I woke in the morning to fan blades whirring above my bed. My brothers lay across from me each in their single beds which we had dazedly fallen into the previous night after a languorous flight from Mumbai. Opening the door to our room I looked out onto a small courtyard on the top floor of Alanka’s Negombo home. Our first day in Sri Lanka sprawled ahead announced by incessant twittering of unusual birds. After showering in a starkly basic bathroom and pulling on a pair of baggy shorts and a loose cotton t-shirt, we descended several flights of stairs that snaked around the walls of the home stay. An unfamiliar scent inhabited the warm suburban air as we were led to the ground floor where Lanka and his family greeted us with a table set with the source of this soft balmy smell; Sri Lankan breakfast cooked in coconut oil harvested from the abundance of local produce. The food was simple, in comparison to the local breakfasts we would soon be served, and consisted of toasted slices of sweet square bread, a dish similar to fried eggs using coconut oil to give it a strong distinct and initially not entirely likeable flavour, and bananas the length of your middle finger. Despite finding this menu somewhat strange and foreign to us it held a certain charm in its uniqueness which we would come to love for its quintessentially Sri Lankan nature.
Soon the taxi arrived driven by yet another grinning local profile who was introduced to us as Lachmal. We said a fond goodbye to the family as we had indeed grown attached to Alanka, his wife and their two boys, finding them so warm and comfortably familiar which we were to find is the typical Sri Lankan temperament.
The car and driver we were to have for three days, to take us to our next two destinations, and though quiet and with fairly basic English, Lachmal soon seemed to warm to us communicating some background information and history of the places he delivered us to spontaneously en rout. On our first journey, an education on driving culture in Sri Lanka, we stopped off at the Pinnewala Elephant orphanage. Approaching the orphanage we spotted a lady dressed modestly and wearing no shoes, a concept we often found humorous in its frequency. She held in one hand three lengths of worn rope to which were attached three large porcupines. She was waving and cars were stopping to photograph this roadside spectacle for which she collected small charges while yanking the poor animals around to make her living. Unsure who I felt more sorry for the animals or the lady I stood by in astonishment as she presented my mother with the ends of rope and stood back for the photoshoot to commence. Undeniably we all found the situation comically questionable and came away with images of the event in exchange for a smalls of money which I feebly hoped would go towards the welfare of either the lady or her porcupines.
Arriving at the orphanage I was again confronted with feelings of moral conflict as we saw young elephants being bottle fed in front of a large audience and standing in admittedly a vast space yet some were held for photographs as tourists posed as if at a zoo. My conscience lightened when the herd was led through the streets down to a great river where they flopped in the water and were rubbed and sprayed by their handlers while some wandered with barely restricted freedom.
We sat in a balcony restaurant overlooking the scenery and its gracefully lumbering stars and had a small lunch prior to setting off again towards Dambulla. We found the next stay with relative ease in the mid to late afternoon and was greeted by its proud proprietor. We unloaded the bags into two small single storey rooms that sat around a quad each with a large four poster bed draped with netting to keep out mosquitos. Quickly we were bundled with the other guests into transport in the form of a car and tuk tuk in which we trundled up the road and round a corner to the base of a great rock that rose out of the jungle landscape. Trudging up the slope that took us above the tree line our host explained why his stay was the best in Dambulla with the highest rating of a prestigious 9.7, claiming that he made an experience that connected with people. We watched the as the fading sun was engulfed by the horizon splashing colour against the clouds t hat filled the sky above the hilly jungle landscape and I knew I would never forget that view.
Originally posted on Lily's blog at https://lilylandblog.wordpress.com/blog/