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A Colombo market

February 19

And we were back in Colombo! By the time we got through customs, found a taxi (tried to get information from the “tourist desks” and were told yet again that all the hotels in Sri Lanka were full and only they could help) and made it to our hotel it was late, about 11 pm. We had decided to stay a few minutes outside the town centre in a budget hotel. We had some running around to do and didn’t want to be so far away. The hotel was nasty – and I’m being kind. It was in a cool old building that in its day would have been spectacular. Today – not so much. We went to look at our room and I mumbled what’s the use, it’s late and we aren’t going to start looking around. James replied that if there were rats running wild then we would not be staying. I started to silently chant – please be rats, please be rats, please be rats. We encountered none. A few minutes later we were standing in our dark, dank, smelly room. I say standing because it took me a few minutes to venture past the middle of the room. I wish I was exaggerating, so does James.

It was late and we’d had long day so I dug out my sleep sack and lied down. James turned out the lights and crawled in beside me and I reached for his hand. I think I held it tight the whole night.

Market video
(Click on picture for link to video, appx. 6MB)

February 20

It didn’t take me long to wake up, get ready and be out the door. The least amount of time spent in our dungeon the better. We asked at the desk if we could upgrade (we thought if we splurged for air con it might be less mouldy or maybe be a bit cleaner) and got to see a few rooms. I was shocked to find out we had one of the best (can I even use that word?) rooms in the hotel. One room I saw had green/black mould covering two walls from the middle down. It was so thick it was fuzzy. No we’ll keep our room thanks. I think it didn’t help that we are tired, just plain tired.

We couldn’t get our India VISA until tomorrow so we had the day to explore Colombo – after breakfast. We grabbed a tuk-tuk and headed to McDonald’s. Hey, it’s air conditioned and clean. Happily filled with McDonalds grease we started our walk of Colombo. The first time here we didn’t get to see much of Colombo. Colombo, population of about 685,000 people, is the capital city. I am excited to see the old buildings that have a Portuguese, Dutch and British colonial influence. I love old buildings.

We headed to the ocean and Galle Face Green; which has a park and a boardwalk like path beside the sea. It was a nice walk. There were a few tourists but mostly local families and a few groups of school kids hanging out. Some were picnicking, some playing cricket, some flying kites and some having fun in the water. It was very relaxing. At the end of the boardwalk you get to the fort. Well we couldn’t go in but we passed where it is/was. The Portuguese founded the fort in Colombo in 1517. I think there a few buildings left but any we can see have been renovated into tourist shops and restaurants. The old Dutch hospital is a perfect example. It’s a gorgeous building that has some of its original charm but is all shiny and new. We took a look around and continued on with our walk.

There is a shiny new office building across from the old Dutch hospital that has one whole floor of government approved jewelry shops. We went in for a peek. Sri Lanka has one of the best selections of decently priced gems I’ve ever come across. I added a few things to my wish list but didn’t want to commit yet; there are so many shops I still wanted to look in. Poor James.

James had wanted to check train and bus schedules so we walked in that general direction. As usual the Lonely Planet map was a bit off. We eventually found the train station. It was packed full, chaotic and loud. We stopped at the information desk and they were surprisingly helpful. The bus station was a few blocks away. It too was crazy. It was difficult to figure out what was going on. On the other side of the road, as we had walked from the train station to the bus station, was the local bazaar/market. I talked James into crossing the street and we entered.

It was fascinating, as only local Asian markets can be. And cheap. We both did a bit of shopping and a lot of people watching. We ended up in the textiles section, then the electric, then the lighting, then the pots and pans; I am going to miss this when I am back in Canada.

After about an hour we were hot and dusty and hungry. In extreme heat we both loose our appetites (ya I know, it doesn’t show) so when we actually feel hungry we try to eat. We hadn’t seen anything since the old Dutch hospital so walked back. It catered to foreign tourists and we had a plate full of ribs and a few cold beers.

Reluctantly we left the posh restaurant and went back to our pathetic hotel. I somehow showered without touching anything but the taps in the bathroom and quickly dove into my sleep sack. We’d had a long day and I was asleep pretty quick. In the wee hours, scratching in the walls behind us woke me. I grabbed James’ hand and woke him. Omg! There are rats in the walls. You can hear them! He mumbled something and fell back asleep – so much for saving me from the killer rats (because all rats are killers). I tried my hardest to ignore the sound but couldn’t. I just lied there for a few hours freaking out. Afraid to move. This irrational fear of rats and mice is annoying. But – THERE ARE RATS IN OUR WALLS! (James’ Note: It is particularly pathetic that this fear even extends to chipmunks. I would later see her cower from an adorable baby chipmunk that someone had in their hand)

February 21

I survived the night but only slept lightly for a few hours. When our alarm went off I was more tired than when I’d gone to bed. Shaking in fear all night is hard work. We were off to get our Indian VISA, Yeah! We grabbed a tuk-tuk and got dropped off at the processing center. We had to drop off our passports in the morning then pick them back up in the afternoon with our new visa. There wasn’t much of a line up and the whole process took only a few minutes. Then we were off….to shop for gems. We went back to a few that I’d been to before now that I had an idea of price and what I was looking for. We did the bulk of the shopping in a cute store in the mall that had unique one of a kind items. I picked up a few treats for me and a gift for my mom that I almost hope she doesn’t like. I love it!

We had pizza again and then went looking for a cool spot that had wifi. We still had a few hours to kill. I got comfy in a leather chair at the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf with a yummy coffee. James offered to go pick up the VISA’s and I happily let him. He returned about an hour later in a foul mood. When he was picking them up he checked them (Travel Hint: always, always, always check your VISA’s before leaving) he found a mistake. We had filled in all the boxes – most notable where we were entering the country/where was our first stop. The Andaman Islands. The Andaman Islands that are a restricted area that you need special permission for. Very clearly on our new VISA’s was “Does not include restricted areas”. Crap! He asked the lady and she sort of waved him away. No, this is wrong. He pointed out we had filled in the boxes correctly so why is our VISA wrong. She had no idea and told him we’d have to go to the actual Indian Embassy to get it fixed. Crap! Crap! Crap!

While he was gone I’d gotten bad news from home and was in my own mood….and the coffee shop had closed a few minutes before he returned and I was sitting outside on the floor. We frantically started to look up hotels (we both agreed we were not returning to the rat hotel) until security told us we had to leave. UGH! It just so happened we were 20 steps (through a sky walk) from a Hilton. So we walked the 20 steps. We had peeked at it quickly on line and found the prices they quoted were about $150 more than on line. We asked for the internet code so we could book. They refused. Hmmmmm. As I was talking to the lady, a guy behind me offered to let us use his internet. Cool! He handed us his IPad and we sat and chatted while James booked. A few minutes later were being shown to our room that had an amazing view of the park and sea front we’d walk in earlier.

I was still feeling frazzled (worried about home and about all the flights and hotels we already had booked) so had a shower and crawled into bed with the remote control. I hid there for the rest of the night.

February 22

The price we paid for the Hilton included an amazing buffet breakfast (that had real bacon). We stuffed ourselves and left with positive thoughts. Please let them fix our VISA, please, please, please.

At the Indian Embassy we waited in line a few minutes then were let in. Well James was. They only allowed one person in at a time and for some reason James took my passport. They signed him in and when he turned to get me the mean man behind the desk said NO. Just you. What? James shrugged and went in. Luckily I had my Kindle so stood on the sidewalk and read for 15 minutes…30 minutes…45 minutes…1 hour…at which point I was baking in the heat, sweat was dripping down my face and neck and my back and pooling in my bra. There was nowhere to hide from the sun. And I had to pee real bad (two delicious cups of coffee over breakfast will do that). I knocked on the door and practically begged to be let in. No! I hadn’t thought to grab money from James so couldn’t even take a tuk-tuk back to the hotel. An English couple came along and I warned them to keep their passports. They said if they saw a white guy, slightly balding, that they tell them to come give his wife the room key and some money before she wet herself. Such nice people the English are. When they walked in the guy kept a firm grip on his wife even though the guard was trying to split them up – what is up with that?

I waited about 15 more minutes. When James came out his mood wasn’t much better but I didn’t have time to get the story until we were safely in a tuk-tuk on the way to a toilet!!!

The one and only guy who can fix our VISA wasn’t in this morning so we’d have to come back in the afternoon. Crap. Our plans to see Sri Lanka were already a day behind (we were meant to be on an overnight bus last night), I wonder if we’d be able to leave tonight. We hung out at the hotel until we could go back to the embassy. We were smarter when we returned and I went in first with my own passport. Then James. They still seemed a bit put off by me entering but I didn’t care. We spoke to the lady at the information desk and she told us the guy was still at lunch and we could sit and wait. And wait we did. We had anticipated a wait so had our Kindles. After a few hours (and about 30 minutes before they closed for the day) we started to pester the lady. She finally told us the guy likely wouldn’t be back today. What?!? Today was already Wednesday and we had a flight for Sunday. Meaning we only had two more days to fix this before we lost time and lots of money. We gently pushed her. We somehow convinced her to help us. She took down our information (which included us writing in pen the same information that was in the correct little box on the last page saying we were visiting the Andaman’s) and set us away. Come back tomorrow morning she said.

So back to the Hilton. I was feeling a slight sense of deja-vu. We are stuck in Colombo waiting on VISA’s and might not get to actually see Sri Lanka. We stopped by the Hilton travel center and priced a driver. We decided (again) to fork out some cash so we could see everything we wanted to. We even went so far as to book it (and hotels) for the next day leaving at 1 pm. We were thinking positively…our VISA’s would be fixed tomorrow morning and we would be leaving Colombo. Once everything was booked I did a repeat of last night; shower, duvet and the remote.

Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara

February 23

Ohhhh how I love you bacon. Bacon. Bacon. Bacon. When I get home I’d like nothing but bacon wrapped everything. We enjoyed the buffet again and I left waddling. We were nervous but refused to think anything but positive thoughts. I also had everything crossed.

At the embassy the lady took our passports and had us sit down. She wandered around chatting with people carrying our information. Omg! Just do it. She did eventually get everything done and we left with our fixed VISA’s. It had nothing more than an added signature and a tiny stamp added to the original. Really? It took two days (more if we hadn’t pushed) and only one person in all of Colombo could so it? Grrrrrr.

Relieved we returned to the Hilton to grab out bags and be on our way. If I never come back to Colombo it will be too soon.

Our car and driver and car were in fact a Hilton employee and a SUV with the Hilton logo on the side. I felt very important. They apologised that he would have to make a quick stop at his house to pick up a change of clothes. No problem.

Before we got to his place we passed the Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara, considered one of the most important Buddhist centers in Sri Lanka. It was originally built in the late 18th century, destroyed by Indian invaders, restored, destroyed again by the Portuguese and restored again. Our driver asked if wanted to stop and we did for sure. It was really beautiful and had a peaceful feeling. A river ran along one side and there was a nice park. It had a big reclining Buddha that was very impressive.

A few minutes later we pulled up to the driver’s house. He insisted we get out and have a seat on the porch. He introduced us to his wife and explained he lived here with his family and his sister’s family. It was a cute little courtyard with three houses and a garden. Then we were on our way. We were driving to the town the furthest away and making our way back. We had a good 8 hour drive ahead of us; at least this driver seemed to know where he was going.

We pulled into Anuradhapura around 10 pm. We had a reservation at a budget hotel. Actually we had booked it for a few days ago before we knew we had to stick around Colombo. We had been emailing them for a few days asking them to keep our reservation. We figured they would charge us for the two nights we missed but we just wanted a decent budget place to stay. We had troubles finding it so the driver called them. He tried to explain the reservation was at their other hotel and took us there. We were confused. They owned two hotels; one a two years old and one over 17 years old. We’d booked the newer one. The guy at the desk told us he could “give” us a room here for the same price so we looked at a room. Ya, right. He wasn’t doing us any favors, this place was worn out and old. The new place was shiny and new. We argued back and forth but the guy would not move us. So out of principle we left. The driver took us to a few places that looked a bit dodgy. We pulled into a nicer one that turned out to be on my list of maybe’s from when we were looking to book. It was more expensive but had a pool and the staff were overly friendly. They checked us in, brought us tea and coffee (we wanted the kettle for a cup of soup) and offered to make us dinner. It was a cute place that reminded me of the lodge in Dirty Dancing. They also said we could check out on time but have a swim after we biked around the ruins the next day. Very nice!

Temple statue

February 24

We got up early, had the free breakfast and went searching for bikes. They only had big boy bikes but I decided to make due. I was excited to get a bit of exercise other than walking. Our journey started on pot holed dirt roads, continued onto busy city streets until finally we came to the park/ruin area. We were at the ancient city of Anuradhapura. Our first stop was the museum to get our tickets. We had read you could buy a pass for the three areas we planned to visit over the next two days. Unfortunately as of January 1 the combo pass was cancelled and the admission for each place had also been raised. The old combo was only $40 USD for all three. In the end we ended up paying a whopping $90 USD each for all three. (Travel Hint: I’m not sure if it’s worth it to see all three, do your research beforehand as it’s very expensive.)

Expensive CD tickets in hand we started to wander the grounds. This area is claimed to be the greatest monastic city of the ancient world. This ancient city of Sinhala Kings dates back to the 6th century BC – WOW! – and is where Buddhism was first introduced to the islands in the 3rd century BC. We walked and biked around large artifacts, temples, frescoes, artificial lakes, museums and royal baths. Most of it was just ruins but you could still get the idea. It was once an amazing city. One of the city’s most important sites is the holy Sri Maha Bodhi Tree. Our route had taken us in a loop with the tree being at the end. We drove up to the security gate and the guards told me I could not enter the ruins without long pants. Huh? We’d just spent over three hours biking the ruins. We think he just wanted a bribe so we refused to listen or pay. When we got to the tree entrance they also said I could not visit the holy tree with bare knees. Really? Do you think the tree cares. They were also charging more to see it so we looked over the fence, peeked at the tree and biked off, we weren’t about to shell out money to see a tree. We had one other weird encounter. We were denied access to one other temple because we weren’t wearing white. I’d never heard of that before.


Disgustingly hot and sweaty we made our way back to our hotel. The bikes were in rough shape and we were both sore in inconvenient places. Jumping into the pool was heavenly. We cooled off in the pool for about an hour then went to find our driver. He was a little late but we were only driving to the next town and checking into our hotel so weren’t too worried. Our next stop, Sigiriya, was only about 4 hours away and the drive went fast. The driver stopped at one point to ask for directions and we got a bit suspicions. He quickly explained that he had drove out of the way looking for a road that you could usually find elephants on. Oh. He then explained it was closed and we had to back track. We still weren’t bothered.

In Sigiriya the driver gave us a quick tour and showed us where the ticket booth was and where the path was. It was a good distance away from the “rock” and it sounded like he wasn’t going to drive us. We planned to do it early so we could do another area in the afternoon so he’d be driving us, that is why we hired him – to speed things up. We finally pulled into our hotel and were nicely surprised. It was lovely. We were met with a fresh juice and asked to sit in the reception area around the pool. From where I was sitting I could see the fortress (or what is left of it) on top of the rock plateau. How very cool. We checked in, dropped our bags and headed for the pool. From the shallow end of the pool you could still see the rock and fortress ruins on top. I sat for a bit and just stared…. I could also see a pack of monkeys from where I floated. Eek! They were all over the place, along with signs warning against feeding and playing with them. No problem here!

We finally dragged ourselves from the pool and view and had soup and crackers in our room. There was a fancy buffet but neither of us really felt like it. I am craving simple foods like soups and sandwiches and salads; stuff you can just pull out of your cupboard and cook in less than five minutes.


February 25

The driver had reluctantly agreed to pick us up (after we argued about the time, we wanted to start earlier than he did) and told us his brother lived 5 km away and he was spending the night there. When he was a few minutes late again I was a bit cranky. I hate being up this early to begin with. He drove us to the ticket booth and we agreed to meet back at the hotel at 1 pm so we would have time to see another area full of temples and ruins. He again tried to re-arrange our plans but we had a tight schedule and stuck to our guns.

We use to be great at getting up early and beating the heat and crowds. Today I was reminded of why. We were some of the first to enter the park and had a quiet walk up the hill. We passed a few frescos and ancient shrine caves. At the top there was only one other group that left soon after we arrived; leaving us the place to ourselves. It had stunning views of the surrounding area; mountains, jungle and plains. A cool breeze kept it from feeling too hot. It was magical. If I was a King I could see myself picking this spot for my home. King Kasyapa built the mysterious Sigiriya fortress in the 5th century. When built an impressive 5-acre fort sat astride the rock and a city nestled at its base. On the summit was the Kings garden and palace. The rock (a hardened magma plug of an extinct volcano that long ago eroded away) rises straight up 200 meters. Today the fort is a pile rocks, the town is small guest houses, fancy hotels and gift shops and the palace a platform of stones. Where the garden may have once been is now garbage bins, metal stairs and scrub grass worn down by the hundreds of tourist that visit each day. All alone at the top I closed my eyes and tried to imagine what it originally looked like.


My day dreaming was interrupted by other visitors arriving so we headed back down. The path up was crowded, almost a single line of people. I am so happy we were early. We got back to the hotel early so had a swim, a quick snack and I got to blog for a bit. I opened our French doors and let the cool jungle breeze in. As I was typing I heard a noise and looked up. On the roof above me was a little monkey. He was taking a good look at me and (I think) trying to figure out if he’d get past me. A few of his friends joined him and I jumped up and ran. James saved the day and closed up the doors while I hid in the bathroom. Note to self: do not leave the doors open. Cooled off and ready to go we went and sat in the lobby. The driver was late again.

As we drove away we saw an elephant coming down the road with a couple of tourists on top. I was having a surreal moment. In Sri Lanka, in the shadow of Sigiriya, pulled over to let an elephant pass. It was rudely broken when James laughed and asked if I was as jealous as he was of the tourists glowing white socks. Hrumph!

I was excited about our next stop. In the small town of Giritale is the ancient site of Polonnaruwa. More old temples, palaces, royal baths, sculptures…lots of crumbling stuff! Our driver took us to the ticket booth that was also the museum and we had another disagreement, this time about how to do/visit the ruins. He was a bit put off that we didn’t want to do the museum but we really love museums and have a tendency to take a long time in them so decide to skip it and see the actual ruins – we were still a little short on time. Then he wanted to drive us; James really wanted to walk. We comprised by walking a bit and getting drives a bit. Polonnaruwa, once a Royal capital, is nearly 1000 years old. We slowly made our way through the area admiring the beautiful artwork. We saw some unique stone statues made from marbled stone, maybe one of the most beautiful carvings I’d ever seen. The whole area transported you back in time.

Beautiful Buddha

Our last stop was a few minutes drive from the main area where we’d been walking (a place we had to convince the driver was even there). It was the Lotus Pond. The Lotus Pond itself was a bit anticlimactic, although beautiful, but memorable in a funny way. By now you all know I am terrified of monkeys, now our driver knows. I opened my door to get out and was caught off guard by a big monkey sitting in front of me. What I didn’t know was a smaller monkey was walking up behind me. Likely to just walk by…but I turned, freaked and dove back into the car. In my rush I left the door open and the monkey stopped, sat down and took a good look in. He then made a move to join me. The driver jumped into action and shooed him out. James just stood shaking his head in embarrassment. I did get out, eventually, and took a look at the Lotus Pond. Then scurried back to the safety of the car. Silly monkeys.

We were back to the hotel in time for a quick swim before taking advantage of the big buffet. I was starving and figure I got more than my money’s worth.

February 26

After breakfast (a really nice buffet, and included) we went to the lobby to wait for the driver. Who – wait for it- was late again. We had originally planned to spend a few hours this morning at the resort enjoying the pool. We only had one main site to see and a small town that I had wanted to just spend a few hours walking around. The driver suggested we add a few things to the itinerary and leave earlier. None of the additions appealed to James but he went along for me. The driver had originally suggested leaving at 7 am and we said no, breakfast didn’t even start until then and we didn’t want to miss it. We picked 7:30 am, which I still think was early even with all his additions. We had booked the car until midnight so we could move slow today. Our flight to India wasn’t until 4 am and we didn’t want to be at the airport too early. We knew the driver had spent the last two nights/days with his brother so didn’t worry too much. It’s just being up so early and having to wait after he was the one who wanted to leave so early. He was almost 30 minutes late. UGH!


We still made it to Dambulla early. Dambulla Rock Temple is the most impressive of Sri Lanka’s cave temples. Its five caves have over 2000 square meters of paintings, over 150 images, depicting some of Buddha’s epic struggles with evil. And it’s crawling with monkeys. At the ticket counter the older lady in front of us was trying to figure out where baggage storage was. There was a sign pointing in here but no one could tell her where it really was; it just wasn’t here they said. We got our ticket and went on our way. We made our way up the stone steps taking in the views of the mountains in the distance. Sri Lanka is a beautiful country. At the top we came to a shoe drop. We took our off and dropped them in the pile. A guy very quickly explained that was the local shoes, foreigners had to use the official cubby holes that cost a fee. UGH! I’ve just paid $25 USD to see 5 caves of paintings (and I imagine they are awesome but…) and you want more to watch my shoes. James and I looked at each other and laughed. We were thinking the exact same thing. We walked a bit further and I sat with the shoes while he went in. We’d just take turns. It’s just a matter of principle. While I was waiting my turn the older lady came along (I only refer to her as older because she was still carrying her overnight bag and it was a good hike up to get here) and looked puzzled. I (with a smile) explained and asked her why she still had her bag. She said no one could find the baggage storage, even though there was a sign, so she ended up carrying it all the way up. She was hot, tired and cranky. I kindly offered to watch her shoes for her. She smiled back and loved the idea. I guess she was in a point proving mood too. She went in and a few minutes later James came out. He had a laugh at my growing pile and he said he was tempted to spend the day doing it for all the other foreigner tourists.

I went in and quickly caught up with the lady and we walked together marveling at the paintings. They were stunning, amazing, beautiful and a little scary. I’m not sure if they were $25 UDS worth of amazing…which is a shame. How many people on a budget would have to skip something so original and beautiful? I’m a little disgruntled at Sri Lanka. I understand that we as tourists should pay more (even though in Canada everyone pays the same regardless) but it’s an average 30 to a 100 times more than locals, and way out of line with anything else in Asia! Most people on a budget might end up skipping Sri Lanka altogether if they can’t afford to see anything. With food, transportation, accommodation AND sightseeing and shopping you can do SEA on $20 - $35 a day, India on as little as $25….in Sri Lanka you can get into one major attraction for that. I did enjoy the caves. I was sincerely blown away by them and happy I could afford them.

Now we were getting into the driver’s itinerary. We were on our way to Kandy and he added a spice plantation, a tea plantation, a gem mine and a batik factory. I had a few things on my list to see in Kandy so it looked like we had a busy day left.

Our first stop was the spice plantation. It was small, but interesting. I was tempted to pick some up but James reminded me I could buy fresh spices at home. Spoil sport.


Next was Kandy. Our driver dropped us at the Tooth Temple (Temple of the Sacred tooth Relic). In 543 BC the tooth was snatched form the flames of the Buddha’s funeral. It was hidden in the hair of a princess (eeewwww) and smuggled into Sri Lanka. The storey of the tooth continues (for ever) but basically they believe that whoever had custody of the tooth had the right to rule the island. We paid our entrance fee (10 freaking US dollars) and joined the long line of people trying to get in and get the best view. The temple was pretty, although nothing specular and the amount of people squished in took away from it. I was trying my best to read the stories on the wall but got pushed and shoved so many times I just moved on.

After the temple we took a short walk around the lake. Kandy is beautifully centered around the manmade lake (by some ruler in 1807) in the middle of hill country. It was the last seat of the Shinhala kings. The temple sits beside the lake and the streets to/from both are lined with women selling lotus flowers for offerings. The whole place smelled wonderful.

We went looking for our driver and had a little peek at Kandy. It is very touristy but I wish we could have spent a day just wandering around. I had wanted to visit a beautiful temple up one of the mountains but our driver couldn’t find it so he took us to another (claiming it was the one I wanted). It really wasn’t but was still a great stop. It had a staircase leading up to a platform that had stunning views of Kandy, the lake and mountains. Now I really wish we’d spent some time here. It was as close to fresh and green and almost clean that we’d seen in a very long time

. Next on the list was the tea plantation. Yeah, I love fresh tea. The driver pulled up to a large grey warehouse type of building. I quickly realized he meant tea factor not tea plantation. No problem, I was still interested. The tour was short but nice. After we got offered tea…plain old black tea. I asked if they sold the lovely Sri Lanka teas we had been drinking since getting here – nope, just black. Hmmmm…not a very good tour after all.

Next was the gem mine. I was busting at the seams to see another mine (the first being in Indonesia, Borneo, it was so cool). James and I were confused a bit. We were in a fairly built up area and usually mines are in remote areas, don’t they need lots of space full of sand? Maybe that was why we had to leave so early. The driver pulled over a few short minutes later. Into a parking lot of a gem shop. Huh? Now we were really confused. Our driver assured us there was a gem mine here so we got out and went in. The “mine” was a fake display of one. We laughed. The guy showed us a short film on the history of Sri Lankan gems and then escorted us to their show room. James stopped laughing. It was funny but not. Our driver had clearly tricked us, scammed us, and we were not happy. We gave up a few hours in a pool with a view of the amazing Sigiriya and a walking tour of Kandy for a painted cardboard mine? Grrrr. I was tempted to ask him to take us back to Kandy but….well that’s what we should have done.

Our driver was anxious to get going. He wanted to take us to a batik factory, yes he said the word factory, and I loved batik. After an hour or so the driver stopped at a café/restaurant for lunch. We weren’t hungry but he gave a sob story about not eating breakfast because we left too early. Not sure what he meant since he was half an hour late for our departure which was already later than what he had wanted? Oh, I think my frustration is starting to show. We agreed only because he said the factory would still be open. James wasn’t hungry at all, but tired, so curled up in the back seat and fell asleep. I went into the café and had a milo (or two or three). There was a group of singers dressed like a Mexican mariachi band singing Country Roads. I sat and stared. It was a scene that you see, and hear, and know something is not quite right but you can’t figure out what. Sri Lanka, Mexican mariachi band, Country Roads…..it entertained me for a few minutes. I picked James up a few milos and left.

We drove forever. We drove so long I started to recognize things. We were back in Colombo. What? I asked the driver about the batik factory and he said it was coming up. We got up early..blah blah blah bitch bitch bitch to rush back to Colombo? To add fuel to fire the factory ended up being a store that was closed. There was a factory in back but was also closed, it looked abandoned actually. I was furious. James was quiet, not good. So here we were about two hours from the airport and it was only 6:30 pm. Almost 10 hours until our flight. James started to complain and the driver started to get defensive. We explained we had the car until midnight and we planned on keeping it that long regardless. He chirped back he knew that and time had no bearing on the day’s events. I call BS! This was also about the time we figured out he had decided to entirely skip a village stop we had requested to look at some local art, no kick back from them I guess.

We had no choice but to settle back for the ride. Once we calmed down we decided we would have him drive us to the McDonalds by the airport. We were on our way to India and this might be our last chance for a long time to have beef, and there wasn’t much to choose from at the airport. We told him and he mumbled something we didn’t catch. About two hours later we pulled up to the airport. WTF? We asked him why we were here. We thought when he didn’t ask he knew where it actually was, about 10 kms down the road from the airport (we’d now passed it a few times going to/from it. He replied there was no McDonalds at the airport so too bad. Too Bad? Yeah right. We told him where it was and he said we couldn’t go. We were now at this exact moment 3 km over our limit. Huh? We didn’t have a limit. We had paid for destinations and time. No one mentioned a limit on distance, and in fact we had paid extra to get the airport drop off, but since we had bypassed Colombo on the way back we had shaved off about 30 km each way from our itinerary. We argued a bit until he pulled over and said he was going to call his manager. We pulled our receipt out (thank you James for being so anal about that stuff). Nowhere on it was distance mentioned, just our route.

The next 30 minutes may in fact be (for both of us) the most uncomfortable travel moments of our lives. We have played back the scene repeatedly and can’t figure out how we could have done it differently and got a less horrible outcome. For the most part we were unaware of most of what was going on.

The driver called his manager and explained our problem. He said we were over our mileage and that we said we didn’t have any maximum. We talked about the overage. We started listing to the driver the problems with his theory. First we had to go a few km out of the way so he could pick up stuff at his house. Then we didn’t even use him in Anuradhapura , we rented bikes. Next he took us way out of our way on day two to a road that was closed (that we didn’t ask for, or were even asked about). Then he went every day/night to his brother’s in Sigiriya, 5 km each way, and drove around with him (you could tell someone had been in shotgun because they had replaced the headrest that had been removed so I could see). Finally we had bypassed Colombo on our way back. Based on our route we should have over a 100 km left. We also mentioned that we had booked the car until midnight and we were hours early because he had lied, skipped things and generally did whatever he could to get rid of us early. The driver said fine we could just sit parked on the road until midnight but he wasn’t driving any further. He called his manager again and after a few minutes the driver turned and said he wanted us to speak to his manager. Okay. So James got yelled at by the manager, and then explained first that we didn’t pay for a mileage based trip and plus the many many many issues with mileage that had nothing to do with us. The manager asked to speak to the driver and after a few more minutes he hung up. He would take us to the restaurant. The tension in the car was thicker than the smog in China. Once there we jumped out and then lingered a bit over our meal. We were still hours too early for our flight. We finally went back to the car. Our driver started the drive back and turned to talk to us. As we were eating he got another call from his manager. He was not supposed to be using the car for anything but transporting us around and was being suspended for a month. He said he’d been with the company for over eight years and had never been suspended. He kept on going…. I took you to my house, I showed you what a poor man I am, you know I have a family to support, and now I am suspended. I nearly bit my tongue off. I wanted to ask why, why if he had been working there for over eight years didn’t he know the rules and if he did why did he give James the phone without a warning. Did he think we’d just suck it up and get ripped off? Not say anything? AND we had no idea what the rules were. How were we to know he wasn’t supposed to be visiting his brother? We both sat silent. I also want to point out that he had a pretty nice house, so I think the “poor” comment was quite an exaggeration

At the airport I leapt out before the car had even come to a full stop, grabbed a luggage cart and before I was back to the curb James had all the luggage out of the car. He pretty much threw it on the cart as I did a big turn and headed for the door. I had no idea what to say or do, neither did James. So we ran. Neither one of us said much for a while. We were both lost in our own thoughts. What just happened? What the hell just happened?

James’ Lengthy Note: I agree that this was probably the most awkward travel moment I have ever had (tied with waking a Honduran hotel owner-known for yelling- alone in his bedroom to retrieve our passports). I’m still not sure how it escalated in a few minutes from us being slightly disgruntled over our driver, to being parked on the side of the road being yelled at by the driver and his manager because we wanted to go to dinner instead of being shortchanged (even more than we had already been) on what we had paid for. Afterwards we both felt guilty that the driver got suspended, but we were just trying to avoid getting ripped off. If he wasn’t supposed to drive the car to his brother’s place (and go driving around with him) why would he tell us that he went? We didn’t know anything about mileage so we weren’t looking at the odometer. Plus once we had been arguing and I had pointed out that we shouldn’t be paying for his drives to/with his brother, why would he put me on the phone with his manager? When I mentioned it I was just trying to avoid getting ripped off, not get him in trouble. I feel bad that I was somewhat responsible (unintentionally) for getting him suspended, but at least it happened to an asshole. That this all happened over McDonalds does make it kind of funny/pathetic/embarrassing. We just wanted cheap (i.e. non-airport) beef before going without in India.

We were definitely leaving Sri Lanka on a sour note. Drivers that get lost, scam you, lie to you. Expensive entrance fees. Really awful budget hotels and getting sent to the garage. I had to sit a few minutes and think hard.

Loads of history. Stunning natural beauty. Amazing temples, palaces, sculptures – older than time itself. National parks filled with wild animals. Lovely, clean beaches. Beautiful gem stones. Sri Lanka has so much to offer a tourist if only they could make it tourist friendly.

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