It never feels like you are on a World Cruise until you hit your first international port. It has taken two weeks to get here, but we made it.
The Princess port guide describes this city as “vibrant colonial/cosmopolitan/chic mix of past and present” - how true that is. Not as large and commercial as Kuala Lumpur, not as dirty and busy as Mumbai, and yet it has similarities to both.
Ulterior motive or not?, China has swept in like a trendy interior designer and is redecorating the city with the funding of a lot of new construction. Changes were noticeable since our last visit in 2013. What strikes you first is a building that reminds you of our own Sydney Tower. Taking the form of a lotus bud waiting to bloom into a beautiful flower. Then there is the twin towers, except one looks like it has had one too many drinks and is using its mate for support.
Our tour today is with Tuk Tuk Safari. Eight of us in four convertible retro tuk tuks. Each fitted with a boom box and cooler boxes filled with cold water and Lion Beer.
Due to the size of the port, and to avoid confusion, we met our Tuk Tuks out front of the Galle Face Hotel not far from where the shuttle dropped us off. We were bombarded by drivers as soon as we stepped off the bus, and negotiating transport was a little tricky. They were more interested in a four-hour tour not a five-minute run down the road. Thanks to Sharon and Peter’s negotiating skills, we were soon speeding down the esplanade in three separate tuk tuks for a total cost of $15 US. Enduring the constant attempts at on-selling a longer hour tour, for some peace and quiet we agreed to take our driver’s card just in case we changed our minds later in the day…
Bob Marley, Leonardo Di Caprio, Caviar and Randy Boggs: that is how our drivers introduced themselves. They looked nothing like their alter egos, well at least Bob Marley had the same colour skin. Beaming smiles, fresh coconut and floral leis helped to get us in the mood. The best decision we had made so far, was not having breakfast
Imagine a game of Mario Cart, four drivers hunched over their steering wheels, weaving in and out of traffic, all vying for pole position. Scary, yet exhilarating as the duf duf of the boom box reverberates off my back. Did I mention sitting was optional! But who cares, we are in Colombo!
It looks like chaos to us, but there is an understanding amongst drivers. Horn blowing is not a form of abuse but a notice of intent, or just showing off like our driver Bob. If a car is in your lane, heading in the wrong direction, don’t curse, just swerve. Unfortunately for us Sydney drivers it takes a little getting used to and eventually you relax into it.
First we visited the “Good Market – Good for people, Good for the planet” Vendors have to meet a minimum standard of goodness to sell. Like our growers and boutique markets they sell fresh and cooked foods, handicrafts and antiques. Beautifully presented in clay pots we tasted Jeewas and Kumas Natural Food. A moreish patty and wrap that tasted so delicious while eating but the minute you stop, the curry kicked in and left your mouth burning as if on fire. So Good!
There are Dutch, Portuguese and British colonial influences all around the city: the Town Hall, Presidents House and the National Museum, just to name a few. To add a little Asian, the Independence Memorial museum takes pride of place and is a replica of a temple in Kandy, with a difference of being made of concrete instead of timber.
Like George and Brad in an Oceans movie, our convoy of Tuk Tuks sped in and out of back streets, scooting around trucks, busses and oncoming traffic. Encouraged to stand up for the best views, I hang on to Garry in fear that he will fly out the open sides as we turn each corner… Did I mention brakes are optional!
Pettah is a colourful and lively open air market, so crowded that there is a sea of people as far as the eye can see. Like Moses, we parted the sea as our Tuk Tuk inched straight up the middle…. “Stand-up” he yelled, ensuring a bird’s eye view of the chaos unfolding in front of us. Some cursed, some smiled, waved and probably mumbled “Bloody tourists”. But for us, it was a highlight.
Continuing our culinary experience, we were offered smoothies of mango, avocado or tropical fruit. Relishing the thought of nice cool drink, they were thick and at room temperature…. But who cares we are in Colombo!!
Our drivers were very attentive, and you only have to think of something and it suddenly appeared. Unfortunately, John had scratched his arm, and in no time, our drivers surrounded him applying antiseptic and covering the wound with band aids.
What… five minutes since we last ate… lets have lunch! Curry, ocean views, eating with your fingers, drinking coke from a bottle that looks like it has been recycled several times…… But who cares we are in Colombo!
We all remember Kahmal with his huge smile, advertising Dilmah tea, with the ladies of Ceylon tirelessly picking leaves in the background. Ceylon is now Sri Lanka, but the tea is still the same. Black, white, fruity or spicy, each claiming a medicinal benefit of some sort. We had the choice to try which ever we wanted, tempting to buy, but flight weight restrictions come into play on this trip.
Just as we arrived at the Gangaramaya Buddhist temple, so did the rain. Torrential monsoonal rain bucketed down, and in an instant, our drivers appeared with umbrellas in an attempt to keep us dry.
More like a museum, this temple of full of relics and antiques collected from around the country. Jewel encrusted gold buddhas and shrines protected in their glass cases. A clash of cultures with beautiful crystal chandeliers providing light for the worshippers sitting below.
As the rain continued we took refuge in the temple. Instead of making offerings to the gods, our drivers made offerings to us. Buffalo milk curd, topped with treacle, laced with lemon juice. Tart like yogurt, thick and smooth like crème brulee presented in a small clay pot…. OMG it tasted like I died and went to heaven, and appropriately in a temple…. Where else, but in Colombo!
Feeling content, full and happy this marked the end of our tour. As if the gods were on our side the rains stopped and we climbed back into our Tuk Tuks. Driven back to the Galle face Hotel, where we decided to revisit our western side and enjoy a few drinks and free Wi-Fi before heading back to the ship ..
Gaznjo’s Port Facts
We docked at the Unity Container Terminal. As it is a working port there was a free service shuttling independent travellers to the port gates where Taxi and Tuk Tuk drivers were touting for business.
Taxi tours were available on the dock - you will pay extra for this luxury, but the drivers are a little less aggressive
Market Stalls are set up on the dock and remain until the ship departs. They will take US$.
Currency is the Sri Lankan Rupee. Taxi’s and Tuk Tuks will take US $ but rupees are needed for most other purchases.
Tuk Tuk Safari
Due to the size of the Port and the uncertainty of where we would dock, arrangements were made to meet at the Galle Face Hotel which is approx. 2.3km from the Port. Once at the Port Gates we negotiated Tuk Tuks to take us at $5 US per vehicle. This was a challenge as many wanted to take us on a one hour tour first, and the marketing continued right up until we arrived at the hotel. We could have been dropped back at the Port Gates if we wanted.