The Monthly Bucket- July 2017

Hey adventurers! I hope everyone had a fantastic July. Mine was certainly eventful- here’s what I got up to this month.

Where in the world am I? I just landed back in the USA at the end of July after nearly four months in India and Sri Lanka. I am currently gorging myself on all the American fast food I’ve missed (I love you, Steak N Shake) and gearing up for two months of road tripping around the country.  

Items checked off the bucket list this month: #542- explore ancient temples in Sri Lanka. This was a three month project! Check out some of the amazing temples I’ve been exploring:

Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic Kandy Sri Lanka MyAdventureBucket.com
Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, Kandy
Dambulla Cave Temples Sri Lanka MyAdventureBucket.com
Dambulla Cave Temples
Nallur Kandaswamy Hindu Temple Jaffna Sri Lanka MyAdventureBucket.com
Nallur Kandaswamy Temple, Jaffna

#365- Deep fried hot dogs at Rutt’s Hut in Clifton, New Jersey

Deep fried hot dogs Rutts Hut Clifton New Jersey MyAdventureBucket.com
Yes, deep fried hot dogs. Dog bless America.

 

Highlight of the month: Climbing the ancient rock monastery of Sigiriya! I was really nervous about this, guys. I’m not in the best shape and my health has been kind of sketchy on this trip as you know. But I made it to the top! And not without considerable effort. Apart from the sheer physical exhaustion, I was also contending with potential swarms of wasps and huge wind gusts that could easily blow a person (or at least their camera) off the rock. At one point I was down on my hands and knees crawling up some steps because the wind was blowing so hard I couldn’t stand up. But the important thing is, I made it! Even if coming down did take twice as long because my knees were absolute Jell-O.

Sigiriya Sri Lanka MyAdventureBucket.com

Did you accomplish something awesome in July? Comment below and let me know so I can celebrate with you!

Lowlight of the month: Getting stuck with the absolute worst driver on the planet while moving from Kandy to Habarana, Sri Lanka. Proof that, even when you do your research and use a reputable tour company, you can still be stuck with a complete nincompoop. Read all about it here.

Best meal: Pan fried dumplings at Momo’s by Ruvi in Colombo. These things were amazing. If you’ve never had a momo, you should go get some immediately. Actually just get on a plane and come to Sri Lanka because I have to assume these are the best on the planet.

Momos by Ruvi MyAdventureBucket.com

New blog posts published:

Hotel Review: Bar Reef Resort

Hotel Review: Dolphin Beach Resort

June Monthly Bucket

Solo Female Traveler Interview: Cali

Dambulla Cave Temples & the Worst Driver EVER

Hotel Review: Ceylon Tea Bungalows

Hotel Review: Villa Rosa, Kandy

Highlights of Kandy, Sri Lanka

Hotel Review: The Other Corner

Solo Female Traveler Interview: Charlotte

Spa Review: Amber Spa, Colombo Courtyard

So Long, Sri Lanka! What’s Next?

What I learned:

  • Fish pedicures: actually the best thing ever.
  • Sri Lankan road construction crews have no problem whatsoever using a jackhammer at 3 a.m. Never travel without earplugs.
  • The train is never on time. Like, ever.
  • Jaffna, Sri Lanka is home to some of the most beautiful buildings I’ve ever seen…and they’re rapidly crumbling into ruin. Can someone please do something about this?
  • Arrack (the local coconut flower liquor) and ginger beer is amazing.
  • Sri Lankan desserts are so sweet they’ll make your teeth hurt. Proceed with caution.
  • There are spas in Europe where you soak in a tub full of beer. This right here is why Europe is always going to lead the rest of the world into the future.
  • There’s a donut shop in Los Angeles selling donuts filled with ice cream. Maybe Europe has a little competition.
  • Upgrading to Emirates business class is worth every penny.
  • The sprayer hose next to all of the toilets here makes for a handy weapon if you encounter a large insect while getting into the shower. Welcome to the tropics.

 

What I read:

A Man Called Ove  by Fredrick Backman- this book tore my heart out, flattened it, folded it into an origami swan, and then set it on fire. But it also made me laugh, hard. I only read it because someone recommended it to me, and I’m so glad they did. Put this one way, way at the top of your reading list.

I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai- yes, I’m way behind in reading this book, but I’m so glad I finally did. I love to surround myself with positive people and inspirational stories (because who needs more negative crap, seriously?) and this book gave me wings.

What’s next? I’m spending the month of August driving the entire length of I-80 from New York City to San Francisco, and seeing lots of cool stuff along the way. Including a giant butter cow at the Iowa State Fair. Tune in next month to find out if I was able to get close enough to lick it.

Posts on My Adventure Bucket may contain affiliate links. Using these links costs you nothing but helps support the upkeep of this site and my daily cheeseburger habit. 

Dambulla Cave Temples & the Worst Driver EVER

I’m on my way from Kandy to Habarana, sad to be leaving the cool elevation of Sri Lanka’s Hill Country, but excited to visit the ancient cities on my journey north to the rarely-visited Jaffna and the northern islands. I’ve booked a private driver for the day, as there’s no easy train between the two cities and I want to stop at the famous Dambulla Cave Temples on the way. I’m expecting an easy and relaxing day in a nice, air conditioned car, punctuated with a great visit to some marvelous caves filled with gorgeous old Buddha statues.

But you, dear reader, know that what I expect and what actually happens are rarely the same thing.

The Dambulla caves were just as spectacular as I had imagined, but I had the misfortune to be stuck with the worst driver I’ve ever had on any trip anywhere in the world. And I once had a Burmese driver pick up a pregnant woman and wedge her up against me, where she promptly started to go into labor. So when I say this guy was the worst, you know he really put some effort into it.

Not many things will get me out of bed at 5:30 in the morning, but 2000 year old cave temples on top of a mountain are one of them. I’ve arranged my driver through Blue Haven Tours, a company listed in my Lonely Planet and vouched for by the manager of my hotel. Nuwan arrives at 7:00 a.m. on the dot, and we set off for Dambulla in his mildly battered black Suzuki Celario.

As most Sri Lankan taxi drivers do, Nuwan likes to make small talk, and begins asking me questions. Where am I from, why did I come to Sri Lanka, how long am I staying, etc. I rather wish he wouldn’t, as his glances into the rear view mirror are taking his attention away from the narrow, winding roads out of Kandy. But I’m a captive audience, so I answer as blandly as possible, to keep him from getting more distracted from his driving.

His face breaks into a broad leer in the rear view mirror as he says, “United State! And are you happy with your new president?”

Oh, brother. Here we go.

“No, not especially.” Please watch the road, please watch the road, please watch the road.

There is a brief pause as we round a bend and come bumper-to-bumper with a white Toyota. The road isn’t wide enough for two cars (it’s barely wide enough for one, with a steep drop into a drainage ditch on my side and a tall, unruly hedge on the other). After a brief stare-down, Nuwan puts the Suzuki into reverse and backs up a few feet. The Toyota inches forward. Nuwan refuses to back up further and honks the horn. The Toyota doesn’t have enough room to pass, so he honks back. Men emerge from a nearby building and become impromptu traffic conductors. They’re yelling and motioning for Nuwan to back up a little further, to a point where the road widens enough for the Toyota to pass. He refuses. They shout and gesture some more. Finally the Toyota driver lays on his horn until Nuwan relents and backs up enough for him to pass.

As soon as we’re back on the road, Nuwan starts in again. “You should be very happy with your new president. Everyone in Sri Lanka love him!” (This is categorically false, as he is the only person to express this view during my 3 month trip, but anyway…)

“Well, good for you.” The erratic driving is starting to make me nauseous, and I wish I had skipped breakfast. One day, I will be smart enough to lie and say I’m Canadian.

“He defeat Hillary Clinton, who support terrorists!” The way he’s staring at me in the mirror, eyes bulging, is well past creepy and closing in on psychotic.

“Um, no, I’m pretty sure that’s not accurate.”

“Yes it is!” He’s shouting now, and slaps the steering wheel for emphasis. “She give money to dirty Tamil dogs to bomb our Buddhist temples and kill Sri Lankans!”

Cool, so now he’s a gross bigot on top of being delusional. Only 2.5 hours to go. I’m definitely feeling carsick at this point, and breaking out into that pre-vomit cold sweat that signals impending doom.  

“I’m not going to have this discussion with you. I’m paying for a driver, not some rando to yell at me while swerving all over the road.”

I’ve momentarily shocked him into silence. I’ve noticed that Sri Lankan women tend to be fairly meek, and Sri Lankan men aren’t used to being chastised. He stops talking, but continues to stare at me in the rearview mirror. I’m unsettled and nauseous, and almost want to skip the cave temples altogether. I would open my mouth to say so, but I’m afraid I would be sick.

 

Two uncomfortable hours later, we arrive at Dambulla. Nuwan drops me at the bottom of the steep rock stairway that leads to the caves, and points to a small parking lot nearby, saying he’ll be waiting there for me when I finish. He seems to have calmed down from his earlier rant.

The silver lining of the day: the Dambulla cave temples are absolutely stunning. It takes a bit of effort to reach them, what with maneuvering the slippery steps and dodging the marauding local monkey population, but once you do, the reward is magnificent.

At the top of the first set of steps you’ll visit the ticket window and pay your $10 USD  for admission. Make sure you’ve got plenty of water, spare camera batteries, or whatever else you need before you start slogging your way up. You’re not going to want to turn around and do this twice. Also make sure your shoulders and knees are covered, as you’re not getting past the guards without being properly attired.

Dambulla MyAdventureBucket.com
The start of the climb. Also the easiest part, to lull you into a false sense of security.
Dambulla MyAdventureBucket.com
Pretty soon it gets steeper and less hand-rail-y.
Dambulla MyAdventureBucket.com
In some places, whole chunks of the stone steps are missing. This adds to the excitement of the climb.
Dambulla MyAdventureBucket.com
Check out the views once you get to the top! You’ll need to do something while you catch your breath, anyway.

Even though you’re on top of a mountain, poking around in some caves, they’re still sacred temples, so you’ll have to leave your shoes outside. As you reach the top of the steps you’ll hand your shoes to the shoe minder in the little kiosk (and pay 25 rupees when you pick them up later). A few touts hang around the shoe drop, selling beaded bracelets and carved wooden boxes. They’re not as numerous or as pushy as most other tourist sites in the Cultural Triangle area, however.

As you enter through the wooden archway, a guard will stamp your ticket. FYI, this is where the quiet zone starts; the guards have no problem pouncing on unruly tourists and demanding they follow proper temple etiquette.

Dambulla MyAdventureBucket.com

It won’t take long to visit all five temples, as most of them are quite small. The first and smallest cave is my favorite; there’s barely enough room for a handful of visitors at once, and the bulk of the chamber is taken up by an enormous reclining Buddha with a captivatingly serene expression.

Dambulla MyAdventureBucket.com

Large tour buses do visit Dambulla, and the cave temples can get crowded. They all tend to stick together, though, and as the caves are right in a row it’s easy to avoid the groups and move back and forth to enjoy empty or nearly-empty caves most of the time.

Dambulla MyAdventureBucket.com
Don’t forget to look up! There is magnificent art everywhere in the caves, including on the ceilings.
Dambulla MyAdventureBucket.com
…and the door hardware!

As these are still active temples, you’ll see groups of Buddhist monks moving around from cave to cave to pray. They’re accustomed to being surrounded by tourists all day, of course, but I still think it’s nice to give them some space and vacate a temple while they’re using it. Or you could be like some tourists I saw and shove your camera in their faces while they’re kneeling in prayer. (No, don’t do this, those people were horrible. Seriously, who does this?)

Dambulla MyAdventureBucket.com
Isn’t it fantastic?

Dambulla MyAdventureBucket.com

Dambulla MyAdventureBucket.com

Dambulla MyAdventureBucket.com

When you’re finished, there are two ways to get back down to the bottom. You can go back down the King’s Way steps that you came up (dodging the same monkeys and slippery steps). You can also exit down the other side of the mountain to the Golden Temple (these steps are new, wider, and with nice sturdy hand rails…but the same monkeys, unfortunately.) Personally I wouldn’t bother with the Golden Temple as it’s a new construction, over-the-top gaudy tourist trap.

Dambulla MyAdventureBucket.com
For real about the monkeys, though, they’ll snatch food right out of your hands, so keep your snacks in the car.
Dambulla MyAdventureBucket.com
These views, though! They’re absolutely mesmerizing. Also I’m really dreading going back down these godawful steps so I’m just kind of killing time now.

I make my way carefully back down the way I came up, head across the dusty road to the car park…and find no little black Suzuki. It’s a tiny parking lot, so it only takes me about 30 seconds to determine that Nuwan is most definitely nowhere to be found.

Not panicking, not panicking, not panicking…

I approach the driver of a bright red tuk tuk parked nearby and ask him if there is another parking lot nearby. He immediately looks concerned. “No, madam. This is the only one.”

I explain that my driver dropped me off and was supposed to wait here for me, but he’s not here, so I’m thinking there has to be another car park nearby. He shakes his head vigorously. “The only other car park is by the Golden Temple, but no driver would drop you off here and pick you up there. He would wait here. He must be here.” He looks back over his shoulder as though Nuwan is going to pop out from the bushes.

“He’s definitely not here. How do I get to this other parking lot?”

Red tuk tuk driver points at the road that brought us into the cave temple complex, and I start walking.

This may be an appropriate time to mention that it’s 92 degrees outside, there’s no shade whatsoever, and I’m wearing long sleeves and long pants because I was visiting temples. So this is nice.

It takes 40 minutes to reach the other parking lot. Remember how, earlier, I reminded you to take your water with you when starting your climb? Yeah, that’s because I didn’t. I didn’t want to carry it and I assumed it would be there waiting for me at the bottom when I finished. I should really not assume things, based on my track record, but I’m a slow learner.

By the time I stumble into the second parking lot, I’m a sweaty, sunburned, half-delirious mess. But the car is there! Hallelujah.

My excitement is short-lived, however, because Nuwan is nowhere to be found. This car park is much larger than the first, with a few shady spots for waiting drivers to pass the time. I walk around the perimeter of the lot, hoping to spot him among the groups of men, but he isn’t there. I return to the car and wait, unwilling to let it out of my sight now that I’ve found it again.

 

More than half an hour passes with no sign of Nuwan. I’m definitely on the verge of sunstroke at this point, so I stop a passing driver on the way to his car and ask if he has possibly seen the driver of this black Suzuki. He says he hasn’t, but he’s a regular at Dambulla and he knows the car. I confirm it belongs to Blue Haven tours, and he kindly offers to call the owner of the company and get him to track down his errant driver.

Five minutes later, Nuwan comes speed walking around the corner. It would appear that the owner was successful. He immediately starts interrogating me, raising his voice loud enough for a few of the waiting drivers to turn and stare. “Why are you here? You aren’t where you’re supposed to be! You should have gone to the Golden Temple!”

I’ve already started to cry; I’m so weak and exhausted from the climb and the walk and the sun and the lack of water that I can’t even answer. He had asked me before we arrived at Dambulla if I was interested in seeing the Golden Temple, and I had declined, saying I was only interested in the Dambulla cave temples. I don’t have the strength to remind him of this as I practically fall into the car and start chugging water. The driver who called the tour company on my behalf approaches Nuwan’s window and starts speaking to him sternly in Sinhala, frequently gesturing to me and then to the sky, presumably referencing the blazing noontime sun. I don’t have to speak their language to know he’s asking where Nuwan has been and why he left his client out here for so long. Nuwan ignores him and backs out of the parking space as the man is still speaking.

He continues his tirade as we exit the parking lot, but all I can do is sit there, shaking, and wipe my tears on my sleeve. He finally stops as he realizes I’m not going to answer him.

It’s another 30 minutes from Dambulla to my hotel in Habarana, which passes in desperately uncomfortable silence. All I can do for the first four hours after I arrive is lie in the dark, air conditioned room and drink water until I stop shaking. The stress of the day has hit me like a truck and I can feel the onset of the fever and joint pain that signal a bad flare up of my fibromyalgia. It’s going to be a long night.

Once I can type again without shaking uncontrollably, I fire up my laptop and send an email to the tour company to express how upset I am at the behavior of their driver. In. Excruciating. Detail.

A few hours later I get their response: “We are sorry this happened! Please try to forget about it and enjoy the rest of your holiday.”

Yes…that’s likely.

Now, with all that said, I still think you should definitely visit the Dambulla Cave Temples. They are extraordinary, and Dambulla is situated perfectly for visiting the unmissable ancient rock fortress of Sigiriya. Just, um, don’t let Nuwan drive you there, OK?

Dambulla Cave Temples are a UNESCO World Heritage site located on the Kandy – Jaffna Hwy, Dambulla, Sri Lanka. You can read more about them here

Like this? Before you, go, check out some more posts you might enjoy.

Dambulla MyAdventureBucket.com

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The Monthly Bucket- June 2017

Happy June, adventurers! OK, I know it’s July 3rd and I’m late again, but I’ve been stuck in some pretty remote places this month. Don’t feel sorry for me; they were all amazing!

Where in the world am I? Two thirds of the way through my great Sri Lankan expedition! This month I’ve visited Galle, Udawalawe, Colombo, Kalpitiya, Kandy, Ella, and Bandarawela.

www.myadventurebucket.com
Hiking around the hill country town of Ella. Quite a change of scenery from the coast!

Items checked off the bucket list this month: #542- explore ancient temples in Sri Lanka. This is a three month project! Check out some of the amazing temples I’ve been exploring:

www.myadventurebucket.com
Shri Sudharmalaya, Galle
www.myadventurebucket.com
The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, Kandy

Highlight of the month: Hanging out with elephants (and elephant babies!) at Udawalawe National Park. I went early (and I do mean EARLY!) in the morning and had the whole place to myself. Not another tourist in sight, and the weather was perfect. June is supposed to be the start of monsoon season in this part of the island, but I had a cool, breezy, sunny day.

www.myadventurebucket.com

Lowlight of the month: Arriving in the secluded paradise of Kalpitiya Peninsula only to be struck down by a random virus as soon as I got to my hotel. Fever, chills, nausea, extreme joint pain; I would have called my travel insurance company for a medical evacuation if I’d had the strength to make the call. Thankfully I made a full recovery without medical intervention, but I later read in the local paper that doctors were perplexed by a mysterious Dengue Fever-like virus exploding in the Kalpitiya peninsula throughout the month of June. Um, yikes?

Best meal: It’s a tie! I really can’t choose between these two:

1. A simple Greek salad and freshly made hummus with grilled flatbread at Chambers inside Galle Fort. I will never, ever go back to eating store-bought hummus again. Chambers, you have ruined me.

June best meal
I may or may not be planning a 10 hour train journey across the country just to have this one more time before I leave.

2. The spaghetti carbonara at Dolphin Beach Resort in Kalpitiya. I know you’d traditionally think of something seafood-based at a Sri Lankan beach resort, but trust me when I say this was the best pasta I’ve ever had in my life.

www.myadventurebucket.com June
It’s OK if you just licked your screen. I did, too.

New blog posts published:
May Monthly Bucket
Become a More Patient Human: Travel in India
Solo Female Traveler Interview: Sky Fisher
Hotel Review: Kalahe House
Sick in Sri Lanka: Yet Another Time I Almost Died
Extending Your Sri Lankan Tourist Visa
Technological Witchcraft: Outsmarting a Common Hotel Scam
Solo Female Traveler Interview: Carrie Mann
No Bus to Kalpitiya: Public Transport in Sri Lanka

What I learned:

  • I’m going to Australia! I fired up my random bucket list picker and let it choose another adventure, so I’ll be heading to the Land Down Under soon to drive the Great Ocean Road. But first, I’m going home to the US for a two month road trip, and then popping down to Brazil to pick some coffee beans. I hope you’ll be following along on all of my adventures.
  • Galle is the most magnificent little city in Sri Lanka and I should definitely live here. It’s so darling, the garbage trucks play classical music so you know when to bring out your trash.
  • You know a man really loves you when he finds a way to have a random cake delivered to you even though he’s 10,000 miles away.
  • Transportation around the island is always more complicated than the Internet suggests.
  • Every time I sit down, a stray animal appears. I have embraced this as my spiritual gift.
  • Sri Lanka’s hill country has the most magnificent climate, and you should definitely visit. While June on the southern coast is miserably hot and sticky, the hills are crisp and cool and perfect. 
  • Getting your roots touched up in a Sri Lankan hair salon is a nerve wracking experience. I almost said “hair raising experience” but even I would have hated me for that.
  • Kalpitiya is full of chipmunks who will sneak into your cabana and abscond with all of your tea, sugar, and creamer. I choose to believe that they are having little chipmunk tea parties somewhere in the woods.
  • You can make an outdoor shower out of a sperm whale skull.
  • Sri Lankan gay rights activists are some of the bravest, kindest, most inspirational people I’ve ever met. June is Pride Month all over the world, but it’s extra special in a country where homosexuality is illegal and people are fighting for their basic human rights. 

What I read:
Stephen King’s On Writing for the billionth time
Jon Vrom’s The Front Row Factor. I loved this book about transforming your life into a series of “front row” moments.
Eleventy billion brain-numbing articles on the technical aspects of blogging that would make your eyes glaze over if I even started to list them all.

What’s next? One more month of exploring ancient temples and exotic beaches before I head back to the US for a while. I can’t wait to see my dog after four months apart!

Don’t forget to follow My Adventure Bucket on Facebook if you haven’t already! Have a fantastic July (and for my American readers, please be careful with your fireworks! Happy Independence Day!)

This post may contain affiliate links. These links cost you nothing but help to support the upkeep of the blog, and my room service habit. 

No Bus to Kalpitiya: Public Transport in Sri Lanka

I really can’t stress this enough: when it comes to Sri Lankan transportation, you can’t rely on Internet information. I’m telling you this as I fester in a broken plastic chair at Pettah Bus Station, swatting away flies like an irritable cow. According to “the Internet,” there is a Kalpitiya-bound bus leaving from here once an hour.

This, of course, is a lie. Armed with this misinformation, I assume I can arrive at the bus station whenever I please and have less than an hour to wait before I’m on my way.

“Kalpitiya? No, there’s no bus to Kalpitiya.” The tiny man in greasy overalls is all smiles as he juggles a pile of wrenches from one gnarled hand to another.

Don’t panic, don’t panic, don’t panic…

“…not until 11:00.”

Whew.

An interested group of men appears in front of us, as an interested group of men always does when one is discussing how to get from Point A to Point B.

“11:00,” the youngest in the group agrees. “This bus right here.” He points to the shiny blue hulk in front of us with the flashy prismatic paint job.

More men join the discussion. One points further down the platform. “That way.” He’s the only one not smiling.

The rest of the group erupts in chatter, contradicting No Smile in Sinhalese I don’t understand. I take a seat on a filthy plastic chair and try not to be pissed that I got up at 6am for nothing. I’m stewing about missing out on an afternoon of lounging by the pool at my lagoon-front hotel.

After a few minutes, the youngest member of the group approaches and indicates that I actually should follow No Smile’s directions and head further down the platform. Apparently they’ve been arguing about it this whole time.

In the distance, I see a grimy yellow sign written in an alphabet I can’t decipher, with one word I do understand: Kalpitiya.

Hallelujah.

The bus driver at Bay #7 smiles as I approach. “Where are you going?”

“Kalpitiya.”

The smile fades. “Sorry, madam. There is no bus to Kalpitiya.”

“Not until 11:00, I know.”

He nods gravely. “Not until 11:00.”

“That’s OK, I’ll wait.”

This is, apparently, an unheard of proposition. It’s just past 8:30. He calls over another driver to help talk some sense into me.

“You can take this bus to Puttalam,” New Driver explains. He’s gesticulating as wildly as a man in a loud suit, hawking plastic crap in an infomercial. “Have the driver drop you off by the church before you get to the roundabout, then you can walk to the other bus station and take a different bus to Kalpitiya!” (What could possibly go wrong?)

I’m definitely not doing that.

“But the 11:00 bus goes directly to Kalpitiya? No changes?”

He reluctantly admits that it does.

“Ok, I’m going to wait for that one.”

He looks at me incredulously and shrugs at First Driver. ‘She’s clearly an idiot; I can’t help you,’ that shrug says.

I should note that only the red buses in Sri Lanka are government owned. They are generally considered to be ratty and inferior, and they pick up in a different place than privately owned buses. These are generally considered much nicer; some even have Wi-Fi. But because they’re privately owned, there is competition, and individual drivers will try to convince you to change your travel plans, even if it isn’t convenient for you. Stick to your guns unless you’re a lot more adventurous than I am.

No bus to Kalpitiya
On the plus side, there are lots of amusingly translated signs to occupy you if you end up with a long wait at the bus station.

Other things to know about taking the bus in Sri Lanka:

  • Unlike the train, you don’t need to buy a ticket in advance. Just get on; an employee will come around and sell you a ticket at some point after the bus departs.
  • Bus rides are ridiculously cheap; my 4.5 hour trip to Kalpitiya cost 198 rupees, which is a little over a dollar.
  • That cheap bus ticket came complete with 4.5 hours of Bollywood’s latest and greatest on the TV mounted above the driver’s head. Bring earplugs or headphones unless you hate yourself.
  • The “official” bus route might show few or no stops, but don’t kid yourself. They’re stopping at every bus stop they see and cramming on as many passengers as they can shove in. You won’t have that seat to yourself for very long.
  • Eating and drinking is fine on the bus; if you forgot to pack your own snacks, don’t worry. Vendors hawking drinks and food will randomly hop on and wander down the aisle. You can get a bottle of cold water for 50 rupees, awesome fried snacks, and maybe a large bag of coconuts.
  • Bus schedules for government owned red buses can be found on the National Transport Commission website here, but you’re still better off just asking someone.
No bus to Kalpitiya
The interior is as loud as the Bollywood movie marathon. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

In the end, I get to Kalpitiya mid-afternoon, in plenty of time to get in some pool-lounging time. Well, it would be plenty of time, except I immediately get sick with some kind of rare Dengue Fever-like virus and do nothing all afternoon except lie in the dark and pray for death. What else did you expect?

 

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Technological Witchcraft: Outsmarting a Common Hotel Scam

Technological Witchcraft: Outsmarting a Common Hotel Scam.

A Story of People Not Knowing Who They’re Dealing With, As Usual.

Taking a chance on a hotel or guesthouse without many reviews is always a crap shoot. Sometimes you get lucky and discover a great new place before the unwashed masses. Sometimes you end up having to pretend you’re a witch just to get a good night’s sleep.

I was excited about this accommodation; the price was right at a whopping $10/night, and the only other English review had described it as “delightful” with a charming host family and frolicking monkeys on the roof every morning. And only a 3 minute walk from the beach! I was sold. I booked a three week stay and prepared to spend mornings swimming in the ocean and afternoons writing with a pot of tea.

Technological Witchcraft: Outsmarting a common hotel scam
I never frolicked in this ocean even once.

The host family does, in fact, seem charming when I arrive. They eagerly show me to my little jungle cabana and provide me with the WiFi password.

The charm doesn’t last long.

Working up a sweat as I unpack my suitcase, I try to turn on the A/C, only to find the remote missing from the wall holder. I search the whole cabana but come up empty handed. The ceiling fan just isn’t cutting it, though, so I head up to the main house in hopes they have a spare.

“Excuse me, the air conditioner remote is missing from my room. Do you happen to have a spare?”

The guesthouse owner is all smiles. “Oh, we took it out. You have to pay 500 rupees a day extra for it.”

We just stand there and smile at each other for a minute.

“Um…what?”

“Yes,” she nods vigorously. “500 rupees, please.” She holds out her hand. “You book a room without A/C, so you have to pay if you want it.”

“…I’ll be right back.”

I’m not a fan of looking like an idiot despite how often I do it, so before saying anything else, I want to make sure I actually had booked a room with A/C. I check the booking confirmation on my phone and I’m relieved to see “air conditioning” listed under the room amenities. I’m just as smiley as the guesthouse owner when I return to her porch, pleased that we can now clear up this little misunderstanding.

“Ok, see, right here on my booking confirmation, it states that the room does have air conditioning…” She’s refusing to look at the screen, and the smile has vanished.

“500 rupees.”

“Ma’am, I’m not going to pay more for air conditioning when my booking confirmation states that I’ve already paid for a room with A/C.”

She shrugs, and looks angry. Apparently she was counting on this scam going off without a hitch. I wonder how many other guests have just paid it without question. Having reserved the room through one of the major booking websites, I let the guesthouse owner know I’ll just contact them to clear up the issue with her. Her eyes get wide.

“No! Do not contact, please.”

“Yes, I’m going to. I’ve showed you my booking confirmation so you can see that I booked a room with air conditioning. If you want to continue to argue, you can argue with them because I’m not paying any extra.”

Bizarrely, she calls over one of the small children playing on the dining room floor and asks him to explain to me that I need to give them 500 rupees. I can’t believe I’m even humoring them at this point, but I show my phone screen to the boy anyway. He also refuses to look. “500 rupees!” Little droplets of spit accompany his shout. Oookay, we’re done here. I turn and walk back to my cabana. It’s hot, and my frustration doesn’t help.

Technological Witchcraft: outsmarting a common hotel scam
Seriously, not even one damn frolicking monkey? There is literally no frolicking here whatsoever.

Five minutes later, I’m sitting on the edge of the bed, still staring at the confirmation email on my phone, wondering how I’m going to get through to these people…when I recall another hotel on the other side of the world where this phone saved the day. A hotel where I used a universal remote app to turn on the TV instead of going in search of new batteries. I check to see if I still have the  app installed. I do. What are the chances that it’s able to control a wall-mounted air conditioner?

Very good chances, it turns out, and five minutes later I’m lying in the path of a glorious blast of cold air, feeling extremely pleased with myself.

Less than an hour later, there’s a knock at the door. It’s the guesthouse owner, apparently wanting to continue our conversation. She has brought her teenage daughter along to assist in the negotiations. The girl is the picture of smiling diplomacy. “Hello…I came to help explain why you can’t use the A/C?”

I match her smile. “Oh, you don’t have to waste your time. I’m actually completely uninterested in continuing this conversation and I’m definitely not going to fall for your scam.”  

Before she can reply, she notices the air conditioner running and the smile melts. “But…how?”

I’m still smiling as I start to close the door.

“Please! How did you start the A/C without the remote?”

“Magic!” I chirp, turning the deadbolt.

I’m not so smug four days later when my room sits untouched by housekeeping and they refuse to answer the door when I go looking for a fresh towel. I spot the guesthouse owner entering the local market and when she notices me, she looks horrified and ducks inside as I approach her. Apparently they believe I actually had turned on the air conditioning by magic, and are avoiding me (and the room) because I’m a witch.

Oops.

I end up leaving the guesthouse (where I never heard any damn monkeys on the roof anyway) and moving into a hotel with an oceanfront balcony suite nearby. But just to make sure they’re left wondering long after I’m gone, I unwrap a bar of soap and draw an evil eye on the mirror before I go.

Technological witchcraft: outsmarting a common hotel scam
The view from my new hotel balcony. I regret nothing.

What have we learned here today? Always keep your hotel booking confirmations, don’t give in to obvious scams, and keep a universal remote app on your phone at all times. Also, use your technological witchcraft sparingly unless you want to use the same gross towel for three weeks. 

 

 

Sick in Sri Lanka: Yet Another Time I Almost Died

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Know what’s better than being sick and alone in a third world country, ten thousand miles from everyone know you know? Basically anything.

I had big adventuring plans for today, but here I am, still in bed late in the afternoon because I woke up feverish and feeling like I had a ball of razor wire stuck in my throat. No doubt the culprit is all the toxic smoke I inhaled yesterday while taking photos in a gorgeous old cemetery. What kind of moron wanders around a cemetery while they’re burning huge piles of poisonous trash? In my defense, a thunderstorm was rolling in and the sky was ridiculously atmospheric. Well, I never claimed to be smart. But look at these gorgeous photos:

Sick in Sri Lanka

Sick in Sri Lanka

Sick in Sri Lanka

But back to my current predicament.

Did I mention the power has gone out so I’m lying here in the 90 degree heat without so much as a fan? I wonder how long it generally takes a human being to sweat to death. If I’m still alive when the power comes back on, I’ll Google it. 

I muster up the energy to check my trusty Lonely Planet for the location of the nearest reputable medical facility. It appears to be about a 45 minute tuktuk ride away. Through madhouse Colombo traffic in the sweltering heat. That sounds even less appealing than death, so I don’t bother to get up.

Learn From My Mistakes

Here’s how you can be a little smarter on your travels than I generally am:

  • If you’re traveling to a place with a known air quality problem, bring a scarf or bandanna to cover your mouth and nose when necessary. Even if, for some reason, you don’t like poking around old cemeteries.
  • Have a well-stocked first aid kit, especially if you’re traveling alone and you don’t have anyone to go and fetch you supplies. I’d kill for a few throat lozenges right now. From now on I’m just going to assume I’ll be getting the plague at every destination and pack accordingly.
  • Yes, that lovely Airbnb apartment in a leafy suburb looks very appealing, but how far will you be from the nearest medical services in a worst case scenario? This may not be a huge concern in the developed world, but if you’re traveling off the beaten path, you could find yourself a long way from adequate medical facilities.
  • Keep some flexibility in your schedule in case illness does strike and cause you to have to rearrange some plans. Out of 8 days in Colombo, I have two that I purposely left wide open. This would have been more than sufficient if I had only been sick for two days. As it turns out, I’m sick for the rest of my time in Colombo and I end up missing nearly everything on my list. Including the once-a-year Vesak Poya celebrations. I’m still a little bitter about that, to be honest. 
  • Know the generic names for any kinds of prescription medicine you think you might need on the road, but keep in mind that you might not be able to get what you’re used to at home. I desperately want some NyQuil to knock myself out and stop my persistent cough, but discover it was outlawed in Sri Lanka several years ago. I end up dragging myself to a pharmacy and explaining my miserable condition to the pharmacist, who gives me a packet of pills wrapped in white notebook paper with a few handwritten words of instruction. I don’t realize until later that it’s nothing but generic Claritin. Pharmacies are plentiful and very inexpensive here, but you need to know what you’re looking for.
  • Last, and most importantly: don’t be as stubborn as I am. Seek real medical treatment when you need it. Preferably before you find yourself coughing up blood in an Airbnb and deciding you should just pack up your belongings to make it easier for the homeowner when you die. (Spoiler alert: I survived, barely. But I was sick for nearly two weeks and it really put a damper on the first part of my trip. Don’t let that happen to you!)