After a few minutes the owner arrived and both he and the driver carried our bags up to the third floor. It was a great little apartment with a balcony that nestled in the boughs of a tree and overlooked the street. We ventured out on the first evening to get the lie of the land and find a place to eat. We made our way to the main street and after a short walk we came upon the bars and restaurants. A number of establishments had not reopened after covid, I guess they were unable to ride out the storm (no covid payments here). But there were still many places open and they served every cuisine you could want but all I wanted was a steak. We hadn’t realised that Sri Lanka was in such dire straits, economically until after we had left but you could feel a quiet desperation in the air. Everyone was desperate to get our money. Don’t get me wrong no one was trying to steal from us but there were so few tourist that everyone from tuk tuk drivers to restaurant owners were aggressively vying for our business. So we find ourselves in a very up beat restaurant with the type of food I was looking for, Róisín would eat anything and enjoyed new food experiences but not me. Our food had just been placed on the table in front of us when there was a power cut and we found ourselves in total darkness.
Luckily, this establishment had a generator, not common as you may remember from our visit to Fort Galle, candles were brought to the tables to cast light on our fare during that power cut. I had googled to see why there were so many outages and discovered that the country was zoned for power cuts at different times in the day or evening. This place was a bar restaurant and I could imagine it would have been queues at the door to get a seat then but now there was just a handful of tourists there. Róisín and I had taken a table upstairs by the balcony that over looked the floor below. Of the 20 or so tables only two were occupied. Róisín and I at one and a group of four French tourists sat at another. Below we could see an English couple and in a far corner a small group of Irish, the staff outnumbered the customers We finished our meal and strolled slowly back to our accommodation.
Early the next morning we located a shop nearby and bought a few supplies for the apartment, snacks and lunch we would eat in and venture out in the evenings for our dinner. I was very surprised by the price of just basics groceries, milk, bread, eggs were comparable to European prices it was working out more expensive to eat in rather than out and it was getting harder to haggle with tuk tuk drivers as the price of petrol was raising daily. Desperation hung in the air and everyone seemed hungry for our money just short of aggression. This part of our trip was in February 2022, just a month or so before the riots started. I had heard of hyper inflation but reading about it and seeing it play out really brings home its full impact. We felt like voyeurs in someone else’s tragedy and could only justify our presents to ourselves by knowing we were at the least bringing in much needed foreign currency. The people seemed positively defeated and hopeless. We didn't venture out much other than to stroll on the beach at sunset and find a nice place to dine each evening.
Sunset on Negombo Beach
On our final evening we did manage to find a very lively bar/restaurant. It was run by a very friendly English man who had relocated to Sri Lanka 20 years ago and set up his business. As a side line he also ran a dog rescue where most of his profits from the bar went at this time, he told us he had 49 dogs living in his home. On my travels through India and Sri Lanka dogs were very low down the pecking order, the vast majority being strays. You would see them on dumps or rummaging through bins only rarely did you see one attached to an owner. Besides being dirty they mostly seemed in good health but for those that became sick it was a whole other story. I wont describe the state of them because just remembering them is stomach turning but these were the dogs this man was helping and for that he has my admiration. He had only reopened that week and had pulled out all the stops. Pre-covid, I imagined, this bar would have had queues around the corner or perhaps even invitation only, it had everything. Live music, great food, very professional staff, and a wall of those pedicure fish. The fish tanks stood on the ground and ran in a semicircle just to the side of the bar. Low benches straddled the edge of the tanks so that patrons of the bar, if so inspired, could have their little drinky-winks while the tiny fish feasted. The benches could hold approximately 12 people very comfortably. I did try to give it a go but never got further than dipping my toes in the water before rapidly removing them, no fish came close. Roisin gave it a go as did others. It was so funny watching the fish swarming toward the new entrants to the fish tanks. Lords Restaurant Complex was the liveliest bar on this strip and like ourselves it seemed to have drawn every tourist in the district all eager to party and have fun. You entered from the street down a very long hallway before arriving at the club, it was utterly removed from the world outside and remenistant of clubs and bars you would encounter in any of the Spanish resorts or notorious Ibiza. This was the closest to holiday vibe I had encountered since leaving home. Easy atmosphere and friendly people and on that note big HELLO to Angela! A lovely English lady who we ended up chatting with for a time before Róisín and I called it a night and headed home.
Bar in Negombo
We had booked our accommodation for a day more than we needed as our flight wasn’t leaving until midnight. The owner of the apartments and now our driver picked us up at 8 pm that evening and deposited us at the airport in plenty of time to get our flight. Check in opened at 9 pm and we were about sixth in line. Unbelievably, we stood for the best part of an hour while those in front tried to argue the most bizarre items on to the plane. A woman who had about six small children and a 35 kg bag for each of them refused to accept that the children didn’t have the same baggage allowance as her adult ticket allowed. A man with a Buddha statute equal to the size of a 35 kg bag and a bag of his father's ashes stood his ground until the check-in staff gave in and let him pass. People with cardboard boxes held together with string lobbed them into check-in. After an hour it was our turn. We showed our phones with the PCR test and flight details to the attendant who asked us for a hard copy. It was unbelievable especially after the stuff I had just witnessed being let through. Moreover, this was Covid so no other airport was accepting paper copies of anything. No point in arguing we had to wander the airport looking for some way of printing our papers. The problem was we had no cash and no way of getting to an ATM which was on the other side of the security we had past through coming in. I was fit to cry. Róisín did manage to convince the bag wrapping people to print our papers and take a card payment but by the time that was done we were now at the back of the queu. It was eleven thirty by the time we got back to the check-in desk with the same mean faced sullen women who had sent us off two hours previously. She turns the papers over. Read every detail. Asked totally unnecessary questions which included where we were staying in Thailand. I was now really fed up and her supervisor sitting at the next counter was listening to our conversation. When she asked where we were staying, I told her it was none of her business as she could clearly see from the papers she had in her hand we had our thai visas. The supervisor instructed her to print the boarding passes and let us go. It was now 11.45 our flight was leaving in fifteen minutes, so we ran. When we got to the next floor, we had to pass through another security check I really thought this flight was going without us but with minutes to spare we arrive at our gate and board the plane. Sri Lanka I will see you again hopefully in better times. On to Phuket!
Hi, I'm Olive and I am the writer of this blog. I am traveling the world with my 22 year old daughter, Róisín, who has just graduated University. I wanted to document this journey because it is unusual for a woman of 58 years old to go on adventure that most students do on a gap year. I will try to share my insights into this epic journey with you along the way and maybe inspire more people my age to go on these crazy adventures too.