From the upper window of the White House we watch the torrential rain. The streets are soon strangely deserted. We are the only people in the restaurant. Outside we wait for tuk tuk drivers to come out from their hiding places instead of them pouncing on us the moment we hit the pavement. The shops are shut, no one is trying to sell us anything, even the homeless and the stray dogs have found shelter somewhere else. We are driven out by necessity – dinner in town is half the price of dinner in the hotel and despite the fact that we seem infinitely rich here, it took four years to save for this trip and we don’t have money to burn on over-priced buffets.


The night before we leave Kandy, the rain started. This is not normal rain; it is a climate change induced three day deluge which leaves forty-five dead and thousands homeless. This disaster almost passes us by, but not quite. Mehesh is driving us to Trincomalee in his smooth air-conditioned car. We were going to stop at the Dambulla cave temples, one of the sights of Sri Lanka. We drive through some flooding, but it’s not so bad. Mehesh is anxious. He keeps calling friends for updates on traffic conditions and listening to the news. We are completely in the dark; completely dependent on him. At Matale the road is too flooded to cross, but he knows a detour. In the rain and traffic it takes hours. Already a few landslips are appearing. We start to wonder if we will make it to Trincomalee – if we’ll have to return to Kandy, or stay somewhere else on route, and what will this do to our plans? How ‘first world’ to worry about this while people’s lives are being swept away, but at the time we are unaware of the scale of destruction. We decide we don’t have time to stop at the caves, yet Mehesh does find time to stop at a spice garden where a friend of his works. Ostensibly this is a toilet break and we’ll only be there twenty minutes. It turns into over an hour – a tour of the plants, cut short because of the still heavy rain, an explanation of the health properties of native plants, a head and shoulder massage, and visit to the shop where R feels compelled to buy some Jasmine oil which she worries about for the rest of the trip. Although sealed, its aroma soon penetrates everything and seeps through layers of packing. It was interesting, we’re glad we stopped, yet we feel cheated, tricked into something we didn’t want and I would have rather spent the hour at the caves if we were going to stop anyway.

Soon after Dambulla, we join a new straight highway all the way to Trincomalee. There is virtually no traffic and the rain eases too. We’re going to make it. I can hear L’s voice in my head saying the only reason there is a brand new highway is to make it easy for the military to get to the guerrilla areas. I’m inclined to agree with her. The civil war ended three years ago; the army trapping civilians and Tigers alike in this north-east corner and blasting them into submission. The reports of atrocities make grim reading and the insurgents were no choir-boys either, using civilians as cover and forcibly recruiting child soldiers. There are many military bases and check-points though we are not required to stop at them.

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