Wait… is that palm tree on fire?

One of the nice things about staying in Ella is that you can easily get to a number of hiking trails and things to see that can be easily accessed. One of them is a hike up Little Adam’s Peak which is how we started our fourth day in Sri Lanka.

Because we had arrived in Ella right as the sun set the night before, I hadn’t appreciated just how beautiful the surrounding hills were. That changed with the views from our hilltop hotel as the sun rose over the valley.

Little Adam’s Peak

From town to the base of the climb is only about 40 minutes on foot. It would have been nice to do the full walk, but as we were on a tight schedule Jerry drove us over to the start of the climb.

The climb is relatively easy and only took about 20 minutes, including time to stop and take pictures along the way. At the top we were greeted with spectacular views in several directions.

On the hike down as we passed through the tea plantations we found some women picking tea leaves, one of whom was kind enough to let us take a few pictures.

Nine Arch Bridge

Not far from the base of Little Adam’s Peak (about 10 minutes on foot) is the Nine Arch Bridge. Jerry had checked the train schedule so we hustled over to catch the train passing at 9:30 am to get the perfect shot.  

Having experienced the Sri Lankan train system the day before, why we thought this train would be on time is beyond me. Sure enough, when the appointed time came, another guide standing nearby got a call that the train was running 45 minutes late. At least the delay gave us time to take a closer look at the bridge.

Built in the early 20th century, the bridge’s notoriety comes from having been built with cement and brick with no iron. More than that though, at least from a tourism perspective, it’s the setting that makes it a draw.

We even found some graffiti in the tunnel that our Ella might appreciate.

After visiting the bridge we made a quick stop at the Rawana waterfall along the highway outside Ella before starting the drive to Udawalawe National Park, our destination for the day and where we would be spending New Year’s Eve.

Elephant Safari

Udawalawe National Park was created as a sanctuary for the animals displaced by the creation of the Udawalawe reservoir. Today tourists can hop in one of the many trucks offering safaris in the park where the big draw is Sri Lankan elephants.

As it turned out, we didn’t have to wait for the safari to see some elephants. We came across some as they were wandering along the path at the edge of the park next to the road.

With a crowd of people taking pictures of the elephant on the other side of the street, I didn’t want this guy to feel left out.

While Jerry joked we could just pay him half-price and skip the actual safari we decided to head out anyway.

In addition to elephants, including a 1 month old baby, we saw various birds, crocodiles and water buffalo.

As with some of the safaris we went on in Africa, when something interesting is spotted, the trucks have a tendency to converge.  

Uhh, that palm tree is on fire

After the safari we went back to our hotel for the night, the Elephant Trail hotel. Because it was New Year’s Eve we had to pay a $25 USD per person supplement for the special dinner, and special it was.

We made our way down to dinner with no illusions that we would be awake at midnight celebrating the new year (we’re old and boring), but we did hope for a nice meal.

Dinner was the usual buffet we’d had at every hotel to this point, which was tasty. The supplement seemed to have gone toward two things: 1) paying for a DJ and 2) fireworks.

The DJ was not just any DJ though, he was possibly the worst DJ in the world.

For the first 30 minutes we were there he played I’m Your Lady by Celine Dion at least 10 times while occasionally throwing in On the floor by Jennifer Lopez (featuring Pitbull) just to keep us guessing. Look I’m Canadian, I know that Celine Dion is a national treasure, but there’s only so much I’m your lady a person can take.

As for the fireworks, this was not a planned fireworks show. Instead, they set them off at irregular intervals. At first this was done from the ground just down from the tables. Fortunately we were eating outside.

Then some genius had the brilliant idea to set them off from the roof adjacent to where all of the guests were eating. In addition to the lack of warning, scaring the crap out of people, the roof plan had two flaws:

  1. flaming embers of exploded fireworks rained down on the tables, particularly ours, causing us to literally run for cover.
  2. The embers that didn’t rain down on people ended up at the top of the palm tree growing in the courtyard, setting it on fire.
That glow in the tree is not a light…

What followed was a surreal sequence of events:

  • Staff started frantically trying to move the soup station (I question the prioritization here)
  • Inexplicably the DJ finally plays a new song and an older couple decides to slow dance with the lyrics “fire away” from David Guetta’s Titanium offering a particularly fitting backdrop
  • Meanwhile one little guy went racing past us only to return with what looked to be gear to climb the tree

Can’t make this stuff up. Fortunately the fire in the tree went out without an intervention from the hapless crew gawking below.

Needless to say, I would not recommend spending New Year’s Eve at the Elephant Trail hotel. We made it to 2019 though, so I guess that’s a happy new year.

2 thoughts on “Wait… is that palm tree on fire?

Add yours

  1. Ella loved the graffiti!! What a memorable way to bring in 2019!! At least it made us laugh! You’ll be talking about that one for years!! 🤣🤣🦄💫


  2. I have read other stories on your blog Dave but this one has made me laugh when the palm tree was on fire and a explanation that you gave is hilarious.
    Like you say you could not make this stuff up unless you lived it or seen it firsthand.


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