posted on Thursday, February 25, 2016

Ratnapura


Today It was time to rip the rewards of climbing up these magnificent mountains. I will head down to the plains and the city of Ratnapura. The landscape shrouded in a fine early morning mist was breath taking. The clouds of yesterday storm still lingering on but breaking up into all kind of weird shapes, uncovering the blue sky behind. I often had to stop to take in those images and try to freeze them in a photo or a clip. At Beragala noticing a bank I thought it was a good chance to quickly change some money to last me the last few days here. I parked Bronte right by the entrance triggering a quick reaction from the security guard that thinking I had come to Sri Lanka to do a pedalling bank robbery job, came out embracing his large rifle and told me I couldn't leave it right at the front. I said I just needed to change money and he turned into a gentleman escorting me right at the front of a crowd queuing. The cashier told me to sit down and while I thought she was just being polite and all, in hindsight she new changing foreign currency at the Beragala People's Bank was quite an event. I was surrounded by a gathering crowd as the cashier stared at my twenty pound notes and then involved half the branch into what I can only imagine was a Google search at the back office, finding out what currency it was and whether it was real or fake. As the intelligence did its work in the office, my cashier started dealing with the rest of the crowd doing transactions while I sat right in front and had people practically sitting on my lap. Next I needed to show my passport and for ten minutes that disappeared too while I was witnessing withdrawals, cheque deposits mortgage payments happening to my left and right. Then it was deemed necessary for me to write down my address on paper. After the Google search the enlightened bunch came out with confidence and submitted my twenties to all kind of visual and tactile tests. The proof was sound they were indeed five notes of twenty British pounds. There was almost a cheer or sigh of relief while I was anxiously checking if the armed officer was doing his job and made sure that nobody was trying to pinch my unlocked bike. The transactions around me suddenly stopped and after a good twenty minutes I was produced a thick bunch of small denominations that everybody including me counted to make sure they were right. I have only met generous and honest people here, more than anywhere else but with half the village knowing that I was setting off with a good monthly wage on a bike I dashed out and sped downhill with increased zest! The road being downhill life today was at 30 miles an hour and I couldn't satisfy the crowds dispensing as many smiles and some english language wisdom today. Uphill I am slow and it pleases people. It takes time to pass them by and they can manage to throw in a good standard series of questions such as "hi", "where you going", "which country?", "where's your wife?", "you have children?", "how Sri Lanka?", "bye". You can tell I am on a flat if it goes like "hi", "which country", "bye". Well today it was "hibye" and I had already zoomed away to a distant horizon! I stopped by another lovely Buddhist temple by the road side today and after being asked to remove silly hat and shoes I could enjoy a guided tour with the resident monk. Half way to my final destination it was time to grab some lunch just before a large downpour, yet another lucky escape. Not that I mind getting moderately soaked here. It has been mostly sunny and very hot and rain is just at the right temperature to be enjoyed, almost a relief I wish I could pay for every now and then. It was still drizzling but I continued to Ratnapura where I found the secluded Deer Park guest house set in lush gardens outside the busy city and had a superb welcome by Mr Gunawardene offering the unmissable cup of Ceylon tea and a grand home cooked dinner by his wife. Tomorrow will be my last cycling day as I plan to arrive in Colombo and spend a couple of nights there too.