Days 1,279-1,281: That Sinking Feeling

Mon 02.07.12 – Wed 04.07.12:

Anita offered me her couch to crash out on, but by couch I mean ‘one of the three bedrooms in her amazing apartment on the 27th floor of the Colombo Hilton’. I’d have happily stayed there all week, but I had a nagging angel on my shoulder telling me to go go go back to the Central Highlands and see Adam’s Peak and ‘Little England’. So Monday morning I said my tatty-byes and jumped the train over to Hatton, as in Derek ‘the c—t’ Hatton. My original intent was to press onto Nuwara Eliya, but I met some backpackers on the train from Spain, Uruguay and Venezuela, all young filmmakers attending film school in Florida. They were all set to scale Adam’s Peak tonight.

Adam’s Peak is important to almost all the religions in Sri Lanka, for various reasons, and during the non-monsoon season, you can see thousands of pilgrims making the climb of 5000+ stairs. However, it should be stressed that we are in the MIDDLE OF THE MONSOON SEASON here. Not the best time for going up, but in for a penny, in for a pound. We took a shared minibus over to the nearby town of Hatton and settled in to get a few hours kip before we set off around 2am. Like Mount Sinai in Egypt, the idea is that you go up the mountain in the dark then watch the majestic sunrise (which may or may not be spoilt by a bunch of Israeli girls jangling like it’s the damn hairdressers).

But when 2am came around, I didn’t even get out of bed. It was TEAMING down outside. My three filmmaking compadres set off regardless, but it wasn’t long before they returned, beaten back by the inclement weather. Seriously not the right time of year. The next day we all set off to Nuwara Eliya, affectionately known by the locals as ‘Little England’, up in the famed tea-plantations of Sri Lanka. It took an age to get there and although I was planning to press on and meet with Manisha and Starbuck in Ella a little further along the way, it was too late to be practical. I bought a ticket for the overnight train as I had to be back in Colombo tomorrow: my visa was about to run out.

Little England was sweet, but perhaps being there on a ‘poya’ day (full moon when alcohol disappears under the table and all the pubs are shut) wasn’t the best of ideas. Soon enough I was backtracking very slowly on the train back to Colombo, snatching sleep on the chug-chug whenever the brakes weren’t squealing or we weren’t being shunted like a starlet on YouTube. We left at 11pm and arrived at 7am. I headed over to Anita’s to drop off my gear and go get my visa extension.

This was a massive undertaking, not least because the Sri Lankans use the good old fashioned ‘five queues’ system. You queue for a application form, you queue to submit it, you queue to pick up your receipt, you queue to pay and then you queue to pick up your visa. The whole process takes about three hours and involves a shit-load of standing. A more efficient process could be conjured up by a five-year-old, but if there’s one thing I’ve learnt over the last three and a half years, it’s that efficiency and countries like Sri Lanka make queer bedfellows.

Returning to Anita’s, I thought about having a kip before the inevitable night on the razz that would no doubt result from what would begin with the pub quiz at the Inn On The Green. Never got around to it though, and in any case, bollocks to it: I’m still the first up and last to bed if needs be. Teenage dreams so hard to beat.

Strategy was the name of the game at the quiz, and although our team was in the lead for a couple of rounds, we played our joker (double points) too early and came a respectable fifth instead of my usual second place. Well, second place unless we’re in an environment (such as on a cruise ship in the middle of the Pacific Ocean) where the sad mooks who cheat at pub quizzes have no access to the internet. The buggers.

After the quiz, Anita and I headed over to the Dutch Hospital to meet with Lily and Olivia. Livi’s BF had just flown over from the UK for holidays and this would be his first night out in Colombo, it would be remiss of us not to show him a good time. So after Lily raided my hard drive to load up her ailing iPod with oodles of lovely indie rock n’ roll, it was drinkies and Skky Bar and Kama and the usual nonsense that’s becoming startlingly familiar for a night out in Sri Lanka…

How come I don’t even remember there being a pole?

Graham Hughes

Graham Hughes is a British adventurer, presenter, filmmaker and author. He is the only person to have travelled to every country in the world without flying. From 2014 to 2017 he lived off-grid on a private island that he won in a game show, before returning to the UK to campaign for a better future for the generations to come.

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