I left my heart in Akurala

29 Mar

The train station at Kandy (and throughout Sri Lanka actually) is like it’s out of the Railway Children – there is a Chief Station Master’s office, the timetable is carefully hand-stencilled in white letters on a blackboard, the smartly uniformed staff have silver pocket watches and there are first, second and third class seats, plus an Observation Saloon.

All of the trains are diesel and still make that lovely cluh-clunk noise as they slide along the tracks. It’s quite odd to feel nostalgic for an England you’ve never actually known yourself! Our train left on time (so maybe the English influence isn’t so clear after all!) and cost us £1.10 (second class) to go from Kandy to Katarula South, which is a five hour trip. Unlike the buses, our carriage had enough space to put our bags in the overhead lockers and each set of four seats had a window that could be fully slid up so you could have uninterrupted panoramic views of the Hill Country and the West Coast. They don’t seem to be as health and safety conscious here – this would never be allowed in the UK for fear of someone leaning out too far and chopping their head off. Here there seems to be more of a ‘use your common sense’ attitude.

Window: ‘If you lean out of me too far, do you think it’s likely your head will get chopped off?’

Me: *small voice* ‘Yes’.

‘Then are you going to do it?’

Me: *small voice, looking down* ‘No’.

‘Excellent decision Sarah. Now get on with your journey and enjoy the view.’

It was also very nice to hear the usual “I’m sorry to announce that the [pause] 3.15 to [pause] the place you really need to get to on time is delayed” on repeat. You’re not sorry, you’re a computer and you’ve programmed to say that by someone who clearly does not give a tiny rat’s ass about whether my train is late.

Anyway…we watched the sunrise

and curled up through the mountains

We arrived at Katarula South to change buses as the train only goes so far at the moment due to works on the track. Got the bus with no problem, and even met one of Ajit’s friends at the station (he knows everyone in Sri Lanka it seems). He offered us a tuktuk for £15 but we said again, firmly, that we would get the bus. [Insert bloody battle scenes here]. Victorious, we got the two hour bus for £0.32 each and went and surprised Ajit and his family.

It was lovely to see everyone again although to our disappointment, Ajit’s dog had not still not had puppies. She was enormous when we last left but now she looks like she’ll explode any second. Can’t wait until they’re here. We gave Atma, Ajit’s three year old daughter, some bracelets to play with and asked his wife, Kumari, to cook us lunch, having dreamed about her food since we left. She said it would be a while but we knew it was going to be worth waiting for so despite being literally starving, we said ok. Mountains of rice, jack fruit curry, poppodums, dhal, devilled chicken and spicy vegetables arrived within an hour. Just amazing and worth coming back for alone!

We went to cool off in the sea and paddled around for a couple of hours, before coming back for chicken noodles (you don’t really order here, Kumari just cooks up what she has and it is uniformly lovely so we leave it in her hands). We met a girl from the Ukraine who was staying here, and introduced her to arrack as she was leaving the next day and hadn’t had any. We had a free beer on the house to say thanks for coming back, as well as a 150 rupee-a-night discount, yay. Ajit had just come back from a tour of Kandy with some Russians, who had tipped him $140, an unbelievable sum, so he was in full celebratory mode and was really drunk early on. He kept dropping his cigarettes, insisting that the Ukrainian girl should cancel her flights and stay in Sri Lanka, telling us inappropriate details about his marital life (Just. Stop. Talking!) and giggling away to himself. He then decided that we needed to go and see whether there were turtles on the beach. Why not? His wife was not happy as it was quite late and there wouldn’t be turtles as it wasn’t a full moon, but he insisted.

As it happened, there was a party on the beach (well, in the middle of some palm trees and bushes), which a more cynical girl would say Ajit knew about, but not me. It was great though because they’d got green apple arrack, Sprite and Bombay mix and wanted us to join in

Craig went off on some enormously complicated mission to get the boys some more arrack, but by the time he got back everyone was very drunk and getting maybe a little too friendly so Ajit, the Ukrainian girl and I went back to the guesthouse, leaving Craig to play his harmonica for them and sing Sri Lankan songs. They asked me to sing an English song but I could only think of Jingle Bells, which is used by the bakery tuktuks as their advertising song so I think they thought that was quite strange.

After a long sleep the next morning, we had dhal and rotties for lunch (and chicken curry, despite not ordering it, as I don’t think she thought we could possibly have enough food) and then went off to Hikkaduwa to get a book for me and to skype Craig’s mum and nan. We decided to surprise some people we met last time, Pathum and his dad, on the way back, but our plan was foiled by Pathum spotting us in Hikkaduwa. But they were still pleased to see us and immediately invited us round for dinner the next day so we could catch up.

Kumari cooked us rice and curry for dinner yesterday but despite us saying just a small amount, there was tons of rice, sweet potato curry, chicken curry, loads of veggies, poppodums  – the full works. We couldn’t do it justice and felt really bad, but she assured us it wouldn’t go to waste. I gave some of the chicken to the cat who has taken up residence on the top floor of the guesthouse over the last week – he was really scared of me but I gave him chicken two nights on the trot and now we’re like, best friends

Just as we were thinking about rolling our tummies to bed, Ajit said that there was a devil dance being performed in his village and would we like to go? We had heard that these dances were hard to find and really interesting to watch so we agreed. Unfortunately they start quite late so by the time we got there, it was already 11.45pm. The reason a dance was going on was because a village man was suffering from a skin disease on his head and other ailments, which was thought to be the result of his mother, who died in the tsunami, coming back to haunt him and cause the illnesses. The devil dance is a way of chasing the demons out of the house, returning the person affected back to health. The whole village usually attends.

The house was covered in candles, floral offerings and ornate handmade decorations and shrines made out of entirely natural materials

Outside, the house and garden was surrounded by white string, with an opening near the gate, to let the demons out. Once the ritual had been completed, the string would be retied, closing the gap. A rooster had been sacrificed and laid out on the ground outside, and there were offerings of food and drink for the spirits inside. A pot of charcoal burned on the ground inside in front of where the dancers were, so they could throw powered incense on it to make the room perfumed. A drummer dressed in a white and red sarong kept the beat, and the main leader, danced in front of the shrine first, chanting along with the other two dancers

Once he had finished, a man in a red sarong, who was meant to represent the man’s mother, began to dance in a trance-like state. As the drumming intensified, so did his dancing, until he was shouting and jumping around the room. He told the man (who was behind a white linen screen the whole time) about things that had happened to his mother and finally threw himself on the floor. He was very emotional and looked completely spent.

The drumming then started again and the main dance leader began to pray and chant. By this time it was 12.30am, so Ajit took us back, but he said that the ritual goes on until at least 5am. It was amazing to see and a real insight into local culture.

However, when I got back, despite being totally knackered, this happened.

I put in my earplugs and looked forward to drifting off to sleep.

Me: Ahhhh sleep.

Brain: JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE ALL THE WAY!

Me: Shut up brai…

Brain: JINGLE BELLS, JING…

Me: You go shush now!

Brain: Jingggggggggggle bells, jingle bells!

Me: Oh come on now, it’s 1am!

Brain: JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS.

Me: I hate you goddamn brain.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

2 Responses to “I left my heart in Akurala”

  1. cham 27 June 2012 at 11:46 am #

    who post this story?

Any thoughts?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: