“I am Sanju,” Sanju introduced himself.
I shook hands with the young Sri Lankan as we sat on the old Dutch Fort in the port city of Galle. Once a main trading port for spices and tea between South East Asia and the Mediterranean, Galle is located on the south-west coast of the island nation.
I was strolling along the 300-year-old fort walls, my calf muscles still pissed off with my ascent of Adam’s Peak three days prior, when I sat beside Sanju and struck up a conversation.
“Do you want to go see the Redbull event?” he asked.
Not really knowing what was happening where I said, “Sure,” and followed him along the wall to the entrance tunnel of the fort. It had been blocked of by temporary event walls erected around two F1 Redbull racing cars sitting on stands.
“The newly recruited driver is about to arrive and rev the engines, then do some donuts,” informed the Redbull girl from the capital city, Colombo, handing out free cans of the infamous energy drink with a bright smile and twinkling eyes.
The crowd that had gathered curiously watched the set up as a DJ stall was blasting out electronic music from the grassy area across the road.
“Good music,” I noted.
Sanju nodded. “There is a great party tonight in Unawatuna,” he said. “You should come.”
Unawatuna is the Kuta, Bali of the south west coast of Sri Lanka. It is catered to tourists with backpackers, hotels, restaurants, motorbike hire, beach parties, souvenir and trinket shops (where shop keepers stand in their doorways with calls of, “Yes sir, hello, sir, come inside, sir.”), wi-fi, Internet cafes and one surf shop with boards for hire.
It being the off-season, I could only imagine the hustle and bustle of this one-lane street during peak season that kicks off from mid-December until April.
I exchanged numbers with Sanju as the engines of the F1 cars fired up, deafening everything within hearing range. Not really excited by F1 cars, I parted ways with my new friend and walked back towards Galle Harbour. San Miguel was anchored amongst industrial barges and oceanic exploration boats, surrounded by the kind of industrial water that could disintegrate titanium steel.
I bumped into Manu by the beach-side fish market. He had just returned from the centrally located city of Kandy during his 2-day bike trip on his rented motorbike.
“For sure we go to the party,” he said.
That night we walked the 4 K’s to Unawatuna, stopping at the bottle shop to meet Sanju and buy cheaper beers (180 Rupees for a 500ml bottle instead of 400 at the bar). After a few bottles we headed over to the beach party.
The sign read, ‘Entry 2,000 Rupee, Ladies Free, White Dress Code. Free Entry until 21:00’.
The time on Sanju’s phone read 21:03. The gatekeepers refused to let us in unless we paid the exaggerated amount. Manu took charge and lead us around the back, finding a strategically located tree next to the flimsy tin fence that sealed the party from outsiders.
We climbed over and found ourselves behind the DJ’s stage. We danced onto the beach, mixing amongst the predominantly tourist revellers that were in attendance. At about 03:00 we retired back to San Miguel to rest up for the next night’s party.
We caught up with Sanju again, repeating the pre-drinks routine before hitting the Happy Banana Disco in Unwatuna where Manu and I had partied the previous weekend. It was the kind of place that catered for the western crowd, mostly Russians. I can barely recall that previous weekend. I remember dancing to the same three songs played in various mixes.
I remember that by the end of the night, somewhere in the vicinity of 3 AM, the party had ended and Manu and I had made friends with a group of British girls, a 7-foot German and a few other westerners who had suggested we all go down to Chilli’s, a beach bar that would still be open.
I remember talking to a Sri Lankan who was the manager of the disco.
Who offered me acid.
I usually allow myself to divulge in hallucinogenic drugs once a year at the Rainbow Serpent Festival in Victoria (held over the Australia Day weekend. Highly recommended). I also try to avoid mixing alcohol with chemically enhanced party favourites.
Except when I’m already Aussie-drunk and don’t even think about Nancy Regan’s world famous slogan of saying ‘no’ to drugs (when do I ever?).
The events of that night were relayed to me by Manu the next day (it felt as though a week had passed). He had chaperoned my blitzed condition since leaving Chilli’s.
Deep breath, and:
We had fallen asleep on some rocks on a beach after we had eaten at a beach-side restaurant from where we took a daredevil bus ride back to the harbour where I refused to co-operate in paddling the dinghy back to San Miguel (and if that wasn’t enough, I forgot to tie it up and it floated between two docked barges) and that I eventually fell asleep in the harbour canteen (which had the tastiest, cheapest and largest serving of rice curry in the whole of Sri Lanka) before I managed to hitch a ride on a dinghy belonging to a newly-arrived catamaran that anchored next to us so I could get back to the boat where I promptly went to bed (some might say rendered myself unconscious) until waking up at midnight.
Manu thought I was drunk at the time. I confessed that I was tripping beyond hyper-space on some see-you-on-Mars shit (I remember thinking that I had created the planet and all life on it as an arts project in a Dimension X world).
“Manu, don’t let me take any acid tonight,” I said as we hit the empty dance floor at the Happy Banana. “I wanna remember our last weekend in Sri Lanka.”
It was our last night in the island nation before we set sail for the Chagos Islands, Madagascar (where Manu will leave to head to Reunion Island) and eventually South Africa, my last stop with San Miguel.
We partied until 01:00 and then headed over to a beach party at the end of the tourist area of Unawatuna. I’ve seen cemeteries with more living bodies yet, the DJ’s played more than three songs (even mixing it up with different tracks) so we stuck around, dancing until about 02:30 before we decided to head back to the boat.
We were walking along the beach when we came across a crowd that was large enough to block out the bar they were crowding around.
Manu and I looked at each other with a knowing grin. Together with Sanju, we headed in and mixed in among the mainly tourist crowd, arguing with a Kiwi chef about making the best pizzas.
“Try making it at a 45 degree angle”, Manu challenged him. And then asking a Russian surf instructor about surf spots (I know, right? A Russian surf instructor?).
When the DJs packed up and left us without music I spontaneously started to beatbox (which, really, was more like exasperatedly spitting) while a dreadlocked Aussie (arrived just that morning into the country) began to rap as the Kiwi chef clapped a beat and the Russian surf instructor videoed the whole thing.
“Did that just happen?” Kiwi asked about seven minutes later, astounded that in fact,
“It did, mate. It did,” I cheerfully clapped him on the back. “And you gave us the rhythm.”
It was just on 04:30 when we called it a night. Manu and I had a few hours to sleep before we had to ride to Hikkaduwa on the east coast to return his hired motorbike (about 20 minutes north-west of Galle), shop for supplies at the supermarket and fresh produce market, going through the bureaucratic joys of clearing our visas and passports before prepping the boat for our 1090 mile trip south to the British governed Chagos Islands.
Sri Lanka was country number 6 and so far my favourite. The people are super nice (especially to Aussies because of the aid the country provided after the devastating 2004 Boxing Day tsunami), the food is super cheap (with servings so big that a sumo wrestler would be satisfied) and tasty (I recommend the diced vegetable roti with fried rice and egg called Kuti), the weed is stoner-tastic and the acid… Well, that’s a trip all on its own.
If only I could remember it.