Published: September 12th 2012August 13th 2012
Habarana, Dambulla and Ella
As you can imagine, we were sad to be leaving the beach already after having only spent just a few days there, but we knew we would be re-united with our true love soon enough. Up until the day before leaving Trinco, we had absolutely no intention of stopping in Habarana to see what we had just heard was an amazing gathering of wild elephants at Minneriya water tank (small lake) in one of the nearby parks due to the dry season (That’s the benefit of talking to other traveler’s no matter where you are). Apparently, every day they were congregating in the afternoon for a drink and a little bath. After hearing recent, first-hand experience about this little “safari”, we decided to check it out and hope we weren’t blowing money on something that wouldn’t be worthwhile seeing. Let’s face it, some people also tend to exaggerate a little bit sometimes as well. We’ve seriously met some people who when they say “we saw over 100 elephants”, really should’ve said “we saw 4 birds, 3 monkeys, a butterfly and something rustling in the bushes that MIGHT have been an elephant.”
our bus ride there was much less eventful than the previous and there would be no uncomfortable feelings of anuses or boobs by either one of us. It’s funny how many little things you can find along the way to be thankful for when you’re on the road, huh? We should probably add to that list not being stuck next to someone who hasn’t yet heard of deodorant, or just can’t smell themselves anymore. Those are the people who make you wonder…hmmm, do you think his wife has to close pin her nose to have sex with him, or does she just burn incense and wear a dental mask? On this ride, we learned a little something new about “bus food” in Sri Lanka…corn on the cob? Sometimes, starving yourself is actually to your benefit when the alternative can be an intimate date with a porcelain bowl! We’re sure it tastes great, but that just doesn’t scream “travel food” to us, at least not on a bus where God knows how much crap has landed on your corn by that point just from the dirt and traffic in the roads. Not to mention, we know even OUR hands aren’t clean
90% of the time. Plus, watching a man itch his nuts and grabbing an ear of corn or a woman picking her nose and doing the same is it bit of a deterrent for us in situations like that.
When you first arrive in Habarana, you’re bound to be less than impressed at first sight. The good thing about that is it makes it easy to find a place to stay, although this time we got recruited by a man on the street who also happened to own his own safari jeeps. Of course we would do a little “shopping” in town first after hammering down some roti and dal at a local “hotel”, as they’re called in Sri Lanka even though they’re actually small restaurants. Just by standing in one spot on the side of the road, we attracted more attention from guys driving by in jeeps than one of those old men in speedos at the beach if one of his balls had fallen out while walking along the water. Yes…that much. We figured for the most part the safaris would all be the same anyways, so we might as well book with the guy who had
already been honest about the room. That meant we had a little time to relax and nap in our bed that seemed to be custom made for Wee-man from Jackass than your average person, except he wasn’t being chased by Preston in a pair of baggy tightey-whiteys down a crowded street.
We really don’t understand the whole foot board thing here, especially on such short little beds. Who thinks to themselves, “Ya know what would be comfy right here is a piece of hard wood to rest your ankles on at night.” Honestly, to us they’re about as useful as a heater, just in case you hadn’t sweat through enough clothes quite yet. It might be more understandable if we were back in a country where the men were so much shorter on average, but Sri Lankan men really aren’t that short. With the powrt out and no fan, the best we could do was take a cold shower to cool off in our room of misleading amenities. At first, we thought we had a TV…only to realize there was no outlet anywhere near it and there wasn’t even a cable outlet. The shower head looked brand new, made
of stainless steel with different settings depending on your preference…but it wasn’t actually hooked up to anything…no, these were just decorations, room props. It really didn’t matter, just made us laugh more than anything. Now if it had been a fake toilet and we had to do our business outside in a garbage can it would have been a much different story.
Not as if we expected to be, but we weren’t alone on our safari that afternoon. We would be joined by a very nice Dutch couple who happened to be riding their bicycles around the country and another really nice couple consisting of a French woman and an Argentinian man. Even though it may not be the best, our Spanish would definitely come in handy that day since the later of the two couples didn’t speak English very well. But, as soon as Jessie spilled the beans that we could at least understand a fair amount of Spanish, they opened up in a hurry…telling us all about their lives, their travels, their kids, etc. It was definitely one of those times where it felt really good to be able to communicate with people in a different language.
Then again, it also helps when one of the people you’re trying to communicate with is still learning as well (the French woman). It didn’t matter if we didn’t conjugate things perfectly, we got our point across to one another and that’s all the mattered. We were truly grateful for the time we had spent with them and really aspire to be like them one day when we get a bit older…grown kids, partially retired and still traveling every year to new parts of the world with our backpacks in tow.
When we arrived at the water tank we already knew we were going to get our money’s worth from our trip. We were easily looking at over 100 wild elephants, including plenty of little babies walking and suckling on their mothers (some as young as 3 weeks). We were even fortunate enough to see what the Sri Lankan’s were calling the “tusker”, the big male elephant leader of the herd. Nate couldn’t help but share with Jessie something he had read about the requirements for the male elephants chosen for the king to ride. One of them was that all limbs must be touching the ground at the
same time, including trunk, all 4 feet, and the penis (Guess that leaves Nate out!). So obviously only the extremely hung monster-cocked elephants are suitable for a king. In a way, that kind of makes sense. Still, thinking of how big that thing is has to be enough to make any women cross her legs and cringe doesn’t it? Could you imagine being a full grown male with all the right “equipment” except for not measuring up downstairs? What a blow to your self-esteem…sorry, you can’t be royalty because your penis is big enough! Poor guys. OK, enough about elephant schlongs. The view was truly worth the money we had paid and we couldn’t stop taking pictures just about the entire time we were there. We have to admit, part of us did feel a little bad that so many jeeps were around full of tourists who all wanted the same pictures we were taking, but we still couldn’t help but love the scene and the opportunity we had to see so many wild elephants. At any rate, we were glad we listened to some good advice from fellow travelers and made a special stop here.
Next up was
the only place we decided to visit as far as cultural sites go. We figured seeing the cave temples in Dumbulla would be worth a look, so we made a day of it, of course walking there and back to save money even though the weather was hot enough for Nate to make ball sack soup. We originally made our way up to a place called the “rock temple”, where we didn’t want to pay to enter, not realizing that it was the same thing as “cave temple” until we walked all the way back down the many stairs that led up to the caves. Maybe that’s what we get for being cheap. We have to say, the caves were pretty cool, but not worth the money we spent on them. This was exactly why it was hard for us to justify spending too much money on things like this in Sri Lanka. Part of us feels bad saying that or even writing it in this blog, but there are also plenty of you out there who have seen the same things as us and understand not spending money on something unless you know it will be worth it, especially
towards the end of your trip. Besides, no matter what you see, the best part about this country so far is all of the amazing people that live here. We took it as a learning experience and decided to move on to Ella, but this time we would take the train down since it was supposed to be such a beautifully scenic ride. It was a pretty easy decision after some of our rides on the local buses anyways.
We were up early for a nice 1K walk to the bus terminal, then a 2 hour ride to Kandy, and a tuk tuk ride to the train station since we got dropped off somewhere other than the bus terminal and couldn’t be bothered to walk in the heat with the crowds of people. We arrived at the train station, got tickets, and changed trains before being able to settle in for our 6 hour journey in 2nd class. It really couldn’t be any more uncomfortable than the bus anyways. At least this way we’d have our own assigned seat instead of trying to squeeze our asses into a space that looks like it could only accommodate a 2 year
old. Although we have to admit, people make it work every day! But, like we’ve said before, those are the things you deal with when you decide to take local transportation instead of private cars. Besides, it’s not like we had some horror story keeping us from the slower ways of getting around; like say transporting durian and dried squid under every seat. Yummy!
Once we got a little closer to tea country, we were glad we had taken the train as we started to take in all of the mountainous views. Even though we consider ourselves beach people, we’ve come to love the mountains more and more lately. But it wasn’t just the scenery that made the ride there worth it. There was a group of kids with their families who boarded the train and immediately made friends with not only us (especially Jessie), but a group of Italians sitting next to us, practically begging to have their pictures taken. One thing we couldn’t quite figure out was why they kept on saying “desculpen” to us. Having just come from Spanish speaking countries it sounded remarkably close to how you say “excuse me” in Spanish (disculpe), and at
first that’s what we thought they were saying. But, if you listened closer to some of them you would know they were actually saying “a school pen” instead of just asking for a pen. Needless to say, we felt pretty stupid after putting two and two together and got a seriously good laugh at ourselves. Of course, leave it to Nate to turn something like this into an everyday affair. Now every time either one of us releases any built up umm, gas… it’s followed by a “sculpen (school pen)” from Nate.
With the scenery we were seeing on the ride in, we were building up some high hopes for Ella. But for us, it wasn’t quite like we had heard it would be. It was really beautiful, but we literally saw more tourists in 10 minutes than we had seen the entire time we were in Sri Lanka prior to our arrival and were immediately feeling like we had just landed in a giant tourist trap. Not to mention, some of the food prices in this town were over twice as much as we had been paying along the way so far. Luckily we would sniff out a
good local place where we would eat pretty much every single meal just to get a more local price, with each meal getting bigger and bigger for the same amount of money. It was easy to tell that the cook appreciated us coming back over and over by the huge smile on his face as well. You know you’re in a local place when every Sri Lankan who walks in has to walk past you to see what you’re eating and ask the family running the “hotel” what you ordered and then watch you long enough to see your reaction. Good thing we liked the food, but with so many eyes on us, we would’ve had to smile even if we found out we were eating chopped up cow crap. By now we’ve come to know exactly when our Kottu is being made by the clanking of the tools they use, some of which actually seem to play a song as they chop up the roti into little pieces. When it was good kottu, it was be music to our ears.
Although Ella was packed with more tourists than we thought there would be, we knew we had to
make the best of it. We would take one day to walk the train tracks and go for a little hike until we were passed by a local man who said he was walking to his home, although he ended up waiting for us up around the next bend trying to offer us advice on where to go. We read about a little scam where some of the local people have destroyed parts of the trails to make it easier for tourists to get lost, forcing them to pay for a “guide” to get them either TO their destination or back from it. We’d say 90% of the time the people of Sri Lanka are sincerely trying to help and amazingly friendly, but when someone keeps pushing the idea over and over, you can figure out why. It actually got to the point where we would just turn around and walk back so we didn’t have to deal with him anymore after we had already told him “no thank you” as nicely as possible a half a dozen times. The last straw was when he was about 20 feet in front of us again, whistling and telling us to “come.”
Did he think we were dogs? Were we supposed to go running with our tongues hanging out waiting for the next command? We kinda wanted to spray him with mosquito repellant because he was truly THAT annoying. It was time to lose this douche, and so we did.
Our best day in Ella would actually come when we rented a motorbike to ride out to the Dambateene Tea Plantation where the tea is grown for Lipton Tea. What a surprise that our most favorite day would come on a bike…seems like they usually do! We spent some time riding to Badulla to hit the ATM then back the other direction through more tea plantations than we could count. The ride there was great and the scenery was beautiful, especially after making our way through Haputale. We decided to take a pass on Horton’s Plain and the World’s End but we feel that we got to see nearly the same views from the motorbike. In the distance we could see, along with being surrounded by green tea and small villages made for a breathtaking view.
We took a short tour of the tea plantation learning about the correct leaves
that were to be picked, how many kilos were required by the pickers each day (12-15 Kg), how they were dried, sorted and finally packaged before they were shipped off to Western countries to be put in tea bags for mass consumption. Jessie thoroughly enjoyed the tour learning about the tea process but she enjoyed seeing the female tea pickers on our drive out even more. You would never guess these women would be so happy everyday doing such a demanding job, but every one of them had smiles from ear to ear, waving as we drove past and some were even very willing to let Jessie take a picture of them. One thing we can’t say enough about the people in Sri Lanka is that they are typically very kind, genuinely happy people. The people in this country truly demonstrate how incredibly friendly people can be just because that’s how they are by nature. Sure plenty of people are trying to make money on you at the same time, but not everyone is buttering you up with one hand in your pocket or wanting a sip of your soda. Yes, we really had that happen to us at a
bus station. An old man had talked with us for 60 seconds and then asked for some of our Pepsi. We laughed and played it off like nothing happened, but we were both thinking to ourselves, “If his lips even come CLOSE to touching that bottle he can have it.”
One thing we weren’t really expecting from Sri Lanka was the amount of pollution you get from all of the diesel vehicles here, especially the buses. By the time we were done with our ride, Jessie looked like she was mining coal all day long from all of the fumes on the road. We still have no idea how Nate didn’t have quite as much dirt on his face as she did, but it was definitely proof of the nasty exhaust we had been breathing in. Apparently smoking’s got NOTHIN’ on riding behind and around the buses here! It’s a daily occurrence here seeing people cover their mouths and noses as the buses pass by puking out black smoke from the back end. It’s not like you don’t ever see this in plenty of other countries of course, but it wasn’t exactly something we enjoyed either. If you told
us all of the buses here pass emissions tests for pollution, we’d probably tell you that’s about as likely as us giving up traveling for a shot at becoming low-grade porn stars. Yeah…not happenin’.
We felt pretty satisfied that we had seen mostly everything we wanted to, even though we had opted not to do any serious trekking in Ella and gave Adam’s Peak a miss as well. Maybe we just weren’t quite recovered from our time spent in the mountains of South America, but we didn’t have it in us to do any hiking for more than an hour or so or easy walking. Although Ella wasn’t nearly what we thought it would be, no place ever is. We were glad we got to get out on the bike and experience the beauty of tea country on our own time. But, we were ready to head back to the beach, our tan lines were fading so off we went…to Aragum Bay. Traveler Tips Getting There
Habarana (from Trincomolee): The bus cost us 160 Rs each from Trinco terminal. The tuk tuk to the terminal cost a whopping 250 Rs.
Dambulla (from Habarana): The bus trip is
short and cheap at 40 Rs.
Ella (from Dambulla or Kandy): We went to the bus terminal to get a seat on the bus to Kandy which cost 95 Rs each. We paid for a tuk tuk to the train station 130 Rs. The train to Ella cost 450 Rs each. The train price is calculated by segment. Each segment is 220 Rs, we chose the second train of the day to Ella and had to switch after 10 mintues. So, we ended up pay 220 Rs for 10 minutes and 220 Rs for 6 hours! If you chose the later train, take the BUS to the next terminal and not the train. We learned our lesson. Staying
Habarana: We stayed at Sky View Guest House for 1200 Rs with a fan and private shower. The guest house was close to town but far enough from the main road that it was quiet to sleep at night.
Dambulla: We stayed at Healy Tourist in for 1200 Rs. They had wifi and the family was very nice and helpful.
Ella: We wouldn’t recommend Green View GH unless you do some serious bartering and get a nice room.
We much preferred Rawana for 1500 Rs. The inner rooms were just fine and the place has wifi. The guys that work at the place are very friendly and helpful. Eating
Habarana: Listen for the Kottu and tuck in for one. We heard bad things about the tourist restaurants in the book.
Dambulla: We loved the little place near the clock tower on the road opposite from the Cave Temples. It’s literally right across from the clock tower, as local as it gets and great food.
Ella: We ate a little local place with no name. They are the only place in town with roti and kottu that actually looks like a typical Sri Lankan hotel. Skip the Roti Hut. Getting Around
Habarana: The town is only one road and very easy to walk around. A safari will run you about 4500 Rs which includes the park fee and transport and 2.5 hours in the park.
Dambulla: Again, walking is just fine. Healy is a way out of town closer to the temples but it’s not too far from food. The cave temples cost 1300 Rs each.
Ella: Renting a motorbike is the best
way to see the area around Ella. We paid 1500 Rs for the day and it was worth it, even though it was expensive!
There are more photos below