Going in-land with a van

Trip Start Oct 26, 2007
Trip End Oct 26, 2009

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Flag of Sri Lanka  ,
Tuesday, January 15, 2008

After spending a wonderful week or so in Tangalle, I thought I better move in land and explore more of the country, before I became a permanent fixture at Surya Garden, which was a pleasing prospect, given how peaceful and pretty and can I make it three "p's" and say perfect, it was?! 

Manjula, a friend of Manuela, was available to take me for a week-long jaunt, in his big, white diesel van, up through the middle of the country.  Our itinerary included stops at the towns of Ella, Nuriya Ella, Kandy, Sigiriya, another town to be determined before hitting Colombo, where I had to apply for a visa extension.  We ended up driving straight through to Colombo and spent one night before heading back to Galle, where I was going to arrive in time for their literary festival taking place from the 17th through the 20th of January. 

During the week on the road, a theory I had about myself was proven when I found I was losing patience and my beach based bonhomie.  If I don't get to move I get moody.  I don't like being cooped up in a car for hours at a time.  Being driven around is boring!  It was extravagent to have such a big van all for myself, so I felt.  A big white woman in a big white van with a small black driver is noticed everywhere in Sri Lanka. 

I was getting tired of the unwanted attention, and the feelings it brought up in me.  On our first day out (it did not take long at all for me to feel extravagent and wasteful having the huge van for myself) I suggested to Manjula we should use the van when we could to give lifts to people who needed! 

And lo and behold, on the third day of travelling we drove to a train station to check the timetable. I was thinking I would take a train ride to the next town and meet Manjula there.  What we found was that the next train was not due in for another 2 1/2 hours.  What we also found was a family that had just been to a funeral, and were waiting for that same train.  We were going in the same direction, so were happy to invite the man, his sister, her daughter and the daughter's little baby, into our mini-van.

We then spent 3+ hours on the road together, had lunch at a local rice and curry spot, and then drove some more.  They were delighted and so was I to have company!  Unfortunately we did not have other visitors in the van  the rest of the journey, but it was a real treat on that day, and the following day we actually passed through the town the family lived, so stopped in to visit! 

These were highlights of the trip for me.. getting off the beaten tourist path, and into the path of real people.  I've been lucky in that I've had people along the way in Sri Lanka that I've been able to slot into their daily life, and get a sense of what life is really like in this beautiful country.. for instance Christmas at Ali's, then visiting the Galle family I had met two years ago after the tsunami, and finally spending time at Lara's guesthouse.   

Back to my excursion up the country.  We passed through the town in SriLanka that produces the most marijuana.  I forget the name!  (Don't draw any conclusions about short term memory loss due to drug use!  I meant to write down the name from Manjula, but forgot.)  Then we passed through curd and treacle country.  There literally was a stall selling the ceramic pots of buffalo curd (creamy yoghurt like) and pineapple tree syrup (treacle) every few feet.  I eventually sampled the delicacy and it was devine.  The curd was nicer than the creamiest and loveliest greek yogurt that I became addicted to in my last few years in London. 

We stopped at many Buddhist temples along the journey.  So many that at one stage when Manjula suggested we visit another temple, a little ways off our route, I told him if I never set foot in another temple I would be happy.. with a hastily added "No offense" which may have been too late for offense to have been taken.  This was during the part of the journey where I became narky and frustrated .  By the fourth and fifth days I was so fed up with driving to the next beauty spot, or scenic spot, or tourist spot.  I'm not a tourist loving tourist.. and much prefer to choose the road less traveled.. so a trip dedicated to the top tourist destinations across Sri Lanka was bound to become tiresome for me, despite the incredible sights and destinations.  I turned into the monster that I am underneath my skin.

But, I am glad I made the trip.  I spent more (between car hire, accomodation and meals out) on that trip than my other weeks in SriLanka combined.. almost!  And the irony is my favourite days were the simple ones spent at Surya Garden or hanging out with Alison and co at their house. 

Manjula speaks perfect French, in addition to his native Sinhalese. English is his third language, and he speaks and understand that nearly perfectly.  There were occasions when he'd speak to me in French, and I would have to interupt him with an excusay moi!  You know I think the world is small, but the country of SriLanka proved that to us as we were travelling.  We stayed one night at the same hotel a French couple and their father were at.. this couple had spent the Christmas before with Manjula, when he was their guide around the country.  They had a great reunion, and I had a great time watching them parlez vous en Francaise.  Manjula continued to impress me throughout our journey with his continual good humour and mannerly way.
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Kishore on

Thank you for your lovely post. Beautiful pictures too

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