A Plan Comes Together

Trip Start Nov 16, 2007
Trip End Dec 15, 2007

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Flag of Sri Lanka  ,
Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Sri Lankan's say that you can't properly enjoy the flavours and textures of food unless you eat with your fingers, so I dispensed with the cutlery as we all sat for breakfast early next morning.  As elsewhere in Asia, you're meant to eat with your right hand, although Emmanuel and Sarojini assured me this taboo isn't strictly observed - just as well really, as a leftie I wasn't finding it as easy as it sounds!
Sarojini and Emmanuel left for work and a Lions club function respectively, leaving me alone with Therese.  Sadly, Therese lost both her hearing and the ability to speak when just 3 years old.  She's a very bright and friendly lady, who enjoys the cricket (we watched a little of the Australia vs Sri Lanka Test match on TV), and went on to express her pride and love for her family as she took me through some assorted cards and photos.  I could be mistaken, but I'm sure Therese made it clear that as a little girl Marina was by far the cheekiest out of all her nieces! ;-)
Late morning, Emmanuel's friend, fellow Lion, and travel agent, Carlo Corera, collected me via tuktuk (his car had broken down) and took me to his offices in the central Fort district.  Numerous Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) - aka the 'Tamil Tigers' - suicide bombers have targeted the area, most notably in 1996, when the massive truck-bombing of the Central Bank killed almost 100 people, and succeeded in reducing this historic district to the heavily militarized ghost town it remains to this day with security barriers, checkpoints, and wire-mesh fences everywhere you look.
I had originally planned to travel the country via public buses and trains, whilst ringing ahead to book accommodation when ready to move on to the next location.  However, I'd had second thoughts now I'd viewed these modes of transport in person.  By all accounts, buses can be summed up as inconvenient - crowded, uncomfortable, nerve-wracking (given that drivers do anything to gain an extra yard), noisy (constant bleating horns, and blaring Sinhala pop music).  Allied to the hassle of finding bus stops, explaining where to go, paying the correct fare, getting off at the right place, and doing it all with a rucksack seemingly half my own body weight, was a thought that hardly filled me with a sense of eager anticipation - sod that!  So Carlo and I spent the next few hours working out an itinerary for the month, booking accommodation, and hiring a car and driver which offers unlimited flexibility as I travel around.
My driver, Karu, has 27 years experience in taking tourists around the country, and after only a few hours in the company of this engaging, knowledgeable, and exceedingly helpful character it was already clear this luxury is well worth the additional expenditure.
Driving southbound down the main coastal road it took 2 hours to reach Bentota and the hotel Serendib, designed by one of the 20th centuries foremost Asian architects, Geoffrey Bawa.  With the arrival of package tourism in the 1960's, Bawa became inextricably associated with hotels that blur the distinction between interior and exterior spaces so that architecture and landscape become joined.  Arrival at sunset, and the onset of a heavy shower didn't permit any exploration, but I still had a late one drinking beers and sampling arrack with Tarrick and Shelley, a cool young couple from Bournemouth, and Rosemary ("Ro"), a very well travelled 60-something from Bucks.
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