Hello again and welcome to what will be the penultimate post in this series regarding my 2014 trip to Sri Lanka which, after three months travelling and a couple of months plus to write about, has taken on a life of it’s own. I am sure this will come as a blesséd relief to many of my long-suffering readers who have slogged their way through 47 rather lengthy pieces and, yes, I am showing off with the accented e. As always I shall start with my usual advice that if you really have a masochistic streak you can start the whole story here.
Whatever way you have arrived here, you are welcome and while the trip was certainly winding down there was still a bit to see and do, I had not had enough of Sri Lanka just yet. If you want to find out all about it, please read on.
I had not really seen much of Negombo except my superb accommodation and the inside of a bar which had nearly descended into riot due to my host countries prowess on the cricket pitch in winning the World T20 competition. All this was good.
I am not going to get too philosophic here as I have already designated this post the penultimate one and I shall do my usual “gather-up” in the next one with a few ideas of general information but for now I am very close to the airport and there is still one more day to enjoy.
As always, I just armed myself with a bottle of water, a camera and very little else. I turned left out of the gate having been rather embarrassingly saluted by the security guard and having been able to return the salute by virtue of having a bandanna on which just about constitutes headgear. I can never understand the American practice of various Presidents saluting a bare head when emerging from Air Force One.
What is a salute? It is a ritualised version of touching or removing your headwear which dates back centuries. It is simply wrong without something on your head. It actually originates from a raising of the visor between knights meeting to show non-aggressive intentions. Yes, I could bore you for hours on the subject but I’ll spare you that agony.
Why did I turn left and not right out of the gate? Simply for the reason that I had a vague idea that was where the centre of town was. Honestly, this is the flimsy premise upon which I base most of my rambles and which, as I hope you have seen in this series, turn out wonderfully far more often than they do not.
Well, I had not walked too far when my thinking on this matter proved to be entirely correct. Readers of my much earlier posts here will know that I love canals and have spent many happy days either walking them or crewing boats on them.
I had stumbled upon a sadly neglected “cut” in Colombo almost three months previously, yes it was that long, and I had discovered other examples in various places on my travels. There is obviously a history of man-made waterways in this country and, in the unlikely event I can ever return, I should love to explore them further. This particular system runs an impressive 75 miles from Colombo, I’d love to walk it some time. No, it is not 75 miles from Colombo to here, that is the entire system.
I would go so far as to say that, whilst a 70-foot British narrowboat is out of the question, there must be a commercial opportunity for “cruises” in some form of marine craft. Sadly, the current world situation precludes any such ideas.
I did consider a walk along the towpath but as you can see, there wasn’t one! Obviously these canals were built after the advent of steam when horses did not have to slog along pulling tons of boat behind them or else the towpaths have been subsumed by subsequent development.
Denied my potential navigational delight I just kept walking, that is what I do on a day out. I did take the image above, not because it is of any particular interest but it does make a point. I have often given advice about accessibility in Sri Lanka where it is, or at least was in 2014, abysmal.
Never mind those unfortunate enough to be in a wheelchair but consider the young Mother with a pram or baby buggy, she does not stand a chance.
I know it may sound like a minor complaint in a country I had loved so much but, my mate Colin, another VT veteran and whose late wife was confined to a wheelchair for the last years of her life, had a brilliant saying. “We are all potential wheelchair users”. Think about it.
I negotiated the ill-parked vehicles and the next thing I came upon was a church but, far more to my liking, a church with a large cemetery attached. My usual crew will know that I cannot resist a graveyard, I just find them endlessly fascinating as places where social history is completely encapsulated.
I have written much on this trip about the huge diversity of faiths practised in Sri Lanka, not least the temple complex at Kateragama which is sacred to no less than four belief systems. I would, however, be failing in my self-appointed task of honestly reporting in these blogs if I said that everything is “love, peace flowers and beads, man”, it is not.
The appalling civil war which lasted over three decades here was largely based on religious / cultural lines. It cost human lives which reach six figures depending on what statistics you read and which was easily the equivalent of the horror I lived through in Northern Ireland.
This was obviously a Christian burial site and it was only when I researched this piece so many years later that I found out that less than 10% of the population followed that religion in Sri Lanka which surprised me given the number of churches I saw there.
Again, during this Chinese initiated world disaster (there is a large Chinese Christian population in Negombo, presumably driven out by a secular Government) I have been watching a lot of documentaries. The fact that the brother of Jesus (James, one of four and not immaculate conceptions) and all his close friends were written out of history by Paul is ludicrous.
Paul was not even one of the Apostles and who may not even have met Jesus but such is the lust for power. It is amazing what you can learn but enough of this. The disciples were shunted onto the sidelines and those seeking personal glory triumphed. This is why I am an atheist.
Each plot in the graveyard was duly noted as to who had been laid to rest there, what specific church they belonged to and I found the segregation slightly saddening. It is bad enough to have religions fighting against each other but to have various factions of allegedly the same religion at each other’s throats beggars belief. I am so glad I am an atheist.
I spent quite a bit of time in the cemetery as I always do in such places and then I wandered off again in search of a reviving little something but on the way I saw a few quirky little things which I thought I would share with you. I have no idea what was being sold from that table, I just liked the look of the blossoms, I could not resist the “Cockney Supermarket” as I have lived in the East End of London (“Cockney Central”) for over 30 years. The dolphins were just so far off the scale as to merit an image. Utterly mad.
I suppose I should tell you a little bit about Negombo here and I was now back in Western Province where I had started but, back then before I had learned how to access such things, you were not treated to the flag or map so here you go. Get me with the technology! Honestly, it is pathetic how much delight I derive from such a simple operation which is undoubtedly second nature to most of you. I quite like the Western Province flag.
Negombo is probably best known now as the home town for the major international airport for Sri Lanka. I have already told you about Percy Mahinda Rajapaksa’s ill-fated vanity project in his home area of Hambantota, now owned by India and officially the least used international airport in the world. The nearby deep-water port, another of his hare-brained schemes, is currently on a 99 year lease to China. Hmm. If you are ever able to visit Sri Lanka you will be going through this airport not Rajapaksa’s dream.
Negombo is a town within easy reach of Colombo along the Expressway and has very good beaches which makes it a popular location for a day out from the capital. It is also noted for it’s historic fishing industry which, even before modern transport, made it an important centre for supplying it’s neighbour with piscine delights.
Somewhat strangely, Negombo has the nicknames of Punchi Romaya (Little Rome) and Meepura (City of Bees) although I could see no evidence for either appellation. The lagoon here provides a safe haven for vessels which may have been what attracted the Dutch in the 16th century when it was an important staging post on their spice (predominantly cinnammon) trade.
It is strange to think now when you just pop to the supermarket (depending on current ridiculous police state regulations) and pick up a jar of this or many other spices, how unbelievably expensive they were to our ancestors of five centuries ago.
Unusually for Sri Lanka where the population is about 70% Buddhist, there is a predominance of Christianity here, specifically Roman Catholicism although the vast majority of the plots I had seen in the cemetery were Protestant. On reflection, it is undoubtedly this and nothing to do with architecture that has given the “Little Rome” soubriquet. This is very much a town with the grip of Roman Catholicism very much round it’s throat.
Negombo was undoubtedly pleasant enough but not perhaps a place I would choose to spend an extended period. It was, however, a convenient jumping off point for my homeward journey which was looming on the horizon all too soon. I could not believe it, three months, which is obviously much more time than most travellers have the luxury of, had passed in the blink of an eye.
8th April, 2014.
I was up in good order this day and well on time to get to the airport for a reasonably timed flight, I do dislike early morning departures. My charming hostess had arranged a tuk-tuk for me to go to the airport and I was a little surprised to have to walk through a puddle and some muck to access the terminal but, this was a foreign country and I really could not complain.
The flight was completely uneventful, even in “cattle-class” where the food was surprisingly tasty and I got back to London tired, jet-lagged and fairly worn out. I was not, however, so worn out that I couldn’t stop off at a disgustingly over-priced airport bar for a pint of cider. It had been three whole months since I had had any fermented apples!
I arrived home to the usual ritual of kicking my door open to move the accumulated mail from behind it and, rather more annoyingly and illegally, removing the even greater pile from outside the door, a sure sign to any potential burglar that I was not at home and which is the disgusting practice of those that are too lazy to deliver it through the door, as required by law, look it up.
That was it, three months in a new country, some wonderful memories that shall remain with me until my dying day, many new things learned, many new friends made. Despite the inevitable post-trip hangover that follows any journey, not to mention one as long as this, I was unbelievably happy and promptly went to sleep for about two days!
The saga is almost finished here but I shall post one more item with a few general tips and observations which I hope may be of use to you. What I will say here at the conclusion of my last “proper” post is that if you ever get a chance to go to Sri Lanka, you should seize it with both hands as it really is one of the most rewarding countries in the world to visit. A huge and heartfelt thanks to all who made it so.
In the next post I shall tie up a few loose ends, provide a little more information which may hopefully be of help to you and finally get to the end of this monstrous series, so stay tuned and spread the word.