During this country’s less optimistic days, at the end of 1997, we arrived in Sri Lanka as greenhorn package-tourists. Two weeks later, I flew home inspired, travel-hungry and, quite possibly, changed for the better.
On a mission not to waste the last couple of days at our very dull hotel, the kind that had likely not seen better days, just before heading home I ventured beyond its lobby, in a tuk-tuk, and experienced much that I had not. Lazing around at a two-table shack of a restaurant, on the banks of a mangrove-fringed river, with a warm beer in hand, this island’s great beauty hit me like a train. And I don’t mean the smoke-belching diesel behemoth crawling across the rail bridge – it happened all of a sudden. However, it was without doubt the sight of this train and the ancient Morris tea-lorries on an adjacent, not wide-enough road bridge – rusting, outdated relics from our colonial past, plus, the mouth-watering aromas of curries, slow-cooking over wood, Tannoy speakers of competing faiths, the guttural calls between gray langur monkeys and brightly coloured birds – speaking (literally) in a foreign tongue, that led to my first Sri Lankan epiphany. This cacophony of sights, sounds and smells – the contradictions if you like, are what hit me like a train. As I sat among the mangroves, carving my first fishing rod since reaching adulthood, it all hit me. Later, homeward-bound with the blues, I vowed to do ‘justice’ to this place, sooner rather than later if I could. I’d been an utter klutz, wasting time with my eyes firmly shut in a dull hotel, blind to a paradise that to this day, never fails to surprise and inspire me.
With no plan, the following year saw me embark on a chaotic journey, through my Huckleberry Finn years as I call them. No particular destination in mind, other than to discover Sri Lanka and myself. Was this the mid-life crisis men aren’t supposed to have?
Typical Brit, within the year and within hours of my return, I began exploring the island. Nestled somewhere in my head was a vague notion too, that I might find my own little corner of paradise – I imagined and began planning my escape from a safe and sane life! Four years and countless adventures later, I plumped for a five-acre parcel on which now stands my hotel, Buckingham Place. Twenty-two years on, even with a hotel in full swing, the epiphanies keep coming.