After our time in Ella, we decided to go to a town called Tissa. In spite of our own stupidity, we made it there. But I’m pretty sure we were completely punk’d on the way.
We had spoken to our guesthouse owner, as well as a restaurant owner, and thought we knew how to get to Tissa. We needed to first jump on a bus to Matara. Depending on which bus we got, we knew we might have to transfer in Weliwaya, because not all of the Matara buses stop in Tissa. Easy peasy, right? One would think so, but no.
After waiting about 15 minutes for the bus, we saw the bus to Weliwaya. It was empty and we knew we might have to transfer there anyway, so we hopped on. (Trust me, you do not want to stand on a bus in Sri Lanka, particularly one that has to wind its way out of the hill country — last time I stood on a bus in Sri Lanka I’m pretty sure my feet were completely off the ground more than once and the only thing keeping me upright were the people around me). As soon as we arrived in Weliwaya, we got mobbed by people asking where we were going and telling us the next direct bus wouldn’t leave for 4.5 hours. No worries, they were happy to take us in their tuk-tuk for only 2000 rupees. Yeah, right, pretty sure that was a scam. Except the entire bus station seemed to be in on it…everyone told us the same thing…no direct bus for 4.5 hours.
So….what about indirect buses? No problem said the guys trying to sell us a tuk-tuk ride. You just have to transfer three times…(Keep in mind the entire trip was supposed to last no more than 3 hours). Well, after hemming and hawing, we decided to go the transfer route. And after looking at a map and confirming the route being suggested made sense, we jumped on the bus the tuk-tuk sellers told us to get on and away we went. Except about 5 miles down the road, the bus conductor said “hey, bus to Matara right behind us, you should jump on that” and the bus we were on pulled over and blocked the Matara bus in so we could run and get on the Matara bus. Perfect, right? Except once we were on the Matara bus, we found out that it didn’t even stop in Tissa. It stopped 6 km away from Tissa. Where, of course, there were tuk-tuk drivers waiting. We finally just gave in and paid for the tuk-tuk. Oh well, even with the multiple buses and the short tuk-tuk ride, we paid far less than the guys in Weliwaya wanted.
In any event, in spite of all of that, we made it to our hotel outside of Tissa in under 3 hours. It was a very tranquil place. The hotel was a ways out of Tissa, but it was right on a lake (complete with crocodiles), and there were amazing birds on the lake (including a couple of pelicans and an eagle) as well as right outside our door. Some water buffaloes walked by each evening. Apparently, the farmer who owned the buffaloes managed to train them to walk through the lake each morning to a field full of grass for them to eat and to walk through the lake each evening to head back home. Right past the crocodiles… And several peacocks came out each evening, although we never saw one with its tail feathers displayed.
The main reason anyone comes to Tissa is to go on safari in Yala National Park. We went on the safari yesterday. Which meant piling into the safari jeep at 4:30 am.
Yep, you read that right. Oh well, at least the stars were pretty at that time of day….We saw a ton of animals. Most impressive were the two leopards we saw. One was sitting in the grass so heavily camouflaged we could really only see it when it moved. The other ran across the path and into the woods and for about three seconds I had the most amazing glimpse of it standing still in the woods — it was huge and one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. (Unfortunately, we didn’t get a decent photo). Apparently, we were quite lucky to see the two leopards. I’ve read that only about 10% of people see them. Alternatively, our taxi drive this morning told us that if you go 10 days in a row, you would be lucky to see four to five total. So, two in one day has to be pretty good (although a couple at our hotel saw four the day before we went).
We also saw two elephants (one eating in the woods and one eating on the edge of a lake):
several mongoose (my second favorite after the leopard– these guys were just adorable):
several wild boar:
numerous water buffalo:
a cute lizard:
and the obligatory monkey.
There were also some amazing birds in Yala. One of our favorites was the “green bee eater”
Neither of is really sure though how we feel about the safari. We question whether the safari can possibly be healthy for the animals. The minute anyone spots anything interesting, the call goes out and the jeeps rush to the spot and surround the animal. In fact, I thought we just might die at one point given how aggressive our driver was trying to get near a leopard. We were there in low season and the mobs around the leopards were disheartening. And we were really close to some of the animals. We found an elephant on the side of the road and we were no further than 15 feet away from it for 10 minutes or so. In a jeep that was completely open and blocked in by other jeeps. And, we were probably the same distance from the leopard, although only for a few seconds until it ran away. I’m glad we did it, but I wouldn’t do a safari in Yala again, particularly in high season.