Sri Lanka the Teardrop Island

December 2014

Colombo.  Monsoon rains and railway wash outs.

I’ve wanted to visit Sri Lanka for several years, my old out of date Rough Guide book proof of earlier intentions; bought in Stanford’s Book shop in London’s Covent Garden in 2009 when out with our travelling friend Hadley.  Dave and I had been out of the country for 14 months travelling around the world and we’d met Hadley on a bus in Belize. He’d been to Sri Lanka and enthused about the country.  Several years later and Hadley now living in St. Petersburg in Russia, Dave and I finally booked the tickets back in May to make for a warm weather winter destination. Unfortunately not the greatest holiday arrival, it was a pretty awful flight; 10 and a half hours overnight with no sleep on a brand new plane which economised with seats set far too close together. Luckily we were at the side 2 of 2 which was useful for when I felt ill mid flight and had to sprawl across Dave with my head between his knees; there was no bloody space to put it between mine once the seat in front went back!  Landed and got collected by the hotel driver and taken to check in at Colombo Courtyard Hotel.  Beautiful place with a great design layout. ColomboCourtyardHotel5ColomboCourtyardHotel6Stone bowls of water filled with flowers.  I know this is something they do for the temples too; would be an easy idea to recreate at home.ColomboCourtyardHotel4The afternoon started off with brilliant sunshine and general euphoria on our part for being in it; but an hour later the heaven’s opened and monsoon rain lashed the hotel…sheets of it…and it went on and on …and on. Nice hotel, thoughtfully planned around a courtyard and pools many of which were teeming with carp. Fantastic staff, there seemed to be hundreds of them…and we did our best to remain upbeat despite the dark low-hanging sky.  ColombonewspaperWe had our Christmas dinner in the hotel that evening as the rain put us off going out. Regardless of our umbrellas and weatherproof coats (a first for us to be so organised) we would have been soaked in seconds. So we opted for the ‘Scarlett Room’ in-house restaurant. It could have been better to be honest…it’s a pretty soulless place and let’s the rest of the hotel down.  It looks more like an office space than a restaurant. We were guided with some ceremony to a lift at the end of the courtyard which we were assured would take us up to the Scarlett Room.  I had a Thai curry in a coconut…the Sri Lankan option wasn’t very appealing. It was okay, presentation being better than taste…and being jetlagged from the 5 and a half hour time difference and the long flight it served us well.  We sat by the window with a view over a busy main road and what appeared to be an abandoned lorry crane. ColomboCourtyardHotel5xmasdinnerThe following day we went for a wander around the town. We took a driver who had been recommended to us called Dhammika. Colombo seems quite rough around the edges but definitely an emerging destination. There are a fair amount of tourists around but you get the impression that most of them skip the capital city and instead head for the tea plantations of the central highlands. The civil war only ended a few years ago and Dhammika pointed out all the areas that had been bombed and were now cleared for building or huge hotels had gone up on the sites. In fact pretty much everywhere that had the shit bombed out of it now seems to have a huge chain hotel being built on it. There was a prolific amount of building work going on everywhere we turned to look. Dhammika took us to the sea wall and the stretch of beach which looks further along the coastline to massive cranes at the docks.  It felt industrial but as we discovered, there are plenty of great places in Colombo to escape that.ColombobeachLeft to our own devices the following day Dave and I headed to Barefoot Gallery and Cafe very close to where we were staying for a late breakfast. Really loved this place…not only a great cafe but a beautiful gallery and shop.  I bought a beautiful large black and white batik tablecloth and some huge cushion covers in the same design. ColomboBarefoorGallery1ColomboBarefoorGallery5We headed by tuktuk to Pettah; a chaotic but enjoyable market area which is also a major transport hub for the city;  lots of buses depart from here and it’s also home to the main railway station. Our plans were to take the 6am train the following morning to Kandy in the central highlands; we had already bought 1st class tickets for a tenner each in the UK before leaving as the train coaches sell out at this busiest time of year.

However due to the landslides many trains were cancelled along the route we wanted to take so we headed to the station to buy more tickets for the 3.35pm train in 2nd class (at the princely sum of £1.25 each!). We didn’t want to risk standing for the entire 3 hour train ride. But… it was not to be. After getting up at 4.45am on the 28th December and taking a taxi to the station we were told on arrival that the train was definitely cancelled at 6am and they couldn’t know if the 3.35 would run because the landslides had been so bad in the continuing rain in the highlands. Sadly, we abandoned our plans for the train journey and instead paid $90 to take a car and driver to Kandy.  I was massively disappointed because it is a famous train route from Colombo to Kandy, taking you through tea plantations and in to the hills. You can’t fight the weather…and the weather was washing away homes and several people had died.  I managed to get a couple of photos of the Colombo train station’s main office through the bars of the ticket window…it still looks romantically archaic. I sighed as we got in to the car; all of the documentaries I had viewed over the years about train journeys in Asia through the hill stations… foiled by the Monsoon rains.  But we were only here on holiday…whilst the  people here in the hill areas were fighting to save their homes and their lives. The Monsoon had gone on for at least a month longer than anyone had expected.

Kandy and Helga’s Folly

Approx 4 hours later with the car and driver we managed to secure at $75 we arrived at Helga’s Folly, an eccentric guest house on top of a hill in Kandy.  I booked this place because of it’s bizarre history; you’re better off reading it all here as I couldn’t even begin to start on their family tree which includes De Silva’s, Detmar Blow and countless other society eccentrics…a couple of whom killed themselves by drinking weedkiller. Dave and I seek out unusual places to stay and at first glance this place looked incredible, as the photos indicate, and it really could have been; but…unfortunately Helga’s Folly has seen better days and hugely overcharges for something that although on first appearance looks quite magical is in reality very damp, dirty and uncomfortable once you’ve attempted to sleep, sit or eat here. The bed was damp, the chairs were damp, the bathroom was ancient, filthy and falling apart with loose wiring hanging near water and our expensive dinner came out of a microwave; half of it cooked the other half still frozen. We appreciate that it’s Monsoon season but I have lived through them and our house was always clean.

The staff who work here are regularly referred to as ‘the boys’ which seems a bit patronising when a manager is calling from his desk for “boy hurry up and get the cases”.  They never referred to them by name, an ignorant colonial hangover they need to drop.  And the young men trying to make everything okay for us were lovely people, polite and friendly and eager to help.  EDCAEBD0-E415-4968-8C56-F6886A1D0607This place could be fantastic and if you read the Trip Advisor reviews for Helga’s Folly it will show loads of people who rave about it. I get it, I really do and I am all for some bonkers off the wall alternatives to hotel rooms and we actively search them out…but if you can’t keep the rain out (leaking in all over the place in the dining room, cinema room and other rooms making the floors treacherous) and if you can’t feed your guests proper food when your restaurant charges are ridiculously overpriced, and if you can’t even give them a dry bed in a secure room and all of this for £170 A NIGHT!  Yes you read that correctly…then you need to retire and hand over the control and the reigns to someone who can do it properly.  This place saw it’s heyday many years ago.  It’s such a massive missed opportunity and an incredible disappointment when you see the huge potential.  They had a small room cinema…but the seats were falling apart, it was dirty, the rain was leaking in and it was freezing cold.  Such a shame.  We met a young couple called Nick and Charlotte staying here at the same time which was a life saver as it meant we had someone to eat dinner with that evening in the flickering lights of the huge gothic candles.  Semi-darkness failed to hide the fact that our food wasn’t cooked, but luckily we are blessed with a sense of humour and could laugh about the madness of it all. We headed to our rooms around 10pm delaying as long as we could til we had to turn in to our damp bedding, ancient mattresses and moldy bathrooms.  Our room, looked fantastic, smelt awful…was damp and falling apart. We could hear an ominous clomp clomp clomp across the floorboards above where I believe Helga and her third husband live. Like us, our dinner companions also checked out early the next day and were refunded in full for their dinner. We were supposed to stay here for 4 nights but we stayed one and fled the next morning.

It could be glorious, in all its faded glamour and eccentric Miss Haversham spookiness…but you need to be clean and health conscious and safe if you are renting out rooms to the public as a business. On the morning we left the hotel manager tricked me in to talking to Helga on the telephone; apparently something that many guests regard to be a rarefied honour, which I found baffling (he asked me to speak to her and I said I didn’t want to, he then asked me to speak to his manager who we’d met earlier and handed the phone over… but it was Helga).  She was extremely gracious and didn’t charge for our meal but we still got fleeced the £170 for the room.  I’m still trying to figure out why I so easily parted with the cash after such an awful night and I think Helga must have hypnotised me over the phone.  After apologising for the uncooked dinner, the dirt and the damp she went in to a diatribe of her illnesses, a fall from a horse, a leaking heart, a bad leg, all of which I commiserated with her on in my bemusement…she then veered off on a jaunt about people blessing things and a Dalai Lama connection that I couldn’t make head nor tail of.  The young assistant manager was giggling as he watched me squirm through the conversation.

I admit we were very unlucky in Kandy; the heavy rain, the grey sky, the uncomfortable guest house…and regrettably it coloured our judgement. We travel a lot and we are pretty much open to most things and Kandy Lake possibly dazzles in the sun. In the rain it’s not the tranquil spectacle the guide book markets. It’s surrounded by broken paving slabs, careening noisy tuks tuks, a lot of litter and weeds.  We did see a snake and some huge Monitor lizards resting on a fallen tree trunk and the monkeys were everywhere.  I love any opportunity to see wildlife.  And so to the Temple of the Golden Tooth which was definitely interesting but not as inspiring as the temples we saw back in Colombo which don’t get anywhere near the PR that this place gets in the guide books.

The stories about the Buddha’s tooth being laid here are definitely worth reading about. Aaaaah Kandy, I wish we had met on a sunny day, I think you would be transformed.

Back to Colombo for a plan of action.  Wonderful temples and cracking craw claws.

There is only so much rain and damp and squelching around temples in bare feet that you can take on a holiday before you realise… this is supposed to be a holiday! This is miserable! Oh Cultural Heritage I adore you but really NOT THIS MUCH! So we gave up or as I declared to Dave..sod it! Let’s give up, get out, go 5 star! And we headed back to Colombo with a fantastic driver called Shanaka who arrived at Helga’s and announced that all the locals think the guest house is haunted and dirty.  We confirmed it.  It must be haunted…how can it possibly not be. Hah! KandytoColombolandscapeAnd Shanaka plucked us from misery and whisked us away on a long and winding tarmac road, where we fed monkeys bananas on the way and took photographs of missed hill stations and forests that we never got to ride through on the train, and he told us about his studies and wanting to be a pilot and chatted about his love of cars…we told him about ridiculous movies he must watch like Gone in 60 Seconds…and before we knew it there we were. At the Cinnamon Lakeside Hotel….4 hours drive away and in brilliant SUNSHINE! Down from the mountains and away from the mist and the damp.  To coconut drinks, to 5 star breakfast in bed, a beautiful swimming pool, cocktails by the lake… and real restaurants serving fabulous food. Now this is a holiday at last.

Dave and I are very comfortable in cities and escaping from Kandy and the constant rain and back to Colombo for a few days was very welcome. The driver took us to visit the stunning Gangaramaya Temple, one of the most important in Colombo…where I very unceremoniously felt ill, sat flat on my arse right in to the only puddle of water in the entire temple courtyard and soaked the seat of my trousers – I always aim to be dignified when travelling.It’s a Buddhist Temple with an architectural mix of Sri Lankan, Thai, Indian, and Chinese architecture. It has the main features of a Vihara (temple), the Cetiya (Pagada) the Bodhitree, the Vihara Mandiraya, the Seema malaka (assembly hall for monks) and the Relic Chamber.

It was allegedly built by a famous 19th century shipping merchant Don Bastian (de Silva Jayasuriya Goonewardane, Mudaliyar) for the Matara Sri Dharmarama thero and named the Padawthota Gangaramaya Viharaya.ColomboGangaramayaTemple3 It features a Bodhitree also known as Bo (Sinhalese) and Peepal tree in Nepal and Bhutan.  A Bodhitree was a large ancient fig tree located in India in Bodh Gaya. The spiritual teacher Siddhartha Gautama (or Guatama Buddha), is said to have attained enlightenment, or Bodhi, under the tree. Bodhi trees can be found in religious iconography and are planted close to every Buddhist monastery.  Today the temple is active in welfare work and is apparently very tolerant to congregation members of all religions.  Completely unexplainable…among the artifacts donated to the temple many of great history, value and intricacy… was a tiny plastic Piglet toy. IMG_0407Tucked away down a side street (Sri Murugan St, Colombo 00200) is the elaborately ornate Hindu Temple of Sri Kailawasanathan Swami Devasthanam Kovil.  Unfortunately closed when we arrived but the exterior is quite incredible to see. 

And to end a fantastic day we ate a truly fantastic dinner at the Ministry of Crab, located in the Old Dutch Hospital. Excellent food, beautiful dining area, a great waiter (looking like a CIA agent with his black earpiece – giving him directions from the kitchen 10 feet away).  Owned by former Sri Lankan cricket players Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardena this place is a treat.  My only criticism (and it’s ridiculously minor) is the use of the all-pervading Keep Calm slogan…arrrrrrgh.  Everything was delicious.

Koggola Beach.  New Year’s Eve and exploring by Tuk Tuk with Jayaweera.

We had scrambled to find somewhere to escape to after abandoning Kandy, the hill stations and the pouring rain; this is the peak season and almost everywhere was already booked out. After relaxing for two more nights in Colombo whilst frantically searching the internet (we almost flew to Kerala in India but would have needed visas), Dave managed to find a room in Koggola Beach in the South of Sri Lanka for 5 nights from New Years Eve. We got another driver and heading for the sun we believed our luck to be on the up.  It was a bit of a mixed blessing. Koggola Beach Hotel was packed to the rafters for New Year’s and cashing in heavily on tourists in a similar situation to us.  Like everything else on New Year’s Eve the world over it was horrendously overpriced.  £200 a night for a very basic room which would usually cost around £40. It was clean and we did get a verandah with a fantastic view of the ocean and palm trees on the beach…so we ignored the cheap nailed together stick furniture and the threadbare bedding, the shower that could possibly electrocute you and the crazy little flat screen TV set way high on the wall near the ceiling…that wasn’t inconvenient it was just amusing… and we set about getting ready for the night’s entertainment.

Weirdly although there were hundreds of people around, a lot of Russian people especially, you often got the beautiful beach to yourself; the hotel garden’s vegetation creeping down over it’s borders to take over the sand.KoggolaBeach15The evening’s celebrations started in the dining room.  Now this is going to make me sound like a complete snob BUT although this banquet looks quite incredible – most of it was actually inedible. Even some of the fruit was completely tasteless…I don’t know how they managed it.  The cakes were better; although they all looked completely different,  they tasted exactly the same.  Some fell a little short and were like chewing on cardboard but for the most part the cake chefs won.  I know, I know…just LOOK AT IT!  – it looks incredible – even with the yellowish tinge cast from the dim dining lights but it was completely tasteless…not horrible – it just didn’t taste of anything…no flavour.  The work that went in to all of this, it must have taken hours carving faces in to fruit, arranging…and the towering temple of prawns must have taken hours to erect.

The dining room filled to capacity but oddly no-one mixed or talked with each other.  We tried to engage, language barriers aside, but there wasn’t a party atmosphere. We are very sociable but people kept to their tables.  Free party hats and masks were on the tables and I wore mine but I was one amongst the few.   The guests were predominantly Russian but didn’t mix with each other either.  We got stitched up on a bottle of house red which really was plonk; it tasted gritty and cheap. £40 for a £1.99 bottle of supermarket plonk. New Years Eve price hikes annoy me.  Doesn’t matter where you are it’s almost impossible to avoid. I have to hand it to the local staff who patiently kept smiling, greeting everyone as huge groups literally clobbered their way through the meticulously displayed buffet.  This is why we don’t like package holidays and resorts; the tourists aren’t looking for culture and to meet locals people, they just want sun, sea, food and booze.

The Chefs came out to take a bow but clapped amongst themselves as assembled guests failed to join in. I’ve never been in such a large crowd of people where pretty much all managed to avoid social interaction. There was a general noisiness and hilarity, but confined to each group of travellers rather than to the room as a whole.  At 11pm Dave and I huddled on a lounger on the beach and hung out with two local kids who language barriers aside we realised were the kids of the man in charge of the firework display.  This was the highlight of the evening. We watched as the father, his family and some hotel staff carried heavy firework displays to the beach to set them up.  The kids were young, both under ten and fiercely proud of their Father’s involvement. It was lovely to spend this part of the evening with them, shyly coming over, offering us their crisps, trying to chat though we didn’t share a language.  These two children made our evening and their Father put on a spectacular show.  Fireworks rocketed skywards from hotels along the beach, the smoke hung above the waves and lay in wreaths across the moon.  New Years Eve had turned out great.

At 6 foot 3 Dave just about folds down nicely to fit in to a tuk tuk…we went out for the day with Jayaweera. Tuk Tuks are the easiest way to get around in Sri Lanka in a lot of places, not the quickest but they’re great fun and have their own natural air conditioning – perfect for muggy hot days when you want to explore the countryside and take it all in at an easy pace rather than having everything flashing past in a blur. We met Jayaweera outside the gates of Koggola Beach and  used his services to run us to a couple of local places.  An extremely good natured guy we decided to stay loyal to him and only use his tuk tuk for all local journeys we wanted to take. KoggolaJayaweeratuktuk2Hankering after some decent grub (honestly the food really is that bad at the hotel and it’s not like we have refined  tastebuds- ‘oven roasted bread’ for breakfast is basically stale bread chucked in the oven to heat it up in an attempt to disguise the fact that it’s rock hard),  Jayaweera drove us up a steep hill about 15 minutes from our hotel to a pretty posh place called Kahanda Kanda. Someone had recommended that we go there for lunch as an indulgent treat.AngulugahaKahandaKanda7The views are fantastic and lunch was simple but very tasty; a set menu with two main choices, a bit pricey but worth it and as we only seem to eat twice a day (stale breakfast) we then choose to find something that resembles food later in the day.  We didn’t resent paying a bit extra for such lovely surroundings and really friendly waiting staff.  I wouldn’t choose to stay here (I couldn’t afford to anyway, their room prices are rather eye-watering) …as it’s just a bit too precocious; with a fearsome looking table of ‘ladies that lunch’ immaculately dressed despite the heat, holding court on the central table shrilling in their clipped English accents whilst fiddling with their jewellery.  They would do my head in. Yes I’m judgmental but sod it…just because the rain has washed out half of our sightseeing plans it doesn’t mean I would choose to take refuge with a bunch of folks who haven’t realised that Sri Lanka rightly got it’s independence years ago.

Jayaweera offered to spend a few hours with us showing us the village around the lake – the other side of Koggola beach that people don’t really explore as they prefer to relax on the beach.  Jayaweera took us in to the jungle side of Koggola literally right on the other side of the main road through the town.

We visited a medicine garden filled with various fruits, peppercorns, Aloe Vera plants and red pineapple which we’d never seen before.  Jayaweera said they’re not edible but used for medicines etc.the owners made their living from selling various unctions and potions made from said plants in their onsite shop. We did buy something as we wanted to help support their business; the guy who showed us around applied some hair removal cream to Dave’s leg; looking a little alarmed he assured us that it was 100% natural – and whilst we all stood around for a few minutes waiting to see if the top layer of Dave’s skin was going to be stripped off, the owner’s dog prostrated at our feet rather comically. The skeptic in me would maintain that they’d trained the dog to ‘grin’ on cue. It was uncanny. They got our money and Dave spent the rest of his holiday with a bald spot on his leg.

Coconut picking; the people who lived in the village were really friendly and sociable – we wish they were our fellow guests at the hotel!KoggolaJayaweeracoconutpicker2Children worldwide are beautiful and here they were no exception.  They were all beaming a few minutes later when we gave them sweets…a treat advised earlier by Jayaweera as one that would be welcomed in the village.

Jayaweera made me a necklace from the local Sri Lankan flower that grows in the water.  Early morning driving around for three hours before the sweltering heat kicks in!Rice paddy workers around the villages.  Back breaking work without the intense heat. Standing all day in wet mud bending forward repeatedly to plant the rice.KoggolaJayaweeraricepaddy10KoggolaJayaweeraricepaddy6You see a lot of monitor lizards ambling around at the side of the road and some of them like this one grow pretty large. Lovely to see and fascinating to watch.KoggolaJayaweeramonitorlizard1Water Buffalo being herded up the roads. KoggolaJayaweerawaterbuffalo4Local fishing boats by the side of the lake.KoggolaJayaweeralakesid3End of our daytrip, hadn’t eaten lunch and only a very basic breakfast courtesy of our hotel’s lack of any foodstuffs that actually taste of anything…so we treated ourselves and headed next door to The Fortress.  Crazy expensive place to stay (they have room butlers) but great for a late lunch/early dinner. The food isn’t that expensive and it tastes…of food…and nutrients! It has flavour!KoggolaFortress1

Day trip to Galle via Unawatuna.

A few days after our tour around the village we hired Jayaweera to drive us about 40 minutes up the coast road from Koggola Beach to Galle in his tuk-tuk.  On the way we stopped off in Uawatuna and watched the fishermen pulling in their nets.  Unawatuna3A favourite with tourists,  Galle used to be an influential seaport.  Cinnamon was exported from Sri Lanka as early as 1400 BC.   Tuk-tuks squeezed along narrow roads, beautiful old buildings shaded the streets and a walk along the sea wall took us to the Dutch Fort and Galle lighthouse.  A local bride was having her wedding photograph taken in a small car park. She looked absolutely stunning and when asked permission she had no problem with me taking some photos of her too.  I can’t really understand why they chose the carpark for the photos when Galle has stunning scenery alongside the harbour, lovely local streets and a pretty lighthouse.

Dave! Dave! Take my photo! This tree is so cool! Then I realised it must be the local pissing tree…it bloody reeked and there were loads of fag butts. Still – got a good photo and I don’t even look like I’m grimacing…In a curious shop in Galle town; that needle would have mullered the Santana vinyl.  Sri Lanka was once a British colony and a traditional British afternoon tea is still on offer at the elegant luxury Amangalla Hotel at 10 Church Street…also used as a location for a Duran Duran video in the 1980s.  We ordered the ‘Daily changing cake’.   I love menu translations.  Excellent fun…and quite excellent cake.  Let sleeping dogs lie; slumbering peacefully outside the hotel in the cool of the gutters.

Mirissa.  Further down the coast to paradise at The Spice House via Weligama.

After 5 days at Koggola Beach we headed further down the southern coast of Sri Lanka to Mirissa where we had pre-booked way back in May to stay at The Spice House. Jayaweera drove us and our two cases squashed in to his trusty Tuk Tuk and driving along the coast road he pointed things out to us on our last journey with him.  Fishermen sold their catch by the side of the road in Weligama.Weligamatuna1And we saw a house on a private island – Taprobane Island just off the coast of Weligama;  named after the old Greek word for Sri Lanka. The island was previously owned by (self-titled) Count Maurice Maria de Mauny Talvande who had the villa built on this tiny plot of land.  Another previous owner was the American author and composer Paul Bowles.  You can read an article on the Paul Bowles website which Bowles wrote whilst living on the island titled: ‘How to live on a Part-time island’. Weligama5It was sad to say goodbye to Jayaweera after spending quite a lot of time with him and his tuk-tuk exploring the Southern Coast line of Sri Lanka but fantastic to check in to The Spice House which is an absolutely beautiful little hotel on the jungle-side of the road.MirissaSpiceHouse17Owned by married couple Phil (English) and his Sri Lankan wife Wathsala, The Spice House is fantastic, it really is a truly beautiful little guest house and a testament to their hard work.  Our room, overlooking jungle canopy on one side with monkeys and loads of birds…and gorgeous gardens on the other, was the perfect retreat.MirissaSpiceHouse3MirissaSpiceHouse18We went for a walk along Mirissa Beach one day but it’s quite developed with loads of bars and shacks huddled side by side on top of each other along the full stretch of it;  young women chanting ‘om’ in their bikinis alongside surfers and folks getting a bit pissed in the bars; it was pretty crowded and sadly overrun with low budget tourism.  All of this stretch of coastline was washed away in the horrendous tsunami several years ago where hundreds of people lost their lives.  I completely understand that local people need to rebuild and need money but it’s a shame that in the rush to do so that the natural beauty of the place is being lost.  Obviously welfare and income need to be placed higher than aesthetics after such an horrific disaster, I just wish there was a more measured way of doing it.

The Spice House felt like a haven. It felt like family with Wathsala’s Mother here too. There was talk of a huge chain hotel opening on this coastline and it doesn’t surprise me as so many tourists come here.   Definitely book as far ahead as you can if you want to stay at Spice House Mirissa  because it’s only a small place and very popular, with several returning guests. MirissaSpiceHouse26Our beautiful bedroom set back at the bottom of the garden down the steps. A frog chorus sang us to sleep and chattering monkeys and peacocks woke us in the morning. We had a porched balcony outside our room where I could lie and watch the monkeys swinging down through the trees to the garden wall.  MirissaSpiceHouse14Whilst Phil and Wathsala’s handsome dog Ginger, also excited by the monkeys would climb up on to our roof to watch them.  Lovely to see but they can be incredibly destructive especially around property so I watched them from a distance and didn’t encourage them in…but every now and again one would scramble over the roof when Ginger wasn’t around.  They have stand alone rooms like this one with more rooms inside the main house.MirissaSpiceHouseGingerthedogMirissaSpiceHouseMonkey5We met Noel and Sue, also staying at The Spice House and had a fun night out with them at a local Roti place called Dewmini. Deliciously tasty local food cooked in the traditional way.  Great night out, sitting in the garden at a big wooden table. Luckily we got there early enough to grab a table because 30 minutes after we sat down, folks were queuing out of the compound.  Dewmini Roti Shop is extremely popular, and rightly so because the rotis were delicious. Plan to get here early to get a table.

Back to Colombo Election fever!

On 9th January 2015 we bid a fond farewell to Phil and Wathsala on the day that the Presidential election results came in.  It had been very quiet the day before as all of the staff took time off to travel back to their villages to vote.

MirissaSpiceHouse25En route to Colombo we stopped by at their family shop to say hello and marvel at the amount of different spices available to buy. We wandered in to the back where a herd of goats was nonchalantly wandering over the sea wall.

MirissaSpiceHousefamilyshop3goatsThe election had been brought forward two years with many people accusing incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa (seeking a third term in office), of corruption and the younger generation especially wanting to vote for change in their country.  The opposing United National Party’s Maithripala Sirisena triumphed and won by 51%. It was with some trepidation that we drove back to Colombo the day the results came in; wondering whose side the army were on and if there would be any demonstrations in the capital city. Our concerns were however unnecessary as we drove back on a near empty road through Sri Lanka’s stunning scenery. Most people had taken the day off for the election results and many were still travelling back from their villages to work.

It rained for part of the journey but I persuaded our driver and Dave to stop off en route so I could buy some fruit from the roadside traders to feed more monkeys. I’m sure the locals must scorn our infatuation with an animal that to them must be a pest a lot of the time but they humoured me and other stopping tourists who got out in the pouring rain to marvel at the monkeys antics in the forest canopy long the side of the road.  I know they can be a pain in the arse but personally I think most things in life are definitely more fun when there’s a monkey involved.  I’m sure there are many that would vehemently disagree; Dave being one of them.Back in Colombo we had one last night to wander around this lovely city, to visit some of the shops like my favourite, Paradise Road Gallery which has a beautifully designed restaurant and a fabulous shop where almost everything is black and white and made and designed in Sri Lanka.  They also have a gorgeous hotel

Back at hotel Cinnamon Lakeside (we’re definitely not backpacking on this trip) and chilling out in the lobby listening to the band hired for the evening, we realised that amongst the easy listening melodies there were some Metallica tunes. The lead guitarist came over to chat when he noticed us pulling the Rock Hand salute. Subversive house band rebellionism – excellent!ColomboCinnamonLakeside8Sri Lanka started out as a challenging holiday but we got back on track and the kids on New Year’s Eve proudly watching their father set the fireworks,  exploring in Jayaweera’s tuk-tu, our days at Mirissa Spice House and wandering the city of Colombo will leave us with many fabulous memories.

Best Shopping in Colombo Sri Lanka-take a  suitcase

Paradise Road Gallery (a cafe, shop and hotel) at2 Alfred House Road Colombo 03 and at 213 Dharmapala Mawatha Colombo 07

Barefoot Colombo (another branch in Galle)  at the Dutch Hospital Colombo

Lakpahana at 14 Reid Avenue Colombo 07

Urban Island at 181 Srimath Anagarika Dharmapala Mawatha, Colombo 00700

Cotton Collection at 143 Dharmapala Mawatha Colombo 07

Selyn at 102 Fife Road Colombo 00500

Places to see

Hindu Temple of Sri Kailawasanathan Swami Devasthanam Kovil Colombo

Gangaramaya Temple Colombo

Temple of the Tooth Kandy


Ministry of Crab Colombo

Paradise Road Cafe Colombo

Dewmini Roti Shop

Kahanda Kanda near Koggala

The Fortress Resort and Spa Koggala Beach

Places to stay Sri Lanka

Colombo Courtyard Hotel

Helga’s Folly (check status of it in advance)

Cinnamon Lakeside Hotel Colombo Sri Lanka

Koggala Beach (basic rooms)

Spice Hotel Mirissa Sri Lanka (stunning)


Paul Bowles (writer)

Bodhi Trees


1 Comment

  1. On Thu, 18 Jul 2019 at 13:58, The Travel Diarist wrote:

    > Leza posted: “December 2014 Colombo. Monsoon rains and railway wash outs. > I’ve wanted to visit Sri Lanka for several years, my old out of date Rough > Guide book proof of earlier intentions; bought in Stanford’s Book shop in > London’s Covent Garden in 2009 when out wit” >


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