Sri Lanka – Puttalam to Wilpattu and Back Again!

Sri Lanka can be a strange auld place. We stayed in a “holiday resort” last night and paid 1700 rupees for our room. We were told it was far superior to the rooms for 700. On dumping our bags and getting a chance to look around, we discovered here wasn’t much difference in it. The more expensive room had a fridge, but it didn’ work. It also had a television, but the reception was crap. The cheaper rooms have an outside seating area. But because the more expensive rooms have had a lick of paint, they’re waaaay more expensive. Oh well, lesson learnt! A holiday resort here is simply a guest house wih a few rooms, the leisure park is, in fact, the garden. Oh they’ve got notions all right….

When we set of this morning, we headed to the place we had eaten last night, poetically named ‘salty city’, picked up a breakfast package of egg and noodles and curry sauce and went to the recently constructed beach overlooking the lagoon to eat it. We were careful to park our bikes in just the right place, we got  telling off yesterday for parking them too close to the sand! Obviously yer man has nothing better for doing cos it’s not exactly the most manicured spot! And so we enjoyed our fill before heading north. We were planning on geting to the southernmost reaches of Wilpattu National Park today, staying the nigh at a little place we found on the internet, before heading through the park tomorrow and hopefullyspotting some elephants.

Salt drying ponds

Salt drying ponds

We cycled past some huge plam frond roofed shacks, next to some large flooded fields. It appears they are salt plains, but with the rain as heavy as it has been, the water is knee deep and nobody’s going to be drying any salt there any time soon! There are birds everywhere, bright blue backed rollers, storks and egrets, sitting on wires, wading through flooded fields and hopping from tree to tree. Luckily, Sam is quite patient when I get excited about a kingfisher, I think he’s getting in to it! We even spotted a couple of lazy crested serpent eagles doing nothing much except for sitting down and wondering why they were getting so much attention. And so we passed our first few kilometres, passing into massive coconut plantations on a quiet road. The cycling was enjoyable and knowing we had a short trip today, we were looking forward to chilling out for the afternoon in the jungle. As we approached the 10km mark, we were waved down by a policeman, after asking us where we were going, he told us that the road through Wilpattu is closed today because of heavy rain yesterday. We decided to carry on regardless, taking a chance that it might be open tomorrow. Besides, the scenery was enjoyable and we’d at least be able to see the southern end.
The remainder of the cycle was enjoyable, stopping briefly for a cold drink and to watch a man run over a dog with his motorcycle cos he was so busy staring at us (the dog seems fine). As we arried towards our intended accommodation, the road turned to dirt tack and we have cycled, half pushed our bikes the final few hundred metres. When we arrived at Wilpattu Lodge, they were surprised to see us as it’s low season, but welcoming and friendly. They hadn’t realised that the road was closed and while we looked around, they made acouple of calls to find out what the story was. We won’t be going through the National Park it seems, the road won’t be open for some time. As we chatted, the guy running the place told us that they don’t allow cyclists through the park, but you can hire an open backed truck to take you through for about 2000 rupees. We are gutted we can’t go through the national park, but also that we won’t be staying at the Lodge. It’s basic, but lovely and they often get elephants wandering through the grounds. As we couldn’t go through, we had to turn back to Puttalam. The road up here goes through the park and nowhere else.

Shrines under a Bayam tree.

Shrines under a Bayam tree.

We headed north a little further to have a look at the causeway that leads into Wilpattu. We got most of the way before the deep muck stopped us in our tracks and we decided to head back and call it a day.
And so we turned tail to retrace our steps. As we stopped for a cold drink, a young man asked us if we had been enquiring about the road being open. As chance would have it, he was the person that the owners of the lodge rang to find out whether it would be passable or not. He told us it was currently under 4m of water. No hassle! Sure we often dragged our bikes through deeper floods in Croatia!! He also excitedly asked Sam if he would like to see his safari jeep. It was a big Tata truck with seats fitted in the back and is very cool. Boo to smelly rain and not being able to see elephants from a truck!
We legged it back to Puttalam, the wind suddenly became our friend and we zipped along never dipping below 20km an hour, not bad with a fully loaded bike!
When we arrived back in Puttalam, we decided togo back to the “resort”. This time we opted for the cheaper room and after having filled our bellies are happily sitting on the covered porch, chatting to the hotel staff as torrential rain pours down. It’s been disappointing in ways today, and our route plan has been torn assunder, but this is the way it goes sometimes and you hae to roll with the punches. Tomorrow we’ll head for Anuradhapura and begin our detour to get to the north.


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