Day one: Negombo coastal city
You will meet your tour leader and you will be transferred to your hotel. The first destination will be Negombo coastal city, which has long been known as the most popular beach in Sri Lanka, famous for its sandy beach, food, fun, and shopping.
For day one, we haven't planned any activity as your tour leader will decide the day plan according to the time you arrive.
After three days in Colombo, we look forward to meeting our tour group. We are booked on Across the Best Sites of Sri Lanka with Capital Lanka Tours. For the next fourteen days we will visit many sacred and religious sites, national parks, and other interesting places. Sri Lanka is a little smaller than Tasmania and has about the same population as Australia, so there is a lot of people living in a relatively small country. Sri Lanka was involved in a bloody civil war, which ended ten years ago in 2009. We hope to learn about the effect the war has had on the people as a whole, and what their hopes are for a safe and united future. We are looking forward to meeting local people and to interact with them as we travel through the country.
A driver arrives at our hotel to collect us and to take us to our hotel in Negombo. After packing our suitcases into the car, we sit into the back of the car as our driver negotiates the heavy Monday morning traffic. Cars, trucks, motorbikes, buses, tuk-tuks, and pedestrians compete for limited space on the road, so progress is slow. Although the driver's English is limited, he points out some interesting sites along the way. Stopping in front of a Catholic Church, part of which is cordoned off, he turns and explains that this is the Shrine of St. Anthony, the church that had been bombed by terrorists at 8:25am on Easter Sunday in 2019. Suddenly the subject of news reports that had outraged us last Easter is looking us in the face. Christians are a minority in Sri Lanka; they make up only 6% of the population. The driver stumbles through an explanation of the events of the day, droning on and on about the event and its aftermath. After asking a few mundane questions, none of which are answered, I settle back into the seat and watch the world pass by the window. I'm not sure where Colombo ends and a string of fishing villages begin, as there is no break from the built up area.
I notice that the road signs display different speed limits for different vehicles; 50 kmph for cars, trucks, buses, and motorcycles and 40kmph for tuk-tuks and tractors in built-up areas. Since I haven't seen any areas that are not built up, I now understand why, after being in the car for almost two hours, we still haven't reached Negombo.
On our left side is a canal. Like the ones in The Netherlands and Britain, this waterway had been constructed to transport goods from one place to another quickly and efficiently. This canal had been built by the British in 1803 to run parallel with earlier canals built by the Dutch. It is 14.5 kilometres in length and extends from Puttalam to Colombo, and passes through Negombo. Tom sees a boat in the canal, which has an Irish name. We ask the driver to slow the car whilst he quickly snaps a picture. Slowing down on a road is problematic as the cars snaking behind are trying to pass or beep their horns to get the traffic moving again.
Stopping at a fishing village, i jump out of the car. Whilst Camillus, our driver, complains about the smell of the fish drying on the sand, I'm interested in what is going on and approach the fishermen. They seem to be a taciturn bunch, but I do walk along the sand, taking in the sight of so many locally-caught fish. Whilst the smell of fish is strong, it takes a couple of minutes to get used to it. It's not a bad smell, so the fish is fresh, and very soon I hardly smell it at all.
We return to the car and after a short time, arrive at the Beacon Beach Hotel. Although it has been awarded a four-star rating by the company, it is far from that - more like a 2 star abode. We ask for an ocean view to try to suppress the disappointment we feel already with the hotel.
Everything has been removed from the car, I turn to the driver to pay him the R3600 that we owe for the transfer. This is a total of AUD $25, which, for the distance covered, is reasonably-priced. I ask his what time we are meeting the other people from our tour group.
'I see you tomorrow,' he says 'Small group. You upgraded to private vehicle. I'm your tour guide.'
I return to the room, my head reeling. This is not what I had paid for, in fact, I had refused a private tour when it was offered because I want to meet and interact with other people and now, I'm not sure what to do about this situation, because, as pleasant as the driver is, I'm concerned that we've been sold a tour, which is not exactly as stated in the itinerary.
We'll sleep on it and decide tomorrow. For now, a nice walk on the beach as the sun dips into the water on the western side of the island.
TOUR: Across the Best Sites of Sri Lanka - Capital Lanka Tours
DISTANCE TRAVELLED: 38kms.
ACCOMMODATION: Beacon Beach Hotel, 185 Porutota Road, Negombo. 1.5*