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Word Travels - Behind the Scenes in Sri Lanka by Robin Esrock
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Behind the Scenes in Sri Lanka
by Robin Esrock / Published October 31 2008
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So I’m scheduled to do a live radio interview with the CBC in Canada, and we have about 150km drive to get from Kataragama to the Central Highlands, and eight hours in which to do it.   No problem, right?    

Like the rest of the Asian sub-continent, it helps to never be in a rush.  Ever.   I was once on the train back from the Taj Mahal with two Israeli backpackers who had budgeted a few hours to get back to Delhi and make their plane home.   Bad decision.     I was thinking about this as we winded away on potholed roads, topping off around 30 km/hr, stopping off to get the shots we needed.   We were actually doing OK, until we came to a bridge where there was only space for one moving object, but the driver of the oncoming bus decided there could be two.  He crunched into our bus, which damn near caused a riot as an entire village came to see the fuss, and every single one of them had an opinion on how to resolve the situation, none of which involved moving the buses off the bridge.  Our driver, who had right of way, needed to clear this up for insurance purposes otherwise his family might end up on the street, and meanwhile there’s a crowd of young men steaming up the window staring at Julia.    Then there’s a torrential downpour, a little bit of pushing and shoving, but we finally make our way to a police station.   Missing a live national radio broadcast is not something you want to do too often, but we managed to scream around hairpin bends into the Central Highlands, almost making it on time.  Eventually, I had to use a cellphone, call the CBC and apologize, only to find out they’re a: running late and b: the interview is a taping and not live at all.   It was only once I had a gin and tonic in my hand at the Tea Trails country house that I noticed I had also picked up a hungry swolen leech who was draining the blood out of my foot.   By the time I did the interview, I was spinning from the stiff drinks, the smell of tea, the pace of the day, and the undeniable fact that I loved this country.

Oh My GawdMy blog goes into lengthy detail here, but needless to say, Sri Lanka is a beautiful, friendly country desperately in need of some good PR.  A long civil war has damaged its reputation and tourist infrastructure, which is so sad because everybody was so welcoming.  There were just a handful of tourists at the Kataragama Festival, a spectacular event, and we really did get lucky to be invited to the wild ceremony where men pierced their skulls with knives.   What you don’t see is our new friend Dee standing up and getting his tongue pierced.  I’d do just about anything, but picking up Hepatitis isn’t one of them.   We literally couldn’t believe what we were seeing, and hopefully you’ll notice that we’re as shocked as you are. I love this photo with our sound guy Paul’s mount forming a perfect O.   As in:  O. My. Gawwwd.

It was hard to capture just how tranquil the Central Highlands were, the patterns of bonsai tea trees weaving across the landscape.  I wish we could have stayed longer, but soon we were off to Colombo, heavily patrolled, a constant threat in the air.  Sometimes we have an internal battle about whether we’re a travel show or a news show, the same way we battle about whether we should be filing stories in the travel sections or the world news section of a newspaper.  Sri Lanka constantly skirted that line, but I personally focused on travel, because here’s a country that really needs to make its way out of News and into Leisure.    And we didn’t event get the chance to visit the amazing beaches in the south.    The moral of the story:  don’t let the headlines fool you.   


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