I tend to not pay much attention to hotels while travelling. They are no more than a bed to rest, a toilet and a place to store my belongings. If I am travelling, my time will be spent outdoors seeing the area, not in a luxurious bathroom of a fantastic hotel, even if I could afford it. I usually go for cheap hotels at a good location. On account of the fact that I often do not plan my itinerary in advance, I often just turn up in a town and start looking around for a place to stay.
I arrived at Hikkaduwa, a coastal town, on day 2 of my 7 day trip. A friendly traveller directed me to a ‘good guest house’ for Rs. 1500 (US $10). The price sounded good so I checked it out. I crossed a railway line and found the guest house gate four metres away from it. I walked in and hallooed a few times. Nothing stirred. As I was about to walk out, two men arrived on a scooter. One of them advised me that there were indeed rooms available and that the train did go past at night. I passed on this guest house and spent twice the amount on a hotel attached to a dive centre.
After scuba diving the next day I made my way to Matara, a stop on the route to Ella. I soon discovered that Matara did not cater to tourists at all. A walk along the town revealed it to be desolate of amenities. Matara had a beach, but hardly any hotels or restaurants. As I stood near the bus station checking the map on my phone, I came across another person doing the same. Pär, the Swede, and I decided to hunt for a place together. We walked along the beach enquiring at signs that said “rooms” when we were accosted by tuk-tuk drivers. I ignored them, but Pär was friendly.
A tuk-tuk driver promised Pär a riverside room for Rs. 1500 in an Italian-style hotel. We decided that that was worth checking out. He drove us to a place from where no river was visible and no one was around. The building was unlocked and situated on a little hill. We went up and checked the rooms. “I don’t see any river”, was my first remark. The building seemed to be partially under construction. The lights were dim. “Where is the river?”, I asked. The man showed me another room. “Where is the river?”, I repeated. The man took me to the top of the building and pointed to a river flowing some 200 metres away. I could barely spot it beyond all the trees and buildings. We walked away. The driver followed us for a bit but Pär was firm this time.
We walked around for a few minutes, realised that there were few hotels around and eventually came across a sign that said “Rooms… Rs. 500/=”. We walked about 30 metres from the road to the building. It was a single-storey house whose reception desk was empty. “Hello”, I shouted a few times and knocked. A man eventually showed up and offered us rooms for Rs. 1000. The rooms were all to one side of a short corridor. They were dimly lit and had bathrooms attached. Par observed that there was no mosquito netting. It was quite close to the bus station that I would need to use the following day. We decided to take the rooms.
The house was filled with empty fish tanks. We walked to the back of the house to discover cement tanks filled with murky water with fish swimming about within them. The manager told us that they were in the business of selling fish to aquariums. I asked for the key to my room and got it. Par was told that his room’s key was lost. “Someone put it in his pocket and walked off with it.” Par moved his belongings into my room before we went out for dinner.
The lack of mosquito netting proved to be a real problem. I slept that night in full length pants, full-sleeve t-shirt and socks in tropical weather and applied mosquito repellent on the few parts that were exposed. I awoke in the middle of the night to apply the repellent again and found that mosquitos had even stung me through my clothing in places.
I was not done yet. There would be more weird guest houses on this short trip. See Quaint Guest Houses of Sri Lanka: Part 2