zaterdag 30 januari 2016

Cycling in Sri Lanka

After travelling on our own bicycles in Surinam, Madagascar and Ghana, this time we went to Sri Lanka. Here are some of our experiences, especially for cyclists who want to take their own bicycle in the plane to far destinations in tropical countries.
Cycling in the tropics is great joy! You can have direct contact with the people along the road, greet and talk to people, smell nice food, eat as many of the most tasty bananas in the world, hear and see birds and animals and it is very easy to stop at any place you like. And as long as you move, it is not hot at all, because the air is continuously moving around your body!
Your bicycle
Any strong, well maintained quality bicycle will be good enough to travel in tropical countries. We have chosen the MTB-type with the smaller 26 inch wheels with Schwalbe Marathon tyres (puncture proof). We use simple gears that can be repaired in every country (sorry Rohloff) and V-brakes instead of modern liquid brake systems (leaking oil after damage). Imagine that the Airline ground personnel usually throw your bike in the plane or put 5 heavy Samsonite suitcases on top of your bike. It is important that your bike is surviving the flight with little damage.
The advantages of MTB bikes are:
-broad tyres, comfortable to take sandy dirt roads
-small wheels and a small frame are easier to handle during transport in the plane
-lightweight aluminium frame (front suspension is not necessary)
-only one rear luggage carrier for 2 Ortlieb roller bags
When you fly with Emirates you have 30 kg free baggage allowance and 7 kg hand luggage. This is sufficient for a holiday/journey on your bicycle. In Sri Lanka you can travel light.
There is no need to bring your tent or sleeping bags/mattress. No cooking gear.
We could find accommodation and good food in every village or town along the main roads.
The more equipment/clothes you leave at home, the better. Less weight makes cycling more relaxed and if you miss something, you can buy it in Sri Lanka. As spare parts we only take 1 inner tube, a few spokes, puncture repair kit and some tools like Allen keys, spanners (to remove steer and pedals for transport).
Our bicycle is roughly 16 kg, so 14 kg is left for bicycle body bag, roller bags and luggage.
Other airliners usually charge $/€ 100,- per flight / bicycle.
For transport we put our bicycle, after removing the front wheel, pedals, saddle and steer, in a strong nylon bag. We use the body bags of Ground Effect New Zealand:
With clothes/towels you can protect the vulnerable parts of your bike. Put the gear shift system in first gear, to make it less vulnerable. Deflate the tyres (don’t forget to bring a good air pump).
It is advisable to book accommodation not too far from the airport for at least the first 2 days/nights. Puetz Travels Beach Resort ( can pick you up with a minibus from the airport with your bicycles. It is good to take your time to adapt to the country and climate, assemble your bicycle in a relaxed surrounding  and to make a ‘test drive’ on your bicycle in the area around the beach resort. You can also leave your extra European warm clothes and the bicycle body bag and wrapping materials in the resort, to be picked up at the end of your journey.
Before setting off, observe the local traffic
Take your time to adapt to the local traffic. In Sri Lanka there are traffic rules too, but people do not obey these rules, like we do. The traffic is more or less a social play: everybody can take his or her own part of the road at any moment. Even dogs and cattle do so! Sri Lankan people have developed a special sense to move around on the road at high speed without hitting each other, like a swarm of birds.
Try to avoid the busy main roads. There are plenty small and quiet country roads (download Open Streetmap on your Garmin GPS).
It can be frightening if you feel the airflow of a bus at high speed, passing you at just 25 cm’s. It is important to keep calm. Drivers will always use their horn to warn you. Use ears and eyes at all times and do not to make sudden unexpected movements. If you cycle with two or in a group, keep enough distance between each other. As long as you cycle on the left side of the road in a straight predictable direction, nothing will happen. But it is wise to create a defensive cycle style in the beginning and give space to tuk tuk’s, busses and lorry’s.
You will discover that you are adapting to the local traffic quite quickly and that even crossing through the congested traffic in Colombo is a possible challenge. But protect yourself well with a helmet and bright coloured clothes!

Personal care
Because of the pleasant high temperature of around 27 degrees and sun mostly right above your head, you will lose more moisture while cycling as in Europe. Drink several litres of water per day and protect your feet, legs, hands, arms and head with the best sun blockers.
Add ORS (Oral Rehydration Salt) to your drinking water, because you lose a lot of salt while sweating. We always bought bottles of clean water in shops along the road and never had any stomach problems. Tap water is not always reliable and often has a chlorine taste.
Food and drinks can be obtained everywhere along the road. If you see someone cooking, baking, preparing some food, it is safe to eat. Sri Lankan people are very hygienic in preparing food. But be careful with food in glass pots or glass cases when it is not clear how long it has been waiting for customers.

Daily cycling scheme and accommodation
Try to start cycling at sunrise or as early as possible. The morning has lower temperatures and the weather is usually fair in the morning. Rain showers often occur in the afternoon. As we want to do some sightseeing/birdwatching along the road and make some stops, the most comfortable distance we cycle on one day is between 60 and 100 km. In the afternoon we decide where to stop and look for accommodation. Look for signs as ‘Rooms’ or ‘Guesthouse’. The word ‘Hotel’ is usually referring to a place where you can eat and drink, but without accommodation. We have been cycling 1600 km in 5 weeks in Sri Lanka and were always able to find acceptable and clean rooms, often with fan/airco/mosquito net and even Wi-Fi. Prices were between 1000 and 5000 rupees for one room.
In the larger places/towns we used accommodation described in the following travel guides:
-Lonely Planet – Sri Lanka        &       -Bradt Travel Guide – Sri Lanka
Where to cycle?
Any part of Sri Lanka is interesting to discover on your bicycle! The central part has hills and mountains, the coastal area is almost flat. The south is more touristic and busy, the north is very quiet and relaxed. There is a dense network of small roads that are not on the printed map. Download the free Open Streetmap on your GPS!
The printed map we used is from World Mapping Project-Sri Lanka-1:500.000  (not perfect, but OK)
Because not many tourists travel to the northern province, I will describe the places and locations where we have been in November 2015. 
We cycled from Waikkal/Kochchikade along the coast to Chilaw (Accommodation: Government Rest House near the beach).
Then direction to Anuradhapura with a stop at the Wilpattu National Park.
(Acc. L.L.T. Tourist Inn
After visiting the holy city of Anuradhapura
(Acc. Eco Hotel with swimmingpool A/C room and Wi-Fi Nilkethavilla  we asked a taxi driver to bring us (with the bicycles in his minibus) from Anuradhapura to Jaffna. 200 Km for just 13.000 rupees.

In Jaffna we stayed in Sarras Guesthouse (phone 222 3627 / 567 4040), an old colonial house near the Old Park road. Jaffna is really a bicycle friendly town. This Tamil town suffered a lot from the war and was for two decades a no-go war zone. There are still many poor inhabitants, so less cars and more cyclists on the road. It is the Tamil capital of the north and some years ago it was not possible for tourists to visit the north of Sri Lanka. But now it is safe, and well controlled by many army camps along the road.
We cycled to the Kayts peninsula, around the Jaffna Lagoon and to the east coast where we stayed a few days at the Chundikulam Bird Sanctuary (phone +9421 3216254) .
Here you can find accommodation, a bungalow and some basic rooms and a kitchen/bar. It is all organised by the Sri Lankan Army. You can walk or cycle endlessly along beautiful desolate beaches with coconut and palmyra palms. You will only meet a few fisherman or soldiers. In this area the Tamil Tigers were defeated and there are still some military camps, but the soldiers are all very friendly and willing to help you if you are thirsty (King Coconut!) or lost your track.
Because the Lagoon at Chundikulam has a wide open connection with the sea, we could not follow the sandy coastal road and had to cycle back to Elephant Pass and Parantan and then take the A35 to Mullaittivu (A/C Rooms in Selvapuram phone 077-9510436  /  071-0345047).
From here we enjoyed one of the most peaceful and quiet roads along the coast, to the Kokkilai Lagoon. We even saw more birds along this road than at Chundikulam. The road stops at Kokkilai. We did not want to make a detour around the lagoon. A fisherman carried our fully packed bicycles within 30 seconds on to his little boat and in 5 minutes we crossed the rough open sea mouth of the lagoon and could add another experience to our journey.
Heading for the harbour town of Trincomalee, we stopped at the Seaway Hotel in Nilaveli (phone 223 2212) located almost on the beach. From Trincomalee (don’t forget to stop at the busy and interesting fish market) we cycled to Kanthale (Akila Resort) and then further along the A6 to Gal Oya heading for Polonnaruwa to visit the Thousand-year-old buildings, monuments and Buddha sculptures. We did treat ourselves with luxurious accommodation (a bit over the top) at the Deer Park Hotel in Giritale .
From Giritale we took the quiet countryside roads along rivers and paddy fields back to Kurunegala (Old colonial hotel Viveka at the North Lake Road and finally to Puetz  Travels Beach Resort at Waikkal, Kochchikade(


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