A few weeks before I took those Koh Lanta pictures - exhibited in the last blogpost - I had met up with Shirley in Colombo, Sri Lanka. It was a school holiday. She was still nursing and only had ten days to spare but I was over in Sri Lanka for almost three weeks before flying back over the Andaman Sea to Thailand.
How I loved my precious time on the "teardrop island". During World War II, it was still known as Ceylon and my father visited it more than once as a meteorologist with the Royal Air Force. He spoke fondly of Kandy and panning for semi-precious stones in hill streams. I felt a special connection with him there.
Most of Shirley's time in Sri Lanka was spent in the south western coastal village of Unawatuna. It was so lovely there that it felt like stepping into a travel show. The warm sea, the palm trees, the sandy beach, our spacious bungalow accommodation, drinking coconuts and cocktails, the walk to The Peace Pagoda, the tuk tuk drivers seeking fares, the lemon sodas and the colourful local curries, the visit to a tea plantation. Even now I have to pinch myself to prove that I was there.
When she flew back to England, I saw a lot more - travelling on local buses and seeing as much as I could including a town with the wonderful name Trincomalee that I remembered inscribing upon a map of the island nation in a geography exercise book when I was probably thirteen. Yes I made it to Trincomalee and also to the ancient ruined city of Anuradhapura and the amazing holy mountain they call Sigiriya.
When reflecting upon Sri Lanka it would be remiss of anyone to overlook the issues it has faced in modern times - including bitter strife between Singhalese Buddhists and Muslim Tamils that resulted in thousands of war deaths and is not yet fully resolved. There have also been economic disasters and back in 2004 thousands died when the Indian Ocean tsunami struck. Luckily, I did not experience any of this horror firsthand.