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Arriving in Sri Lanka

Faye and I flew off to Sri Lanka last weekend from the crazed gridlock and crowds that Heathrow Airport becomes in July. Trying to tell myself that 36 hours of travelling wouldn't be too much of an ordeal, we boarded the new, comfortable Qatar Airways plane and settled into reading the papers and chilling out for the first part of the trip out to Doha.

Stepping out of the plane in Qatar, the heat blasted us like opening an oven door, even though it was only 06:30 in the morning. With only a few hours until our connecting flight to Colombo, however, there was no time to explore the city or check out Al Jazeera's head offices, so we sat drinking coffee and eating croissants in the still-being-built sterility that's Doha airport.

We boarded the connecting flight through a sandstorm, hiding the flat desert from view, and were immediately told that the flight was delayed. The tiny, cramped Airbus sat on the tarmac for ninety minutes with its doors open whilst the air conditioning struggled to cool things at all and appalling comedy ran on the in-flight monitors. The full ordeal of the trip had begun.

Somehow, by jamming earphones deeply into my head and managing to contort into very odd positions, I managed to get some sleep in the massively uncomfortable seats. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, I looked out of the window and caught my first glimpse of Sri Lankan coastline; white waves crashing onto a golden beach before the view filled with hillsides of lush, green palm trees.

As soon as the aircraft ground to a halt on the runway, crowds of old Sri Lankan women who, until then, had been well-mannered and lethargic, sprung into a sudden, desperate scramble to get out, pushing and standing on me and anything else that came between them and the exit doors.

Asanka was waiting for us outside the airport and we jumped into the minibus and sped off southwards. Within the first few minutes, I knew I was going to like Sri Lanka, as we passed palm trees and bright exotic flowers growing by the side of the road and the air was full of exotic smells. It felt so good to be back in Asia. I'd expected the roads to be fairly crazy in the country, but it wasn't long before the depth of that insanity was fully revealed,
with vehicles weaving in and out of streams of oncoming traffic, swerving back in at the last second - narrowly avoiding a collision, and suicidal cyclists and dogs thrown into the mix that's Sri Lanka's traffic system. I'd thought I was used to Asia's frightening driving habits but the trip south was a white knuckle ride with my hair standing on end!

We screeched to a halt and Asanka jumped out to buy mangosteens and rambutans from a roadside stall, which we busily munched in the van until our next stop further down the road for rotis. The roti shop turned out to be a fantastic, grim, run-down dive of a place, and while a young boy showed me to the dim toilets in the back we passed bread baking on an open brick oven and stacks of long, straight firewood lying next to it.

Before I knew it we were back in the van eating fantastically spicy rotis and heading down the coastal Galle Road through the dark night with the air full of salt spray and the smell of the sea. Several hours after leaving the airport we arrived at our hotel, Mama's, and piled out with our bags past a bar packed with people drinking beer waiting for the World Cup Final to begin. We grabbed a quick shower then went down to join them, Asanka, and the boys in our exhausted state.

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