Colombo

Gallface panoramio.comSri Lanka was the next country on my auditing itinerary.

In antiquity, Sri Lanka was known to travelers by a variety of names. Known in India as Lanka or Sinhala , ancient Greek geographers called it Taprobane[17] /təˈprɒbəniː/ and Arabs referred to it as Serendib (the origin of the word “serendipity”).[18] Ceilão, the name given to Sri Lanka by the Portuguese when they arrived in 1505,[19] was transliterated into English as Ceylon.[20] As a British crown colony, the island was known as Ceylon; it achieved independence as the Dominion of Ceylon in 1948. (Wikipedia)

In 1972 it became the Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. I was still trying to get my head around that as my flight headed in that direction. I would find myself thinking of the country as Ceylon for the rest of my life and wondered at the many changes of name over centuries.

I speculated on what I’d find on this visit. My first visit had been just after the first Marxist uprising in 1971. From the residence I occupied for six months on High Level Road, Colombo in that year I could view the concentration camp where Marxists were prisoners. That had always been a mystery to me in that political leaders of the time had cultivated close relations with China and the Soviet Union and those countries were swarming the country building infrastructure of this developing nation. The country under socialism had rapidly reversed from being the Singapore of the Indian Ocean to an economy going down the tubes under radical socialism. But socialists were imprisoning socialists! I supposed that was nothing new!

I’d visited the country many times since that initial visit 1971 and the country I was about to visit had retreated from its socialist experiment and was desperately trying to regain former glory as an international trading island of interest to tourists. In an era of air travel as opposed to sea travel that would be a more difficult task for them. Especially since they were now off the beaten track as far as air travel was concerned and transiting flights, like mine, arrived in the wee hours of the morning. A major turn off.

The pilot informed weary travelers intending to disembark in Colombo flight descent had commenced. I retrieved my passport and disembarkation document and rechecked to see all was in order adding the Holiday Inn voucher to a folder I’d produce at immigration. Then stretching to look through the small window I searched for signs of approaching city of Colombo lights.

Soon we were on the ground and taxying to the terminal. I glanced at my watch. It was 12.30 am. Customs and Immigration were usually not much of a problem for me. There seemed to be a multitude of officers in immaculate white uniform propped around walls looking bored that night. As I recall there were more officers than disembarking passengers on that flight.

As usual western foreigners headed for the green channel with nothing to declare and they were waved through. An occasional westerner headed for the red channel where items of value should be declared. Officers waved them through much to their surprise. However they were merciless with returned citizens or people visiting from the sub-continent. Suitcases were emptied, items spread out and closely inspected. Loud haggling was in process which I knew from long travel experience always resulted in money changing hands before harassed travelers were permitted out of customs.

I was prepared for the overpowering night heat of the tropics as I exited the building but pushing through fighting coolies and taxi drivers is not one of my favorite pastimes. It’s both unnerving and wearing trying to keep tag on luggage while at the same time negotiating a taxi price one can afford. It was late, and I was too tired and far from Holiday Inn on Colombo’s Gall Face road to argue.

Now Holiday Inn around the world is a twenty-four hour operation. Not so in Colombo at that time. The place was in darkness when I arrived but the front entrance doorway was ajar so I wrestled my luggage from taxi to the front desk where a solitary dim light was my guide in the inky blackness.

On the desk was a bell with notice that said, “Press when desk not attended.” I pressed and waited, and waited! Eventually a yawning night duty clerk emerged from the blackness and turned on lights at the desk area. He did a quick check of voucher against register then motioned me to follow him. We walked up stairs and down dark winding corridors and eventually found my room. He handed me the key and silently departed.

Turning on lights I hastily unpacked then headed for bed. It was now 2.45 am and my first appointment was at 8am that morning.

I have no idea what time it was when I woke with a start. I tried to recognize where I was in that dark room but nothing seemed familiar. I reached for where my bedside lamp would normally be at home, but it wasn’t there. Jumping out of bed I tried to recall where I was but my mind was blank. Fear gripped me as I raced around the room tripping over furniture looking for the door.

There should normally be a light switch around a door somewhere I reasoned. Running my hand along door posts I searched for a light switch, each minute adding to my panic. At last I found that elusive button and my room lit up. My heart resumed its normal rhythm and I limped back to bed rubbing bruised shins as memory recalled I was at the Holiday Inn in Colombo Sri Lanka. The light remained on for the rest of the night just to make sure there was no repeat of memory loss in an unfamiliar place.

At 6.45 am I limped down to the dining area and sat morosely waiting for the serving deck to open. I was feeling very foolish and hoped a night of limited rest would not affect work I had to do that day.

But out on Gall Face Road waiting to hail a taxi my mood improved. It’s one of the beauty spots I’ve been fortunate to visit around Asia and I’ve always enjoyed my walks along the beach at day’s end with the colorful parade of families worshiping or just enjoying sunset over the Indian Ocean together. The constant stiff ocean breeze plays host to hundreds of colorful and unique shaped kites as families enjoy time together and Walla’s shout encouragement to buy their wares.

I breathed the ocean atmosphere hanging languidly in the air. It was good to be alive in spite of my night’s experience.

“© Copyright Ian Grice 2014 All rights reserved”

The above image is property of panimario.com

21 Comments Add yours

  1. Sri Lanka seems to be on the up again – getting more popular with tourists. I was talking about it this morning. One day I’ll get there and I’ll be able to compare my impressions with your past ones. In the meantime, it was good to get into the history a little.

    Like

    1. There are so many beauty spots and I can thoroughly recommend the trip. During the socialist experiment the country was reduced from the prosperous Singapore of the West Indian Ocean to begging to feed their population. Believe it or not, they were even importing rice at that time in history.

      Like

  2. Jane Thorne says:

    I was right there with you, so descriptive is your writing. How you manage to get a solid day’s work done after that I do not know. Well done 🙂

    Like

    1. There were times when I was convinced I couldn’t handle my work any more, but as you know we all move on in spite of circumstances and take it one day at a time.

      Like

      1. Jane Thorne says:

        Yes Ian, your inner strength shines through, although it must have been sorely tested at times. Now you are writing all these wonderful stories. 🙂 x

        Like

  3. Madhu says:

    A lovely introduction to Colombo Ian. I am ashamed to say I have not visited Sri Lanka, despite it being just a hop, skip and jump away from Chennai!

    Like

    1. Make sure you visit Kandy when you visit Sri Lanka. You would love it there for photo op’s. Nuwara Eliya in the tea estates is worth a visit too. Gall in the south still has it’s Dutch Eurasian atmosphere, on the way to the East Coast you will see genuine adivasi culture.

      Like

  4. You describe this so wonderfully, both the beauty and your emotions. What a wordsmith you are. I don’t have to imagine you put it all perfectly. I do hope your day went better, despite the lack of sleep and the hazy start to the day.

    Like

    1. Travel is quite stressful Val as you will know from your vast travel experiences. It’s nice to take a few moments to enjoy the beauty around to take away some of those stress points.

      Like

  5. Mags Corner says:

    Oh, my!! I can imagine how frightening that must have been to not know where you were. Sure hope you got some rest after your first work day there on so little sleep. I know some people that teach in a bible school in Sri Lanka but have not seen them for several years. I have heard parts of the country is very beautiful and some parts you don’t want to go to, is that true? Great story sweet Ian and I enjoyed reading it. Hugs

    Like

    1. Yes the country is beautiful and yes there are parts of the country that are still unsafe in spite of the government having more or less pacified the north and north east. We visited those places in less dangerous times. They have a marvellous game reserve where we did spend a couple of days in 1972 on holidays.

      Like

  6. I trust that day went well despite the tired start, Ian. I am shamefully ignorant of Asian history and did not know what you teach us in the intro.

    Like

    1. I usually read up as extensively as I can when transferred to work in a corner of the world. It’s in the history you get to know a little of the culture of people.

      Like

  7. jstansfeld says:

    What a delicious taste of Colombo! You successfully took me there and I enjoyed the trip.

    Like

    1. I’ve visited there many times. Even worked there for 6 months. It’s a beautiful island and well worth the visit.

      Like

  8. cardamone5 says:

    Dear Ian:

    This is lovely. I can easily envision what it was like for you alone in the hotel room and out front in the morning.

    Did you get my message about guest hosting a children’ favorite books post? Please contact me at cardamonefive@gmail.com, and I’ll fill you in, if you are interested. No worries if not.

    Fondly,
    Elizabeth

    Like

    1. Travel between countries one after another messes with your head. Sometimes you are up at 4am for a dash to the airport and finish meetings that evening at 9pm. I find it difficult to sleep well on multiple country entries after a brief stopover so the mind plays tricks toward the end of an itinerary. Yes I did reply to the message you left on my introduction page on WordPress.

      Like

  9. Yoshiko says:

    It’s good to be alive in spits of awful night experience.

    Like

    1. It certainly is good to have the assurance that you are in a safe place and not lost. lol.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.