**Note: I didn't have a very good camera on this trip, nor did I have an iphone, so forgive the lack of quality in many of these images.**
Part I of this story left off with my father and me just getting to the New Delhi airport for our Air India flight to Colombo, Sri Lanka via Chennai, India. Chennai airport is tied with Zanzibar, Tanzania and Kathmandu, Nepal for crappiest airports. I'm talking shaky plumbing, zero decor, probably no cleaning staff, a few small fans in lieu of A/C, and probably nowhere to buy food. It was a quick layover, giving us just enough time to crack some jokes, appreciate simple things in life (like hand soap and potable water), and get on the plane.
Sri Lanka is a teardrop shaped island off of the southern coast of India, about the size of Louisiana. While these neighboring countries share quite a few characteristics from religious practices to fashion to food, they are still very different cultures. Like many nations with newly gained independence, Sri Lanka has faced all sorts of political issues since breaking off from England in 1972. A civil war dragged on from 1983-2009, with the militant group from the north known as the Tamil Tigers fighting to separate their region from the rest of the country. Sri Lanka prevailed, and by the time I visited in 2011, I didn't see any traces of recently desisted combat.
We spent our first night in the world-renowned historical Galle Face Hotel, right on the coast. The weather in Colombo was far more pleasant than the climate we just arrived from, likely due to the proximity of the ocean. This 5-star establishment has seen a plethora of the rich, famous, and royal citizens of the world since 1864. If you were previously unaware that Sri Lanka is a former British Colony, then called Ceylon, laying eyes on this hotel may give you a clue.
We had a few drinks out on the open-air patio facing the ocean, but decided to take a recommendation from our taxi driver and go to a nearby restaurant with an excellent reputation. Unfortunately, this was years before I ever planned on starting a travel blog, so I have absolutely no clue what the name was.
My father and I really started getting close around the time I moved out of Virginia, just before he was first deployed to the Middle East. We talked on the phone several times a week and corresponded through emails, as well, but being able to hang out for a full 10 days was just magnificent. I thoroughly enjoy his company and I learn so many things in every conversation we have, from history to music to his childhood. We spent the rest of the night relaxing under the bright moonlit sky with our Lion Lagers, reveling in how blessed we were to be together, and in such an exotic locale. Not a second goes by where either of us forget how lucky we are to have these experiences. Especially me, because he paid for the entire trip. We retreated to our room with plans to beat the rush to the fancy hotel breakfast in the morning.
After breakfast and a quick walk on the beach for some photos, we packed up our bags and caught a taxi to Negombo, one of Dad's personal favorites. He was very excited to show me this quaint beach town he had raved about so many times in the past, and I was excited to see it. Approximately 36km later, we pulled up to the Rani Beach Resort.
We wandered up and down the main drag, getting an idea of what our bar and restaurant options were for the next few days. There are tuk-tuks and regular moped taxis, as well as pedicabs, but even to the end of the strip of restaurants is less than a mile. My dad's favorite restaurant, Amehula, which has since closed. They have a large menu and still manage to serve the freshest ingredients because your waiter runs out to the various markets after he takes your order. We ate many of our meals there over the next four days, and had a nice time chatting with the owner, Joseph.
The next morning after breakfast, we headed to the beach for a bit in hopes of getting some sun. Rather, I was hoping for some sun; tanning isn't exactly my Norwegian father's thing. The clouds rolled in early on, and then a massive thunderstorm started by mid-afternoon. I've been living in California for several years now and I really miss thunderstorms, so I was happy as a clam sitting on our balcony watching the trees bend and the lightning striking the horizon. After the rain cleared up, we took a walk down to the restaurant we had decided on for dinner. We split a lobster, and while it was delicious, I could have done without all of the sauce and toppings they piled on.
With the help of Joseph from the Amehula restaurant, we made arrangements to take a morning fishing trip with a local fisherman. We met him at his house so we got a little glimpse of how the locals live. We were out on the water for a couple hours, fishing by hand line and catching plenty. The variety of color in our catches was remarkable, I had never caught such tropical fish in my life. They were all pretty small fish, but the fisherman insisted on keeping many of them for his wife to prepare. I'll always love fishing, and I'll always remember this particular expedition.
The original plan was to take the train up into the mountains to a town called Kandi, known for their tea plantations. Well, I suppose most of Sri Lanka is known for such. We arrived at the train station only to discover that there was a very limited schedule that day due to the full moon festival. This was the day that I learned to do even more extensive research prior to a trip, because national holidays seem to disrupt day-to-day activities for tourists. We ended up heading into Negombo town instead to do some exploring. A saree shop caught my eye and Dad patiently waited as the sales associate helped me choose colors and showed me how to wrap it. I left with two, with no clue as to where I would wear them, but knowing I needed them. To this day, I have only worn my saree once. I'll change that this year, I find them to be incredibly fashionable.
Another result of the full moon festival that day was the ban on alcohol being sold or served. While it is the law, we were able to find some very cooperative waiters who were down to help us secretly have drinks at dinner.
My subpar camera technology didn't allow me to capture a proper photo of the full moon over the beach, but you'll just have to trust me when I say it was one of the biggest and brightest full moons possible. Our time in Sri Lanka was drawing to a close. The following morning, we checked out of our room and headed to Colombo airport. Another thing my dad had been excited to introduce me to was first class on Sri Lankan Airlines. He had also spoken very highly of the first class lounge, so we made sure to get to the airport early enough to enjoy our time in there.
The Cricket World Cup had just happened that year in India, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh (India won) so cricket was a hot topic between us during the whole trip. I'm still not clear on how that game works, but I distractedly watched a fair amount of it in various bars throughout our vacation. Of all of the peculiar coincidences that have occurred in my life, that morning in the lounge was one of the most random. My dad had noticed a group of men in matching polos and large bags of equipment in front of us at the check-in line, and noted that they were on some sort of cricket team. When they came into the lounge, my dad asked the two at the table next to us which team they played for. It was the Sri Lankan national cricket team. While I don't care about cricket, or even understand it, I understood that this was THE official sport in many countries, and if I was Sri Lankan, this would have been a huge deal to me. It would have been equivalent to sharing closed quarters with the team that just won the Superbowl. I shamelessly asked for a photo with them, despite not having a clue who they were.
I have been on hundreds (if not over a thousand) of flights, on a few dozen airlines, and often in first or business class. Still, I had never been served from a dining cart, buffet style, with heavy silverware. It sounded delightful, as does everything else about first class, but I didn't fully understand the hype until experiencing it. Our flight attendant was gorgeous and her uniform was awesome.
The flight to Dubai was just under 5 hours and we appreciated every minute of it. Sri Lankan airlines is officially one of the most posh flying experiences I have had to date. I was dreading the fact that my father and I would be going our separate ways in just 2 days, but I let my enthusiasm override the glum. I was finally making my long awaited debut in Dubai.
TO BE CONTINUED...