DAY 150 – Kandy train station
From the seat-warmed toilets of Korea to the solid concrete platform in Sri Lanka, the change in toilet experience could not be more acute. I am generalizing of course, all guesthouses we have stayed at have had very fine toilets. Yesterday however, on our 4-hour journey south from Polonnaruwa to Kandy, our mid-journey bathroom break fell upon possibly the worst conceived toilet ever. Every squat toilet I have ever encountered has been a more positive experience than this one. The bathroom designer must have been on vacation when they decided to simply pave the floor with concrete and not bother to even make a hole in the ground. Who needs a hole? Instead two centimeter-high foot-shaped platforms designate where you should stand in order to drop a squat and basically pee on the floor. Just a simple floor. Three hip-height walls create the illusion of stalls, but are probably there only to prevent you from splashing your neighbour. Thankfully, they had a bucket of water handy to wash away the floor through the gutter along the base of the wall, which was barely an inch deep and impossible to aim for as far as holes go. More useful would have been a hose to spray down your feet. But enough about that. I’ve been told I enjoy toilet-talk far too much!
We arrived in Sri Lanka on February 28 after a high-stakes, highly emotional month in Thailand. In the hopes of easing ourselves into the country and taking it easy, we opted to stay in Negombo instead of Colombo – Negombo being far closer to the airport and a much smaller, beach-side fishing town; less hectic than its big brother to the south. We stayed in a lovely villa on the main street, owned by two kind women, one from Sri Lanka and the other from Sweden. A mere 2-minute walk from the beach, which is essential, as the sun in Sri Lanka is a beast. We quickly got into the habit of taking the afternoon off for snoozing or sitting in the one air-conditioned café we found to wait for the peak sun hours to ease just a little. One thing I have learned on this trip: my body was not made for tropical climes. At the risk of annoying people stuck in the vortex of winter – wish I was there! I have to carry a napkin in my pocket to sponge my face every few seconds.
After dealing with a number of flimsy napkins and raggedy toilet paper, I now appreciate the underrated virtue of the handkerchief and have upgraded to carrying a facetowel in my pocket. I walked around for over an hour with paper stuck to my forehead before Jason even noticed.
The waves in Negombo are the best. They’re not made for surfing, but the wild ocean makes for an instant return to childhood. Ideal for boogie boarding, body surfing, and scenes recreated from the Little Mermaid. I hadn’t spent that much time in the ocean in a very long time, and Jason beat that record a hundredfold, only leaving the waves once the orange sunset turned to purple.
The town of Negombo, laid out along a main street stretching parallel to the beach, comes alive at night with all the vampires avoiding sunlight come out to play. On our first night there, we stumbled upon a small art studio tucked away from the street and sandwiched snugly between two shops. Inside, an Aladdin’s cave of paintings adorning every wall and surface, a man busy at his desk and a young boy completing his homework in front of the television. Meet Manjula Kithsiri Iokuarachchi, a man of about 50 who has been painting since he was a child, and is now working hard to make a living from his art while being a single-parent to his son. We slipped off our flipflops and entered his lair, and Manjula warmly greeted us and gestured for us to come in. The lights came on and the fans began to whirl. We spent awhile examining everything and in the end settled for a magnet (small, I know). We liked a lot of his paintings, and decided we would return a little earlier the next time (it was near 10pm) so we could really look through everything. A sign said that hand-painted postcards were also available. Seeing none, we asked Manjula whether he had any hidden away somewhere but he shook his head regretfully. We paid for the magnet, took the pamphlet he proffered, and headed on our way.
It is only when we returned to our room that we read the pamphlet and discovered that Manjula was deaf. He never uttered a word while we were with him, but his silent and unassuming manner was so kind and understanding that we assumed perhaps his English wasn’t great and he preferred not to speak it. In any country, let alone Sri Lanka, making a living solely from your art is not easy. We thought Manjela was brave when we met him, but our admiration only increased when we read his story. We were definitely going back.
As a young boy, Manjula entered an art competition for the deaf among Commonwealth countries, and was commended in his age category (from 12-15 years of age). From there, his devotion to art was sealed. After working in illustration and advertising for a number of years after school ended, he finally decided to open his own gallery and shop after visiting Australia with the Sri Lankan national cricket team and successfully selling some of his work to a small gallery in Sydney.
Now somewhere over 50, a single-dad in Negombo, Manjela focuses both on abstract oil painting (which is his passion), and also on creating images of Sri Lanka which tourists tend to purchase more readily. He and his son live in the very studio where he sells his art. On our second visit a couple days later, we went wild. We bought two paintings and cleared out his newly painted postcards, which he had created after our last visit. We are planning to return to Negombo before flying to Indonesia, and have our heart set on 3 little abstract paintings which we quite nearly but didn’t buy. Fingers crossed they’re still hanging on the wall when we get there.
Negombo was a great place to kick start our 30-day stay in Sri Lanka. A lively fish market, lots of churches (they call Negombo ‘little Rome’), a wide stretch of sand, and lots of places to eat. We really enjoyed our time there, we are really enjoying Sri Lanka so far, and most of all we are really enjoying the people.
Welcome to Sri Lanka!