Nine Horse Rock (Guilin, China)

One of the other famous sites along the Li River Cruise is Nine horse rock. If you look closely and are supposedly intuitive and bright enough, you can see 9 different horses hidden in the rock. In the 1960s, Premier Zhou Enlai reportedly took a cruise down the Li River and accurately identified all 9 horses, which served as a testament to his competency as a leader.

Animal-shaped rocks (Kending, Taiwan)

A large part of the sightseeing that we did in Taiwan centered around looking at rocks that look like things. Some require quite the stretch of the imagination, but this is actually surprisingly clear: a curled up cat in the center, looking at a dog frolicking away in the sea.

The rock of Guatapé (Guatapé, Colombia)

The rock of Guatapé is about 200m tall and the 11th biggest rock in the world. On one side of the rock is a zig zagging staircase of 650 steps that takes you to the viewpoint at the top.

The rock is privately owned and located between the towns of Peñol and Guatapé. At one point, the owners decided to paint the word “GUATAPÉ” on the rock. The citizens of Peñol were not big fans of the idea, and petitioned to get the rock marked as a heritage site to stop it from happening. Fortunately, they succeeded. Unfortunately, not until after a “G” and part of the “U” had already been painted. And since you can’t make any changes to a site once it’s been declared to be heritage, the rock will forever confusingly read, “GI.”

Image source here

Tour to Guatapé (Colombia)

Tour of Guatape

Many fellow travelers recommended booking a day tour to Guatapé through the hostel, so I signed up for the tour over the weekend since I had classes on weekdays. The problem was that the tour started at 7:30am on Sunday morning, and I went out on Saturday night until 4am.

The first few hours of the tour were rough. I planned to sleep on the bus, but as we made our way up the windy mountain road out of Medellín, it took all my energy to not be carsick. After breakfast I felt marginally better, but it wasn’t until after we had climbed the rock of Guatapé and had lunch that I felt up to the task of actually speaking to anybody. Thankfully, because that’s when I met some wonderful friends that I saw again later in Bogota!

The tour included: an arepa/egg breakfast, stops in the town of Peñol, a boat ride on the reservoir (where you can see the remains of Pablo Escobar’s #2 finca), the rock of Guatapé, a bandeja paisa lunch, and an hour in the town of Guatapé. Total: 100,000COP, or around $35. Recommended, but not while hungover!

The hike to Ella Rock

The view from Ella Rock, Sri Lanka

Ella is a small town in Central Sri Lanka that is surrounded by mountains and forests. The town center itself is just a single strip of mainly touristy restaurants and guesthouses, but all around Ella are great treks and scenic views. One of the popular treks is the hike to Ella Rock, which is on a nearby mountaintop that affords panoramic views of Ella and the surrounding valley.

Even though the hike to Ella Rock is well-worn, there isn’t an easy way to get to it from the center of town. The path is not well-marked, and it includes a portion along the railway track and through a local village. To be safe, some tourists hire local guides for around 1500 LKR ($10) to take them to Ella Rock and back. But with this handy online guide, Lisa (my travel buddy!) and I decided to see if we could find it ourselves.

Following the guide, the hike begins at the Ella Railway station, where you walk South along the tracks for a couple of kilometers. Both of us were a little nervous at the prospect of walking on the tracks, especially with the huge signs that say “WARNING: Walking along the tracks is forbidden.” But seeing that locals and tourists alike use the tracks as a pathway, we soon got comfortable with it.

Warning signs next to the train tracks, Ella, Sri Lanka

Clearly no one heeds the sign, but I guess its presence means that people can officially say “told you so!” if something happens.

Walking down the train tacks on the way to Ella Rock, Sri Lanka

Walking down the train tacks on the way to Ella Rock, Sri Lanka

We followed the tracks until we reached the next small station at Kithaella. The turnoff from the tracks was just shortly after that, and we almost missed the small path because it bent back around a corner. Thankfully, a friendly local woman pointed us in the right direction before we had gone too far past it.

Passing the Kithaella station on the way to Ella Rock, Sri Lanka

From there, the path went down to a bridge and then through a village. We circumvented a field, crossed the front yard of one of the houses, and dead-ended in the front yard of another house (but a local there was able to reroute us in the right direction). With the number of confused foreigners that must wander onto their properties, you would think the locals would get tired of pointing and put up signs. But then I guess that would ruin business for all the guides, so I can see why they might have incentive to keep it confusing.

Past the village, the path became much more straightforward. All we had to do was continue going uphill. We soon reached the first scenic overlook. You can see Little Adam’s Peak (not sure why they call it that, since it doesn’t seem to bear much similarity to the Big Adam’s Peak) across the valley. That one is a much easier hike, just an hour of so out from town.

The first viewpoint on the path to Ella Rock, Sri Lanka

And then 30 minutes later, we were on top of Ella Rock! This is the view out the other side, of Ella and the surrounding valley.

The view from Ella Rock

On the other side of the mountain, through a forest of thin, straight trees, there is another panoramic view:

Tall, straight trees near Ella Rock, Sri Lanka

The view from Ella Rock, Sri Lanka

We retraced our steps on the way back down, and stopped by a restaurant along the railroad tracks. There were at least 3 or 4 of these restaurants (and even a grocery store/guesthouse) that deliberately faced the tracks. So there are plenty of businesses depending on people ignoring the WARNING: Forbidden signs.

The restaurant we picked served a wonderful collection of vegetables, homegrown rice, and mixed fruit juice. I unfortunately totally spaced on taking a photo of it all though, because we were swarmed by HUNDREDS of little fruit flies.

Seriously, HUNDREDS of tiny flies in a giant cloud around the two of us. We had to fan ourselves incessantly with paper to get enough peace to eat. The moment I stopped, at least 30 would settle immediately on my left arm (and the left arm in particular – whyyy?). The other tourists we passed would nodd in agreement and say “oh yeah, they’re everywhere,” but I don’t think they suffered to the same extent. Why us, WHY? I suspect it may have something to do with my (pretty ineffective) natural and organic sunscreen mixed with sweat. But wow, drawing flies has gotta be a new low.

Anyway, hike to Ella Rock, success! It was a fun adventure to find it ourselves, so I highly recommend it. There are plenty of other tourists going up and down the same path, so you’ll never be terribly lost.

What I DON’T recommend is hiking to Ella Rock the day after doing Adam’s Peak. Not a smart move on my part. For the next two days my legs were so sore that I could only hobble down stairs. But guess I can at least say that I’m getting some exercise!