January 15, 2019
We left the Maldives on the evening of Jan 13 and spent the next day at sea, wending our way toward Sri Lanka. The ship-board itinerary included a morning lecture about Nehru, India’s prime minister from 1947 to 1964, and another in the afternoon about the mammals of the Indian subcontinent. I attended neither, preferring to catch up with this blog, go to the gym to work off some of daily post-dinner dessert I can’t seem to walk away from, and to nap instead. I did, however, catch the Nehru lecture in my cabin later on closed circuit TV (I’m not a complete philistine).
Three excursions were available when we docked in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on Jan 15: Kandy (it held out against colonial takeover for two centuries before falling to the British in 1818); a visit to the Pinnawala elephant orphanage or a trip to the town of Galle on the country’s southwest coast.
(Those of us taking the Grand Journey, traveling all the way to Malaga, Spain, went to Galle since we’ll be coming back to this way after visiting Thailand. We’ll get the chance to visit both Kandy and Pinnawala in February.)
It was a hot, beautiful day and I enjoyed the 2.5-hour drive to Galle comfortably seated in our air-condition coach as we cut through the city of Colombo and sped past rubber, cinnamon and tea plantations. (Yes, I nodded off now and then. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to getting up at 6 a.m. to get ready for these excursions.)
The ride from the pier to Galle took almost three hours. Our first stop was a “short” visit, as advertised, to the former house of Sinhalese author, Martin Wickramasinghe, which is now a folk museum. True, it’s a small museum, but we got a mere fifteen minutes to walk through it—literally in and out. Why? Because organizers had made reservations at a fancy hotel for lunch. It was hardly worth the time to get us all off and back on the bus. I’d rather have spent more time at the museum and none at the fancy hotel that followed.
(When I asked excursion staff why we always go to these five-star hotels instead of local restaurants I was told local places don’t often have the facilities to accommodate such large groups, including for the seniors with minor disabilities among us.)
After lunch we motored to the old part of the city, to Galle Fort, built by the Portuguese four centuries ago, and later modified by the Dutch. Its ramparts and alleys are something to see.
Shopping was good, too, especially for semi-precious stones. I bought a pair of small silver earrings with a blue topaz and bargained so hard the sales clerk, who wouldn’t let me leave when we couldn’t agree on a price, ended up calling the store owner. After yet more smiles and shakes of my head and many attempts to leave, the owner let me have my price. (The earrings dangle prettily from my ears as I write this.)
The ship remained docked in Colombo that night, and we got a tour of the city itself the following morning. When we come back this way on the way to Burma, my new friend and fellow Grand Voyage passenger, Felicia, and I have decided to wander around the city on our own.