We've found that some areas are still in the earlier stages of setting up their tourism processes. This was surprising, given that we know many people who have been over this way, but it gives an authentic air to whatever you busy yourself with. Suddenly, walking through markets, grabbing a snack and negotiating a tuk tuk ride feels that much more adventurous because there aren't 20 other backpackers lining up behind you to do the same.
The down side is that the tourism setup is harder to negotiate. Maps are a rarity (or often an illegible photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy) and, especially in the cultural triangle, were forgone for DVDs, which weren't exactly useful to us as the only digital items we had were two cameras and a watch I paid 500Rs for in Kandy. This leaves you navigating tuk tuk drivers and local hotel workers for info and they generally have a vested interest in how you get around. Commission arrangements remain a bitch for backpackers.
The distinct lack of bars and substantial restaurants in certain areas also shows that the opportunity to provide such places for travelers hasn't been identified like it has in, say, Sri Lanka's coastal areas like Galle. Sadly, it's only a matter of time before cultural traditions surrounding alcohol consumption give way to the tourist dollar, but at least then there will be something to do past 8pm at night.
Sri Lanka has an abundance of billboards, many of which come adorned with the enwisened face of D. M. Jayaratne, the Sri Lankan Prime Minister, who at his grinning best bares a resemblance to Eddie Murphy in Coming to America. The omnipresent Jayaratne is displayed in a variety of majestic situations, such as presiding over ambiguous education activities or passing on invaluable agricultural knowledge to local farmers. So far, his greatest achievement seems to be growing a magnificent moustache and in that I salute you Mr Jayaratne.
If you're looking to make Sri Lankans laugh en masse, applying suncream in a busy area is a sure fire way to put them into hysterics. I'm afflicted with the most British of skin, which means I'm giggled at several times daily. If you're at all sensitive, look for a quiet corner to cream-up, but it's all in good humour so I find it best to embrace it and laugh along.
Getting around on public transport is simple thanks to sheer frequency. Usually your feet will barely touch the ground as you hop between trains, busses and tuk tuks. Where there's a will, there's a way and the Sri Lankans most definitely have a way as their rugged efficiency gets you from A to B by any means necessary. Thanks to this we are yet to get stuck in a place despite some interesting travel strategies and a train strike.
Tuk tuks and buses, which deserve a post of their own, can be hairy to say the least. Each driver has within him the capacity to hit "drive it like you stole it" mode and they flip that switch frequently. It's an aggressive driving technique usually reserved for the unquantifiably furious and/or the mentally unstable. At one point I accidentally hit a Buddhist monk in the head with my bag as our bus driver decided sideways was the best way to take a corner whilst cranking what can only be described as Sinhalese-techno-house through some seriously overworked speakers. That's not a sentence I ever thought I'd be able to use. As maniacal as it all appears to a foreign observer though, there seem to be few accidents.
That would be the Muslim call to prayer that kicks in at just before 5am. Depending on if you're a light sleeper it's actually really nice to wake up to and comes accompanied with tropical noises from the local wildlife.
This will almost certainly coincide with a chorus of stray dogs, who chime in with a wonderfully frantic range of howls and barks. Apparently, shagging yourselves into one monotonous breed of dog in the wee hours of the morning is exhausting, because each day you'll find the street littered with semi-conscious canines.
Is a question you'll hear a lot, from the curious and those trying to sell you something (often children's toys that double up as extreme choking hazards). The locals speak English, which feels like cheating, but for the most part they're quick to engage without there always being the potential to earn a little cash, which has a welcoming affect. You're going to get pushed by touts to buy things, but a polite no sees these gents cordially leave you to your own devices. Like most places in the world, you'll find basic manors will make your life easier.
Rough Costs of the Basics
1.5L Water Bottle: 80-100 Rs
Basic Curry Dish for Two: 350-500 Rs
Samosa: 30-40 Rs
Large Bottle of Beer: 200-700 Rs
Gin and Tonic: 400-450 Rs
Cup of Coffee: 70-90 Rs
Coke Can: 300-350 Rs