We are in the capital city of Colombo, enjoying a little luxury at the locally owned Jetwing hotel (all their hotels we highly recommend).
First an apology, I reread my last post about Sri Lanka, to avoid repeating myself, and found SO MANY MISTAKES that I felt a deep sense of writer’s shame. Sorry about that.
As we prepare to leave Sri Lanka I still have a few things I would like to share (and sharing is caring).
We were supposed to take the train from Weligama in the south to the capital, but we showed up at the train station only to be told there was a technical problem and the train to Colombo wasn’t running. OK, fair enough, change of plans, go for the bus. Don’t think luxury bus, think school bus with lots of paint, loud music and people standing and leaning on you, and hot enough to leave salt-sweat stains on your clothes.
Also the driver seems to be a frustrated formula one maniac, the horn is blaring, the breaks are being stomped on and he’s driving like his head is on fire. Crazy stuff. After four hours of this, we arrive none too soon in Colombo where we decide to stay at a fancy place with a rooftop pool. I’m a little shocked by how huge Colombo is, it seems to spreading out as far as I can see in every direction.
So, last observations…
Crossing the street is taking your life into your own hands, and not only because they drive on the left. Follow in the wake of a local, preferably a monk or a woman with a child in her arms. The island is very densely populated, this may account for elbowing in queues and generally other behaviour that as North Americans we find intrusive or chaotic, but like I said, when in Rome.
The interactions with vendors and drivers has been over all very satisfactory. It is wise to haggle for everything or ask an impartial local for price ranges. It’s harder for a tuk-tuk driver to ask you for 1000 roupies when you know the price is 200. We did have one gentleman, the term here is used as loosely as letters allow, renegotiate the price of a run midway, by explaining he needed to make a large detour, which he never did (maps are magic) and then at arrival he flat out asked for an additional amount so he could drink some tea, and when that failed “for his children”. Yeah, that didn’t fly. Also confronted about the detour he did not take he just insisted he did. Liar, liar, pantalones on fire. A right old bugger that one. Oh, knock, knock, who’s there? Karma. Plus we learned a valuable lesson, next time this happens (but I think this guy was an outlier), we leave the tuk-tuk if there’s an attempt at deal changing. Other then that we had the usual “tourist” prices, and some gouging depending on if they feel like giving you change or not. Best to have small bills or be ready to walk away. You will get some sob stories about hungry villages and starving artisans and unique pieces that happen to be identical to those the other vendors have. Small brass elephant, asking price 1500, sold at 500, end of day price by other guy 200. No doubt that was still with a healthy profit. Elephants are something of a good luck charm here, one driver told us that mothers like to pass their babies under the belly of an elephant as a blessing ritual.
The tropical fruits are out of this world. Mango, papaya, mangoustan, rambutan and the best passion fruit ever possible to be had by a human we picked up from the ground in a car park shaded by large passion fruit plants. Head spinning delicious. Coconut is sometimes served with salt and pepper, mango with red chili powder and papaya always with lime. Also breakfast is traditionally spicy coconut mix, lentils and “string hoppers”, noodles made with flour rice. Yum.
We took a cooking class (because we are not savages) and learned to make these things. You have been warned…
This is the tropics, houses are not airtight, not by a long shot. Most windows are topped with openings and mosquito nets are the norm. You will share your living space with all sorts of critters, get used to it. In Weligama the only table in the place we rented is outside, outside is part of the living space. There are absolutely no chairs inside. You want to sit, you need to go out. Rats in the rafters, monkeys on the roof. Leave a spec of something sweet on a counter and its instant ant-a-palooza. Outside a large fan is a great idea to keep the myriad of flys and hopefully the hummingbird size mosquitoes at bay.
Those of you reading this to your children (he he he) might want to edit this next part. From what we read and see, the people here are still, by our standards, quite conservative. Local women bathe at the beach in clothes (literally knee length shorts and a t-shirt) and certain men do as well. However, some of the tourist outfits we saw at the beach beggar description. I have not seen so much ass since, well never. I’m going to be fully judgmental and say “pas fort”. I’m sure there’s a lot of local 14 year old boys really enjoying the beach, and probably some old gringos as well.
In a previous post I alluded to the fact that there seemed to be little evidence for the recently ended civil war. I need to amend that. I have noticed several people with missing limbs, toes, various scars and serious burns. Exclusively it seems, in the right age group to have lived through at least part of the war. I’m speculating of course, it’s not like I’m going to flat out ask them, I have no doubt the war remains a sensitive and controversial subject. I don’t know what else to say, clearly the country cannot be defined by that part of its history alone, at the same time, it would be grossly negligent not to be aware of the past. Oh boy, I brought up the H word… as the cliché goes, those who do not know history are bound to repeat it.
Today (in Weligama, in our bedroom, I’m sorry if I’m skipping around in time and space) the air is heavy with the smell of burning garbage. Except in the larger cities we have seen, pretty much everywhere, people burn their refuse by the side of the road or on their lawns. There are some garbage trucks, but perhaps they are paying or too seldom? Edit: from the rooftop pool at the Jetwing Seven in the capital we can see the tale tell sign of several garbage fires. So it is a thing.
Jumping around some more.
We just did our 4th (and final) dive in Weligama. On our small boat (three divers to one DM), there was a multilingual gringo (we North Americans are generally paupers when it comes to speaking more than one tongue) from Switzerland (impeccable English, French and Italian that I witnessed) and we quickly bonded over one aspects of a longer term visit to Sri Lanka: it’s often too noisy to sleep well. Obviously this is not 100% true, but as I’ve mentioned most dwellings are in one way or another permanently open to the outside. At Anuradhapura it was crying puppies (I’m not kidding), in Kandy it was packs of dogs fighting with monkeys (I’m not kidding) or a garbage truck going around our lodging in reverse (I’m almost not kidding), in Ella it was roaming dogs barking at the moon (or at something) and here in Weligama it is thundering tuk-tuks and the general disquiet of a densely populated area with neighbours feet away from your open windows on the first floor.
The diving in Weligama felt a little on the expansive side, 60$ US per two tanks, wether you have your own gear or not. The visibility was hovering around average, with occasional spike either way. The topography was mostly very large boulders probably rounded by time and water, though the geographer in me pondered at the exact source of the erosion and came up empty. The coral barely present and there aren’t huge schools of fishes to dazzle you with their colour. Apparently a whale shark was seen a few days ago, but for us bupkis. What’s cool is that these are slow dives, with little current (generally) except the occasional swell, and that allows you to take your sweet time, pay attention to the details, and just enjoy being completely embraced by the ocean. The macro life is impressive, with tons of nudibranchs, sea slugs, small crabs and shrimps. You will see angel fishes (emperor and blue ringed, plus something that looked a bit like a french angel fish), titan trigger fish, a few morays, a turtle, and some puffers, but these are not the main attraction. Would I recommend Weligama as a diving destination, like for more than a day or two? No. This is more a surfing spot, but if you are here already don’t skip the diving.
I would like to tell you more but I guess it will have to be in person around a drink sometimes soon. We need to get moving. I will leave you with the Buddha that greets you when you arrive at the airport.
Be well, all of you.