We were awoken for breakfast, perhaps a little early, with about three hours still to run. I could not resist choosing the supposedly traditional Sri Lankan breakfast of tuna curry, though I simply cannot remember the name of the dish. To be frank, I wasn’t thunderously impressed but perhaps I wasn’t yet hungry enough. A spicy curry for breakfast shows a certain style, though.
After the remaining three hours and an addictively comfortable flight, at 13:00 local time [5½ hours ahead of the UK, BTW] our Sri Lankan Airbus A330 squeaked down onto terra firma at Bandaranaike International Airport, Colombo. We’d arrived. Our electronically applied for 30-day visas got us through immigration quickly, our priority-tagged bags appeared quickly, too, and we were soon walking past a surreal collection of shops selling not only the expected booze and perfumery but also an assortment of cooking pots and, believe it or not, washing machines. “I’ll just pick up a new washing machine on my way back through the airport, sweetheart”. Hmmm? Somewhat slack-jawed, we were soon introducing ourselves to our Explore! guide waiting just outside the arrivals area.
You can’t buy Sri Lankan Rupees back home so it is necessary to get them on arrival. It’s also necessary to change back any remaining Rupees upon departure. We left our bags and brand-spanking-new washing machine in the care of our guide, Sam, while we went to launder some money at one of the many exchange desks. [Couldn’t we have done that in our new washing machine?] There were 224 Rupees to the Pound Sterling so the numbers on the dosh they throw at you are pretty large. Our biggest 5000/- [the Rupee sign is just the same as we used for old pre-decimal shillings with no pence] note is roughly £22 so I thought of them as £25. Our smallest note was 20/- which is like 10p and useful mostly for toilet stops. There are coins, too, which we were told even beggars don’t want.
Companions for the 12-day trip soon began joining us. That didn’t take long, though, there being just another three, one of which was an Explore! employee and Sam’s boss. There was also our attendant professional travel photographer, Renato, so we had three chiefs and four braves.
Our guide, Sam, was accompanied by a modest 20-odd seat coach complete with driver, Hector, and assistant, Samith [silent “h”, we think] who looked after our comfort aboard, including supplying us with cold water. In 30°C and high humidity, a very chipper Samith loaded all our bags and assorted washing machines leaving us just to load ourselves, pockets stuffed with our wads of newly acquired cash. The coach’s air conditioning helped abate our perspiring.
Hector drove us a little way north of Colombo to a hotel right on the beach at Negombo for our first overnight stay. We were presented with a traditional refreshing cold towel as we arrived, followed by a welcome fruit drink which was very sweet. Very sweet drinks were to become the norm in Sri Lanka. We were soon correcting the palate with a cold beer. A large bottle (about 1 pint) of local Lion lager cost 390/- [a shade under £2] here. I could cope with that. Palate rebooted, it was time to investigate.
Our room had an uninterrupted sea view; uninterrupted, that is, except for wires strung vertically across the front of our balcony and, indeed, all along the floors of the hotel. Francine soon realized that these were to stop the many hundreds of crows that inhabited the beach from landing on and fouling the hotel building – simple but apparently effective.
Local fishermen were sailing back and forth just off shore in their traditional boats which were outrigger canoes powered by colourful sails. Francine and I went for a somewhat sweaty wander (walking on sand is hard work) along the beach to get a closer look. Eventually I was lucky enough to watch as one crew came ashore with their catch. The 4-man crew saw me taking pictures and offered to take me out, for money, of course, but I tried to explain the concept of sea-sickness. The main man said it was calm. Remembering the way his craft had pitched its way ashore, I mimed puking and suggested this did not meet my definition of calm.
There was a quite sharp shelving off of the sand towards the water’s edge. Along here were countless tiny sand crabs who scurried away down their excavated burrows at the merest hint of danger. With all the predatory crows flying back and forth, I didn’t blame them. Oddly, I didn’t see a single sea gull so that bears investigation. I was captivated by the tiny crabs, mostly struggling to make 2ins/4cms across, including legs. Getting down at eye level, their eyes being up on stalks but only about 1cm above the sand, would be a challenge without getting smothered. I borrowed a beach towel from the hotel and managed it. The sun was westering behind my subject so I used a fill-in flash to brighten he or she – not good at sexing sand crabs – and put a glint in those wonderful eyes.
Our attendant pro travel photographer organized a sunset shoot starting at 18:00 that evening. Negombo beach faces directly west over the Indian Ocean and, being a mere 5° north of the equator, the sun drops vertically and very quickly below the horizon. Sunset was 18:30. Now, if those photogenic sailing boats had still been out there with the setting sun, the sunset might have made a very appealing picture. However, the wind drops at about 18:00 forcing sail-powered craft back to shore so all one ends up with is sea and sun; not terribly exciting no matter how well Francine photographed it … and she did. It’s pretty enough, though. You can, however, find some foreground interest ashore, even if it is encroaching on the privacy of of a couple lurking around a fishing canoe.