Tuesday, January 28th, Colombo, Sri Lanka
We have three full days on our own to explore Colombo before we will meet up with our Gate 1 tour group. Establishing a pattern of arriving early to a destination, allows us time to recover from jet lag and get acclimated to a new time zone.
We choose the Grand Oriental Hotel as our pre-tour home based on its location in the Fort/Marina area. We love to have walking access to local sites, old town, historical places, and restaurants. The Grand Oriental Hotel certainly checked off the boxes for all of these, however she is far past her prime. Built 180 years ago, this is the oldest hotel in Colombo. The rooms are well worn, not very clean and have certainly seen better days.
“Housed in a colonial-style building, Grand Oriental occupies a prime location a 5-minute walk from Colombo Bazaar. Featuring a restaurant, it offers classic rooms and free WiFi in all areas.” ~ Hotel website
Upon check-in, we noticed that the bedspread needed washing, there was some mold in the bathroom along with a friendly cockroach. We asked housekeeping to replace the bedspread. The housekeeping staff promptly removed it and two days later, one has not been returned. Thankfully evenings are warm and sleeping with just a sheet is more than adequate.
The location is great, staff friendly, wifi works and Tim and I think the included breakfast is quite good.
Day one we were still reeling from little sleep, but wanted to stretch our legs and check out the area. The desk clerk provided a map and suggested we walk toward Galle Face Green, a park sitting along the Indian Ocean.
This was a non-event, however, we did get some exercise as well as a taste of the area. The one highlight as we walked along the shoreline was watching a crew relocate some turtle eggs. They had been disturbed by a backhoe working along the shoreline and a group scooped up the exposed eggs. They were stacked inside a workers hardhat, and then gently placed inside a newly dug hole several yards away.
Tim and I walked over to the site to observe and I was handed one of the eggs to examine. It was lightweight and about the size of a ping pong ball. We were told that a female turtle can lay up to 200 eggs. We are scheduled to visit a turtle place (sanctuary?) toward the end of our tour and I am looking forward to learning more.
There is a large shopping mall across the street from Galle Face Green, which did give us a respite from the heat as well as some refreshing cold beverages.
Finally giving into our exhaustion, Tim and I returned to our room where we both fell into a deep coma-like sleep, foregoing dinner.
The next morning (Tuesday here), we met our friends over breakfast and planned out our day. Tim and I had suffered through a COLD shower as there was absolutely zero hot water.
As fairly seasoned travelers, I was embarrassed to later learn that there is a switch outside the door to the bathroom that had to be switched to activate the water heater. The sign stating “hot water” was missing from our switch plate.
Dick was craving bacon and managed to talk the restaurant manager into finding some in the largely vegetarian kitchen. He proceeded to cook his own and then showed the staff how to properly fry an egg.
Today we have decided to explore the nearby Pettah area.
You will either love or hate Pettah. Tim and I were definitely in the former category. Located next to the harbor, there is a cultural marriage here where you can interact with people from the Middle East, India, and Southeast Asia.
“Most of the businesses in Pettah are dominated by Muslim who specialize in trading of goods and the Tamil people who have migrated from India traders who specialize in gold and jewelry shops.” ~ Wikipedia
One can simply wander down one street after another, passing through areas offering up trinkets, clothing, fabric, jewelry, local cooked food, fruits and vegetable, spices, and gemstones.
Tuk tuks whiz down crowded roads, and we were approached numerous times with offers to take us on a guided tour. Large carts, bulging with products were pushed down the middle of the street.
It can seem a little overwhelming to the un-initiated traveler, but compared to India, this seemed calm for us. Shopkeepers were friendly and offered up a greeting and a ready smile.
The only people I was never able to get a reaction from were the heavily armed policemen, who would ignore my smile and remain stoic, often gruff looking. They were on duty after all, and had a more important job to do than make a silly tourist feel welcome.
Besides the shops, there were several buildings of note that we passed by.
Visiting a Hindu Temple
There are several Hindu temples in the Pettah Market area, and I’m not sure which one we visited as the signs were not in English. The temple itself was closed as they were just starting a major renovation project. Scaffolding was being installed as we watched. There was however a small “sanctuary” at one side that we were invited to see. Our shoes had to be removed, and no photography was allowed inside.
Karen, Jan and I ventured inside while the guys stood guard over our shoes.
One of the “priests” spoke rusty English, but welcomed us and introduced us to statues of several of the Hindu Gods, including Shiva (the dancer), a monkey god, and Saturn. He placed a red dot on our forehead, as well as a stripe of ash.
If I understood him correctly (which is questionable), I think the ash was made from burned and pulverized cow dung. We next had about a tablespoon of a white liquid poured on our palm and we were invited to drink it. It turned out to be a sweet cows milk.
After leaving and turning the corner, we promptly wiped our faces clean as by now our strained skin was beginning to itch.
Each morning at 5:00 am we have been greeted with a call to prayer from the nearby mosque. It is easily recognizable by the red and white stripes. The call lasts for 30 minutes with prayers starting at 5:30 (sunrise). Prayers are then broadcast for an additional 30 minutes. This happens five times a day.
We were not allowed inside, but they did let me take a picture at the doorway.
Returning to the hotel after a stop for cold drinks and a plate of hot/crisp french fries, there was time for a much needed afternoon nap. We capped that off with a wonderful HOT shower now that we understood how to activate the heating system and once again met up with our friends for dinner.
Two things stick out from dinner:
A large crane type bird flew into the restaurant, landed on an empty table and made itself at home just a couple feet from diners.
Dick, Gary and Jan all sang karaoke while Tim, Karen and I egged them on.
GRATITUDE MOMENT: Today I am grateful for a simple little button that when glowing red heats up my shower to a blissful hot temperature. How wonderful that there is still so much to learn while traveling.