We’re not supposed to be here during the monsoon season, but if last night’s wasn’t a monsoon rain, I don’t know what was. For about four hours the rain came down in torrents with thunder and lightening. One strike was close enough to our room that it triggered the fire alarm. So much for getting a good night’s sleep and recovering from jet lag. The plants in our open air bathroom got a great soaking and the frogs were singing the Hallelujah chorus outside. We thought we might have to take a boat to breakfast, but most of the water had soaked away. The breakfast buffet was not as sumptuous as it had been yesterday, probably because much of the staff was busying mopping and vacuuming the vegetation that had come down with the rain. Signals for the internet and TV were also casualties of the storm.
Sri Lankans act like they speak English and we act like we understand them, so it was a surprise that the two hour tour of Negombo, the town where our hotel is, ended up taking about five hours and included many things we did not expect. It could have been even longer if we had been interested in stopping for lunch or going shopping. Our travel group is due to arrive tonight and we wanted to leave the bubble our hotel provides for just a few hours. We got more than we bargained for, but it all was fun and interesting. The driver spoke English as if making those sounds hurt his mouth, so I hope that what I think we learned today really is true. When our official tour begins we will barrage our guide with the questions we could not get answered today.
We started at the fishing beach where simple looking boats were bobbing on the horizon as the fishermen filled their nets with small silvery fish. Once they got to shore pulling the fish out of the nets was a laborious task. Many hands made light work. Some of the fish were carried fresh to the market, but most of them were spread out on the beach on long mats and salted. Once the salt is added, the ever present marauding birds no longer like them and after a few days drying in the sun the fish can be kept for months and rehydrated in curry sauces. Next to the fish market all manner of tropical fruit were also for sale. Our hotel makes a point of not serving apples, oranges or grapes since those fruits don’t grow here and they have so many that do.
We were surprised to learn that most residents of Negombo are Christian. Those Dutch and Portuguese missionaries did a good job of making their teachings stick. We passed many familiar looking churches, including two where bridal parties were gathering for weddings. But this seems to be a religiously tolerant and diverse area. Our guide said he was Buddhist and he took us past a Hindu temple and mosque. All the people looked the same physically, but their clothing differed greatly depending on their affiliation.
Then we toured a government sponsored spice garden with a herb doctor who said he had studkied twelve years to learn how to prepare tropical plants to cure what ails you. Beneath many of the plants he showed us were bottles of the elixir he had prepared. He maintained that many of them were permanent cures for ailments like hypertension, diabetes, excema, hemorrhoids, asthma, constipation, etc. etc. At the end he tried to sell us some of his potions. We demurred.
When the Dutch were in charge here they built a canal from Negombo to Colombo, which is the commercial capital of Sir Lanka today. The canal is still used to transport seafood inland and the trip takes two days. We spent an hour on the canal with a friend of our guide who pointed out the flora and fauna along the way. Ken got some great bird photos. Then he took us to another friend’s coconut grove, where he demonstrated climbing the trees in the traditional way with his bare feet. At the top he gathered some juice from the coconut blossoms which naturally ferments in the tropical heat. It didn’t taste at all like coconut milk and was only about 4% alcohol. Just what our jet lag addled brains needed.