I’ll regret that title!
I feel cheated: this is the second rain-forest I’ve visited and on neither occasion has it rained.
The day has been quite successful: I negotiated a tuk-tuk, found the right bus first time at the bus station and got dropped off in the village near the rainforest reserve. It turned out that we had overshot the gate by about a mile, so tuk-tuk back along the road… The driver didn’t seem all that sure about where the entrance was and we discovered that the ticket office is about a quarter of a mile from the completely unmanned gate: a recipe for ticket evasion. A lad on a bike tried to get me to hire him as a guide, but I said we must go to the ticket office and he lost interest. Just at the entrance to the ticket office I was less self-righteous and hired a guy who was offering a fair price, had good English and seemed to know his stuff.
We slipped into the rainforest by the back door and had a very enjoyable walk round. The guide was knowledgeable and had good English. We saw monkeys and the incredibly well camouflaged kangaroo-lizard, as well as some amazing trees: up to 50m in height and 200-300 years old. I told him about seeing the “monitor lizard” but he corrected me: this would have been an iguana: the clue is that the full name is “water monitor lizard” apparently, and there’s not a lot of water on the top of a Sri Lankan hill. On the way, we met a group of half-a-dozen very loud English people. As they approached, Rohan my guide commented on the noise and I suggested he should say something. He seemed unwilling to speak out, so I did and they went on their way chastened or in a huff, but certainly quieter.
A tiny action impressed me. Rohan was showing me pitcher plants and carefully emptied into his hand the water inside one so I could see all the wee flies. Lesson over, he carefully poured the water and flies back into the pitcher: this struck me, perhaps fancifully, as a very gentle, a very Buddhist thing to do.
Rohan eventually steered me back to the bus stop which was infested with monkeys, more and bolder than anything we saw in the rainforest. He bought me a coconut drink whilst telling me how poor he and his family are, especially funding their eldest – a girl – through university and two boys in the upper reaches of secondary. He invited me to lunch, the first Sunday in March to meet his daughter and he would give me a big pack of tea. What was my phone number? Here was my get-out as I didn’t have a working SIM card. The bus arrived at this point and I made my escape.
Time to go shopping, so into P&J shopping mall – an establishment rather less swanky than, say, the Eastgate Centre back home. However, I bought some orange juice and a simple phone, checked my SIM card worked in it and went off delighted. Jo: thanks for the recent comment: you were right, as ever; you must take after your father! Next to track down a mini-USB lead for my good camera: mission accomplished, I ventured into a bakery and chose some “short eats”. I had a vadai (a sort of deep-fried spicy lentil thing) which I enjoyed and a boring pastry triangle filled with something tasteless. My tea was – as seems to be the way out here – served with hot milk and very sweet. Buoyed up with my success so far, I went back for a chocolate-covered pastry: it was as much of a disappointment as these things generally are.
Once again, my plan was to start out walking to the Hillside and grab a tuk-tuk (never a problem!) as and when I needed it. I got on fine, navigating by landmarks I’d passed on previous trips, until I came to a Y-junction, chose one arm and soon came to another junction where I was unsure which branch to take. Time for a tuk-tuk. “Hotel Hillside, please. Have you been there before, do you know the way?” Assurance that he spent half his life in the hotel was given, a price negotiated and off we went, back the way I’d come, taking the other arm of the Y. “So that’s where I went wrong!” I thought. But no, we were soon back in the town centre and it became abundantly clear my tuk-tuk driver hadn’t the foggiest. We stopped and asked people every few minutes: some knew – or thought they did – and gave directions in Sinhala that may or not have been correct, others hadn’t a clue. Although it was funny in a way, it was also rather frustrating as I had a better idea of where the place was than he had, but didn’t know how to get there. Showing him the hotel’s card, with address on the front and sketch map on the back, was to no avail. Eventually, I got the gps out and had to direct him myself. He had the cheek to ask for extra money because he’d had a lot of driving. He didn’t get any.
I texted Sonia, but currently have no idea if she received it, then heard some of Sylvia’s stories before withdrawing to do some blogging.
Apart from Sylvia, there are some other people staying. Apart from a trickle of passing Sri Lankans, there are three young Russian/Ukrainian/Bosnian…men and, next door to me a Malaysian chap who is out here auditing some garment manufacturers. To cut a long story short, he introduced me to a guy who rents out rooms in a brand-new house (photos provided). I’m going to have a look on Sunday, if he remembers to pick me up. This place would be slightly dearer than Hillside but be within walking distance of Madam’s school, so I’d recoup a bit on tuk-tuk fares. Even more intriguingly, it is apparently just across the road from the confusingly named Thomas Gall School. Judging by the video and pictures I was shown, the kids are taught in mud huts and it looks a whole lot less stultifying. It is also some sort of international school maybe run by an Englishwoman. Worth a visit methinks.
The cable for the SLR seems to work, but I’m unable to download a driver as someone thinks my laptop is incompatible. It looks though SLR pictures are off the menu for now.
First thing this morning, I spotted some monkeys – langurs, I’m told – in the trees just down from the hotel. They were quite a distance away, so I doubt the pictures will be much cop. Oh, and talking of wildlife, despite the dire warnings of the guide book, I didn’t get any leeches on me. Lots of ants, a centipede or two, but no leeches.