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Ceylon, a pearl in turmoil...

More than two months ago now, I left my Rishikesh yoga bubble to land due south, 3600 km away, in Sri Lanka. I was aware that this island in the Indian Ocean, of 66,000 km2 and 22 million inhabitants, was facing a serious economic crisis. There is no question of changing my plans, especially since Sri Lankans need currencies, so this is not the time to let them go. So I arrive in Negombo, without imagining for a single second that, for various reasons, I will stay there for 16 days instead of the 3 planned. Arrived sick and very weak with the fear of repatriation, my priority will first be to get back on my feet and then to take care of solving credit card problems. If 10 days of antibiotics will get rid of the dirt brought back from India in 2019. (Thank you Dr. K. Sri Ranjan), having a CB sent from France will take more time. In this first post on Sri Lanka, I would have liked to talk to you about coconut trees and white sand but in Negombo, the sand is golden, the beach is rather dirty, the water is not turquoise but brown because of the monsoon, the turbulent ocean is dangerous and above all a revolution seems to be underway...

"Gota go home"

It is therefore early May, on the west coast, in Negombo, a bastion of Christian Sri Lanka, a religion inherited from the various colonizations, Portuguese (1505), Dutch (1603) and then English (1795-1948). Only 31 km away, in Colombo the capital, every day since April, peaceful demonstrators have camped in front of the government palace demanding the departure of the corrupt and incompetent president, Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his family clan in power for 25 years. Short of foreign currencies and plagued by galloping inflation, the country is no longer able to import oil, gas or food and drug products. For the inhabitants, everyday life has become a real headache, many are in a very precarious situation and the slogan "Gota go Home" is on everyone's lips.

May 9, 2022

What is certain is that resentment towards the government seems to be unanimous and continues to grow the ranks of protesters with raised fists who wave black flags and banners. Over the days, tension and exasperation are increasingly palpable in the streets. The days are punctuated by the two daily power cuts, the endless queues at gas stations continue to lengthen, tuk-tuks circulate less and less and the price of the race is soaring, all have only three words in their mouths, "Gota go home". In my Priyas hotel, the owner with whom I sympathised and coach on the roof terrace, tells me a lot about the country's economic situation and the causes of the crisis. Established in London for more than 30 years, he belongs to the Sri Lankan diaspora and holds an important position at Airbus, which does not prevent him from taking part in the fight. Worried about the evolution of the crisis, he advises me to stay in Negombo, to be close to the international airport if everything could suddenly slip. And he was not mistaken, the state of emergency is declared again and then the curfew. On May 9, in Colombo, thousands of presidential camp worshippers, armed with sticks and batons, attacked the demonstrators who camped in front of the president's office, causing 9 deaths and more than 225 injuries. In Negombo, groups of citizens armed with sticks, table legs and other improvised weapons pass in front of my hotel. In retaliation, a hotel and cars are set on fire, an elected official shoots at the crowd and then commits suicide, the Prime Minister, former president and brother of the current resigns to appease popular anger... For a few days, uncertainty reigns, the curfew is set up from 6 pm to 6 am and in the streets, some broken windows, remains of barricades and fires recall events. I would like to clarify that I never felt in danger, quite the contrary, overprotected by all the staff and Prayed always took care of me, their only guest.

Negombo, water and green

It's in this very special atmosphere that, the shape found, I ride my blue bicycle to discover this former fishing village that has become a tourist city and one of the main fishing ports in the country. A stone's throw from the international airport, Negombo stretches between a huge 8 km beach lined with coconut trees and its lagoon, whose crabs, shrimp, lobsters or other fish delight the inhabitants. Few large buildings and especially green everywhere, coconut trees, palm trees of all kinds, frangipani, banana trees, mango trees, papaya trees, gigantic and magnificent trees, flowers, nature is beautiful, generous and opulent, and Sri Lankans care for their home and garden. Wildlife is not left behind, and if you can meet a great diversity of wild animals including monkeys, lizards, squirrels, turtles or peacocks, the city is above all the domain of constantly shouting crows and stray dogs that split your hearts so thin and black they are. From its successive colonisations, the city has kept a certain charm with its old Portuguese houses, churches, religious statues on every street corner, its old ruined fort and its canal inherited from the Dutch that was used to transport cinnamon, an industry that was once flourishing.

Dry fishers and dried fish

I loved walking along its banks, stepping over the nets that waited for an unlikely departure of the boats with empty tanks, moored in front of the modest fishermen's houses huddled together. The men are idle, and on the lagoon, thousands of brightly coloured boats remain frozen, planked against planked, in the same sad and heavy immobility. There is no life left on board, and when I cross the harbour for a boat trip, I have the sensation of crossing a huge cemetery where you can still see wrecks from the 2004 tsunami. This situation, of course, has dramatic consequences for the local economy, soaring fish prices and a very low-traffic market. One part is sold fresh, and the other, passed in brine and then dried in the sun on coconut fibre carpets to be shipped throughout the country. An old fisherman with salt-gnawed fingers approaches me and leads me in spite of myself on an improvised visit among the crows that find an open-air restaurant here. I let him do it, quickly realising that his detailed explanations and tastings at the tip of my lips will not be free. Flying fish, sardines, mackerel, rays, sharks, and others, flesh, heads and edges, everything is exploited whether for human or animal consumption. The smell is so strong that it takes you by the throat and that sometimes, depending on the orientation of the wind, hints fly over the city.

La sri-lankan attitude

sur le marché du dimanche à Negombo au Sri Lanka, mai 2022
"Sunday market"de Négombo

Despite the beginnings of the monsoon that sometimes darken the sky and bring a little freshness, it is very hot in the streets of Negombo. I get to wait for thunderstorms and slip with delight in the warm rain. Ideal solution to bypass the shortage of gasoline and travel the city up and down, I cycle, free as air and also as close as possible to the locals whose insatiable curiosity for tourists might seem very intrusive to some. Everywhere we greet you, they smile at you without any ulterior motives, in all sympathy. Women and men, everyone wants to know who you are, where you come from, your first name, your age, your marital situation, if you are travelling alone, your religion, etc. Each meeting, and there are many, is an opportunity for proper interrogation to which I too have fun. Suffice to say that a woman travelling alone, never married to a child and without religion, raises many subsidiary questions 🤣 and sometimes misunderstanding. In the streets and markets, the hospitality and benevolence of Sri Lankans is not lacking, but welcome Ayubowan and smiles, do not succeed in stifling the unease of the population and some looks say a lot. The resilience of this people forces admiration in the face of the accumulation of tragedies that have gone through. The longest will be the stagnation in 25 years of civil war (1983 to 2009) that will kill 70,000 people and then the tsunami of December 26, 2004, which sweeps 800 km from its coastline, killing more than 30,000 people and half a million homeless people. But the country is recovering and developing a flourishing tourism economy that will unfortunately be hit hard by the Islamic attacks of Easter Sunday 2019 (260 deaths), then comes COVID against a rotting background of years of corruption and mismanagement. And yet, Ceylon continues to bring out in our imagination a colourful mosaic made of tea plantations as far as the eye can see, imposing Buddha statues, sandy beaches and majestic elephants.

I'll take you on a boat trip

My two weeks spent in Negombo were an opportunity to begin my immersion in this wonderful country and make my first beautiful encounters there, such as Madu, 27, orphan of a mother and son of a fisherman who has become alkolo perhaps out of despair but alcohol is wreaking havoc in Sri Lanka. A tall strong with a wide smile, he will take me to his green tuk-tuk with beautifully customised seats and ceilings of American Indians, he will make me taste the Lion, a local blonde beer and we will share two beautiful days discovering life on the muhurajawela lagoon and then that of Negombo, of which I made a small video montage that will perfectly close this first post on the magical island of Lanka, the resplendent tormented.

With Love from Sri Lanka #Kalouontheroad

Erratum in the video: date of the tsunami 2004, not 2014.

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