Arriving in Sri Lanka

I have arrived in Sri Lanka. I’ll spare you the terribly thrilling story of my tiresome 24 hour journey which I’m sure you’d love to hear about and instead, I’ll tell you about arriving. The plane lands in Negombo and it’s about a 45 minute taxi ride to south Colombo. It is 9pm and I am reminded of how odd it is to arrive somewhere new at night. You learn so much about a country through nightlife but without any context of your surroundings.

My taxi driver has a Buddha and the Virgin Mary stationed on his dashboard and a rosary hangs from his rear view mirror. He is also interested in my religion (of which there is none) and the religions of Canada (of which there are many). The only things I can see at night are bustling garden stores, multiple Lanka Tile stores, and roadside Buddha discos where Buddhha sits on a small thrown surrounded by colourful flashing lights. They are every few blocks. Christmas lights garnish the city in a festive glow. I doubt that they are the product of post-Christmas laziness and are related to the recent independence Day celebrations. I am so tired but I want to see everything and be present. Zonked is the archaic term that comes to mind.

My taxi driver asks me to tip him before he has even rolled to a stop. I tip him well because he new exactly how to get to my hostel and I only had large bills of rupees. My hostel is simple and clean and I am one of 5 solo female travellers to arrive throughout the evening. We seem to represent a nice variety of countries: China, Canada, German, Holland, India. I have breakfast with the girl from Beijing. She has spent the past week in a variety of Sri Lankan hospitals until they could pop her into a decompression chamber (the only decompression chamber in Sri Lanka) to cure a bad case of the Bends. The egg she is eating keeps falling off her fork and she laments, “I miss my chopsticks”.

A British man explains to me how to get to and take the train to Weligama. I go early for fear of fucking up. It is not hard and the information booth directs me to the right ticket counter. With my ticket purchased, I head out to find lunch. A young man advertises delicious curries and I agree to try them. They present a plate of rice surrounded by 6 flavours of curries and a few cold salads which I hide with rice. The food is incredible, but room temperature. I eat quickly though there is the quiet fear in the back of my head of getting terrible diarrhea or hepatitis. An old man sits down and they bring him a plate stacked high with bread. I look away to finish my bite and when I return my gaze the man has paid his bill and the bread seems to have been ingested. My meal and bottle of water costs $1.30.

I buy a bag of oranges for the train ride and sit on the platform to read Michael Ondaatje’s “Running in the Family”. A couple of Sinhalese politely interrupt my reading to inquire about my destination and where I’m from. They make sure I make it on the right train. I discover that buying a ticket doesn’t mean you get a seat. I make peace with standing for an hour and then I sit with the young school boys who hang their legs out the train door and feel the wind on my face. The ocean looks infinite and threatens to drag me in as I fight sleep and heat.

Weligama is a change from Colombo. I forget to negotiate price ahead of time with my tuck tuk driver who drives me for 30 minutes looking for my destination. It should have taken 8. But I don’t mind getting lost. We meet all his friends who help with directions and explore roads I would never have been up otherwise. We almost crash into a bread truck that plays “it’s a small world” on repeat. Finally, he takes me down a dirt road and drops me off at an ominous looking gate and drives off. I chuckle to myself and with the dogs that lounge out in front. “Here goes nothing,” I tell them, and myself.