After ten weeks spent searching the eateries of Sri Lanka, finally we discovered an establishment that serves up the elusive dish of Rice and Curry. "What might it taste like?", we wondered, nervously anticipating our first bites of this mysterious meal. "Like a pygmy unicorn?" Yes, it must taste like a pygmy unicorn! A creature almost as rare as rice and curry itself!
A laid-back village on the eastern coast of Sri Lanka, Arugam Bay is one of the best places in the world for surfing, and has been a favorite of the long-term community for decades. Thanks to the steady presence of chilled-out expats, the town has a cool, low-key vibe which we've not seen anywhere else on the island. Great restaurants serving a variety of cuisine, comfy beach-side lodging, hip lounges, a happy mix of foreigners and locals... and of course, incredible waves.
The two well-known national parks near Habarana are Kaudulla and Minneriya. So we were more than a little skeptical while listening to this guy pitch the Hurulu Eco-Park: a little-known reserve that didn't even appear in our guidebook. "Don't worry!" he cried, "All the elephants are in Eco-Park!" Sure they are, buddy. But what were we going to do, claim that we knew better?
During our stay in Polonnaruwa, the owner of our guesthouse had arranged a trip to the Eco-Park of Habarana. We'd heard good things from other travelers, and were anxiously awaiting our afternoon hour of departure. But we ought to have been looking forward to the trip with apprehension, instead of excitement.
Exhausted from a morning spent exploring Polonnaruwa's massive archaeological site, we sat down for a much-needed break. I leafed through our guide book, and took a big gulp. We had already seen a lot, but weren't even midway through. And the ruins which remained threatened to be even more amazing.
You'll want to get an early start when you visit the ancient city of Polonnaruwa, for a few reasons. Mornings are cooler. The later the day gets, the more tourists arrive. And the archaeological site is so large that, even with a bike, you'll need an entire day to see everything. But the chief reason is that you've just paid $25 to enter. And damned if you're not going to get every single rupee's worth.
For nine centuries, Anuradhapura was the capital and most important city of the Sri Lankan Kingdom, filled with glorious stupas, irrigation tanks and an incomparable religious life. Unfortunately, it was easily accessible and made a tempting target for armies from India. The city often fell into enemy hands and in 1056, King Vijayabahu decided to move to a more defensible location further inland. The age of Polonnaruwa had dawned.
After a few days spent recharging our batteries on Uppuveli Beach, we were ready for some sight-seeing. Luckily, we didn't have to go far. A tuk-tuk driver agreed to take us on a 500 rupee round-trip tour of two great spots near Trincomalee: the Kanniyai Hot Wells and the Velgam Vihara, which is an ancient monastery set near a picturesque lake.
Nilaveli Beach, about fifteen kilometers north of Trinco, was once one of eastern Sri Lanka's favorite destinations. But then the twin catastrophes of Civil War and tsunami came along. The devastating 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami left 35,000 Sri Lankans dead and displaced a further half million, mostly along the eastern coast. Nilaveli has spent the last few years in recovery mode and, if our short visit was any indication, it's ready to welcome visitors back.
Twelve times a year, and occasionally thirteen, life in Sri Lanka grinds to a halt for the observance of a Poya Day. Sri Lanka's brand of Buddhism follows a lunar cycle, and full moon days are especially meaningful. These poya days are public holidays, allowing the faithful to visit their favorite temple and take a break from work. It's forbidden to sell alcohol and, to a lesser extent, meat.