We left Jaffna behind us and embarked on 6 hours of very slow train travel to get us back down to Anuradhapura, from here we travelled 30 minutes by bus to Wilpattu Junction and jumped off on the side of the road in what felt like the middle of nowhere. Fortunately, there were a couple of tuk tuks outside a shop and we got a lift down to our guesthouse for our next dose of crazy.
It was just a rectangular building in an empty yard surrounded by wire fencing and stray dogs. The first room that we were shown had twin beds rammed in to the smallest amount of space possible and a bathroom which you had to go outside to access. We decided to upgrade. The next room had air-conditioning and an adjoining bathroom, luxury. We asked our host to arrange a safari for the following morning and, slightly nervously, asked him to provide dinner as there was absolutely nowhere else to go. Dinner, rice and curry obviously, was actually very good. Unfortunately, the safari did not live up to expectations.Wilpattu is known for its leopards but is also home to sloth bears, elephants and “a vast array” of birdlife. Anyone who goes on safari knows that you can’t guarantee anything and so we knew that the leopards and the sloth bears were a matter of chance, we saw neither. We also didn’t see any elephants and there were hardly any birds. Our driver did not seem to be particularly skilled in his field either, he spent most of the time on his phone or asking other drivers if they had seen anything. At one point, he pulled up next to another car by a herd of buffalo and held a long conversation with his friend in the other car. This would have been more tolerable if he had parked somewhere we could see the buffalo, but all we could see were some trees and the other car, he clearly just did not care. We had also decided not to have breakfast in the bush as we wanted to make best use of our short time. Our driver did have breakfast however so we sat in the car for 20 minutes watching an idiotic tourist feeding monkeys whilst he ate. When he returned to the car he shrugged and said “no animals” and then proceeded to drive us around showing us nothing for the next 2 hours whilst we spotted a croc, some deer and a few peacocks. Fortunately, James was there and also spotted some mongoose, eagles and some other bird life. We decided that the highlight of the safari was seeing what our driver described as Sri Lanka’s national bird, to us it looked like a colourful chicken but Google later confirmed that it was a jungle fowl. It was not a satisfying experience and was capped off by our host presenting us with a nice thick glass of papaya juice on our return.
On our way back to the bus stop the going was slightly slower as half of the road was now being used to dry grain and chillies. It had already been a long morning and we were a bit weary as we boarded our bus to Negombo an hour or so later. It was exceptionally crowded and hot and we would have to say that we really didn’t enjoy this particular bus journey. We disembarked at the central bus stand next to 18 lanes of traffic and discovered that our bags had become filthy in the luggage compartment. On checking the map we realised that our homestay was with walking distance so we shouldered our bags and set off. It started to rain. Things were not going well. Just as we were deciding that we were lost, a tuk tuk pulled up alongside us and an old woman leaned out of the back to ask where we were going. It turns out it was her house that we were after and she pointed us in the right direction. We’d just ditched our bags and gratefully kicked off our shoes when another red-faced couple marched in through the gate saying that it had been near impossible for them to find the place too. As you can probably tell, the wind up to our Sri Lanka trip was not shaping up quite how we would have liked. That being said, we were safely installed in our guesthouse, we managed to do some desperately needed laundry and we could chalk the whole day up to a true traveller experience. The following day was our final day in Sri Lanka and we thought that we had better find somewhere to stay in Delhi, given that we were due to arrive there imminently. The internet at our guesthouse wasn’t the best so we ventured in to Negombo to find a restaurant with free wifi to sit in.
We took a quick detour on to Negombo beach just to tick it off the list. It isn’t anything to shout about, there were a few people sunbathing but the beach was pretty much what you would expect the beach on the edge of a city to look like. The road running parallel to the beach, Lewis road, is full of restaurants and tourist shops, a good spot for some last minute souvenir shopping if you are in need. We were on the lookout for somewhere with free wifi when our eyes were caught by a reminder of home.
We were still smiling about this when 50 metres later we came across a competitor.
Our main observation was that the range of hummus on offer in both was definitely not up to British standards. The remainder of our day was spent sat in Seaview Restaurant which, despite not having a view of the sea, is an excellent restaurant with a very kind owner who let us sit there for hours whilst we sorted out our lives using his free wifi. The bonus was that the food was also very good.
Back at the guesthouse we repacked our lives back in to our backapcks and enjoyed an excellent evening meal that they prepared for us. The guesthouse was newly opened, which can be a bit hit and miss, but our room was large and clean and the service was good. It appeared to be a favourite for people leaving Sri Lanka as 3 of the 4 rooms were filled by people doing the same as us. If you a looking for a good value guesthouse a 15 minute/500 rupee tuk tuk ride from the airport then it certainly ticks the boxes.
We spent the most amazing 4 weeks in Sri Lanka, we had planned 3 and stayed 4 which says a lot. The range of environments and experiences that you can have all in one small island is simply excellent. A particular highlight for us was how friendly, warm and welcoming the people are. Getting public transport, staying in small homestays chatting to restaurant owners, and interacting with Sri Lankans was one of the most enjoyable parts of our trip. Generally they were all happy to point us in the right direction, chat with us, and in the small places we stayed nothing was too much trouble. The experience would have been completely different if we had not had such a friendly welcome.
If you are questioning whether to visit, do it. There is so much to see and experience. If you need inspiration check out what we have been up to in our earlier blog posts and if that still isn’t enough, here’s a picture of two elephants having a staring contest.
One final picture to send off our Sri Lanka adventure in style.