It’s May and every local I spoke to said the weather was “unusually hot” for the time of year. We were making our way long the southern coast of Sri Lanka. Our guest house owner in Galle recommended we get a taxi cum tour guide to our next resort. Having only been in Sri Lanka two days I didn’t fully appreciate that everybody who lives there is a tour guide. Either is one or is married to one. The following morning we jumped in to our personal tour bus. The cost was “inclusive” and this mini-tour of the south coast was to take in a temple, a turtle hatchery, a spice garden, a tea plantation, some local fisherman and a couple of other minor local intrigues such as drinking coconut from the side of a road. By the time we got to the third experience on this road-trip we had spent all our money on tips. A favourite phrase in Sri Lanka when giving a tip (“Is OK?”) is “If you like!?” It’s hard to know what to do with “If you like” as it is designed to make you feel small and Scrooge like. Invariably you end up giving more. In all fairness it ends up being around 100 rupees more which is 50p. Big deal you think given someone has taken the time out of their schedule to show you around his spice garden. What was aggrieving about this particular outlay was that the owner had smeared liquid garlic on my leg to prove his point that garlic root is a natural de-hairing product. He was right, I was wrong and so it was I lost a 5cm patch of hair on my leg for the rest of the trip.
Half our experiences done we explained to the driver that we were running out of money and didn’t want to do the rest of the trip and just wanted to go to our idyllic paradise resort on the coast. Cue frantic phone calls and cancellations to tea plantations and fisherman’s perches. The poor driver seemed panicky thereafter, worried how he was going to pay these people as their tips were now spiriting away never to be seen again. For the remainder of the trip we molted under an a/c with only one vent working. As the journey went on I started to realise that this taxi was in fact a tuk-tuk that had been converted in to a 6 seat passenger vehicle. It had the same engine going by the speed. When we finally arrived to our end destination a large German met us - blankly. I thought it a linguistic thing. Turned out he wasn’t an employee of the place despite giving us and the driver warm Cokes to welcome us to the resort. He wasn’t a guest either. The conversation kind of stopped there. Eventually this heavy set young guy came up and I showed him our e-mail conversation and confirmation of booking. All seemed fine and he told us we could take our pick of the three cabanas on the grounds. The prime one was described as almost “Alpine”. Perfect, a little bit of Austria in Sri Lanka. Maybe that’s what this guy was here for, he was in fact Austrian and the décor for these little chalets in the sun.
It’s hard to know what is Alpine about it. I think the similarities end with the fact that the roof is a similar shape to an Alpine chalet. It’s a spurious connection but all I have to cling on to. Going inside was like going in to that creepy-crawly section in the zoo. The one that is dark and designed to make you feel squeamish at the sight of surrounding 16 legged things. Someone had tried to wire the place through the solid granite stone construction it was made of and I think if something with a proboscis didn’t get you then the electricity would. The day had started out with plenty of promise and now I had half of my leg hair missing, a lighter wallet, a furry mouth from the warm Cokes and was standing in an insect metropolis. As it turned out it was the best cabana they had. The sun went down and we huddled together waiting for what night would bring. The heavy set attendant brought us two chilled beers – I thought the best thing to do now was just get drunk so at least whatever insect decided to have a munch was going to end up catatonic. The thought of a mass of insect alcohol related deaths was keeping me spirited. Alas, that was short lived as I gave the attendant my last 100 rupees as a tip. “Is OK?” “If you like sir?”