Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The cast of Oddamaivadi

It had been a great trip so far. Admittedly the 3am drive down left a bit to be desired but the two dives on the mystery wreck were mind blowing. An eagle ray soared past us as we hovered over the wreck and huge trevalley moved in the shadows as we swam into the ghostly ship lying scatted on the bottom and hordes of snappers swirled above us, a solid mass of fish. I’m still not sure how this was but the air from our tanks tasted of strawberries and the dives were simply world class.

As the sun set on the beach at Kayankerni we exultantly discussed our evidence on what the ship could be, the length indicated a World War II wreck but there was still much to be done the next day to further uncover the mystery. It was then that we made our fatal mistake. We decided that nothing would cap the day better than a couple of beers. Thus fortified with this foolish idea we proceeded to Oddamaivadi to get some beer. Over the Kayankerni bridge as we rattled along the newly built road we heard a thud. Shortly followed by a warning light on dashboard and the death rattle of the engine seizing up.

Rather befuddled we sat in the car for a few minutes before deciding to move it to the side of the road in case a passing combine harvester gave us a gentle tap on the back in the approaching gloom. It was then that we started to meet the inhabitants. As I pushed the Swift to the side of the road (it’s a surprisingly light car) a motorcycle spluttered to a stop and our Guardian Angel turned up to assist, heavily disguised of course as a mustachioed and saronged old man, GB Kahn. While DJ and I stood bewildered he in quick succession organized a truck to tow us to the nearest garage.

The garage, actually a large field with a shack, turned out to be the haunt of Sudu Malli, the black as night mechanic who soulfully advised us to get a new filter and he would try his best the next day. As we had reached the limit of what we could do for the night we arranged a tuk to get back to base and a jovial character by the name of Ali picked us up.

As we proceeded to buy a couple of beer bottles (to console ourselves) Ali with great gusto started talking. And he didn’t stop. His stories were various and colourful. He started off with tales of how he used to run goods for the LTTE and the army, until both were pissed off with him and he had to move to Colombo. There it turned out he was arrested for dealing marijuana and he regaled us with how he used to escape rape on a daily basis, including unwanted specifications of how the victims were chosen as they used rudimentary toilets.

Ali continued to talk and swig beer from a can while we drove on. He took a short but terrifying detour to show us a field where he as involved in a land dispute. For a second we thought we were going to be have a sticky end somewhere in a lost field. Ali continued to talk, now he was telling us about his experiences with ghosts on the road. We later learned that he loved to smoke up..which probably explains the ghosts. He also told us he transports corpses in his tuk, a sort of open air hearse. We were reassured to hear however that he washes his tuk regularly in the lagoon.

Ali was even full of political soundbites, a particularly witty statement was, mamma Thambi, appi nari, ogollong Sinhala, sinhayao…koti thang malla. Which for political correctness left a bit to be desired.

It was with a sinking feeling that we realized Ali had no intention on leaving us when we got to the bungalow. Instead he helped himself to a bottle of beer, regaled us with a story on circumcision and proceeded to show us how his belly dances. I cannot make this shit up. Apparently it was because he was quite diligent with his yoga…yoga I say again. Then just before he left he showed us another one of his life skills, twisting his ear up and keeping it balled up. He then serenaded us with a short tune before bumpily heading off into the night leaving us speechless and not a little traumatized.

The next morning dawned bright and early. The promise of a hot day was kept as instead of diving as we had hoped, we travelled around Oddamavadai, this time with a mercifully silent trishaw driver, in search of a petrol filter. Tracking one down finally in the shop of the town’s other crazy mechanic, Meegamuwa Kolla, whom we later learned had a ‘wire in his head’ (i.e. was batshit crazy) we had Sudu Malli install this and we crossed our fingers.

No luck as the engine was rock solid. Which then brought us to the tricky part of how the fucking hell we were going to get a Suzuki Swift back to Colombo.

Luckily there turned out there was a truck, Anoja was her name that needed to get to Colombo. Of course this being Sri Lanka nothing was quite that simple. The truck needed repairs to its clutch. And the driver had to come from Batticaloa with the parts. Thus we sat in the smallest patch of shade in all of Batticaloa while we waited for Saadi the driver and his unnamed squint eyed assistant to turn up. Once they turned up they and Sudu Malli dug around in the bowels of the truck until finally it seemed it was all fixed.

They then proceeded to take us for a slow tow to a service station so they could load the car. The rather innovative process was to put the car up on a hydraulic jack, back the truck up and then push the car in. Of course the first service station refused to let us do this, so we proceeded back into town, the townspeople regarding us with interest and possibly a sense of déjà vu as we trundled past them again, this time heading to Meegamuwa Kolla's service station. Suffice to say the plan of how to get the car into the truck was not quite as easy as it sounded but much sweating and pushing and jousting, not me of course, I was too busy taking photographs, we finally got the car in.

All that was left was the drive back to Colombo. We squeezed into the back of Anoja’s cabin where there was just enough leg space to give us hope but not enough to allow for a comfortable ride. For one brief, terrifying moment Saadi played some South Indian tunes at full blast, before catching our looks and interpreting them as meaning that we would happily kill him and his assistant and drive the damn truck back to Colombo if he continued with the music.

In blessed silence we proceeded towards Colombo, a 9 hour odyssey where I learned something interesting. Transport trucks do not have anything in terms of suspension so you could feel every single jolt from the road. Needless to say by the end of the trip I had reached a level of pain that I had not thought possible.

So there it is, strawberry flavoured air, giant trevalley, a crazy tuk driver, even crazier mechanics and a temperamental truck called Anoja.

The moral of the story…don’t drink beer? Random I know.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


It’s been awhile I know, but in between the new job and accompanying learning curve and a high intensity season the blogs have fallen by the wayside. The rain thundering down outside is however a harbinger of the end of the season…no more rush of air as the water envelops.

This has been a season of many firsts, the field of giant fans ghosting the sea floor, the adrenaline rush of a tank valve blowing, an inadvertent solo dive to 30m and the cold dread of feat clutching at my belly, overcoming that fear, exploring an enchanted garden on a wreck the equivalent of a 15 storey building underwater. Most of all I’m going to miss the camaraderie of adventure, the early mornings as the boat shards through the water with the excitement of the unknown ahead of us.

It’s going to be a long six months....

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


It seems like yesterday that I posted some pensive thoughts about ushering in 2010 away from the maddening crowds and in the wilds of Yala and yet here I am, almost a week into 2011. The one thing I really do miss about 2010 was the way we ended the year, relaxing in hammocks, a cool lagoon breeze, sumptuous food and people who are important to me. Total and utter relaxation instead of the loud music, cramped chairs and tables and drunken moronity of the hotel scene. It was the perfect way to see out what has been an absolutely fabulous year after the initial shock of adjusting to being back in this crazy LSD trip that is Sri Lanka.

Starting the year with leopards in Yala seems to have been a good omen, for 2010 was the year of travel, adventure and new beginnings. Gal Oya and Yala were on the menu again for January with the former providing a hair raising experience of rain, rising rivers and constant mud. Diving season started with some rookie mistakes but progressed into marginal competency and early February was when I was deemed fit enough to dive the Cargo Wreck, deep blue waters, an immense ship at 30m and swimming through shoals of fish. What else could one ask for? My constant gabbing about diving had an unexpected benefit as well.

The next few months was all about diving with a break to Mirissa to see the whales and enjoy an absolutely fabulous BBQ on the beach. The year starts to blur around then but there was a trip to Batticaloa, Trincomalee to snorkel with a shark pack, Kandy for the Bradby, my first trip to Wilpattu ever followed by another one, Kalpitiya to watch dolphins, Sinharaja to get mauled by a diya bariya, a couple of Unawatune trips, a marathon down south road trip to Ussangoda and diving in Hikkaduwa and yet more diving, including notching up my 100th dive on the last day of the year.

Of course on top of this was watching the sibling get hitched in Utah. Despite the empty bank balance and despite the cheesiness, it would not be a cliché to say that I am a much richer person now than that last day of 2009. I hope everyone else has had a brilliant start to the year and a great year to look forward to!