Budget accommodation can be a tricky thing as I keep finding out. On occasion one finds gems and plenty of stories to tell. Read the first part here.
Two buses took me from Matara to Ella. My room in Ella proved to be less dodgy that the one in Matara. I arrived in the town and saw a sign that said “rooms”. Upon enquiry I was provided a comfortable, clean, adequately bright room that had a mosquito net and a hot shower. The owner was a woman who operated a vegetable shop in the front of the house. It cost Rs. 2000. The only weirdness happened at about 5:30 when I awoke the next morning. I looked out the window and saw that it was bright enough to see the opposite wall. I picked my stuff for the day’s trek and exited the house only to find it to be still dark: the fluorescent lamp on the wall had lit up the opposite wall causing me to think it was bright enough to go out.
I did the Ella Rock trek that spent a part of the way on a railway track. I saw a foreign couple come out of a cabin right next to the rails and remembered the Hikkaduwa guest house that I had rejected three nights prior. I inquired with the couple on how well they had slept. These people had no trouble: the train did not pass that way at night.
I had found a travel buddy with a car for a few days, so I booked accommodation for Dambulla. The area where we stayed turned out to be some distance from the main city. The streets were unlit and rather dark along the highway. It was worse along the narrow side roads. No big challenges for people travelling in cars, but rather nasty for backpackers who like public transport, I observed. My guest house, Relax Guest House, was two doors down my buddy Ibon’s. I made the uncomfortable walk between the two places multiple times, torch in hand at night.
We agreed to meet an hour after check-in for dinner. I arrived at my guest house to find a rastaman calling himself Bob Marley on the porch. I checked in and was invited out for a welcome drink of papaya juice with salt. A framed poster of ‘Bob Marley’ hung on the front wall. Bob had a headband in green, yellow and red (Jamaican colours). He had thin dreadlocks. His tuk-tuk lay on the drive way. It had brilliant Jamaican colours. He offered me a smoke.
My hour for freshening up was whiled away talking with Bob. Bob talked about corruption in the police, the Sri Lankan civil war, that the leaders on neither side were fully clean and that he took no sides. He also talked about the trouble he had with a German woman back in the ‘80s. It was a German woman who introduced him to the actual Bob Marley. He picked it up and made his own reputation as a local Bob. Unfortunately I understood very little of what he actually said, not being conversant in Rastafari. The phrases “I and I” and “you know” came up more than a few times.
He mentioned at one point that he had learned German. I knew just enough German to test him.
Me: “Wie gut ist dein Deutsch?”
Bob: “Ein bisschen.”
Bob: “Woher kommst du?”
Me: “Aus Indien.”
Bob: “Ich heiße …” He told me his name.
Me: “Ich heiße Vijay.”
Bob Marley, who I met in a village in Sri Lanka, introduced himself to me in German.
I found out soon enough that the entire bunch of guest houses in that area were a family enterprise. Ibon’s host had lived in Abu Dhabi for more than a decade and seemed to pull all the strings in that area. A very friendly person, he chatted with us as we had breakfast or dinner at Ibon’s porch. When we asked for beer, he informed us that he did not stock it and was not allowed to sell it, but he had it delivered for us. He gave us directions to massage parlours or to restaurants run by his cronies. When I needed a car to take me to the airport, he had one available.
Sri Lanka’s budget guest houses have provided a fair share of experiences and entertainment on their own.
Also read: Quaint guest houses of Sri Lanka: Part 1