There’s no direct bus between Trincomalee and Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka’s other ancient capital. In order to get there, you have to make a stop in a town called Habarana, find the bus to Polonnaruwa, and go from there.
We got ourselves out of the guest house early this morning after another night of sonic cockroach sleep – apparently, the one I killed had a friend, or bred, or came back from the dead – and grabbed a tuk tuk down to the bus station. Immediately upon pulling in, we saw the 49 bus to Colombo, which made a stop in Habarana. The tuk tuk driver said it left at 8, but it was 7:15, and I had read that they left every half hour, so we went searching for the 7:30 bus. Sure enough, we found it in the “red bus” section of the station (may not be the actual name) and were off for a little over a dollar.
Once we got to Habarana, we were immediately approached by a guy in a jeep who was offering to take us on safari. Our plan was to go right to Polonnaruwa and safari later that day (or the next day), but this guy’s rates were reasonable (on par with what Lonely Planet advised, cheaper than the guest house), timing was good, and he guaranteed we would see elephants or our money back.
Well, how could we refuse? So we loaded our bags in his jeep, switched to another jeep, and were off to Minneriya National Park.
The elephants are the big draws in Minneriya, but our driver and animal spotter found lots of other creatures for us as well. Spotted deer like in Trincomalee, monkeys like in Anuradhapura, and other animals we hadn’t seen in the wild yet, like a monitor lizard, a crocodile, a kingfisher, peacocks, a white bellied eagle, various other birds, a mongoose and water buffalo. All of these guys were great to look at, and definitely worth the time, but the elephants made the day.
During late August and early September, you can see as many as 200 elephants nibbling on roots in the muddy ground as things dry up a bit. Today, we managed to see a group of about a dozen, plus some stragglers hanging around the park. There were Indian elephants (of course, because we’re not in Africa), so they were smaller than the African guys, but no less beautiful. We were lucky enough to see a baby elephant that was only four weeks old. Incredible!
So a few hours later, the safari was over and the elephants were seen and it was time to continue on to Polonnaruwa. Our driver was nice enough to take us to the bus stop nearest the park (so we didn’t have to backtrack into Habarana) and an hour and a dollar sixty later, we were at the bus station. Quick walk to the guest house, a meeting with our super helpful and exuberant host, a great chicken fried rice for “local price” at a restaurant called “My Choice” (2 fried rice and 2 cokes for 4 dollars!), and now we rest.
Much like Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa’s ticket gives you one full day, so waiting until tomorrow is our only real, but nothing wrong with a little relax time. Especially after a night of radioactive sonic cockroach screaming sleep!