Lisas Love Interest
Seeing KP in the flesh perked her up no end
We had just seen some of the best things that the natural world has to offer, now the 2nd
part of this trip was to watch some of the greatest sporting achievements this planet has to offer, or so we hope.
Yep, Sri Lanka’s main sporting passion is the same as mine, cricket, and luckily, and obviously totally coincidentally, England happened to be playing a test series here so we headed off to Unawatuna, just south of Galle, where the 1st
match was due to be played. So we didn’t have any surprises on day 1 we decided to head into the town and see what it had to offer, luckily for later in the week the bus station is right outside the ground and just the other side of the stadium is the impressive Galle Fort. On walking past the stadium Chris noticed a few famous faces milling about and sure enough we had turned up just in time to watch England practice. Up to this point in time Lisa was exceptionally indifferent to this part of the trip, the thought of watching 3 or 4 days or boring old cricket wasn’t top of her wish list except …. Now
Galle fort is being sympathetically restored
she got a glimpse of KP (Kevin Pietersen) in the flesh, muscles bulging and eyes twinkling and Matt Prior, looking like a poor man’s Jason Statham, and quickly decided that she was going to join Chris at this sporting extravaganza. We watched the practice for a while along with the journos and Sky commentators then decided to head off to the Fort. Just outside the ground there was a big sign saying what gates people should go to on day 1 and giving the ticket prices for each stand, ranging from 150 – 500 LKR, (75p- £2.50), very reasonable but that’s why so many people come here to have a holiday and watch the cricket and by all accounts 6000 were on their way.
The Fort makes Galle the first nice, or even interesting, urban thing we’ve seen in the country. Built in 1588 by the Portuguese and heavily fortified in the 17th
century by the Dutch it stands at the south end of the town protecting the harbour from, well we weren’t sure whom, by given Sri Lanka’s proximity to the all-important East Indian trading routes; that probably had something to do with it. Although extensive reconstruction has
The southern tip
Next stop Antarctica
gone on the ramparts and many, many original parts of the Fort remain in remarkable health and is now seeing an influx of British, Dutch and Sri Lankan funding from individuals keen on returning the area to its former glory. Inside is a stark reminder of how strong it is, as this was the only part of the city to remain unaffected by the terrible tsunami of Boxing Day 2004. A walk up over the northern ramparts offered a great view of the cricket, no wonder it is popular with so many locals. You can easily get lost in the windy little streets, filled with little gift shops, fancy boutiques and café’s. We wandered for a few hours before having a quick peek in the famous Galle Fort Hotel, hideaway to the rich and famous. It is very understated, only about 12 rooms, but, like Raffles in Singapore, reminds you of an age of elegance sadly long gone. Staying there wasn’t in the budget but a pot of tea at three was just the job, and flipping lovely it was too.
Back in the resort rumours had started to surface about ticket prices for the upcoming test series, rumours
Whatever Strauss said, it didn't work this time
saying the Sri Lankans had at the last minute decided to charge 5000 LKR, about £25 per day for every foreigner. Nobody believed it was true, Australia toured a few months ago and their fans only paid 500LKR. A good friend from Weymouth had got in touch to say he was also out here so we arranged to meet Phil by the ticket office. When we got their it was pandemonium, the rumours were true, the Sri Lankan cricket board, at the very last minute, had decided to fleece every English fan that had decided to visit the country, had decided to spend money on a Sri Lankan holiday and help the economy; the robbing bar stewards. Remember the sign outside the ground 2 days ago with ticket prices on, those prices had been hastily tippexed out. We had come all this way to watch the cricket so they had us over a barrel so we paid for tickets for that day. I’m not saying how but by some quick thinking and sleight of hand meant we were able to get Phil in for nothing but that didn’t reduce the sour taste in the mouth. I’m not really going to
As it should be
Day 1 of the first test was the only chance for all fans to enjoy the match together
write about the cricket as anyone interested will have watched it or read far better writers than me elucidate about Jayawardene’s awesome century and England’s capitulation over the next few days, I’m going to talk about the tickets because nowhere in the sporting press, on TMS, or Sky Sports have I heard anyone standing up for the fans.
Sri Lanka is the austerity tour, many England fans come here to watch cricket and keep coming back and it’s not only the country’s beauty, the cricket is great value. Not anymore. The Sri Lankan Cricket Board have decided to rob the England fans and the only reason is because so many of the greatest supporters in the world travel with the England team, it was a poor decision and I am going to look at why. Firstly, the immediate detrimental effect on the economy was felt by the bars, the taxis, the hotels and all the other businesses in the tourist industry. People travel with a budget, if suddenly one part of your trip costs 10x more other parts suffer. The long term effects will also be felt, many many supporters simply will not visit again, New Zealand, West Indies,
In full flow
as he was in the 2nd test
South Africa now offer much better value and welcome foreigners. I spoke to a number of business owners who were furious; they know that this regular infusion into the economy is likely to come to an end. What was even more galling was the blatant racism of the Sri Lankans, firstly by discriminating against foreigners and then by segregating the crowd, never have I seen that at a cricket ground before. English fans getting refused admission when they are trying to enjoy the game with their Sri Lankan friends is appalling and a shame on the nation. The International Cricket Council has rightly decreed that racism has no placed in the game and yet here we see it from the country’s administrators.
The excuses started to come out quickly from the board.
Excuse 1: “We had always planned to charge more for this test match in order to pay our debts”. That is a lie as demonstrated by the stadium map with the ticket prices on display at every gate until the morning of the match when they realised they could get away with daylight robbery.
Excuse 2: “We are charging everybody the same (£25) for tickets”.
View from the cheap seats
Getting ready for day 2 on the fort
Also a blatant lie, as if Sri Lankans could shell out a week’s wages for one day’s play. Also we stood and watched as the officials on the gate accepted 50 Rupees from locals while charging 5000 if you had white skin.
Excuse 3: “England fans should be used to high prices for tickets”. Yep but firstly that is one of the reasons many choose to come to Sri Lanka so the whole family can enjoy a match as well as a holiday. Secondly, in England you pay high prices but you get a proper seat, proper facilities whereas in Sri Lanka we had a tiny plastic restaurant chair covered with cloth on and only sometime some shade from the blistering sun. In Colombo unless you turned up very early your expensive ticket did not even guarantee any type of seat at all.
What is almost as shameful was that the English press, Sky, BBC & the papers did absolutely nothing, a few cursory inquiries from those who get paid to be there, sit in air conditioned comfort, and then back to fawning praise of their ‘wonderful’ hosts.
One last point, in Colombo I decided to visit
the famous Colombo Cricket Café and watch a few sessions play and there I met a family watching the game. They had come to Sri Lanka on holiday, budgeted about £100 for tickets for both test matches and now were being forced to sit in a pub and watch the game because they would have had to spend that every day, for 10 days, and they simply could not afford it. That’s a great way to treat your visitors Sri Lanka.
For the record after day one in the stadium in Galle, we and many, many others watched the remainder from the Fort and what a brilliant experience that was, a great view, a lovely sea breeze and the company of thousands of England and Sri Lankan supporters together enjoying the game they love. (Except on day 5 when, realising they might be missing a trick, the Sri Lanka’s thieving officialdom tried to charge £5 for the first time in history!!)
After Galle we headed up for a few days more ‘culture’ to the ancient city of Anuradhapura, it was OK, quite impressive really but I don’t feel in the mood to write about
it and promote Sri Lanka. Here, like everywhere else, if you skin is the wrong colour, your ticket costs you 100x what the locals pay.
Back down to Mount Lavinia, a beach suburb of Colombo, for a few days on the beach for Lisa and a base for Chris to watch the 2nd
test. An OK beach at least offered the chance to go for a dip in the Indian Ocean and a few decent bars gave us the chance to have a great few evenings with Phil and hundreds of other, intelligent, perceptive and jovial individuals otherwise known as the Barmy Army.
At least England, and Lisa’s love interest, obliged with a corking display and won the 2nd
So with that we left, and now a few days have passed we’ll try to sum up our thoughts on Sri Lanka. It’s a country of contrasting experiences, as is often the case in Asia. We met many lovely people, mainly up in the hill country, almost to a man everyone welcomed us to Sri Lanka and enquired if we liked it, they are universally proud of this beautiful island. The
Island itself is quite stunning and is a great place to view some of the wonders that the natural world has to offer. For the most part the folks we met were kind and polite, whether they were genuinely pleased to see you is something we can’t comment on because almost every Sri Lankan we met was involved in a transaction with us, providing us with goods or services. BUT, and here’s the rub, the Sri Lankan Government and officials lead the way on not making you feel welcome, the prices are too high in both actual and relative terms for the national parks and this racist attitude of fleecing the foreigners pervades into many of the businesses. And we understand this is not unique in the area but just because India does it, doesn’t make it right.
Sri Lanka is expensive, hotels and restaurants are the priciest we have found in Asia. It’s not easy to get around the places most tourists want to visit independently, when you do manage it the rewards are often extraordinary and while the public transport system is very extensive and cheap, it takes effort most holiday makers won’t bother with. The food,
Only the pyramids
Were taller buildings 2000 years ago.
well to be honest we thought it was pretty rubbish. Even the occasional tasty meal cannot dissuade us that the diet here is very unhealthy and, certainly, very basic and don’t forget we love rice!! I think unlike SE Asia, there isn’t a culture of eating out here so the few restaurants there are have no competition, cater only to tourists and therefore no incentive to get better. But I must tip the nod to a local tipple, while Lion Stout is certainly not Guinness (available here but I missed it) at 60p a pint and at 8.8% proof it is surprisingly tasty and effective at helping you forget some of England’s batting.
In summary, would we recommend Sri Lanka as a destination? If you want a luxury holiday, being driven around some stunning scenery, staying in nice hotels and eating western food, if cost is not an issue and if you want the chance to see some of the world’s most beautiful animals, then yes, go, enjoy it, fall in love with this Island of contrasts because, despite its poverty, Sri Lanka is a luxury destination. But if you are a backpacker, or have less that £5000 to
Guess everyone's at the match!
spend on a holiday then no, we wouldn’t. There are many, many places in Asia just as beautiful, with better food, locals just as friendly, equally stunning scenery and where you can enjoy caring for elephants. Sorry Sri Lanka, thanks but we probably won’t be back.
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