Defeated by rice and curry

Sunday 17 March 2013 – Polonnaruwa.

Yesterday afternoon I was led to believe the bus to Polonnaruwa left at 7:00, but of course there are loads of buses and the guy in my guest house who served me dinner said they go every hour or so. My original plan of getting up at 6:00 was tossed out the window so I squeezed another hour of sleep in and got up just after 7:00.

After packing and walking down to my regular place, Walkers, for coffee I grabbed a tuk-tuk and went to the new town bus station. My tuk-tuk driver drove around the rutted, pot-holed and deeply puddled bus station until he found the bus I needed, fortunately for me – as all the signs were in Sinhalese, so I would not have had a clue.

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The bus was not due to leave for 45 minutes so I wandered about the bus station and bought a small packet of biscuits to munch on if I got hungry. I am not willing to trust local food stored in dubious conditions and handled with bare hands as I am about to get on a three hour plus bus ride, no offence meant !

At the insistence of the bus crew I got on with about thirty minutes to go and I could soon see why they were so keen. The bus was crowded – with people standing in the aisle ten minutes before departure and a bunch more jumping on as the engine started. There was another westerner on the bus when I got on, but he had his pack on the seat next to him and wasn’t looking like he wanted company so I sat in the row in front – in some sort of solidarity I guess. As the bus was filling the bus guys came and took his pack and made him sit next to me. I asked where he was going and he said ‘Polonnarruwa’, the same as me, he then told me he was Czech and had little English, which seemed to mean “don’t speak to me”. So I didn’t. He was a very unhappy and rather sun burnt man and did not enjoy the journey one little bit.

It got very hot in the bus while we waited, I was so glad I could stick my head out of a window and suck down some air. There was a lot of women standing, not much chivalry in this country and chivalrous as I am I was not going to start a trend, albeit a likely trend of one – there was a long ride ahead and I liked my window 🙂

The bus ride was interesting, we drove past countless paddy fields and tanks (dams/lakes). It does not seem as poverty ridden as Africa or parts of SE Asia, most houses we pass are of reasonable construction and have power, mind you we are on main roads and I cannot see up any of the countless small dirt lanes that criss-cross the highway. The road is very good for the most part I believe it is the inevitable Chinese money that has built the road.

We stop everywhere, people on and people off but always quite full. As is the norm, we ride with the bus horn on full blast for much of the way, we hoot at bus stops, any traffic we come up behind and as we enter small and large towns. Every pedestrian is a potential customer. It is the way!

The ride cost 145 rupees, about $1.45 NZD or 70p !! Great value for three reasonably pleasant hours.

The entertainment highlight for me was an excruciating version of Guns and Roses ‘Sweet child of mine’ that was played by a Sri Lankan band on a three hour live concert DVD that was full volume throughout the entire ride. This band played no other western songs, I guess it just shows how a song like that can transcend audiences and cultures. The Filipino cover band I saw on a drunken night out with Dan and friends when I was in Da Nang in Vietnam did a fabulous version.

The bus arrived exactly on the scheduled three hour mark in Polonnaruwa and I was immediately pounced up by a tuk-tuk driver and guest house owner. He had a GH that was not in my Lonely Planet but it was priced right and near the two I was going to look at anyway so I went with him and decided to take the room. It is fine – not great, but for the price it is fine…

He told me there was an Aussie and a French couple staying there, the Aussie turned out to be a Kiwi from Christchurch and she arrived back from a morning of templing just after I arrived. Yes, templing is a word. Ok, I may have made it up, but I am declaring it an official word! Even though it was early afternoon I had a beer and some popadoms for lunch with the girl from Chch – yes I am hopeless at introductions I know, before unpacking and sorting my stuff out before a wee afternoon snooze.

I decided to go for a walk into town and check out the museum as well as a couple of free sites near the museum. The museum is supposed to be quite good and as I was planning on a fullish day tomorrow I wanted to get some small things out of the way today. However…..

As I mentioned the other day, there is a 25USD one day permit needed to enter most of the sites here, and I will pay that tomorrow and get my ticket. I wont use dodgy tuk-tuk drivers who do it for less and bribe the guards to get in, that is WRONG. Sadly you also have to have the permit to enter the museum, no exceptions. I asked if I could buy the permit  for tomorrow, but visit the museum now instead. No, it has to be bought on the day, no exceptions. I cannot buy a permit before 8:00 am, though the site opens at 7:00. Sometimes rules are dumb! This means I may not get to see the museum as I will be wanting to get as much of the ruins done as early as possible and as I am planning on doing this by bike I will be stuffed when I am done. I doubt I will be wanting to make a separate trip to see the museum as it is off-site . Shame on the bureaucrats !

I did however visit the nearby, free and very lovely Island Park. I was amused to see this group of monks trying to shoo some monkeys out of their bus. Never leave a window open !

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The ruins here are a royal park from the twelfth century, the baths in their current state left a wee bit to be desired.

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Though the council chamber of King Nissankemalia was in reasonable condition.

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I was not the only person here, soon after I arrived I was joined by a group of, I think, Thais.

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Who were then followed by some local monks.

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I wandered up the side of the tank (lake) for a couple of kilometres as the sun lowered in the sky, I did not stay for sunset, while I feel safe here I am not going to be hanging around by a lake in a strange town by myself after dark !

I did find this lovely tree with old and damaged Buddha images in it.

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I went back to my guest house and had a really nice Skype with El, I didn’t think it would work as the wifi is pretty slow. But it did work and it was great to see her smiling face and have a chat, I do miss her.

I was going to have dinner with Chch girl, but she has been sick since lunch – and she had the same as me! We chatted for a while but she did not want food. I was served some traditional rice and curry (curry and rice is Indian, rice and curry is Sri Lankan – I read it somewhere). I was initially thinking I was being served food for two, till I saw how much the French couple were served…..

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I fought bravely but just could not finish it, or even half of it. It was all lovely; fresh vegetable curries, fresh fish from this afternoon and lovely oily, but oh so light, popadoms. yuuuuuummmmmm.

I spent the rest of the night in my room, tying this blog post and listening to music, dressed in long pants and socks as it is mosquito city here. I might have to buy some bug spray… I was going to post this, but the wifi was turned off at 10pm, oh well, I am sure it can wait.

Apart from my frustration with the museum I enjoyed today, I liked being back on cheap local transport, going to a new town with no accommodation booked, chatting to new people in hostels. I feel like I am back in travelling mode again. And a great Skype to cap it off : )

About wheresphil

Originally from Auckland, New Zealand, now living in London.
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