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Once you’ve been to every single country on the planet, you have to search pretty hard to find travel experiences that get your heart pumping, and 2 weeks on a beach in Thailand aren’t going to cut it. I love adventure, I love getting deep into a culture, I even love a a (not-so?) distant chance of something going wrong, so after overlanding from Cape Town to Syria, Thailand to Ireland, and Mexico to Argentina, a trip has to be pretty special for me to be buzzing about it.

 

LARGE MINORITY

That said, I had finally been excited about a trip I had signed up to for months. Teams of 2 or 3 people, riding their own tuktuks across the whole upper half of Sri Lanka, completing challenges along the way. Think of the amazing race, but more authentic, and you’re on the right lines. I met the very awesome owner of the company that runs these challenges through a friend in Bangkok. Julian, who founded the adventure travel company

Julian, who founded the adventure travel company Large Minority, almost 10 years ago,  has been running epic adventure trips around Sri Lanka (the Lanka Challenge), Cambodia (Cambo Challenge), Colombia (Amazon Challenge) and the Phillipines (Philippines Challenge) which combines a host of crazy trips driving tuktuks, racing boats or getting lost in the jungle and creating your own shelter!

April 2017, myself and 2 of my buddies (Jordan, a vlogger at The Life of Jord) and Josh (the cofounder of our charity, the GiveBackGiveAway and a blogger at Small World Travels) signed up the Lanka Challenge northern route. It was amazing…..

 

THE LANKA CHALLENGE

You all meet in Negomba, near the international airport you’ll arrive in, and just north of the capital, Colombo. The trip lasts 10 days, and costs $1476USD per person with the 10% early bird discount if you have a team of 3 (which is way more fun!). Now you just have to set your imagination racing. Here’s the route map to get you started:


The northern route takes you all the way up to the top of the island, to Jaffna, a place which was closed to foreigners for years during the war but has since opened, and is now booming. Add in Sigirya, Kandy, the beauty of the east coast, the tea plantations in the centre safe in the knowledge that you are truly experience what a country has to offer and you’re onto a winner.

Now imagine all that, but YOU drive your very own tuktuk throughout the whole experience. It doesn’t get much cooler than that. Day 1 is a training day, healthy and safety, learning to drive around the hotel. Pretty exhilarating first day to be honest. Starting the tuktuk, stalling, starting it again, stalling, then getting to grips with it and off you go. Spend as long as you want on that first day, in the lush hotel grounds, making yourself comfortable with your new 3 wheeled lover, and Day 2 you’re good to go. But nothing is quite as it seems on a Large Minority tour, so Day 1 (as well as the last day) is costume day. So say hello to Harry, Hermoine and Ron!

ADVENTURE

Day 2 comes and you’re off. Sh*t gets real pretty quickly. I was the one driving first and instantly you realise this truly is an adventure! On your own, you and your mates in your tuktuk trying to get to the next destination. BUT rememeber…. NO GPS. Google maps, Apple Maps etc are against the rules. Old school pen and map is all you have, which is much much more fun (and i’m proud to say we stuck to it!).

The traffic in Sri Lanka is pretty crazy, and as a newly minted tuktuk driver, you’re bottom of the food chain. So ignore who has the right of way and just trust that you’ll never have it. Buses coming the wrong way, people swerving out of blind alleys, policemen watching you and the whole thing is just exhiliarting. Day 1 I had a little run in with a minivan, no damage done, aside from a bruised ego.

Day 5, I also got done for speeding by a very friendly police man in the countryside. Eeeek. 57kmph. These beauties have a speed limit in most places fo 40km but they’re ‘probably‘ capable of 70km in all honest, until you hit a hill of course. Then it’s down to first gear and grind it up the hill!

The adventure is the perfect blend of adventure but with support. We managed to run out of fuel, twice. In one day. Ridiculous. So we were on our own until a friendly local bailed us out with a coke bottle fuel of petrol! However if you have a breakdown, which is about  a 50% chance, Large Minority have a team of engineers on the road to rush to your rescue within 30 mins or less. Amazing service. We broke down in the middle of a National Park and the mechanics had found us (thanks to the complimentary phones each team is given when you start), identified the issue and fixed it within 15 minutes, we were off again in no time.

Also, there are 2 ambulances, one at the front and one at the back, should anything drastic go wrong, which it rarely does. The ambulance staff have a pretty easy 10 days to be honest, but it’s nice to know they’re there if you need them.

 

And so the adventure continues. 1000-1500km over the 10 days, depending how often you get lost (with 1 very necessary rest day on the beach). Each day brings new challenges. You split the driving between your team and rememeber it’s not strictly a ‘race’, it’s a ‘challenge’. No points for arriving first, but lots of points for completing the daily challenges, best dressed etc. It’s the best-organised trip I’ve ever been on in my entire travel career, yet it doesn’t detract from the sense of adventure at all, honestly. Just perfect.

 

CHALLENGES

This is where the authentic experiences come in. Now I can’t say toooo much because I don’t want to ruin your guys experiences if you sign up for the next one, but each day you normally have 2/3 challenegs. In the photo below you can see me in a loca fish market, where I had to as a vendor could I help sell his fish. The most fish sold in 5 minutes, for the most money = maximum points.

Another AMAZING challenge was buying ingredients for a curry, then trying to get invited to a local family home where you will cook the curry for them. Sounds almost impossible, right? Not in Sri Lanka, some of the friendliest people on earth. That afternoon was a real highlight of my travels, not just in Sri Lanka, but anywhere.

Sure, the challenges push you out of your comfort zone but wow, do you ever get out what you put in. So you throw yourself into them, try to gain maximum points, enter the spirit of the competition then tease each other over beers each evening about who did the best/worst. Now that’s a trip I want to be part of!

And the bi-annual tuktuk ‘Lanka Challenge’ has officially begun with Large minority Travel❤️🌎 3 people per team, 1000km+ around half the circumference of the nation of Sri Lanka, driving our own tuktuks! 🇱🇰🇱🇰🇱🇰 Josh (Hermione aka Small World Travels) and Jordan (Ron Weasley aka The Life Of Jord) complete my team along with my best impression of Harry Potter 💪🏻👊🏻 #largeminority #lankachallenge #adventuretravel #onestep4ward #lankachallenge17 Each day you are allocated challenges, with the winner team at the end of the challenge winning 3 return tickets to Sri Lanka with Sri Lankan air from anywhere in the world – let’s do this! Up first, fish market and WE have to sell the fish to the locals 😱

A post shared by Johnny Ward 🌍🌎🌏 (@onestep4ward) on

FOOD AND ACCOMODATION

I spoke to Julian, the founder of the company, about this because I feel like these guys don’t tell you just quite the level of the food and accomodation. I know they like to undersell and overdeliver (which they do spectacularly!) but I think it’s only fair for me to share with you guys about the quality of hotels! Here’s a pic from the balcony of the hotel in Sigiriya, you can even see the famous rock in the background!

Creating a life you want to live, rather than one people expect you to live. That’s something worth pursuing, worth striving for. This ridiculous tuktuk challenge in Sri Lanka continues to blow my mind. Our ‘challenge’ today was to be invited into a local home and cook lunch together, with us supplying the ingredients. Such an amazing experience, and the people of Sri Lanka are a different breed – the level of friendliness, of all 197 countries I’ve traveled through, is top 5. No doubt. After 150km in the tuktuk we end up in this amazing hotel in Sigiriya. Not quite sure how @largeminority make any money from these trips, but we’re not complaining! 🙈😝🙏🏻 #sirigiya #srilanka #largeminority #adventuretravel #lankachallenge #lankachallenge17

A post shared by Johnny Ward 🌍🌎🌏 (@onestep4ward) on

Each night you stay at a different hotel, and they range from plush 5* hotels, wifi, pools, unreal breakfasts and buffet dinners (all included) to gorgeous boutique hotels right on the beach. Each place is a dream to be frank. I had no idea the level of accommodation, and food, would be so high end but after a day sweating, getting filthy, driving your tuktuk for 200km, to settle into a comfortable clean bed, whack on the air-con, use their wife after a dip in the pool and a beer on the beach, you’re pretty sure this is how you want to live your life forever. What a trip.

 

RESPONSIBLE TRAVEL

The beautiful, beautiful side to Large Minority. Humble as they are, they don’t sign it from the rooftops, but the tour company gives 10% of ALL money taken (not just profit, amazing!). They work in close assocation with the Red Cross of Sri Lanka as well as a few grassroot operators across animal welfare and education, and it’s wonderful to know that 10% of your ticket price is a personal donation from you, to these causes.

Furthermore, you get to visit the projects twice on your journey. And the kids seeing a bunch of foreigners, some wearing ridiculous costumes, as they put on a gorgeous welcome is a pretty sweet experience!

WHAT’S NEXT?

We’ll we did it. Ran out of gas twice, a little nudge into a van, reversed into a pole, sunburn, wildlife, spectacular views, new friends, a couple of hangovers and an experience of a lifetime. Did we win? Not even close, 9th of 12! Do we care? Nope! It created memories forever.

But what’s next? I’ve signed up to the Philippines Challenge, which is stated as ‘Sailing Chaos on the high-seas for non-sailors’. Sweet! The next trips are November and April, I’m waiting to iron out my schedule with the ‘around the world in 80 days’, once that’s worked out I’ll know which trip I’m on. But I’m in. Hope to see you guys there!

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Lanka Challenge 2017 – Complete! Next Challenge? Philippines!?
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7 thoughts on “Riding TukTuks Across Sri Lanka on the ‘Lanka Challenge’

  1. This seems so fun because life is like riding a tuk tuk which is the name of my blog. Excellent post!

  2. Looks like so much fun! Seems like a perfect adventure to explore a culture in depth and have the time of your life. And wow, it’s really not that expensive, lots of people could swing that price!

  3. “Old school pen and map..” Neat thing about those is they do not depend on electricity, no glass glare plus you get to learn how I used to do it 40 years ago…. 😀

    As for the Tuk-tuks, it must take an age to go up a hill. Then coming down is Aaargh time.

    Sounds like fun and a challenge as well, plus the charitable side of things.

  4. Great Article! It’s really important to challenge yourself to check your capacity that how much you can do more. Thanks for sharing your wonderful experience.

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