A Feast for Crows with a Side of Temple Fatigue
Around the world in 32 days: Country number four, Sri Lanka
Arriving at midnight into the Colombo airport felt more like walking through a Best Buy than an international airport. The duty free area was one of the largest and most diverse I’ve ever been to. Chocolates? Sure, plenty of that. Liquor and cigarettes? Yep, those too. Giant flat-screen TVs and washer and dryers? Huh? Yep, and don’t forget the refrigerator, though who the hell knows how they got that home from the airport because no way is that fitting a tuk tuk. It had the atmosphere of a Taiwanese night market, and left me wanting to buy a new dishwasher to carry through customs. Somehow I resisted the impulse, and we made it through immigration and to the hotel easy enough.
Sri Lanka is an interesting country, and proved to be rich in experiences in ways that Laos and Taiwan were not. Not necessarily all good experiences, but memories nonetheless. Did you know they love lime soda here? Me either, but it’s great. Did you know the island is covered in predatory crows? Well it is, and I wouldn’t be surprised if one day I read that entire family was carried away by a flock of them, there are that many. Sri Lankans are refreshingly polite, unlike some other places (I’m looking at you, China) and the city itself was clean and easy to get around. The tuk tuks here are tiny, and speed through the city ignoring lanes, signs, and sometimes the laws of physics, but I’ve been living in Boston for a while so it wasn’t anything that new to me. We spent the first couple days exploring the city, stocking up on souvenirs (you would think China and Taiwan would have been a boon for trinkets, but everything there was so poorly made that it wasn’t worth bringing home. I’m sure there are nice things to buy, like silks or expensive pottery, but what the hell am I go to do with that? Just get me a nice magnet for crying out loud) dodging aggressive crows during the day and giant fruit bats at night.
The food in Sri Lanka is a vast improvement over Laos, with curries and spices taking the place of wet herb salads and mystery meats. The exchange rate worked greatly in our favor, making this just as affordable as Southeast Asia, and inexpensive food and drink were everywhere.
On our third day we took the train to Kandy, a major tourist
trap destination and the home of one of Buddha’s teeth. Unless you have a passion for Buddhism, or teeth, I don’t recommend going. As temples go, it’s okay, but it’s one of those places that charges foreigners more than locals, and I hate that. Also, you don’t get to see the tooth, if there is one, because it’s locked away somewhere (not to mention that I have more of a chance of being Buddha reincarnated than that tooth has of actually being from Buddha) The town itself is kind of a dump, garbage everywhere, and food choices that will not explode a westerners colon are limited*.Temple Fatigue has set in, making it difficult to be impressed by any Watt or shrine, and contributing to the lackluster experience here I’m sure.
Temple of the Tooth:
The most interesting part of the trip turned out to be the train ride there. Think you’re going to snooze the trip away to the gentle click and clack of the rail? Fuck no, you’re not. It was as if the train ran on square wheels, and the track itself was on the back of a waltzing camel. If you were to tell me that the train was cursed or haunted and that it was known to throw its passengers out through the windows, I would absolutely believe it. It pitches and rocks on axis I didn’t know existed, but on the bright side, it provided the most entertaining beverage service I’ve ever seen. The attendant had the poise and balance of ballet dancer and the grace of a gymnast. Despite the train rocking and bucking, he balanced a tray of coffee and tea cups like they were million dollar faberge eggs. He had to stop and wait at several points, the turbulence so extreme that people couldn’t reach out and take the cup from him – but still, no spills, no dropped cups. Riding a unicycle on a skateboard would have been easier. It was comical and unintentionally amazing, and something I’ll never forget.
Tomorrow is another early morning train to Galle, a route that’s known for offering some of the best scenery of any train ride in the country as it courses south along the shore to the old Dutch port city. Fingers crossed that the tracks are smoother along the coast than through the mountains.
How I got there: Sri Lankan Air, $427USD: train to Kandy,$19.95 for the reserved Exporail car – air conditioned and filled mostly with westerners and Indian tourist.
Where we stayed: Colombo Courtyard, nice hotel but beware – no air-conditioning in the bathrooms so you will sweat doing anything in there.
What we did:
Ministry of Crab
High Tea at Mount Lavinia Hotel
Day trip to Kandy
Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic
Colombo National Museum