The view from my "first floor" room.
Sunday noontime I headed out towards Udawalawe National Park where I was spending the night. On the way I stopped by the tour company owners house to pay by CC for the driver I was using this trip. Seems from the house that it's quite a lucrative business, we had a full family introduction before sitting us down for cake and tea. And then it got awkward when he sat down his 16yo daughter there and asked me how I would rate her in terms of prettiness
My car for the week.
Most other locals mode of transport. Notice the bare feet.
The drive was quite nice although the roads were by far the curviest roads I can recall ever being on. As a result the average speed is very much on the slow side. Cows are everywhere and occasionally you need to just wait for them to get out of the road.
They are to Sri Lanka what pigeons are to NY except In NY pigeons aren't worshiped. Vehicles are constantly passing others, its a paradox of sorts as every car is going faster than the next but the fastest anyone is going is 30mph. Driving is on the left side of the road and the right side (A.K.A oncoming traffic) is for passing. Here is the list of who has rights to the road in descending order.
1)Cows - they just dont give a damn!
2)Buses - In the absence of wildlife they are the dictators and they drive knowing that even if they crash the other guy is going to be the really injured one.
3)Cars - In a country where most vehicles are smaller then cars, they are in the middle of the totem pole..
4)Tuk-Tuks - Reckless and a danger to society, their wild swerving through traffic in cities makes up for their slower pace on the roads.
5)Humans - Your just screwed.
The general rule is that the bigger vehicle wins regardless of whos lane it is and who has the right of way and more than once we ended up on the shoulder that happened. Seemed like the painted lines in middle of the road are merely taken as a suggestion.
Around an hour and a half from Colombo we stopped by the city of Ratnapura where I was set on finding an authentic and active gem mine and not a mock-up tourist trap. After asking many locals we eventually found a tuk-tuk driver who would lead us to one. 5 minutes down a dirt road and there it was. I have a fascination with manufacturing processes as well as the origin of products so this was exciting for me. When I left I made sure to leave a generous tip (on their standards). The workers flagged down my driver as we were pulling away to thank us profusely for the tip as well as to reiterate that it was by no means necessary at all and they were happy to help up. Yet another of the countless times where I witnessed the content of the locals and the lack of money grabbing that is common in most tourist destinations.
A random elephant on the side of the road.
Shortly before arriving at my accommodations for that night I took a pitstop in town to use the ATM as most guesthouses only take cash and not every town has an ATM and to pick up some groceries. Here's a tip, if you need eggs and the kiosk owner doesn't understand a single word of English all you need to to is wave your hands like a chicken, squat like your pooping, and make squawking sounds. Worked wonders for me. When I got back into the car my guide asked me how much I paid per egg, upon telling him the price he immediately jumped up and insisted I point out the exact shop as that was expensive and it seems they took advantage of tourists. They mostly have a sense of pride in their culture and country and are very against that. Turns out at the end that this particular store was just very expensive. Keep in mind I was paying 20Rs instead of 15Rs, a difference of 3¢!
While there are rooms available in the area for as low as $5, due to certain specifications I ended up paying many times that, $36 to be exact.
They are located a couple hundred feet from the entrance to the park which was a big aspect for me as I was doing a 6am safari and every minute I have to wake up earlier redacts some of the excitement. Basically I assign every minute a cash value. Every minute after 730am is worth very little, while as the time gets earlier the cash value per minute rises before peaking at the do not disturb zone at around 5am, so staying closer and enabling me to get more shut eye is worth a premium at times. They currently only have 2 rooms with plans for expanding with another 10. Basic but spotlessly clean and comfortable with AC, WiFi, and hot water (not all givens in Sri Lanka). I highly recommend it, the owner is a youngish, extremely nice guy. Unlikely to find a better option in this price range in this area.
I have been in guesthouses like this before and have used these kinds of water heaters for the shower but this was a whole different level with 4 shower heads and multiple valves and switches. I ended up not figuring it out and taking a refreshingly cool shower.
Most of the dirt cheap accommodations make their money off safaris and meals and you don't really have any other options in the area, so while you'll save on the room you'll pay up in other places. Many people report the owners of said places getting aggressive if not booking the safari with them. I paid 6180 for all the myriad park fees put together and another 3500 for the driver my host arranged. There isn't really a need to arrange it prior so if your host wants much more you can just go to the park entrance and take one if the drivers waiting outside with prices around 3000-3500Rs for 3 hours.
I believe a tracker is officially included in the price but seems you need to specifically request one as for some reason the drivers want to act as trackers also, perhaps in hopes of receiving bigger tips.
To quite possibly be continued....