Saturday, January 29, 2011

Trip to Colombo

 After being delayed for over a week dealing with getting the sail repaired and returned, we had hoped to take the train up to Colombo on Tuesday.  But there was yet another small delay.  The Harbour Master came to the concrete dock and said that all sailboats had to be moved.  We were stern-to on the south side of the concrete dock that projects into the middle of the harbor.   Almost all of the Bluewater Rally boats had departed on Monday; they had been docked next to us.  The Harbour Master now wanted the dock cleared of small craft so that it can be used by a commercial cargo ship if needed.  After all, that is how this harbor makes money – by commercial cargo ships, not by small pleasure yachts.  He directed us to move around on the north side of the same concrete dock and to raft-up with another sailing yacht.  He also gave Bill a tip about how and where to drop our anchor before rafting up.   He said if we dropped the anchor slightly off the starboard side before backing into place to raft up, then the boat would ride smoother and there would be less bumping against the inside yacht.  This worked extremely well.  And it turned out that being rafted up on the north side of the dock was much better and much more convenient than being docked stern-to on the south side of the dock.  When yachts are docked stern-to on the south side then they must stay well away from the concrete wall.  This means putting your dinghy into the water behind your boat.   To get ashore one must climb into the dinghy and use the lines to pull yourself to a ladder on the tall concrete dock and climb up.  At low tide this is quite a challenge for those of us who have had knee injuries and/or have arthritic hip joints.

Tuesday morning we moved and rafted up next to a small yacht.  Using the anchor technique was an excellent idea since our boat is much larger and heavier than the inside one next to the dock.  There is shore power available as well, which meant we could go to Colombo the following day.  Luckily the boat is from Denmark  and not from the USA.  Europeans have no problem with others climbing over their boats when rafted up.   The harbors are often so small in Europe that many boats get tied together.  People on the outer boats must climb over all the inside boats in order to get ashore.  We never do that in America.   So, at 05:45 Wednesday morning we climbed over our neighbor’s boat as quietly as possible, climbed the ladder and soon met our tuk-tuk at the security gate for the short ride to the railway station.  The 06:30 train is the express and takes a little over 2 hours from Galle to Colombo.  Bill had hoped to make it to Galle on Tuesday in order to have time to meet with someone at the US Embassy, but that didn’t work out.  We would have time for only a one-day visit with our friends.

Andy & Melissa sent a driver to meet us at the Colombo Fort Railway Station.  Wasn’t that so very nice of them!  Andy & Mel love Sri Lanka.  They have been coming here for years and were married here last year.   And after seeing how they live in Colombo, it is very easy to understand why they love Sri Lanka so much; as they live a very privileged lifestyle in this country.  Their condo is at one of the most prestigious addresses in Colombo.  They are very, very close friends with all the top cricket players, especially the cricket team captain.  And they also have close friends who are highly placed in national government.  Andy & Mel have opened a tea packaging factory in Colombo, and they are currently shopping for beachfront real estate where they will build a home.  
They gave us several options of things to do in Colombo during our one-day stay.  There was a cricket game that afternoon, but it was not an important game so would not be the best example of the sport.  We decided not to attend.  There was shopping.  Okay, maybe a little.  And we could visit their tea packaging factory.  That sounded the most interesting.  We enjoyed a marvelous lunch in an upscale popular restaurant.    Dessert was strawberry and red wine ice cream.  Sounds strange but it was astonishingly delicious!  Then we shopped a bit.  We rarely buy souvenir type things during our travels because we live on a boat and space is limited.  But this day we found 3 items that I couldn’t live without.  One was a small white square plate with the Sinhalese alphabet written in black.  Second was a large simple white bowl with the Tamil alphabet written in black around the rim.  I love these 2 pieces.  Art in cookware.  How perfect is that for souvenirs of Sri Lanka!  (Google is your friend if need more information about the Sinhalese and Tamil population and the recently ended long war.)  The third souvenir is a pair of throw pillow shams.  Now we have a pair from Cambodia and a pair from Sri Lanka in the main saloon.

Next was the trip out to the tea packaging factory.  We were required to don caps because the factory was in the process of a production run.  Health and food safety rules, you know.   Don’t want any loose hairs falling into those tea bags.  Andy and I were reminded of Lucy at the candy factory as we stood beside the conveyer belt moving small boxes of tea bags to the boxing area.

After the short tour we adjourned upstairs to visit with Andy’s business partners in this venture and to enjoy a cup of the tea that was being packaged that day. (Isn't that a pretty tea set?)  This particular day the factory was packaging Scottish Breakfast Tea to be shipped to Russia.  The factory does not buy tea or own any inventory except the machines.  They basically take packaging jobs from any company that needs tea packaged into bags – using the customer’s bag material, customer’s labels and strings, customer’s boxes and customer’s cartons.  They might be packaging Scottish Breakfast Tea for Russia today and English Breakfast Tea destined for Poland or Australia tomorrow.   Whatever the customer needs.

Driving back through Colombo in heavy traffic we spotted this polished old gramophone for sale on the roadside.  Wouldn't that be a great sofa table item.   None of us could figure out what that thing is on the far right. 

On the way back to the condo we stopped at an old hotel on the beach for drinks.  This was a setting straight out of a Hemingway or Somerset Maugham novel.  Lovely place.  A wedding party was being photographed.  The women looked so beautiful in their golden saris.  The white wedding sari was gorgeous.  Another couple was being photographed for their “coming home” photos.  Melissa said this is a normal custom in Sri Lanka.  After the honeymoon the couple is photographed when they return home.  That is a new one for me.  Haven’t run into that custom before.

Dinner was at a southern Indian restaurant in Cinnamon Hotel.  Again, a very upscale restaurant for Sri Lanka.  Andy ordered a variety of dishes and all were delicious.  Love spicy Indian food.  Then we returned to their condo and watched their wedding video, which Melissa had just received that day.  We were unable to attend the wedding (we were traveling Vietnam at the time); so it was especially fun to watch the video.   Our communal friends, Frank & Barbara of S/V DESTINY, had flown in for the wedding.  Barbara looked beautiful in her sari; Frank looked like a doctor in his light green long Sri Lankan style shirt.  Andy’s wedding costume was a hoot.  They wrapped many layers of cloth around and around him to make him look very fat.  And the jacket had huge rigid puffed out sleeves.  I think this was a traditional Kandy wedding costume.  (Kandy is a city in the mountains near the north/central area of Sri Lanka.)  Melissa’s wedding outfits were positively beautiful.   She was supposed to arrive riding on an elephant.  But it rained and that elephant was all wet and smelly (while still clothed in dark blue coverings), so Mel opted to walk to the altar and tiptoe around the muddy patches in the grass.   The video of the dancing and well-wishes from the guests was also a hoot.  They had a great wedding.  Sorry we missed it, and glad we were able to watch the video.

The next morning the 4 of us took the train from Colombo to Galle.  The train tracks run right next to the shore at some places and well away from shore at other places.    I think around 5,000 people died on Sri Lanka during the big tsunami in December 2004, and there is a lot of tsunami damage visible in some areas.    >   The property along the train tracks varies a great deal.  Some of it is true poverty; other areas have very nice homes with large landscaped lawns.   Then again, some areas are very picturesque, as seen by the photo below.

There was a pretty baby girl on the train that caught my eye.  She and her twin sister had big black dots painted between their eyebrows.  These were the only infants or children I have seen with those dots.

Andy & Melissa had tickets for the Galle Literary Festival.  Bill & I had not bought tickets because we thought we would be long gone from Sri Lanka by now.  (We are getting well behind schedule and need to get our butts in gear in order to get as far north as possible in the Red Sea before the winds start coming strong from the north.  We should be in Egypt by mid-March and that is a long way.)  Two of the events conflicted.  So Andy asked me to attend a cooking class with him, and Bill was to go with Mellissa to have lunch with Candace Bushnell, author of “Sex in the City.”   I did make it to the cooking class with Andy; but Bill was detained by the port people and never made it to the Literary Festival that day.  Oh well, he likely would have been the only male in attendance anyway.

The dish prepared in the cooking class was a traditional Sri Lankan specialty called Lampraise (pronounced Lamb-pree).  This is a Dutch-Sri Lankan dish.  It was quite involved and time-consuming; definitely something one would prepare only on special occasions.  It involved cooking 6 different things; then assembling all on a banana leaf or plantain leaf; wrapping into a packet; and baking.  Each packet was a large meal in itself.  I don’t know if I will ever have occasion to cook Lampraise, but now I know how to do it.  I definitely would modify it to better suit our tastes.  Sri Lankan food often contains dried fish powder or dried shrimp powder.  We do not like either of those; the taste is too strong.  I would definitely substitute roasted ground peanuts instead of the ground roasted dried shrimp. 

Michael & Linda on S/V B’SHERET arrived Thursday afternoon.  On Friday we shared a van with them for another half-day tour around the Galle area.  We visited the fort, the museum, the stick fishermen and a search for printer cartridges for B’SHERET.   We ate lunch at a "local fare" buffet place.  All the food was pretty spicy, but tasted fine to me -- except a local specialty of banana flowers and peppers that contained a lot of that dried fish powder.  Way too strong a fishy flavor.  At the fort I bought a simple cotton dress from a sidewalk vendor.  Bill was already in the van, so I borrowed the money from Michael.  It was supposed to cost 1800 rupee, but Michael gave her 18,000 rupee.  He had just arrived and wasn’t yet familiar with the currency here.  The woman took the money and hurried away.  Luckily, the tour guide saw what had happened and quickly confronted the old woman and got the money returned.  The tour guide and driver were pissed off and lectured the old woman about ripping off the tourists that are their livelihood.  They were really angry that she did not immediately return the money and instead tried to keep it.  No kidding.  $180 USD for a simple cotton shift would be absurd!!!  That is probably more money than that old woman makes in 6 months.  Poverty does not excuse dishonesty.

Linda was a good sport and tried the stick fishing.  She even caught a fish!!  Unfortunately, our camera decided to quit working and the last dozen photos taken are pure black.   Wish it had died 6 months ago when we were in an area where we could buy a decent camera.  Not much to be found around here in the way of good cameras, so I guess we will go back to using our underwater diving camera that takes such crappy photos.

When we returned to the port after the tour we stopped by our agent’s office to inquire about clearing out.  It normally takes over a day to get cleared out of here and we hoped to leave either Saturday or Sunday morning.  Unfortunately, can’t do that.  It is not possible to have the electric meter read and an invoice for electricity prepared on a weekend.  So it now looks like we will be leaving Monday afternoon – as long as the weather forecast remains favorable.   Even the best weather is a beat up to Cochin (wind against us for you non-sailors); we sure do not want to attempt it in less than favorable weather. 


  1. Love the wedding photos! Both brides have such exotic and beautiful dresses. Interesting to hear about your friends running their own business and living in Sri Lanka. Sounds like they're doing it right! We're not much into shopping, but love the bowl and plate... beautiful!

  2. How fun to think of BeBe and Spectacle together in Sri Lanka!

  3. Do you remember the name of the shop you got the tamil/sinhalese alphabet items from? I have been trying to find the name of the shop.

    1. No, do not remember, but our friends might...we will email them and ask them to either email us and we will respond here, or they may respond here.

    2. From our friends who live on Sri Lanka:
      Paradise Road ... we went to the biggest (and I think, nicest) retail location on Alfred House close to Gallery Cafe ...

  4. The name of the shop is Paradise Road --

  5. Hi Judy,
    I am also planning to visit Colombo in June and love to attend traditional cooking classes specially to learn Lamprise. Can you please let me know the contact. thanks

  6. Sorry, I cannot help you. I attended the cooking class in Galle as one of the activities sponsored by the Galle Literary Festival. I have no idea what cooking classes are available in Colombo.

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