Last week in Sri Lanka

Greetings everyone,

Here’s the latest update from Sri Lanka. I quit smoking a couple weeks ago. I’ve forgotten to mention it. It feels good to breathe again. What else? Read on…

One day, when walking down the street, I spied a homeless guy sitting on the sidewalk. Now this may not be uncommon, but for the fact that he had dreadlocks. He was, in fact, one of the few people I’ve seen in Sri Lanka with dreadlocks. So, I went up to said individual and asked him if I could take his picture. When I whipped out my camera, he opened his toothless, betel chew stained mouth and said, “Anne matte denne,” which means, “C’mon, give it to me.” Well, I managed to take his photo and gave him 10 rupees in return. This guy was obviously off his hook. He was quite insane, and as I started walking away I was glad that he was satisfied with 10 rupees. (Find photos of this guy in the gallery).

On another day, Roshan, Niroshi, Mayah and I went to a party. It was largely uneventful, but on the way back we came across a dreadful car crash. A result of drunk driving, the car had smashed into the concrete on the side of a bridge, flipped and landed between 2 bridges, and was hanging precariously over the river. The 2 passengers in the car apparently walked away unharmed. (Find photos of this accident in the gallery).

Last weekend I went on a trip to Kataragama, a holy city in the southern part of Sri Lanka. Drove down there with my friend Dikka, who takes a trip down there about twice a year. Although by our standards it would have been 1.5-2 hrs away, it took us about 8 hours to get there by car. The roads were small and winding, and and infested by all manner of obstacles, including cars, trucks, 3-wheeled cabs, bicycles, pedestrians, dogs, cows, goats, etc… Driving here is totally insane; I had to close my eyes and pray for safety innumerable times.

On the way to Kataragama, we stopped by a beach town called Unawattuna, alleged to have one of the best beaches in the world. We decided to eat have a drink there. It is a truly beautiful beach, and we were enjoying the view when a bead salesman approached us. Upon seeing me, he announced “Welcome, Roman Edirisinghe.” I did a double take. Had I ever seen this guy before? Surely not – he had a memorable face. And yet here was this guy who claimed to have seen my and my band on TV and the internet. Finally, after a few minutes I knew something was up. I looked at my friend Dikka, who was sitting there quite earnestly, and I realized he’d somehow put this bead salesman up to this ruse. We all had a good laugh about it (see photos). I then bought some beads, and asked the beadguy if he was going to use the money on liquor later that night (Sri Lankans have a penchant for drinking)… He replied that he didn’t drink alcohol and instead he preferred this: he then picked up my bottle of soda, filled my glass with it, and started drinking the rest of my soda out the bottle. I nearly split in half laughing. This guy was so crazy. He left us a few moments later, continuing his bead peddling. We saw him go up to a sunbathing tourist couple and start tickling the guy’s feet. Finally the guy rolled off, laughing. He then offered the lady his hand, and pulled it away just in time and stuck his tongue out at her. Dikka & I were in stitches.

We got to Kataragama later that night. Upon entering the town, Dikka found out that one of his good friends in Kataragama had died about 2 weeks back, which apparently eliminated some of the plans he had had for the trip. So instead, we found a hotel to stay in. This part of the country was very dry. It hadn’t rained in 6 months. After freshening up @ the hotel, we went to the Kataragama temple to make an offering, called “Pooja“. Pooja involves obtaining a plate of fruit to offer to the god Kataragama, who it turns out was a Hindu god of sorts. However, all the Buddhists on the island make a type of pilgrimage to the town because it is a very sacred place. Incidentally, Kataragama turned out to be a diety of music as well, and Dikka explained to me that Carlos Santana and Duran Duran had not only spent time there but also made devotional offerings and songs to the God. Armed with this knowledge, we walked to the temple, accompanied by the boy who was bearing our Pooja. Right before the temple gates, we had to take off our shoes. I was wearing the typical black rubber slippers that one finds there. We walked in barefoot, made out offerings, walked to another building, went thru some more ritual experiences (which included smearing a little coconut oil on our foreheads and receiving a blessing of some powder by a Swami), and then walked to a the Buddhist part of the complex. There, we made an offering of water lillies, and lit some incense. The whole time, I was trying to connect to the experience, and I had a difficult time embracing the place spiritually (internally) because it was all so new and I was overloaded with external stimuli. So heading back, we were almost at the gates when we noticed a band was coming closer. Led by a trumpet player, the band consisted of a bunch of drummers trailed by an entourage of dancers. And the shit sounded so good that I had no choice but to join in. It was then that I connected with Kataragama, and was welcomed in by the dancers and the musicians. They recognized me as a foreigner, but I also spoke Sinhala, and they complimented me on my dancing. The music kept playing and playing and it was a real blast. Afterwards, we met the trumpet player (Rohana) and he invited us to stop by the following day to get a recording of the devotional songs the band had played. Upon leaving the temple, I discovered that someone had walked off with my cheap rubber slippers, probably thinking they were their own. So I walked home barefoot.

Dikka & I crashed in the hotel room and I was under a mosquito net. For some reason, he didn’t want his. At some point in the night, the power went out, which mean out ceiling fan stopped working. It got so hot, and the mosquitos were dive bombing the net. I could hear them whining away. Furthermore, my roommate was snoring. It was rough. Eventually, the power came back on and we got a good nights sleep. The following day, it started raining! What a feeling. One could just see the dry earth soaking up the moisture. The smell was incomparable. The earth smelled freshly laundered. We checked out, met with Rohana (he gave me a CD with 18 tracks played by him & the band), got me some new rubber slippers (these were unmistakably blue), and left town. We decided to head back to Unawattuna. Hours later, we arrived there. Apparently the rain had struck all over the island, pretty hard. We decided instead that we should simply head back to Colombo, so we did.

I’m back in Colombo now, trying to feel everything out. I’ve had a very intense trip, full of emotions I never expected to feel. I’m headed back to the US this weekend, and I’m almost ready to come back. I just have a few more things to do in town, and I’ll be coming home.



Posted: August 16th, 2004
Categories: culture, travel
Tags: , ,
Comments: 2 Comments.
Comment from Peter - 7 Nov ’05 at 2:01 pm

I lived in Kurunegala from 1990 to 1993. Taught English as a Peace Corps volunteer but ended up learning, I think, far more than I could teach. That town, the people, the rocks, the lake, the jungles–along with the rest of Sri Lanka–remain a prominant aspect of who I am today.

Among the miriad of tonified and tourist-centered Lanka sites out here in the ether, your descriptions and photos are refreshing.

I’ve bookmarked your blog and will keep checking.

Keep it up!

Comment from Roman Edirisinghe - 11 Nov ’05 at 11:39 am

Thanks Peter. I haven’t done any traveling lately, so there’s very little excitement going on here.