At seven a.m. out on my little verandah the sounds of the fields & the jungle are all around, the morning air is cool and refreshing, the rain that fell yesterday has soaked into the ground and radiates fragrance, rich red earth that you can almost taste. Birds are singing away, the only ones I recognise wild peacocks, the rest are unfamiliar, each singing their songs & symphonies, sometimes lone sometimes one to another, others in choruses, the insects chatter loud and insistent, great choirs of them. It is far from quiet, but the sights and the sounds & the aromas all fold in to each other, touch all my senses & in amongst the morning noise I think of stillness, of serenity, Eden comes to mind, my idea of Eden at least.
By 9am the mercury tips 30 degrees and the coolness of the early morning is a long distant memory. I am walking in the archaeological remains of one of the ancient civilisations of Sri Lanka. There are stupas & palaces, enormous Buddah statues, cave frescoes, the caves give a little respite from the heat, but as I walk on I think of a plastic toy too close to a fire, melting, I am melting, dripping into the dry earth, seeping away.
Then I pass a bunch of monkeys, one, a particularly ugly one with bad teeth is staring at me, I stare back. Then he charges at me teeth bared, he’s not particularly big, but it flashes though my head that a bite from a monkey could have all sorts of unpleasant infections, can you get rabies? I panic and step backwards, trip over a tree root and go sprawling to the ground, as I get up and dust myself down I realise I’ve taken off a couple of layers of skin from my elbow, blood is dripping onto my shorts, it’s not bad, but it looks very messy. Damn it, I only got these clothes laundered yesterday, I am pissed off. Bloody monkey, then I realise my sunglasses have gone flying, I look around the area I fell in at the base of the tree and spot them, as I walk towards them the bad teeth monkey makes a dash for them, grabs them and scoots up the tree, high out of reach. He sits there, playing with them. Now those sunglasses were the real McCoy, fold up raybans, bought in Naples. I am not giving them up to a bloody ugly little monkey. So there I stand for twenty minutes, throwing sticks up into the tree, shouting at the monkey, when this fails I try speaking nicely to him, another failure, in desperation I eventually begging him for my sunglasses. Through this process periodically groups of tourists walk past me. Some pause and watch, others whisper to each other and move on. I look like a nut case, standing there, the monkey is so high up in the canopy he’s barely visible. To the people wandering by there is a mad bloke talking to a tree who’s covered in blood. Occasionally I try to explain to the passers by, but some of them seem to be a little scared and move quickly away. Eventually the sunglasses fall to the floor, saliva covered. Fucking Monkey.
Near the ruins is a rather beautiful lake, when I can’t do the heat anymore I head to the water. a local is in the shade of a tree by the waterside, OK to swim I ask. Yes, OK. No problem then after a pause he adds, Crocodiles other side lake. Not come here. I am sweltering and the water looks lovely. I weigh things up, whether a croc might decide to spend the afternoon on this side of the lake today, whether the blood on my arm might send out attractive come get me messages. I settle on a paddle.
I hire a jeep and drive to a game park and watch wild elephants, beautiful creatures, the afternoon is a lovely. As I drive back to my hotel the rain begins, heavy rain pounds the windscreen. I stop on the way get out and just stand there letting myself get drenched. By the time I| reach my hotel it’s pitch black. I unlock my bungalow. switch on the light. There above my bed on the wall is a spider the size of my hand. I am kind of frozen there, not knowing what to do. Just staring. After how long I’m not sure I decide to go and find a bucket or net or something to trap the beast and get it out of my room. I find one of the staff and explain, they nod rather disinterestedly, Big Spider in my room I repeat, still no effect. I go back to my room and the spider has gone. Where exactly is uncertain. I check my bed covers, my shoes, the spaces I think it may have gone to, but nothing.
Before I go to bed I browse the net, there I read that Sri Lanka has one of the worlds highest rates of death by snake bite, googling spiders I find it has seven types of tarantula, plus a couple of other venomous arachnids. Then there are the crocodiles, sharks, monitor lizards, scorpions. I think about the Elephant guide who told me about the car attacked yesterday on the main road outside the park. A Tusker Elephant in musk flipped the car & crushed it to a pulp.
I drift off to sleep, thinking about Sri Lanka, I came expecting some sort of India, perhaps with a few twists, I found something different, a jumble of distinctions, ethnically, in religion, it has taken from India but also one senses points further east and west, the geography & wildlife are wide and varying, mountains and oceans, jungles & arrid lands, tea plantations and the bustle of the cities & Colombo. The Buddhist legacy strong and pervasive, the relics of history reverberate into the present, nature, beautiful and sometimes cruel has left it’s mark with the Tsunami graves all along the south and east coasts, the stupas alongside churches & Hindu Temples and Mosques. The ethnic fighting only a few years ago with all the bloodshed. Perhaps Sri Lanka has reminded me more than anything that like the ancient great kingdoms in Sri Lanka that flourished and then failed and crumbled to dust it is human nature to build, that sometimes we build great things, but that they are never for ever, all things change, it is the nature of life, and we must change and move as they do. That life is a risky business, best lived that way, safe isn’t really safe, it’s just a dull illusion. There is much too see, to feel and to hear & whilst the chance is there I will do exactly that.