June 8, 2014
After a quick (45 min each way) morning walk to the Nine Arches Bridge in Ella (nothing too impressive, though if you’re the type who wants to see the source of the post card picture in real life, you may like it), we headed to our next destination, Tissa.
Being a Sunday, Kim and I decided to take a slight detour to Bandarawela to check out the weekly market. Like any market it was full of people haggling over prices and vendors yelling at you to come see their fruit, which looks exactly the same as that of the guy beside him. It was worth checking out for half an hour, but nothing particularly unforgettable. Disappointingly, tropical fruit (soursop, mango, papaya) tends to be harder to buy and eat on the spot than the berries, apples, pears, etc. we’re used to.On our bus from Bandarawela to Wellavaya, where we had to connect to another bus that would take us to Tissa, the launching point for Yala National Park safaris, we came across something we’d never seen before: a seven fingered man! What’s more, he was the bus fare collector, thus making him born for the job in every sense of the word, as the extra digits allow for extra sorting and separating of various bills. Our ride flew by as we sat mesmerized by this man and tried surreptitiously but, alas, unsuccessfully to get a good picture.
On the bus from Wellavaya to Tissa, which was mercifully hairpin turn and swerve free as we were back on the Sri Lankan plains, we had another memorable experience. A group of about seven kids aged around 7 to 9 boarded the bus from the rear, where Kim and I were seated by ourselves on the back bench. They at first didn’t notice us, as they were too busy chatting and horsing around amongst themselves. Suddenly, one noticed us, audibly yelped, jumped in the air, and made haste to the crowded front of the bus, despite there being empty seats all around us. The kid’s friends quickly followed him to the front of the bus, ostensibly to escape us strange people. From a safe distance, they then spent the rest of the time whispering to each other while pointing at us. The older people on the bus seemed to get a chuckle out of it too, though they too avoided sitting too close to us. I suppose we may have smelled strange to them or something.
In Tissa, we checked into our accommodation, Elephant Camp, headed out for dinner. We ended up eating at a table next to a couple that appeared to be in the early stages of dating. The date didn’t appear any different from a typical awkward date in Canada, until it came time to eat. As per standard Sri Lankan practice, they were eating with their hands. At one point the girl seemed to inquire as to how the guy’s food was. In a Canadian setting, it would be normal for the guy to offer the girl as taste, using her own fork. With no forks in the vicinity, this is there the Sri Lankan experience veered from my perception of the norm. The guy, ever the gentleman, scooped up some of his food, reached over the table, and dumped it into the girl’s mouth! For the third time of the day, I was mesmerized. Then, to add to my astonishment, the girl then picked up some of her food and delicately placed it in her man’s mouth. I could sense the passion from fifteen feet away. In a sense it was similar to the famous spaghetti scene from “The Lady and the Tramp”. I asked Kim if she’d let me feed her, and she declined. Alas.
Theory of the Day:
The Novelty Friendliness Factor. On a scale of one to ten, estimate how novel your appearance as a traveler is to the local you are seeing (Tourist Novelty), and how novel that local is to you the traveler (Local Novelty). Add those together to get the Novelty Friendliness Factor (NFF). The higher the total, the friendlier the people. Some examples:
- Hidden tribes in the Amazon: TN of 10 and LN of 10 = NFF of 20. The one exception to the rule, as the novelty is so high as to be very dangerous.
- People in Sri Lanka: TN of 8 and LN of 7 = NFF of 15. Especially for someone much bigger and with more muscle than he or she normally see. This is one of the delightfully highest NFFs I’ve experienced.
- “Tourist” tribes like the ones living on the floating islands in Lake Titicaca in Peru. TN of 1, LN of 9 = NFF of 10. They’re overwhelmed with gawking tourists, so despite them being novel to you
- Walking along a railway is akin to Chinese water torture. The ties are just too closely spaced together so you’re forced to make shorter than usual steps that start off being slightly annoying but eventually build to a crescendo of being uncontrollably infuriating.
- Even when they are traveling and don’t apply makeup, do their hair, or have any dilemmas on what to wear, girls somehow still find a way to take longer to get ready. It’s astonishing. I suppose it’s their way to exert some control over us poor men.
- Is there such thing as an untimely death if you believe in destiny?
- There should be a term for the drunken confidence and fearlessness people get from drinking excessive amounts of arrack, the local liquor: Arrack-no-phobia. It’s perfect. And, perhaps fittingly, when you drink too much arrack the only fear that increases within you is that of spiders.
- Don’t listen to any tuk-tuk drivers in Wellavaya. They tried to tell us that there were no direct buses for another three hours to Tissa, and that the bus would take three to four hours. Fortunately, we decided to ask around and ended up catching a direct bus twenty minutes later that took only an hour and forty-five minutes. This was our first experience with dishonesty in Sri Lanka. When in doubt, it also helps to call a guesthouse at the city you’re heading to and asking them.
- When booking a safari at Yala, make sure to ensure you don’t get charged extra in case others who are expected to share the jeep with you drop out, and use snacks and binoculars as additional negotiating terms in addition to price. Also ask to meet the driver beforehand to ensure his English is satisfactory.
- Don’t bother brining pants to Sri Lanka. Wearing shorts never stands out as unusual versus the locals and at least when I was there it was never cold enough for pants to be needed. A light sweatshirt, yes, but not pants.