Karen's team member Silvija, who used to work up north in Mannar, had moved to a new training location in Kalutara, and Karen suggested we make a weekend trip down to visit. We caught the three o'clock express toward Colombo. It was a gorgeous trip, first slowly through dripping highland jungle and eleven tunnels, and then picking up speed down among the rice paddy flats until I worried that the carriages might bounce off the track.
We exited the train at Gampaha and found a tuk tuk ride the 15km to Kadawatha, where we expected to find a bus for Kalutara. Find it we did: it was just pulling out of the station! Though the tuk tuk driver valiantly tried to block its way, the conductor leaned out and shouted that they were full. And it was the last bus of the day to Kalutara. Then it began to gently rain.
Another bus finally arrived for Panadura and locals urged us to take it. It was crowded and we had to hold our luggage on our laps. We arrived after dark, but were able to call a "pick me" car to deliver us the final 20km to our hotel near the beach to quickly drop our bags and then meet Silvija, Kate, Helen, and Hillary at a nearby pizza joint called Oasis. The pizza was so delicious, real Italian style, that we quickly forgot about our rough trip.
In the morning we all (but Kate) went to check out the Sri Lanka Karting Circuit at Bandaragama. For about ten bucks you got to zoom around a miniature race track for ten minutes with a variety of reckless boy racers and their slow careful girlfriends. The place also had a swimming pool with lanes, an air rifle shooting gallery whose targets included black metal rats, and a restaurant that served burgers and shakes.
Our hotel, the Karl Holiday Bungalow, was a wonderful little refuge with its own pool and a gorgeous garden of orchids and coconut palms. The host, Dil, was surely in the running for Nicest Guy on Earth. The Sri Lankan breakfast was unusual for us, but mouth watering. Pol sambol (spicy coconut scrapings), spicy tuna curry, tender string hoppers, lightly fried roti bread, and of course excellent local tea.
One night we gathered at Kate and Silvija's for Karen's famous beans and carrots under a layer of mashed potatoes. Then we picked a classic movie to watch with the little projector shining on the wall. Thelma and Louise: how appropriate in these #MeToo days.
Our final night found me pedaling Silvija's bike in the rain, one hand steering and the other holding up my portable umbrella in a mostly vain effort to keep dry, back to the Oasis pizza joint to meet the ladies, who had been working all day. I had a clanking bag of our empty beer bottles hanging from my shoulder. I returned them at the Oasis and ordered a beer, but the server suggested this weather made it more appropriate to drink Arrack, the local coconut hooch. I said I'd try it. This proved to be a questionable decision by the end of the night, but somehow I ended up in bed.
The return home was an easier trip, despite myself feeling fairly rough. We simply took a train up the coast to Colombo. It belched more black smoke than any train I've ever seen, even coal burners. I hung out the door filming with my new GoPro. A cheeky boy hurled a large rock at me and almost connected. We arrived in the city with two hours to kill, so Karen made a bee line for the Spa Ceylon Spa & Boutique and managed to get an hour-long foot massage.
The express train took us smoothly and quickly from Colombo up to Peradeniya in under three hours without a single stop. The hills were full of fog and darkening with the sunset. Sampath picked us up at the station. Our house, closed up for four days, smelled dank. As I sat working at the computer a fourth rat almost ran across my foot. I set out the trap. Home sweet home.