Immersing yourself with the locals many times means getting out of the flashing city lights and exploring smalls towns that are not known to receive hordes of tourists. In Sri Lanka that meant breaking away from the capital city of Colombo and heading northeast to Hiriwadunna Village.
Hiriwadunna is a tiny village of roughly 2,500 people.
The start of the trek, which was more of a saunter, led us to the home of a family of five who cultivates shallots.
Lots of shallots.
The entire patio was filled with these onion-related vegetables, and if you took a peek inside the family room of the home you’d find the floor there covered too — evidence that the crop yield had been good this season.
It’s not always that way due to the poor soil in the area, Hiriwadunna farmers use the slash and burn cultivation, a process where natural vegetation is cut down and burned in order to prep the land for farming. Roughly every two years, the soil becomes infertile and the farmer has move locations to begin the process all over again.
The fruits of their labor are then bartered with their neighbors, if one grows peppers the other grows beans and they trade amongst the village people. In some cases, Cinnamon Hotels (where I stayed during my Sri Lanka visit) will buy some of their vegetable overflo.
The walk continued along the path where medicinal wild ginger grows, laundry is strung from between trees and butterflies flutter about. There are 240 species of butterflies found in Sri Lanka and it seemed as if they were all here, hovering along the low shrubs.
When we reached a colorful set of catamarans, the trek turned into a boat ride.
The boats are typically used for cruising between villages, a water taxi of sorts. But it’s more than just a practical mode of transportation, it’s also a peaceful ride through the waters covered with green lily pads.
Where are all the frogs?
“Seeing a frog on a lily pad” is actually on my bucket list. Luckily, I was able to tick that one off while staying in a Tuscan villa, because there were none here. It didn’t matter, it was a beautiful ride.
Boating to the other side of the man-made lake, brought us to the home of a 55 year old farmer who invited us to take a peek into his world.
He was cooking lunch when we arrived.
Life seemed simple here in a sense, away from the normal stresses of a bustling metropolitan town. His days were mostly spent tending to the crops, and protecting them by keeping a lookout for hungry elephants who are a threat to his precious produce.
His watchtower was a fort on stilts.
The treehouse watchtower, is not only where the village farmer sleeps when crops are in season, but also the perfect vantage point to spot elephants down below. When one comes within the vicinity, he screams “alea”, which means elephant, as an attempt to scare the them away.
If yelling doesn’t work, then the pop of a Superman firecracker does.
The finale to the trek, was not a hiking expedition at all.
It was a double-ox cart ride.
We rode along bouncing in the back, through the rural village, paddy lands and green forests where men were working in the fields and children roamed about.
The few hours of this adventure was just a tiny glimpse into the everyday lives of the Hiriwadunna village people, who welcomed us into their homes and little piece of the world. It is rare to have tour visit like this, one that takes you to a rural community and doesn’t feel like a tourist trap.
. . . Check it Off Your Bucket List . . .
How to Book: You can book the Hiriwadunna Village Trek through Chanak Advneture and the Elephant Safari tour through Cinnamon Nature Trails.
Where to Stay: I stayed at in a nearby town, at the 4-star Habarana Village (from $88 USD), but for a more luxury experience try the Cinnamon Lodge Habarana (from $96 USD). If you are looking for a truly unique lodging experience. book a night in at Elephant Watch Hut (from $70), where you will be sleeping in a treehouse on stilts.