Writings :: My Sri Lankan Adventure (part two)

As soon as I walked off the plane in Sri Lanka, I was greeted by a computer kiosk with "Free Internet Access" printed on its side. What a break! This was literally right off the plane, way before immigration. Canada, the United States and other countries could learn much from this.

Into my email I went where I found--finally!--a reply from Kelum. He mentioned that he actually lives two+ hours from Colombo (the capital, where I was) but that, ironically, he was going to be in Colombo for meetings the day I arrived. I jotted down his phone number and headed excitedly to immigration. No reply form Gamage but at least I would be able to connect with Kelum for sure. Suddenly, the feeling of being a total idiot (for going on this adventure) lifted and I was beyond happy to have heard from Kelum and to have his phone number in my pocket.

I waited until about 5am--over an hour after I landed--before I slipped five rupees into a phone in what would be an unsuccessful attempt to reach Kelum. Just as well. I had hated to call him so early but I wanted to find out if I should wait at the airport for him or head into the city.

Utterly exhausted, I headed outside to find a spot to rest my head for a couple hours. I quickly found a little park a minute in front of the airport. I laid down the little travel blanket my friend Jeremy gave me in Jordan, propped my head on my backpack (both for pillow-purposes and to keep my stuff safe) and the next thing I knew, some man was somewhat standing over me. Maybe he said "good morning", I don't know. I was completely out of it. I thought he was security or something, planning to give me a rough time for sleeping in the park and wanting to kick me out; wouldn't be the first time I was in a situation like that. I rubbed my tired eyes and politely asked him the time. He replied with a "6:30". I had slept for about and hour and a half or so.

Without saying anything more, the man turned away and left, leaving me a tad confused. It seemed he just wanted to wake me up for the sole purpose to say "good morning" to me. Odd. I tried to come to my senses and get ready to move on, rubbed my eyes some more and then all of a sudden I heard "You want some tea?" It was the man again, with an out-stretched hand holding a little plastic cup with some whitey-liquid in it. This completely caught me off guard, but, as they say: "When in Rome!" Just as quickly as he appeared with the tea, he was gone. Nothing more. I watched as he joined some ladies sweeping the park, and then as they left the park moments later, leaving a large plastic bottle and some cups like mine on a bench. I couldn't help but whip out my camera to record my thoughts immediately at that time.

Sipping my yummy sweet tea, I walked past the bottle and saw there was more tea left. Maybe they would be back. I headed back into the airport to give Kelum another ring. When he answered, I greeted him with a "buenos dias!" to which he replied without hesitation: "Buenos dias; como estas?!" Fun leftovers from our time living together in Costa Rica. We agreed I would call him later in the afternoon, after his meetings, and that we'd be meeting up somehow, somewhere at 3pm in the city. Perfect! Toilet break and off I went to buy a ticket for the train to the city.

Just after I bought my ticket, a man came up to buy his, as well. I don't recall his name but he was from Mumbai, India and in Sri Lanka for a meeting with international colleagues. We were the only two passengers on the train which was wild. Apparently the train service just started six months ago or less and people don't really know about it. And there are only two trains a day from the airport to the city and back.

We sat for nearly an hour, talking every now and again while watching the Sri Lanka countryside roll past us. It was fascinating. The beautiful trees, make-shift homes, so many dogs and the odd cow wandering aimlessly. And the people. Wow! The women wearing such colourful clothes, sarees, etc. The men with sarongs. Children laughing and playing. And many people walking around with no footwear. That sure looked odd and appeared painful given the rural setting they were walking around in.

We were in the city by not much past 8am and not planning to meet up with Kelum until 3pm, I opted to stick with the Indian guy, have some local (spicy!) breakfast, and head with him to his hotel. I really didn't have anything better to do! It turns out his hotel, Mount Lavinia Hotel, is actually a famous piece of the city, built by the Brits for their governor nearly 200 years ago. And it's right on the beach. Excellent.

I parted with the Indian man and put in an hour online at a jewelry shop that had a sign outside saying "Internet Cafe". The "cafe", however, is a single, old computer under a small fan in a tucked away part of the store. It was noon by this time and I decided to call Kelum again to find out exactly where for us to meet. A man working at the store let me use his phone for 30 rupees (30 cents or so) and he told Kelum exactly where I was. Great meeting place, apparently, that hotel is and Kelum said he would see me in the lobby around 3pm. I went to the beach where, for two hours, I attempted to nap in the shade under some tall coconut trees, every now and then being joined by the odd extra-friendly local guy trying to sell me weed and I don't know what else.

I eventually decided to be social and joined a guy at the bar whose trees I had been trying to nap under. Ordered a large beer and talked with Bob, from England, for nearly two hours. An engineer, 62 years old, he made my head spin as he revealed the places he has laid his hat over the years: nine years in Yemen, eight in Nepal, three or four I think in Sri Lanka, other places I forget, and now Thailand where he is semi-retired. He heads to New Zealand at least once a year to see his ailing father.

I just started chowing down on some spicy-coated cuttlefish as I noticed on Bob's watch it was a bit after 3pm. How the times goes when you're enjoying good company and a cold beer on the beach! Bob lent me his phone to call Kelum who mentioned he was a bit late and would be at the hotel around 4pm. I had time to finish my grub. I gave Bob my email as we parted and hope he'll stay in touch.

On my way back to the hotel I decided to pop in and say "hi" and "see ya" to the nice man at the jewelry store. He invited me to use the computer again and I figured I might as well take up the offer. As I found I still had no reply from Gamage, the man from the store came around the corner: "Would you like some tea? We have tea every day at 4pm. Black coffee at 2pm for energy. And tea with sugar and milk at 4pm. Would you like some tea?" This was obviously a rhetorical question as he was holding a cup and saucer, clearly prepared for me. It was hard for me to contain my reaction; it was quite funny, especially considering how I had been woken up in the park and the tea that followed at that time. Of course, I accepted the tea; it's great stuff.

I had quite literally just started savoring the leaves of Sri Lanka when the man once again popped around the corner, this time holding his phone out for me. Kelum! He had arrived at the hotel and, not seeing me in the lobby, figured he might as well give a try to the numbers I had called him from (he told me later he also called Bob, who said I had just left for the hotel). I told Kelum to walk out of the hotel down the street and moments later we were a couple of grinning fools hugging in the street. It had been nearly nine months since we had last seen each other but it felt like it had been just one day.

The man at the store--turns out he's the manager--wouldn't accept anything except a smile and a handshake for the tea and the Internet and small fan access. People in Sri Lanka are so very, very nice. I thanked him profusely as I headed out with Kelum to explore his beautiful country. It had already been a "day one" beyond what I could have possibly imagined; just ten hours. If I had turned around and got back on the plane at the moment, I could have easily looked back on those ten hours and, despite all my previous second-guessing, considered the trip a worthwhile adventure. It was only 4pm though; I still had the rest of that day as well as three more!

To be continued.