As we flew into Sri Lanka, we could see the extent of the recent floods. In some places they have had nearly 35cm of rain in a day. We saw destroyed roads, flooded houses, rivers that had burst their banks. Several people have been killed.
Immigration was efficient, then we collected our luggage and walked out through the Duty Free shop. In England (and every other country I have visited) this shop is full of chocolate and alcohol and cigarettes. In Sri Lanka, it’s full of washing machines. And fridges. Obviously holidays abroad stimulate the local population into a frenzy of kitchen appliances desire.
As we drove to the hotel, we saw streets of shops selling spare parts for tuk tuks, cars with whole shrines on their dashboards, lots of flooding. We passed Hindu temples, golden Buddhas on roundabouts, giant statues of Mary. There were people hanging clothes to dry on wire fences, trees, anywhere they could really. Many of the houses were very simple, made of corrugated iron and bits of wood. Some had cows in their tiny garden area.
Hotel is lovely. Galle Face Hotel, Colombo. It’s an old colonial building, full of dark wood, carved elephants and ceiling fans. Our room has a balcony, right next to the Indian Ocean (you would love it.) I feel a little like I have walked into a film set. At 5pm every day they play the bagpipes and lower the flag (a tradition from the 1800s when the British were ruling here.)
This evening we walked along the sea front – a bombardment of the senses. Crashing waves and a babble of languages mingle with fried seafood and spun sugar. Children playing, kites flying, an ancient snake charmer, joined by his friend with a monkey, as the sun dipped behind the brick built pier, silhouetting groups of men and families.
I’ve never seen a snake charmer before. He took the lid off his basket and played his pipe and a snake – think it was a cobra – rose up. Then the snake got bored and started to slide towards us, so we left – he was bit of a naughty snake!
Seller than offered to sell husband “a better tee-shirt”, which I thought was hilarious but husband found less amusing.
Walked back to hotel along sea front. Loads of people again, all very happy. We are the only white people. I like it here.
A Day at the Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage
We hired a driver from the hotel and spent the day driving to the orphanage. It was really worth the time and money, as saw so much. We paid about £25 entry and local people paid about 50p each. They are quite open about this, they charge lots more for tourists.
We saw the elephants in the main area, then crossed the road and went to the river. There are lots of shops for tourists. Then we heard the elephants start to approach.
“Move out the way!” shouted the man as the elephants approached the river.
I thought this was bit of an over reaction, there was plenty of room for him to pass, but I did move slightly more to the side.
Then I realised more elephants were coming behind him. And more….
Great lumbering beasts, so big, so intent on getting to the river. A bit like a crowd of nine year old boys rushing to play, very likely to knock someone with their shoulder by mistake. But these shoulders were huge, I would be toppled and crushed within seconds. I moved further back, up some steps leading to a cafe. The elephants lumbered by.
I cannot explain how exciting it was. The thrill of a brass band that vibrates deep inside your being, the thrall of something wonderful and scary all at the same time. Best sight ever. They trooped down to the river and then behaved a lot like my family would. One stood away from the others and just enjoyed being in the river. One submerged completely and just lifted a foot from time to time. One squirted himself and anyone near. One was very task focussed and had a good wash. One tried to organise all the others. I won’t name them…
We saw them at the Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage. I was slightly worried about how ethical it was – there were some chains and men with sharp sticks and quite a lot of shouting. But bull elephants are randy in the spring and need to be controlled, and I don’t know anything about rearing elephants (clipping a duck’s wings probably looks cruel to someone who doesn’t understand) so I will reserve judgement. Certainly they looked happy as they went to the river. And there were lots of warning signs – they hadn’t been tamed, they were still wild animals (which I like.)
We saw babies being bottle fed and adults stripping leaves from trees. But nothing compared to the bath in the river.
The whole day was good – a chance to see more of Sri Lanka. We saw birds as vibrant blue as a slush puppy, paddy fields being planted with rice, pineapples growing on a bush, a woman leading three porcupines on a lead and stood in rain drops that felt like whole cups of warm water being thrown at us. But really, I just wanted to tell you about the elephants.
I like Sri Lanka. It has an unspoiltness about it. It is the only place I have been that doesn’t have a MacDonald’s and Costa Coffee as every second shop – perhaps because it’s only a few years since the civil war ended, so tourism is just beginning to develop here. If you are planning to visit, come soon, before it changes.
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I have always written a diary on holiday, so last Christmas, I decided to find all my old diaries and blogs, and make a book for my children. However, several other people also asked for a copy, so I have written a public version – it’s available on Amazon and has been described as “The Durrells meet Bill Bryson”!
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