Friday, November 6, 2015

Tangalle to Ella, Sri Lanka: A Magic School Bus Ride

Like Aladdin! Or, remember the book series "The Magic School Bus"?! Oh, Ms. Frizzle.  I loved her dresses, she was like my spirit animal.

Anyhow, today I went on the most fascinating/adventure-filled bus ride(s) of all time!

Cliffnotes of the Day:
  • Had an incredible traditional Sri Lankan breakfast on the patio of my homestay house, prepared by the mother.  There was one other couple staying at the homestay, Aleks and Mike (from Toronto), and they were totally lovely. We spent all of breakfast chatting, then headed down to Tangalle Beach together afterwards.

    Traditional breakfast prepared by the homestay mom. There are hoppers (the egg/omelette things), egg rohttis, coconut rohtti, toast, and of course - tea

    At the beach with Aleks and Mike - they are also traveling the world for a year, and they were so great

    Tangalle Beach - so much beach prettiness, Sri Lanka!

    • I unfortunately had to take off a little after noon to head to my next location; the mountain city of Ella!  But I loved getting to meet Aleks and Mike; they are also blogging their travels at www.customsandcoffee.com, if you're interested :)
    • That leads me to the adventure of the day (yes it involves a bus, and yes, I have a weird love of buses), but it deserves its own section!

    The World's Most Incredible Bus Ride:
    I knew I wanted to head to the city of Ella next (about 6 hours away), but I had no real idea how to get there.

    On that note, I feel like I should mention that Sri Lanka is different than all the other countries I've been to so far, because there are no tourist-targeted buses. Even the cities that are well-traveled by tourists, there's no major way or bus/train route to get between one or the other - you have to take local transportation and make transfers here and there, just like a local.  Which is why many tourists opt to hire a private driver to shuttle them between cities (it's the most efficient and really not that expensive if you think about it). 

    But as I'm becoming a weird fringe traveler, I wanted to take a bus - and I knew it was possible because EK had done the trip the other way (Ella down to Tangalle), and lived to tell the tale.  That's all the info I needed, so I asked my homestay lady which buses I needed to take and went on my way.

    Seriously, this is all the info I had - written down on a scrap of paper by my homestay mother.

    Arriving at the Tangalle Bus Terminal, it was overwhelming. There's a ton of school buses everywhere, and while they usually have a city or two written in English on the bus, you have no idea where the bus is stopping in between (for example, if you refer to my scrap of paper - I needed to take a bus to Wellawaya first. But the bus' final destination is Ampara and Wellawaya is just a stop on the way, so the bus would only have "Ampara" written on it).  And each bus has a specific location it stops at in the parking lot, and there are no signs or indicators as to which bus is where. Let's just say, if it weren't for the incredibly helpful locals, I would have been totally lost. And probably have definitely missed my bus.

    Bus station chaos. And apparently none of these were my bus.

    I finally located my first bus, stashed my backpack right next to the driver (I learned from my first bus trip!), and the bus assistant indicated I should sit in the front row. As another FYI, the front couple rows are usually reserved for monks and clergy, but it's where you should sit if you're a solo female because buses have the possibility of grope-y hands for females. See Exhibit "my highly uncomfortable bus ride the day before."  I was sitting in the 3rd row for that ride, which I thought was close enough to the front but apparently not!

    As is such, I sat next to the cutest tiny little lady monk for most of the way. She was adorable and slept most of the time.

    My front-row view of the bus driver and the bus assistant + the only place to store my backpack. Apparently my backpack makes a comfy seat.

    On another note, Sri Lankan buses are ridic. They usually bling out the inside with photos and pictures (this one had Buddhist imagery everywhere), and they play crazy videos of singers accompanied by loud music. For the entire ride.

    And then this random man got on the bus and started giving a personal infomercial. He managed to stay upright while the bus was rocking over the bumpy roads, all while coloring with pen all over his shirt and speaking a million miles a minute, like an auctioneer (he was selling stain remover, so he removed it all later).  It was magical.  And he actually sold a ton of the stain remover.

    And then a bunch of cows bum-rushed the road! ONLY IN SRI LANKA

    One of the most magical parts of the ride was as we were normally cruising down the road - and I was looking out the window. AND SUDDENLY THERE WAS AN ELEPHANT. Just standing by the side of the road, just chilling, eating out of a garbage pile. An ELEPHANT. A FREE-RANGE ELEPHANT. It passed so quickly and when I looked away from the window, the bus attendant caught my eye and smiled, while tipping his chin towards the window as if to say "Did you see the elephant?" I'm sure I had the hugest grin ever. Magic.

    The most helpful part of asking a million questions is that the bus driver knew where I wanted to get off. So he alerted me when we stopped in Wellawaya, where I asked 5 more random buses before I found the one I wanted to Ella.

    I still got a seat in the front row, but let's say this bus was a littttle more crowded

    Overall, the hours zoomed by in my 6-hour bus endeavor - and it was such an adventure! The second bus was taking these super winding roads up a mountain (since Ella is a mountain town), and the views were so incredibly gorgeous - like green jungle, tea plantations, waterfalls, and vistas the entire way. And when we got to Ella, the bus driver alerted me, and I hustled myself off the bus. I'd arrived!  Sometimes there is no better feeling then getting exactly to where you need to go - it's like the world's greatest feeling of accomplishment.

    The Hotel:
    In Tangalle, I stayed in a homestay called Ananda Homestay.  I think I explained this earlier, but outside of the big cities in Colombo, there are no more hostels and a ton more guesthouses or homestays - or people renting out rooms in their house.

    The woman at my homestay in Tangalle was the sweetest, and she cooked the most incredible food.  She had three daughters and her husband drove a tuk-tuk, and it was incredibly nice getting to stay in her home and getting more of an insight into a real Sri Lankan home.

    My large, mosquito-net surrounded bed. I've now learned to love mosquito nets because they are (surprise) SUPER USEFUL

    Fun Facts of the Day:
    • Sri Lankans rarely eat out, so you actually don't find many restaurants - especially out of the big cities (though the big cities also have far less restaurants than you would imagine).  Most Sri Lankans eat at home all the time, which is why your best bet at a delicious meal is usually at your own hotel or homestay.
    • On that note, many times something called a "hotel" is not an actual hotel - it means a restaurant. I have no idea why. But the word hotel is used to indicate restaurants as well - which makes things kind of confusing to me personally, as I was thinking to myself that "The New Muslim Hotel" that was down the road was kind of an aggressive name - but it turned out it was just a restaurant.
    • Sri Lankans also always eat with their hands. They manage to do it in a way that is a lot less disastrous then when I do it. On this note, you always hand things to people or receive things with your right hand or both hands (as your right hand is your eating hand, and the left hand is for the bathroom).
    • Buses are (again) SO, SO CHEAP. My 6-hour bus endeavor, including both buses, cost me about $2 total.  I had inquired a tuk-tuk as to how much it would be for him to drive me the entire journey, and it was about $40 comparatively. 

      1 comment:

      1. Love how your travel is getting more and more local, and boldly go into the roads less traveled. It's awesome how travel always opens you up to the world and people.