Sri Lanka 2005 STA Travel Global FAM Trip
Trip Start May 02, 2005
3Trip End May 15, 2005
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"Aayu-bowan" he said, hands clasped and head slightly bowed, while the one we were to henceforth cruelly refer to as 'The boy', placed garlands around our necks and placed an envelope in our hands. Puzzled and slightly embarrassed looks were exchanged among us new arrivals at Colombo International Airport. We ran with it, unsure as to how to react being somewhat proud of our 'independent travel expert' tag that should have no doubt preceded us. We were surely to have been expected to find our way past the money hungry porters in yellow bibs who were frantically clambering for our bags, and find a few cheap local priced cabs to the hotel in Negombo, that after all could be no more than a few miles away. No, we were greeted by Amitha, 'The Boy' and Andrew the driver, who were to be our eyes, ears and protectors for the next eleven days in Sri Lanka
Another garland adorned, introductions over and a dinner planned we were beginning to relax into the polite way of life that earned Sri Lanka the tag of one of the most beautiful places in the world. Our bags had since been colour tagged and taken from us to our rooms as they would be every morning and afternoon for the remainder of the trip, the only backpack carrying we would do would be from Heathrow terminal one to four and vice versa. The dinner planned was like no other I had seen, a luxury hotel was the venue for Sri Lanka Airlines to welcome the STA Travel group and we were reminded of the fact by the huge notice board in reception stating just that. Seafood cooked just the way we liked it, curry and rice that would become a staple diet for the remainder of the trip, and desserts that although delicious should have really been left alone as a few of us were to find out two days later.
What followed over the next ten days was a pattern of early rises, bags packed, a breakfast of fresh fruit, toast, tea, (or whatever we wished really, including curry one morning), then a short bus ride to a temple site where we got the history by Amitha in his wonderful animated manner which was a cross between Tommy Cooper and our local Presbyterian minister (albeit with a Buddhist twist). We ploughed enthusiastically in to the historical sites with our restored independent traveller mode kicking back in, while still secretly enjoying being lifted and laid
Then the bar was continually raised in the "quality of dinner" race as we were treated to the best of Sri Lankan cuisine and not to mention the accompanying music usually in the form of a trio or quartet and belting out the classics such as Sweet Home Alabama, and Hey Jude in a great Sri Lankan accent. On a few occasions we did uphold the tradition of STA and blew the froth of a couple, as our antipodean friends might have said, but on the whole the early morning starts put paid to it being party night every night.
Buddhism was explained further throughout the trip on many an occasion and I for one learnt a lot. One lesson though will stick in the minds of our group for a long time to come, we had boarded the bus after another historical site, that had amazingly not and would never become monotonous, when Amitha donned his best Tommy Cooper pose and proceeded to explain his "mango tree" metaphor for Buddhist teaching
The rest of the days could be detailed here to give an account of the wonders of Sri Lanka but that is what I feel should be left for others to discover in this amazing country. We had our favourites of course, the wild elephants, the orphaned ones in Pinnewalla, the views from Sigiriya or Worlds end or maybe just the visits to the local schools and villages. My out and out number one would be walking through Kandy and watching a large town at work and witnessing a 'Puja' or a viewing of the temple of the tooth, Buddha's tooth none the less, quite something.
Suffice to say as the days rolled on and we became more and more comfortable with being kept travellers, I for one have no shame in saying I arrived with a preconception of group trips and left with a totally polar opposite view. Sri Lanka is crying out for people to visit and get tourism and therefore the nations economy back on an even footing, some might say that is the reasons behind the politeness and the super efficient service we were treated to, but I beg to differ. Pre tsunami I would bet a hundred Mango trees, that visitors were met in the same manner, and will continue to be so.
STA Travel Belfast