Sunday, May 03, 2009

A Perfect Holiday

Fresh back from the most blissful week in Sri Lanka. If you’ve never been – well, it’s just the most amazing place in the world. I’ll admit to being a little trepidacious before setting off – if one more person said to me: “You know, there’s a war on there”, but all that hullabaloo is far, far away from the rest of the island and anywhere that I was visiting.

Where to start? Well things got off to a fabulous start when I was upgraded to Business Class on the flight over. I’ve always wondered how this happens – in this instance I suspect it may be because I was the only woman on the plane (no, really) and one of only 4 western travellers – and the other three all got bumped to business too. I did start to wonder if I should be morally outraged by this, but to be honest I was too busy enjoying the great leg-room, super-comfy seats and free-flowing champagne to dwell on it.

I arrived at 6 in the morning and was met by my lovely driver Shosha. What a cool guy! A Sri Lankan native who knew the roads like the back of his hand and was a great guide. First stop: Piniwela Elephant Orphanage. Despite having had no sleep for about 36 hours by the time we arrived, nothing could dampen my excitement. Elephants rock, it’s as simple as that. And they have quite a tight schedule, by all accounts. First up is feeding. Then they all troupe down a hill (crossing a road and walking past shops, no less) and spend a couple of hours messing about in the nearby river. And they do this twice a day.

Amazing to get so close to them – I was actually surprised by how nervous I got – they are, needless to say – enormous. And the sheer brute power of them…..very impressive. I bought a bag of bananas to feed them (Shosha found this hilarious and informed me that for what I paid (about 5p) I could have bought a kilo in a market. Hey ho. I fed a friendly looking chap the bag (he was pretty enthusiastic, I have to say) and had the obligatory photo taken. I was very excited. Then we stayed and relaxed on the rocks and just watched the elephants having a generally great time. There was a lot of trumpeting, water throwing, and lazing in the water. Some had a bit of scrub from the keepers. By the end I was fantasizing about chucking it all in and devoting my life to this very simple existence. I resisted the urge to shout out: “ I was once a zoo-keeper for the day, don’t you know!”

The rest of the day was spent visiting various places off the beaten track – I strongly suspect that a lot of these places were run by Shosha’s friends, and he was doing them favour by taking me to them. Still, seeing as most things cost about 2 quid, I really didn’t mind, and did by a few bits and pieces as we went round.

One stop: a tea factory/plantation. Now, I like tea (Earl Grey only, thank you very much), and it is a fascinating process watching it turn from green bits of bush into proper, drinkable tea, but I wasn’t prepared for the stench of the wet tea as it dried – absolutely foul! It may have also been the fact that it was about 35 degrees at this stage ad nowhere seemed to have any AC. At one point I did think that nausea was going to overwhelm me to the point of actually vomiting, but thankfully I held it together. I didn’t think that it would really have been appropriate to gip into a crate of freshly dried tea……

By this point I was dead on my feet and begged for mercy. Mercy came in the form of a divine guest house called Serendip. Perched above a river deep in the hills it was absolutely beautiful. I was the only person staying there apart from the owner’s son – Julian – who just happed to be 6 foot 4, mid-twenties, and a dead ringer for the cute one from Entourage. Sometimes the universe really is just too good…..

After an hour’s shut eye, which I was woken from by the sound of cows in the garden (no, really) it was off for more adventure. This time into the town of Kandy for a ‘Cultural Show’ which involved going into what would be the equivalent of a village hall, where locals performed a variety of dances. It was unintentionally hilarious – think a combination of Britain’s Got Talent, and one of Jayne Leggatt’s amazing am dram performances! Then, (because really, who needs sleep, toughen up!) it was off to a Buddhist temple where another lovely guide took me round and explained all the various parts to me. The oddest part: walking in, the guide pointed to the sky, and said: “Look, Birds.”

Me: “Yes, birds, lovely.” (Seen one bird seen them all, but I do like to maintain my manners.”
Guide: “No madam, birds.”
Me: “Yes, birds, lovely.” (What is he on about.)
Guide: “No Madam, BATS.”
Me: “GULP. Yes, BATS, I see.” Hurl!

And not just any bats – but elephant bats. Not sure exactly what this means, but suffice to say, they were absolutely HUGE. ENORMOUS. Anyway, we scuttled inside and I spent an hour or so umming and ahhing at what I hope were the right points. I’ve never been into a Buddhist temple before. It was packed.

Finally, it was home time, with a gorgeous dinner, g and t, and, at last, bed. But not before I’d sauntered into my bathroom to find THE most enormous spider I have ever seen, clinging to the wall. Cue much shrieking from me, after which the three staff entered the bathroom at speed to dispose of said arachnid. They were in there for a good 5 minutes or so during which I hug around feeling like a bit of a tit, I have to say. I had visions of them wrestling it to the ground in turns. Or they may have just been wearing my underwear as headgear, who knows. They emerged victorious and it was finally sleep time for me. Phew.

Next day was a four hour car journey down to the South West coast and the final destination. On the way we stopped at: a Batik Factory, Wood Carving Factory (I used the word ‘factory’ very loosely), and a ridiculously high viewing point which gave a great view over the hills. We also had a couple of lunch/washroom breaks. Driving in Sri Lanka, I had been told, is not for the faint-hearted – well after living and driving in Dubai for the last 11 months, I laughed in the face of this so-called terrifying driving. At no point did the car get over 60 km an hour. I explained to Shosha that when driving to Abu Dhabi, 140 plus an hour is the norm – he found this absolutely fascinating.

Eventually we arrived at the final destination – Sri Villas. Words can’t really do the place justice. It’s three villas, right on their own private beach. They come with a chef, housekeeper, and three houseboys. The chef and the housekeeper have obvious roles, the houseboys’ job seemed to be to anticipate what you wanted, before you even knew you wanted it. This meant that each morning a sunbed was carried down to the beach for me, glasses of homemade lemonade appeared miraculously at my side after a swim, along with a fresh towel, and g and t’s/glasses of wine appeared as the sun set each evening. Utterly divine. Each morning the housekeeper gave menu options for the day ahead (salads, seafood, all yum) and then went out to the local market to buy the stuff. She then presented me with a bill at the end – and it was v v cheap. Not only an amazing experience but a bargain to boot. I’m already trying to work out when I can make a repeat visit.

Sadly I didn’t get upgraded on the return flight, but as I was in a frenzy of “Eve Alexander’ excitement, this didn’t matter a jot. More updates on our fun-filled weekend to follow!

In the meantime – get yourself to Sri Lanka for a holiday, if you can. You won’t regret it.

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