From the moment the cloud cleared to expose a glistening, green, palm tree covered landscape the excitement rose to the point where I almost laughed hysterically out loud. It was our first jaunt to somewhere we considered truly exotic – Serendip, Ceylon…Sri Lanka; the tear drop in the Indian Ocean.
But the tear drop had exploded when a few weeks earlier an Indian peace keeping force had pulled out of Sri Lanka and fighting had once again broken out between the Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lankan Army.
As the airport taxied to a halt at Colombo Airport we passed a long, high, wire mesh fence that seemed to be covered in ragged clothes, possibly they were drying in the sun. Except they weren’t clothes, they were people. They were hundreds of them hanging from the fence…but why?
Excitement turned to anxiety fuelled by an over-active imagination…or not. Were they trying to escape a war torn country? I made a mental not not to watch movies like The Year of Living Dangerously before travelling to a country that was in the midst of a civil war.
Getting through arrivals was a blur. Being directed to a battered old mini bus in a frantic and dusty parking lot was a blur; my senses couldn’t handle it. They were jolted back into reality by another surreal site, that of a murder of crows dive-bombing a fellow passenger. The bus driver laughed. We didn’t; we fled into the sanctuary of the minibus before the jet black avian thugs turned on us.
There was nothing familiar, nothing at all to get a comfortable hold of to batten me down. It was a totally alien environment and it was all the more delicious for it. For the first time I felt I was truly travelling. It’s a moment I will never forget and for that, and a lot more, Sri Lanka will always be a very special place.