11 December 2012
We are lucky enough to be back in the land called serendipity, Sri Lanka.
Mum, Dad, Mike and I arrived with minimal fuss after a bit of repacking in Perth. It seems that although my mother understood the part about liquid and gel limitations set by our government on hand luggage, this in her books didn’t include a two litre cask of wine in hers and my father’s hand luggage. I am definitely my mother’s son – I had a cask of wine too; however, mine was in my checked in luggage!
We arrived in Colombo at midnight, tired, excited, creased and with swollen feet. So embarrassing. I’m a flight attendant for gods sake!
We then packed in a two day frenzy of shopping in Colombo. Not too hard a task as most shops are open until 11pm, with some even open twenty four hours. I’m not talking dreary department stores. The shopping here is often in restored mansions left by the Brits from the late 1800s / early 1900s. This is the city where it is possible to have that “Pretty Woman” moment, surrounded by beautiful bags as you leave the sparkling boutique, to be farewelled by a smart doorman who ushers you into your transport and on to the next store.
Ok – reality check. The stores are as I described, the exchange rate is good, and Sri Lanka has a massive international garment manufacturing industry, which sells over-production of anything from Ralph Lauren to Cotton On. And sadly the transport we were ushered into was a tuk tuk.
Mike and I visited some favourite old haunts and some new ones. Now that the war is over, construction and tourism are in full swing. Many of the old remnants from the British and Dutch eras are being restored and turned into great shopping and restaurant complexes. I feel I must justify myself. I have done more than shop: yes my bags can barely close. But I am supporting an industry and thousands of low-paid workers.
Ok. “My name is Richard and I am a shopaholic”.
One of the ‘new’ restaurant complexes is The Old Dutch Hospital. As it sounds it is – an old Dutch hospital dating from the 1600s. Incredibly high ceilings of old terracotta tiles are supported by massive teak beams, in a complex that has wide shady verandas, colonnaded by thick white pillars around paved courtyards. We chose the “Ministry of Crab” restaurant, complete with bibs, shell crackers and Lion Lager. Thus the photo.
Now why is this entry called The Kandy Scam Man? Well, Mike and I have a long-running history of being ripped off in Sri Lanka’s ‘second city’ of Kandy. Kandy is a beautiful mountain city that spills from hilly jungle peaks that roll down to surround a serene lake and the Temple of the Tooth (a very religious temple complex that houses Buddha’s dentistry). However, we have a history in Kandy of falling for age old scams such as giving strangers money for tea that never arrives home as promised, or visiting orphanages (how could you turn that down, we’re not made of stone!) only to discover the orphanage is a front for a batik warehouse.
“How could they be that naive?” I hear you seasoned travellers say!
Well we’re not … well maybe we are a little bit gullible. Each time we suspected what was going on, but hey, we’re on holidays, it’s never a large amount of cash, and the adventures have been harmless and made for a good story! Anyway, much to Mike’s relief we are not visiting Kandy on this trip – however, Kandy found us in the form of a young man called Leslie – yep, the name should have given it away!
Mike and I were doing our early morning walk along Galle Face Green (a large green expanse in Colombo hugging the Indian Ocean that the Brits built for the ladies to promenade on). While Mike and I were doing our ‘manly’ stroll next to the ocean, Leslie appeared, walking in the same direction. He started the usual “practise the English with the foreigner” conversation. He was going to a morning Buddhist celebration that involved many temple elephants. He could show us if we wanted.
Alarm bells. Mike instantly closed up. Wise him.
Instead, I thought that would be a great idea; after all, Leslie said it wasn’t far away, walking distance even – “but the ceremony started very soon and we would have to hurry up”. We picked up the pace and followed Leslie through a maze of streets (which we fortunately were familiar with). In-between the numerous phone calls Leslie made, he explained his life history. He was from Kandy (ding ding ding ding ding!) and now worked at the esteemed Galle Face Hotel in Colombo.
Leslie then decided we wouldn’t make it unless we caught a tuk tuk. So suddenly one appeared and we jumped in.
Yes, I can hear you, “A strange man taking us god knows where”…
Where were you on Monday morning in downtown Colombo when we needed your advice?
The tuk tuk took us on a convoluted route to a temple, luckily only a block from our hotel.
It was then that we discovered that the three dollar ride was actually forty dollars.
However, Leslie didn’t realise he was trying to rip off seasoned and tight Aussies. After a a few raised voices, and genuine hurt, as I thought this young man was our friend, we parted with our smallest note, ten dollars. Leslie and the tuk tuk driver then disappeared together, presumably to laugh at the stupid foreigners and set up the next patsies.
We avoided being scammed in Kandy, only to find that the Kandy Scam Man came to us!
However, I type this now in an amazing private villa on the South Coast, looking over the pool and across the river, listening to the ubiquitous crows and the ocean in the background.
Vodka and Tonic in hand.
Who’s laughing now Leslie?