Sri Lanka (Colombo) May 29th
Right off the plane were heaps of duty free stores; the thing was they were selling stoves, refrigerators, washers, dryers and any other large appliance you can think of. I was wondering, “do you carry this stuff on?” The other thing that really stuck out at me was a sign at immigration saying “possession of illegal drugs carries the death penalty” We had a bit of a hard time getting into Sri Lanka. We sat in front of customs for about an hour while our expediter and Jasna negotiated our entry. I think they finally called the big guns at the embassy and had an official letter faxed over guaranteeing we would leave with all of our gear and not sell it. The customs agent was just being a dick because he could see that we had an entire tour booked. Why would we spend thousands of dollars to travel across the world to sell some old drums, a baby bass and a keyboard?
Immediately after leaving customs it became very clear that Sri Lanka was a cleaner, more relaxed country than India and the streets were relatively quiet; the drivers did not honk every 5 seconds just for the hell of it. It reminded me or Surinam because of the Dutch influence mixed with a Caribbean vibe and because there seemed to be many religions such as Buddhism, Hindu, Muslim all living in harmony. As far as weather goes; Hot and humid. Very Humid!
Our hotel in the capital of this civil war ravaged country was one of the coolest hotels I have ever seen. I will try and post a few pictures to give an idea; very elegant and friendly with an espresso bar in the lobby, witch in my book makes a 5 star hotel 6 stars! Especially since it was open until midnight! They were also sporting a kind of close encounters of the third kind type of artwork next to the lobby.
I was really on a sleep deprivation deal when we arrived at around 2:30 pm and we had a gig in the hotel at 7pm so decided to drop my luggage in the room and bolt for food. The first place I found was a seafood restaurant in the hotel and since we were on the water I would test the seafood scene. The joint was closed but I talked them into making me a quick meal. I simply requested something with rice and seafood with a local twist and boy did it ever pay off! This was by far some of the best seafood I have ever had. It was a stir fried rice with prawns, squid and crab and then a special spicy coconut sauce on the side which could be applied to taste. It was certainly spicy and I immediately found the chef for a bit of guidance on the recipe. Rice and veggies, in palm oil add fish and soy sauce for the stir fry and then, garlic, scallions, fine chopped onions, Cumin, Curry leaves (not found in most Indian curry’s) coconut milk, tumeric, chili’s, mustard seed and optional Ginger. You pretty much don’t need much coconut milk in the sauce and the chili is to taste. One other note; it may be that you can quickly fry the seafood in a separate vessel and then add to the stir fry at the end to avoid over cooking the seafood.
It was at this joint that I scoped a beer menu and found out that there is a local brewery and this would mark our first chance at drinkable beer since embarking on this long journey. After this amazing meal I hit the hay for an hour so I could make it through the gig. 3 hours of sleep and a flight from India was not going to cut it.
The gig was in the hotel and outdoors in a beautiful setting under just a roof. The crowd included locals, hotel guests, embassy workers, military, animal trainers, local musicians kids and even a bunch of crows in the trees behind the cabana; they were very excited when we did a popular Sri Lankan song about peace that was made famous by the Gypsies, a local band.
Our day started out with an early morning hit at the worlds only US embassy owned private clubhouse. It was a property bought by a lady that had embezzled big money out of the US government via the Embassy. When she was caught they seized the property and made an exception to the rule that the state department can’t own recreational property. In our case it was used for an early morning music workshop for local musicians. There were quite a few good musicians that attended and we even had a few of them join us on our gig later that night. After the gig in the evening at the hotel Charlie brought it to our attention that the Gypsies were playing a private party in the hotel just 100 yards away so we crashed the event! The guitar player that sat in with us knew the band so he had them play the song we covered. It was pretty amazing that they would end up at our hotel the same night we were playing. Anyhow they sounded really good, it was almost an African meets Mexican and Andies flute vibe. Kind of 12/8 but also strait 8th, for all the musicians reading the blog.
May 31st (Galle)
We are off to Galle bright and early. I think 8:30 is when we left. Galle is a coastal city in southwestern Sri Lanka and it took us about 3-4 hours by van. We managed to make an interesting stop for an orange coconut, which is my favorite color so I had to try it and it was delicious!
The trip was absolutely beautiful yet kind of a bummer as we passed through the tsunami hit coast. It seemed like things were fine until about half way down to Galle it became very apparent that they were hit hard and were still recovering. We even stopped by a memorial for the tragic train accident where the tsunami wave took out an entire train of people. I think it was somewhere in the thousand people dead range. Really too bad since this area is not even in a direct path of the wave. It seems to have wrapped around the island or something.
We arrived at the hotel at 12:30 on the nose just as our culture officer Glen had predicted. I thought the cinnamon grand hotel was kick ass but the Lighthouse hotel we checked into in Galle was absolutely breathtaking! Just one big art museum perched on the bluffs above the open ocean.
We did a gig at a medical school later in the evening and it was a tough sell but we finally won the crowd over. It was perhaps one of the most terrible sounding concert halls I have ever played but despite the sound quality we managed to salvage a concert out of the ordeal.
After the concert we tore the gear down and opted for local food rather than the hotel thanks to the advice of a local. Perhaps the dean of the medical school who was keen on jazz? After driving around in search of “lady hill” a hotel with some of the best local food, we finally located upper Dickson road where the 19th century mansion resides. The restaurant was closed but the chef decided our group of 6 was big enough to fire things up again. We climbed up 4 flights of stairs to a little bar with an open air view of the city and the ocean. We were joined by our culture affairs officers, Glen Davis and Aruni his local assistant. Glen and Aruni turned out to be some of the greatest people one could have hoped to be working with overseas; they both seem to really believe in what they do and Glen is a great yoga teacher and ex-literature professor. We shot the shit and drank some good local beers for a while the food was being prepared; basically chilled out and enjoyed the lizards and awesome views. The food arrived and was completely amazing! Prawns, Currys, sambals etc…all cooked in the local style.
After the meal we were all pretty tired so we headed back to our own castle. I managed to slip in some night photography as the hotel had placed big candles along the beach and the waves were crashing nicely for some good long exposure shots. After a good half hour on the beach I turned in and it seemed like as soon as my head hit the pillow it was time to get up again.
June 1st (Galle)
I guess I wandered down to breakfast around 9:30 am and fueled up for some beach walking as we had the day off until 12:30 or so. I saw some interesting animal life including little speedy crabs, chip monks, lizards and a whole migration of hermit crabs. They seemed to be trucking down the side of the hill towards the beach as if they had been feasting up at the hotel all night and were returning to the sea for the day. I bolted away from the hotel beaches even though the place was empty and met some local cats. Some kid I met helped me acquire a red coconut from a tree on the beach. I tried climbing it as well but realized after getting a third of the way up that coming down was going to be a bit tricky and my backpack was making my center of gravity a bit shady for tree climbing.