“What if I fall off?” “You won’t fall off.” “They said the same thing about the Segway and I ended up headfirst in a bin next to a crowd of Japanese tourists.” I use this story as an example of my ability to attract catastrophe, because prior to this epic fall, only George Bush and a chimpanzee had been unsuccessful in their attempts to ride something as basic a Segway. “Don’t worry, you’ll be fine.” Not reassuring. But for the sake of an adventure (and because elephants don’t have wheels) I decided to man up. As it turns out, elephants might not have wheels, but they are tall. Like ‘I’m not really sure I can see the ground from here, please God don’t let me fall off and die’ tall. You’ll be pleased to know I didn’t. (Fall off and die that is.) Instead we went on a nerve-wracking trek through the jungle, down to a murky looking river, getting impaled by the occasional hanging tree branch on the way. And, feeling a little like a character from a Rudyard Kipling novel, we washed Lily at the water’s edge, using bits of coconut shell to scrub her skin. (Even elephants need a decent exfoliating product.) Usually I hate elephant tourism. Like dolphin shows and taking your photograph with a drugged up tiger, the exploitation of wild animals for human entertainment seems cruel and unnecessary. But this particular elephant belonged to a friend of the German lady I was staying with, who assured me that Lily was unchained, left to roam in the jungle and treated well. When the trek was over (and a selfie with a herd of water buffalo had been taken), we headed back to the hotel retreat in the Sri Lankan tea plantations, just 20 minutes from the city of Galle. At Niyagama House they offer two yoga classes a day, though I opted for sunset rather than sunrise. It doesn’t matter how zen-like I become, unless I’m rolling in from a party slurring ‘let’s just sleep on lilos’, 6am will never be my holiday happy place. (And for the record a lilo is not a sensible place to nap when the sun is rising and you’re blessed with the kind of pallid complexion that makes Hannibal Lecter look bronzed.) If you’re looking for a party place, Niyagama House isnt it. But if you’re looking for a beautiful infinite pool, value-for-money massages, wild peacocks swaying from the trees and the odd tropical rainstorm, it’s perfect. After three days I left feeling massaged, prodded, stretched and relaxed, like I’d fallen into some sort of magical coconut-scented coma.
I don’t know if it was the time of year, but by the time I reached Unawatuna beach, the skies had once again clouded over for a solid day of torrential rain – like England, with more arse-biting mosquitoes. Plans of lying by the ocean and reading well and truly scuppered, I took a tuk-tuk (try saying that 10 times fast) to Galle fort and back via one of the local herb gardens. It was there I discovered that turmeric is the main ingredient in hair removal cream, after an over-enthusiastic guide slathered my arm in the stuff. NB: It doesn’t smell better in its natural form and if anything, Veet’s use of toxic chemicals makes the whole situation bearable. After purchasing something he promised would get rid of my wrinkles (it hasn’t), I headed back to Jina’s in Unawatuna for the best vegetarian curry in the world. As general rule, vegetarian restaurants are not a place of joy. They tend to be full of vegans, which is reason to enough to avoid them. But if you can cope with a few hippies in non-breathable fabrics bleating on about the ‘vibe’ or partaking in some casually racist cultural appropriation, this place has some of the best food I tried in Sri Lanka.
The sun finally came out to play on my last day, so I spent a happy hour frying my milky white skin before heading to the airport with a taxi driver who couldn’t comprehend the normal boundaries of polite social conduct. Three dead dog sightings and a lecture on fertility later, I discovered he was living in a sexless marriage, his wife didn’t like giving blow jobs and he was looking for a discreet girlfriend to shag on the side. Which is more information than anyone has ever cared to know about their taxi driver. On the bright side, a two hour quiz on my sex life seemed a good excuse to treat myself to all of the Duty Free chocolate in the world for the flight home.