Leaving Sri Lanka, final episode
Since I don’t have photos for some of this blog, I will just put in photos taken throughout the trip.
We are in no hurry on our last morning in Sri Lanka. Although the airport drive will take several hours, our flight leaves at one a.m. in the morning! We eat a leisurely breakfast on the veranda enjoying a delicious omelet. We visit with the English family, and laugh at Walter who is chugging down cocoa without coming up for air.
Paul and I decide to walk to the reservoir after breakfast. Akima directs us to follow the Mas Villas path until we get to the neighbors fence. We must crawl through the fence, walk through the field, make a left turn when we get to the trees and this will take us to the water’s edge. Akima tells us the tame water buffalo are tethered but occasionally there are wild water buffalo too. He cautions us that wild buffalo will charge without warning and are very dangerous. Well, that would make for an exciting finish to our holiday! Personally, I don’t trust the so-called tame water buffalo either, as they too seem to be skittish and short-tempered.
We wander down the Mas Villas lane and get through the fence just fine. There are several tethered buffalo in the field but one of them is just dragging its rope. All of the water buffalo raise their heads to peer suspiciously at us, but the free one begins to walk towards us. Just as we are thinking we will have to call off this excursion, a man comes running across the field and shoos the curious animal away.
Once we reach the trees, we find another water buffalo thrashing around in some dense bushes. Paul and I look through our binoculars to make sure this animal has a rope around its neck. We stride on by after determining the animal is secured. As we approach the reservoir, we stop short of the shore when we see a pack of dogs running along the edge of the lake. No sense taking a chance that they might be unfriendly. We hear a woodpecker hammering on a tree, which is one species of bird I haven’t seen on this trip. Paul and I begin searching for the bird and discover a lesser goldenback woodpecker, as he rat-tat’s on a tree branch. This is a great way to end our final walk in Sri Lanka.
We leave Mas Villas at eleven o’clock. Paul and I say our thanks and goodbyes to the staff, with special thanks and a generous tip for Akima. The manager asks Paul to consider writing some kind words about Mas Villas on trip advisor. Hmm, this is the third manager that has asked for “some kind words” from us on trip advisor. Trip advisor, for those of you who may not know, is a website where travelers seek out advice from other travelers. People inquire about hotels, guides, restaurants, hikes, etc. from people who have already traveled to places they want to go. Paul is a huge fan of trip advisor and researches our upcoming travels extensively on this site. Paul also writes reviews of hotels, guides, etc. that we have experienced on our vacations. In fact Paul has written so many reviews that Trip Advisor sent him a green luggage tag prior to our Sri Lanka trip, with the familiar owl logo featured on the tag. Paul attached the bright tag to his backpack before we left for Sri Lanka.
Paul and I began to have suspicions early in the trip that maybe we were receiving extra attention because of this Trip advisor luggage tag. For example, a nice room upgrade and laundry done at no charge. Who knows for sure if the owl tag gained us these favors, but we intend to keep the tag hanging on Paul’s backpack just in case!
It is a good thing we are in no hurry today, because not only is it Saturday but the Poya holiday is in full swing. This means the traffic is heavy as we make our way towards Kandy. There are plenty of photo ops along the way, including what looks like a band of gypsies unloading their race horses along the roadside. Raj stops to ask what they are doing and the men say that they are going to the local race track to participate in the races tonight. Well, that would be fun to attend but we will be sitting in the airport by then.
I have to write about Raj playing cds for us when we are traveling in the car. He asked us on our first day we were with him if having the radio on was o.k., and we said no. However, I observed that he was fidgety and reached for the radio knob a few times so I told Paul maybe it was better to put up with music if it helped him relax. So when Raj asked if we wanted music the next day, we told him it was alright. The problem was, Raj would put a cd in and let it play over and over unless we politely asked him to change it. He obviously didn’t listen to the music but evidently needed the songs as background noise to relax him.
On days we were on the road, we listened to Sri Lankan and English music, some we enjoyed, some not so much. Raj put in one cd that brought back childhood memories for both Paul and me. I didn’t recall the singer’s name which was Jim Reeves, but Paul did. We obviously played this record at home as I remembered the songs which included, From a Jack to a King, Whispering sands, and one where a little boy answers each verse sung by Reeves, singing “but you love me daddy”. After listening to that cd for what seemed like hours, that one line refrain nearly drove me crazy! That child’s voice singing those five words kept playing through my head for days and now that I have written about this, I have that simplistic chorus stuck in my head again.
We are near Negombo by midafternoon, which is much too early to arrive at the airport so Raj suggests we visit his cousin. We say sure and assume that his cousin lives nearby. Instead we leave the main highway and drive on narrow, bumpy roads. We pass through several small villages before arriving at his cousins’ house. Raj grabs the rope hooked to an old brass bell and rings it to alert his relatives of our arrival. A diminutive woman comes to the door and greets us with a smile. Her husband arrives shortly, riding a bicycle and carrying a sack of food. Raj introduces us to his cousin, whom I will refer to as PJ since his name is very lengthy. PJ takes us into the house to show off his collection of antique radios, recorders, and phonographs, including a gramophone. It seems that his antique electronics work but since the electricity is off, he can’t play any of them for us. Actually, the gramophone doesn’t need electricity so I think we listened to this prior to the electricity coming on.
Being without electricity doesn’t stop our hosts from serving us tea along with bananas and fresh, salted pineapple. I’ve never eaten pineapple sprinkled with salt but it was quite good. Yep, we are the only ones eating:).
Raj asks if it would be o.k. to leave us here for a while so he can go to the funeral house to pay his respects to a friend that has died. Of course we agree to his request. PJ takes us on a tour of a hotel that is being built on the lot next to their house. We watch a water monitor swimming in the moat that is in front of the partially erected hotel. Next we admire his Morris Minor car, followed by looking at various unique and clever things he incorporated into the house when he built it. His wife, who doesn’t speak English, keeps gesturing for us to come back into the house but it is so hot that at least we can catch a little breeze outside. Besides, we will be sitting down for hours once we board our plane. Eventually we have run out of things to see and visit about, so we stand around feeling awkward.
Raj finally returns and just then the electricity comes on. His cousin insists we return to the house so we can see/hear his collection in action. Once inside, PJ cranks up the old gramophone, puts on a disc and the music thunders out of the fluted, brass megaphone. The loud volume nearly blasts us out of the house, but the scratchy singing voice also lets me imagine I am back in the colonial times of Sri Lanka. Despite the fact that we may have permanent ear damage, this whole experience is very cool. PJ then turns on every radio he has one after the other. Next we are entertained by a 45 record player spilling old Sri Lanka music into the room. PJ turns on a projector and we watch an old World War II news clip containing images of Japanese soldiers. I wonder what the historic value of that is. By now I have sweat dripping down my neck and my hair is damp with perspiration, but how many people can say they sat in a living room in Sri Lanka and listened to music played on a gramophone?
The sun is beginning to set and we have imposed ourselves on Raj’s cousins long enough. PJ wants a photo of the four of us, so Raj willingly takes our picture. We thank them for entertaining us and leave this couple and their private museum behind.
Raj informs us that we are not far from the airport. We continue driving on back roads through more small villages. In one village the people are lined up along the street and we soon find out why. As we drive down the street there is a parade coming towards us in celebration of Poya. A man wearing a plastic zebra body around his waist swoops in front of our car and dances away, pirouetting down the street to the delight of bystanders. Stilt walkers peer down on us from their lofty height, costumed children dance joyfully, a float lit up with colorful strings of lights carries a shrine for Buddha. Men playing drums and an elephant dressed in bright silken blankets pass by the car in the dusky twilight. We would have loved to stop and watched the parade with the natives, but there is no place to park so we continue to the airport. Who knew our drive to the airport would be such a day to remember!
We arrive at the airport and Raj pulls into the unloading zone. Paul and I gather our luggage and thank Raj for chauffeuring us around. It was rather amusing today how many times Raj mentioned that we had been with him for eleven days. We hand over the envelope with Raj’s bonus money accounting for eleven days, wave goodbye and turn to face the monotony of airports and airplane rides.
On the sidewalk, there are people lined up waiting to buy tickets from women working in teller like booths. We stand in line for a while but wonder if we need to do this since we have our computer tickets. I show a guard our etickets and he tells us we can enter the building. We are frisked and our luggage scanned before we can go to the passenger waiting room. We are still not sure if we need different tickets so Paul goes to the information booth and asks. The man says yes, we must go back outside and get new tickets. Good grief. Fortunately a woman ticket agent is not busy, so we give her our etickets. She informs us that we don’t need new tickets and when we tell her that the information booth worker said we did, she snorts and says “don’t listen to them, they don’t know anything”! Back we go to be frisked (no wands here) and return to sit with other people waiting until the flight board proclaims that passengers on flight so and so can proceed through final security and obtain their boarding passes.
Our flight number shows up on the board around nine o’clock and we join the queue to have luggage scanned and walk through the security box. We get our boarding tickets and check through our luggage in short order. Now all we have to do is try to stay awake for 3 hours until we board the plane. Paul and I browse some of the shops and even buy something for three kids in Kansas! We find to our chagrin that the tea in the airport is about 1/5th of what we paid at the tea factory. Time passes quicker than you would think and soon we are boarding the plane. We are so tired that we sleep a good percent of the eleven hour flight to Frankfort.
It is a good thing we have plenty of time between arriving in Germany and leaving for Dallas. When we are going through security, an airport security man walks up to us as we are waiting for our bags to get through the x-ray machine. He tells Paul that he has been randomly selected for a more thorough check. Oh lucky Paul. Just after learning about this unwanted attention, a no-nonsense woman brings Paul’s backpack over and asks if there is a knife in it. Oh crap, we look at each other and Paul says he doesn’t think there is a knife, as I blurt out “I wonder if we forgot to put your knife into the checked luggage”? The woman keeps pulling things out but doesn’t find a knife, so she sends it back through the scanning machine. She returns, telling us there is a knife in this bag somewhere. Eventually she finds the Swiss army knife stuffed in one of the many little pockets a backpack has. Paul and I lament the fact that we will lose this knife that has traveled on every trip we have taken the past few decades. Instead of confiscating the knife, the woman measures it against a card. The tip protrudes slightly over the edge but she gives it back anyway.
Another woman has emptied the big end of my backpack too, so now we must stuff everything back into them that had been carefully packed a day ago. Paul accompanies the smiling blonde fellow who has been patiently waiting while we have gone through this rather embarrassing incident. I wait, while Paul is led to an area which allows everyone who cares to, witness the second shake down. Again all his stuff is emptied from his backpack. The security man runs a wand over Paul and makes him take his shoes off so he can inspect them. Paul passes the test, so he packs everything and we are able to move on to the boarding area. While waiting for Paul, I noticed that the security people were unpacking lots of people’s carry-on luggage so we weren’t being picked on.
Eleven hours later we land in Dallas. Once we snag our luggage off of the carousel, we transfer the knife to our check through bags before going through customs. We have a few hours to kill in this airport so we go find a burger joint and enjoy a hamburger which is our tradition when we come home from an international trip. Boy did it taste good. After the airline changes the gate our flight leaves from five times, (seriously), we hop on the tiny plane that will take us to Manhattan. In less than two hours we arrive in the middle of the night to cold and snow. Oh boy, reality literally smacks us in the face letting us know we are back in Kansas. We drive home, fall into bed and put another wonderful adventure behind us.