that Australian bogans have yet to discover Sri Lanka - just wait until Jetstar flies direct to Colombo! - and that most of the Australians we had met seemed like the more agreeable and culturally aware sort. We chatted amicably for a while and then we all departed at the same time.

The two young whippersnappers left me in the dust. They were half my age and about a hundred times as fit. They turned back half-way up the other side of the V and saw that I was trailing well behind, somewhere in the bottom half of the descent.

"Are you all right, mate? D'ya need some help?" one shouted to me.

"Yeah, no worries, mate, it's all sweet, I'll get there in the end! I'm just taking her nice and slow."

"No worries, mate!" Occasionally, very occasionally, I am proud to be an Australian. I wish more Australians had that good old-fashioned concern for their fellow human beings and that spirit of co-operation. We used to call it "mateship". It's an increasingly rare commodity.

The middle peak was featureless but the northwestern peak had a trig station missing its mast and vanes in between two golden Buddhas. It also had street dogs. A female street dog who had recently given birth was feeding her puppies inside a little cave-like space within a large tuft of montane grass. Yes. Street dogs on top of a mountain well out of town. Street dogs are a problem in Sri Lanka. There are dogs everywhere. They are attractive dogs, lean and of medium build with short fur and perky little ears, and they almost all have little curly tails that are perenially curved upwards. They are mostly harmless. Humans don't interfere with them and they don't interfere with humans. These dogs are lonely, lost looking things who look upon the world around them with apathy and indifference. When they aren't sleeping they just wander aimlessly around.

It is interesting that Sri Lankans treat these dogs with respect. A bus driver who wouldn't shed a single salt tear after running a scooter rider off a mountain road will slam on the brakes just to let one of these mutts cross the road safely. But otherwise there is no interaction between human and dog.

Except in Ella. Ella is crawling with Western tourists, people from cultures where people love doggies and want to pat them and feed them and keep them as pets. So many Westerners have fed and patted these dogs that the dogs have lost all their fear of humans. They will come into restaurants begging for scraps. They will follow humans back to their hotels in large groups. They will fight each other for the affections of some tourist. The dogs have reproduced in such numbers that you can't even kick a soccer ball along the street without hitting a dog. Even an RSPCA pound doesn't have a greater concentration of dogs than the town of Ella.

I then descended the mountain. I couldn't be bothered walking all the way back into town so I just caught a tuk-tuk taxi at the bottom of the trail. I got back to my hotel dirty, sweaty and smelly so I cleaned myself up, got served a delicious rice and curry by my host, and relaxed for a few hours. Shortly before sunset I went to catch the bus to Ravana Falls, I was going to have a refreshing swim there, but the bus never came after waiting ten minutes - an eternity in Sri Lankan public transport - and it was starting to get dark. A tasty dinner (chicken and cheese kottu) and a couple of relaxing beers with my own favourite doggie to soothe my muscle pain (it's OK, the Western bar owner says Jumpy is vaccinated), and the day came to an end before an early night.

My time in Ella is drawing to a close. I am starting to fall in love with Sri Lanka. It is a beautiful, challenging, exhilarating, disorderly, hospitable, messy, surprising country. There is life everywhere - animal, vegetable, human. You can never accuse Sri Lanka of being bland and boring. I do wonder what challenges lay ahead at my next destination.

Tea bush

Tea bush

Street dog on Little Adam’s Peak summit feeding puppies

Street dog on Little Adam’s Peak summit feeding puppies

Southwestern com from middle peak

Southwestern com from middle peak

Ascent to middle peak from southwestern col

Ascent to middle peak from southwestern col

Tea plantations

Tea plantations

Tea leaves

Tea leaves

A23 highway curving around mountains

A23 highway curving around mountains

Middle and southeastern peaks from northwestern peak

Middle and southeastern peaks from northwestern peak

Ella Rock

Ella Rock

Ella Rock

Ella Rock

Valley View

Valley View

Buddhas and trig station on Little Adam’s Peak

Buddhas and trig station on Little Adam’s Peak

Ravana Falls

Ravana Falls

Ella from Little Adam’s Peak

Ella from Little Adam’s Peak

Posted by urbanreverie 22:51 Archived in Sri Lanka Tagged hiking dogs sri_lanka ella Comments (0)

(Entries 1 - 2 of 2) Page [1]