Hello once more and welcome to the next post in the tale of my 2014 trip to Sri Lanka, the first of several to a country I am now completely in love with to the extent that I had seriously considered retiring there before the current unecessary pandemic ended the world as we knew it.
After three months of travelling there and nearly two months of writing about it here my journey, in both respects, was sadly approaching it’s end but there are still one or two things left to see. If you want to find out what they might be, then please read on. If you want the whole story, please start here.
The 2nd and 3rd of April were apparently fairly uneventful days as evidenced by my complete lack of images. I know I was still working hard on the menu for my lovely guesthouse that I had somehow been talked into re-inventing and I cannot help but wonder if there are any elements of it still being offered. I have no way of knowing as D.G. and I have sadly lost touch since then.
I wonder if chef, who was an old man then, is still bustling round the small kitchen and knocking up the most wonderful of meals, I suspect he will do so until he “dies in harness”. I sincerely hope this is a very long way in the future, he was such a genuine and generous human being and I learned so much from him.
Isn’t it funny how the most apparently random connections can lead to such wonderful results? Enough, Fergy! I am in danger of sounding like a “life coach” (what an appalling and redundant concept) here.
4th April, 2014.
This day did not yield anything much in the way of “tourist adventures” but I had arranged to meet Jo and some of her Sri Lankan friends for a drink that evening. The poor lady had been so good to me in showing me around that she undoubtedly deserved a few days rest from the dubious delights of my company.
This evening Jo picked me up in a tuk-tuk which was almost inevitably driven by a friend of hers, I’ll swear she knew half the population of Kandy. We took off to the other side of town, across the lake and pitched up at the HQ bar which is a very Western establishment and designed mostly, I would suggest, for a moneyed class of young Sri Lankans. It is a bit out of town and would not attract “passing custom” as you would have no reason to pass here other than to visit.
I mentioned before that there was a huge cricket competition taking place, the T20 “crash bash” form of the game, invented relatively recently and much to the horror of traditionalists but which I like and provides two or three hours of utterly lunatic cricket that would not be contemplated in a five-day Test.
Even if you are not a cricket fan I would encourage you to go to a T20 game, they are great fun and obviously in a country as obsessed with cricket as Sri Lanka is we all sat and watched the first semi-final of the event.
If you are interested, and it is long past history now, India beat South Africa by eight wickets and set up a final against Sri Lanka who had overcome the West Indies the day before and which I had watched in the guesthouse, amongst the great glee of the staff. Well, that was going to be something, Sri Lanka in the final of a major tournament and I was witnessing it all in Sri Lanka.
I shall make no comment upon the Indian bowlers haircut!
I know that I have waxed lyrical many times during this series of posts, and undoubtedly unnecessarily so at times but it really was a perfect evening. Watching cricket with a bunch of Sri Lankan guys who were mad about the sport in a beautifully appointed bar situated in a UNESCO World Heritage site and with a lovely comfy bed to look forward to. I must ask the reader a question, does life actually get much better than this?
I love to hear from my readers so please do contact me and tell me about your perfect travelling days, I would love to hear about them. Send me links to your best travel day pages and I will happily re-post them here (if I can master that technology!).
What a great day, effectively doing nothing but actually doing so much and learning huge amounts about the state of modern Sri Lankan society, a total education not to mention a great pleasure.
5th April, 2014.
Yes, the time had come and much as I could have stayed in Kandy forever it was time to move. I had previously bought my ticket on the “blue train” i.e. one of the tourist services and I cannot stress this enough. The fancy tourist trains sell out weeks or months in advance, normally with tourist parties, and even the “local” trains will often be sold out days in advance, except in third class which is hard going.
Regular readers will know that “turn up and go” is very much my preferred mode of travel but in Sri Lanka it is not an option, you must book ahead and as far ahead as possible. My visa was running out by this time and I had a flight to catch so I was heading back to Colombo with something of a heavy heart. D.G. who I now considered to be a personal friend, had put his “tame” tuk-tuk man at my disposal and I knew him to be an extremely safe driver.
I bade my farewells to D.G. aka “Big Belly”, the chef who had taught me so very much with lessons which I still apply to my cooking to this day, several of the cleaning staff who I had met in passing and were all unfailingly cheerful and charming. Within about 15 minutes I was in Kandy station and heading home, well Negombo anyway.
The “blue train” is undoubtedly plush, designed for tourists or well-heeled Sri Lankans benefitting from the tourist boom, at least in those days before the Chinese annexed that country, I have no idea if it even still runs such is the extent of Sino global destruction.
Before the current sad situation, the train was an absolutely delightful way to travel and a bit of a “splurge” before I went home. I am not a rich man although I am not in the “travel on $10 a day” category but I had found Sri Lanka remarkably cheap and I had spent a lot less than I expected to in my three months there.
The train was an absolute delight with regular supplies of scented wipes provided by the bow-tied waiter not to mention a couple of very decent meals. No, it is not authentic Sri Lankan travelling but it is very pleasurable nonetheless. The views from the observation car to the rear of the train are in themselves worth the ticket price which was not excessive.
I arrived back in Colombo in good order and you might, perfectly reasonably, think that the day ended there. Wrong, I had a dinner date. I know this sounds utterly ridiculous to my regular readers but it is true.
I had arranged “high tea” in the centre of the capital with Treshi and which has become something of a ritual for us. We always hit one of the big hotels in the Colombo for such a feast, and feast it always is, for a “big day out”. Just have a look for yourself and tell me if I am wrong.
Staying in Colombo would probably have been a sensible option but I had decided to head North to Negombo to be close to the airport. There was no particular reason for being there so early before my departure but it just made me feel comfortable.
With a wonderful “high tea” on board I took off back to my “digs” in Negombo, a lovely place of which I will tell you more later and I was equally happy at my situation and sad at my imminent departure from a country I now consider to be a second home. Please believe me here, those of you who actually read this nonsense, Sri Lanka is a joy.
I have been lucky enough to have visited over 40 countries in my life and this is undoubtedly one of my favourites. With my noted verbosity it would take me a week to even begin to describe the beauty of the country, it’s people, the cuisine, the atmosphere, it is just impossible to describe briefly.
Sri Lanka, sadly, is something you will probably be unable to experience for yourself for some time due to the pandemic destruction of the world but if circumstances ever do allow, please visit that most attractive of countries, you will not regret it. In addition they are going to need every £ / $ / € or whatever they can get in a country so dependent on tourism and suffering horribly now.
Sadly I am aware that distant travel is now merely a dream for me, the virus and my medical history have combined to stop all that. DVT’s and long-haul flying do not make for good bedfellows. I am very glad therefore that I had the opportunity to visit Sri Lanka as much as I did.
I do apologise if the preceding paragraphs seem like a rant as I certainly do not want this blog, the only thing I effectively have left, to sound like that. I wish to keep it as accurate as possible and leave a legacy of truth, genuine recollections, and a glimpse of a world that I inhabited once. It is all gone now.
6th April, 2014.
I woke up in Negombo in a very pleasant room in a private residence which I had decided on rather than a conventional hotel room and I was pleased with my choice even if the Christmas greeting seemed a little past it’s sell-by date in March. It was in a gated compound with 24 hour security, a lovely swimming pool and it was very quiet and peaceful. The 6th of April was going to be anything but quiet and peaceful!
I hasten to assure the reader that nothing untoward happened but I have been boring non-cricket loving readers on and off with tales of the World T20 competition that was taking place in Bangladesh. This was the day of the final and in a match that I could not have scripted more perfectly no matter how hard I tried, Sri Lanka faced the “old enemy” India.
It would be true to say that there is not much love lost between Sri Lanka and her massive nearest neighbour and I don’t wish to get into the geopolitics of that whole issue. It would be equally true to say that they are united in one respect, a passion for cricket that verges on the fanatical and which I have mentioned often before.
The match was beautifully poised even before the teams took to the field. Virat Kohli, the Indian star batsman had been literally knocking every bowling attack out of the park and the Sri Lankans were a good cohesive unit with the huge experience of Sangakkara and Jayawardene batting and the equally hugely unorthodox “Malinga the Slinger” and Angelo Matthews in the bowling line-up, it was going to be a cracker.
I took a walk around and found a bar I liked the look of and which seemed to have a good number of fairly excitable Sri Lankans there, not to mention a good sized screen to watch the event on. As always, there was English spoken to a greater or lesser degree by the various gents but it did not matter a damn. It never ceases to amaze me how much communication is possible with a few monosyllabic grunts and a whole lot of miming. I could never be described as a polyglot but OI seem to get by.
I remember it so well and I was so engrossed in the game I did not take one single image so you’ll just have to take my word for it. The Indian batsmen really did not turn up and when Kohli got himself run out on 77 he had scored more than the rest of his team put together.
Sri Lanka were left a target of 131 which they set about in a workmanlike fashion, no heroics and Sangakkara top scored on 52 but they ticked on and reached the target with more than two overs in hand. Talk about chaos, the place went mad, there was beer flying about, much hugging, shouting, singing, cars outside sounding their horns (although that is standard practice anyway), it was mayhem. The entire country seemed to be celebrating and it continued for quite a while.
Obviously such a momentous occasion called for a modest celebration so that is what I did before retiring to Continental Residences for the night.
Sadly I have only a couple of days left and I am trying to work out the logistics so I think I shall break here. In the next post I have a bit of a wander round Negombo and then get on the big silver bird to go home. Spoiler alert – they manage NOT to lose my baggage on the return trip. If you want to see this wonderful journey through to the end after all these posts then stay tuned and spread the word.