Lucky escaspe from Tsunami

December 26, 2004

I woke early on Boxing Day, it was another beautiful, idyllic, palm-fringed , balmy hot day on Bentota Beach on the south west coast of Sri Lanka, about 60 miles south of Columbo city. I took the short walk down to the Hotel Serendip swimming pool, located in the front garden overlooking the spectacular beach front, one of the most stunning beaches I have ever seen. There was nothing to suggest I was about to witness the transition of this calm, tranquil scene to one of destruction, death and catastrophe. Staying at the South Palm Villa proved a wise decision in hindsight, it was located on the high ground next to the railway line just behind the Taj Mahal Hotel. At 9 a.m I stood by the swimming pool diving-board, momentarily thinking of my family and friends at home, and I looked out into the ocean, there were a handful of guests in the hotel garden, most still asleep. My gaze was broken by the sight of the ocean tide moving at an incredible speed up the beach towards me, in a matter of minutes it was cascading into the garden and then pouring into the ground floor of the hotel , What the fuck was happening? High tide? some broken sewage pipes? the weather was calm and I didn’t feel too worried at this stage, within 10 minutes the hotel ground floor was flooded and people were waking up and there was general confusion. The water then started to move hotel the furniture, chairs anything in its path like some giant bath tub. Stiill perplexed as to what was going on, I legged it back to my guest house and gathered my clothes, this proved crucial in my swift exit later on. On my return to the Taj the tide had fallen back, a mixture of locals and tourists congregated on the beach some perplexed, some oblivious, the ground floor now was pretty flooded and the dining room was trashed, the locals were scouring the ocean for any victims. That was the end of it I thought…..er nope…..the tone of the scene suddenly become one of fear ; someone ran over hysterically shouting that a tourist was washed up drowned and was gesticulating for us to run back as the ocean was returning… I turned with all the others and ran for our life. Within minutes the ocean was indeed returning, this time with an added velcocity and anger tearing into the hotel and ripping everything in its path, I didn’t look back leaping over the train line onto higher ground to safety, confusion was reining everywhere, I could see cars being lifted and overturned in the hotel carpark..it was the weairdest surreal scene. I grabbed my rucksack, hooked up a genial English chap called Mike who I ‘d met at Breakfast, What shall we do? we discussed our options, my morbid curiosity go the better of me and we agreed to go back for one last look but we didn’t get too far, the devastation was escalating the waves were pouring into the hotel grounds and onto the railway line,( I later found out 2000 people died on when the train crashed that morning) debris was everwhere, people were moving running in all directions. We decided to leave, Mike wanted to head south to Galle, I wanted to go inland NOW, I won a crucial discusion, we headed to Bentota highstreet and bizarrely there was one tuk tuk waiting outside the souvenir shop, as if it had been waiting fior us, it was wierd! This is may have saved us but I will never know for sure. The conversation with the driver was broken by the sights of people running towards fleeing and shouting to get out of here , we got in and shot off, the driver thankfully proved to be a fearless, lunatic. Now we had to get out of the area, we took the Galle road out of town over the Bentota Gamba Bridge, thousands of villagers huddled on the bridge observing the morbid fascination of river banks wreaking havoc on their village, overturned cars, houses and fishing boarts twisted and turned in the ferocious angry water, it was an incredible scene I will never forget, we spead over the bridge, the driver ignoring the advise of a policemen on the otherside who advised not to go on, Mike and I said nothing, we were now the only vehicle speeding down the Galle road weeving in and out of debris, fishing boats, the ocean was on the left, waves crashing onto the edge of the road, on my right locals were shouting hysterically at us to get off the road, some on buildings, the driver was totally fearless, we were now at serious risk from being washed away but I felt a morbid excitement at the danger, ( I feel awful about this 2 days later) finally the driver relented and like a scene from Starsky and Hutch took a sharp right up off the Galle highway up a sidestreet, there was destruction and people everwhere but we managed to get out of the real danger zone onto higher ground. For the next 7 hours the tuk tuk driver drove through the forest and back streets like a demented rally driver only stopping for fuel, oblivious to the destruction we had left behind but we knew we had had a lucky escape from whatever it was we left behind, of that there was no doubt. At about 9 p.m Mike and I made it the safety of Rapnapura, checked into a crappy guest house, it had all seemed a mad adventure, the only indicator of anything different was when Mike phoned his Mum she was crying and hysterical and the word earthquake was mentioned, I was too tired and relieved to think about it. Many others were not as fortunate as me, for hundreds of thousands of Sri Lankans and an unknown number of foreign tourists this day on the west coast of Sri Lanka turned out to be a living nightmare. I am grateful to be alive, unscathed.

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Bentota Beach

December 24, 2004

I’ve been relaxing in the resort of Bentota for the last 2 days, took a 2 hour train journey down the west coast out of Columbo to get here, the beach is really stunning and clean, slight disappointment in the prevalance of major package hotels on the front beach, most of the inhabitants would make very eligible contestants for celebrity fat club. Have been reading loads, listening to some great tunes, doing a bit of boogie boarding and remembering how great it is to be in a sunny climate. There’s abundant wildlife everywhere, helped an old dear who was getting harrassed by an amazing giant monitor lizard in the front garden, think my new galactic swimming trunks scarred him off, there’s also these little acrobatic chipmonk creatures hopping about all over the place, I’m seriously considering a safari trip. The local sri-Lankans are gentle, kind and friendly, kink of a mix of all the best elements of the Indians. Strange to think they’ve been in a cival war for 15 years as they appear to be the most incrediably passive and gentle people.

Listening to; The Streets, Maroon 5, Keane, Snow Patrol (all good, The streets is fantastic)

Reading; The court of the Red Tsar- Stalin Biog- excellent

Sri Lanka Bound

December 17, 2004

So back on the road, 6 months of London living hadn’t dampened my zest to get away and Xmas and New Year was the only decent window, the folks were cool about it. It almost didn’t happen, the original flights to Cape Town blew out 2 weeks before departure, civair airline went bust, I panicked and remembered a chap I met at a web trade show who owned a Sri Lanka Travel business, 10 minutes later the deal was done, 1 return to Columbo booked for 2 weeks leaving 22nd Dec, bingo and I got my money back from civair, it was serendipity. I’m now 5 days away to heading over to sample the heedy delights of Sri Lanka and I’m eager, excited and overjoyed, will keep you up to date.