Today was the first real Sri Lankan bus experience.
Before we get into the meat of that, I have to give some big recognition to our first “home” in Sri Lanka, the Andorra Tourist Rest. Amazing staff, comfortable beds, great food and delicious Sri Lankan curry. Fun fact about Sri Lanka: if you want the legit Sri Lankan curry, you have to order it ahead of time, because it’s a production. Not only is there some kind of curried meat, but there are several vegetables that go along with it. We were wondering why we couldn’t get legit Sri Lankan food our first couple of nights here, and that’s why. Only complaint about the guest house is the bicycles weren’t built for Western heights.
Then again, I don’t think most things in Sri Lanka are.
K, so we already had the Mihintale bus experience, which was fun, quick and convenient. I thought we might be riding the same kind of bus on the way there and, lo and behold, it was the exact same kind of bus, minus the pinball goddess. Plus, I think the seats got more cramped. So that.
Anyway, not going to knock the actual experience, you pay 150 Rupees a person (roughly $1.50 Canadian) for a little under three hours of driving on scenic roads, with “natural” air conditioning (or “open windows”, as they’re known back home). The catch is that you have to get there early. Our bus to Trincomalee was going to leave the New Town bus station at 8 am, and our host at Andorra told us it was best to get there at 7:15 to make sure we got seats. Sure enough, getting there at 7:20ish, some seats had started to fill up and, by 7:40, the bus was full and, by 8:00 am, we were already on the road. Luggage kind of got put in a barred-in area next to the driver, though you could have it in front of you if you were at the back, or put it in some tiny overhead bars if you had small bags.
The ride wasn’t quite comfortable – sitting next to Daina left about 3/4 of my left cheek off the seat – and there were a few interesting characters on the bus, including an old man in front of Daina who, midway through the trip, started taking gulps of water, waiting until the bus slowed down, and spitting out a combination of spit and blood as soon as he was sure it wouldn’t come splashing back into his (or Daina’s) face. So at least he was considerate in that way. Still, perfectly acceptable way to get around, and I actually found it better than some legit coaches we’ve traveled on South and Central America. After a little under three hours, were at the Trincomalee bus station, where a tuk tuk driver found us and actually lowballed me on what I was willing to pay to get to our guest house – 300 rupees to Uppuveli – and there we went.
Now, Trinco is an ocean city, and we’ll talk more about it later, as we want to make a half-day trip there to check out a couple of sites (and will have to, since it also has all the ATMs). Your beach choices are either Uppuveli or Nilaveli, and we chose Uppuveli due to reports of its charm. And, indeed, charm it does have. Various hotels have beach chairs and cabanas, but nobody makes you pay to stay in them (you might just buy a drink from their bar as a courtesy), the sand is nice and fine, the water clean and clear, and it’s actually fairly shallow in a lot of places, so if you just want to wade into the water for about fifty feet, you have that option. After stopping for some drinks at Fernando’s Hideaway, which probably has the best “beach vibe” on the strip, Daina made friends with a couple of local beach dogs, one of whom just crawled out of the ocean and began lovingly licking his leg before D knew what was happening. We grabbed lunch at Coconut Beach Lodge and, immediately being impressed by the best Sweet and Sour Chicken I’ve ever tasted, we booked in for their Sri Lankan Curry (which you have to order before 3:30 for a 7 pm dinner). After that, D went back to the guest house for a rest while I tracked down a few litres of water, booked a snorkeling trip for tomorrow, and wandered the beach a bit more to take in the ocean.