Joel’s Sri Lanka Journal, Part 1

Monday, July 19

Long-ass day. Hustling around to prepare. Still feel tragically unprepared. Worried about vaccinations I didn’t get, and wild animals/bugs. Why am I going somewhere dehydration salts are necessary?

Met cute Chinese girl named Tina at the check-in. She’s petite and thin, but her body and face are voluptuous, round features. She smiles a lot and moves effortlessly between Chinese and English. I wonder how old she is?

I’m still worried about hepatitis. Why didn’t I get vaccinations? I put everything off until the last minute. I need to become a better planner. The magazine suffers for my inability, as does my personal life.

About to take off and just discovered one of the hottest traits I’ve ever seen in a woman; Chinese, thin, young, braces, tall, stewardess uniform, and British accent. Jesus. The question, “Do you need a headset? never sounded so erotic.

Worried about sweating too much in front of Teasha. Also worried about Hepatitis. Jeff Divine’s story didn’t help me worry less.

Tuesday, July 20

Not much of a day, really. It passed in slow-mo. Slept on and off for about nine hours. Got decent rest despite my knees being jammed into the seat in front of me.

A Chinese man on the other aisle of my row made notes on a piece of paper he kept in a manila folder. It was calming to watch him write. The characters are so compact and he made them so smoothly. I wondered if he could write as fast as he thought. I can’t. He reminds me of my dad in ways. He’s calm and quiet, and he produces very little wasted effort. Conservative haircut, slacks, Polo shirt, light jacket.

Wednesday, July 21

Changed watch to Hong Kong time, which is 15 hours ahead of CA. Landed at 5:15 a.m.

Hong Kong’s airport is huge. It’s like two giant shopping centers connected by 1/2-mile walkways. 40-foot glass walls let you watch ground crew re-fit 747s and fishing fleets troll the island-dotted harbor in front of the airport.

I slept in a lounge chair for an hour, and then spent another hour watching men in immaculate uniforms unload catering carts and baggage. Their movements are so regimented. Their predictability is soothing. They are performing manual labor, but from the air-conditioned gate area, it’s like ballet. I can’t help but wonder what their personal lives are like. Are they happy? Do these jobs satisfy them?

I found a “pay-lounge where for $30 US I took a two-hour nap in a little bedroom next to a British woman and her daughter who couldn’t sleep. I fell deep asleep and I dreamt about flying. In my dream, our plane does a series of frightening banks and turns, but a fellow passanger reassures me that the pilot is competent. Woke up and took a shower. In the shower, a sign said that if you use the shower as a toilet, you’ll be charged $200 HK. I wonder what series of events led to the posting of that sign. And how is it enforced?

After, read and had a beer. Watched the replay of Euro 2004 Sweden vs. Den. Killing time; flight at 2:05 to Singapore then Colombo.

Still obsessing with mosquito bites and hepatitis. It’s in my every thought.

Bad turbulence from Hong Kong to Singapore. Scared the shit out of me. I swear we fell 200 feet. People’s drinks flew up in the air. But this only lasted a while. The rest of the trip was uneventful, except that while we were waiting for people to board the plane in Singapore for Colombo, I met a cool Belgian named Wim. He was traveling the world trying to sell safety devices to dairy farms that make powdered milk. Apparently, it explodes.

Arrive in Colombo at 8:25 p.m., nervous because I didn’t know what to expect, and I’m still obsessing with mosquitoes. Outside it was very warm and the air was heavy in my chest and smelled a bit of smoke, which is typical of tropical third-world countries where trash is burned.

Cleared customs and got my baggage. Said goodbye to my Belgian milk farmer and exited the terminal. Couldn’t find my driver, so I waitedd out front where five guys approached me to ask where I was going. At one point they got in a length-of-travel bidding war. One guy said it was eight hours to Aragum Bay, then another said seven, and not to be outbid, a third said, “six and a half. Eventually my driver showed up. He’d been stuck in traffic on the way from Hikkadua, three hours away.

We got in a bus with a driver and sped out of Colombo in the dark. What I could make out, Colombo is a mess. Looks like Tijuana without any police. Sri Lankans are nice and intelligent, and we discussed religion over some fried chicken and garlic bread from a roadside restaurant. Garlic bread?

They listened to horrible, thumping techno as we weaved and sped away from the city. At one point, my guide turned around and asked, “Hey, ever heard of reggae?

The rest of the night was a blur. At one point I woke up and all three of us had been asleep. The car was heading off the road—sketchy. At one point woke up to screaming of driver. An elephant was running beside our van. An awesome spectacle.

Drove by lots of military and police checkpoints. Signs of conflict abound. Machine gun nests, old craters, etc. War is a recent memory in Sri Lanka.

Thursday, July 22

Got to Aragum Bay at 8 a.m. (eleven hour drive) and was surprised at how third world it is. Battered buildings, animals everywhere, very few women to be seen, as the area is heavily Muslim. Sinhala troops patrol the street. So do Tamils. All are heavily armed.

Area is dryer than I expected, roads are dusty, and it’s very hot. Looks more like what I picture Africa to be–jungle interspersed with expanses of grassland.

Ten minutes after I arrived, the crew returned from their morning surf. They’ve already been here a few days, and seem very well adjusted. Dustin, Joe, Teasha, Jeremy, and Marlon. They caught me up on how the surf hasn’t been good (read “big), but they gushed about the possibilities for insane sessions and great photos.

Joe, 30, looks a lot like his older brother Tom, especially when he wears a pair of aviator sunglasses. He’s quiet and thoughtful, and he asks good questions and listens to the answers.

Joe’s girlfriend Teasha is very cute, blonde, 5’6”, muscular but not masculine, and in lots of ways reminds me of my ex-girlfriend Brenda. Stunningly so from certain angles. Joe and Teasha have gone out for two and a half years, and they seem to compliment each other well.

D. Hump is motivated to the point of being driven, which is one of the reasons he’s so good at his job. He’s up first, he’s arranging travel, he’s ordering dinner. He’s definitely here to work.

Marlon is funny. He’s shy but he’ll blurt out some crazy shit. Reminds me of Ted Newsome–handsome, smart, funny, obscure, tall, and occasionally the center of attention.

Jeremy Heit has surprised me. Didn’t really know him before now, but he’s hilarious. Always has a funny joke, befriends the locals with ease, and appreciates where he is and what he’s seeing.

We all went surfing right away. Drove around to check some spots, ended up at an awesome right point. You could envision it peeling it perfect, uniform line. Surfed it for three hours and caught waves for 100+ yards. Had fun. Later came back and read while others napped.

In the evening, went searching for elephants. Found peacocks, water buffalo, tons of monkeys and crocodiles, but no elephants. Shot photos, drank some beer. Home at dark (7 p.m.).

Dinner with all. Curries, prawns, rice, etc. Plan is to be up at 5:30 a.m. tomorrow, so I’m out.

Question: Do you, as a traveler, want to expose a place like this?

Idea: An article about an unspoiled place that the author decides not to help spoil.