Saturday, March 27, 2010

Desperation in Colombo, Sri Lanka

Colombo, Sri Lanka - I left Kandy later than planned. In fact, I considered staying for a night longer. Colombo wasn't an appealing idea. The general sights felt mediocre; the weather scorching; and the metropolis is studded with a large volume of AK-47 toting men gathered in every block! 

Sure, they never bother the tourists, but there was always the sinking feeling it'd catch up with you. The Intercity Bus, their AC bus, which was supposed to be an "express" bus wasn't an express bus after all. There was no storage for baggages so I had to sneak my luggage between the minuscule leg room in front of me. This didn't leave me with enough for mobility. Adding to my discomfort, I had the only elevated seat in the vehicle, I had my leg partially raised for the duration of the trip! I should have just waited for the next bus. Express buses, as it turns out, picked up passengers along the way filling every nook and cranny, aisle seats included, with passengers. I prayed for patience and stamina to endure my cramped space for a 3 1/2 hour ride.
My bus reached the Colombo Bus Terminal before 7 PM. I wanted to go to the eye-poppingly beautiful Hotel Juliana but it was full! All the other hotels within my range of budget were full! Two hours later, I was on the throes of desperation! I walked the dimly lit Galle Road (it's a pity that such a major thoroughfare - like EDSA - was bathed in darkness at 8PM) with all my baggage, quite worn out from the ride from Kandy. I opened my Lonely Planet, looked for a calling station, and after several tries, I finally struck gold! Ottery Inn was located at Colombo 5 along Melbourne Road. The lady who answered my call was cranky. "Yes, we have a double room," she acidly replied, "But I can't tell you until you come here first!" I was dumbfounded. Either one was available or not.
Why should I go there if they weren't sure if a room is made available to me? It actually defeats the purpose of my calling! But at that point, I was desperate - so I took a bajaj for 300 rupees. Guess what?  I was there for their ocular inspection. "No one here. All the rooms are empty," remarked the old guy who let me inside the gate. Suggestions and notes from Lonely Planet play out rather influentially in the tourist lodging business. The owners seemed diffident, and that was one of the reasons why I resisted on calling them - until desperation set in!
I got the room. Huge one - all painted in white, with a sizable bathroom with a tub. Once they sense that you're a decent person - like me, perhaps (wink wink) - they'd warm up to you in no time. The atmosphere eventually turned friendly! That night, I slept like a child.
The morning after, I woke up with the rush of the waves breaking onto the shore. The sea was a mere 50 meters away. There was a rail track and trains zipped away every 30 minutes or so. I went to the seaside promenade. Several AK-47 toting military men - many not older than most high school kids - patrolling every block. They would flag down cars and buses; they would stop the locals, leaving obvious foreigners alone. In fact, I occasionally enjoyed walking past them quite often.
Galle Road was a hundred meters from Ottery Inn, and there were Buddhist Temples, and St. Anthony's Church nearby! All morning, I just checked out these places, bought myself some coconut drink, took an early meal (bread and stuff), then by 12 noon, I rushed back to Ottery for my check out! The lady owner furtively reminded me to "be careful with my bags". The terminal, like most, wasn't a safe place. I was palpably aware of that! I flashed a winsome smile and said my goodbye.
It was time for a bit of sand and sea in Negombo!
This is the Eye in the Sky!

Ganggarama Temple. This photo courtesy of riyaza.

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