Monday, March 23, 2009

Sunset and Dinner on the Beach

The onward flight was unremarkable.  We arrived at Colombo about half an hour early and were met at the gate by Mark.  We were first off our plane and our plane was about five minutes ahead of a packed Sri Lankan Airlines slight from London, so we were ahead of the crowd at Immigration.  Our luggage was amongst the first ones which came through.  All in all we managed to exit the terminal building about fifteen minutes after exiting the aircraft.  That’s got to be a record for a long-haul flight!

The drive back to their house took about forty minutes and, although Mark seemed worried we’d be petrified by the anarchic driving practices of Colombo, it wasn’t actually that bad.  I spent most of the drive looking out of the window and taking in the ambience; lots of lush scenery and tuk-tuks, people playing cricket and open-air shops.

Colombo reminds me of a combination of Havana and Singapore; it has a tropical climate – although pleasantly temperate today – but on the one hand the people are poor and the infrastructure is mostly run-down and on the other, there are spots of fine British Colonial architecture alongside occasional ultra-modern glass & chrome buildings.

There’s an obvious military presence and everyone in uniform carries a rifle, which Mark assured us were not for show.  There are regular traffic checkpoints throughout the city and lots of green-sandbagged watchtowers/gun emplacements.  The soldiers all looked young – Mark told us that, because of recent losses, the government had to up its recruiting targets and they are mostly filled by young men.  The soldiers we saw seemed to be in the 16-18 year range.

We had arrived early enough to be able to go out for dinner, so we did a quick freshen-up and then headed out in taxis to the old Galle Face hotel.

The Galle Face is a grand old colonial spot on the beach next to where the liners from the UK would dock, back in the day.  We had drinks on the beach-side lawn, watching the waves roll-in and the sun set over the ocean.

It was at that point I really began to soften I think.  There had been cracks in the facade on the drive from the airport as it settled into my head that this was terra incognita (for me), but while I sat there on the lawn, sipping my gin with the waves rolling in from Africa and listening to Chris regale us with all we can expect on the safari tomorrow, I really began to get excited.  We are going to have such a fantastic holiday!

Anyway, pre-dinner drinks complete, we headed up the road to their favourite seafood restaurant, Beach wadiya.  It’s the kind of place that gets imitated a lot in holiday resorts, but this felt far more genuine; we sat at tables in the sand a few metres up from the waterline and the menu was the catches of the day presented on a tray for you to pick from.  We got extremely messy picking our way through sweet-chilli crab, garlic prawns and grilled fish (I never quite got clear what type of fish it was, but it was very tasty.)

We rolled back to the house for a nightcap around 10 as we have to leave at 7am tomorrow to get to Udawalawe in good time.  Mark plied Brett and I with Glenmorangie, Ping showed off his sarong and Chris took Theo for his walk out in the garden.  (Theo being their lovely labrador puppy.)

Apparently we are sleeping in Kylie’s bed, or at least the one she slept in when she stayed here.  That will make a couple of friends back home insanely jealous.  Mwuhahaha!

And finally, because it just has to be said; “Mr Ambassador,  with ze Ferrero Rocher you are really spoiling us!”

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