We are the three musketeers, all with visions of all riding Honda Baja around Sri Lanka, but that wasn’t the case. Mel got what we all dreamed of, Jarred a Honda AX-1 (an odd touring bike) and I, a Suzuki Djebel, a close sister to the DRZ-250 I use to ride at home (in fact it’s made better with the larger metal tank).
We set out from Negombo later than we expected. It was actually 2pm, a time where I normally start deciding where I might settle down for then night. But because Mel and Jarred’s motorcycles required a new tire, battery and to replace the stripped nut on the rear axle and tighten the chain. We really should have realised this was a sign for what is about to happen over the next two weeks.
The roads were surprisingly quiet after the Indonesian island of Java. I could travel along at 80 kilometres per hour, but I had to remember I had two people behind me following my manurers through the traffic. If I was too reckless I would either loose them or cause an accident. Plus I had to slowly warm them up to the unpredictable Asian traffic.
Kurunegala was our first township. Towering above Kurunegala was a white concrete Buddha that stood three stories high, surrounded by white crisp clouds. We quickly find all the hotel and guest houses surround the tiny calm lake off to one side of the town centre.
Pulling up outside a 150 year old concrete building, Jarred darts inside to negotiate a price. Mel struggles slipping her motorcycle into neutral, gives up and pressed the kills switch to turn the engine off. I was just about to remind her to switch the lights off when she cried, ‘oh no, the key is gone!’ Laughing, I look around the bike not finding anything. I pull my keys out from my ignition in a desperate hope, luckily for us it magically switch her bike off.
Mel, took off on foot to hunt for her missing keys, while Jarred and I unpacked our bikes. I then grabbed Mel’s helmet and found Mel up a dirt lane, been spied on by many local men and women. Some calling out to her, the children just shyly waving from behind their mothers sarees. We didn’t find the keys as I bet someone has picked them up. At least we can start her bike and tomorrow we will find a way to open the petrol tank. I gave the weary worried wonderer a ride back to the hotel.
While we had been out and about, Jarred had managed to find the hotel bar, and was found mid beer when we arrived. While talking to the guy behind the counter he had found out that there was a key cutting man in town who can do anything. Which eased our minds and lifted our sprits. To top the evening off we ordered a fish curry, expecting a bowl of fish curry and a plate of rice. When seven tiny dishes filled with different types of curry arrived we found heaven.
Mel and I follow the vague directions until we (with the help of many people and three police men) finally find ‘mister mint’. After all that time wasted spent looking for the place, we find out that they couldn’t help us. With more instructions we find a tiny shop on the edge of the market. A man comes over from his motorcycle shop to help translate for us. We come away, almost married but with one key which fits both the Baja’s ignition and petrol cap.
Leaving Kurunegala quite late after the key mission and a steep climb up the quarts mountain to see the Buddha and its outlook over the city. Constantly heading north, we arrive late into a small village called Dambulla. We wanted to stay just out of the main town at a home stay but we found the road closed with a flooded causeway. Turning back to the township, we found a cheap room to crash for the night.
Leaving early, we rode to a village based around the famous Sigiriya temple. It was the 31st where we had to choose our base for a great night wisely. Riding through the ramshackle spread out village we all came to agreement, that this was a place we didn’t want to be for new years eave. The problem was we didn’t want to spend $25 USD for a hour in the complex. So we decided to leave the town without sight seeing and carried on north to a sea side village called Tricomalee.
With passing of a metal police barrier, the road changed from pot hole riddled to immaculate tar seal. Men clad in green uniform with a gun slung around their neck, stood their ground every five kilometres outside a wooden structure with two linear windows and the walls are banked with dirt. I would pass each one and give a slight nod, they replied back with a massive white smile and a sideways head wobble. Just like it all started, we once again hit a pot holed road 20 kilometres outside the town and we left the solders behind, but still pasting barb wire coils protecting the lonesome bunkers.
Tricomalee, came into view, but before we hit the township, we turned off and headed down the sandy lanes to the guest houses on the beach. Looking down some of the lanes we found them swamped with water. We rode on past a Hotel Aqua that was half submerged. Until we found the perfect friendly spot on the beach.
It was New Years Eave. A night for celebration, after a crappy dinner of my favourite Indonesian dish of fried rice. We had a early even nap with the plan of heading to the five star resort next door for a few drinks to bring on the New Year. On our way to the resort, we were stopped by the beach guards. ‘Sorry, you can not enter, the resort is closed as its the 31st’ Knowing full well what the date was, hence why we wanted to join the only other people who seam to be celebrating it. We carry on walking down the beach, trying to work out how we can slip past the two guards, but it was hopeless, they could see our shadows across the whole beach front.
We walk on until we nearly run into a coil of razor wire. Turning on my mobile phone, we read the sign – WARNING NAVY CAMP. We turn back to our quiet guest house have a beer and at midnight, we watch the back yard fireworks display before crumbling into bed.
Riding into the township we found a narrow shop, which has pastries in a glass cabinet out the front. Piling into the shop, we strip of our motorcycle gear and sit down in front of a silver tray of pastries and sweets. Each pastry contained a different type of curry, we quickly become good at knowing the different shapes, but each store had their own recipe which varied greatly.
Before we could set off from the the Tricomalee township we had to pump up Mel’s rear tire which had slowly gone down over night. The problem was that most tire shops were closed on this public holiday. We eventually found one and got the tire pumped up.
We had to back track 60 kilometres, along the way, we stopped at a small roadside stall, which only sold curd and palm honey. After talking to the beautiful young girl, she told us that it takes two days to turn buffalo milk into the curd. It tasted so delicious, it become another Sri Lankan favourite.
Later that day we arrive in a town called Habarana, being in the lead, I stopped to ask if the others wanted to stop for any thing. With a shake of the head we went to carry on. I took off, Jarred not far behind, but Mel was no where to be seen. I pulled over, just as a fat middle age local pulled up beside me, ‘Your friends are back there, do you want a hotel? Are you hungry do you want something to eat? Do you want a massage?’ No, no and NO!
I turned around and found Mel could start her bike, but when she put it into gear the and released the throttle with the usual combination of accelerator, the motorcycle would then cut out. Reeving it hard, I tried to ride it down the road, but it just kept on cutting out. Thinking hard about what the problem could be. Coming to the conclusion that it might be the carburettor and it could be blocked. I called her motorcycle hire company, he told us to take it to a mechanic and make sure we get a receipt. So that’s exactly what we did. They however, were only open on this public holiday to fix punctures so he, just adjusted the idol screw, and filled Mel’s rear tire with air once again to allow us to ride to the next town where were will get the carburettor cleaned completely.
We rode onto Polonnaruwa the ancient city of Sri Lanka. After we unpacked our motorcycles we took Mel’s bike down to get her puncture fixed, so we didn’t have to deal with that in the morning. The guys at the shop struggled with the rear break calliper which was jambed onto the disk, grabbing a rubber mallet we managed to brutality whack it off the disk. Once the tire was free, I bent down to try and leaver the pads apart, finding that impossible as they were jambed with years of negligence. No wonder Mel’s rear breaks didn’t work.
After showing the guys how to put the rim back on the bike we found out that one side of the axle was set at 30 and the other side was 20. Causing the tire to sit off centre and the chain to heat up in odd patches. Riding back to the guest house, Mel’s lights failed and she left in darkness. Hugging my motorcycles rear tire, she could then see the road ahead. This was just another thing to the growing list of problems for Mel’s bike.
We were forced to have a rest day here in Polonnaruwa, so we could drop the Baja off at the mechanic’s for the day. We returned later that day to find the bike ready to go and in more or less perfect running condition. Returning back to the guest house, I park my bike next to a blue car that have arrived since and went and dropped of my helmet onto the table. Ask we were speaking to one of the other guests, we heard a thump. Looking around there was my bike on the ground slightly touching the blue car. ‘Quick, pick it up!’ I ran over to the bike, realising if I’m fast enough the owner wont realise what has happen. Once I lifted the bike up and re-parked it away from the car, with the foot peg on a stone. I inspected the blue car from a far, lucky for me there was only a scuff mark, one that on one will notice.
I really like these bike just because the design of the front breaks
Rising early, we packed and loaded our bikes. Just as we went to start our motorcycles up, we discover that Jarred’s bike wouldn’t start. The lights were working, but as you pushed the starter button all you heard was a tick tick noise. I ran through the jump starting procedure, then gave him a push.
Following the smaller back roads to Kandy, we arrived into a small town just before lunch, we rode down the the main street on the hunt for a nice bakery. I past two, pulling a u-turn, I headed back to it, parking the bike so that everyone else could fit. Several minutes went past and they both didn’t show up. I headed back to where I last saw them, there was the two of them sitting on the side of the road. Jarred sheepishly said ‘I stalled’ Mel piped up, ‘I tried to push but it wasn’t fast enough’. We got his bike started once again, and parked exactly where I discovered them missing. After our early lunch we geared up, with the whole town watching us as Mel and I pushed Jarred once again.
The road was amazing, one of the first days I’ve really felt myself get excited. It was a narrow single lane of tar seal with a strip of dirt on either side riveted with tire tread. Beyond that was dense bush, curling over and almost licking the road. I was extremely glad to be on a motorcycle as we could just fit on the road along side a car or a towering red bus. There were a few times where, I had to jump of the road and show my knobblies a bit of action due to a madman bus driver out to win some personal intervenor.
Heading up a a mountain pass just north of Kandy, we curved our way higher and higher. Then we hit the road works, tar seal vanished and was replaced with and inch of light brown mud. Climbing higher the turns got narrower and steeper. I not knowing if Mel and Jarred had ridden on mud before with one bike that wont start and another which doesn’t go into first very easily and had to ride most of the mountain in second, even on the corners following a dump truck!
At every fork in the road, we stopped to peer at the more detailed map, Mel kept in her bag. When that didn’t help, I would ask a local for help. Not total sure they were right, I would heading the direction that they pointed us in. Passing tiny villages, not named on our maps we finally come across a town that is and realise we were about three roads over. Still vaguely heading in the right direction, it just might take a bit longer.
Kandy, wasn’t really what we were expecting, on our first exploration of the city, in hunt of dinner we were approached by a local guy dressed in a tidy shirt and pants.
‘Hey, I remember you’ I looked at him confused
‘I’m from the hotel, I’m the cook’ I guess Jarred must have spoken to the cook ‘What are you looking for?’
‘A nice local restaurant’ I replied
‘oh, its too early, they open around 7pm’
‘I guess a bar to have a drink at then.’
‘Ill show you a cheap local one’ and takes off up the street with the three of us in tow. We get shown a dark bar on the first floor over looking the street, but no one, notices the view except us, as they are all deep in conversation. We talk with our friend and find we have now drunken 4 beers and now extremely drunk and hungry. Our new friend says good bye and we wonder off to find a restaurant. Over our extremely bad Sri Lankan meal influenced by the western culture, Jarred asks ‘Do any of you know who that guy was?’
confused I said ‘I thought you knew him from the hotel’,
‘no – I told you two people speak English there the owner and the young boy.’ Personally, I don’t remember a passing comment like that so I said, ‘I guess because I thought you had more time at the hotel you must have spoken to him’ ‘No, No no…’ We all just realised we had been taken for a ride, but at the same time it wasn’t a bad ride as the guy had to work hard for his free beer!
Jarred’s bike problems were just a loose wire connection to the battery, it was fixed in no time. We took the rest of the day out to walk around the city and visit the ‘Scared Tooth’ temple. Watching the ceremony of traditional drummers walking around one of the inner temples, while everyone lines up to see the tooth of Buddha. The whole complex was massive, with so many different off shoot rooms with temples within them. Ornate painting lined the walls and ceilings, people sitting down in prayer. Then there were a few odd tourist who tried to force themselves into locked temple rooms.
As part of our Kandy sightseeing tour, Mel and I dropped into the central market. I love markets as they are normally the hub of a township, where everyone buys their meat, fish and vegetables. Kandy’s market was similar, but it gave me the feel it was only here because of the tourist. It was clean, sophisticated, and overall really quiet. This was the first market, where I felt completely comfortable in pulling out my camera. We were kindly taken to a spice shop and made to smell everything. When they asked where we were from, Mel and I both said Australia, knowing full well we can not buy stuff to take home. Surprisingly they already knew this and let us go without a purchase.
20 kilometres before Nurawa Eliya, I heard a beep, looking in my rear vision mirror, I discovered Jarred and Mel missing. Turning around, I found them not too far back on the side of the road. Jarred peeing into the tea bushes. I pulled up and asked ‘what’s wrong?’ Mel who was standing near Jarred’s bike replied ‘its the chain, its might be broken’ I dismount my bike and have a look. Sure enough the chain had jumped off the rear sprocket, had gone round the front sprocket and jammed between the chain and the main frame. A sharp tug on the loose chain didn’t free it. Loosing off the rear axle nut and pushing it forward also was pointless, so I removed the sprocket cover and clip which gave me some play in the front sprocket. Link by link I worked it them free, until they all came free. We mounted the chain back on the rear sprocket, each tooth was already curled with wear. Winding the adjustment out, as much as possible. Which was only a single wind on the screw. Jarred needed a new chain and sprocket.
With my tools packed away, we get ready to drive off, but Mel. Her bike wont start at all. Mel’s never jump started a motorcycle before, so I walk her through the paces. The bike starts with ease. But its now another problem I have to deal with. With only one kilometre until the town centre of Nurawa Eliya, I lost Jarred and Mel once again. Turning around, I found Jarred next to his bike with coolant all over the concrete driveway. I high tail it back down the road to a motorcycle shop and grab the mechanic. I don’t know anything about water cool motorcycles, except common sense stuff. When we pouring water into the radiator, we discovered it had a broken seal. The mechanic, didn’t have a new one, so he made something work for a few more kilometres.
We ended up staying the night in this town as it was too late to carry on to Ella. But it turned out great, as we had yet another amazing dinner in a local smoky bar in the town. I knew it was going to be difficult to start Mel’s bike in the morning with its broken choke, in a cold climate and on top of that, having to push start it. Pulling out the choke, I twisted it until I felt it lock into place. Mel tried to jump it down the drive, but it wouldn’t take. We turned the bike around and headed further down the hill but on the main road. This time, I was on the bike. Finally I got the bike started and took it for a small warm up ride. It stalled on my return. Once again, we pushed it. Got it started and I looped back and turned the choke off.
Riding through mountain villages along muddy roads passing more tea plantations and vegetable patches. We got to Ella, without any motorcycle incidents not counting Mel’s bike issues. Ella is a beautiful mountain village, arriving at lunch time we thought we might be able to get Mel’s bike fixed but there wasn’t a mechanic in the village, so we left it for another day.
With only a few days until we had to return our motorcycle’s we made a bee line down the mountain to the one of the popular beaches. We thought it would take a couple of days to get there after only been able to travel 100 kilometres per day. The roads were smooth the traffic was non-existent and we for once didn’t have motorcycle troubles.
Over the next few days we relaxed on the beach side village. We all knew that in a few days the three musketeers would be separating. Mel and Jarred would be going back to Australia and I onwards to India to meet my motorcycle in Chennai. The day came we had to leave, after packing our motorcycles we pushed Mel down the flat concrete road to get her bike started for the last time. Half way down the stretch and almost completely worn out we still hadn’t got it started. Mel and I swap. They push and push and push, I turned a corner and I try repeatedly to get the motorcycle started. Absolutely exhausted, Mel and Jarred stand there getting their breath under control. I for some unknown reason, push the starter button. The bike rumbles to life , Mel looks at me ‘how did you do that?’ she asks, ‘I just pushed the starter button’ I reply amazed.
After a week riding in rain, all our clothes were wet. One night we even tried sleeping on top of them to get them dry. By the time we reached the beach, we felt the warm air we knew we could dry them.
Every morning we would make awesome coffee using these coffee socks. We all had our own personal colour. Jarreds was pink!
We complete the circuit and arrive into Negombo, after a quick stop into the Indian Embassy to drop off my passport. Mel and Jarred wash their bikes and just as they were about to ride them back to the hire shop, Jarred’s bike didn’t start. No matter what amount of push starting, the bike wouldn’t go. He had to push it all the way back to the shop.
We were lucky to have our flights around the same time. We hug good bye at the airport, just as we had three months ago when I left Brisbane. This time it was my turn to cry. I was really happy to catch up with Chris and Dilu. Thank you so much for bringing me my new rear tire which was kindly sponsored by Steve from ‘Adventruemoto‘. Dilu, your family is amazing, we would like to thank them for inviting us into their house and showing us the true Sri Lankan hospitality. Despite the consistent motorcycle problems, I really enjoyed travelling with two of my great friends Mel and Jarred, who also brought spare parts over with them.
I had heard so many stories about India, I was worried what the next part of my adventure was going to turn out like. I guess its now time to find out.