OSC has an annual ‘Week Without Walls’ trip that allows us to discover the beauty of our island. We are thrown out of the classroom and into the grips of the outside world. Each trip has a primary function ranging with the following: exposure to nature, culture, music and more. It’s a chance for us to see our country from a different perspective, as explorers.
Cyclo-tourism is a new and fresh method of travelling. It uncovers routes that are inaccessible by cars, yet too lengthy for mere foot. Theres a whole world out there for bikers!
On the very first day, after a long tiresome bus journey, we already had our first journey of the trip.
To arrive at the base camp, it was necessary to cycle down a steep hill. The first time I peered over the edge, beads of sweat formed on my forehead, my knees became weary and my knuckles clenched the brakes so hard that they turned white. I looked around at my fellow peers and they wore matching expressions of fear. Evading my anxiety, I let free and rolled down the hill, my eyes squeezed shut.
Turns out you’re not meant to just free fall… but cycle slowly, controlled, with the breaks on. Several injuries later, I finally arrived at the camp. We played boardgames and cards for a bit, before going on another bike ride. Lugging ourselves up the hill was much more painful than the ride down.
Finally we arrived at the camp, in the dark, and ate dinner prepared by the staff before falling straight to sleep.
The next morning was the longest cycle ride of the trip. 40 kilometres up and down hills, through v shaped valleys, between inter locking spurs, and around meanders. From narrow rocky lanes to wide tarmac roads along traffic, we covered it all. And our clothes were proof. The mud was so aggressive, that its caused permanent damage to my beloved t shirt.
Not to mention, another tumble. After 40km of rough terrain, the last 200m captured my demise. I was sprung forward, just like a projectile motion question in my physics test, and flung onto the ground, flat. This time, it left scars. And not just on my body. I will never forget the humiliation, I will carry it with me forever
I washed off my wound and spent the rest of the evening relaxing and enjoying the company of my friends. Earlier, we were split into groups to complete jobs (cooking, cleaning and entertainment). While the cooks of the night were making local delicacies (pasta and sausages) we played Mafia.
Mafia: a highly intellectual and competitive game that rests on your personal ability to lie and manipulate.
The winners, the two mafias who succeeded in dumbfounding the whole group, gained a communal respect for the rest of the trip.
After dinner we slept well and awoke for the next day when we climbed Pidurangala rock. The cycle ride wasn’t too strenuous, however the uphill hike served as quite a challenge. We dressed modestly, to be ready to enter the Buddhist temple. It’s strategic location at such a high altitude, added a heavy sense of spirituality. Even though I am Muslim, I understood the weight of faith at a place like this. Reaching the top of the rock was another feat. The peace and beauty was overbearing. We were asked to write a poem while we were there, one that reflected our state of minds. It was truly the perfect spot to reflect and write.
After that, we cycled to the main town and had a kottu lunch. The food was beautiful, after such an activity filled morning.
We came back to the base camp and had a podi (small) break before going on a walk around the grounds. The guide described the wildlife and the nature of the elephants. The area was covered in electric fences as a protection mechanism from the elephants. However, the large creatures have grown smarter and lay trees on the fences before stepping over them, to avoid getting shocked. We also examined the caves that were leaking with bats, and the stench of bat pee.
We quickly got back to the kitchen and cooked as it was my group’s turn. We made roast chicken, stir fried vegetables, and buttered potatoes. The chicken however, would not cook through. Desperately trying to avoid giving everyone salmonella, we tried many methods of cooking the chicken. Stress levels were high to say the least. Finally, the food all came together and we served it to our fellow bikers. And it was a success! Their grinning faces were proof of our cooking skills.
The next day, the penultimate day, we hopped on our bikes. It became natural at this point. I always lingered at the back of the group, slow and steady. Although I was very very slow, I was very well balanced. Teaching everyone to ride no hands was my one leverage.
We cycled around the area and then ate lunch at a local villagers house. The food was INCREDIBLE. Completely exhausted from our ride, and overly satisfied from the food, 3 students fell asleep wile sitting in the mud hut. Being one of the only sinhala speakers in the group, I was able to communicate with the auntie who made our food and even asked for some cooking tips.
We came back to the base camp and learnt some bike mechanics. Some skills we learnt were, how to find and replace a punctured tire, and the vocabulary for the parts of the bike.
We ate our final dinner of noodle soup and, as tradition, played Mafia. The screaming and shouting had become routine, and the teachers had accepted that it was impossible to calm us down. We hung around in the common area for longer as it was our final night. We then went to sleep… or stayed up and giggled all night.
The last day was another cycle ride, unsurprisingly. We begged to extend it so that we could have the record longest distance of the cycling trip.
The views that day were absolutely incredible. Maybe it was because it was my last day and so I was trying my very hardest to absorb in as much as I could, but I clearly remember being in complete awe of my surroundings. The large mountains enveloped us and the cotton candy clouds clustered around each peak. It was like a dream.
We arrived at the bus and washed off the mud before sitting in our seats, in which we’d be glued to for the following 6 hours. I tried to sleep, however the noise of singing girls acted as quite an obstacle in my mission.
Finally we arrived at home, and I can’t say I wasn’t glad to lie in my own bed and taste food cooked from my grandma, a connoisseur of Indian cuisine, which was quite a jump from the haphazard teenagers who plonked things into a pan and we accepted as a meal.
However, I did miss the experience. My thighs and calves ached for weeks, and the scars on my knees act as a constant reminder of my grand experience. But aside from the physical evidence, I have countless memories, and friendships.
Feature photo taken by Peter Bluck, the bike guide.