Arrived with no troubles on my Sri Lankan direct flight from Tokyo to Colombo. Since I was arriving in the evening, I had the travel agent arrange a car and a hotel for the first night. I normally don't do such, but it paid-off in terms of what the taxi driver taught me. Most cars in Sri Lanka are from Japan except the Tata buses (Russia) and Leyland buses (India). Gas is basically from Shell or Caltex and costs about 50Rs per liter, not much cheaper than Japan. The entire country has scheduled black-outs of three hours in the morning and two hours in the evening, which are staggered in one-hour increments depending on where you live. Arthur C. Clarke lives in an exclusive neighborhood in the suburbs of Colombo. He evidently has another house on the coast somewhere. My driver had been to both houses and met Mr. Clarke when he accompanied an American crew for an interview visit. It rained a bit last week, but mostly only at night.
With this, I arrived at my hotel, which was mid-priced yet in a convenient location. The YMCA was just around the block for about one tenth the price, but for the first night in, a comfortable hotel suited me fine. Being that it was a Saturday night, I headed down to the hotel dance club, again breaking an old rule of mine. The band was nice, playing the same selection of world music that you might expect at any hotel disco. It was a nice way to ease into life in Sri Lanka.
In the morning, I ventured out early to get a feel for the town. I started with the Sunday market area around the train station and by noon I had picked-up a new battery watch, some bread and snacks, a couple books about Sri Lanka (okay, and one by Arthur C. Clarke) and a guide. In taking on the fourth, I was breaking yet another rule of independent travel. However, anticipating that I would need a ride for many of the sights I wanted to see and knowing that I was in a bit more of a hurry than usual, I decided to save myself some headaches. Besides, I already had a train ticket on the panorama car that I was wanting to take into the hills, and as long as I could call the rest of the shots, I was happy.
Completing the Whirlwind?
After getting a sense for things in Colombo (basically no other travelers around) and checking out a couple of the sights, including the Fort area and its old buildings, and the main museum and beachfront area, I decided that my time in Colombo was sufficient. A couple hours in the museum is a good introduction to some of the royal heritage, dance masks, and random artifacts (including the blue whale skeleton that one eager staffer quickly led me to) and a well-planned three-wheeler ride through the surrounding neighborhood whet my appetite to see more. At 3:30pm I met Karu at the train station and we boarded the train to Kandy.