WWW – Week Without Walls 2019

WWW – Highlands

Before the Highlands trip, we had a couple of sessions (Wednesday Advisory sessions) dedicated to the WWW trip where we got to know new people in our team. We also decided our personal goals for the trip in one of the sessions. My main personal aim for the trip was to relax and enjoy my first and last Highlands trip for WWW and also to get familiar with the manual mode in my D5300 Nikon Camera. We were going the explore the hikes through an ecological view and also incorporate photo documentation from the arts. There are two guiding questions for our trip were:

  1. How can we better understand the fascinating ecology of Sri Lank’s highland ecosystems through an interactive trip that emphasizes learning the medium of photo-documentation and journaling?
  2. To what extent have humans modified the landscapes and ecology of the Central Highlands?

Day 1

7:00 am was our departure time however we left at 7:30 am, those 30 minutes seemed awfully long since I couldn’t wait for the trip to start. We loaded our heavy luggage on the back of the vans and started our long road trip. Rashmi and I sat together, we were very enthusiastic about the trip because we waited for the trip since last year. The views transitions from towering buildings to typical cute towns to farms and hills. The views kept me entertained but my attention can be captured for only so long, the whole ride took about 4 hours. Somewhere in the middle of the long ride, (10:00 am) we stopped at an silver cafe for a break. Here, we got a glimpse of the high hills which were waiting for us ahead.  Around 11:30 am we arrived at the Ecoteam’s Belihuloya Restaurant to have our lunch. Before having lunch we hiked down to a river stream to take some pictures. I got familiar with the manual mode and started adjusting the frame rate, ISO and shutter speed accordingly.

I attempted at getting good pictures of the majestic flying dragonflies but miserable failed.

Around 12:30 pm we went back up to the restaurant for lunch and the view at the restaurant was also beautiful, it was getting quite cloudy which worried my because I had not brought a raincoat with me. Thankfully it didn’t rain.

After eating lunch we started our hike to our campsite at 1:00 pm. On the way, I saw a lot of farming lands which meant that the soil was good for agriculture.

The hike was too difficult, it was fairly easy. We were all walking in a slow pace and enjoying the scenery, capturing moments in our cameras as we went together. Auto-mode is truly my weakness and throughout the trip I kept coming back to it rather than using manual mode.

During our final kilometers to the camp, some of us were ahead in the group and had to wait a couple of minutes, I took this opportunity to personalize the wooden stick I had gotten. This stick will never be forgotten as it helped me through all my hikes.

We arrived at our campsite at around 6:00 pm, it was getting dark so we all quickly showered and got ready for dinner. We reflected and went to sleep in our fancy tents. My sleeping bag was pretty old, and with just a little movement, the zip broke, but I somehow managed to not freeze to death.

Day 2

I heard heavy breathing, I heard barking, I heard muffled noises, I knew something was up,  I got up at 3:30 am. I poked out my head through the tent’s zip and saw a dog sitting on my towel. Rashmi was up from all the noise as well, we didn’t know how clean these dogs were so we went to wash our towel that second so it had whatever little time left to dry. We somehow came back and slept for an hour and had breakfast at 7:00 am. We packed our bags and threw it in the van and got ready for our ride to Lanka Ella Falls. We had to hike to the place but I personally enjoyed the hike more than the Ella Falls.

When we reached our destination (before the hike), we saw monkeys on the trees.










The first half of the hike was congested with tall thin pine trees. There were ashes on the ground mostly likely from a recent forest fire. It was quiet slippery so it was important to be cautious. We also had to work together, inform other in the back if there was a slippery rock or a huge log in our path ahead.

Bambarakanda Falls

The picture above is of Sri Lanka’s highest waterfall at 263 meters. We reached this in a couple of minutes into the hike. We saw other waterfalls on other hills around us.

The second part of the hike was more open and the grass was about my height or taller.

I have a small fear of heights so hiking in these area was quite challenging. We were at he edge of the hill. But as we got higher the views got better, it almost made it worth it. Here and there I would pop out my phone or camera to take pictures which gave me good practice with the camera. I was using Andrew’s lens which was different and new for me however it was a lot of fun. When we reached the Lanka Ella Falls, I was one of the few people to not jump in, I am not a good swimmer so my parents were not comfortable with me going in the water but I didn’t mind because the water seemed very cold.

We reached Haputale around 2:00 pm for lunch (in Oplympus Hotel). It was very cold and we were all hungry so a warm filling lunch made us all happy and energetic. After finishing our lunch, we got split into 3 groups to buy food and vegetables from the local shops around the area. This was a new or exciting experience for me because it is something I do frequently but it was entertaining to see some people struggle.

After buying our resources to survive we headed to Horton Plains which was by far the most fun ride because we spotted a leopard on the way. Unfortunately we didn’t have enough time to snap a picture. We started to see fog on the road and we could see it getting cooler, when we stepped out near the entrance, we could feel the cooler air trying to confiscate our body heat.

We searched for the rhino horn lizard and Luca spotted one which all of us took pictures of.

I ended up using this picture as one of my five best pictures from the trip. I love the detail in this picture and the value of the background emphasizing the focus on the lizard.

We had more time to look around and take more pictures, here are some that I took:

The picture above represents how I deal with problems that occur in my life.  We went back on the road to reach our place where we would be staying for the next 2 nights and days.

Before the stop we went to Mahaeliya where we were going to start our hike the following day. 

We took some pictures here because there were a lot of It was very cold and I knew it was going to be colder during the night, I didn’t know how I was going to survive thinking about my broken sleeping bag. The animals in this area disturbed my thinking process, I didn’t mind because the Sri Lankan Sambar deers were extremetly cute.

We settled down when we reached the Mahaeliya Bungalow, the area was not exactly hygienic but it was survivable. The bathroom had fungus all over and the beds had a stink to it, but it was only a matter of 2 nights. I know that I have stayed in worse conditions so I wasn’t a cry baby about it. The only major problem I had during night was my broken sleeping bag. Without the side zip to close and preserve my body heat for the night, I could feel the temperature dropping as I went deeper into the restless freezing night. It was most likely the coldest temperature I have experienced in my life.

Day 3

Unlike the previous morning, we got up in the morning at 5:30 am by our will and not because of dogs barking. We went out to look at the stars but it was quite cloudy. It was really cold outside so I didn’t wait up for the sky to clear up.

The moon was out and I used my camera to take some pictures:

After having a delicious mouth- watering breakfast; plain roti, we got ready for our hike to Kirigalpotta. I had heard that this was the longest therefore the most difficult hike. The first half of the hike was alright because we were going through flat plains and the pace was slow ad steady. We saw a couple of birds which were breath-taking for the birdwatchers in our group. The hike was going good and I didn’t understand why people who had been on this trip said that today would be ‘hard’. Then it hit me, we didn’t start hiking the hill. When we did, Rashmi kept me in front of her because she knew i would have easily given up at he back or slowed down. This really pushed me to keep up with her and everyone else which was really helpful overall. I was so focused on not falling that I didn’t entirely enjoy the nature around me but whenever we had to wait for Anuda and Virath, I would take that time to appreciate the vegetation and ecosystem around me.  Even though I got extremely exhausted at times, specially when it got really steep I still believe that it was all worthwhile. The views at the end were amazing and I would do it all over again. Reaching the top, feeling the cold fresh wind breezing across our bodies was satisfying, knowing that you had finally reached the top after all that work was rewarding. Not rewarding enough to do it again soon, but in the late future. The wind was so strong that if someone was close enough to the edge, they would be pushed over to their painful death. Which I agree is a very dark thought, but these fears are what keeps me safe. Thankfully everyone was smart enough to not take pictures on the direct edge or play around in that area. The pictures below taken at the peak of the hill cannot capture the other senses such at the feel of the wind hitting your skin, the sound of the air currents brushing against you, the fresh smell of the clean unpolluted air, and the taste of snacks after a good tiring hike.

After spending a good 15-30 minutes at the top, we headed down I lead the way most of the way down. Going down was obviously more easier since I had to use less energy and I started thinking about how I can plan a similar trip with my family. We came down the hill quite fast and since I forgot we also had to go through the plains I was very disappointed when I realized this. Because of this, going through the plains seemed to take forever and it almost felt like a never-ending journey until I could see the building. It was very hot during this time so we all rested in the shade waiting for others. It was around 4:00 pm when we got back to the bungalow. It got colder every minute however we still went out to look for the rhino-horn lizard again with a little bit of hope of seeing a leopard again. We didn’t find either even though we looked for quite some time. I still took pictures of plants and trees.

It was getting really cold and dark as well so we headed back, the water was heated so I took a hot soothing shower but as soon as I got my towel, it was cold again. There was no escape from the cold. However, it was very refreshing and I jumped into my warm pajamas and hoody. We did our reflections before dinner and went out star gazing. It was breath-taking, sadly I was too cold and lazy to go get my camera to try to capture the night sky. We had to go to bed earlier because we had to be ready by 5:15 in the morning the next day was early hike. That night I was so exhausted that my body let me sleep even though my sleeping bag was cold and uncomfortable.

Day 4

We all woke up early in the morning since we wanted to see the sunrise on the top of Totupola hill. We left at 5:30 am and got ready to climb it. Personally I was exhausted from the precious day so I wasn’t too excited for the hike. I was going fairly fast because all the other athletic fit people were going ahead. I got tired and took a couple of stops to catch my breath and appreciated the views here and there. I enjoyed the scenery at some of the stops instead of the sight at he top of the hill. I reached the top quicker than I expected, in about 20-30 minutes and we came back even quicker.

This is the top:

These pictures were taken in one of the stops where I stopped to catch my breath while going up:

Rashmi had brought cereal which we all kept munching on the ride back to the dormitory. Soon we went to the very famous telephone booth in the middle of nowhere. It was a 5-minute walk from the dormitory. The telephone booth was very weak since it’s also made of plastic but somehow it still survived the high winds throughout the years. This was our last stop on the last day in Horton Plains.  After breakfast we packed our bags and headed for Nuwara Eliya. I was so relieved at this point because we finally were going to Jet Wing, a really good hotel where we could sleep and shower without discomfort. We ate lunch there and settled into our rooms. Around 4:00 pm, we went to Victoria Park to take pictures of the scenery, trees, flowers and specially birds. Everyone was looking for the pied thrush and this bird is not epidemic, it very rare and this park is known to be one of the best places to find it. On the way, I took some random pictures (which is a constant practice to improve my photography skills):

After long walks ad exhausted eyes, we finally spotted it near a stream. We saw the Pied Thrush, Luca was a 100 times more interested and excited so I gave him my camera to get a good picture of it. When I went after him, it flew away but it wasn’t a huge deal for me since I don’t know much about birds anyways. Here is the picture he took, not the best but it was very difficult to spot.

Picture taken by Luca

Even though there were many birds in this park, I didn’t understand why they were there because the park overall was very polluted. I was very disappointed with us humans and how we had made this park so polluted. The streams were filled with garbage which is very destructive and harmful for the environment.

When we reached back, we went frog watching which was supposed to be 7:00 – 8:30 pm but we definitely passed that range. Ms. Duncan and the 10th graders went back on time to have lunch but all the DP 1 students kept going. Marco and I swapped lens for the night and I liked my lens better so I didn’t take many picture that night. The hotel had identified 8 species of frogs seen in the area and we ended up seeing all 8 of them i the hike. In the beginning i gave up trying to take pictures because everyone gathered around and my height doesn’t really give me an advantage. That is why I was happy when half of the crowd left early.

We came back around 10:00 pm and had our dinner very late. We went back to our rooms because we were very tired for the exhausting yet lively week. We slept early and the beds were comfortable for a change.

Day 5

We got up around 6:30 am, pretty late compared to the other days. We had a sweet breakfast which was a good energy booster for the day. We had a very relaxed comfortable day planned ahead. Our first stop on our last day of WWW was Pidrutalaga – the highest peak in Sri Lanka. We went there on the van and the sights was beautiful. We all took pictures and walked around. The military base up there was very protective and therefore we couldn’t take pictures of certain things. Here are some that I was allowed to take pictures of:

We  left around 11:30 am to the train station to find the Daffodil Orchid. Mr. Lockwood had heard that the Daffodil Orchid (Ipsea Speciosa) has been spotted in the Watawala railway station before the Science Field trip and we went there and luckily found it.

Mr. Lockwood and I had already seen this flower and we wanted others to see it as well, we went on the spot where we had previously seen the flower and unfortunately we couldn’t find it. Last time we saw 3 daffodil orchids in the same area (From the science field trip):

Sadly, we weren’t able to find the daffodil orchid this time. It’s most likely because it was drier this time of this year and we could tell this from the dried grass and the lack of moisture on the ground. The daffodil orchid we saw about 2 months ago must have died because we were on the same spot where we had seen the orchid. Even though we couldn’t find the daffodil Orchid, I did take other pictures.

We went back to our vans and got ready to go home. We were all very tired and sleepy and I was happy that we didn’t have any physically exhausting activity planned for the day. The drive was long but we reached Kitulgala rest house finally, it was pretty late and we stayed there for 1-2 hours because we were waiting for our food for a long time. We got back on the van but it was already so late that there was no chance we would be in school on time. As expected, we reached very late, around 7:00 pm. I was very happy to be back home but sad that our final week without walls trip had ended.



Learning Outcomes:

  • I was able to identify my own strengths and weaknesses physically, I was good enough to complete all the hikes without dying, it wasn’t as hard as I thought but there were times where I would stop. When the hikes would get steeper, I would get slower and fatigued. I do need to do more activity than just Archery because archery is not really the best activity to get and stay fit. I have started personal fitness to make up for that. These are areas in which I can improve on and develop more skills.
  • This trip was focused on activity and creativity, for the creativity aspect we did photography and we worked on this throughout the trip. This was a great learning experience to improve my photography skills. Everyday we would be taking pictures of something.
  • One of the challenges I faced while taking pictures is the manual mode, on the first day, we all got to try manual mode which made me step outside of my comfort zone because usually I prefer sticking to Auto mode. This also allowed me to explore other modes and get familiar with them as well and hence develop new skills in this.
  • We also recognized and discussed the ethics of choices and actions to the eco-systems we explored. Specially in the Victoria Park we saw a lot of garbage in the stream and people burning dried leaves. During our hikes we would also see some non-biodegradable garbage which we would pick up to throw later. It was very disappointing to see all the pollution created by us humans which end up destroying these eco-systems over time. One positive thing I saw was in Horton Plains, the entrance to the hike was blocked by some people and they checked the bags to eliminate any plastic garbage that we may be carrying with us to decrease the plastic waste to some extent.
  • The only signs of commitment and perseverance was shown through our reflections and our behavior during the week without walls trip. Some people were struggling without their phones, some had problems with the asylum (bungalow) and the food. It was only a matter of 5 days so I didn’t really need to ‘commit’ to the trip, I was enjoying myself but I can definitely name people who could have shown more commitment.
  •  We also worked collaboratively and it is always more efficient to work together in such cases. We passed on messages while hiking if an obstacle was ahead, we worked together to buy supplies before we went to the bungalow and lastly we worked together to be on kitchen duty. When we had to go buy food before our stay at the asylum, we collaboratively discussed which food would be the best for everyone.  Sometimes it can be difficult to work together because there were some disagreements however once they are resolved, working together overall is more efficient.

Looking back at our guiding questions:

  • How can we better understand the fascinating ecology of Sri Lank’s highland ecosystems through an interactive trip that emphasizes learning the medium of photo-documentation and journaling?
  • To what extent have humans modified the landscapes and ecology of the Central Highlands?

We can identify the modifications of the different landscapes of the Central Highlands as I highlights on the second last day. The most polluted place I saw in the trip was on the forth day in the Victoria Park where we went to search for rare birds. This also

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