“Aaaaahghhgh!!! Get them off me! Get them off me! GET THEM FUCKING OFF ME!!!”
“Hang on a sec…try and calm down and I’ll try and help you”
“They’re EVERYWHERE!!! Look Rob! LOOOK!!! They’re in my fucking shoes and on my shitting socks! Get them OFF MEEEE!!!!
Rolling into town
We made our way from the busy Hatton station with sore calfs and aching quads after our climb up Adams Peak. The town of Ella in the heart of the hill country is our next destination.
The train soon lifted us high into the hills. Soaring above tea plantations and the former pride of the British colonies in Sri Lanka. The journey was pure joy.
The waxy fertile jungle soon gives way to a slightly darker, spacious landscape entrenched in mist but not lacking in clarity. The humidity has all but gone and we smile as postcard after postcard develops before our eyes.
6 hours on a relatively busy carriage and we reach our destination.
Ella is a popular tourist spot within the Uva Province of Sri Lanka. It boasts easy access by train and some of the most stunning views of the hill country including the famous Ella Gap.
We head to our budget guest house, remove our stinking clothes and watch as the clouds tighten and burst with fat rain. The air is charged with dense electricity and the thunder rolls in the distance.
Its not really tourist season when we’re there but that doesn’t stop a steady flow of European travellers making their way through.
Like us, many of them are planning to make the climb up Ella Rock which overlooks the town like an ominous blade.
We set off at 6am (sunrise) looking to be down before the afternoon heat hits. Armed with water and Rotti we head to the railway tracks where the trek begins.
Creatures from the deep
Unlike Adams Peak, the route up Ella Rock is not stepped and barely signposted. There are plenty of resources online to help find the path and local guides loiter on the train tracks to offer their services at a nominal fee.
Like much of our travelling though, me and Hannah decided to wing it.
A pair of mangey dogs acted as our companions along the empty rails.
Soon we took the necessary turning off the track and into the tea bushes. With a confident swagger we breezed on.
After 10 minutes of walking the tea bushes made way for tall rubber trees. We continued and the small track we were following disappeared along with the sky as a thick forest enveloped us.
20 more minutes passed and now we were scrambling amongst reeds and the damp. We were lost.
It’s at this point that the real problems started as the ground beneath us began to move and twitch. Looking more closely and then at our shoes and legs we saw them. An army of leeches.
“Shit! shit! shit!” Hannah panicked. This was her first leech encounter and she stabbed at them violently with a small stick.
We fumbled in the dank, dark forest ripping the small bloodsuckers from our shoes and socks. They made their way into our footwear and up our legs. We were surrounded and outnumbered. They were hungry.
A pair of dogs start barking up a steep hill and what sounded like a human whistling. Surely help was not far away.
Another ten minute climb through thicker grass and foliage brought us face to face with our soon to be heroes. Our hearts sank and we turn on our heels as we realise they are guarding this place. Murder filled their eyes.
Running down the hill we stumble and slip. We’re soon back in the leech zone and formulate a plan. “Lets run as quick as we can through this patch and then pull them all off when we’re out the forest” I suggest. Hannah is already running ahead.
We breathe the clear air on the opening and cleanse each other with probing teaser fingers. The leeches are massed around our ankles. Some are fat with our blood.
After ridding ourselves of our parasitic compadres we continue our leisurely stroll. Luckily some friendly locals point us in the right direction.
They laugh as we set off, possibly because we’re the cause of the overblown shouting and screaming they’ve just heard.
The trek itself isn’t too difficult if done the correct way. Within an hour we were atop Ella Rock.
An elderly Sri Lankan man and his dog welcomes us with cups of sweet tea made on his open fire.
The horizon stretches out in front of us and the vastness of the hill country becomes more clear. The sun is high now and we take a moment to breath in the view. Totally worth it.
We remove our socks and wash the leech marks with a bottle of water. I remove a final fat leech which escaped my earlier pincer attack. The old mans dog ambles over and hoovers it into his smiling mouth.