Sunday, February 3, 2013


Colombo is a city of the developing world. Every ethnicity and religion seems to be here and the evidence is seen in architecture. Hindu and Buddhist temples and shrines, mosques, and churches of every stripe are found around every corner. Buses, trucks, and tuk tuks spew smoke and particulates into the air, and everyone, rushing, is on their horn. That is the noise of the city.

Wide old waterways near the Fort Railway station and every sort of beggar, toothless, eyeless, limbless. Hawkers sell the Sri Lankan flag this weekend, independence weekend. It is hot and humid but there is a breeze. There are sidewalks intermingled with piles of sand and construction materials, ancient braided trees, rotting old concrete buildings.

We have breakfast in a coffee place designed in Southern California with a menu to match, every kind of latte and chai and coffee and tea on tap. A few blocks away the city's main park, a huge modern stadium, old museum buildings, families, and piles of construction materials inside and out. Last night we walked to the ocean as the sun was getting lower and reached a train station right on the water in a blighted part of town, a fire burning right outside an old marketplace, mostly men in sarongs, almost no women, but at one corner a business college filled with hopeful young people who want to be the commercial leaders of this place.

English is compulsory and it seems that all of the supposed 10% of Sri Lankans who speak English are here in colombo. We'll see as we travel farther afield. Hot as it is it seems we can't get enough liquids. The chaotic railway station, flies, fans, sweat, but we got the ticket or almost got the ticket we want for next week, a reserved seat on the Kandy-Badulla line through the mountains. First class and observation car tickets were sold out and the hosts we emailed ahead of time who nicely agreed to help never did.

We are staying on a quiet back street called Barnes place, an old English mansion built about a hundred years ago. The quiet here belies what's outside the gates and a block away, a vibrant, dirty, noisy, living city. We live in the so-called developed world. Subways, sidewalks, a certain crowd control are things we take for granted. Stop here to look at a temple and you attract someone with a sarong who tells you what fierce blue gods are depicted on its walls and asks for money for his storytelling. An elephant in shackles, tuk tuks stopping right in front of you telling you to jump inside, many police giving many tickets.

These few words don't do justice to all we've see in these 24 hours but they are a sampler of the things we've seen and done here in Colombo. Here's a picture of our portico and quiet garden.

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