Five days in and I’ve never sweated so much.
We’re on something of a road trip – the first couple of days in Sri Lanka were spent getting over jet lag and trying to stay cool. Then I gave up trying to be cool, and started to try and work out how to get my hair (which is thick and long) to both look good and stay off my face and neck. Five days in, and no joy as yet, but I’m sure by the end of the month I’ll have mastered it.
On Saturday we started to drive north – I had no concept of the distance so was happy to just watch the world go by, but to reach Anaradhapura, a distance of 210km took us six hours, most of it in traffic jams, with buses, bikes, motorcycles, tuk tuks, vans, lorries and cars all jostling for the one lane of space. To be Sri Lankan is to have excellent spacial awareness. Every square centimetre is calculated, at speed, so that everyone knows how little space they have to squeeze through. Then you go for it, beeping your horn frantically to make everyone around you aware of your presence. No one is looking out for you.
But people are looking at us. Once we got out of the city, we were stuck behind a truck-load of lads all drowsily lolloping until we started driving behind them. One clocked us, and nudged his friend, and then like meercats, one by one they all perked up to look at the white ladies in the car behind.
By the time we reached Anaradhapura it was night and I had developed some kind of food poisoning.
Five days in and my normally iron stomach had already crumbled. We tried to work out what it could possibly have been. Was it the fruit? We had eaten incredible papaya and passionfruit for breakfast. Was it the short eats? Small pastries and rotis filled with spiced vegetables. Was it the bottled water? We couldn’t work it out. Nevertheless, it meant I was sick in a plastic bag at breakfast the next morning.
With skanky hair and a small bag filled with vomit in my hand, all illusions of looking ephemeral and raj-like with my pale British complexion wafting through old Ceylon, five days in, are well and truly busted.
I dragged myself round the old city. A tuk tuk driver took me round the main sites. I was at the first temple, when I had a funny turn and thought I was going to be sick again. A guide came over and started to massage my temples. I have no idea if he thought it was some kind of ayurvedic remedy, but he then found me somewhere to lie down and brought me water. I felt completely pathetic.
After that I was also stuck with him, talking me around all the dagobas and temples for the next two hours and telling me how hard he had trained to become a guide, what languages he speaks, how many sisters he has and which ones are his favourites.
From there we then began our journey north once more. The contrast between the road out of Colombo couldn’t have been more stark. This time the way was clear, the road surface immaculate and we arrived in less than half the time we expected.
Waiting to greet us were five lads, aged roughly 10 or 12, waiting for the sun to drop low enough in the sky so they could play cricket with their teacher and our host. They all welcomed us in immaculate English ‘Hello, how are you?’ ‘I am well thank you.’ ‘What is your name?’ ‘My name is…’ and then they ran out of words. Fortunately for us, some words transcend language – ‘Four!’ ‘Six!’ and ‘Howzat!’ in particular. We played cricket until the sun set, and then put ourselves to bed under mosquito nets.
Finally I feel like I’ve really arrived, five days in.