I must admit to being a bit disoriented. As long distance flights go, this was a fairly short one, but this time-zone-hopping messes with my head!
I had a night in Heathrow’s Yotel and found myself comparing it with Bloc in Gatwick. The Yotel refers to its rooms as “cabins” and that’s a fair description. Don’t think room, think railway sleeping compartment. However, no over-the-points noises and no swaying: a good shower, a high standard of cleanliness and general decor reminiscent of a 1980s sci-fi movie, so it was fine. It also does free coffee etc. from a machine.
By now I have no clear recollection of Abu Dhabi airport, but I remember a lot of waiting as my plane forward to Colombo turned out to be at 11pm, not 9:15pm as I’d thought. Apparently the 9:15 is dearer and I’m a cheapskate, but I was less than delighted when I was turned away from boarding it.
However, my luggage managed to follow me and we were reunited at about 6:00am local time today. I coped with navigating through a barrage of taxi touts and got the bus into Colombo, then a tuk-tuk to the station where another wait ensued until I caught the train to Galle.
On the very busy platformI fell in with a Dutch woman who was also heading to Galle and we were “assisted” by a helpful local to get seats on the very busy train. Of course, he just happened to be collecting for the local deaf school, but his help was useful. The train started off hot and sticky and the draught from the windows did little to improve things. Two khaki-uniformed members of the Railway Security Police, moustaches a-bristle, came round acting as ticket-collectors. One of them noted that I had inadvertently bought a third class ticket but was in a second class carriage. Despite mild protestations about my case being too heavy to take off the rack whilst the train was moving, I was happy to pay the difference, I was only a poor orphan boy etc., I was taken down the corridor – without luggage – and made to sit with hoi-er polloi in third class. To be fair to the policeman, he said he’d keep an eye on the luggage and he did come to reinstate me one station before Galle, but I won’t make that mistake again. The Dutch lady was very smug when I was allowed back into society.
The next memorable character was my Galle tuk-tuk driver. When I got off the train, I zipped away quickly to avoid the Dutch lady, who was grating a bit and seemed to be looking for accommodation. I was greeted by a tuk-tuk driver who quoted 500 rupees up to the hotel, but he knew a better place etc. I stuck to my guns and said 500 seemed quite a bit considering how cheap the train was. He referred to economies of scale and I eventually accepted his price.
That wasn’t the mistake, though. When we arrived at Hotel Hillside, after me turning down a series of kindly suggestions (his brother had a flat…) and business propositions (he could be “my” tuk-tuk driver throughout my stay at a very special price), he claimed vociferously that we had agreed to 800 rupees. I stood my ground for a bit, but it was becoming counter-productive, so I coughed up another 300 rupees (about £1.50) and he went away complaining because the receptionist – who was expecting me – wouldn’t give him commission for bringing them custom!
The receptionist reckoned that 500 rupees is about the right price and I think when the driver originally quoted 500 he was thinking of somewhere nearer at hand to the station.
My room is one notch up from the PIA in Bakau, but only just. There is a power socket, of the old 3 pin, 5amp UK variety: not quite what I was expecting. I needed to use a pen in the Earth to let me insert my two pin adaptor, then the UK multisocket that Joanna sensibly recommended. I nearly didn’t bring that as I don’t need hair-straighteners, so I’m glad I did. Plugging my adaptor in means the fridge, tv and table lamp will not be operational, but as I was originally limited to one of them at a time and as yet have nothing to put in the fridge, I’m not missing much. That operation took a bit of ferreting about on the floor and I now know what dead cockroaches look like. The shower is of the wet room variety: basic but serviceable. I don’t think I’ll be needing to switch the water heater on when I have a shower. I was instantly reminded of The Gambia when the water stopped for a while – but after I’d had my shower. There are three beds in the room: simple affairs but quite adequate. I’ve been provided with a sort of blanket / sheet on one bed, but time will tell if I need it. I don’t think there’ll be a frost.
Lunch was offered and I chose seafood and rice so once again I was thrown back to eating a similar meal in The Gambia and being confined to bed then within a 5m radius of the loo for two or three days. I have fewer worries here, though. The meal was far too big for me, but I managed to eat about a third. A snooze followed, then I discovered the remote control to make the air conditioning work and I perked up a bit.
I just realised I am sitting under a laden coconut tree. A small one hit the ground a few feet away, so I’ve shifted to a safer spot. As I type, I’m sitting near a modest swimming pool: it’s about 6pm and dusk seems to be falling. The hotel has a balcony that runs round outside my 1st floor room and the views are great: I’ll get a photo when the light conditions are better. A dagoba (Buddhist temple) is visible through the trees and that may be the source of the chanting that I can hear, accompanied by a lot of strange bird calls and the usual noises of chainsaws, distant traffic etc. I’ve yet to meet Chaminda, the owner of the hotel and friend of Sylvia Macdonald who was instrumental in my being here. Sylvia is due to turn up here in a couple of days. I hope I see Chaminda tonight as I’d like his help in locating the school where I start work tomorrow. If indeed they’re expecting me: Sri Lankan organisation has quite a lot in common with The Gambia’s, I suspect.
I seem to have stuck mostly to a factual account of the day. I’ll try to be more reflective in the days ahead. Now to see if the wif-fi works.