Woke at 7:30, and had breakfast on the balcony again. Tea has never tasted so good. I then met Tomeck and friends and we set off in the van to Hambantota. The drive took 2 hours, and the landscape changed quite dramatically in that time, from valleys and hills to dry, arid land and the sea. We found an ATM in Hambantota, and I managed to withdraw 40,000Rs, which must be US$400, which might have been 500GBP, which is possibly S$650.
Talk in the van had been energetic and topics varied. In a town of 11,000 people, a place called Food City was the biggest draw for this crowd. They missed things like cheese, wine, chocolate and crisps. They missed places like Subway, Burger King and Starbucks. Their only entertainment was to meet now and again and watch re-runs of Family guy. I suddenly felt both guilty and very lucky to be living in Singapore and being able to get anything I wanted at any time I desired. Even Jakarta was more convenient than the previously tsunami-devastated backwater town they called home.
They all got out of the van, and I continued to Tangalle for an extra 2,500Rs. I got the driver to drop me off at a place called Ganesh Gardens, which had some beautiful cabanas right on the beach. The place was a recommendation of Pradesh at the Ella Holiday Inn.
It was very quiet – only a few guests – a German man working for a German NGO in Colombo, a Kiwi volunteering at a local Muslim school and who had been living at Ganesh Gardens for 4 months, and a Belgium couple with 3 young children. I loved the place immediately. A hammock hung on my balcony from the second floor, and I could only hear the sound of waves crashing on the beach, and the hauntingly beautiful cry of seagulls and other sea birds. I had a cheese and tomato sandwich, a bottle of coke, and gazed out onto the lovely beach and the sea. The room was a steal at 1,800Rs.
In need of sunscreen, I went for a long walk down the beach into town. Town was full of military police and soldiers with machine guns, on high alert as Tangalle is the home of Sri Lanka’s president, and he was home for the New Year. I bought sunscreen, and also a few bits and bats – small gifts for people, then walked all the way back.
When I got back to Ganesh Gardens, I put some sunscreen on, and walked down the other end of the beach on the golden sand, The beach was deserted, I didn’t see another soul – this really felt like an idyllic, exotic getaway.
Exhausted from my walk, I relaxed on a lounger and chatted to Ani, the Kiwi who had shown me the rooms earlier. Her story was sad and touching. She used to travel a lot, and had cycled through Asia – all with her husband. But he had died suddenly, and she decided to head out alone, and quit her job. She said it took a while to get used to travelling around, and that she realised then how much she’d relied on ‘John.’ She had a sadness in her blue eyes, but also a determination. She had found happiness again here in Sri Lanka, and was treated as part of the family by the good men at Ganesh Gardens, Ani was a trooper, a survivor, who had experienced some terrible losses and hardships. Here in Tangalle, where everybody has a story of a family member lost to the tsunami, she had found common ground. She was still smiling, even without John. I wanted her to be happy.
After a shower, I headed to the beachside restaurant again to eat. I had a delicious tuna with chips, and ate my dinner with the German guy, whose German accent was strong and undisguised. Then, the guys who run Ganesh Gardens asked us to join them for drinks on the beach. We did so, and helped them to drink and celebrate the coming New Year. It was a lovely crowd – me, Ani, the German and 5 Sri Lankan chaps, chatting away and forging friendships. They brought out the Arak, which proved fatal for me. I was exhausted, and became drunk too easily.
I went to bed at midnight and had bizarre, Arak-fuelled dreams that a Belgium man with a bag of explosives who had been to my house was trying to bomb Orchard Road in Singapore, but he had first tested the explosives out at Angkor Wat, and I was with Crystal walking through Brighouse on the phone trying to explain the situation to the Police Chief in Singapore, as I’d just met the Belgium guy again on the street and he’d threatened to blow himself up. I was genuinely afraid. I’d like an explanation for that one!