Hanging On To Our Limbs – A Day in Colombo

Writing this retrospectively now I am home once more. Whilst in Sri Lanka it was very difficult to hold a good WiFi connection, and even when there was one it was not ideal trying to upkeep a blog through my phone. This is from our first day exploring the capital, Colombo.

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This morning we woke up about 8am. Slept pretty well. We headed out the hostel with the intentions of changing some money and buying our rail tickets for Pollanaruwa in the north. Crossing the road outside City Beds hostel was near impossible – there were traffic lights but they weren’t switched on. I ran across after a local and narrowly missed being knocked down by a bus from a direction I hadn’t looked in. It was 30c out again,  the thick air enveloping us in a sticky mist. We walked into the Bank of Ceylon to change money. Inside we sat at the desk, making small talk with the lady whilst she changed our money, under the gaze of guards casually standing around with rifles. As this went on I tried to work out how to get to the ocean from our guidebook map… but I am no good with orientation. After changing an initial £110 we followed the road around looking for Colombo Fort train station. We were following the instructions of a man at the hostel, but it didn’t seem to be leading anywhere. Almost ready to give up with that road after walking past some bustling markets, I spotted a large white building up ahead – it was the station. With relief we entered the first doorway, but only saw 3rd class seats to destinations we didn’t desire. I saw a window further down round the corner, which looked promising, but they then redirected us to another window. We spoke to a man to try and purchase our 1st class tickets to Pollanaruwa. He told us there were only 2nd class tickets available. Reluctantly we left and entered a tourist information kiosk outside.

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We sat down at a desk with a man named Prassana Ferdinando, who recommended a whole different route to our planned one. We listened to his advice and booked our rail tickets through him, as well as a driver and some accommodation. We were glad to have not booked anything in advance before arriving in the country. Our route is now Kandy > Matale > Dambulla > Sigiriya > Pollanaruwa > Nuwara Eliya > Ella > Colombo and then the wedding on Bolgoda Lake. Busy, but we’ll have our own driver to follow us the whole way. After agreeing to the tour arrangements Prassana got us a tuktuk to take us to an ATM to withdraw more money. The ride was pretty hair-raising but extremely fun. Our tuktuk swerved in and out of the traffic, beeping frantically. There were no rules of the road and everybody was impatient. Buses were the roadhogs, ploughing down the roads and weaving in where and when they liked. At one point my mom had her hand resting on the outside edge of the tuktuk. I reminded her if she wanted to keep her limbs. Quickly she snatched her hand back inside. We jumped out at an ATM and withdrew a further £300, before weaving our way back to the office.

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Booking over, we went back to the hostel and bought some water. We were about to go looking for the ocean at Galle Face Green, but instead ended up getting in a metered tuktuk out on the main road to a restaurant on recommendation by our hostel receptionist. Once again we were crammed into a little tuktuk, cheating death on our way to Upali’s. The driver got lost many times, pulling over to ask people for directions, nearly running over an old man in the road. Eventually we pulled up at the right place, an elegant building overlooking Victoria Park. Thankfully the ride only cost 190 rupees – less than £2. From the outside we though it might be expensive, but were pleasantly surprised when the prices totalled about £6 each for meals, drinks and a shared dessert. We ordered two set menus consisting of white and red rice, a coconut sauce, fried potatoes, green beans and other vegetables. It also came with pots of nachos and dried fish flakes. We also ordered curries separately – I chose Isso Sudata Uyala, a coconut prawn dish. Mom chose Kukul Mas Mirisata, a traditional chicken curry. Everything was delicious – absolutely all of it. Each mouthful  was exquisite. We were both grateful for the recommendations by an Australian waitress named Cathy who came over to suggest things. She was very friendly, even bringing us our own cutlery so we didn’t have to eat with our hands. The waiter Hashan was also nice, bringing us over tasters of a sweet dessert when we enquired was ‘jaggery’ was. We chose a chocolatey biscuit dessert to share in the end.

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Leaving Upali’s we walked full stomached towards the town hall. We did a loop around it before crossing over into the park. Inside we walked to a Buddha statue, and were immediately accosted. The man seemed friendly, but was obviously trying to be a guide. We tried to shake him off, which took several attempts. He kept talking and talking about the cinnamon trees and ‘flying foxes’ – the bats. Mr Cinnamon followed us through the park, the thanks but no thanks seemingly falling on deaf ears. In the end I rather abruptly told him that in England we walk alone. It did the trick and he sloped off. Now we were free to enjoy the park. We meandered around in peace, photographing the unusual trees with their broad leaves and strange shapes. After resting on a bench in the sunshine we went on, walking through the park to the other side with the intent of finding the Galle Road to look for that ocean view.

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As we walked much of the pavements were broken or missing. Men seemed to be doing works everywhere, so at times we were forced to walk along the edge of the road. Vehicles would come within inches and we tried to hang onto our limbs. Galle Road seemed to stretch on forever. We trudged on in the heat, the air thick with pollution. It was quite unpleasant to breathe. Tuktuk drivers repeatedly pulled over, calling us to jump in. No no no. The tuktuk men became irritating on that stretch of road. At one point we found a road to the coast, but it turned out to be just a backroad guarded by military. As we rejoined the main road another man began talking to us. Seemingly nice, he asked the usual holiday questions, saying the beach was just at the next turning, but there was a fantastic celebration at a temple right that hour that he could take us to. Tired and knowing these kinds of lines, we declined repeatedly, trying not to be rude but eventually having to be. Temple Man slipped off.

We turned left at a large crossroads and onto Galle Face Green. Finally we could see the sea. It was a little grey but it was a relief to be away from the bustle of the main road. I stopped to watch some men with a monkey and three snakes. The monkey kept leaping about on a lead, occasionally running at the cobras. Another man with a python around his neck saw me and came over. I petted the snake’s smooth skin. He then began demanding I have a photo and then I pay. I really dislike aggressive behavior like that, so I walked away. He was mad but we kept going. It seems you are not allowed to just look or do anything independently here – you are always harassed to pay.

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Down the coastal path we strolled past families and couples enjoying street food and playing games. I stopped to purchase a kite for my boyfriend’s little brother – a man had a large display of intricate bird kites floating elegantly in the wind. I chose a red and black eagle and we walked on. Eventually we walked so far we ended up at a lighthouse. It was deserted apart from a couple of guards. As we climbed the stairs and man began to follow. It was obvious. Everytime he tried to talk I cut him off and turned away, until he finally got the message and retreated. We walked back to the oceanfront for the sunset as it was getting on for 6pm. As we walked I realised I’d dropped the string and handle for the kite somewhere, so we slowly ambled all the way back down to the man selling the kites. He kindly handed me another one for free and I thanked him.

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We found a place to sit to watch the sunset on a bench. It came down quickly in an orange haze. As it set a group of young schoolgirls approached, excitedly asking questions about our stay and England. They were from a school in Kandy, dressed in their little white uniforms on a trip to Colombo. With smiles they told us they were learning English as their main subject at school, then suddenly we were posing for photos with each of them. Mom and I are now on a group of schoolgirls’ Nokias, ha. They were very sweet, for a moment we felt like celebrities.

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As the sky grew dark we followed the road back to the junction before slipping off to our hostel to sleep.

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2 thoughts on “Hanging On To Our Limbs – A Day in Colombo

    • Thank you Laurie. You will love Sri Lanka – very green and leafy, and the people are friendly. I have plenty of stories – just trying to find the time to write them up is the problem!

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