Final day in Sri Lanka. Heat blisters now cover both shoulders in twisted impression of puffy yellow epaulettes. Now heat blisters only really hurt if you rub them, so shirt wearing is a torture in itself. I shall wear factor fifty sun cream next time if it helps. Taxi back to airport charges 700 more rupees than on the way from it. Decide this is danger money for passing through the army checkpoints in front of the airport. All cars are forced to stop within 20 feet of a bloody great gatling gun aiming straight at them with bloody huge tank-busting bullets at bloody point-blank range. Smell it? I was sitting in it. Army in fact run the airport. My luggage is checked five times with me before take-off. Someone should take note and tell the Americans.
No more dead dogs in the sea today, but at 40 degrees in the shade, lounging around is painful even if that is all there is to do. My shoulders kill and there is a small tribe of ants running around the toilet basin in my room.
Wake at nine for wedding at ten. Realise that Sri Lanka is in different time zone from India and dress faster than Taz spins. Wedding is delayed however as groom is hung over after drinking until 4am, bride has broken out in nervous rash, hotel seems to have forgotten we exist, band is late, and almost the whole wedding party are reluctant to leave the comfort of the shade for the wedding plaza that’s already 35 degrees and rising. Bride and groom are led out separately by local dancers loudly enough that some pool-based sun worshippers come to investigate. Wedding register is signed and Sri Lankan ceremony begins eventually blessing the next seven generations of the Coombes-Pearson connection. Many photos are taken and many requests are made of other hotel guests to get out the damn way of our taking the photos. Proceedings end with new couple taking trip on elephant named Molly round the pool area to the Ocean.
Birmingham City lose the Worthington Cup to Liverpool 5-4 on penalties and we lose track of lunchtime. Console self with swim in the Ocean and come out only when the staff call me out. Am I obviously burning up? No. An ex-canine has just been washed up on shore about five metres away. Puts a crimp on your day that. Excellent post-wedding celebratory dinner lasts much longer than expected and proves that certain members of staff should never be wine waiters.
To Colombo then. Inauspicious start with discovery of head cold attributed to over-eager air conditioning and total unavailability of breakfast thanks to hotel restaurant not opening until 11am on a Sunday. Settle for bottle of water and cup of coffee instead. Even hotter and muggier than yesterday. Murran brings own car to take me to airport - an Ambassador with windows that open, a clutch that works, and seats and ceilings he upholstered himself with his old living room carpet. Only problem is that to sit in back of this car, you need to be under 5 feet 9, or 5 feet 7 if you take account of the upholstery. Spend thirty minute drive leaning into the front seats.
Get on plane after more yo-yoing between check in and immigration than should ever be needed and am upgraded for troubles. However, the difference between Executive and Economy class appears to be slightly more leg room and a cup of unidentifiable fruit juice. For all the priority tags on my luggage, it still takes 20 minutes to arrive. Of course, the stickers mean that my luggage is a priority case for the baggage handlers to rummage through before passing on, so it’s to be expected. In the interim, wonder why Colin Powell’s name is pronounced Coh-lin rather than Colin, as he deserves.
Hotel is 50km from airport past the Sri Lankan army guarding the airport from Tamil Tiger terrorists and through Colombo which mostly looks like London suburbia did circa the unemployment crisis of the late 1980’s. Air condition overachieving again, but clientele almost totally western, access to the Indian Ocean, pools, cocktail bar and so on. Entertainment aimed at Westerners too - dreadful karaoke evening involving many drinks and an unfortunate rendition of Love Me Tender, but the less said about that, the better.
Wake at 6am thanks to mozzies. No time to kill the flying diesel engine droner and go back to sleep before Patrick, Bajaj, Tim and Wani appear within five minutes of each other. Patrick is jsut early and Bajaj is worried that his driver is going to wait for me on the wrong flight. Two are coming to Chennai within 15 minutes of each other or would be if mine wasn’t delayed by an hour. Spend hour in waiting room wondering why airport code for Mangalore is IXE. Believe that half the plane has been lost en route when it finally arrives. Overhead lockers reveal exposed outer hull, seats more like deckchairs which require putting up and the food (maple and walnut bread) and drink is plain and bare.
In Chennai, Murran the driver has assumed that plane’s inability to land at correct time is in fact my fault and proceeds to moan about his life, the battered AC Triumph he drives and the tardiness of foreigners for the forty minutes it takes to drive to hotel. After check-in, I’m off again to Mahabalipuram to “view the carvings” and placate the guy who wrote the itinerary. Air conditioning in car is on polar winter setting and windows don’t wind down so it may be thirty degrees outside but it’s minus five inside and hard to breathe. Five minutes in and a bike hits the rear of the car, setting him off again on how it isn’t his car anyway, it’s a company car and the company are cheapskates so it doesn’t have anything useful like a horn or a clutch that works. As if to demonstrate this, taxi actually conks out thirty miles from city.
Mahabalipuram is big tourist attraction with steep mark up for foreigners. Manage to impress guide with ability to dump hawkers aplenty and just generally stroll around with him at my own pace. All the carvings there are 7th century but involve Stonehenge-like effort as every carving is out of rock dragged from 150 km away. Time is catching up with town however. The Indian Ocean is whittling through the cliffs where some of the temples are perched with some speed.