I blog when I go abroad, and occasionally when I do stuff in the UK too. There's a nicer interface over here.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Wham, scam, thank you ma'am

As I type, it is 2335 local time and I am in the Araliya lounge at CMB, Colombo Bandanaraike airport. My flight from here leaves in just under 2 hours, and after I land it's 5 hours til my next one. My love of flying gets a real workout tonight.

Also, it's Tuesday, going on Wednesday. I arrived on Saturday, going on Sunday. I'm sure you're all desperate to learn what I did, and equally sure you will end up on a scale somewhere between bored, disappointed, or horrified. But I shouldn't guess. I'll just describe.

The hotel had no wifi, at least not in the room. Actually there is wifi, provided by a mobile network, but after 3 attempts at buying 50 hours access I figure out why it doesn't work: in order to get on the Internet it needs my money, and in order to take my money, it needs to redirect me to the MBNA UK site to do 3D secure, and I can't do that until I'm on the internet. Excellent catch 22. I wrote my blog post and couldn't post it, so, whatever, I packed a bag full of necessities and went out for a walk, after first sending an SMS to Guy - my local, non-expat ex-colleague who I'd first warned of my arrival some 10 months ago. Since I got no response, I was content to just explore the local area.

As far as I knew,  my hotel was close to the commercial centre and a few bits of tourism were walkable. It was mid afternoon and the temperature was bearable, but before I'd even reached a corner a local had started chatting to me and recommended somewhere to see. We walked for a good 10 minutes before he finally bundled us into a tuk tuk. Alarm bells were flashing, but not too loudly. This guy was - if to be believed - one of the cooks at my hotel. And besides, he delivered on taking me to cool stuff I wouldn't have seen otherwise. First, a Hindu temple. Next, a Buddhist temple. And then a whole bunch of Colombo.

All in all this guy and the driver kidnapped me for 2.5 hours, and ripped me off but I wasn't concerned. It was an empty day on the streets and I'd legitimately seen lots of stuff, got a few photos, and they dropped me off at Colombo Fort railway station. Stupidly, I chose not to try and buy a ticket for the following day's Kandy tourist train.

I started to walk back to the hotel, fairly sure I knew where I was going and that I was close. But then...I hadn't eaten, it was hot, and my defences were down. So I'm in country number 48 and it happens: I get scammed. Some unsolicited friendliness and directions from a local turns into being bundled into another tuk tuk and paying the same amount as the 2.5 hour trip for a round the houses 20 minute "hide the fact he's close" route through fuck knows where until we reach my hotel. I know full well what's happened and surrender to it, wishing I had it in me to do a Lester-at-Mokra-Gora style rant but fuck it, just take the money and fuck off.

I'm angry at myself, and tired. I like that I've seen the city. Guy gets hold of me on Facebook - turns out my SMS had reached him, but his two to me never did arrive - and we arrange to meet, and sure enough he comes to get me. He takes me out on a bit of a tour and feeds me prawn curry and beer, and we end up sitting outside the beautiful pool of a city centre hotel with me necking an 8.8% local stout. I've not seen Guy for almost 2 years and our chins wag a lot, it's great. We talk about work, life, and cricket in equal measure. I am deposited back at my hotel just around midnight and we talk about meeting up again before I piss off.

On Monday, I sleep, again. I partly feel like there's a need to justify how little I'm doing in Colombo but there really fucking isn't. My body knows that, with no imminent flights, it's OK to let go and so I do. Another 11 hours - at home I sleep 4-6 each night - and I leave the room just after 1230 to go upstairs to the Harbour Bar.

There's a buffet lunch and I am starving. They seat me at the window, staring at the spectacularly unpicturesque view of a working port and I order a beer. As that arrives, and I get up to start my feed, around 100 Germans arrive. It turns out Colombo is a popular destination for those guys. I take two runs, first a few weak things and second a plate full of strong stuff that even the pineapple makes me sweat (it's called "hot pineapple", to be fair).

Back to my room, I think about going out but I fall asleep. It's too hot and I'm too ginger and pale anyway, it's full on cancer weather. I tried earlier to get tickets for Tuesday's Kandy train but it too was full. I thought about getting a coach instead, but opted for...just doing nothing. This whole trip has 3 aims: experience a bunch of cabins I've never experienced before, visit friends in NYC and Colombo, and get a new passport stamp. I've done them all. Relaxing to the point of doing nothing is welcome and my body rewards me for it.

That evening Guy comes to get me again, this time to go to a Burgher restaurant (the 'h' is not a typo) from before this place was British colonial. Sadly it was undergoing refurbishment and members only for the main bar, but we had an amazing and spicy curry buffet as well as beer and the most staggeringly refreshing home made ginger beer I've ever tasted. Guy's brother called and the evening was cut short, but we agreed to meet for lunch on my last day.

Back at my room I started dozing in front of BBC world news so got into bed, and then couldn't sleep. There are 4 channels on TV showing cricket but I can't cope with that, especially as England's ODI was rained off. Managed via a faff to post a blog post and eventually got to kip around 3am, well after the horrifically childish and embarrassing Scotland Decides debate finished.

Tuesday arrives and I sleep forever again. Facebook fails me and I miss Guy's messages about lunch. I think I should have possibly stayed in Negombo, a beach resort nearer the airport, just because it more suits my "do nothing" desires, but hanging in the hotel is fine. I read, I sleep, I play Threes, and I go to the bar.

They are out of Irish Dark, which isn't Irish. I have another Lion stout and then spend 4 hours watching Sri Lanka vs Pakistan in an ODI. It's exciting and the barman scares me, as every Sri Lankan has, with their in depth knowledge of cricket. My choice of favourite player ever is sneered at. The cab to the airport is trickier to arrange than the "it's all arranged for you" email led me to believe, but is sorted for 10pm. I finish my time propping the bar with a glass of Arrack, the local coconut spirit that Guy had told me is disgusting.

It's disgusting.

By now Pakistan are batting, and I'm drunk and having 3 conversations at once. Pakistan start their innings well but collapse and Sri Lanka win while I'm on the freeway to the airport. As with the inbound, my driver waits for me - carrying my own bags - to open doors for us both, and I'm finding it curious. He tells me he's ex-police with 22 years service and I hope this means he'll drive like a nutter if required.

I get to the airport and tip him every last Sri Lanka rupee in my possession. My MBNA card has worked multiple times in multiple locations, which is good considering I didn't tell them where I was going. Last time I actually warned them, it was as rejected on day one. I hate MBNA but my card is just too damn lucrative to give up. I earn 2.5 miles Avios per pound on every purchase, which adds up to a significant portion of what's required to pull off a trip like this.

There are 3 security checkpoints but I am well prepared for all of them. In fact I prepare too well to go airside, because I pick up and fill out a departure card that's for Sri Lankan nationals only. I'm quite drunk and dreading the red eye from hell, regardless of it being business class, and stumble a bit failing to find the lounge which is totally hidden in plain sight. - being stopped only to lend a Chinese woman my passport in order for her to change some currency (meh, I dunno, I asked the counter guy if bad things could happen and he said no...sounds legit, right?).  Inside I grab a giant plate of epic curry and start to write this. As I finish a Chinese couple have perched opposite me, and the woman keeps smacking fuck out of the bloke's leg while shouting a lot. It seems like a massive argument and I'm loathe to get involved; he's remaining calm but I think they might have an unhappy flight home. And then I reach this sentence, and stop.

And then because I'm in Colombo, I feel like making a terrible "one more thing" addendum, but don't. Ah crap.

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