Sri Lanka 13: 18 December 2014, To Colombo and the End of the Adventure
Colombo was only a short drive from Hikkaduwa but we didn’t go straight there. This was the last day of the tour, with few activities planned. Shortly after leaving the hotel we pulled off the road for a stop I actually requested. During my planning for the trip I read about a Mask Museum, displaying, explaining, carving and selling traditional demon masks of Sri Lanka. I held off buying a mask earlier in the trip because I knew this museum would have the best selection. I planned to take a taxi there from the hotel at Hikkaduwa Beach but when I mentioned it to our guide; he told me he knew the place and we would drive by it on the way to Colombo so we would stop there if I wished.
We pulled off the highway, and parked in front of a small building with a big Museum sign. Inside there were literally hundreds of masks on the walls, stacked along the floor and laid out on long display tables. The gentleman who ran the place, son of the founder took us to the lower level which was the museum, past the parrot in its cage a room had mannequins and puppets along the walls and in a center display. There were different styles of masks, some exceptionally ornate. He explained the significant of each, what they represented and when they were worn; usually used in healing ceremonies. Once through the museum, I knew that I was interested in a Gurulu mask, it is the head of a bird with a cobra clutched in its beak. Gurulu is the Sri Lanka equivalent of the Indonesian Hindu god Garuda, the bird Vishnu rode and which preys on Cobras. It is believed to represent good luck and protection. I already had a Garuda mask from Bali and I wanted the Gurulu mask to show the variations in Hindu culture, it now hangs next to the Garuda mask on my “I Love Me” wall at home.
After our brief stop at the Mask Museum, we continued on towards Colombo on the old coastal highway. This area was devastated by the Indian Ocean Tsunami. When it struck, many people knew it was coming and were desperate to escape the low lying coastal strip. A commuter train was going by and stopped to get as many people onboard and to safety as possible. Unfortunately it was still stopped when the wave hit. They estimate there were over 1,700 people on the train and only a handful survived when it was washed off the tracks. Today a monument with a standing Buddha in a small lake is dedicated to those lost to the Tsunami. We stopped along the highway to get photos, but didn’t actually visit the memorial.
Our next stop was at the Sea Turtle Project in the town of Bentota. Five of the seven species of sea turtles nest on Sri Lanka and all are endangered. The turtles lay their eggs in the beach sand at night, and traditionally, Sri Lankans have collected the eggs for food. That is now illegal, but many people still collect the eggs when they can. The center in Bentota collects eggs from the beach and moves them to protected enclosures in the center. When the eggs hatch, all of the baby turtles are collected in salt water tanks and the next night are released from the beach into the ocean. We saw the enclosures with eggs buried in the sand, each clutch marked to show the species and date collected. There were also lots of baby turtles in one of the tanks and we were allowed to touch them which surprised me, they would be released that night and with luck a few will survive to adulthood and return in 20 years or so to the same beach.
From there we continued on into Colombo and were taken on a short bus tour of the city. We stopped to take pictures of a few of the more impressive buildings remaining from the days when it was the colonial capital of Ceylon. The bus let us off in the old down town area, near the water front and we took a walking tour from there. We stopped at a few shops for some souvenirs and I was able to pick up the few odds and ends I needed for gifts. The city is one of contrasts, fine old colonial buildings, old crumbling buildings, fine new office towers and five star hotels, crowded shopping streets, muddy, worn and pot holed streets, fine new shopping areas and malls with restaurants and promenades.
We then arrived at our last hotel in Sri Lanka; a newer hotel next to the coastal highway with a view of the Indian Ocean. We moved our luggage into the lobby and began one of the more difficult check-in processes we had on the entire trip. Every step of the process was done by two people, double checking each other’s work, then it has approved by a manager and only then was a room key given out. I don’t know what the problem was but it drove us all nuts. When Amardeep’s and my room was being assigned, I asked that we be given two keys so we could come and go without coordinating who would have the key, when we would be back, etc. They used magnetic key cards so it should have been very simple, just make two cards. That however, was not a process they understood. After all three at the front desk conferred it was decided they needed more time and I should come back later to get the second key.
Once in the room, which was very comfortable with a view of the ocean and huge bathroom, I went down to the restaurant for lunch. On my way back to the room, I stopped in the lobby for the second key, after several more minutes of talk between all three people at the front desk; they made a new key and gave it to me. I went to the room and lay down to relax. Pretty soon there was a knock on the door, it was Amardeep, and his key didn’t work. Later he went down and had his card reset for the room, when I went out and came back my key didn’t work. It was that way the entire time we were at the hotel; when they set one key for the room; it automatically made the other key inoperative. They never did figure out how to make two keys work for the same door at the same time.
The tour was over and after we were all checked in, we said good bye to the bus driver, helper, and guides. We were on our own and several people went out shopping or exploring the city. I was finally getting over my stomach problems and spent most of the afternoon resting and sorting my luggage; I would be the first of the group to leave since my plane left at 2:25 AM so I wouldn’t be spending all night in the hotel.
About 7 PM I met a couple of others from the group in the dining room for dinner and while we sat and talked, a few more from the group showed up and we moved to a larger table, then more showed up and by the end, everyone from our group was sitting around the tables the waiters were nice enough to push together. No one was hungry enough to eat the massive dinner buffet so we all ordered from the menu, causing a few problems for the staff that didn’t seem used to so many people ordering and having separate checks. I stayed as long as I could then sometime before 10 o’clock said good bye and hugged everyone. I had to catch my car to the airport which I shared with one of the ladies whose plane was scheduled shortly after mine.
At the airport all went smoothly and after checking out a few last minute souvenirs, I made sure to exchange the last of my Sri Lankan currency, not all exchanges outside the country even take and I didn’t want to end up with paper I can’t exchange; I got Thai Baht because that was my next stop. My plane was delayed for about an hour, but I didn’t really mind. I was headed to Thailand for a short recreational stop before heading home. I needed a break after the rigors of touring Sri Lanka. Actually I had a wonderful time, saw only a fraction of a fascinating country, understood a little more of their culture and had the good fortune of sharing the adventure with a great group of people. I highly recommend at trip to Sri Lanka for everyone.
Enjoy the Journey