An Evening in Surreal Sri Lanka

Monday, September 22nd, 2008

The night before our flight to India, the airline emailed us our itinerary. It was very different than we’d seen before. Instead of a 1PM flight to Colombo, Sri Lanka, a three hour layover and a connecting flight to Delhi, our new schedule had us flying out that night after 7, staying over night in the island and flying out at 3PM the next day. One quick call revealed that our original flight had been cancelled, but they would put us up in a hotel that evening. Sounded good to us.

We got to BKK Airport very early. The cab driver was skillful but insane as he zipped between lanes while tailgating. There were few people at the gate. We assumed that the plane would be nearly empty, but we were wrong. Our plane was in route from China, and it was packed with a mixture of mostly Indian/Sri Lankans and Chinese. There were few potatoes like us, and they looked pasty and tired. Like us. The flight attendants wore modified green saris. On some it was flattering, on others muffin tops puffed out from the exposed back. They were certainly the most exotic looking group of flight attendants I’d seen, and the most patient as well. The cabin was in chaos as all sorts of large families tried to get seats next to each other. A sly looking, swarthy man in front of us worked out a deal with an attendant. He and his three male family members and an older woman got to sit together. That seemed to satisfy him. J. had to wake up an elderly woman sitting in her seat. The plane was bustling with multilingual chatter; it sounded like a marketplace.

About 75% of the men on the plane looked like what our American ignorance pictures as potential terrorists. It felt wrong to feel suspect, yet it was unavoidable. Note: none were terrorists.

The meal was excellent (fish, rice and veggies, salad, cheese and crackers, custard, drinks) and the flight was only 3 hours. On descent, an announcement was made that they were going to spray air freshener. The attendants walked down both isles discharging two cans of intense, fragrant chemical spray. The mist lingered in the air and made the whole plane smell horrible like an industrially cleaned bathroom. I’m guessing they sprayed to get the body odor out of the air. There were some seriously smelly people on that flight, myself included.

The plane landed in Sri Lanka with a bounce.

Sri Lanka airport is a bare-bones affair. At the visa checkpoint you are greeted with a prominent sign that reads “Possession of illegal drugs is punishable by death.” Fair enough, I guess. After checking in a two counters, the airline had given us a voucher for the hotel and sent for a van to pick us up. There were 4 other people in the same situation, but they never got in the van. Maybe they didn’t read the sign.

Our complimentary hotel was the 3-star Club Dolphin about 40km north of the airport. As the van pulled out of the loading zone, it was immediately obvious that some bad stuff had gone down at this airport. The entrance was guarded by men in fatigues with machine guns, and a large fence enclosed the grounds with a wide margin that housed manned sniper towers and other checkpoints. The main road north was a mostly two lane affair, potholed and unpredictable. All along the route were vehicle inspection points manned by the army. At a few of them, there were sand bag braced bunkers with a machine gunner inside pointed at the truck incase something went wrong. The shops and homes along the road looked like a cross between Hawaii, Vietnam, and Mexico. The van driver barreled down the road, flashing his brights to see and signal passing. Pedestrians and bicyclists appeared out of nowhere and nearly got hit. Tuk tuks lingered at the side of the road waiting for the last business owners heading home for the night. Gas stations were guarded by machine guns.

It’s possible that all of this weaponry was out because that evening the military was still attacking Tiger rebels in the NE. Or maybe it’s always this way here, I don’t know. But for every machine gun at the side of the road, there was a shrine to either Jesus or the Virgin Mary. They were spotless and encased in well lit and colorful glass cases. Eery and beautiful.

The hotel was a long scary ride from the airport. Off the main road, we traveled along the dirt for a while before reaching the gate. Club Dolphin is a sprawling place, a resort. When we arrived, there was a raucous singing stage show entertaining a scattered group of hooping, drinking, Europeans. The porter led us through numerous outdoor walkways, buildings, to our room. It was weirdly appointed and smelled of tobacco, but nice enough. Due to transit rules, we couldn’t claim our checked luggage in Sri Lanka, so I had to do without a change of clothes or anything to read. J. and I walked out to the beach and sat near a palm tree. The air was perfect. A strong breeze blew in the ocean. On the dark beach, a dog wandered. To our sides, the 24 hour beach sentinels were on patrol. It didn’t feel like I was part of the real world.

This became even more apparent in the morning as we dined on an unreal feeling buffet. Eggs, cereal, pastries, India curries and naan, fruit, coffee, and all other food we hadn’t eaten in two months. A squirrel was sneaking bites of bread from loaves that were standing upright in a bowl. Some lady freaked out upon seeing this, but I thought it was cute. Generally speaking, most of the people staying here are happy, older fat f–cks. Most seem to be from Europe or Australia. I feel sorry for all the staff who have to attend to their pasty pool side desires. I’m sitting with J. in a pavilion a few feet from the ocean and the pools. There is a lot of belly surface area and trapezoidal behinds in view. People are rolling around and adjusting themselves in their chaise lounges not unlike sea lions. The weather is still perfect.

I have seen six Sri Lankan males that look like a darker version of the actor Dean Cane. It would be easy to cast a Sri Lankan version of The New Adventures of Superman.

We leave for Delhi, India today. We have no place to stay.


The red sand beach.

Family on the beach.

One of many fishing sail ships off the shore.

Fruit on a tree. It’s not pineapple.

Clockwise: Jesus, church, rickshaws and bicycles, colorful shipping truck.

India here we come!

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