Over the last few days, the air has resounded to an ice-cream van version of Fur Elise. To start with I thought it was an annoying ringtone in the hotel, then Sylvia told me it’s bakers’ vans. Why they should all play Fur Elise, I don’t know. And if there’s an official breadman tune, why that? However, I dare say S will be right and I have no better suggestion.
They’re a proud race, tuk-tuk drivers: nothing less than a Formula 1 car will pass them unchallenged. But they also show this pride in the interior of their vehicles. At the least, there are likely to be garlands of artificial flowers festooned round the inside of the windscreen. My driver yesterday morning also had a tasteful Buddha that not only cycled through shades of bluey-purple but also sported a pulsating red and green halo of flashing LEDs. It was all inside a small glass dome and I kept expecting artificial snow to flurry as we went over the many bumps in the road.
On a more serious note, I was reading the SL Sunday Times earlier: Sylvia was keen that I should read the education supplement: luckily it’s nearly all colleges advertising their wares, so no need to pretend I’d been reading up on educational theory. Some of the other sections were more enlightening. In a paper dated 3rd January, the writer highlights the roads death toll (12) and injured(150) since the new year. There were some interesting graphics which I’ll try to include, as well as the statistic that 7.5 people died every day on the roads out here in 2015: a total of 2700 and increasing. That’s in a population of about 21million: I don’t know how it compares with the UK. At least we don’t have herds of 30 elephants knocking down houses and destroying crops, as they do in the Puttalam District.
I also noted the literary style of some of the articles: “2016: Hard Times and no Great Expectations” and a reader’s poem where he works in seven Shakespearean titles in as many lines. He has the grace to say “Apologies to Shakespeare” at the end of this first stanza. In case I’ve given the impression this is a little local rag, far from it: half a dozen sections and good global news coverage. As time goes by I may get a feeling for how SL sees itself on the world stage.
SL is about 500km long and a couple of hundred wide at most. And it’s crowded, at least to the eye of a Scot. On a wander along the fairly rural road from the hotel, at first glance the place may seem deserted, but there’s a hut under that tree, with a woman standing in the door, and over there’s another and this apparent opening onto waste ground is again leading to a couple of houses, complete with cows, dogs and – quite possibly – iguanas. Big houses with automatic gates and gilded letter boxes have jostled in as well, guarding their privacy with walls and keeping the masses living in huts next door off their lawns.
It’s hazy here quite a lot of the time: all those steaming jungles and stuff, I suppose, so it’s taken a day or two for me to be around the hotel – and awake – at the right time to get a picture of the landscape. These photos are always pale imitations of the real thing: at least when I’m the photographer, but I hope it gives you some idea of the view. The white spire of the Buddhist temple across to the right of the shot is more visible than it appears here. For the full effect, get a printout, head down to “beginners’ evening” at the Turkish baths and get someone to point a fan of warm air at you. You’ll have a minute or so before the ink runs!
Incidentally, today I have done as close to nothing as is compatible with regular breathing. I haven’t quite sussed out the details, but this weekend includes a Mercantile Holiday and it may be today, Saturday, or it may have been yesterday. I’m pretty sure it’s not Monday. What impact this will have on daily life in town, I have no idea. Rohan the guide from yesterday seemed to think some of the popular spots near the reserve would be busy yesterday: he dissuaded me from going to the natural swimming pool because it’d be busy and noisy. On the other hand, there may have been questions about tickets or something.
After writing that this morning, I was shamed by my inertia into going out and I decided to try walking to the Buddhist temple I mentioned above. I spent some time trying to figure out a route from the hotel balcony, but there’s so much vegetation it was nigh on impossible to get more than a vague idea. Anyway, I got there: some downhill, some contouring round the hill, some uphill. To some extent it was a bit of a leap of faith as the countryside is strewn with small winding roads, some tarmac, most just earth of a cinnamon colour and at no point until the end did I actually get a glimpse of the temple. It came as something as a surprise, soon after passing two boys with a worm-hole ridden old cricket bat, much of which had disintegrated, playing “cricket” with pebbles, to find a beautifully new and painted children’s playpark. Possibly the Tesco Value version, but it was all there: swings, chute… looking rather odd framed by jungle.
I was right off the tourist beaten track and lots of people called “Hello” at least or wanted to ask me my name and where I came from. I don’t want to make sweeping generalisations, but my impression is the Sri Lankan people are very friendly: walking along the road, kids will call out a few words of English; an old lady coming the other way will burst out in smiles if I make even the slightest acknowledgement of her; motorcyclists grin; people standing in the middle of paddy fields, much too far away for any hope of material gain, will wave enthusiastically and shout “Hello”. It is thanks to some of these folk, and our pidgin-English conversations, that I reached my goal. Near the temple was a small, apparently defunct business, with an orange “Orange” sign hanging up. I couldn’t decide if it was mobile phone credit or Buddhist’s robes dye they had been dealing in.
I’ve been calling it a “temple” and that word seemed to do the trick when getting directions, but I’d expected a full-size building of which I could only see the dome from the balcony, because of the trees. In fact it was smaller and more of a shrine, but none the less interesting for that. An elderly man in white robes disappeared as I approached; I looked round and took some photos, until approached by the white monk and an orange one. The latter seemed a little severe and asked lots of questions: “Where come you?” etc. I explained “Scotland, UK” which seems generally to do the trick, even if they only get the last bit. I showed him my camera and said I’d taken some photos and hoped that was OK. Eventually he gave me a dismissive wave and I felt that I had been politely but firmly turned away. To my surprise and delight he called “Come again, you” and gave a final wave. I don’t know if I will, but it’s nice to be asked.
All in all about an hour and a half’s walking: quite hot, but I did remember to carry a water bottle. On the way back I tried to get some photos of a lovely kingfisher that obligingly sat on a power line for quite a while. The pictures I took with the gps were useless and the big camera is currently unviewable. Ho, hum.
I’m rather embarrassed by my excitement at seeing that “monitor lizard”. In fact, iguanas are two a rupee round here. I saw another on my walk, and then watched a third crawl under a bush in the hotel grounds. I suppose even iguanas sometimes need a bit of shade.
Tomorrow the plan is that I go househunting. The guy from the tourist information office has been in touch via my UK mobile number, reminding me to contact the landlords he gave me details of. He must be on commission, or am I just a cynic?”
I believe the Galle Literary Festival is on just now: I did see indications of something when I was round the Fort area. The “GLF” is quite well-known and respected: when we were here 8 years ago, the advertising included several well-known and respected international figures.
The guy who does the cooking here is called “Quintus”. There must be a story behind that!