Trip Start Apr 10, 2006
55Trip End ??? ??, 2007
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After staying on the beach at Unawatuna longer than expected to ride out the liquor ban and get our hands on some cold beer we thought we should leave to see the rest of Sri Lanka.
We decided to head for Tissamaharama (Tissa), and use the town as a base for exploring the national parks of the south east. We caught the bus from Unawatuna, which is harder than it sounds. There is no actual bus stop at Unawatuna so you just have to walk up to the main road and flag down the next bus that comes along. Sometimes they acknowledge you and sometimes they don't, but they never stop, unless you are an old woman or obviously disabled. They just slow down to a fast jogging pace and you're expected to run to catch up and then haul yourself on using the metal bars by the back door. In the midday sun and carrying a ninety liter back pack, this can b quite a physical struggle. I know its something like a three hour journey to Tissa (I've learned never to rely on exact times) and so was hoping to find a seat, even a seat with my bag on top of me all the way would be nice, but I quickly realize this is a pipe dream as the bus is already over full and more people will probably be getting on at every stop. So it's standing all the way, trying at the same time to keep an eye on the bags which have been thrown half way down the bus.
Sure enough, more people pile on at every stop, every junction, and every time the speed drops below twenty mph. Just when you think there's absolutely no way another person could squeeze in, the bus stops next to a school and about twenty five kids pile in, finding places to sit on each other or hang out the sides. The busses also only seem to have two speeds; fast jog (to let people on) and full power. And the drivers overtake, or try to overtake, everything they come close to, regardless of whether it is up a hill, on a blind bend, in a traffic jam, or when there is obviously another bus coming the other way at an equally alarming speed. Taking into account the state of most of the roads, and the constant jilting side to side of the bus, it all makes for an exhausting journey.
As we get close to Tissa a Sri Lankan guy starts asking the usual questions of 'How long are you in Sri Lanka?', 'Where are you going now?' etc... and before long he's convinced us to go and look at his guesthouse just outside of town. We get of the bus with the guy, who introduces himself as Nilanga. He's a small framed man, about average for Sri Lanka I guess, who looks very street wise, with a classic, small Indian/Sri Lankan moustache and sharp features, the only distinguishing one being a slightly flattened nose, possibly from being broken in the past. He manages to come across as quite knowledgeable and friendly.
It just so happened that he has a huge jeep waiting by the bus station with two friends inside, which seemed convenient. It wasn't until we got to the guesthouse that I realized their obvious ploy. Nilanga had clearly been at the bus stop before Tissa, waiting to see a white face go past, and then he would jump on and convince said white face to go to see his guesthouse. When white face and he arrive at Tissa he has a car ready and waiting, which also happens to be the vehicle they use for their safari tours, which he will later try to sell us. An excellent idea to stay one step ahead of the crowd of other touts selling safaris in the centre of town.
We got to the guesthouse and it was a nice room at a good price, so we stayed. I'm sure we could have got the room for less if we'd tried, they just wanted to get us there for the night so they could ply us with a couple of beers and sell us a safari, which is where the real profit is in this town. As soon as we were settled the weed (or grass as they call it) came out. One of the other guys cleaned it and I rolled it. After a couple of joints and a decent rice and curry, the books full of safari pictures and satisfied customer comments came out. These guys seemed ok, and we wanted to see some wildlife, so after a bit of negotiating on the price we agreed to go on a night safari of Yala National Park, (Including camping in the park), leaving the next afternoon.