Monday, January 28, 2019

Back in the Hood – Part 2

Gay Ola reunion
Lewis comes down from the mountains and, after a two-day journey on buses, trains, automobiles, tuk tuk and septic foot makes it to the coast and eventually our village.

You can ruin Lewis’s day in an instant by describing him as Gal Oya’s “Assistant Manager”. It’s a sure bet which can be doubled down by adding that his co-host Brent has gravitas, is much taller and has a business card saying “Lodge Manager”. Brent’s business card is a knife to the guts for Lewis – “WE ARE CO-HOSTS” he says to anyone that will listen.

Brent's business card - OUCH!

On Day 2, Lewis and I set off on our eagerly-awaited “Pharmacy tour of Weligama”. First plan was to load up with actual medication for Lewis’s war wounds. Fuelled by Andrea’s paranoia that he is about to die at any moment from septicaemia, Lewis is now in a state of panic about the infected bites on his foot and is becoming almost as convinced as Andrea that he faces imminent death. The “antiseptic” part of the Pharmacy Tour goes quite well and we bag up various liquids that can kill rats. We then embark on the fun part – asking for Diazepam – or anything else that ends in “pam”. I plan to take these recreationally, but they might also have useful “contraindications” ie make me feel sleepy, unable to take wheel of a tuktuk or operate any heavy machinery. (Benjo once told me he couldn’t take diazepam as his colleagues count as “heavy machinery” – ha ha to that.)

Asking for things that end in “pam” in a pharmacy in Sri Lanka can go one of two ways:
a) they react like you have just asked for smack and are horrified; b) they ask how many you want. 

Pharmacy #1 says “how many?” so I get out a quid in rupees and buy 30. Pharmacy Tour becomes One-Stop-Shop. We then head to Food City, which is like going to Waitrose after spending three months in a town that only has a Best Buy corner shop. Lewis is in seventh heaven the minute we walk in as they have air-con. He would have been happy just standing at the entrance enjoying the breeze but I drag him in and we tour the aisles, marvelling at the luxuries on display.

We engineer a Gay Ola reunion with Robbie and Ally who are also now down on the coast and staying in Mirissa. Robbie works for a bank and is a part-time music producer. He comes from Lewis, the same remote Scottish island that Andrea’s husband Simon lives on; Ally is an event manager at the Roundhouse but doesn’t know Charlie Scrimgeour. We meet for Moscow Mules at Tiki Cocktail Bar overlooking Weligama Bay. Great view and spectacular cocktails. Ally tells me fab stories about spoilt A-listers and what they want in their dressing rooms. We discuss our mutual love for Patti Smith, Bowie, Nick Cave, Jane Birkin. Ally checks her diary and thinks she could make Primavera.

We head back to Dorians where we find it’s no longer possible to get a drink; the bar has been raided and the police have taken all the booze. Dorians have applied for a drinks licence but clearly this isn’t going to happen any time soon. Our favourite bar at Villa Naomi’s – with its lashings of arak, beer and unrivalled sunset view – has also been torn down so getting a drink in the village is becoming something of a challenge.

We eat our weight in spicy spaghetti. The fact that I’m currently the fattest I’ve ever been doesn’t stop me – I’m still going for the “Asia’s largest mammal” title. Andrea is also “piling on the pounds” and currently weighs 100g more than she did before her arrival. It’s gone straight to her hips where it proves totally invisible.

Francesca’s son arrives from New York and we head into Weligama to hit up the ATM and find some size 10 fins. I NEVER go to Weligama without visiting the pharmacy and this time I’m on mission to get Viagra. “It’s for a FRIEND, not ME,” I announce loudly as we squeeze into the tiny air-conned store. Turns out real Viagra is expensive - £5 a shag. I know my friend will consider this a total waste of money, but they have a generic Viagra substitute which works out at 25p a shag. We all study the box carefully. Is this the same “active ingredient?” I ask (titter, titter). Yes, Madam, guaranteed hard for one month. 30 tablets: £12. Still a bit pricey in my opinion but it’s not for ME, it’s for a FRIEND.

While Nick is sorting out a sim card, I sit next door in an air-conned gem shop owned by Siraj. Siraj assures me he won’t try to sell me anything and then tries to sell me a parcel of land just outside Weligama. He also tries to sell me a gigantic Sapphirine gemstone which he says is the most valuable stone in the world. He’d like me to help him “donate” it to a museum in the UK – in return for some money. He says he can’t “donate” it in Sri Lanka as they’ll just nick it. He sends me pics of the stone later on. It’s certainly big. I can’t work out how valuable it is. He seems genuine though and is a volunteer for the local branch of the International Committe on Seafarers’ Welfare. He also works for a Christian mission, even though he’s Muslim. I get out of the shop without buying anything and consider it a win.

I visit the village shop from time to time, a tiny shack on the verge of collapse where, like most shops here, you get served through a tiny window. This makes it hard to know what they sell but you can safely assume almost everything. Their opening hours are random but Freddie’s mum just yells until they open.

Our friends who were jailed after letting off guns one night from the roof of the guesthouse are finally released. They were locked up for nearly six months – a hell of a long time given that most crimes in the village, such as wandering around pissed and threatening people with sticks – seem to go unpunished. Inexplicably, the jailbirds are all fatter than when they went in so you can forget prison as a detox.

I have rented Freddie’s scooter so spend a lot of time going down random tracks to check out potential snorkelling sites. Sticks Ahangama becomes our new favourite beach caff and close to another newly-discovered snorkelling spot near Ahangama. The beach will have to remain secret but it’s definitely the most beautiful in Sri Lanka – white sand, lush vegetation tumbling down a terracotta-coloured cliff, a reef-protected pool – just gorgeous. Andrea and I decide it's perfect for our annual photo shoot - this year modelling her HookDesignLtd one-size-fits-all (just) beach dresses.

Turtle Bay, on the edge of Mirissa, is another great discovery. It has a fab restaurant and Andrea sees a three-legged turtle. Underwater visibility is crap but above-water visibility reveals hammocks, super-attentive waiters and the best salad I’ve ever had in Sri Lanka. On a subsequent (post-Andrea) visit, visibility is excellent (sorry Andrea) and I see a ton of fish including a huge moray eel, a pair of Oriental Sweetlips and a lot of baby Moorish Idols.

The trip is winding down. We have just a few days left in paradise and Andrea is getting feisty. Neither of us want to leave. Andrea spends her last few hours worrying about dogs – Dots has been banned from EVERYWHERE, and another dog has gone missing after being “rescued” by a tourist. “I only care about children and dogs”, says Andrea as she gets in to the car to head to the airport. “Make sure you find that dog.” We all know we had better find that dog or we’re DEAD.

Hiru - Born to Surf
Meanwhile, life in the village will continue ... with its constant little dramas, its lovely people, its spectacular sunrises and sunsets, and the surf .. always the surf, crashing endlessly on.