‘Ayubowan’ means ‘May you have a long life’, a greeting which is made by joining your hands together accompanied with a broad smile. Similar to India, I instantly fell in love with the country and I barely even stepped out of the airport. You have got to see the staff around at the airport, everyone is all smiles and ever willing to help you. What else does a tourist want when he arrives into your country? I was happy to be here.
Even though I was a little tired, taking into fact we started our day early morning the same day and having arrived at Sri Lanka only around 4.30 or so, I was as excited as a little child would be when he is given a new toy. I visited this beautiful country 20 years back with the family, I was too young then to even realize where I was, let alone admire its beauty. As we kept walking out of the airport, laughing and joking with smiles on our faces, after claiming our baggage, we had a couple of coaches waiting for us outside to drive us to our hotel.
There’s something you should know about Sri Lanka, as beautiful as the language is (Sinhalese) it is very difficult to speak or even attempt to speak. Our Hotel was located in a place called Uswetakeiyawa (a little fishing village in Wattala) the pronunciation to which took a little practice before we could master the correct way of saying it. The time told to us, to reach the hotel from the airport was around 25 minutes, somehow took us around an hour.
A welcome drink awaited us as we entered the hotel and kept down our baggage and sat at the nearest sofa we could find, as we waited our turn to collect our room key from the reception staff. The first thing I did was, I asked the pretty lady receptionist “What’s your Wi-Fi password, I would like to connect to the Wi-Fi”, as soon as she gave me the password…my phone said “Connected” Life was good again, 33 notifications awaited me on FaceBook, 7 Whatsapp messages with a 10% battery charge remaining. I was now connected to India, hurriedly updated my Facebook status to “Don’t even ask me how to pronounce the name. Checked in at the hotel. It has been a long day — feeling happy in Uswetakeiyawa, Sri Lanka.”
A quick shower and a quick nap, just before dinner, Fr. Maxi (travelling along with us) from the U.S celebrated the Holy Mass for the next day being Sunday. Food was served by 9pm. Now this was the part I was waiting for, heard so much about the spicy Sri Lankan food. I licked my lips in anticipation of something different and hot. I was a tad disappointed by the toning down of the spice content on my very first meal in Sri Lanka, nevertheless I enjoyed my meal, and it was different from the way we cook the chicken and the fish back home. What caught my eye at the end of the buffet table was what they call ‘Sri Lankan achcharu’ which means pickle in English, now that was, SPICY and FULL of ZING…I had to gulp down 4 glasses of water to stop the coughing, thanks to the ice cream later on.. things got better. I thought to myself “if this was what Sri Lankan spicy food is all about…I was glad it was just one dish” and it was only Day 01. After an hour or so, I was fast asleep. I slept like a baby.
11th January, the next day, we made visits to the various places that then. Bl. Joseph Vaz frequented during his evangelical mission in Sri Lanka. Some of the places we visited were; firstly the church where Fr Jacome Gonsalves (a disciple of Bl. Joseph Vaz) was buried, College of St. Joseph Vaz, St Mary’s cathedral, Galgamua where Bl. Joseph Vaz erected an ebony cross to protect the villagers from elephants. It was at Galgamuwa, that was had the privilege of crossing paths with our own Arch Bishop Filip Neri Ferrao (Goa) along with him Bishop Allwyn Baretto of Sindhudurg and Archbishop’s secretary Fr Loyola Pereira, who were also on their pilgrimage to Sri Lanka.
It was a hot day, by the end of it, we were all exhausted. We checked into Hotel Eden Garden, Sigiriya Road, Inamaluwa for the night. Good music and excellent food is always welcome, we dug ourselves into the sumptuous food, spread out in buffet style, a spread of something I had never seen before, varieties of salads, fish, fruits and what not else. I made it a point to taste a little bit of everything. The next morning, Breakfast did not disappoint either, too good to be true. Good food should be appreciated, my dad always taught me. I appreciated every little bit of it. After breakfast we set out again.
12th January, we visited the church where Bl. Joseph Vaz would celebrate mass at St. Anthony’s church and Weuda where Bl. Joseph Vaz was caught and imprisoned after suspected to be a spy. 13th January was of course the day when our Holy Father Pope Francis was arriving into Colombo, as we lined up the street mixed with the local people of Sri Lanka to have a glimpse of him as he passed by the road. As he arrived with his papal vehicle and waved and smiled, many people has tears in their eyes. Later that day we also visited the Filipe Neri church and celebrated Mass there. As we headed to our third different hotel for the trip, this time at Hotel Palm Village at Watala. If the first hotel was good, the second was better, this hotel took the cake with the cherry on top. It was the best of the lot. Let me not talk more about the food, it makes me want to go back. The ambience, coupled with the musicians and the service. Top Drawer!! The Dinner along with the breakfast the next morning were equally mouthwatering.
The day we were all waiting for was on the 14th of January. The papal mass was scheduled at 8.30 at the Galle Face Green at Colombo. However we were instructed to reach the venue by 4am (yes 4 in the morning) for security reasons that meant we had to leave by 3 from the hotel and understandably we had to be awake by 2 at the earliest. When do we sleep? I asked. The announcement the previous night was simple. An early dinner at7 and off to sleep if we have to catch at least 20 winks instead of the 40 winks. Early next morning, we reached at 4.15 and what we saw was unimaginable. Hordes of people, trying to find their way into Galle Face at that early hour in the morning. We the 60 of us, with a lot of shoves, pushes and crawling at snails pace, we finally managed to reach our allocated pen at Galle Face at 6.30. Yes! It took us 2 hours to cover a distance of around 300 meters. We were all very excited of course, for in a few hours Goa would receive its first ever saint. The mass begun sharp at 8.30 and finished at 11.00. As pope Francis declared Bl. Joseph Vaz a saint there was a thunderous applause all around Galle Face. It was an amazing experience, especially for me on getting to see the Pope at close quarters as he rode on his papal mobile to greet the crowds.
It was a fruitful few days in Sri Lanka, we still had one more day, tomorrow as we had our flight to catch later that day back to India. With the whole evening on our hands, we requested the tour guide to take us shopping around the city. We finally decided on two places, Arpico Super Market and House of Fashion. While some of the ladies went berserk shopping and moved in different direction, the guys/men went about methodically looking for things their wives or daughters or relations back in India told them to buy. I on the other hand was in charge of the trolley, as my dad went around putting things into the trolley, I moved the trolley happily following him around. I always love doing the simple things.
At the clothes mall, House of Fashion it was a different scenario, it seemed the men took charge shopping as they bought a lot of clothes while the women picked up a few things from here and there. I on the other hand looked around shirts that were imported from India to Sri Lanka and sold at double the price… and I was like… wait!! Do I really need to buy the same shirt I get in my country at double the rate, not really! Well I still went ahead and bought a shirt in remembrance of my trip to SL. After the shopping we returned to the hotel only at around 7 or so. What a great day it was!
Tomorrow was our last day… I was sad…
the final part: The return journey