Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Day One - Beautiful Bentota

I'm going to divide the trip up into chunks, so I can savour remembering each part all over again all by itself! And because it would be a very long post if I didn't.

Bentota was my first stop in Sri Lanka, and my favourite. Maybe because I got to see the beauty in everything for the first time, that later in the trip would seem normal. I love the feeling of seeing everything with such fresh eyes, alert to the smallest and humblest of charms.

However before we get to Bentota there is a drive... a chaotic, sensory overload of a drive, from Colombo through the coastal towns of east Sri Lanka. This was my first realisation that nothing on this trip was going to be as I imagined... but rather much more vividly better and unexpected! I had pictured sleepy coastal towns, the cliched palm trees rustling in the wind, sea and sand. How boring, on reflection, that would have been. Instead Colombo stretched into town after town of bustling activity... all along the road were ramshackle huts languid but busy with the activity of daily life... men fixing bikes in small shacks, towns full of wood-workers carving cricket bats in the sun, busy towns heaving with buses and shops selling mobile phones, clothes, all the accoutrements of modern life, smaller villages trading coconuts from stalls lining the shore. Not one shop looked the same, not one chain store or faceless corporation to be seen. Nothing hidden... but rather life in all it's glory, playing out along a dusty, crowded and frankly rather dangerous road!

By the time we arrived my eyes were sore from taking so much in (not to mention my hands, from gripping tightly to the non-functioning seatbelt that dangled uselessly by my side) and I felt drunk with the excitement of being so utterly captivated and surprised. After I settled in I took my first of many cycles through the village behind my guesthouse. Again what I saw both surprised and moved me beyond measure. The homes were so simple, and often shacks or simply made bungalows, but so pretty and surrounded by the lushest jungle I had ever seen. One lot blended into another, with vegetable gardens, cows, dogs, washing wells and old bikes dotting the forest floor. No-one seemed to be inside, instead people sat in doorways or on porches, talking or playing depending on their age. To me it seemed utopian, and although I know it's easy to don rose coloured glasses when viewing another culture what I saw seemed to me more right than any apartment building or walled off suburban lot than I have ever seen. The small village heaved with life, as rich and substantial as the jungle enveloping it.

As I returned, prayers began to play over a loud speaker and float through the dusky evening sky to indicate the end of the fasting period for Ramadam. I lay on my back on the pool as the music swirled all around me and the first stars began to appear in the sky.

And had the feeling... that this was just the place I wanted to be.


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