One thing that was interesting about travelling in a large group, is that whenever we landed in a place, within five minutes everyone in town knew who we were.
The first time this became apparent was in Kandy. We were staying at a hotel called the Highest View, which as the name suggests, was on top of a hill. Our poor minibus, loaded down with luggage and people (I had 12kg in my pack; others had suitcases of American proportions), struggled to make it up the hill and got stuck on a sharp bend. Everyone came out of their businesses and houses to offer opinions and rubberneck. Eventually we got out and carried our bags up the hill.
The next morning, walking around Kandy, more than one person stopped us to ask “are you from the Highest View?” One guy tried to persuade us that he recognised us as he works in the kitchen there. He had time off until 5pm, and was desperate to show us the local market – for nothing in return! We politely said no thank you, we would see the market later. Oh no no, that would be a problem, there is a festival today and so the market will be closed later, we would have to come now. We figured we would take the risk. And no, we didn’t want tickets for the dance show either. Surprise surprise, the market WAS open later. Whaddaya know?
Some of our group got caught between competing rackets. Tony, the owner of our hotel, was friendly and helpful but had obviously gotten offside with some people because my friends were told “That Tony, he no good. Don’t trust him. He drinks, he cheats people and he sleeps with boys.”
Then the funniest thing happened in a small town somewhere along the way. A man approached our tuk tuk and said “you from New Zealand?” “Yes” I replied. He said “I knew it, you have New Zealand nose”.
In the same place a tuk tuk back to the hotel cost more than a tuk tuk in to town. Canny, these people. Though I suspect the first tuk tuk driver hadn’t quite grasped the concept of “tourist prices”. You see, before you get into a tuk tuk you have to agree the price with the driver. The haggling commences, and hopefully you end up at a price you are both happy with. We were told to expect to pay RS200 for a trip into town. The first driver I approached quoted RS150. I was too stunned to haggle and just got in!
We rented bicycles from a man in Polonnaruwa, who told us that next time we came we should stay in his hotel. He kept popping up during the course of the day, never far away from us, then on our way back into town took us to his mask/woodwork factory. We left wondering if he owned the whole town.
Other people just wanted to have the following conversation, which we had dozens of times over the course of the trip.
“Hello good morning”
“New Zealand” (being the easiest answer)
“Ahhh, cricket!” (or occasionally, “Anchor!”)
“Sri Lanka good?”
“Yes, very good!”
Kat was generally held up as the ideal of Sri Lankan beauty (she is half Samoan but in Sri Lanka was often asked if she was Japanese or North Indian!), and managed to get one proposal of marriage, and at least one declaration of love. One man in Haputale, the heart of tea country, was concerned I didn’t have a husband and offered to find me one.
“How old are you?”
“That’s not a polite question to ask a lady!”
“You speak Sinnhalese? Tamil?”
(Thirty? Thirty!!) … “I live in London! I’m leaving tomorrow, sorry, bye!”