I awoke at 6am an hour before the alarm, my body clock was still a bit twisted. I wandered out onto the sunny courtyard with a cup of coffee and marvelled at the intense sounds of the birds considering this was almost capital city centre. The Evergreen hostel laid on a lovely breakfast spread of papaya, mango, banana and a spicy omelette. After eating every scrap I realised I was running late for my hot date with immigration. In Sri Lanka you are given a 30 day visa upon entry, but I wanted a further 3 months. I briskly flip-flopped my way up to the main road and a tuk-tuk pulled up next to me before I could begin to hail.
I love tuk-tuks. They are quirky, comfortable, fast, hectic and it’s lovely to have the wind blowing in your face. It took an short hour to reach the immigration department. First of all I needed a passport photo, I was gestured over the road by a short, squat elderly man with a trusting face. He ushered me inside what looked like a derelict corner shop where I found a queue of four or five people waiting to enter a back room. I waited my turn and found a young girl, maybe sixteen or seventeen, holding a half-decent SLR camera. She quickly positioned my feet, shoulders and jaw, took a quick snap and out I went. Five minutes later a man at the front of the shop handed me a little manila envelope with four ugly mugshots in. Not a bad service for a quid!
The fourth floor of immigration was possibly the greyest place I’ve ever seen. The floor, ceiling, walls, chairs - everything was grey. It was full of a complete mishmash of people from all over the world waiting for their numbers to be called. Most of the young European women were floating around draped in their new Sri Lankan materials and it was definitely the highest concentration of western male top-knots I have ever seen. The (apparently) organised chaos passed us all from pillar to post in no particular order until, five hours later, my passport came back to me with a little pink sticker in it. It said ‘valid up to 05/04/2017’. Four months in the bag - I’d better get cracking!
The rest of the afternoon I spent wandering around the markets again followed by a beautiful sunset swim. The sea water was warmer than the air! When I got back to the hostel room to get changed I suddenly felt a violent itch somewhere I really didn’t want one. ‘Christ’, I thought ‘not even near the jungle yet and I’ve been bitten on the knob!’ A little dab of tea tree oil and it soon subsided, but for a short while I was quite worried.
A friend of a friend had put me in touch with a retired admiral in the Sri Lankan navy, Lakshman, saying he’s interested in my trip and would like to help. I called him that evening and briefly spoke to him explaining my plans. I had some maps to print, a machete to buy and some other bits. “Come to Kandy” he repeated. He had a thick Sri Lankan accent but spoke perfect English “You can buy all these things here and stay at my place”. I felt buoyed when hanging up the phone, I could never have wished for better help in this country. I checked the train times to Kandy, one left at 12.40pm the next day, getting in at 4pm. Perfect.
I had another phone call to make, a man named Ishan who was the manager of a local adventure company which occasionally took people rafting on a short section of the Mahaweli. He sent me a message saying he had some concerns he’d like to speak to me about. Ishan quizzed me regarding my plans both logistically and in terms of support/safety/rescue. I informed him that I could not give him an itinerary as I had no idea of the conditions and my only support was a little red tab on a personal locator beacon I had. Once pulled, it sent a distress signal somewhere, and someone would come help me. I didn’t know how and I didn’t know who. Ishan sounded very concerned, which in turn, concerned me to the pit of my stomach. He suggested I delay my trip to Kandy for at least and day and come into his office to chat with his boss, Major. The knots in my stomach immediately agreed.
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