Welcome back folks and I do hope you have read my previous meanderings about going to stay with my very dear friend Treshi in a village nobody has probably ever heard of in a completely out of the way backwater in Sri Lanka.
Back in 2015 and long before the Chinese virus effectively ended international travel I was actually allowed to go overseas and I chose to return to Sri Lanka because I loved it so much. Sadly that simple pleasure has been taken away from me, probably for the remainder of my life, so this series is just a happy memory of better times and is not intended as any sort of meaningful guide. At time of writing I know that Sri Lanka is under strict house arrest until at least 14th June, 2021 and more probably until at least the end of the month.
I had somehow or another made it to Treshi’s home in a tiny little village called Mattegoda (she no longer lives there so forget it, potential stalkers!), I was in a place I had been ordered to call my home (Treshi orders you in the nicest possible way). Having been made more than welcome we had to work out an arrangement of some sort. If you want to know what it was then please read on.
Treshi had asked me if I could possibly cook some sort of European food some time when I was there as she loves it and I thought I could just about manage that, I’d seen a pressure cooker in a well equipped kitchen so that wouldn’t be a problem and, like Topsy, it just grew and grew. Pressure cookers are one of my favourite pieces of kit and I don’t understand why they aren’t used far more. To be honest, it grew and grew into one of the favourite things I have ever done.
I was told to use what she had in the fridge / freezer and thought nothing of it, for me it was just basic cooking but she and her son (and occasionally large numbers of her family!) seemed to like it OK and thereby began a complete odyssey, not only that year but the next. As it developed, the standard procedure was for Treshi to go to work very early in the morning as her morning commute was ridiculously time-consuming due to Colombo traffic rather than distance.
Later in the day I would go into Kottawa and I’ll tell you about the bar I used to visit later, then I’d go to Keell’s #2 supermarket (again more of that later) to buy ingredients for the evening meal and work out how to cook it for her getting home about 2000 or so, again dependent on traffic jams on the Galle Road. Like the legendary Keith Floyd, I seem to get better results when I have had a drink or ten.
All this is a long way in the future, so please stick with me. I could post up a load of images of me cooking etc. but…………….. Treshi had told me how to get the bus into town, where the supermarket was and what she fancied for dinner, it was an absolute joy for later in the trip. Everything was just superb, you could not have picked me up and deposited me anywhere on earth that would have been better than this.
I know I sound like I am gushing, I sound like I am beng over-fulsome, believe me I am not. Unless you have experienced a “homestay” like this, you can never believe it. To be so far out of your comfort zone and grinning like a Cheshire cat takes some doing, I genuinely could not believe my luck. This was for real whilst being something quite unreal, musicians will know what I mean. You know when you “get it”, and by now I had got it in abundance, it was literally off the scale.
After one day of just lying around the house the next day was time to go out and explore the area and I knew there was little in Mattegoda plus which I had a couple of things I needed to do so Kottawa was calling. I jumped on the ‘bus directly opposite Treshi’s place, alighted at the ‘bus station which seems to be one of the less manic and better ordered in Sri Lanka and set off in search of my first goal, which didn’t take long and, as usual, I shall let my original notes tell the story.
I’ll give you a call.
“There is certainly no shortage of computer and / or mobile (cell) ‘phone shops in Kottawa (they tend to double up), or anywhere else in Sri Lanka for that matter, and I picked this one more or less at random as it seemed as good as any. It turned out to be an excellent choice.
I needed to buy a sim card for my ‘phone as my UK one doesn’t work out here and I could not find my previously registered Sri Lankan one from my last trip before I travelled. I spoke to the young lady who didn’t appear to have too much English (perhaps it was merely my impenetrable accent) but she summoned one of the two guys from the back and he seemed to fare rather better with it.
I have mentioned elsewhere on this blog that buying a sim card in Sri Lanka is not the same as buying one in UK. In my home country you just wander into a shop, hand over a few £££s and leave with a totally untraceable number. Without going into it all again, there is quite a lot of paperwork involved in SL including photocopying my passport. This is not a problem as I am not up to anything nefarious!
In UK, I have no doubt that in such a case I would have been sent off to get my own photocopy but here the young lady was despatched to wherever and returned shortly with the necessary copies. Excellent service. I was charged Rs. 500 ($2:50 sterling) for everything which included Rs. 100 credit (50 pence) which I had not even managed to use up after a fortnight! Excellent value to go with the excellent service.
I have no doubt that many of the other such establishments in Kottowa are similarly efficient and charming but on the principle of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” I shall be returning here for any further technological needs. It has an added bonus of being about two minutes walk from the bus station where I alighted so it is not hard to get to.
That was the first job done so at least I had comms. with Treshi now so onto the next order of business, a beer almost inevitably. Here is what happened.
Don’t expect to see Rick here!
“Those that know me will attest that I have an ability to smell drink at about 600 paces through concrete! Really, it is true although I cannot claim credit for finding Casablanca myself as it was suggested to me by the lovely Treshi.
I have to say that Kottawa is not overly endowed with watering holes and I reckon I have scoped all of them by now and they are all much of a muchness. To the place itself and the name is somewhat misleading. If you are expecting Rick’s Cafe Americain from the film Casablanca (my all time favourite in the unlikely event you are interested) then you will be sadly disappointed.
Like all the others, Casablanca is a multi-functional place and serves as function hall, restaurant and bar and it looks like what it is as I hope the images indicate. The business card I was given also claims a beer garden but, despite my best efforts, I have yet to locate it.
It is certainly clean and tidy enough but, again like all the others I know, it is on the first floor which will render it totally inaccessible for the mobility impaired unfortunately. I know some readers may find this to be extraneous information but I do like to include such information in my pieces on the off chance it may be of some use to someone at some point.
Another point to note, which again will only be of limited interest to a small group of us, is that smoking is not permitted in the building and you have to go out past the washrooms to a rather decrepit balcony which is effectively the staff entrance to the kitchen and so you are quite likely to be disturbed by the porter humping some vast amount of produce. Still, that is not a problem.
Whilst having my smoke I saw a rather fine blackbird (I think it is anyway) just sitting staring at me which is probably inconsequential to most of you but I have a dear friend who has a certain affinity for members of the Corvid family and I took the probably idiotic notion she was watching me. Yes, my mind does work like that, I’ll ascribe it to the heat and the remnants of jetlag. She did tell me later it was nothing to do with her and I believe her but it gave me pause for thought at the time. I probably do think far too much!
As in so many places of the drinking kind in Sri Lanka, the first thing you notice on entering is that it is almost pitch black. the chances are that you will have entered from pretty bright sunlight outside and it takes your eyes a minute or two to adjust. I don’t know if the curtains are pulled to keep out the bright sunlight or for some other reason but it really is a tad gloomy.
Take a seat and you can avail yourself of the entertainment which consists of one large plasma TV which will be showing cricket if it is on as Sri Lankans have a passion for the game. That suits me as I like a bit of the sound of willow on leather myself. If not, then the staff like to amuse themselves in the afternoon by watching subtitled English language films on one of the many channels they seem to have available on satellite.
Of the three places I know in Kottawa, and I doubt there are many more, this is the cheapest with a large bottle of Lion lager (my preferred brand) running out at 300 LKR. Angel Walk across the street runs to 330 and the appalling Panorama at a ludicrous 380 (2015 prices). Service is slow as they do not seem to actually have any stock behind the bar and the waiter disappears downstairs to get whatever you want which seems a strange way to run a bar.
Actually, service is a slight problem here and one of the minus points I would have to make in the interests of fair reporting. On another occasion I was in there and had ordered my first beer from a young barman I had spoken to before and it took inordinately long to arrive but that is not a problem in itself. I was just settling in for the afternoon when I got a text (SMS) message requiring me to go elsewhere immediately.
I caught his eye and performed the international mime for the bill (check) which he nodded in adknowledgement of. I waited and I waited but no sign of it. There was no major crisis but I really did have to be elsewhere sooner rather than later and so I indicated again which he seemed to adknowledge. Again I waited and it was only at the third time of asking (miming really) that I finally got the bill.
I paid with a larger note than necessary and another long delay before the change came back which I pocketed and went towards the door where the waiter accosted me with the line, “No tip?” I tried to explain to him that where I come from tipping is for good service which I had singularly not had, discretionary, and the very fact that he had asked meant he wasn’t going to get one this side of a long, cold day in Hades. It shall be interesting to see how things are when I return!
Other than the slight hiccup just described, Casablanca is an OK place to have a drink or two.”
That was a bit of a mixed bag then but at least I had one place I knew I could go. I had not yet discovered Angel Walk which was to become my regular haunt and is a much better option.
On the way back I decided to jump in a tuk-tuk, auto rickshaw or whichever of the five or six names they go by and it was manic. It was evening rush hour and Kottawa, being on one of the main roads out of Colombo, seems to be worse than most. By dint of driving on the hard shoulder, the pavement (sidewalk and such as it was) and frequently the wrong side of the road in the face of oncoming traffic my charioteer finally got me home and remarkably in one piece.
I evidently had not assumed cheffing duties at that point as the dinner you can see has to be Treshi’s work, it is far too tidy to be mine!
I am guessing we probably had an early night as we had a very early start the next morning because we were going on a trip to Kandy, a place I love so if you want to read all about that then stay tuned and spread the word.