Back to Serendipity

6 September 2013

Well, I’m on the “roam” again.

Back to my most favourite destination in the world: Sri Lanka. “The Land of Serendib”, “The Tear at the Bottom of India” … and home of the best curries ever.

I’m lucky enough to have a two month sojourn in Sri Lanka. A chance to travel to the far north and east coasts, which up until now have been too dangerous to visit due to the recently-ended civil war.

However, to adjust to the tropical lifestyle, the journey has started with a month acclimatising in Malgedara Villa on the south coast. A month of reading books, relaxing with family and friends. I’m fortunate enough to not only have my travel and life buddy (Mike) with me, but also my parents and several friends dropping in to enjoy Villa life.

Sounds like paradise, doesn’t it? Well, it appears that way, but already it hasn’t been all swaying palm trees and sarongs!

Once again, thank you Qantas for a very, very comfortable journey to Singapore.

Cathay Pacific – next time, I want to arrive in Colombo with my luggage!

I consider myself lucky that in approximately thirty years of tripping around the planet I have never had my luggage misplaced. I guess it was bound to happen eventually. I can let you know it’s extremely annoying.

All those carefully chosen items to make your life comfortable, safe, and, well, normal.

Two days of choosing, packing, reassessing, unpacking, halving and then repacking. Only to have it all lost. A traveller without his Samsonite is like a snail without his shell.

No matter how long I stood watching a myriad of bags, boxes, flat screen TVs and surfboards rotate before me on the baggage carousel at CMB, my little brown Timberland bag was nowhere to be seen.

How envious I felt of the rest of my family with their bags securely in their hands.

How I dreaded the process of trying to retrieve my little brown Timberland “shell”.

To put you in the picture, we had started our journey at five-thirty that morning. As I sat at the Sri Lankan Airlines ‘baggage services’ desk looking through bloodshot eyes at the sari-clad assistant, it was now midnight.

It seems I wasn’t the only bag-less traveller. A very self-important Indian Minister was screaming and threatening to “sue your bloody airline” next to me, as he absorbed the fact that his bag full of “critical documents for his meeting the next morning with the Sri Lanka Petroleum Minister” was (still) firmly lodged in a conveyor belt at Delhi Airport. I took the quieter approach. Frankly, I didn’t have the energy, and rudeness was getting him nowhere, as one would expect.

So, after much typing, computer said “Singapore”. Cathay Pacific decided my bag needed a little more time in Singapore’s Changi Airport.

Fortunately, I was told, my Timberland treasure could be put on the Sri Lankan Airlines flight that morning and be at my hotel by lunch time. “I’d just be waking up”; no real inconvenience.

WRONG.

By day three I learnt by heart the ‘baggage services’ mantra of –

“So sorry Sir, your bag will be on on the next flight from Singapore.”

Smelly clothes couldn’t stop us (just the people with noses around me).

We had just one day to obtain a visa extension that normally takes three days. Really, it couldn’t be that hard, we had filled in the form already, had our passport photos, located the office … we would be having our first gin and tonic by mid-afternoon.

So, so delusional.

But first I had to purchase a local phone to make my three-hourly call to Cathay Pacific.

“So sorry Sir, your bag will be on the next flight from Singapore.

It was evident by the large sweaty crowd in the Department of Immigration and Emigration that a gin and tonic by midday was a dream. We tried to work out the system of different coloured chairs, numerous numbered desks, and alphabetically-labelled offices with huge crowds of desperate people in each doorway. We came to the conclusion there was no system.

I also realised that the little piece of paper with the number “138” was worthless while the TV monitors displayed numbers like “11” for minutes on end.

It wasn’t only foreign travellers, but also local desperadoes trying to bribe and negotiate their way through what appeared to be bureaucratic chaos.

Enough time to make a call to Cathay Pacific.

“So sorry Sir, your bag will be on the next flight from Singapore.”

Small aside: I was standing in a humid, airless hall in the same clothes I’d been wearing for the last two days.

Needless to say I was standing by myself.

Four hours after arriving and one hour after the Sri Lankan Department of Immigration and Emigration ‘officially’ stopped processing visas, we had negotiated three immigration desks, paid our dues and were back on the dusty pavement, four visas in hand – dazed, and a bit bewildered on how the system had actually worked.

Personally I don’t think they could stand this Australian’s body odour in their ‘spotless’ office any more.

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The next day we were leaving for our villa on the south coast, so we still had to do some grocery shopping. Just the essentials: two cartons of tonic water, tea, a few books and three boxes of wine. Our gin and tonic in the afternoon would have to wait.

Better call Cathay Pacific…

“So sorry Sir, you bag will be on the next flight from Singapore.”

Day three, van loaded with bare essentials, luggage (minus brown Timberland bag) and a friend who had just arrived (minus credit cards and money, which had disappeared en route from Perth and put my aroma issue in perspective). Time to start this holiday!

And time for one more quick check with Cathay Pacific –

“So sorry Sir, your bag will be on the next flight from Singapore.”

Malgedara Villa is hidden down the road from the beach in an acre of sloping tropical garden. The Villa is an old Dutch colonial building painted white, with teak shutters and doors, the obligatory four-poster beds with mosquito nets, and a staff of four. So here I sit, on the terrace looking over the pool, down the garden and over the rice paddy, the faint sound of a curry on the go in the kitchen being drowned out by a cacophony of the local bird life, monkeys and local drain dogs.

Oh, and my precious brown Timberland bag finally arrived.

Three days late. Boy, was I starting to smell.

Thank you Cathay Pacific for finally getting your shit together.

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About Freoroamers

Richard has worked in hospitality and travel for almost three decades and has been a regular traveller since childhood. He now travels for both work and pleasure, and is a Senior Contributor to Trip Advisor and other digital media travel platforms.
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