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Last updated : Nov 2009
 
Sri Lanka
Pros: Lovely Palladian architecture, gorgeous temples
Cons: none

"Where are you going, sir?"
"I want to go to Fort. Is this where the bus stops?"
"I'm sorry, sir, very few buses go to Fort. You will be waiting a long time. You should take a taxi."
"No, that's okay, I'll wait. Is it here where the bus stops?"
"No sir, it's on the other side and down the road past that corner. Can I take you there?"
"No, but thanks for your help."

The taxi driver turned and drove back to the guarded entrance of the airport where his buddies lurked. Another unsolicited taxi stopped.
"I don't want a taxi but can you tell me where the bus stops for Fort?"
"It is on this side of the road," he advised.

Now I really didn't know whom to believe. A bus approached. My luck had been consistently on the money so my deluded conclusion that this was to be my transportation seemed reasonable. The driver said no for Fort, but confirmed the side of the road where my feet rested was indeed where they should stay.

Counting touchdown, I'd been in Sri Lanka approximately half an hour and I liked it already. The few people I'd come in contact with had a decidedly gentler demeanor than India. Even the hack hustler trying to give me a ride cut it out quickly, although his wild goose chase crack didn't promote humanity.

My bus soon pulled up, the wait long enough to be ogled at by everyone who passed by. Rather empty at first, three or four stops converted the bus into one of the top few most densely populated spots on Earth. Passengers hung outside the door like silverware in a full dishwasher as we roared down the street, the outermost hung on with one hand and one foot waving in space. WHOMP! went one of the worn tires, followed by a pack of groans.

The driver and purser engaged in rousing discussion until the latter deserted. The former handed back refunds. Like a goober, I patiently waited thinking some resemblance to order would follow but soon realized aggression was the only way to avoid being the final one refunded. The mob, like reporters planting microphones in Michael Jordan's face, stuck their ticket stubs into the driver's immediate field of vision and yelled a lot. I slowly maneuvered my stub closer and closer until it touched his hands. He served us in a quasi-logical pattern, but each time my turn should have arisen, he passed over my distinctively alabaster fist until only I remained to be paid. I didn't get the impression it was a racist tactic, rather I assumed that the driver wanted to be sure he had enough money to reimburse everyone. In the event of a shortfall, nothing would have come out of his jeans; I was implicitly voted the most likely able to absorb the six rupee (10 cents) debit. The others dispersed and I waited for another bus with Fort indicated as its final stop. Typically, I drew long stares.

Fort, an hour from the airport, is the original part of Colombo where the British had set up shop in their plundering days. These days, it's the downtown area. One proposed possibility where Colombo derives its name is kola, which means leaves and amba means mango. Another possibility comes from an old Sinhalese word kolamba, which is port or ferry. Sinhalese is the primary language spoken in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka derives from Sanskrit shri, happiness or holiness and lanka, island or translated as Island of the Blessed.

I found a room at The Ex-Servicemen's Institute, a classic in bottom-of-the-line digs. The interesting plank floors were slippery from years of wear. My room was so narrow, I couldn't fully stretch my arms across without hitting the walls. A slender cot, a desk and chair, and a wooden rack to set my bag completed the decor. In rows of eight, paper-thin walls reached halfway to a high ceiling. The top half of the wall was mesh to facilitate circulation. At night, one light left on shone across all the rooms. Without all the fans whirling, it was a sauna.

Speaking of steamy, I laid on my cot sweating while partners alternated on either side of me trying to orgasm in silence. When something pleasurable required a groan, a poorly camouflaged clearing of the throat didn't fool anyone. The ladies weakly masqueraded giggles indicated a pushing of the right buttons. Wobbly old beds creaking in time to thrusts presented the lovers’ biggest challenge to silence. Appetite defeated modesty as they built up to climax and tried to adjust positions to keep the bed's noise to a minimum. One bloke tried valiantly to cover the squeaking by speaking in a natural tone, as he and his partner reached their separate heights of ecstasy.

Colombo is an agreeable city. It's core, Fort, is only a few blocks square. Unfortunately, since the early 1980's, the Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lankan government have been in the middle of a grueling, tiring civil war. Lovely Palladian architecture from British days made for decent photography, but many buildings are bunkered and razor-wired off. As I lined up the first shot, a soldier ran across the street and politely asked that I avoid taking pictures of any government buildings. He readily agreed to have his picture taken, and under this ruse, I bypassed his mug in the viewfinder and captured on film the building in the background.

Later, walking elsewhere, I stopped and stood for a moment to calibrate my bearings with those of a map. A strange noise came from somewhere. From across the street. Two soldiers, gun barrels poking from within a pillbox, clapped their hands seeking my attention. "Walk! Walk!" they ordered. I resumed and soon located on the map that I had stopped in front of the prime minister’s official residence.

At night, the nearby Hilton Hotel generated some noise and a half-block stretch of soup-stands revealed life otherwise the streets were so quiet, I thought The Beatles were back on Ed Sullivan. To my surprise, I turned a corner and saw, like bees hovering at the entrance to their nest, a group of 20 or so men milling about an otherwise dark, deserted street. They spoke softly, occasionally bursting with screeches, and waving their hands in the air. Curiosity directed I approach from the opposite side to investigate. The attraction was, what else, a television in a store window broadcasting the cricket match between Good Old Ourside and India. I moved in to ask the score and a couple other cricket-appropriate questions. Understanding made me some curiosity friends. This tired soon and I continued on my exploration. Each time Sri Lanka hit a four or a six (roughly equivalent to a home run in baseball), muffled cheers spread from behind closed windows or from upstairs quarters.

Auto-rickshaw drivers pressed hard for the chance to introduce me to some Sri Lankan ladies. The pimps all opened at 800 rupees ($13.33) for "an hour of very good service, sir," instantly dropped to 700 after my first refusal, and wouldn't go any lower as I made tracks. For price shoppers, 700 was apparently the bottom line.

A strange guy summoned me over. I didn't go so he skipped up.
"Where you from?" he wanted to know.
"Japan, where does it look like?" I shot back, "where you from?"
He looked at me like I was daft.
"Colombo...I take you around, show you everything." He waved his scruffy arms in the air. "You don't pay me anything."
"I don't need you to show me around. No thanks. Anyway...no money."
"You don't live here. I must show you what to do. You don't pay me."
"And I don't believe you. Go away." I turned and went from whence I came.
He caught up.
"I show you, I show you."
"Get lost."

I beetled across the street and continued walking. He followed along on his side. I turned and went the other way. He mirrored my steps. I saw an empty can and threw it at him. Missed by a mile. I walked again. He shadowed each step. The effective deterrent missing all this time were the four rocks I should have picked up in the first place. He hoofed it down the street and peeked out from the safety of the other side of a building corner.

Walking home, with the ammunition still in my hands, four or five stray dogs barked threats from among rips in a steel fabricated fence. Behind was an empty lot. I raised my hand in defiance. They snarled louder. I hurled a stone, missed the closest pooch, but hit the steel. The sharp CRACK! scared the bejabbers out of the unsuspecting canine gang. Instead of running to the relative safety of the empty lot, they sprinted perpendicular in both directions where I was able to unleash the full might of my ordnance, clipping one on the rear. He yelped, I breathed.

The bus depot was part of a busy, crowded market area. I spent nearly an hour trying to find the bus to Kandy, a small city a couple hours north. No less than seven people claimed to know the correct number on the bus and pointed directions to the pick up point. Each time I confirmed with the drivers, they either said, "Wrong bus" or "I don't know." Something was amiss, ajar, a conspiracy in the alignment of the stars. Maybe I should of checked for a full moon later that evening.

Kandy, or Kandha, Sinhalese for mountain, sits at an elevation of 1600 feet in lush jungle, streams, and wildlife. The cooler temperatures made sleeping much more comfortable.

My hotel was the Olde Empire Hotel. Long, thick, solid planks, smoothed and varnished, constructed the floors. The double-doors swung into the room like a grandiose Hollywood entrance. Sheer curtains hung over the windows. My bed had sweeping arcs where a mosquito net substituted for a veil in this Arabian princes's boudoir; going rate, 272 SLR ($4.50). The hallways, decorated with local art and beautiful vases full of fresh flowers, led to a common balcony to view a man-made lake, which the city centered around. Hanging lazily, branches of huge trees surrounding the water pacified the sidewalk. A small island, originally built to keep the king's concubines, became an ammunition dump when the British arrived. Now, its part of the decor.

The Temple of the Tooth is Kandy's major attraction. One of three places in the world reportedly containing a tooth belonging to Buddha himself, the denture is housed in a small box that is not for public viewing. Faith is required to believe, first, the tooth belonged to Buddha, and second, there actually is a tooth inside the box. All I know is I didn't pay the two bucks to get in and bribed through the independent security check for the grand total of two cigarettes.

Kandy is dandy as a place to visit and hang out. A tout named Nelson, who always seemed to pop up wherever I went, had become friendly and guided me around for a day.

First stop was a farm with four trained elephants. Elephants have played an important role in this part of the world, not only through work but also spiritually. The 63-year-old patriarch of the crew had enormous tusks that almost dragged on the ground. His trunk, spotted pink, exposed the layer of skin under his thick hide. He bumped up against a dock like a mammal passenger ferry where I jumped on barefoot and clung to the chain wrapped around his neck. My groins stretched straddling his rock-hard vertebrae. His thick, scouring-pad hide scratched the inside of my thighs. His mass so overwhelmed mine I was grateful for the unruffled demeanor included in his genetics.

After my less than glorious dismount, his performance continued. He obeyed his trainer's commands by scooping logs under his tusks and holding them in place with that enormous trunk. Then, after a tough day at the office, he bathed himself by laying in a river and self-showered the morning heat and dust away. A natural ham, he posed for pictures, and then went back to what the other elephants do when not entertaining -- standing.

A botanical gardens featured quiet walks among a potpourri of indigenous flora. Thousands of daytime bats the size of seagulls clutched upside down to trees until someone volunteered, for a fee, to rattle their cage. The rattler found an old stick and banged on the trunks. Skittish by nature, the slumbering bats had no resilience to this man's thrashings and flew their coops, blocking out the sun, and formed foreboding moving shadows like the Air Cavalry was in town.

Nelson decided he'd had enough and bid our day goodbye. A decent middle-aged man, 80% grayed, and a heckuva grin, he had only asked that his bus tickets and admissions be paid. In spite of my supreme suspicions, he was true to his word.

A solo hike through an animal sanctuary among hills that rise behind my hotel ended the day. The cooler altitude and thickness of the vegetation blocked the sun so thoroughly I felt a chill. The only animals were a plethora of monkeys disinterested in the people and more interested in indiscriminate copulation. "Monkey business in its purest," I theorized.
When I arrived back in Colombo and headed to the hotel, I walked the exact same route with a differing mood from the first day in Sri Lanka. A peacefulness -- even a cockiness -- knew where to get off, where to go, and knew the route and distance from the bus stop to the hotel. The Ex-Servicemen's Institute, be it ever so humble, was the cheapest place in town.

When I arrived back in Colombo and headed to the hotel, I walked the exact same route with a differing mood from the first day in Sri Lanka. A peacefulness -- even a cockiness -- knew where to get off, where to go, and knew the route and distance from the bus stop to the hotel. The Ex-Servicemen's Institute, be it ever so humble, was the cheapest place in town.