Hello there everybody and welcome to yet another post in my Sri Lanka 2014 trip which is turning into a bit of an odyssey, isn’t it? I’ll bet Homer didn’t take as long to write his and I am not even half way through yet but I suppose a three month journey where I saw, did and learned so much was always going to be a bit of a challenge. At least it is giving me an interest in these difficult times when travel is but a distant memory.
I’ll get my standard advice oute of the way and then we can get on and the advice to new readers (a special welcome to you) is that if you want to read the whole story from the beginning you can do so here.
17th February, 2014.
I was getting into quite a routine of early nights and early morning rising which is very unlike me and something I wish I could replicate now in 2021 when my sleep disorder has me totally nocturnal again. I know it is a huge generalisation and I am not being in any way denigratory but I think that Asian people live by a much more natural system than Westerners i.e. in tune with the sun. I quite like it when I get my body clock adjusted although it takes a while, in this case almost seven weeks!
I showered and packed, ordered my usual morning coffee from my friend who seemed to work all day every day, and prepared myself for the day. I had already decided where I was going the evening before and even booked my room but, in a fairly blatant and amateur piece of marketing I refrained from telling you in the previous post to try and draw you in here. Pathetic, isn’t it?
I was going to take a reasonably short journey to the town of Tissamaharama which I shall hereinafter (another lovely word normally only used in legal documents) refer to as Tissa for two reasons. Firstly, that is what the locals do and secondly it will save my poor fingers a lot of typing.
Why Tissa? Well why not, which is my usual answer to such questions. It looked interesting enough, which it certainly proved to be, it was the gateway to the Yala National Park if I felt like a bit of a safari and there were plenty of good accommodation options so it sounded ideal.
Speaking of accommodation, I had scored myself another very good deal by last minute booking and whilst I know it is not everyone’s cup of tea (a very appropriate saying in Sri Lanka) it works for me as I have discussed before.
As a quick digression here, and you know I love them, did you know that the tea for which Sri Lanka is now so famous, was only introduced as a substitute crop. In the mid 19th century Ceylon, as it was then, had about 400,000 acres planted in coffee but an outbreak of “coffee rust” wiped out the crop. They replanted with tea and the rest, as they say, is history.
With my coffee drunk I asked my very helpful mate for one last service which was to get me a tuk-tuk to the bus station, a bit of a walk, and to fix a reasonable price. None of the taxis in Kateragama were metered then and I didn’t fancy the hassle of early morning haggling. No problem, the tuk-tuk was there in minutes so I said a genuinely fond farewell to my new friend, promising to write nice things about his guesthouse on Virtual Tourist which I did, and off I went.
Once again the journey was totally unremarkable, a fact attested to by the fact that I didn’t take a single image, I already had dozens of the interior of Sri Lankan buses. I knew from the booking website tht my new billet was once again a bit of a trek out of the centre and the bus stand so it was another unmetered tuk-tuk in Tissa with a pre-arranged price. I cannot stress this enough although I believe that all new three wheelers have to have a meter now so the problem of a potential rip-off may be less now than it was then.
It was only about a ten miles journey but I had managed to re-enter Southern Province during it. I’ll bet you did not even know we had left it and neither did I until I came to write this piece. Kateragama is just inside Uva Province, one of nine the country is divided into and of which I believe I have visited five. I really want to get back and do the other four but it looks unlikely now. I have included images of a map of the Provinces and a Southern Provincial flag here (© commons licence) and don’t worry, we shall be spending a lot of time back in Uva Province soon.
The tuk-tuk actually headed back out the Kateragama Road I had just come in so suppose could have just jumped off at the end of Lake Road but that would have been way too much planning. I was duly deposited at the Savin Rose (sometimes rendered as Savinrose) Safari Hotel and my initial impressions were very good. As usual, my gut instinct was to prove entirely correct, it was a beautiful place.
It was still way too early to check in but I spoke to the manager who said I was more than welcome to leave my kit there if I wanted to go and explore or alternatively I could just relax in the very comfortable foyer area or out on the verandah. He suggested that I might like to go and have a look at the Debara Wewa (lake) which was only a short walk away so that sounded like a plan. He told me to come back whenever I wanted as the desk was always manned which was good to know as it turned out.
I was walking along Lake Road before midday which is an hour I often think aobut getting out of bed, I told you this Sri Lankan living was getting to me.
Debara Wewa is actually the smallest of several sizeable bodies of water around Tissa and I was immediately struck by how beautiful it was. The camera was quickly to hand and I went on a complete shutter frenzy.
I would never classify myself as being much of a photographer but I did take a bit of time composing these images and I am rather pleased with some of them. I loved the notice pinned to the tree, a wonderful sentiment. I also loved the hundreds of bats roosting (is that the correct word?) in the trees, the water lilies, I just loved it all.
To be honest, you don’t need to be David Bailey to take reasonable images here as the landscape does all the work for you. Even with my cheap little compact it was just a matter of vaguely centring what you wanted, trying to keep the thing fairly straight and pressing the button. If you are a little bit off even a technological numbskull like me can use the straighten and crop functions on my computer, they hide a multitude of sins and my photographic sins are many!
Well, that was a great start to my day and it was only the start. Approaching the Northeastern corner of the Wewa I could not miss the Buddhist temple you can see which is the Amunudahaya Rajamaha Viharaya and obviously I had to investigate. The temple was deserted except for one elderly monk who I greeted in what I hope was an appropriate manner.
I am not sure what the local etiquette is but I adopted what I know as the “wai” I had become so accustomed to in SE Asia i.e. place your palms together in front of your face and bow. It seems to work. The monk had only a few words of English and I no Sinhalese obviously and yet we spent a very pleasant half hour or so with him beckoning me round the place pointing things out and obviously trying to explain them to me.
The one thing of particular note he showed me was a rather ingenious “fish farm” or pen that was constructed in a small natural indentation in the land. I know Buddhists are vegetarian so it was obviously not a source of food but to this day I do not know why it was there.
It looked like I was heading into some pretty open countryside so when I reached a road junction I more or less doubled back on myself to head towards town again. I hadn’t gone far when I spied this rather sorry looking old ‘phone box and could not resist an image.
Another image I could not resist, further into town, was the other one you can see above which is not there to encourage you to buy a motorbike but because they were still wishing me a Happy New Year in the third week of February! I have lumped these two unrelated images together just to save your scrolling fingers, don’t say I don’t consider your welfare, dear readers.
By the time I got into town it was getting on for 1500 hrs., I had walked a few miles in the hot midday sun and I was thirsty. At least in Tissa that was nor problem as it had been in Kateragama and when I saw the sign above I did not need any further invitation. I went in to a fairly basic bar which I had become used to in Sri Lanka. Away from the tourist areas and trendy parts of Colombo bars are places for men to go and drink. They are not there to look pretty, have a pleasant ambience or whatever. They are there to serve alcohol and if you are lucky you might get to watch a bit of TV, that’s it and it suits me fine.
I took into the Lion lager with a will and that brought it’s inevitable consequence. When I asked for the “facilities” I was directed outside and whilst it may look a bit basic it was spotless. It was whilst coming back that I noticed a sign next door indicating another bar so I thought I would have to investigate that as well.
I was to find out later that both bars were part of the same establishment and were an arrangement that we in the UK might once have described as a public / bar / lounge or saloon bar. The public is for men who want to drink seriously and the lounge is where ladies may be found and is a bit more posh. I was thoroughly enjoying the rougher bar but I thought I would move myself just out of curiosity.
The Hotel Tissa was a great find and a place I was to spend some considerable time in as you shall see. Another beer was ordered immediately and also the menu as it was mid-afternoon and I still had not eaten. The menu was extensive as I had come to expect in Sri Lanka with all the usual dishes, local, Western and the ubiquitous Chinese. Sri Lankans do love Chinese food.
As it was my first solids of the day I thought I would go for something of a breakfast / brunch nature and an omelette sounded ideal. I had sneaked a look into the kitchen which didn’t have a door which is always a good sign and it was typically Sri Lankan, basic and spotless with not an electrical gadget to be seen although they must have had a fridge somewhere I suppose.
The omelette came up nicely presented with a small garnish, a bit of bread and butter. Simple, tasty and just what was required. As you can see from one of the images here I had all the major food groups, protein, carbohydrate, vegetables and beer.
OK, there are cigarettes there as well and I do NOT recommend smoking, it is a stupid habit and it has cost me dearly in both financial and health terms but if you do indulge I would give you a couple of pieces of advice here.
Firstly, Sri Lanka is the one country in the world I have visited where you just cannot get Marlboro which amazes me. I smoke Gold Leaf when I am there, a brand I have not seen in the UK for decades. Secondly, you are not allowed to bring any tobacco products into the country, not even the usual one carton. I nearly fell foul of this once due to misinformation from a salesgirl at Heathrow who should have known better!
Back to the Hotel Tissa, which I do not believe exists under that name now, and I reckoned I was settled for the day so thought I would try for a bit of a catch up on my writing. I asked the friendly (need I even say that?) waiter about wi-fi and was assured there was a good connection, which proved to be the case. I asked about an electrical socket and he just scurried off which I thought a bit odd. A moment later he was back with an extension cable as there were no sockets near where I was sitting. Talk about service.
The afternoon turned into evening with me happily typing away and drinking beer and I probably do not even need to mention that I had the place all to myself. I still have not worked this out.
As the evening wore on the omelette wore off and I called for the menu again. My eye was caught by a particular favourite of mine egg curry which I had not seen before on this trip. I know I had already had an omelette and too many eggs aren’t recommended but it was such an opportunity that I could not resist.
The curry was duly served with rice, poppadum and a little salad garnish, all beautifully presented and it was utterly delicious. At this point I could regale you with a story about me on a long-distance train journey in India some years before and an Indian Railways egg curry but some tales are probably best left untold!
The evening slid slowly into night and I slid slowly into a very contented state until I thought I had better get back to the hotel even though I knew there would be someone there but I didn’t want to cause any bother. A tuk-tuk was duly summoned for me and off I went.
When I got to the hotel there was indeed a night porter who told me my luggage had been taken up and where my room was. It was absolutely perfect and I have included some later images here to give you an idea. I really had been so lucky with my accommodation choices thus far on the journey. I got into yet another comfortable bed and was soon in dreamland.
In the next post I go walkabout in Tissa, meet some adorable children and eat more fabulous curry so stay tuned and spread the word.