Anuradnapura is an ancient town with lots of old Buddhist temples, unfortunately because of the high entry cost we didn’t visit the main area of ruins. There were some you didn’t have to pay to see, and luckily on the day we visited some kind of large festival was taking place so it was very busy and quite the spectacle. As always we had no idea what was happening, but think thousands of people and a helicopter frequently flying over with monks inside throwing huge bags of flower petals over worshipers below. One of the temples is home to the Sri Maha Bodi, one of the oldest planted trees in the world that is said to have been tended to continuously for 2000 years. The cutting is said to have come fro the tree where Buddha first became enlightened and is therefor sacred to Sri Lankan Buddhists.
Cycling in the Monsoon seasonin Sri Lanka hs proven to be unpredictable. Some days will be dry, with a half hour of raining cats and dogs around 3 in the afternoon and then back to being dry as a bone for the rest of the day, other days there is a slow, interminable drizzle that soaks us to the skin and leaves everything, including our spirits, fairly dampened. Thankfully his morning when we woke, the sky seemed fairly bright and it seemed at the very least that we would have a dry start to the day.
After a cup of coffee, we decided it would be wise to put to use the degreaser that we had bought the previous day. The label on it is fantastic, it has a wan (for those of you that don’t speak bogger, read: lady) wearing denim cut-off hot pants, with a perm, leaning over a car bonnet, it’s straight from the 80’s! As we began cleaning, the impact of over 4 months dirt and grease on our bicycle chains became quickly apparent. It was going to be pretty difficult to do a proper job without a bucket and brush, neither of which we had. Luckily, the man with the wobbliest head in the world, who works at the hotel we stayed at, was fairly eager to give us a hand and he came over with his brush in hand and set to work. He wouldn’t allow either of us to help and scrubbed off the worst of the dirt all the while grinning and wobbling his head! Job done, we decided it was time for breakfast.
One of the things that I have found most wearing about Sri Lanka is the tendancy for people to inflate prices simply because we are tourists. We have been here for over a week now and have a fairly good grasp on what most things should cost. The first place we approached for a few bits to eat for breakfast quoted us about 3 times what they should have and so we walked away. The second place was less expensive than the first, but honestly, they were still taking the piss. But time was getting on, we needed to get moving and with a sigh we accepted and quickly ate a couple of dosas each.
By the time we got going, it was after 10am, a huge chunk of the morning had slipped by us but there was little we could do. Besides, with a shor 55km cycle to do today, we knew that it really shouldn’t be a problem.
Our day was pretty standard compared to our other days to date in Sri Lanka. Bus drivers were really dangerous, we saw some crazy driving and passed through many villages along the main road. People are still constantly asking us where we are going. In fact, a policeman pulled us over today to ask that very question. We had a short chat with him, he told us he was checking motorists papers, where he is from and also that he really doesn’t like his job. He can’t find anything else, so being a policeman will have to do for now he said! At least he was honest I suppose! We have seen a huge amount of police checkpoints today, they check licenses and insurance almost every 5km or so on the road between Anuradhapura and Vavuniya.
Our day has consisted of spotting birds and trying to identify what they are. There is a huge amount of variety here and we’ve spotted kingfishers, crested serpent eagles, ceylon hornbills and loads more. The animal count is rising too, Sam saw a mongoose this morning and we both cycled over a currently unidentified bright green snake (by mistake of course).
As we neared the border to the Northern Provinces, we took a quick break to have a drink and also to make sure we had our permit to hand. Earlier this year, the Sri Lankan government announced that all foreigners intending to visit the North of the country must apply to the Minister of Defence for a permit in advance. And so we had. Having checked all our paperwork was ready to be produced, we headed on up the road. We must have passed at least 5 Army checkpoints before we reached Vavuniya but the most interest in us that any of them took was to wave and shout hello!
Arriving into the town, we passed many signs for guesthouses but decided to head for one recommended in a guide book that I will not deign to mention. When we arrived, it would appear that the price for this accommodation has risen 50% in the last 4 years and besides it was dingy, dark and had no windows. So we turned tail and headed for the main road again. Here we found ourselves at Lanka Rest House. The Ritz, it is not, but the friendly guy who seems to be running the place, Cakey, is helpful, the room is clean and it has a window! It’s the liveliest place we have stayed so far, owing mainly to the fact, I assume, that it has the only bar I’ve seen in Sri Lanka and they seem to be showing an endless stream of cheesey Bollywood movies on a big screen!
We headed into the town to get some dinner and once again, found ourselves faced with people trying to charge us twice the amount that a rice and curry should be. Eventually we found somewhere sensible but only after the heavens had opened for a quick downpour.
We’re back at the rest house now and are enjoying a beer while we try to make sense of what is happening in this movie! We’re hoping tomorrow will bring a change in scenery and some quieter roads to enjoy.