By the morning we both feel a bit better, at least well enough to get up and pack our bags. The prospect of leaving the ‘jungle’ behind and going back on the road with Rohan is a good one. I don’t trust the food here anymore and am not really hungry anyway, so breakfast doesn’t take long. The other guests are all there, so was it just us getting sick? I’m happy when we’re in the cable car going back up. The last stretch of the road, in the jeep, we are joined by a couple from Holland. They just stayed for one night – and luckily feel ok.
Rohan is happy to see us alive – not so much kicking this morning – but alive, yes alive J “We survived the jungle!” we say to him smiling. “How was it?” “Oh, we have some stories to tell!”
And it turns out that Rohan also got some more information about the jungle lodge. It was built by an army general, so all the men down in the lodge are in fact army guys. There is no real hotel management and that explains a lot. Well, we tell Rohan that we wouldn’t recommend the place in the end. Not just because of the food, but also because there was hardly any activity. The website of the place was very misleading. It even spoke of yoga & meditation. But there was just the zipline and the walk. Anyway, what matters is that we are on the road again and it is a very special day. People get a day off from work, kids don’t go to school because today is the poya. Every full moon is a celebration in Sri Lanka. People go to the temples, meditate, pray, offer fruits…
Each of the full moons has its own name and they are days to commemorate key events in Buddhism. We are heading to Kataragama, a town with a large temple complex. The place is very crowded as we arrive. There are shops and market stalls selling everything the pilgrims need to go to the temple, from fruit platters to garlands and colourful religious paraphernalia. White is the dress code. So we stand out as about the only European people around and not wearing white. But no one is bothered. Some people say hello. Soon we walk barefoot on the hot sand and street stones. In the nearby river people are taking a ritual bath. It doesn’t look that clean though. We see incredibly long lines of people waiting to get inside the temple and offer their fruits. We manage to go inside and observe the ‘priests’. Rohan urges us to come forward and get a blessing with a ribbon bracelet.
The heath, the smells, the people, … it’s overwhelming. At some places they are handing out free food and people push and pull to get some. Then we see a man who earns money with an elephant in chains. He tells people that their children will become wise if they pay him and then walk under the belly of the elephant. I feel so sorry for the elephant! Rohan says the man will use the money to buy alcohol.
On the poya you’re not supposed to drink alcohol but we spot a few guys who are anything but sober. There’s a man dancing in strange circles while some others play music, or make an attempt to anyway. No alcohol.. yeah right!
With still no food in my stomach and the high temperatures and crowds I’m happy when we leave Kataragama. It was definitely worth the visit, but we need a place to cool down and maybe try to eat something small to get our energy back. As long as they don’t bring us noodles J We drive to Tissa, also our home for the night. Many people stay here as a starting point to explore Yala national park. And that is exactly our plan for the next morning as well. The rest of the day we’ll take it easy. We manage to eat something small for lunch and even spot the Dutch couple we saw as we were leaving the Ella jungle lodge. We wave. “Daar zijn de Belgische meiden! There are the Belgian girls!” they shout enthousiastically, like we are old friends.
At the hotel we are welcomed again with the typical ‘Ayubowan’ bow and a cold drink. We have a little siesta in the room and then explore the garden. It’s not such a big place. The dinner looks excellent, but I listen to my body and just drink a lot of water, no food. I’m not feeling sick anymore, but I’m also not hungry. Just need a little more time. Tonight we set the alarm clock at 4.30 a.m. for an early morning game drive in Yala National park. Dreaming of leopards and elephants…