First impressions of Colombo

imageI’m still yet to find a word that encapsulates the experience of Sri Lanka so far. Special is the best I’ve come up with and that, well, sucks. Partner 2 and I landed in Colombo on Sunday. It’s not a place that necessarily wants you to like it. Some cities exist to be liked and loved, to have sonnets written about them, Colombo isn’t one of them.

Similar to Australian country towns, there is not much happening in Colombo city on a Sunday, much to my initial chagrin. Walking through the streets, fresh off the plane, felt like walking blindfolded. One moment, you’d be walking through a market, taking in the haggling and strange vegetables. Then you’d make a turn and be on a dusty, empty street: stores shuttered, rubbish tumbling in the breeze, the only living things were a pack of mangy street dogs and a slightly more appealing pack of leering construction workers. One second you’re on solid ground, the next your foot is sinking into the unknown.

We eventually yielded to the unknown and convinced a tuk-tuk driver to take us to Galle Face Green, which turned out to be about 500m away from where we were. Easy money for the driver. Suddenly the Colombo we heard about materialised. People had told us mixed things about the Sri Lankan capital: some loved it, some left as soon as they arrived. I wanted to find what people liked, it couldn’t just have been the market. Galle Face Green was it. After whizzing past well-preserved examples of colonial architecture, we made it to the beach. It wasn’t the beach itself that was the attraction, the water was polluted and the waves were erratic from the swirling currents. No, it was the concrete stairs and path above the sand, and the stretch of open grass after that. We had burst into a snapshot of a Colombo Sunday afternoon. Families were sprawled on picnic rugs, flying kites and snacking on vendor food. Couples shuffled along the path, playfully arguing, never touching, making eyes at one another all the while. There was even a spirited game of cricket.

We were suddenly given insight into life in Colombo away from the grumpy stall-holders and dirty streets. The uncertainty of earlier slipped away and we found our footing. Here, people were smiling and laughing at our attempts at simple Sinhala, rather than just staring.

It always takes a while to hit your stride when you’re travelling, to get used to the unknown and unfamiliar. Colombo didn’t make it easy, but we got there in the end.

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