A blue balloon conquers the rain

Day 7 started off promisingly with some lovely cycling along back roads which are always so delightful with the local people being so friendly. We circled behind Sirigiya elephant rock and got to see it from the other side. Then the two usual events occurred – the faster lady got separated from the group and this was discovered at the same time as the heavens opened. Luckily this time we were poised to have a break and some tasty deep-fried snacks in a local bakery so we could at least take shelter and doubly luckily, the main group had gone the right way so only Speedy had gone wrong. Yes, the fast lady’s name was Speedy! How apt is that?

After replenishing our calorie stores and the whole group reunited, we were off on the road again, in the pouring rain. The difference between this and the previous wet days were that I was prepared. Out came by bright blue Costa Rican rain poncho, better than any rain jacket as it fits over my rucksack, tucks under my bottom and is of adjustable length as you just tie big knots in the plastic at the sides. So, long enough to cover some of my legs but not so long that it caught in the wheels.

And off I went, and I mean off! Yes, I was fast (by my standards at least). I led the group for the rest of the day and was first to arrive, albeit with not much of a lead, to our next destination of Polonnaruwa. I know that the others indulged me in this and could easily have all overtaken me one by one and left me for dust. But they didn’t and it was as if they had made a silent pact with each other that I should be allowed to do this and so do it I did. I cannot tell you how amazing it felt to not always be at the back and to be able to revel in just how much progress I had made in my cycling.

The ruins at Polonnaruwa were fabulous – palaces, temples, rock carvings, stupas and so on.

Bathing pool
A very elaborate ancient royal swimming pool at the ruins of Polonnaruwa

As usual, they were crowded with schoolchildren in their uniforms – usually plain white to signify a government school and brightened up by their colourful umbrellas. It has been just wonderful to see them out and about learning about their own beautiful country, its history and culture. They are always so happy and desperate to interact with us, their questioning always the same – where we are from and where we are going?

Schoolchildren
Wherever we went, it was fabulous to see so many Sri Lankan children’s out on school trips
Poncho
How do the Sri Lankan ladies manage to look so elegant while I just look frankly a bit crazy?

During our tours, the sun came out and the rest of the day it was almost as if the rain had been a figment of our imaginations – except that our squelching shoes stood testament to us not having gone crazy.

Lunch was at another traditional restaurant with food on a lily pad leaf. This time we all sat along the side of the room, our bench seating facing out through a windowless window to the beautifully scenic vista beyond. Better still, this traditional restaurant served beer…

Lily pad lunch
Possibly the best lunch

Back at the hotel, I watched monkeys playing and fighting just beyond the balcony of my room, often running up on to the roof. I was amazed to notice that the view from the balcony was over plains with Sirigiya plainly visible in the distance. How come I had not seen this before? Easy – the constant rain!

Sirigiya view
Sirigiya had been visible from my hotel balcony all the time!!!

Inside my room, the best towel animal ever stood on the bed – an elephant complete with tiny pieces of leaf for the eyes and ridging on the trunk. Yesterday it was a swan and I’ve had all sorts of other animals in other countries but the elephant was just fantastic. I even photographed it from all angles in case I ever felt like giving it a go at home.

Elephant towel sculpture
I’ve had some towel animals in my time at various hotels across the world but none as fabulous as this elephant

We eschewed the by now obligatory buffet dinner for a local establishment. It was not exactly salubrious and we were the only guests. It was however fun. We took part in some terrible karaoke singing, except for our resident celebrity holidaymaker who did a mean rendition of an Elvis number. More importantly, we managed to persuade the restaurant manager, a man reminiscent of James Earl Jones, to help us make a video to my mate Anne. She said she would pay the rest of her sponsorship money if I persuaded all my fellow cyclists to wear face masks from Jean’s pamper packs. I had seven masks, one for each of us but two of the guests had been suffering with skin eruptions and so I made masks for them from some tissues, meaning that I had one each left over for our driver-guide and cycling guide.

Face masks
My cycling companions are the best. They even played along with my face masks capers, as requested (or was it demanded?) by my mate Anne

I think they thought we were bonkers but the video is hilarious. Once Anne has sanctioned it, I think it should be aired publicly…

Climbing in to bed, I noted that my bed had been turned down and someone with a sense of humour had pimped my towel elephant who was now sporting my own sunglasses and a frangipani flower in his trunk.

Elephant 2
My elephant towel got pimped while I was at dinner!

Sometimes it is the small things that make your day but this day was a continual flow of small things. I fell asleep still giggling.

Alas, tomorrow would be our last day. Weirdly, I was dreading the end of the cycling. Yes, I did say that…

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