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Published: January 25th 2009
Sunset strollers walking along Galle Face Green, with the Galle Face Hotel at the back
Once a long time ago, I was a little boy, only three in fact, and I found myself in this lovely country called Sri Lanka. My memories of the time have faded and those I have I am not certain of. Are they my own memories or are they memories formed by stories told by my parents or photo's seen in old albums?
My first memory is in fact of a crab in the swimming pool of Galle Face Hotel in Colombo. They had, and I have heard, still have a salt water pool there, so it isn't a hostile environment to crabs if they should choose to reside in the pool. I think the crab was in that pool for quite some time, I am not sure what motivated it; I can't imagine the tiled pool bottom being a very enchanting place to be for a crab.
In those days Galle Face was not what it is now, it was being renovated and the they used to house long term residents in the old part of the hotel. My parents used it for a couple of month while looking for a house in Colombo. I went back to
View of the Fort Area with the World Trade Centres of Colombo
the Galle Face hotel, it is a very fancy hotel and the beer is mightily expensive, yet, I had one, pretending to be some old colonial chap taking a rest from the beating sun.
Colombo now is quite strange... The centre is called the Fort area and it is rather aptly named because it is a high security zone, with military checkpoints everywhere and every other street closed off. It is like entering a military base, but with hotels and shops inside... This makes it rather difficult at first to find ones way around.. I kept walking into streets that were closed of by barricades and on other streets I would have to keep crossing from one side of the road to the other because of some sensitive installation being on the right or left side of it... A bit irritating to be honest.
I went to Havelock road, where once our house stood. I found it back, but it had turned into a Korean restaurant and where our garden used to be, was now a gravel car park... Very disappointing... I remember being stuck in the mango tree that used to be there with red ants crawling
Our old house in Colombo has been turned into a Korean Restaurant!!! And the garden is gone... Such a shame
over me... Hmmm, maybe not so disappointing anyway!
Well after Colombo I decided to head up the coast. My first stop was Hikkaduwa. Along the way to Hikkaduwa, the train passed Beruwela and it triggered memories of holidays spent at that place. I remember my mother swimming to this little off shore island... I never dared to swim the whole way, and always turned back half way. The island is not far, maybe 50 meters or so away from the mainland, but for a small kid it seemed miles away. But Beruwela is package holiday country now and out of my reach. I didn't want to spoil the lovely memories anyway... Hikkaduwa turned out to be a bit too much for me as well, it was nice enough, but just not my style... To get away from the beach scene, I went to Galle for the a day...
Galle has an impressive Dutch fort with loads of crumbling historic buildings inside... Seeing the old insignia of the Dutch East India Company above one of the gateways got my Imperialistic little heart beating! Not to talk about the old Dutch houses and churches, and everybody was cycling... So very
Taking a dive
Dutch of them!
As Hikkaduwa was not what I was looking for, I decided to head a little further down the coast to Mirissa and hope for the best. It was a wicse choice as Mirissa was far more laid back, quieter and more idyllic... I found myself a nice room overlooking the perfect white beach, the swaying palm trees and the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean... I settled in for a couple of days of utter relaxation...
Utter relaxation was put aside for a bumpy ride to Yala National Park, which once I had arrived, turned out to be unaffordable for me... A solution was however found by my guesthouse owner... I rented a guide and a three wheeler to take me to another part of the National Park, without the exorbitant entree fees for foreigners, but where some money was needed to bribe some army check posts along the way... There was less wildlife in this part, but I still got to see some elephants, deer and other such things that one can encounter in National Parks...
It was all so stressful for me that I decided I needed a few more days rest
Old Town Hall
and relaxation and so I headed for yet another beach, this time on the east coast in the form of Arugam bay, which at this time of year is almost devoid of tourists because it isn't the season. Once there I managed to save some poor Sri Lankans from spending all their earnings on some dodgy work permit deal for Canada. It was such an obvious scam, when they showed me the letters and the so called sponsorship contracts I almost had to laugh. It would have cost them 2500 euros and they would not have got anything for it. There dreams of starting a new life in Canada were dashed, but at least they didn't loose all their money.
The east coast seems poorer to me, less developed... There is still a lot of devastation from the Tsunami to be seen and a lot of very sad stories of people who lost several of their relatives on that faithful day. Yet despite all this, the people are incredibly friendly and I was invited for lunch and dinner by several random folk. Another thing that is obvious on this side of the country is the almost stiffling army presence...
Fruit Bats in the park
There are road blocks every few miles on the road, where everybody on the bus needs to get off, go through a gate, have their bags searched and show their identity cards. As a foreigner I have the luxury of remaining on the bus and mostly they young soldiers just smile at me shyly... Still it is clear that this is a country on a war footing and here in the east they are feeling it more than anywhere else, except of course for the far north, where the actual fighting is taking place...
At the moment I am in a place called Batticaloa, which is more like an overgrown village than a city. Lots of army presence and lots of mosquitoes! It is raining and dreary, a perfect time to update the good old blog!
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