Trundler Senor Bob feels the heat in Colombo but stays on track
Part One: Arrival
The heat that engulfs me as I alight at Colombo airport, never really leaves me during my three week visit, except when I am in an air conditioned building or immersed in water. It is a temperature you have to get used to. The confusion I feel on arrival at unfamiliar airports or ports of entry comes and goes and comes and goes, as I move about, first Colombo and then Sri Lanka.
For someone who is not a ‘natural’ or very ‘savvy’ traveller I always wonder why I do things the harder way. Looking for a bus and walking, not arranging to be met, not wanting a car and driver ( a regular way to get around SL for foreigners).
So having researched a local train into Colombo from the airport before my trip I am determined not to give in to the pressing numbers of men competing for my fare into town by car/taxi etc. Through the confusion I negotiate a non a/c vehicle to take me the short distance to a local railway station, from where I hope to travel to the city.
Once at this station the world starts to become a nicer place, the people are friendly and helpful.
As an Englishman , I don’t expect to blend in with local Sri Lankans but at this little station with its outdoor food and drinks sellers and cool little ticket office I was at least amongst some more regular commuters.
After buying my locally priced ticket from the ticket seller/station manager, he kindly offered me a seat in his office, which I declined politely . I felt peoples eyes on me, but out of interest rather than as financial prey.
In my experience, if you can afford to visit a ‘poorer’ country you are going to be hustled and hassled, obviously some more than others although I think the same applies to ‘richer’ countries where I feel the hustle has just been more legitimised.
Obviously there is a gulf in finances between a European visitor and a regular Sri Lankan but no one wants to be taken advantage of, even if you are happy to give and help where you can.
The train comes in slowly, the sound of metal on metal, and the blowing of the whistle, loud in the still air. The passengers climb on and off from both sides. The doors and windows are all open. Inside there are a few seats , mainly standing space. It is scruffy, well used, very well used. As it pulls away I enjoy the breeze being pulled in and out of the carriage, the rumble of train on track.
People climb on and off as it slows down for the numerous stops. Adjacent to the tracks there are small fires , the smell of cooking and burning bits of rubbish mingle with the hot air. Dusk is falling. These fresh English eyes drink up the life passing by, the tangle of structures and nature. Buildings of varying permanance. Lean-to shelters, simple materials, a lot of outside living.
Interrupting my thinking, a man climbs aboard with a guitar case, dressed in black, looking dapper, though a little worn. He sits opposite me. We grin at each other. He sits upright with his guitar in its case. Responding to my enquiry, I find he is a band leader and that he is playing at a wedding party that evening. I like him, he has a great name printed on the card he profers: de Silva. He is cool, I think.
Good and bad things happen to you when moving in unfamiliar situations. Maybe no more so than in regular life, but in quicker succesion, with less reaction time. The bustle at Colombo station is a jolt in any language and the musician disappears into the mass of people in this sprawling intense city. Dusk turns to night. I later find out that he is playing in the hotel I am staying in. He had been referring to the hotel by its previous name, before it had been revamped and renamed. Sadly, I never manage to find him .
I negotiate a three- wheeler taxi. I go for a metered one in Colombo, a great way to arrive at a smart hotel in my opinion. I walk in to the luxury of air conditioning and an outdoor pool for my first night in Sri Lanka.
Two weeks later ……… in the South of Sri Lanka, from the comfort of my hammock, I will tell you
about Mamboz, the South Indian ocean and the plight of the turtles