I haven’t yet travelled a lot of Sri Lanka – though on more than one occasion already the view from the bus window has been worth the ticket – but the pattern so far is one of asking around and figuring it out on the hoof. Getting to Bible Rock (Bathalegala in Sinhala) fit that pattern precisely. After a couple of bus rides and much asking around, we made an educated guess as to which of the routes recommended by the locals would lead us up the hill we wanted. Getting by with English is pretty easy in Colombo, but involves a bit more work when you head to the country and, while Sri Lankans are always willing to help with what they have, I must say I prefer being the one struggling in a foreign tongue. And yet with the convenience in Colombo, I’ve allowed myself to be lazy.
The road winds past a smattering of houses, a Buddhist shrine, a wooden stall in front of a house that’s the last shop we’ll see for a while, and some men smoking in the back of a pickup who don’t seem to know what Bathalegala is and try to send us back the other way. Yet we press on. We’re certainly heading up a hill, after all, even if it might not be the hill.
After passing through a rubber plantation the road starts a steeper climb. We round a corner and come across a truck unloading festive supplies into a large house where we are informed this is indeed the way we want to go. And then the road stops and we enter a neighbourhood joined together by paths alone. Living here must keep you pretty hale, since there’s no way to get about but on foot and the way’s pretty steep. Soon appears a thin man in a sarong seeming perturbed and telling us we are five minutes late, though for what we’re at a loss to know. It’s difficult to know how to handle this tactfully – by now a few people have turned up and they are clearly unaccustomed to foreigners showing up on their turf. We learn later that there’s another, more tourist-friendly, path up this hill. We more or less just walk away and, as we’re entering the forest that borders the little hamlet, are joined by a shirtless and barefoot muscle-clad man, who accompanies us on the path a piece before making a phone call and turning back.
From here on it’s a clamber over tree roots and under branches. I spot a few cacao trees, but none mature enough to have any pods. After an hour or so’s scramble, the foliage ends, the ground plateaus and I’m faced with a vista to remind me how small and how fortunate I am.