Peacock Crossing: 22 March 2024

Tangalle, Sri Lanka

Michael and Kyle woke before the dawn to have an early cup of coffee on the balcony, watch the sun rise over the dark, misty hills of the Sri Lankan mountain resort town of Ella, and plan out the route for the day.

Today was going to be another long day of driving, and after studying the map and a lot of discussion, we decided to try and make the final push to the south coast of Sri Lanka.

The finish line is just two days away, and we calculated that with one long day of driving south, we just might be able to make it to Tangalle a day early to give ourselves one final day of relaxation on the beach.

After a great breakfast, we set out early. It was a little sketchy getting out of Ella, but we soon cleared the stop-and-go traffic and were back on the road.

Our first stop was at a very small cafe and minimart off the side of the mountain road. Michael and Kyle tried the shop's signature spicy sandwich and Kim ordered the house gateaux with cola.

The cafe had just opened, and the staff were super excited to take photos with us. They kept asking us to write reviews on Google Maps, which we were sure to do.

An irritatingly short while later, Kyle (a habitual overhydrator) was in desperate need of a bathroom break.

Annoyed at having to stop yet again, Michael pulled into the parking lot at a very small shop on the side of the road.

Even though the shop did not have an on-site toilet, the owner very kindly asked her two young sons to lead Kyle out back to the family's personal outhouse.

Once again, we were amazing and impressed with the kindness and generosity of the people that we met on the road. It might seem like hyperbole to say that we found the people in Sri Lanka to be the kindest and friendliest we've ever met - but it's not! At least compared to anywhere else in the world any of us have traveled (including Thailand, the "land of smiles"), Sri Lankan hospitality has been far and beyond what we've experienced anywhere else.

We were sure to buy several bottles of Coke and a bagful of snacks from the shop to thank the shopkeepers for their kindness.

A while later still, it was time to fill up the tuk-tuk's tank. Tuk-tuks are incredibly fuel efficient! The little 4-stroke engine just takes regular petrol, and it can go a really long time without having to fill up.

Our tuk-tuk has a six-liter tank and a 1-liter emergency reserve tank, but we've never even come close to running out of fuel. Throughout the whole week, we estimated that we've only spend around $25 USD on gas, despite our long first-gear drives across the steep and mountainous roads.

As we stopped in to fill up on petrol, Michael stepped inside the 7-Twenty-Four convenience store (a blatant knockoff of a well-known international chain) for a can of coffee. He was excited to run into Gary, the patriarch of the Otterley family, the British family team that we had run into on our first day on the road!

Gary was happy to see Team Mama's Boys all together again and decided to name the inflatable monkey on the back of his rickshaw Kim to honor our reunification (he had already named the two inflatable parrots after Michael and Kyle).

We parted ways, vowing to meet again at the finish line in a few days.

This part of the country looked very different from the other parts of Sri Lanka which we had thus traveled through. The foggy mountains and dense jungle fell away to a dry, dusty landscape that looked like it would have been at home somewhere outside of Dallas! We had entered Sri Lanka's "Dry Zone", a large area of the country which receives just half of the average rainfall of the rest of the country.

It had gotten hot again as we moved further south and back towards sea level. The area seemed far quieter and less populated, and we made good time as we zipped along the flat, straight, dusty roads towards the coast.

Michael was driving and Kyle was navigating from the back seat, when suddenly a lone, brown-uniformed traffic cop whistled at us from the side of the road and pulled us over on the side of the road.

The officer approached the tuk-tuk, lifted up our team flag, chuckled, and waved us on. He was clearly bored manning this long stretch of empty road and was just curious about what these three crazy Americans were up to.

We were driving south skirting several national parks and near to the Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport in Hambantota. Known as the "loneliest airport in the world", MRIA stands as a striking example of ambitious infrastructure development that struggled to meet expectations. 

Opened in 2013, MRIA boasts a capacity to handle up to one million international passengers annually. However, despite its modern facilities and strategic location, the airport has faced significant challenges in attracting both airlines and passengers. This underutilization led to its reputation as the world's least travelled international airport, a poignant symbol of the risks associated with large-scale infrastructure projects that do not align with market demand or logistical realities.

Today, despite its massive size, international capabilities, and logistical infrastructure, the airport only handles around 3 flights per day, only one of which is a scheduled passenger flight.

The western part of the country had been so busy that it was actually kind of surprising to see how empty and quiet the southeast was. Even though the roads here were better, it ended up being one of the most difficult stretches of driving.

Along our way, we had to dodge sleeping packs of dogs who were lazing on the warm, sun-baked tarmac of the empty roads, colorful peacocks who flew terrifyingly close to our windshield (they can't fly very high, but they are huge and scary when approaching at speed), and herds of cows sluggishly making their way along the street. There were no hills nor traffic to speak of, but the road hazards had clearly just changed form.

There are several different types of roads in Sri Lanka.

A-roads are the main roads which connect cities across the island. There are also B-roads, the lower-trafficked routes which we have tried to stick to as much as possible.

During our briefing, we were warned that the only roads in Sri Lanka on which tuk-tuks were not allowed were E-roads (the nation's expressways). There are only a few of these expressway roads in the entire country, but it's illegal for motorbikes, tuk-tuks, and other low-powered vehicles to drive on them.

We had been zooming along on a wonderful stretch of beautifully paved road, when we suddenly came upon a toll gate. Michael, who was driving, started panicking, knowing that there weren't supposed to be any toll gates on A or B-roads. Kyle, who was supposed to be navigating, was totally useless.

Michael pulled the tuk-tuk over, and the uniformed cop just said, "you can't drive here." Shaking his head and laughing at us and our foolishness, he directed us to make a U-turn and exit the elevated E-road for the slower A-road below.

Crisis averted!

Our only major encounter with a cop turned out to be nothing. It's hard to imagine that someone driving an illegal vehicle on a major US highway would be let off so easy, but it's just another example of that legendary Sri Lankan friendliness. It was clear that we were just an oblivious group of weirdo Americans in a strange little vehicle, and at least it seemed to give the officer a laugh on his otherwise boring and routine day.

By the way, if you are interested in seeing this play out in video form along with our other mishaps in Sri Lanka, don't forget to subscribe to the Attempt Adventure YouTube channel (! After the podcast comes out next month, we'll be releasing a series of videos documenting our adventures across Sri Lanka.

Finally, as we approached the coast, Michael pulled over to the restaurant that he had picked out for lunch.

The restaurant had treehouse seating that looked out across the nearby lagoon, and we headed up the creaky wooden stairs to sit down for lunch in the treetops. After a long and tense day of driving, it was very encouraging to catch our first glimpse of the sea. That meant that we were nearing our final destination, and that we didn't have far to go!

We ordered a big serving of paneer masala to share. Paneer is a type of Indian cheese with a super high melting point, so it keeps its form even when cooked in a soupy spicy curry.

We ate the paneer masala with copious servings of garlic, butter, and cheese naan (Indian flatbread).

Finally, we finally arrived in Tangalle in the late afternoon. It had been a very long day on the road, filled with its fair share of mishaps and mistakes. However, we have finally made it safe and sound at Sri Lanka's southern coast.

We are very close to the finish line now. Tomorrow we will still have to drive 6km or so, but we are so thrilled that our Abigail has brought us more or less safe and sound through up and down the mountains and central highlands of Sri Lanka and to the country's south coast without a single breakdown. 

We aren't superstitious, but we've made a deliberate effort not to speak of our mechanical good fortune too much... at least not until tomorrow. Little Abby has been doing such a great job that we just don't want to jinx her before our final drive. 

But we've come so far. In the spirit of this adventure, Michael and Kyle have both agreed that, should the worst come to worst, and we are somehow unable to start the engine tomorrow morning, they would push the tuk-tuk to the finish line. We have gotten so close that we refuse to give up now.

Because we ended up arriving early, the hotel doesn't actually have our rooms ready for us. Since there is "no room at the inn" as it were, it means that we are all going to have to bunk together for tonight.

Michael is excited for a "sleepover". Kyle is ambivalent. Kim, who demanded the single bed, is less than thrilled with the arrangement.

Anyway, it's just for one night.

After a nice swim, we had dinner at the hotel's restaurant. We all ordered the catch of the day (the red mullet).

It's been a very long day on the road, but we are very grateful to have made it safe and sound to Tangalle. We've got just a short drive tomorrow to the finish line, and we are sure that we are going to make it.

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