Part One- Arugam Bay to Negombo
After a broken night’s sleep and a hasty last minute pack, I dosed myself with Imodium and clambered aboard our minibus. This is a summary of the journey-
I passed the start of the journey dozing, and most of the rest listening to my iPod.
We were provided with our last sighting of an elephant, as we passed a couple who lumbered out of the fields to graze on the trees along the road.
I listened to Ian Bell’s stupidity in the test, where he wandered off and India’s sportsmanship in withdrawing their appeal so he could continue playing after walking off before the session was over. I almost cheered when Tuffers put down an attempted Boycott interruption.
In a tiny, nameless town I saw a sweet and evidently universal scene. A pretty and nervous Sri Lankan girl chatted to a boy, the two chatting slightly awkwardly but exchanging frequent smiles, while her friends hovered nearby, whispering amongst themselves. Awkward teenage flirting is clearly the same all around the world.
As crowded buses whipped by I saw their dozing or staring passengers squashed against the window and decided, despite my regrets, that I had made the right decision in not travelling when ill.
Our lunch stop was at a roadside cafe, where we stretched our legs and I drank sweet tea and ate cakes. Our two drivers, dodgy looking cats who would have made great low level hoods on Colombo Vice, sat down and fell upon rice and curry. Our bill arrived but before I could pay there was some fussing and the bill was taken, our waitress chatted to the drivers and then returned, our bill was higher. They’d put their food onto our bill. It was a trifling amount, but it really pissed me off. They could have mentioned something, or asked whether we’d pay for it, but they just assumed that we’d foot the bill. I refused to, and would feel guilty about Laurence having to reach into his pocket, but like I said, it was a trifling amount, and my principles and anger wouldn’t let me contribute to it.
Three weeks had meant that we’d grown accustomed to the Sri Lankan’s crazy driving, there was an odd system behind it all, it worked. But then we were provided something that reminded us that even though the drivers seemed to know what they were doing they were still reckless, and their luck couldn’t hold for ever. A mangled tuk-tuk, the windscreen shattered and the flimsy frame bent out of shape. A crowd huddled around a woman lying on the ground, looking in a bad way, while her acquaintance let out a long, pain-filled wail.
We left the main road, avoiding Colombo and the madness therein. But the back roads were nightmarish, I wanted to grab every whinging Mail reader who complains about potholes in a headlock, drag them out and show them just how lucky we are with the roads in Blighty. It was a rough ride, and not helped by my paranoid fantasiesthat our dodgy drivers were about to jack us.
But, for an 8 hour ride, it passed fairly easily.
Part Two- One more, thing- Our day in Colombo
It may have been end-of-trip nostalgia, or my dread at returning to work. It may have been the warm glow I had from two cocktails and the beer, but whatever the reason. As I crawled onto the rock hard slab they called a mattress I couldn’t help smiling.
It had been a good day.
It’d been a lazy start, a hotel down the road that was distinctly more up-market than ours had an internet connection and sent my mum a message to let her know we’d made it back to Negombo in one piece.
Another minibus took us into Colombo.
The traffic was horrific, real bumper-to-bumper stuff, exacerbated by all the drivers being obsessed with switching lanes so they could get a fraction of a second advantage over the other commuters.
Our driver, who’s English was nonexistent took us to the wrong place. Instead of where he was meant to drop us he took us to where we were meant to get picked up. It took a while but finally we got him to take us to the original destination, the train station.
We’d chosen there so we were in the centre and could have a wander.
A quick stop at the bank and we grabbed dinner at this cool little place, which according to Llyw’s Lonely Planet was used in the filming of the video for the classic “Hungry By The Wolf” by Duran Duran. I can’t say I remember the video, so its clearly not as iconic as the ones for “Wild Boys”, “Rio” or “A View To A Kill”, so I’ll have to YouTube it when I get back to the UK:
It was cheap, and the food nice, although our aged waiter was a miserable sod, although if I’d served Simon Le Bon and the lads I’d be fed up to be carrying rice out to some sweaty and wilting tourists.
That fat guy’s no Simon, he probably thought wistfully, he’s not even wearing sunglasses. And his hair’s not even slightly feathered.
The place also did cakes at ridiculously low prices so we indulged ourselves. I had a rum ball, and the maker had clearly been liberal with the rum, just the way I like it.
From there we wandered down to the market. The shopping district was a mesh of narrow streets, bustling with people and vehicles which beeped as they attempted to wind their way through the crowds.
Shops were tiny things with their wares stacked or hanging around the storefront, the proprietors stood outside calling out to passersby.
But there was no hard sell, after the offer was politely refused they let you be. And the offers were all polite and friendly.
I really dug this, the hustle and bustle, the items on sale ranging from fine fabrics to miscellaneous tat like head massagers.
I bought a cheap wallet and a fruit drink on the street. A literal fruit drink. The guy loped off the top of the fruit, crack a hole in it and give you a straw to drink the sweet, milky contents before ditching the husk. I was warned that I’d regret this purchase, but it was delish, and there was no fallout.
Laurence bought some fabrics so that he could make a suit on his return home. In one textiles shop I admired some bright, patterned cloth that would have made a pretty cool shirt and smiled at the cute shopgirl with big brown eyes, and a shy, warm smile.
We tuk-tuked to the Galle Face Hotel, Laurence and I unable to convince our driver to race the others. At the hotel we walked past a wedding party and took some seats out on the terrace, where we ordered some cocktails to wrap up our holiday.
The mood was relaxed, and we chatted and joked away, the feeling in the group was good. And the cocktails gave me a warm glow.
Life was good.
The rest of the evening saw us bus back and have food before crawling into bed, happy and content.
Part Three- Up In The Air
We got up early, showered, packed and headed to the airport.
The first flight was okay, I read some of Keith and watched American Pickers, this show about two guys who buy people’s old junk and sell it on. Like Wheeler Dealers, American Hotrod and American Chopper its one of those shows where sod all happens yet manages to be utterly mesmerising. It seems like a cool way to make a living, trawling through old stuff and selling it on, hearing the old stories that go with the stuff and finding lost treasures.
The only problem with the show is that the guys are dicks to the quite foxy woman who works with them who’s stuck back at the office while they drive around treasure hunting. Personally I wouldn’t mind having her along.
Doha was just as hot on the way out, although the dry heat was a relief after the omnipresent humidity we’d endured in Sri Lanka.
The second leg, while longer, came with a choice of movies so I sat down to watch Rebel Without A Cause and Fast 5, and I may lose cool points for this, but I definitely preferred the latter. James Dean was no Rock.
We touched down, and it cloudy over Heathrow. I was in mixed emotions about being home. I’d missed the UK and its many charms, but I’d loved Sri Lanka and the relaxed pace of living. And there, I didn’t have a job I hate.