The rain started pouring as we left the city of Kandy. My friend and driver Saman expertly navigated the tuk-tuk over the bumps and crevices of the mountain roads, which were transected by streams of water.
After a 45 minute delay at a flooded road, we finally reached the tea plantations. The landscape was shimmering with shades of emerald and lime green as we meandered up a small road between the hills. Waterfalls, strengthened by the rains, cascaded majestically to the depths below.
The 25 kilometer drive from Kandy took two hours – but it was worth it. There is something magical about Madulkelle.
When we reached the hotel entrance, the sun was setting, but there was still enough light to take in the views of the rolling green hills. The tea plants grew on the hotel grounds, creeping up over the edges of the walkways. The leaves brushed my feet as I followed one of the hotel staff to see which tent was mine.
The hotel worker opened the doors of the tent and placed the suitcase on the bench inside. He then came back to show me how to use the room ‘key’, which was actually a giant padlock.
Suddenly, mid-sentence, he exclaimed, “Oh, madam, leeches!” I looked down at my feet, assuming I must have heard him incorrectly as we were on dry land, but no, he was correct… leeches! One attached to each of my feet. Apparently they have adapted to live on the land here.
This was my first leech experience, so I awkwardly tried to pull them off of my feet as the helpful hotel worker ducked away and reappeared with bandages. The leeches, after responding to my pulling efforts with a disturbing amount of stretchiness (picture an Elastigirl level of stretch here), eventually did let go of my feet.
The leech situation definitely would not dampen my spirits as I moved on to explore my stunning room for the night. It was half tent, half cabin. It had the walls of a tent, but also a solid foundation with a front porch, as well as a full bathroom with a shower and hot water.
Opening the door and stepping into the room took me into my own little fairy tale setting. The red lanterns, while electric, had a rustic quality reminiscent of the glow of a torch light. The delicate, lace-trimmed mosquito net hovered softly over the bed. As the sky darkened and the air turned colder, my little glowing oasis was warm and beckoning.
The best part of the room was the tea station. My tea kettle had been filled to the brim, and I had a selection of authentic local Ceylon teas.
After enjoying my first cup of hot tea, I went back out into the rain to make my way up to dinner, this time wearing close-toed shoes to ward off the leeches. Dinner was in the hotel’s only restaurant, which is a lodge-like building with a high ceiling. The restaurant obviously catered to Western tastes, but if you ever stay there I would highly recommend the Sri Lankan cuisine – delicious, fresh vegetarian food. The hot food was perfect for warming up on the rainy evening.
The restaurant is normally open to the views of the green hillsides, but on this night there were plastic coverings to keep the rain out. By then it was too dark to see anything past the hotel grounds anyways. It felt like the hilltops just dropped away into a misty abyss – like we were on some mythical edge of the Earth.
When I returned to my tent, the wind whipped hard against the walls, creating waves of percussion. After living in the desert for the past year, I was enjoying the storm, and soon it started lulling me toward sleep. I fell asleep while sitting in bed and writing in my journal, practically in mid-sentence and with most of the room lights still on.
A few minutes after midnight, I was jarred awake by the sound of the tent door ripping open. I opened my eyes to face what I assumed would be some terrifying intruder, but didn’t see anything. And I literally mean that I didn’t see anything – it all looked the same whether my eyes were opened or closed.
Apparently the power had gone out. In a panic I grabbed my cell phone and started the flashlight app. I quickly realized no one was trying to open the tent. The same winds that had knocked the power out were pushing and pulling at the tent walls, creating a huge racket. The noise I had heard was the Velcro layer (a supplement to help seal the zippers of the doors) being pulled open by the wind.
All was fine. However, I didn’t feel fine. Maybe it was the way I was startled awake, and the fact that adrenaline was still pumping through my veins. Maybe it was too many horror movies watched in the past, combined with a pretty active imagination. Whatever it was, I suddenly found myself completely creeped out by the lingering idea of the imaginary intruder pulling at the tent’s doors, unseen in the darkness.
I went to grab an emergency light that I had found in the closet earlier – it worked for about two minutes, then shut off. I left my cell phone flashlight on a little longer, but at a rate of 2% battery life per minute, clearly that was only a short term solution.
I unzipped one of the windows to see if there was ambient light outside. No such luck –the power was off at the restaurant, as well as the other cabins. The storm clouds obscured the moon and stars. There were a couple of lights way off in the distant valleys below, but even by those I still couldn’t see my hand a couple of inches past my face, so I decided just to leave the window covers closed.
Out of options, I lay back down, shut off the cell phone light, and sat in the dark, where it all looked the same whether my eyes were opened or closed.
There is a certain vulnerability that comes from not being able to see at all, and not being able to hear anything but high winds battering the walls of a tent, all in a place you’re not familiar with. At this point, acceptance of the situation becomes important. There was nothing else for me to do, nothing for me to work on, nothing to distract me from the present moment.
It’s amazing how complete acceptance of a situation can decrease the stress of it. It’s something that I forget sometimes. While I’m not really a negative person, I still complain more often than I’d like to admit, about various stressors and frustrations that come with life. In my head I know that refusing to move on from a stressful situation usually just makes it worse, but nevertheless it’s so easy to get caught up in the cycle of brooding on the thoughts that cause stress.
However, in this particular situation, I had no choice but to accept the circumstances. There was literally nothing I could change, and this acceptance gave way to a quiet, peaceful state of mind. Meditating on this, I fell into one of the deepest sleeps I’ve had in a long time.
The darkness left my eyes sensitive to even the slightest hint of light. At 5:30 in the morning, the first rays of the sunrise seeping through the tent’s seams gently woke me up. I stepped outside to enjoy a scene of pure peace and tranquility.
The rains had stopped, and the winds had tapered to a sharp but pleasant breeze. The tents all faced east, perfect to view the sun’s first rays as they reflected against the clouds that were low on the horizon. One ray at a time broke through, first yellow, then fiery orange. The rest of the sky remained an overcast misty blue, and seemed to be reflected in the low-lying gray mists of the valleys below.
After a little while, I heard the chimes of a temple way off in the distance, calling people to prayer. About that time, the power came back on, which meant that I was again able to use the water kettle and heat up some tea as I enjoyed the rest of the sunrise.
As the sun rose fully and I made my way to the restaurant to enjoy a fantastic breakfast with a breathtaking view, I started to come back to my modern world. However, I’ll never forget feeling like I was in another world on the night of the storm. It’s so easy to get caught up in the daily grind of modern life that sometimes we forget to sit and be quiet, and to fully accept wherever we are at the present moment. Until I have the opportunity to visit again, I’ll try to hold something of the magic of that place with me.