Not every experience is a good one. In the aim of being transparent, travel bloggers should be honest about what they get up to—which means talking not only about the amazing sights, fantastic food and crazy life-affirming moments we get up to on the road, but also those moments we’d rather forget.
One of those moments happened in February this year. I had heard of an off-the-beaten-path hiking trail in the Knuckles Mountain Range, a couple hours’ drive from the city of Kandy. From what I had seen online, the views looked fantastic; the walk would wind up mountains, pass tea valleys and small villages, cross rivers and curve around waterfalls. To reaffirm my belief that this hike would be perfect for me, a girl at the hostel told me that she had visited the mountain range the day before—and had absolutely loved it. Convinced I was in for a fantastic two days, I persuaded two hostel mates to hike along with me and we packed for the trek ahead.
Now, this hike wasn’t cheap. Because of the low western tourist demand for this excursion (it’s relatively unheard of and, uh, teeming with leeches—forgot to mention that), and the low amount of tour guide companies that lead the hike, this is one of the most expensive backpacker activities you can do in Sri Lanka. The price was eventually haggled down to 18,500LKR (£77) for an overnight hike with food and bed included, which is a sizeable chunk of anyone’s Sri Lankan budget. I tell you all this, because everything in the hike would have to go right for it to be worth the cost.
Everything goes wrong. We wake on the day of the hike to the sound of rainfall, and any hope that the downpour would subside quickly dissipates as the rain grows heavier. This is dry season in this region of Sri Lanka, and later we’re told that it rains at most twice a month this time of year. As it turns out, this year it’s the two days of our hike.
The two travellers I’ve teamed up with are seasoned professionals when it comes to hiking. Kamil has trekked across the length of New Zealand, while Nicole is a tour guide in Yosemite. The only thing going through my head at this point is how guilty I feel convincing these two to join me on this wet, cold and miserable walk through wilderness.
And then the food poisoning hits. I wake up on the day with stomach pain, but brush it off: surely it’ll go away eventually. A few steps into the hike and I’m running off to squat under a tree. I don’t have much energy to acknowledge our ascent from the tea fields to the clouds, because all of my attention is focused on keeping my stomach from collapsing. That’s not to suggest the ascent is particularly noteworthy: the views we were promised are enveloped in fog. We’re not walking next to a gorgeous mountainous backdrop, we’re walking next to a slate of cloudy white.
Two travellers, as sopping wet as we are, pass us on the way down. “What happened to the weather? It was beautiful yesterday!” they remark. That doesn’t really lift our spirits.
I mentioned previously in my Borneo blog that I really enjoyed hiking in the monsoon weather. This, not so much. The rain is cold and relentless, and my stomach is doing somersaults. I try to make the most of a bad situation, but, look, I’m shitting in an open field, rain soaking me to the bone, stomach in total agony in spite of the charcoal and imodium tablets I’ve taken. I can only do so much. When lunch rolls around—we eat at the top of one of the ‘knuckles’ in the Knuckles Mountain Range, battered by wind and rain—I can hardly stomach the food.
The rest of the day follows the pattern of walking for a while, me stopping to squat, me catching up with the group, repeat. Sometimes we stop to pick off leeches from our socks and boots. We walk up a sloping path that, due to the downpour, is now a waterfall. We bound down paths that cut through tea fields. Nicole slips on a muddy slope, and Kamil and I laugh before I also slip on the same slope. Two dogs follow us, leaping over streams to keep pace. They don’t mind the rain. In a way, neither do we: this is certainly an experience we won’t forget. Perhaps this isn’t a great look on the country—or on me—but it’ll be the experience I think back to when I think of Sri Lanka.
We arrive at our camp drenched and exhausted. Because of the rain, we’re given a small ensuite hut instead of a tent—it’s not exactly ‘glamping’ but in our current state, it’s paradise. Kamil accidentally bloodies the bed with his leech-bitten legs. It won’t matter: I’ll spend most of the night on the toilet instead.
The next day, sleep-deprived and all out of liquid (expunged through both ends during the night), I pack it in. I leave Kamil and Nicole and get a tuk-tuk back to the hostel in Kandy, where I spend the rest of the day in bed. In all honesty, I wasn’t hugely enjoying Sri Lanka beforehand, but the last two days were the motivation I needed to do something about it. I leave the country early and fly to Jordan instead. Not all travel experiences are influencer-approved. Some involve squatting in the middle of an open field, battered by rain, fending off leeches, emptying your bowels.
Hopefully this write-up didn’t put you off ever going ahead with a hike through the Knuckles Mountain Range — the views really are spectacular as long as you don’t get unlucky with the weather. As mentioned, it’s a pricey excursion – 18,500LKR (£77) is what we managed to haggle an overnight hike down to, but it may cost you more or less depending on time of season, tour company, and your haggling skills. Look around online for the best deals.