Tag Archives: sri lanka

Final day negombo

Today is scorching. The sand too hot to walk on at midday, my neck feeling burnt. I have a long day to fill till my 3am flight. So far it’s languid. An early morning stroll along the shore from my guesthouse past beached catamarans and men under thatched shelters mending fishing nets. Nice not needing to wear anything on my feet as I step out, but I’m wary of walking in the water as I seem to have got an infected cit on my ankle. My breakfast is my second visit to grace’s juice bar where I’m am introduced to more fruits ive ever come across before. She prides herself on providing fruits nowhere eels does. I have an ambrrella and soursop mix.

I spend the rest of the morning in a patch of shade next to some fancy resort where westerners lie on clean sun loungers batting away the hawkers or lording over them from their reclined position like Egyptian queens yeah ing or nayimg a succession of bright dresses and saris the local women produce from bags a nd spread out on the sand. It feels a bit alien to me, but there is no. Shade anywhere else. A helicopter comes in to land further along the beach, depositing guests at an even fancier place.
Last night I spend an hour or so after dark with Dave and Donna on the beach with beer, sitting on a parked boat. Behind us was a party at a hotel. A stage, a do, dancing, bright lights., Sri Lankan techno, sounding both Africana and West Indian, rockets fired into the air, flashes of smoke and light from fireworks illuminating the distant dancing figures and their cars. Ex decide to approach, aware already grooving, but the party is small and it’s all men, so Donna going gangnam style is likely to get a lot of unwanted attention. So, we keep our distance as the party unwinds
Today is a good indulgence day, and getting rid of my cash. Lunch again at Edwin’s, this time a green leaf curry, a bitter cucumber one. Now at ice bear cafe, a colonial mansion light and airy Strauss or Mozart plays. waiting for my ice cream: brandy, cinnamon, cashew, honey flavours. I’ve just been scooting around the harbour, two guys chopping up tuna on wood blocks amid a sea of drying silver fish and a wasteland of fish heads being picked over by crows and cormorants. I cycle around the fishermens house and suddenly hear a hello in my ear as a young boy has jumped on the back of my bike for a quick ride. The harbour is sleepy, the boats are in. Men doze in the boats or fix nets.
The beach is collier, windier, fine sand stings as it sidling on my back. A fisherman tries to sell me the jaw bone complete with razor sharp teeth of a 20 kg shark. So how would that fit in my luggage? A guy from kandy chats with me and has my pic taken with him. I have to sort out his phone for him to send me the photo. The sun slips down, never quite making the horizon once more. The end of my daylight in Sri Lanka. Back at graces juice bar I have bello and pineapple mix and spend some time talking with. Bulgarian couple about football. Just before I leave grave makes me a present of 3 wood apples.

Finding Dave and Donna is as easy as cycling done the street. I arrange to meet them in Edwin’s again, as I return the bike. The old woman at the guest hous asks me each time is see her where I’m from. After paying for the bike she even asks for money for herself. A guesthouse owner begging for goodness sake. I have a dosa which really isn’t too good, thick and gooey rather than paper thin and crisp.weshare some more beers,catch the end of some performance outside the church, then see Liverpool lose to Chelsea in a bar.
I’m now at the airport. 2.41 and pretty damn tired.
A splendid post script. After a tiring groggy 18 hours getting to gatwick I’m informed my bag wasn’t loaded. I’m without warm shows, socks, rain coat and worst of all, no door keys. My phone is out of juice and when I do get some small charge I can’t get hold of Fran who has my keys.useless. I phone my letting agency bit they are closing early so I can’t get keys from them. I’m cold, hungry, jetlagged, want to go to bed.but even getting to Brighton is a nightmare. No trains from gatwick, and I queue in the cold outside the airport with a growing mass of very disgruntled newly landed holiday makers.there is no system and a weedy Marshall thanking us for waiting. 30 mins there then another wait at 3 bridges for a slow train. I still have no idea how I will get into my flat. Oh and the conversations on the bus. A one legged squaddie prattling om to the driver about traffic and bills and getting pissed with his mates. I don’t care. Shut the hell up. Give me a crowded srilankan bus instead. How dare they make me pay the normal rail fare for this debacle. It is not good to be back.

Negombo 2

A good sleep followed bya. Cycle along the main road past Hindu temples, juice shops, cheap samosa stalls and churches to the fish market. Old women crouched by their plastic sheets with tiddlers, men at butcher blocks chopping the larger catch, a cluster of curious men and boys surveying a 70cm ray of some kind. Seems nobody knows what to do with it. Beyond on the beach are sheets of small silver fish laid out to dry under the right sun. By. The shore the small boatsarelandi g their catches and teas of me and old women are shank out the nets. Women and men are gutting and sorting larger fishes further along. Catches are ferried by pairs of men by baskets on poles to the sea edge to be washed. Everyone is working fast and the bosses are circulating and handing out pay.

The town is divided into tourist strip, commercial main road, a market full of fabric shops and residential streets stretching along the canal and shore of the lagoon, larger fishing boats moored here. I see home made nativities of straw, plastic figures and fairy lights at many street corners, some constructed on abandoned boats. I see small boys crossing themselves as they pass the crucifixes at junctions.
Back at Lewis place I have a juice in a place run by a half Filipino family which has a variety of fruits new to me. Must go back there. My dinner cum lunch at Edwin’s restaurant is a very. Good and interesting curry and rice which includes a pineapple and soya korma type affair. I catch up with Dave and Donna on a stretch of the beach near some fancy hotels. The sea is refreshing, the surfs.aps you hard and is bracing. A wedding banquet is being set up on the beach, photos of the bridal pair taken at sun down by some catamarans. Some ponies are ridden by, Russians on sand mobiles drive up and down. We play cricket with some locals in underpants by the waters edge as the sun descends turning into a glowing orange disc, disappearing into cloud just a before it hits the horizon. There are quite a few hawkers with Xl polo shirts,saris, shorts, necklaces. Closer to the road is a guy with a monkey on a chain and a cobra which he offers to tourists to hold. A couple of cocktails later, I’m back at the guesthouse which is deserted. The soundtrack is fire crackers and the roar of the increasing waves.

Negombo

Reached negombo by bus from Anuradhapura, a local bus described as semi luxury. I don’t really understand that definition. Maybe it was driven faster, maybe because I was able to take luggage with me. Regardless it was crowded with many people standing in the aisle, and hot and airless when crawling through the towns. I closed my eyes and absorbed the sounds and physical sensations. The whirl of the Diesel engine, the rush of the breeze through the open door at the front, the sway and swerve as it cut out then cut in around traffic invisible to me in the thick of the crowd. The bass heavy groove of singhalese dance music. When I shift to the windows seat I can lean out but the air is so hot and the sunlight scorching at midday. I see in the side mirror the face of a moustachioed brightly coloured shirted driver in whom I have trusted my safety.
Negombo is a busy road full of guesthouses and more upmarket hotels, occasional fake xmas trees festooned with lights, and flimsy nativity scenes. There are churches here too. My guest house has Xmas decorations, and a catholic shrine too. There are many options to stay. The first two I look at are dirty, smelly, unpleasant. The third is extravagant and costly. I settle for a family home stay guesthouse at the end of the row on the beach. A curious old woman with 4 teeth constantly milling around. I have at tv, not that I need it, but later watch highlights from yesterday’s premiership. The beach itself is grubby, firework debris and assorted packaging lie around, the tide leaving black rings on the sandy shore.almost immediately my attempt to chill out is disturbed by a hawker opening his bags of necklaces and carved elephants, spreading them out on the sand in front of me and refusing to understand the words ” I don’t want to buy anything”. He finally gets lost, disappointed. I do mangea. Read and a doze. A wind builds and I rouse myself just before sunset, the beach is busier and some groups of locals are playing cricket.
I managed to track down Dave and Donna finally. Having located their guesthouse and got through to the staff who barely spoke any English that I wanted to leave a message, we hol up in the evening to have dinner and beer, trade stories and compare tans.
Back at the guest house is talk to the boss, who calls himself Adrain and for the first time I meet a local who openly criticises the government. He complains about the scarcity and price of protein foods such as cheese and meat, laments the cost of attractions to and thus the negative imapct this has on tourism. He calls the president a war president and even compares his behaviour and publicity ( the images you see everywhere) to sadaam. His friends are in agreement.

Christmas in Anuradhapura

It’s Christmas Day and I have a hangover, as expected from the cheap local lemon flavoured gin I shared last night with Simone, a French guy from Strasbourg who is travelling around on a shoestring. He has stories of losing his passport in India, sleeping rough and being robbed in Greece. A sad story of his father disappearing at sea after an argument a few years ago. Boat found, but no body.
Last nights dinner at the lake view guesthouse was really delicious. The usual rice and curry. As usual a huge mountain of rice, far to big for 1 or even 2 people. In small bowls: Dahl, pumpkin and coconut, green bean, aubergine…actually I can remember all the curry dishes, or recognize the vegetables.
The journey here was quite swift and I settled on this guest house pretty fast. It’s family run, is low key, and should have been easy to find last night on my bicycle, but once more I became disorientated and the several people I asked for help were unable to read my map, or thinking they were being helpful gave me wrong information, or due to poor English were unable to explain adequately. It was dark,very dark and only 7pm, roads with few landmarks and far too many roundabouts with statues on for me to be confident that that was the one tha I needed. At the significant elephant roundabout ( it has a big elephant statue in the middle), a guy on a motorbike pulls up and right on the junction oblivious to the traffic engages me in a very broken conversation. He wants me to come and see his office, he is a doctor at the hospital, he wants my phone number, address, he wants to know about my family. He shakes my hand many times and restarts this one sided conversation several times before I am able to get away.
There is a mystery to solve after dinner. I parked my rented bicycle at the guest house in plain view of the terrace. As the owner is putting away the bikes she notices that one of her bikes has been replaced with an alien yellow one, which also has gears and different brakes. She reckons I must have mistakenly got on the wrong bike and ridden off with it on my way back. I’m adamant that this is impossible. Her husband even takes me out on my route back to see if I can spot their missing silver bike. Of course this is fruitless. It is 11 pm and anyway, I know I brought back the right bike. We don’t solve this problem. Someone else is responsible, not me..but who could have done this and why? The upshot is that the guest house now has a new and possibly better bike.
This mirrors an experience earlier when one of the Nepalese monks I meet finds that his flip flops have been taken and an identical but smaller size pair have been left in their place. I met these monks yesterday afternoon on my bike trip trying to find some free attractions. It was raining on and off, and my first encounter was with a plain clothes police officer who engaged mein conversation when I paused to watch a motorbike training course : guys weaving around 5 orange traffic cones on a patch of land next to a roundabout. The usual questions: country, family.married, if I like Sri Lanka, then more interestingly we talked about his job, which is to train and educate drivers. We compared notes on the horrendous driving habits of the bus drivers in Sri Lanka. The west side of the city has an open landscape of empty roads going to stupa sing rebuilt or already reconstructed, a cave temple in front of a lily pond, which I pay to enter, and it’s no great shakes. Like every monument in Sri Lanka there are bus loads of locals in their white clothes. At the lake further on, I see them disembarking to eat wadi and bathe in the waters en masse. The roads pass through paddies complete with egrets and storks, and past military compounds. Guarded roads blocked with yellow barriers, barbed wire empty machine gun posts. There isn’t all that much worth seeing around her, but the whole atmosphere is kind of bizarre. As I begin to head back I spy a cluster of 5 yellow and red cloaked monks shuffling along the road towards me under umbrellas. As we pass they call out hello and where are you going and I ask them the same back. We begin to chat and they persuade me to come with them to their nearby monastery, which takes a long time to get to, owing to their languid pace, our confused conversation and the avoidance of shortcuts across sodden paddy.

They are all 18, from Nepal and are studying here in Sri Lanka for 5 years, I think. They don’t have the dignified comportment you might expect from people devoted to a life of religion and austerity. They share savoury snacks with me, pouring them into my hands, and offer me bites of red lollies. They drop the wrappers, uncaring by the side of the road. The reason being that there is no rubbish bin. I’m sure also that they should be much stricter and not eat at this time. In one respect one is strict, as he declines my invitation for him to ride my bike. Lord Buddha forbids their driving of vehicles. I attempt to do a little interview with them. They struggle with English, though insist they want to improve. 2 of the boys want to talk the others too shy or unable. We exchange email addresses, and will become Facebook friends. Their monastery also has military guards.its quite a new building, 35 years old, with a massive white Buddha siting under a roof which lessens the impact. They invite me into the base of this statue to look at the illustrated through crude and childish wall paintings and painted models the story of the life of Buddha. I particularly remember the big eyed blue devils that looked like something from a children’s book, comic rather than scary. We are In a long white chamber which is sweatily hot, the statues and pictures are strangely behind metal grills like animals in a zoo.i teach the guys some words they should know, like temptation, resist, reincarnation. Then we walk around the stupa and they ask me what my biggest problem is… We talk about striving to improve oneself, about dissatisfaction. Then they take me into another room called heaven. More statues and paintings around a central white column. The piece de resistance comes when they ask me to stand in front of a black window in this column in a cubicle sectioned off by a gold curtain. One of the monks drops a coin into a box attached to the wall, and I see the craziest thing in the window. There are flashing fairy lights and wax work like statues of the Buddha reflected into infinity by mirrors on all sided in the chamber in the centre of the column. It is a cross between a gaudy Christmas light display and a scene from twin peaks. It’s so funny I can’t contain my laughter. The monks think it’s great too, but I’m sure they don’t share my reference points. It’s quite sad when we say goodbye. I don’t know how to say goodbye to a monk. Do we wai? I try this, but this seems to be a Thai habit. Shaking hands with a monk is not a done thing either, so we just wave. The dark skinned silent one gives me a handful of crunchy fruits. They look like marzipan pears.

Kandy

I deliberate at length about whether I should go to Adams peak or not. For a number of reasons I decide against it. Weather, knees, energy level and time to go anywhere else afterwards. Sp I’m on the kandy train and spend the first hour next to a railway security officer. Actually we would call him a guard. He is wearing a khaki uniform that doesn’t fit his skinny body too well. And is very tatty. His cap is oversize and black with a red badge. Yellow stained teeth. It seems a moustache is a prerequisite for the job.

Kandy seems like a metropolis compared with the hill country. Traffic, traffic jams, people, modern shops, a mall, a KFC. The centre is a lake, reminding me of Hanoi with the sacred holy tooth temple across the water, the chants of the monks atmospherically amplified bouncing around the hills. My guesthouse has a view of the place from the balcony which i nearly fell off so rickety is it.

Everyone is slowly re emerging from last nights drinking party. Which involved guesthouse staff, tik tuk drivers and travellers from disparate parts. Ralf tells a joke about Latin grammar then gets stuck into his first arrack experience. This takes him through many mood changes culminating in a mock hitler speech including gestures from the balcony. Unfortunately he cannot rise to the challenge of doing a papal address in Latin the the style of hitler. Maybe I set the bar too high.

Sleep is peppered with dreams of re visited pasts, alternative realities, seemingly centred around bath, captain bobs. Lee, again. 3 times I. Have dreamt about him since his death. I think there is some guilt or regret that I didn’t see him again, nor go to his funeral. Sleep is also punctured by a variety of crazy soundscapes: a dog fight and a drunken drumming an d singing party.

The morning has blue sky and intense sun. Fran and I go to the Muslim hotel restauarnt for breakfast. Fran complains about salty food and sweet drinks. Men pouring tea from cup to saucera nd sipping from the latter. I guess it cools it.

The town is busy, probably because it’s Sunday.small people pushing past with umbrellas against the sun. At the entrance to the temple of the tooth there are security checks and hoarders of locals.the queues are long and I don’t fancy the crowd, so I explore the surrounding buildings. A reclining Buddha temple, a boddi tree, a chelli, intermingled with some older crumbling Hindu temples. Most people are dressed in white. Grannies in saris, young boys in white polo shirts leading them into the temple. There is an elderly elephant draped in chains posing for photos. The usual burning of incense, lighting of candles. Monks a refew and far between.

Man circles the Hindu shrine 5 times clockwise with a coconut, at each complete revolution he kneels holds it to his heada nd bows. On completion he smashes it on second attempt in a cage in front of the shrine.

It’s actually too hot for me. I do a quick once around the town then a loop of the lake where I buy a holographic poster of the holy tooth shrine.at least I guess that’s it!

Haputale

After the bar we spent a chilled hour or so looking out over the black chasm of the valley from my balcony. Frogs croaking incessantly down below. The one disturbance was a loud bang, must have been some kind of electrical fault next door.
The next day I set out for the dambetenne tea factory to walk to liptons seat, he of liptons the grocer and liptons tea fame. My bus is a batters mini bus, functionality is the main priority jammed with hard women with saris jumping on and off, some with babies, some with 20 kilo sacks of rice. The road hugs the side of the hillside, very dramatic winding up through the tea bushes.
The walk is quite arduous and is a climbs maybe 300m. I follow the road, switchback after switchback, later coming back I use the shortcuts through the tea fields. It’s different from Ella. The tea pockets, barefoot dark women with sacks on their backs call hello, and are not asking for money. Small kids, however do. The walk is fantastic and very beautiful. Lazy or maybe more sensible others catch struggling tuk tuk rides to the top of the mountain. The cloud is low. Actually we are above the cloud. The fantastic view remains largely hidden. I feel quite ill, I’m cold and nauseous and vomit. Maybe it’s something I ate, maybe all the unwashed hands I’ve touched. The sun comes out briefly, it warms me and I see the beginning of the extend of the view. I have the most satisfying cup of tea and begin a descent which becomes increasingly wet. I chance upon Rolf, who I met in Ella, coming the other way. We sit and chat then part.
Signs painted on the walls of the tea fields bless echoing us to take care of nature, that animals fates are linked to ours. Messgas in 3 languages telling the planters not to pollute the water ” for the brothers and sisters in the valley”

The valley has the wonderful aroma of drying tea leaves. The bus back the intoxicating fig of Ayurvedic balm, the medicine of the masses.
Later that evening he comes by with some special medicinal soil to ease my stomach. We chat at length about politics, Germany, Britain then I go back to bet. Need to get better.
Waking today the cloud is swamping Haputale. Everything is wet. This doesn’t seem like the best weather to go for another walk.