On our last night in the hotel we thought we'd have an early night in anticipation of the trip to the airport. In essence it was a rather good plan. Right up until a load of drummers dressed in red rocked up, along with some people pushing what looked to be a cart with loud speakers on, topped off by an individual on a white horse holding an umbrella.
When the music started, it sounded like the scene from Disneys Tarzan film where the animals are in Jane and her father's camp, wrecking the joint and using the saucepans for drums, playing the typewriter and anything else they could get their hands on.
It's surprising how the noise from the road faded into the background, and was drowned out by the "band" below us.
Without my glasses on I thought it was Father Christmas and some reindeers. It was quite a surprise to see a horse down there. It continued for a good few hours, and cancelled the early night.
0700hrs we went down to the lobby to check out and get the hotels car to the airport. It arrived at 0730hrs bundled us in and we were offski !! When we arrived it was dusk so we were limited in what we could see from the car. However this morning we were able to see a lot more. The mountains, high rises and the people. Once again it made me count my blessings, to see people sleeping in underpasses, and behind billboards in the middle of busy roads is quite something.
There is a massive amount of road works being undertaken, and on the side of the road, its front end piled up on blocks was a large road roller. Gutted I couldn't get the camera operating fast enough to get a photo of it.
The trip only took us an hour which is waaaay better than the 2 1/2 it took to get to the hotel. There didn't appear to be parking spaces as such, the drivers merely pulled up where ever they found a space and unloaded their passengers. All of this took place to the frequent meep meeps from other vehicle's, trying to move forwards after ditching their own passengers. Not one of them took a blind bit of notice and the meep meep continued.
If that wasn't chaotic enough, to actually get into the airport our boarding passes had to be scanned, and visa's checked. In the grand scheme of things that wouldn't have been an issue.... but for the fact when we'd checked in online we weren't sent any boarding passes, they are issued at the gate. I tried to access the booking PNR but because there was no WiFi couldn't do that either. They moved Mildred and I to the side and some seriously grumpy men, with side arms, huffed at us and we found ourselves subjected to several eye rolls. Rude. On the booking.com app the flight was on there and showed the PNR which they scrutinised along with our passports , before shrugging and letting us into the airport.
Once inside we wrapped The Sturdy one in plastic again ready for the flight and headed towards bag check in. While in the que, we were approached by an official looking lady enquiring as to where we were going. We were in the wrong line. From nowhere, I'm pretty sure I heard fingers click, appeared another grumpy looking man who took hold of Mildred and I wheeling us into another line. Transferring from Mildred into an airport chair, she was then wrapped up in a plastic bag. Apparently she counts as luggage, so is just as well we only have the Sturdy One with us.
Once we'd been issued our boarding passes, Mildred was loaded onto a luggage trolley and we were taken to another area. It looked like the extra luggage spot, with lots of zimmer frames, all wrapped in plastic going through a scanner. Could have been anything for all I know . As soon she'd been scrutinised sufficiently a little man wheeled her off around the corner. I'm hoping it was to the loading area for wheelers.
From depositing Mildred we headed through immigration. Once more our India Visas were checked, and then our Sri Lanka ones . We weren't finger printed again, only photographed. Through that , having not seen so much as a glimpse of a smile ANYWHERE we were wheeled to security. Pretty straight forward, chuck your belongings in the tray and then pass through yourself. Not in a tray, the usual scanners that are in every airport. Women are taken into a curtained cubicle for privacy, and a girl with the longest spine I have ever seen, checked me over with the wand. She was a grumpy mare too. Satisfied that I wasn't concealing anything in my person I was pushed out the other side of the cubicle where Si was waiting.
It was then we realised that my electric toothbrush was packed in the Sturdy One on its way to the hold. We are now hoping that a) it still works b) it doesn't explode and ruin the few garments we actually have with us and c) doesn't blow our bloody plane up. If you are reading this then you will know that the plane didn't blow up thanks to my toothbrush.
Finally through all the checks we were wheeled through the duty free and to the departure gate to wait for boarding. We passed numerous food stands and drink establishments on the way to the gate and looked forward to a drink. When we got to our gate Si went to get some drinks. He came back empty handed. You are able to order McDonalds and KFC and they then deliver it from another part of the airport in about 15 minutes.
Our flight started boarding 11.30hrs and for the first time in a long time we were boarded first. When flying from the UK we are mostly boarded from the rear of the plane but the majority of flights we've had recently have all boarded from the front. This wouldn't generally be an issue, but for this flight I'd pre booked our seats and chosen ones at the very back, near the loo not thinking for a minute they would board from the front of the plane. I felt a bit sorry for the little chap hauling me up the aisle it must have felt to him like he'd never get rid of me!
The staff on board were all lovely, and actually seemed to enjoy their work. The plane was very clean with pillows, blankets and bottles of water in the seats ready for us. Only being a two hour flight I was pleasantly surprised when they wheeled out the food trolley, as I didn't recall seeing the option for food on the booking. It was bean curry and rice which was very tasty and some curried green stuff which I couldn't identify, and didn't taste all that great. Nice little pudding and the meal was finished off with a cup of coffee.
We flew in so low over Sri Lanka, I could see little red roofed houses nestled amongst the trees, lots of lagoons and stretches of Ocean. The landing was 'interesting' I think the pilot circled twice and the turn was pretty tight!! Landing was smooth, and amazingly when we came to a stand still, no one jumped up to grab their bags like they normally do. They just waited until the doors opened and calmly left the plane. Next impressive thing ... we were off that plane within 10 minutes of it parking up.
The difference in the two airports was incredible. Colombo Airport is light and airy, and decorated with blue lights and Christmas trees and very very calm. There was no chaos, no rushing, the majority of people were smiling. Just totally different feel to Mumbai. The assistant was a sweet girl, but wasn't backwards in coming forwards when asking for a tip as we were going down in the lift. To be fair she filled out the landing forms for us and all through customs. For the first time ever, I was asked if I wanted to purchase anything in the duty free. I nearly fell out of my chair in shock, and couldn't even be tempted by a toblerone!
The Sturdy One was collected and they were a little surprised at how little luggage we had. Mildred appeared, still in her plastic bag and was loaded onto a luggage trolley and pushed out by a porter. There are several Taxi companies touting for business at the airport arrivals, but we had already been told to take an airport taxi as they were registered and safe.
We gave them the name of our accommodation, were handed a receipt and wheeled to the waiting taxi via an ATM for cash. The taxi came to 4150 Sri Lankan rupees which is about a tenner.
Our taxi driver loaded the luggage and us in and we were off to our destination with the aid of Google maps. As we drove through tree lined streets I was most excited to see a LOT of pastry shops, my sweet tooth was screaming out to me stop and buy some for gods sake woman. We drove on by. Our driver was a super star, such a lovely man and very chatty. He was telling me about a hospital I should visit that would help me. While we were driving along, he received a phone call from the airport asking where he was going. The taxi was fitted with GPS and he wasn't going where they expected him to go. To be honest, I wasn't expecting to be going the direction we were going in either. We had left shops , even pastry ones and garages behind and were in a village. I was starting to rethink my career as tour organiser because this was turning out to be very much like the last stop over.
While driving slowly down the road, we were called to a stop by the police. Coming towards us was a parade of people led by young men carrying a cross dressed in red and cream robes. Both sides of the road were decorated with lights and red and white bunting so I'm guessing it was a celebration of some description. What surprised me was the sheer number of people who were walking 4 and 5 abreast in the road towards us. This is what the police had stopped us for. They were singing all smartly dressed and bringing up the rear was a band. It was quite a sight and I managed to take some pics and a short video from the back of the taxi. Our driver assured me no one would mind or be offended, but I still felt like I was intruding a little. It was pouring with rain as we landed and currently shows no sign of stopping, it made no difference to the people sheltering beneath umbrellas, or the ones who didn't have them. Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves despite it.
As we were stopped for the procession, a moped pulled up beside us with three up. Daddy, toddler, and mummy, all huddled under an umbrella in an effort to stay dry.
We finally saw a sign for our accommodation but couldn't locate the entrance. Our driver stopped and asked a lady for directions and we were a few yards past the turning. Thanking 'aunty' he turned around and took us down the lane directed. I did start to wonder where we were going. I'm pretty sure the driver was having the same thoughts. We came to the end of the lane and into the driveway. It was all in darkness, and to my over tired imagination, a little eerie. Our driver tooted the horn and next thing two men came down the stairs to greet us. We were in the right place. The driver admonished our hosts for their description of the accommodation, it isn't in Negombo at all, but they defended it saying it was in the area of it. As a result of the journey taking twice as long as it should have we paid the driver extra. If we hadn't he would have had to pay out of his own pocket to the airport. In fairness £20 for the distance we'd just travelled was bloody good, the car was comfy, the driver good and had a great sense of humour.
As I said it was raining, well slightly more than raining, it was bouncing back up of the roads to smack us on the chin, and we experienced some pretty violent thunder and lightning. Our host was stood holding a brolly over me, I just wanted to get inside out of the way!! Being struck by lightning isn't on my list of things to do before I die Thankyou.
I'd left the driver one of my cards with a little note on the back just saying thankyou and while we were upstairs in the accommodation checking in, he came up the stairs to say thankyou for the card. I have his card and he will be our first port of call should we require transport again. Some of the transport is a little dubious and, since we have no great desire to get ripped off, sticking to legitimate transport is the way to go.
The hotel fronts into a lagoon, and has a swimming pool in the garden that looks out over it. I suspect it will be lovely in the daylight and when it's not raining. There is a set of shallow steps that takes you up to an open reception area and veranda. This doubles as a dining area too that looks out over the lagoon. Waiting for us on a tray were two glasses of fruit juice, and I hadn't realised how thirsty I was until that first sip! We were shown a menu and asked what we'd like for dinner and we just asked for whatever he recommended, then were shown to our room.
It's a large room with en-suite shower and toilet. Wardrobe, small table and wicker chairs, tea and coffee making facilities and a small fridge. It is clean, smells good and is aid conditioned, with clean towels laid out on the bed and decorated with a few flowers.
Dinner was booked for 1900 hours so we had time for a stretch out before going back into the dining area to eat. Our food served as soon as we sat down and it was delicious, full of delicate flavoured vegetables and lots of seafood. A very large bottle of Sri Lankan Lion beer between us washed it down. Our breakfast order booked for 0800hrs in the morning, an omelette with Coffee, we discussed what the rest of the trip would hold. Given that I've booked the accommodation, it could turn out a bit dodgy. Or it could be epic. We deliberately didn't book big hotels and fancy places because how do you meet real people that way? It's an adventure for sure, and despite being in a different place to where I expected, it's still stunning place and we both much prefer it to Mumbai. Even driving along you can see it is more accessible, so hopefully we can accomplish lots of exciting things in the coming days.
Now the thunder and lightning seems to have blown itself out, we've cranked up the aircon as the humidity is currently hovering at 87%, and are looking forward to a good nights sleep. Hopefully!