Sri Lanka: an ode to cleanliness

Hello sailors. Sorry for the week off, we were in Sri Lanka. A tropical paradise, kind of. We had to be at the airport bound for Colombo at 4am. So, up at 2.15 was the plan. With a bedtime of 10pm, that’s a solid 4 hours sleep. Perfect. The little problem, (there’s always a little problem in our lives, as big problems won’t reach us until touchdown on April 1st and we need something to gripe about to give us joy) in the twin bedroom next door were a family of five and a child whose choice of communication is the scream that from 2 miles away, dogs don’t understand why they’ve just weed themselves. 15 minutes of sleep pulled us down to the taxi, we dragged our knuckles behind us across the jagged concrete. We shared the lift with a chap from the hostel who had the same tired look in his eyes.

The flight itself was uneventful. The ryanair of Asia, or Air Asia as they call it squashes you into a leather seat, my hips barley squeezing past the arm rests. But yes, yaddayadda fourhourslater we arrive in Colombo airport. Our plan: to head down the coast to Hikkaduwa. We attempted the free shuttle bus but the shiny boot AK47 squadron pushed past the 40 or so people and half filled the bus. They politely pointed at us, then waved a patronising no-no finger at us. You already know that I won’t put up with that sort of crap, so I walked straight up the army man and I said, “Excuse me, where is the taxi rank?”

30 minutes later and sharing with yet another person, an older German lady who only had eyes for designer shopping malls, got dropped off there a little before us at the train station. The 3 hour train was 160 rupees or about 90p. Brilliant. What wasn’t brilliant? Getting on the train. I completely forgot that the British rules of queueing, saying I’m sorry when someone pushes into you, giving up your seat to less fortunate souls do not exist in any form of this society. I’ll hold off on this point for a bit longer.

Before boarding the train, we spotted a man hunting for something in a nearby bin. He pulled out some scraps of paper and started rubbing his hands over them. I decided to walk over and offer him some squirty antibacterial hand wash. He kindly accepted and rubbed his hands before drawing them to his mouth. He smelt the alcohol, clean smell, gave a funny look and put his hands back in the bin to find something to scrape it off with. Does this story give you an idea of how filthy we found certain areas?

This train is exactly what you think it will be, overcrowded and dirty. There weren’t any people on the roof, but many were clinging on to the steps and hand rails and drifting along. Waiting for the torrent of maniacs who would use their own mother as a ramp if they could get on the train first to finish their business, obviously, we had no seats but we set up camp in the corridor opposite the open poo hole and the open carriage door. It was remarkably comfy and suited our needs perfectly. We trundled along the coast and all was well.

Many people came up to us to ask where we were from, how we were, how long we were staying in Sri Lanka for, did we have a guest house already, because they kno… Oh, we do have a guest house… Oh, fine then. Good day to you sir! Every ten minutes for 3 hours. Sadly, in our entire trip in Sri Lanka not one person wasn’t trying to hustle us. It made for very paranoid and shaky greetings from then on. Our tuktuk driver asked if we had any English money as his children collect coins from around the world. We said we didn’t but a 5000 Vietnamese dong note might alley their worries for lack of queens heads. Only when three more people asked us for English money, and watching people pay with English money did it click that when we told him it was worth about 15p his face turned to both utter disappointment and slight resentment. Cheekyhustlemanfatface.

Our first three days were nothing days. Just laying about in boiling heat, sweating in the fan room as air con was just too expensive at our place. Good fun though. We caught the train a few days later up to Negombo, where i thought the school was. I rang the project manager who said that it was on the other side of the island, and that his dad was in hospital with a transplant so he can no longer take me. Bit of a bummer, but that’s life. The train up to Negombo was easier as we had seats but when the train stopped 30 people were doing the usual trick of trying to get on a train whilst people, single file, were trying to get off. They stopped at nothing. I hauled myself off, but Noony was completely trapped at the foot of the door high up off the platform, as now both sides of the 30cm wide step ladder were overrun with incoming passengers. Think Lord of the Rings, battle of Rohan. I was fuming at this point because with a huge backpack on she was just being dragged back onto the train. For the first time this holiday I shouted. Screamed.


Not only did the ten or so remaining people clambering on stop, turn around and look at me, they part like the red sea and helped Noony off the train. But as Judy Watts, old classroom sidekick and the only person reading this who has seen me shout when angry, she often reminds me that I “go all posh” when I shout. Don’t know what she means.

We arrive in Negombo with bashed shins and turn up at our second accommodation. We had paid for two nights A/C and one night fan. What we weren’t expecting was to be woken up at 7am on the second morning by an old lady, who thinks she is speaking English, and told that we had to moved rooms NOW. Too tired to know what just happened we started packing, telling each other that surely checking out of a room is usually done when you not asleep. That’s all I want to say about that place. It was crap.

On a final note, having travelled extensively on all modes of transport in Asia I have now developed an unhealthy fear of flying. The slightest wisp of turbulence and I am fantasising about the wing dropping off, the pilot screaming through the speaker “oh my god, how is that goose flying so high it’s going to hit th…”, or turning to Noony and telling her that over the past four years I’ve come to regard her as someone I’ve met. I actually feel travel sick writing this now. For comfort I now stare at the cabin crew like a pest that lives in park bushes. During particularly bad bouts of turbulence, of which there was an hour’s worth on today’s flight, I look to see if they are still getting on with their job smiling. As soon as you see them give each other ‘the look’ you know it’s game over. God has yanked the joystick from his Amiga and thrown away the floppy disk.

I love ending on such positive notes.

Here are some photos.

From the highest “twin level” bridge in the world. They might as well have boasted “the highest green painted bridge in the world” for all its worth!

Before Noony jumped up and down violently to, “See what would happen.”

Pez inspecting a diagram of what a bridge looks like from the inside.

A Sri Lankan sun on a Sri Lankan beach.

Men showing off their appendages.

Hikkaduwa, Feb 2011. Spending time here was exactly like this.

Thunder and lightning a’plenty. True story.

We found a rooftop pool to mooch around.

Stone the crows! They’re conjoined!!

What is this please? I think its a lesser-known poo-tit.

Charming boats and birds.

Typical Sri Lankan Road. Add Bangkokian reckless death driving and its a moving horror flick.