Bindis & Burkas Part II: My First Time in Sri Lanka 06/2011 by natalja sundseth

**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.

I love the face the sun is making. It's like the face I made when I tried to locate hand soap or paper towels in the restroom.

I love the face the sun is making. It's like the face I made when I tried to locate hand soap or paper towels in the restroom.

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. 

The Galle Face Hotel.

The Galle Face Hotel.

The immaculate sitting area in the front of the Galle Face Hotel.

The immaculate sitting area in the front of the Galle Face Hotel.

Incredible British/Sri Lankan fusion in the details of this architecture. Also, I'm pretty partial to lions but I think Sri Lanka has one of the coolest flags. Ethiopia has a really cool lion on theirs, too.

Incredible British/Sri Lankan fusion in the details of this architecture. Also, I'm pretty partial to lions but I think Sri Lanka has one of the coolest flags. Ethiopia has a really cool lion on theirs, too.

The view from the sitting area in front.

The view from the sitting area in front.

I found this amusing.

I found this amusing.

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.

Our spacious double room with the squarest beds I have ever seen. Outlets are scarce, due to the age of the hotel, so you may plan on bringing a multi-outlet adapter or stay on top of your charging rotation. 

Our spacious double room with the squarest beds I have ever seen. Outlets are scarce, due to the age of the hotel, so you may plan on bringing a multi-outlet adapter or stay on top of your charging rotation. 

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.

Always a huge fan of Engrish, but this one is extra hilarious because of how meticulous tilework is. Good times.

Always a huge fan of Engrish, but this one is extra hilarious because of how meticulous tilework is. Good times.

A cute little fort on the beach. The blue tower in the background is the Rani Beach Resort, our hotel.

A cute little fort on the beach. The blue tower in the background is the Rani Beach Resort, our hotel.

The view from our balcony.

The view from our balcony.

The view from the other side of the hotel.

The view from the other side of the hotel.

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.

Dad in front of this cool painting in the Amehula restaurant. I wrote a blurb or two on those walls during my stay.

Dad in front of this cool painting in the Amehula restaurant. I wrote a blurb or two on those walls during my stay.

One of many delectable meals at the Amehula restaurant.

One of many delectable meals at the Amehula restaurant.

My first time eating shark. SO GOOD.

My first time eating shark. SO GOOD.

Many restaurants here offered these styrofoam cupholders to keep your beer cold in the ghastly humidity.

Many restaurants here offered these styrofoam cupholders to keep your beer cold in the ghastly humidity.

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. 

There is a good chance that we chose this restaurant solely out of appreciation for the Engrish sign.

There is a good chance that we chose this restaurant solely out of appreciation for the Engrish sign.

Lobster with way too many toppings, but still good.

Lobster with way too many toppings, but still good.

I'm sure this was taken minutes after giving our usual explanation that I am his daughter, not his mail-order bride.

I'm sure this was taken minutes after giving our usual explanation that I am his daughter, not his mail-order bride.

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 fisherman's backyard.

The fisherman's backyard.

I loved this photo so much that I decided to paint it.

I loved this photo so much that I decided to paint it.

Acrylic on canvas board, from my first year of art school (also 2011.)

Acrylic on canvas board, from my first year of art school (also 2011.)

Rubble on the beach.

Rubble on the beach.

ADT security system, Negombo Beach style.

ADT security system, Negombo Beach style.

One of many catches.

One of many catches.

This was the coolest looking fish of them all.

This was the coolest looking fish of them all.

Nature is such a trip, it was weird to watch the fish's colors grow brighter as they were out of water.

Nature is such a trip, it was weird to watch the fish's colors grow brighter as they were out of water.

Hanging out with the fisherman's baby girl, hoping I could achieve her skintone by the end of my trip. (I didn't.)

Hanging out with the fisherman's baby girl, hoping I could achieve her skintone by the end of my trip. (I didn't.)

He wanted a photo in front of the harbor, but I wanted to wait until this other man was in the shot to capture the huge contrast between the Eastern and Western fashion.

He wanted a photo in front of the harbor, but I wanted to wait until this other man was in the shot to capture the huge contrast between the Eastern and Western fashion.

I loved how colorful all these boats were, they really stood out on this grey day.

I loved how colorful all these boats were, they really stood out on this grey day.

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.

Negombo Town train station.

Negombo Town train station.

Sorry not Saree.

Sorry not Saree.

All of the different patterns, textures, and colors come together to create a really interesting composition that keeps your eye moving around. Maybe I'll paint this sometime, too.

All of the different patterns, textures, and colors come together to create a really interesting composition that keeps your eye moving around. Maybe I'll paint this sometime, too.

Not exactly what most people have in mind when they think of waterfront property, but it was cool to see all these houses along the canal, owning boats instead of cars.

Not exactly what most people have in mind when they think of waterfront property, but it was cool to see all these houses along the canal, owning boats instead of cars.

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.

Feel free to judge my girly drink. I NEVER order crap like this, but it seemed appropriate.

Feel free to judge my girly drink. I NEVER order crap like this, but it seemed appropriate.

I can now say I have seen a tree with an electrical outlet.

I can now say I have seen a tree with an electrical outlet.

Our view from the bar at the neighboring hotel. Not a bad place to watch the sun go down.

Our view from the bar at the neighboring hotel. Not a bad place to watch the sun go down.

We weren't the only ones enjoying the sunset, but it turns out they were actually there to begin celebrating the full moon.

We weren't the only ones enjoying the sunset, but it turns out they were actually there to begin celebrating the full moon.

Our waiter at dinner snuck us beer by disguising it as tea. As if anyone is pounding several pots of hot tea in 99°F weather.

Our waiter at dinner snuck us beer by disguising it as tea. As if anyone is pounding several pots of hot tea in 99°F weather.

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.

Enjoying the the first class lounge at the Colombo Airport.

Enjoying the the first class lounge at the Colombo Airport.

 

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.

Nuwan Kulasekara and Dimuth Karunaratne of the 2011 Sri Lankan national cricket team. It took a while to scroll through the roster and identify their names, not because they all look alike, but because they are all the same skin color with similar hairstyles.

Nuwan Kulasekara and Dimuth Karunaratne of the 2011 Sri Lankan national cricket team. It took a while to scroll through the roster and identify their names, not because they all look alike, but because they are all the same skin color with similar hairstyles.

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.

We have quite the collection of pre-takeoff beverage photos.

We have quite the collection of pre-takeoff beverage photos.

They had so many choices and I think we tasted just about all of them. This is my new favorite style of dining in the sky.

They had so many choices and I think we tasted just about all of them. This is my new favorite style of dining in the sky.

Not my best photo, but I had to get a photo with her because asking for her to pose alone just seemed too creepy.

Not my best photo, but I had to get a photo with her because asking for her to pose alone just seemed too creepy.

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...