Click on any of the ‘compartments’ below to read one of the ‘vignettes’. Pictures will be added later.
After collecting Frank from his flight from Berlin and Bangkok, we have to drive into Colombo to reach the expressway to Galle in the south. The din and congestion of peak hour takes me back in time, and gives me a warm sense of place. Later this year, the expressway will go all the way to the airport and it will take only a couple of hours to reach Galle.
(One budding young Sicilian restaurateur I am to meet in Galle tells me that the little enclave within the walls of the UNESCO heritage protected fort is set to become the next Saint Tropez of Asia. I think the Australian and Malaysian owners of the Galle Fort Hotel where we are staying had similar visions, but after nearly ten years, they’ve sold out to a Sri Lankan company, and upped and moved to Georgetown, outside Penang in Malaysia to do a similar thing, all over again. Don’t you love passionate adventurers? Of course, Frank is more interested in discovering the Mary Holy Rosary Cathedral built by a missionary Belgian Jesuit a couple of centuries ago.)
Half way to Galle, we leave the new expressway and head towards the coast through little villages, colourfully vibrant and alive, Hands of invitingly yellow bananas and bunches of equally yellow coconuts decorate small stalls along the way. I feel I’m in India or the Asia of old once again – the simplicity evokes memories of this ‘other time’ that we experienced in Burma last year (or was it the year before?) Our young Buddhist driver and proud father of a young daughter, Vinod, deftly avoids spluttering tuk-tuks and locals wandering on to the road, but more expertly saves us from speeding buses crowded with humanity coming straight at us with horns blaring, at full speed. We hit the coast at the seaside town of Bentota, and head south along the coast. Yes, it’s palm-fringed and pretty, just like the travel brochures tell of this ‘tear-drop’ of an island off the coast of India.
Instead of the usual “are we there yet?” whine from Frankie who’s badly in need of a cigarette, I hear muffled murmurings between ever-increasing deep sighs of “Helicopter!”
We turn off onto a narrow, bumpy bush track through jungle and cinnamon trees to reach my planned lunch stop at Lunuganga. This home and gardens became a life-long project of the legendary Geoffrey Bawa, whose architectural legacy lives on in so many buildings (including the Parliament in Colombo) in Sri Lanka. The rambling old house set atop a rise with commanding views over a lifetime of landscaping of the natural terrain, out over the river. It’s said that Bawa continued to develop the garden for almost fiftyyears – a personal journey, which helped to inspire his creativity. (I can see similar traits in the passion for ever-developing the landscapes on the acreages of my friends Paul at Mountain Lagoon and Gerhard at Kurrajong in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney.)
Frank’s ‘helicopter’ murmurs give way to exasperated resignation, “like the days when people rode on the backs of horses”, he manages to get out through clenched teeth between bumps. I’m not too popular when we find lunch is off and we have to settle for a pot of tea and a guided tour of the gardens, but at least Frank gets to smoke his lungs out.
In a pavilion on a hilltop, we wait for crabs that we specially ordered yesterday for lunch here at Kahanda Kanda, a working tea estate fifteen kilometres inland from the coast at Galle. The crabs have just arrived in the kitchen, collected from the fisherman’s pots, still live, to be cooked (and cracked please) in a classic Sri Lankan coconut curry. It’s not too difficult sitting miles from nowhere with waiters in batik sarongs looking after us, the only guests here for lunch today. Ginger beer quenches, while cool breezes waft right through the pavilion and rustle the lotus leaves standing for the sun in the pond outside.
Pappadums so light are irresistible as I wait for the bowl of crab. And then for our fill, with messy fingers and hands into the bowl looking for the juiciest claws and easier pieces to suck from the shell. I spot the front of my shirt with splashing curry, but nothing like the wavy white batik design of dried salt from the exertion this morning’s perspiration that’s has appeared on Frank’s navy T-shirt.
Sated, we drive back to our hotel in the fort – for a siesta.
It’s interesting to see the contrast between old Colombo from British times, and the skyscrapers in downtown. The older buildings remind me a lot of colonial Rangoon, but not in a state of decay and crumbling. There’s a hive of building activity with new commercial construction, deluxe hotels, and major roadworks going on.
And we have time for a spot of lunch on the verandah of the old Galle Face Hotel, by the sea, still a truly ‘Victorian’ establishment and regarded as the most British of hotels east of Suez.