Sri Lanka sure can seem that way once you’ve explored it over a long stretch. A special winter vacation report.
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Many drugs that require a prescription at home, including many antibiotics, are available over the counter, and very cheaply, here in Sri Lanka, as in India. So skip the $25 for cipro before you leave home, and buy it in Sri Lanka for $5 when you arrive.
My wife had a toothache in Galle. We were referred to a local dentist who had trained at Kings College, London for five years. He gave up the chance to make a lot of money in order to return to the home country that he loves. To make a long story short, an X-ray cost $4 and three fillings with the most modern Japanese glass-polymer material were a total of $75. Coincidentally, a friend e-mailed yesterday to tell me he went to Costa Rica to get some dental work done. He said that including the cost of airfare and hotel, it was cheaper than using his dentist in Florida, and he thought the quality of care was better in Costa Rica as well.
ANOTHER MORNING WATCHING my kids on the beach, another conversation with a middle-aged local man about the 2004 tsunami. Semantha (typically names ending in “a” belong to men here) drives a tuk-tuk, the ubiquitous three-wheelers that serve as the primary form of taxi here and on much of the subcontinent. On the morning of December 26, 2004, he was driving when the colossal wave caught him and his tuk-tuk and swept them away. The next thing he remembers, he was clinging to a tree, some 50-75 feet off the ground, naked. Less than 5 minutes later, the water was gone, but so was his life as he knew it. His tuk-tuk was never found. His modest home was destroyed, but fortunately none of his three children died.
He says that the government never responded to the claims for homes or property made by many thousands of poor people, that instead they just helped the rich. I don’t know what’s true, but I believe he believes it. He was recently able to get a loan for a tuk-tuk, and now lives in a wooden hut with a banana-leaf roof about a mile inland. He did not seem desperate; he never asked me for anything, though my wife and I did hire him to take us to town in his tuk-tuk and paid him about double what the fare was. To put the ordinary Sri Lankan’s income in perspective, we were his only fare of the day, a not uncommon occurrence in a place with a surplus of tuk-tuks. And from us he earned about $13, about double his average daily income on which he must support three children.
After five wonderful, relaxing, true vacation days at the Apa Villa in Thalpe, a few miles east of Galle, we head to back to Colombo to finish our journey. Yesterday, my son, almost 5, said “I miss my home.” When I told him we’d be home in about a week, he replied, “No! I don’t want to leave Sri Lanka.”
Our last dinner here was one of the most memorable: an incredible seafood buffet at the Sea Spray restaurant at the historic Galle Face Hotel, sitting about 20 feet from the sea wall, watching and hearing the waves and, yes, the sea spray, of this always-busy ocean. My father-in-law, a man who has seen a lot of things in a lot of places and is not easily impressed, said “this must be one of the world’s great spots to spend an evening.”
I too have been a lot of places on this planet, to every continent except Antarctica — and of those all but South America at least four times. My wife and I have rarely been as willing to stay in a place for longer, rarely thinking as soon about returning, as we are about Sri Lanka. It’s an extremely long trip for Americans, but for those willing to endure the time and cost to get here, the reward is a beautiful country with a beautiful nature, in every sense that can be meant.
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