Back in the UK freezer…..

“Flew in from Colombo Beach with Emirates                                                     Ev’rything was snowy white
Nearly froze my ass off waiting for a cab                                                                                  Why is UK weather shite?”

(Thumbs up to Macca for this one!)

Over the years I will admit to having some difficult entries and re-entries whilst travelling; arriving in New York City on a scorching, humid day in July was difficult, flying back into  freezing Manchester drizzle after a November break in sunny Tenerife was no fun,  but my recent arrival back in Birmingham after two weeks largely spent in 30+ degree Sri Lankan heat was the worst ever.  Stepped out of the terminal building in the warmest clothes I could muster and the wind just cut through me like a knife.  Hideous, and it only got worse later as I battled my way through driving snow to get some emergency supplies from the local Asda.  After that, the snow kept drifting imperceptibly down until it amounted to a considerable fall.  And there was I thinking that we would be coming back to gentle spring breezes and daffodils……oh well.

The Sri Lankan trip was quite an ambitious one, inasmuch as it featured a travelling entourage of 7 people – the Princess, the Partner and 4 friends.  The first week was spent doing a whistlestop tour of some of the island’s ‘must-sees’, so escaping from (frankly)  dull Colombo ASAP and off to Dambulla, then up to Kandy, further up to the tea plantations and cod-British eccentricities of Nuwara Eliya, then the long train journey down from temperate tea-clad slopes of the highlands to the banana and coconut trees of the coastal plain.

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‘Drunken’ pines at Peradeniya Botanical Gardens near Kandy – something in the soil makes them grow at these weird angles

Finally, off to the sybaritic glories of scruffy Unawatuna on the south-western coast, all bohemian shabby chic and sub-surfing atmosphere for a week of glorious indolence on the beach.  Finally, I could lay down my Tour Leader’s baton, I thought, but even then there pockets of unwanted excitement.

We stayed in a careworn but atmospheric guesthouse cum hotel right on the tideline, with the waves ending their long journey northwards from Antarctica just 10 yards from our bedroom doors.  However, there were other unwanted guests who frequent the beach zone and found their way into the ground floor rooms; the Princess seemed to get the worst of this – just 30 minutes after our arrival,  she discovered a large black scorpion in her room and also got a visit from its baby brother (or sister) later in the week.  There were also occasional large cockroaches, though thankfully not too many of them as my mate Adrian is phobic about them.  Those of us located in the first floor rooms had none of this and just smugly sat out on our non-infested balconies enjoying the view and the sea breezes.

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Sunrise at Unawatuna Bay from my scorpion-free balcony

Actually, the unwanted wildlife was really a minor issue and even I know enough about scorpions to know that the larger black ones can only deliver a sting equivalent to a British wasp.  Apparently, lethally-poisonous Indian red scorpions are now routinely being found in the northern Sri Lankan city of Jaffna,  having somehow made it across Adam’s Bridge,  so trouble may be just around the corner.

And so our week passed with lazy days in the sun and the occasional trip into Galle, just 10 minutes by one of the onomatapoeically-named tuk-tuks.  On one baking hot Galle day, Adrian and I strolled into the cricket ground – rebuilt since I was here in 2005;  it got wiped out by the Boxing Day 2004 tsunami – and spent 4 slow hours in the shade watching an under-19 college game where the ball was turning at right-angles and we saw only two overs of non-spin bowling.

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A slow day at Galle Cricket Ground

The batting side accumulated runs with glacial slowness – just 60 off 40 overs – and the fastest mover on the ground was a 3-foot monitor lizard that strolled casually across the outfield on his afternoon constitutional.

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Galle is a slightly schizophrenic town; the heat, traffic, commerce and noise of the New Town is all South Asia whilst  on the other side of the cricket stadium, the Dutch Fort area behind its ramparts is a total contrast.   No tsunami damage here worth the mention as the 40-foot high walls of the Fort largely kept the sea out.  Lots of chilled cafés and arty shops with an unsurprisingly European feel to it given that most of the buildings here were put up by either the Portuguese, who were followed by the Dutch, who were followed by the Brits.  It reminds me a bit of the backstreets of Seville, a little bit of Essaouira in Morocco and (inevitably) of Cochin in Kerala.

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In the Fort area of Galle

My 60th birthday was marked by the hotel staff with flowers all over the bed and the breakfast table.  I marked the day with regular dips in the ocean, a slow walk along Unawatuna’s Beach Road to do a bit of shopping – fake (but convincing) Ray-Bans for about a fiver,  nice scarf for Lyndsey the Greatest Barmaid in the world at my local, stopping off for a wonderful Peach Lassi at the Juice Bar on the corner where the stereo was blaring out Dylan’s ‘Shelter from the Storm’.  Then, in the evening, we went up to the other end of the bay and (for me) a sentimental return to Sun ‘n’ Sea, where my Dad and I stayed in 2005.  I was heartened to see that although the hotel’s founder and guiding light, Mrs Pereira, is gone (she died in 2006), her family have continued to run the place in very much the same spirit and any changes are superficial.

We had a nice meal at Sun’ n’ Sea, but didn’t linger as one of my birthday ‘treats’ involved a 5 am start the next (and final) day to go whale watching.  We were driven to Mirissa, further along the south coast and were out on the ocean waves very early.  The  waters here are like the M6 for whales,  who commute between the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea on a regular basis.  The guys on our boat told us that they had been out the previous day and had seen only one whale in 6 hours, however having taken us about 10 miles south and east of Mirissa, we quickly saw several Blue Whales – about 5 in all, in multiple sightings – so everyone was pretty happy with that.

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Thar she blows; along with parasitic remora fish along for the ride

I’m not going to go all ‘Jon Anderson’ about the mystical nature of my encounter with the largest creature ever to have lived on this planet, but having only previously seen a whale (or part of one) on a plate in a restaurant in Honningsvåg in northern Norway, it was definitely preferable to see one ‘on the hoof’, so to speak.

Less than 24 hours later, I was plunged back into the freezing nightmare of the UK’s late winter cold snap…..the horror, the horror….and what an unpleasant contrast.  This kind of weather definitely makes me feel my age…..

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