After months of hard work and preparation, frustratingly slow Skype chats, being poked and prodded by a nurse who seemed just a bit crazy along with the usual fear mongering from everyone that goes part and parcel with a planning a trip to a destination such as this. I was finally about to board the plane from London to Mumbai. Fantasy and reality had finally aligned and the reality of what London life has done to me became evident with my frustration as these two Indian ladies in Saris walked painfully slow in front of me down the gangway onto the plane. It was then that I began to realize that I was on Indian time now, and about to enter a world so different from the one I had adapted to. I was to be a guest in this fascinatingly mysterious land. A silent onlooker dissolving into the crowds and letting them wash over me.
Arriving into Colombo in Sri Lanka after a brief layover in Mumbai, even at 4:30 in the morning the humidity hit me as soon as I stepped off the plane. After the drizzly grey weather I left in London the feeling of that kind of heat was quite comforting, almost a reminder of home. The exhaustion from the massive build up started to fade as the excitement kicked in. Colombo had a tiny little airport with duty-free shops that reminded me of Eastwood shopping centre in the nineties. I got my first glimpse of Glen after I grabbed my bag and made my way towards an automatic sliding door that periodically opened revealing all the people outside waiting at arrivals. There was something so foreign yet so familiar about seeing his face there. After negotiating with some taxi drivers we were soon hurtling our way through the dark streets of Colombo. All we could make out was palm trees and lit up shrines on every corner – symbols of the many and varied religions of the country and the people’s devotion to them.
Arriving at our hotel in the early hours of the morning we weren’t allowed to check in until 1pm so we decided to leave our bags and wander around the streets in a daze as the sun rose and the rats were just starting to wake up. The beach across the road turned out to be a tiny stretch of sand and rocks sidelined by train tracks. The streets were eerily quiet and as we walked along the road we had our first whiff of sewerage just as a train came hurtling past with no doors and people standing in the doorway. The city was dead at this time of a morning as it was a Sunday. Nothing was open so we wandered back to the hotel and fell asleep on the couch in the common room. When we awoke later that afternoon we were starving so we headed down the now busy streets in the blistering sun, the sun was at its hottest point. And we were already beginning to be steeped in sweat, scuttling towards patches of shade like little crabs. We sat in this dingy restaurant waiting to be served for ages then realized we had to go up to be served. The air was thick and the small cafe (or hotel as they call them in Sri Lanka) only had a whirring fan above our heads moaning as if it was weary from the heat. My stomach began to churn and the colour drained from my face. My body clammy as a wave of unexpected nausea hit me, my mind reeled. I had only just arrived in the country and I was already sick! What had I eaten? Just at that moment the Mee goreng was placed in front of me. The smell of egg turned my stomach and I looked down at this huge plate of food wondering how on earth I could stomach it. I took a few little nibbles swallowed hard, willing myself to keep it down. Took a deep breath – admitted defeat and walked outside desperate for fresh air. I sat outside the restaurant by the side of the road. Let me tell you there is nothing worse than being sick in a foreign country. Those few moments of excruciating sickness, my heart pounding, my mind kicking into overdrive were made all the worse by feeling completely out of my comfort zone. I must not have looked sick because while I sat there people kept walking past and saying hello, maybe they thought I was a homeless albino girl? After a few more moments I returned inside, feeling ill still but not as though I was about to vomit. Later that day I concluded that I had waited too long after I had eaten to take my anti malarial tablet – a mistake I never made again on the trip, never wanting to feel that way again. It was a reminder not to let my guard down too much, something we did do later on that day when we were conned by a guy in the street.
We were just walking along minding our own business when a guy walking nearby asked us where we were from (a classic opening line to build rapport) he then asked us what we had done so far and mentioned it was a special day because there was some festival on. We really hadn’t planned this portion of the trip so were open to suggestions. He told us it wasn’t walking distance so he hailed a tuk tuk, said something to the guy in Singhalese and we jumped in. The Buddhist temple itself was beautiful and tranquil and we got up close to a beautiful elephant taking a bath. I couldn’t help but feel bad for it though as they had a chain around its foot and it had a sad look in its eyes. He seemed quite relaxed when he was getting bathed though shooting out multiple yellow nuggets of pooh into the water. I’ll never forget his eyes though as I knelt down beside him and spoke to him while he lay in the water. Ever since that day and throughout the rest of the trip I developed a mini obsession with elephants. Even Glen ended up buying a huge Ganesha statue and having it shipped to Australia. Our tuk tuk driver took us around the temple and explained what they did there which was nice but then he drove us to another temple on the water and we got out and there just so happened to be a snake charmer there. Before I knew it Glen had the python on his shoulders and was arguing with the man about how many rupees he should get. We were a little annoyed that this ‘chance encounter’ earlier started to look like an elaborate set up to con us into going around paying for things. The tuk tuk driver then proceeded to drive us to a gem shop. I still wasn’t feeling 100% and was starting to get tired and cranky and didn’t appreciatte being led into a gem shop and having the door closed behind us. Then these guys pounced on us trying to sell us this jewellery that we had no interest in buying. We felt silly for being such easy targets and vowed to be more careful in the future. But as we were about to learn this thing happens a lot in India too. Colombo became a sort of training ground for the challenges that lie ahead.
That night after a not so successful first day we caught the bus into the markets downtown. The buses in Colombo come storming past and a guy hangs out the window yelling out what I imagine are the destinations in Singhalese. We jump on and hope for the best. The buses aren’t as easy as the tuk tuks, the men on them don’t seem to really speak English so it’s hard to know where they are going but they are cheap. About 50p each from memory. Tuk tuks on the other hand are a dime a dozen and of all the phrases I remember from Sri