We left Ella and made our way by bus to Tissamaharama, often called just Tissa, the gateway town to Yala and Bundalla National Parks.
Unlike most towns just outside national parks Tissa is not much of a tourist trap. There aren’t the usual array of souvenir shops and we struggled to find places to eat. Most Sri Lankans don’t eat out, so if the area is not very touristy there’s not much selection.
Finding Food in Tissa
After a subpar lunch at a little restaurant on the main road, we ventured father down the street at dinner time hoping for something better. A left turn brought us to what looked like a set of shops selling Sri Lankan snacks and perhaps roti for take out. We considered trying to buy something to take back to our guesthouse when we noticed some seating in one of the shops behind the roti stand.
We walked in and sat down at a table, with a greasy plastic covering over the table cloth. The table faced a blue painted wall that was covered in a layer of grime. Black drips hung suspended on the wall in places.
But the cooking area at the stand in front looked clean enough (and Rand hadn’t even noticed the sticky table or dirty wall) and there weren’t many other choices, so we stayed.
There were no menus, so Rand walked to the glass windowed stand where the cook stood to find out what we could order. We got vegetable kottu, a Sri Lankan dish of chopped up roti mixed with vegetables and spices. And it was one of the best plates of kottu we ate in Sri Lanka.
Instead of napkins there were cut up pieces of newspaper. I noticed later that most local Sri Lanka restaurants used some kind of cut up paper in place of napkins. They are not very absorbent, but they will wipe food off your hands.
I learned that local places might seem a bit grimy but the food is so much better than the bland offerings of the same dish in a tourist restaurant.
Yala National Park
Leopards live in Yala National Park. Perhaps because of this you can’t just wander around on your own at the park like you would at say, Yellowstone. So we booked a full day jeep tour of Yala and a half day at Bundala with our guesthouse ownerfor 38,000 LKR (about 265USD)for the 5 of us. At 5:30 am we rolled out of bed and into hoped into the raised back of the huge 4 wheel drive vehicle. Our guide’s wife provided our breakfast in Styrofoam containers. Eggs and bread with sugar.
After a half hour drive with the wind blowing our hair, we arrived at the park entrance with all of the other jeep tours. In the park, sometimes there would be a traffic jam of jeeps and sometimes we had the roads to ourselves (mostly in the afternoon after all the half day groups left).
When we passed other jeeps the guides would shout to one another. I couldn’t understand what they were saying, but often it seemed like, “Hey, have you seen any leopards?”
We saw elephants, wart hogs, water buffalo, and all kinds of birds.
But no leopards.
I guess we didn’t need to be so nervous when we got out of the jeep for a potty break in the bushes.
Still we had a great day. Sierra, especially, loved being driven around all day. And it was fun seeing the animals in their natural environment.
Bundalla National Park
Much less popular than Yala, it almost seemed like we had the park to ourselves during our half day tour of Bundalla National Park.
The park is filled mostly with marsh lands and birds. Our guide this day was very knowledgeable and told us the names of the all the different bird species we saw. We also stopped at a pretty viewpoint overlooking the ocean.
Despite not seeing any leopards, we enjoyed touring Yala and Bandulla National Parks.