Having left my Mum and Dad at Heathrow I arrived, some 10 hours later, skipping ahead in time 5 and a half hours, at my destination- Mount Lavinia, on the beautiful island of Sri Lanka. I had been to Sri Lanka twenty odd years ago when I got married for the first time but things change right? So leaving Bandaranaike airport the taxi took the new express way towards Colombo. I had arranged for the hotel to pick me up but when I got there, there was no-one waiting so had to take a taxi which was OK and I arrived safely enough, but I could see in the mirror that the drivers eyes were drooping and he was nearly falling asleep. I said “Hey, you falling asleep?” “No, no, no ma’am am OK” was the reply, but I wasn’t taking any chances so talked about nothing in particular for the rest of the way.
Mount Lavinia is on the west coast about an hour from the airport and when you arrive in a new place your first impressions are not always the best ones. It basically looked like there was nothing there apart from the local shops, houses and people. The hotel- Ranveli Beach Resort- looked smaller than it did in the photographs I had seen, and they failed to take a picture of the huge derelict building at the back AND there is a railway line that separates the hotel from the beach. I knew about the railway track because I had been reading the reviews on Trip Adviser and there were mixed opinions about it. I have no problems with the many trains passing by- it adds to the charm of this little suburb, especially when you see all the locals hanging out of the doors on the way to wherever they are going.
Back to the hotel-it is a lovely little place. The room is basic with no hot water but that doesn’t matter when you have been out in the heat all day, although it hasn’t been that hot since I have been here. The staff are absolutely wonderful and are happy to help with whatever you need.
I arrived safe and sound to a big hug from my good friend Mark, who I know from living in Surin in Thailand. I dropped my bags in my room and we wandered along the beach and spent the next few hours catching up over a few beers and we managed to find the best red wine in Asia I have ever had. And the food… it is amazing…quite spicy but so very tasty.
I felt rubbish when I first got there- I had a throat infection anyway and the jet lag didn’t help plus my ears were blocked from the pressure of descending on the plane. So the next day I slept until the afternoon and just chilled out around the pool.
In the evening I met up with my Sri Lankan friend, Pubudu (Pubbs). He took me to a couple of bars-one of them you would never guess it was there because when we arrived it was pitch black and there appeared to be nothing across the railway track-but on the beach side was Buba Beach Bar and there we sat with no light apart from a candle on the table, the waves of the Indian Ocean lapping onto the beach eating devilled chicken and nasi goreng for dinner washed down by a few cold Lion beers.
The next day Pubbs took us for a day out in Colombo, Sri Lanka’s capital. Because of the traffic, which is completely crazy, (as in most Asian cities there are no rules on the road, cars, motorcycles and tuk-tuks all competing for road space) we took the coastal road into the city. There is no central area to Colombo- there are high rise modern office blocks intermingled with run down shops and houses.
There are the tell-tale signs of Sri Lanka’s colonial past in the form of beautiful buildings with their colonnade balconies and terra-cotta tiled roofs. Different religions are evident as well, with Muslim mosques and Hindu and Buddhist temples. We made our way to Slave Island- so named because of the some four thousand African slaves that worked in the city. It is not actually an island but surrounded by Beira Lake and, in the seventeenth century, this lake was filled with crocodiles by the Dutch to stop the slaves from escaping.
We visited Gangaramaya Temple which is one of Colombo’s most important shrines. There are collections of Thai Buddhas, Chinese Bodhisattvas, and Hindu deities, there is a bo tree in the middle with prayer flags on the branches, and there is a room with an odd selection of items- such as watches, jewellery and a couple of vintage cars parked outside.
A short walk away, situated on Beira Lake is Seema Malaka another important Buddhist Temple- this one is used for the inauguration of monks. Interestingly it was designed by a Sri Lankan architect but paid for by a Colombo Muslim, who had fallen out with his fellow Muslims and decided to get his own back by investing in this Buddhist shrine. The temple is flanked by rows of Thai Buddhas which make for an interesting photo opportunity with the modern day buildings in the background.
There is a small island in the middle of the lake which can be reached over a bridge. Mark and I wandered round and I wondered why Pubbs hadn’t followed us but I found out later that he was embarrassed because this is the place that young Sri Lankans come to spend time with each other away from the prying eyes of parents-all around there were young couples smooching under umbrellas or lying under the shade of the trees. We agreed that this sort of behaviour makes a welcome change from the somewhat garishness of the west.
We had a lunch of Sri Lankan curry and on the way back we visited the independence monument which was built in 1948 to commemorate when power passed from the British to the United National Party until the leadership of Don Stephen Senanayake.
The next couple of days we just chilled around the hotel and didn’t really venture that far. We had big plans of going here and there but four days in we were just happy to chill and relax. And one of the things that I love about being in a different country is that random things happen and you find yourself in situations that wouldn’t necessarily happen at home. One of those things happened when we hadn’t gone very far during the day and we had literally crossed the railway tracks to a restaurant, not five seconds away. We had dinner at the bar and were talking to a guy from Boston who had just arrived from Austria. I noticed a bar which was playing loud music and it seemed to be quite busy, so after dinner we decided to check it out. We stumbled into a private party for the employees of Singer who had come together for their end of year party, or something like that. Well as someone who likes Asian guys I was loving it (a few beers had been consumed) but I have never had so much attention in the space of one hour. I was dancing and had about ten lads all around me all asking me to dance and trying to pull me onto the dance floor. The guys were harmless but I was glad Mark was with me, the guys were a little overpowering to say the least! We got free beer and when we went to sit down because we were exhausted with all the Sri Lankan dancing, the manager came over and asked us whether the guys were behaving themselves. So having befriended a couple of new people we left them to it. We saw them the next day at breakfast as they were staying in our hotel and they were a lot quieter than they had been the previous evening!
So one week has passed since I left the UK and my family and friends. I miss them all but this is the start of a new chapter in my life and I can’t wait to turn the next few pages.