Polonnaruwa + Dambulla

What our first cycle tour lacked, our second made up ten-fold. After breakfast, we took a local bus, which was mercifully empty four hours to the lakeside town of Polonnaruwa. There we picked up bikes and rushed off to explore temple grounds before the forecasted rain.

The temples, Buddhas and stupas in this 1,000 year old complex were impressive. But the highlight was cycling through the large complex, flanked by green expanses and temples peaking out in the distance. Luckily, there was no rain on the day we toured, though the day before it poured. Which also resulted in the moss that covered everything having a particularly brilliant color, looking akin to velvet climbing up the sides of ruins.

Our guide swiftly showcased the entire complex, irritating some in our group, though I thought it was the perfect pace, informative but efficient.

After returning from cycling Dani and I went for a run around the lake behind our hotel. So far, balancing travel and marathon training has been only a mild challenge. But I find I’m a much happier person when I get my runs in, and the beautiful scenery doesn’t hurt. If only it were a bit less humid.

The next morning we took a quick bus to Dambulla, this time absolutely packed with people. The town itself is fairly uninteresting, being primarily a transit city. The guidebooks suggest its “tolerable for a night.” Which seems a bit dramatic, it’s not particularly bad, but I’m glad we aren’t lingering. The draw however, are the caves. There are five rooms beyond the white columned entry. Of varying sizes, the all exhibit frescoes, paintings and Buddhas, each dating from different time periods.

To get to the temples you must traverse several hundred steps up toward the top of hill, which also results in more gorgeous vistas. Cloud cover continues, and while I appreciate the shielding from the sun, I can imagine the views are even more impressive with clear skies.

The afternoon brought options of a elephant safari or staying at the hotel. Our group was evenly split, with our half opting for downtime. It’s been a pretty packed tour thus far, and not feeling much like spending $50 to maybe see elephants I spent the rest of the afternoon doing nothing in particular, which was a welcome change.

As part of our afternoon we found what was supposed to be a good cafe. The coffee in Sri Lanka has thus far proved disappointing and this place was supposed to have some of the best. The experience we had there more or less sums up our experience with service in Sri Lanka. We arrive, sit, and begin to order. One of us wants a cup of tea with milk on the side. This is not possible, as they only pre-mix the milk and tea. You can however, order coffee with milk on the side. If you order a pot, but not a cup. Also, you cannot split a pot. One pot, one person. We manage to order. Then a giant pot comes out, meant to have coffee for four of us, which proves impossible when we find its  actually tea. We wait a bit more. We get our food, which is quite good (once they’ve sorted who gets what, a constant source of confusion), and our coffee, which is only fine. We pay our bill by them asking us again what we had.

We’ve found that while everyone is friendly and eager to help there seems to be a fair amount of communication breakdown. They seem to just agree to something without actually listening. Resulting in confusing at every turn. It’s odd, and has become a general source of amusement for all of us. We’re never quite sure what’s going to happen next!


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