by Kate Heyhoe
In Sri Lanka, the women are drop-dead gorgeous. They look like they're straight out of Gauguin's Tahitians. They sell pineapple by the sides of the poorly graded roads, and wave at the tourists in their cars. Hellooooo! Hellooooo! they sing out as the cars and taxis amble by. Their hair is jet black, straight and long, falling down to their waist. Their skin is dark with olive tones. Their smiles are infectious, their laughter gay and light. They wear sarongs as festive as their cheerful, bright-hearted spirits.
At least, that is the way I remember them over 20 years ago. Since then, the country has been torn apart by internal strife. I do not know what everyday life is like in Sri Lanka anymore. By the way, the country may now called Sri Lanka, but I still think of it by its old romantic name, Ceylon. I am glad I was there in peaceful times and hope that the current violence dissipates soon, for the island itself is perhaps one of the most beautiful sites on this vast and varied planet. Of all the countries I have seen, Sri Lanka has imprinted itself in my brain as the all-time, singularly most beautiful place in the world.
Amid the lapping waves of the Indian Ocean, the lush island is dense with tropical jungle. Tigers roam the rolling hillsides freely, and monkeys hoot and chatter endlessly in the treetops. Unlike neighboring India, fruit and vegetation are plentiful. The natives all look healthy, for here, mother nature has provided a forest rich in foods that grow, walk and crawl.
After arriving in the capital city of Colombo, we journeyed inland by taxi to the mountain resort of Kandy. We passed the pineapple women, and drove on the one-lane road for hours, deeper into the rolling hills and surrounding low jungles. At one point, our driver came to a complete stop, for no apparent reason. We looked around. To our left was a clearing, and in it, so close to the road you could almost touch it, was a platform built on sticks, standing some six feet off the ground. It was a funeral pyre, with the top covered by a blanket of large leaves. Someone there had passed on to the afterlife.
But that, it turned out, was not why we had stopped. Crossing the road was a ten-foot long lizard. Actually known as a water monitor, the creature, it seems, is considered holy and no one on the island will run over one, lest they turn out like the person on the roadside platform. I am told that water monitors can run fast, but this particular one seemed happy to slowly move its short, squatty legs one by one. Like the Komodo Dragon, the most notorious of all water monitors, this specimen had sharp, wide claws, perfect for tearing flesh apart. His head and neck comprised nearly a third of its overall length, with the remainder consisting of a short, compact body and thick, heavy tail. Even when his front legs reached the edge of the road, there was still another six feet of him left to go.
Finally the monitor dragon moved on, and so did we. Soon we arrived in Kandy, a magnificent place located on a verdant plain. Nearby is an ornate temple said to house one of Buddha's teeth. The sight of the temple and the saffron-robed priests set against lush, deep green foliage was truly spectacular. Even if Buddha's tooth was not contained there, the surroundings themselves made a good enough reason for building the temple.
We bid our driver adieu and collapsed into our hotel. Built of ornately carved wood, painted pure white, the hotel was a remnant of British colonial days. Once inside, you would never know you were in a non-Anglo country, for the trappings of the Western world were solidly in place. The British, it seemed, made it a point to emphasize that the two cultures there were as different as night and day. Make no mistake, once you were in this building, you knew God Save the Queen was the national anthem.
Fortunately, the kitchen was a bit more forgiving. That night we dined on a luscious green curry made of local vegetables, some delicious but unidentifiable meat, and rice. For dessert, fresh pineapple was served in a buttery, caramel syrup and topped with golden, toasted coconut, another pride of the local plantations. It was a simple dessert, but it captured the essence of the tropical surroundings. I have included it here, below, and hope that you can one day travel to romantic old Ceylon and have it for yourself, surrounded by tigers, elephants and pineapple women.
Copyright © 2004, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.
This page created May 2004