Heathrow-Muscat-Colombo. Thirty hours of travelling went by in sleepless blur of crap seats and crapper food - all of which I thoroughly enjoyed. The excitement grew as I collected my two large bags from the travellator (90’s Gladiator reference there). All of my belongings for the next four months are in two large bags: One of them contains a Red Paddle 13’2 Explorer inflatable paddle board with a pump and leash. Here’s what’s in the other:
- Hammock - this reduces size and weight as I don’t need a tent or mat. - Tarp - I’m expecting a lot of rain! - Sleeping bag - it’s only going to be cold near the source of The Mahaweli when I’m over 2000m, but after that it will useful to line my hammock with to prevent mosquitos biting through. - Electronics - Laptop for video editing/writing; iPhone; camera; powermonkey; SPOT tracker. - Toiletries - toothbrush, toothpaste, razor (I have the most pathetic moustache which needs shaving regularly). Wonder what I’ll smell like with no soap or deodorant for four months? - Platypus waterpump - This ingenious, lifesaving bit of kit enables me to filter any rancid puddle into potable drinking water. - Medical kit - plasters/bandages, antibiotics, painkillers and various other ointments to combat whatever nasty, moist baddie that might occur. I also have emergency clotting bandages and tourniquets from my friend Ben at First Aid and Trauma Training who gave me a crash course in how to use them last week. This included a very graphic video involving a pig’s femoral artery - Ben was nervously checking over his shoulder as he played it in a busy restaurant. - Clothing - two long sleeve tops (merino wool as it won’t stink…as bad), two pairs of shorts, one pair waterproof trousers, one waterproof jacket, one pair socks, walking boots (which I have been told I need to check every morning for scorpions/spiders), flip-flops. - Repair kit - zip-ties & duct tape. What else could you possibly need?! - Maps of the river - Two books - Sri Lanka lonely planet (always comes in handy), One novel which I’ll swap for another once finished. Currently reading Midnight Express - not the best for your nerves reading during a flight stopover in a middle eastern country, even though I didn’t have any hashish strapped to my armpits.
Alas, I cruised through customs with a 30 day visa and my lack of return flight didn’t raise an eyebrow. First experiences of Sri Lanka put me at pure ease. I immediately withdrew some cash from an ATM in the airport, purchased a very cheap local SIM card which worked perfectly in my iPhone and wandered out of the air-conditioned airport to find a bus into the city. The 32C heat hit me hard and I sweated profusely on the packed bus while all the Sri Lankans around me were bone dry.
The bus station in Colombo was pure sensory overload. The frantic traffic and intense beeping was complemented by beautiful smells of incense and multicoloured fruit stalls. I wandered through the narrow market alleyways, wheeling my paddle board behind me following my new-found guide, a young Indian man who was in town on business. Some hectic near-death road crossings and we were on another, lower quality bus which cost around 30p. The 8km to my hostel took around an hour due to the ridiculous traffic. Looking out of the window reminded me of Ridley Scott’s vision of the future in Blade Runner - busy, grimy and littered with advertising boards. The conductor (doubt this is what they’re called in Sri Lanka) told me to hop off and I began lugging and wheeling my bags bag up the battered pavement in the direction on Evergreen Hostel.
I dumped my bags in the cool air-condtioned room and lay down on the bottom bunk. Next thing I knew, five hours had passed. I needed that. I could have slept longer but decided to get up in order to reset my body clock. I wandered a kilometre down to the beach, kicked off my flip-flops and paddled along the warm water as the sun was setting in The Laccadive Sea. Five times I was offered marjiuana (very comically pronounced phonetically). On my way back I stopped at the cheapest, dirtiest place I could find to sample some Sri Lankan curry. I sat down on a wooden stool amongst young locals who were all drinking sprite and ordered a delicious spicy chicken curry. I ate two meals, a stack of rotis and a glass bottle of coke…surely a baptism of fire for my belly and bum.
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