Delightful Sri Lanka and it’s….Drivers, Safaris, Buddhist Monks, Vegetable buns and Arrack……Part 1
As I wait outside Colombo airport for Nisha to bring the car, I listen to the chaos that is going on around me……Car horns sounding, shouting, loud chattering, laughter and the distinctive sound of moped exhausts, all add to the character of this island at the southern most tip of India and it’s a feast for the senses.
Several people approach me whilst I stand alone waiting for Nisha, asking whether I need a car, ‘No no thank you I am waiting for my driver’ is my response and as traffic comes and goes I move myself around several times to avoid being driven into by buses cars and motorbikes. Although it is still early morning the temperature here is hot and I begin feel the impact of this as I blow the fringe out of my now clammy face, whilst trying to negotiate both myself and my luggage to a safer location.
Soon enough Nisha arrives and deposits my bag into the boot of his car as I climb into the passenger seat. The Air Con is already blowing and it feels good to be in the comfort of an air conditioned car. Nisha confirms that the first port of call is Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage which is roughly a 2 hour drive away. It is still just after 4am and dark with little traffic on the roads, which makes for easy driving and we make small talk along the way. I am pleased that Nisha’s English is very good, as my ability to speak any foreign language is terrible!
Nisha has a very gentle and calm demeanour and I begin to feel relaxed in his company as we make our way to Pinnawala. I make a decision not to mention my despair at Dubai airport after receiving the messenger bubble from his friend ‘the driver’ who I had originally booked my tour with. Although I am not so sure that I won’t bring it up at some point during the next 6 days when a more appropriate opportunity arises…….The drive to Pinnawala is quicker than anticipated and we arrive there much earlier that its opening time.
We pull into a deserted dusty car park opposite the entrance and as Nisha brings the car to a stop, a male approaches the driver side and he and Nisha exchange words in their mother tongue. Nisha askes me whether I would like to use the restroom ‘No thanks I’m ok’, is my response and the male ‘eyes’ me from the driver’s side of the car, before turning on his heels and walking back in the direction that he came, before disappearing around a corner.
Although I am not exactly worried, I do feel a tad ‘tetchy’ about being parked up in a dark dusty car park with a person whom I have yet to learn anything about and as Nisha explains that we probably have 1hr 30 minutes to kill before the orphanage opens, he reclines his seat and invites me to do the same………I am not sure how to react to this offer and my grip around my bag carrying my valuables tightens. It is soon obvious that I have nothing to worry about as within, what seems like seconds, Nisha is fast asleep. I later go on to find out that in his attempts to help his ‘friend’ out and collect me from Colombo airport, during the early hours, he himself had dropped off another guest only hours before and so had pretty much worked right through the night……..I am grateful for his efforts.
I smile to myself as I wonder what I would be thinking had either of my daughters telephoned me and described this scene, whilst they were travelling solo ? I take comfort in the fact that he is sleeping like a baby, arms folded across his chest and I sit quietly listening to the gentle rhythm of his snoring……I use this time to appreciate that I have arrived in Sri Lanka and I am looking forward to what the day has in store, as I reflect on the information that I had previously gathered about the elephant orphanage.
I remember reading that the primary purpose of Pinnawala was to provide a lifeline to the orphaned baby and adult elephants that have become lost in the wilderness. It is said that there are instances of adult elephants being killed by farmers to protect their paddy fields and crops resulting in baby elephants being orphaned. The Orphanage was launched to provide the best possible opportunity to the sad victims of such situations.
As I spend some time in my own thoughts, staring out onto the road, the darkness of the night diminishes and is replaced by dawn sunlight. With this I experience my first daytime images of this beautiful country and again I see similarities to Bali. Soon after the sun begins to rise a bus arrives carrying young children.
I suspect this is a school trip and as the children vacate the bus their attention in focussed on the single car in the car park with a snoring driver and a white female passenger still clutching her handbag. Some approach the car giggling and pointing towards me. I am unsure what they make of this image but find it amusing that they are so interested (Maybe they think we have been here all night!)
Not long after Nisha wakes and asks whether I was able to take a nap, my reply is ‘No such chance with your snoring………..’ this brings a smile to my face and he sees that I am amused by his ‘napping.’ He exits the car and returns with two bottles of water before we both make our way towards the Orphanage entrance.