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Colombo temples, a chaotic market, and a cold beer help me forget the close call in Penang

Updated: Apr 14, 2023

I needed to have a good day after the near debacle of Penang - and Sri Lanka brought one. it ended happily with Jane and beer at an old colonial hotel on the seashore at sundown.

Colombo was crowded, dirty, stinking hot and humid - notice the toll taken by the humidity on my hair in the picture above - but also a very cool place to spend a few hours.

I didn't sleep the night after I nearly missed the ship on Monday. And, although I calmed somewhat during the following day at sea (when I explained my folly over and over again to friends who had heard my name called over the ship loudspeaker, or had seen me run the length of the dock), I woke Wednesday feeling run down - and possibly on the verge of something.

But I had just one day to spend in Sri Lanka (possibly in my lifetime) so I put on my big girl pants and met John, Judy, Jane, and a British couple named Pam and Dave, for an afternoon outing.

The country that used to be called Ceylon gained its independence in 1948 after more than 300 years of European colonial rule. And, despite the political conflict with the Tamils last year and the civil war of 2009, Colombo seems at peace today.

We climbed into a large van and headed for a temple which our guide, Raman, said was on the spot actually visited by the Buddha on one of his three trips to this island nation in 600 BCE. We were met by stalls of flower sellers, the scent of the blooms permeated the air.

Raman bought a few handfuls, which he distributed to us.

He then invited us to lay them on an altar while thinking about how, like the flowers, our lives do not last long and should be recognized for their beauty.

Inside the temple there was a room painted three hundred years ago with spiritual motifs where devoted Bhuddists were praying. The colors were overwhelming, even in the darkened space.

There was also a more recent mural from the 19th century that depicts the transport of the Bhudda's teeth to Sri Lanka. It is the original art of an image that has now become a national symbol.

There is also a large dome, with a fake door but no actually entry, which is said to hold a chair in which the Bhudda actually sat.

Moving on, we were taken on a walk through a densely crowded and chaotic market (it was the night before Sri Lankan new years so folks were buying groceries for the holiday) that was a fantastic cacaphony of color and sound. John says he managed not to get lost by following my white hair like a beacon through the sea of brown heads.

Then we pushed our way down several equally populated streets.

Vendors sold everything from pots to containers of gasoline to bras.

Raman then took us to a trinket store where I bought a linen dress - even through I am already worried I will need to purchase more luggage to get everything home.

We stopped by a another pair of Bhuddist temples. One of them is for international travellers, many of whom have left gifts, including those that represent other religions. This is Ganesha, the Hindu elephant god.

And there were these Bhuddas that reminded me of the Chinese terracotta warriors (on a much smaller and more peaceful scale, of course.)

We then stopped at a final temple, which was on the water, just as the sun was setting.

John, Judy, Pam and Dave wanted to go for street eats so Jane and I ducked into the Galle Face Hotel, a wonderful old place built in 1864. She had beef tacos and I had Margherita flatbread and we both had giant beers.

Which were delicious. But by then I realized I was at the start of a full-on cold - the third time I have been sick (not counting various bouts of norovirus) since getting on this ship. Totally unfair. I had not had so much as a sniffle since 2019. This ship is dangerous to one's health!

But, at least I have four sea days to recoup before we land Dubai.

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Eleanor Bates Dunn
Eleanor Bates Dunn
Apr 13, 2023

I always like to go to markets when I'm travelling. In Helsinki, I almost purchased a fox fur stole -- if I hadn't been stopped by my girlfriend Jan who is a docent at the Living Desert in Palm Springs in her spare time who supports the World Wildlife Fund. The furs were beautiful, as were the fruits and veggies. We went to the Christmas market in Barcelona and later in a small Italian town she reminded me that the porcelain set of Santa in sleigh with harnessed reindeer would not fit in my luggage, no matter how great it would look on my dining room table at Christmas dinner.

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