Sri Lanka
January 14, 2001 GMT
Sri Lanka

Colombo (07-01-2001) till Colombo (14-01-2001)

The flight to Colombo, on Sunday, went without any problems. First we flew to Chennai (=Madras). There we had to go through immigration, and I was curious if they noticed that the bike was stamped in my passport. So I left the customs letter in my pocket. Also if you hand over the paper they're examining it and this can only cause problems. But he didn't (wanted to) see the bike stamped in the passport and put the exit stamp directly next to it! So I didn't have to put the bike at customs at all and could have left it at the hotel. But as I couldn't take any chances, I played it safe.

In Colombo we took a riksha to downtown, to a hotel close to the Indian embassy.

The next morning we went to the Indian embassy straight away (after breakfast of course). Jeannette had to stay down at the entrance as cameras were not allowed inside, but the security was not half as worse as at the Indian embassy in Pakistan. I still had two options: getting a business visa using my invitation letter of the Indian company or get a tourist visa in my second passport. As the charges and processing-time were identical I choose to apply for a business visa (6 month, multiple entry) as it might cause less trouble. It was very crowded inside so I had to wait a long time until it was my turn at the counter. When they found out I applied for a business visa they directed me to a different counter. Fortunately there it was not crowded and they accepted the application without problems. I could pick up the visa after 5 working days. But what's a working day. Today it was Monday so this meant I could pick it up next week Monday or as I start counting from today this meant I could pick it up on Friday, 3 days difference! I decided not to ask, and simply come back on Friday.

Our scheduled return flight was set on next week Wednesday but this was too late, as we weren't able to return back in Goa in time then. So we changed the flight to Tuesday, as I certainly would get my visa on Monday now. So we went to the Indian Airlines office and changed the reservation but they only could put a sticker in Jeannette's ticket as I didn't had a valid visa (yet). I asked them how it was possible that I couldn't get a sticker for Tuesday and the ticket was issued for a later date (Wednesday) without any problem. He couldn't explain this except for admitting they overlooked it when issuing the ticket.

The rest of the day we walked around Colombo. The Fort area (business center) was crowded with army and roadblocks so not really pleasant to walk around. We visited a temple, which was nice to see. There was also a small museum included where you saw really everything. From loads of gold, silver and even VOC-tiles(!) to old-timers and (huge) old fashioned computers from the early 80s. There was absolutely no line in the displayed items.

Colombo wasn't really an interesting city so we decided to move to Negombo, 40 km away at the beach (and closer to the airport than Colombo). I had been there before when I visited Sri Lanka for business, so I knew it was a nice but very touristic place. We found a really nice place, a bungalow close to the beach but at a very quiet place. Absolutely perfect!

We strolled through town and along the beach when Jeannette was looking for nice shells a local fisherman saw this and told her he would bring her really nice shells for a bottle of beer if we returned the next morning.

When we returned the next morning, bringing a bottle of beer with us, we went him, Sylvester. He showed us the fish market and finally we ended up at his house. There we had some tea and he showed us some of his pictures. Then he started telling weird things about that tomorrow was 'decision day' and he might kill himself etc. so we decided it was time to leave. We didn't get any shell but had an 'interesting' time. Late afternoon we rented a 250cc motorbike to we could return to the Indian embassy in Colombo tomorrow, and have a tour through the area at Saturday.

That night we went to a restaurant and ordered soup and a schnitzel. After having finished the soup he asked if we wanted a dessert. "No, we're still waiting for our Schnitzel we've ordered." "Oh, who took your order for the Schnitzel?" "You!" So then they started with our Schnitzel which meant waiting for another half an hour. And we were not the only ones who had problems with this waiter we noticed.

The next morning we got up early to go to Colombo. But first we had to fill the tank as we had rented the bike with an almost empty tank. We arrived at the embassy and after some waiting... my visa was ready. So I had to pay (about US$ 40) and leave my passport so I could pick it up at 4.30pm that same day. During lunch we decided to change our flights again and fly back next Sunday now so we had plenty of time to drive back to Goa. But we had to wait till after picking up my visa and then go to the Indian Airlines office directly before it was closed.

Meanwhile we drove to Mt. Lavinia, a beach resort just south of Colombo, which was a dirty place so we turned around back to Colombo quickly and pickup my passport at 4.30pm exactly. Then drove to the Indian Airlines office and change the flights again to Sunday now. Because Jeannette's ticket already had a sticker (but for Tuesday) we had only brought my ticket with us so they could only put a sticker in my ticket. They also quickly changed the reservation for Jeannette as well and we could put a sticker at their office at the airport just before we checked in.

On our way back to Negombo it started to rain heavily but it was a real tropical shower so it didn't last long before we could continue our trip. Back in our bungalow we saw how black our faces were just because of all the exhaust smokes. Not really healthy to drive through every day!

That night we had dinner in a restaurant owned by two Dutch guys and one of them joined us that night and we talked all night. He told us very interesting things about Sri Lanka. The economy was on its return and corruption got worse, which meant lots of problems for them as well. Prices had raises enormously during the last months only and people were getting worried. The local fishermen had already been on strike for a couple of days and soon the government had to start compensating them. This was probably what Sylvester had talked about? He was the 'leader' of the local fishermen?

The next morning we called Indian Airlines to double check Jeannette's reservation as I got worried last night as they changed her reservation very quickly. And yes, they didn't change her reservation at all. Changing now was not possible as they had to put her on the waiting list. This really pissed me off and I told them to solve the problem quickly as they had messed it up and told us yesterday everything was ok and now it appeared not to be. They told us the waiting list would be no problem and I couldn't be bothered about it. At least not for today, tomorrow we would leave early for the airport and raise hell if necessary to get us on the flight. Jeannette was still worried and started thinking about taking different flights back to Mumbai. I told her this certainly would not be the case. They made a mistake so they had to solve it as well!

Today we wanted to tour through the area around Negombo, which I knew, was really nice. I tried to remember my way back to the company I had worked then and when I was certain I took a wrong way I saw the company. I didn't go inside but continued our trip. The scenery was breathtaking and we enjoyed 100% driving through it. This was definitely the best day so far (despite the bad start). Just before dark we returned in Negombo and brought the rented bike back.

Sunday 14 January, we checked out from our bungalow and paid the agreed US$ 20 a night. When I returned to pickup my pen I'd left they said they were sorry but they had forgotten to charge me the 10% tax. I told them I had no money (as Jeannette was waiting outside with our bags) and then it was ok to leave without paying extra.

We took a riksha to the airport early and found out that our fight was delayed as well. So we had plenty of time to sort out the tickets. In the Indian Airlines office I explained everything and there we found out the mess was even worse as expected: My flight was set for today and Jeannette's for Tuesday (which we already knew). But this was only for our flights to Chennai. They didn't change our flights to Mumbai at all so this was still on Wednesday for both of us. But I have to be honest, at the office they changed everything to today flights without any problem and put all the necessary stickers in the tickets. So no waiting lists anymore and everything worked out fine in the end.

Except for the delay which had increased till over 2 hours but they offered us a meal in the meanwhile.

Posted by Martin Rooiman at 03:04 AM GMT

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