An Unexpected Stop, and a Long Overdue Post!

Trip Start Nov 30, 2008
Trip End May 08, 2009

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Flag of Sri Lanka  ,
Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A flight cancellation to Bangkok has left me stranded on a beach in Sri Lanka for two days.  All expenses paid, I'm in a posh hotel, my patio opens onto the beach and I get to eat curry for breakfast!  It's tough... I know ;)  But it seems as good a place as any to give some attention to my long-neglected blog!

I arrived in Colombo last night and was efficiently handled through the Sri Lankan Airlines transit system into a cab.  Tired and achy from my first wake-boarding attempt the day before (not to mention the beginnings of a hangover from my lunchtime efforts to abuse the all-inclusive bar one last time!), I was in no mood for conversation and only wanted to sleep.  My driver, however, had other ideas...!

After several attempts to point things out to me through the tinted glass, he moved my into the front seat and I gave up all ideas of a wee nap.  Despite promises of a fast journey, we crawled along at 35kpm, tuk tuks shooting past us... the journey was long, but interesting.  And given I only have two nights in Sri Lanka, surely sightseeing in the dark is better than no sightseeing at all!  Although my resolve to be grump-free faltered when he asked, I think, Madam, is perhaps forty years of age?.  I was too tired to be offended.  But have decided that my Maldivian tan evidently doesn't suit... and I'm going back to pale and interesting asap!

Sri Lanka is a lot larger than I thought - my driver being an excellent source of facts and figures, I now know it has a population of almost 20 million, Colombo itself, over 1 million, and it is about 1,300 km round the island.  It is also very different to the other places I have traveled so far, with signs of the unrest far more evident than I had expected: a large queue of midnight traffic is an airport security checkpoint "for locals only"; half way though our journey, another checkpoint.  This time we're pulled over by two men with big guns, and a torch is shone in my face while the driver shows his id.  And to get into my hotel, id must be shown to the armed guard on duty before the heavy gate is lifted.  Despite this, I felt completely safe the whole time I was there, the precautions creating security rather than fear.  Although I realised an hour before I started to write this that I would find it difficult to leave the hotel, maybe not a hotel to take a wander from!

I finally arrived at the hotel at 1am, and collapsed into bed at 0130.  I was startled out of sleep some time later by the phone ringing...

me: nurgh
op: Good morning Madam, this is reception.  Would madam be interested in attending a day today today?
me: nurgh, dunno, can I let you know later?
op: Ok, you come to travel desk at 7am.
me: Huh? 7am??  What time it is???
op: Six twenty am, Madam
me: Six Twenty??  In the morning????
op: Yes Madam
me: Nurgh.  I'm going back to sleep, I only arrived five hours ago, I'll come to see you at 10am.

Slightly grumpy, but also quite amused.  I mean... Six Twenty!!?? I collapse back into deep sleep...

The phone rings:
me: nurgh
op: Good morning Madam.  I have spoken to the travel desk, we have space on our day tour leaving at 8am.
[I check my alarm clock, 0631... I'd managed ten minutes sleep...]
me: I am very tired, I am going back to sleep, I will not be going anywhere this morning.  I will come to see you late morning.
op: Madam doesn't want to go to 8am tour?
me: NO. I'm going to SLEEP!
op: [hangs up]

Ring ring, ring ring.  You've got to be kidding.

op: Madam, this is the travel desk. Reception tells me you're interested in our day tour day?
me: [hangs up]

Checks clock, 0720... Great!

After a breakfast of poll roti, chicken curry and dhal (to a rather random soundtrack of Andrew Llyod Webber?!) I face my dilemma: which driver to choose - the one was aged me by more than a decade... or the one who woke me up three times before 0730!  Grumpiness won out over vanity and I opted for Kumara, my talkative driver from the night before!

I am struck by the emptiness of this hotel.  in my first 18 hours there I only saw five other guests - and it is a large hotel.  Though 4*, the signs of wear and tear are obvious throughout - the white sheets not so crisp, small repairs left undone.  The 'shopping area' - a block of 4 units - has only one occupied business, and even that was closed for almost the whole of my visit.  The business centre is closed.  A combination of tsunami and civil unrest has caused a dramatic downturn in tourism.  That evening a large group of Europeans arrived for a couple of days stop over.  But I think even then, the hotel was at most 20% full.

My afternoon was taken up in a whirlwhird tour of Colombo, with Buddist and Hindu temples, mosques and Christian churches nestling amongst grand colonial buildings and bustling Indian stalls.  A fantastic walk though Victoria Park, with cinnamon, cardamon and lemon trees; the gardener crushing each into my hand, the smells incredible.  Then on to see the tree of 1000 hanging bats.  Although apparently there are more than 2000 bats, and they are spread over three trees... but you get the jist!

An early night at the hotel, and an early start to catch my flight to Bangkok.  A different driver, but this one equally eager to regale me with the history and sights of Sri Lanka.  And so my time in Sri Lanka ended in the same way it started.... Me, tired and grumpy, but thoroughly entertained by an enthusiastic local!
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