Days 186 and 187
February 17th and 18th, 2013
Two lazy days spent lying in the shade of palm trees listening to the sound of exotic birdsong, waves crashing onto the shore and now and again the thud of a falling coconut. Reading books, swimming in warm water and at night feeling pleasantly warm air currents waft through the mosquito netting onto the bed, whilst outside eerie jungle sounds fill the black night, keep us on guard despite watchmen, equipped with flash lights, regularly patrolling the facility. Deep sleep comes only shortly before dawn.
The German couple who have been running Palm Paradise for 30 years have had nothing but difficulties staying afloat in a country that is beautiful to visit but almost impossible to do business in. During the 26 civil war years they commuted between Germany and Sri Lanka – investing the money earned in Germany in the beach resort and returning only when it was safe enough to do so – reducing the staff to an absolute minimum – in order to survive.
In all these years there has never been a period of smooth sailing. Every time they hoped for an increase in prosperity, the next disaster hit. The Boxing Day tsunami of 2004 killed 35,322 Sri Lankans, leaving horrific devastation in its wake. Now that the cabanas have been rebuilt they were hoping to move on, but instead have become embroiled in a nasty conflict with a neighbor who’s threatening to kill them. They took measures to prevent him from playing loud music at his beach bar – which disturbed the peace and prevented their guests from sleeping, bringing in negative reviews on Tripadvisor and seriously jeopardizing their business. They’re furious that despite having had a business with 35 local people in their employ for three decades – and regularly paying taxes – the police refuse to protect them. If they were smart they would just pack up and leave, which is exactly what their neighbor is hoping they will do, but after all they’ve been through, they refuse to be chased away, and so stay on, risking their lives.
On arrival, somewhat offended by their brusque manner – quickly discounted as a “typically” German trait, we now find their behavior more understandable after hearing about the threats on their lives. They say that foreign investors quickly discouraged by the rampant corruption usually give up their projects within a year or two.
Reading Michael Ondaatje’s book Anil’s Ghost, the story of a young Sri Lankan forensic anthropologist, educated abroad and employed by the UN to clear up the mysterious disappearance of Sri Lankan citizens she is seriously threatened when she gets close to uncovering hidden war crimes and is, in the end, lucky to escape the island with her life although none of the mysterious disappearances have been solved; I realize, with a chill, that there is more to living in Sri Lanka – which has the highest number of missing persons, second to Iraq, than meets the eye. Anything, it seems, is possible here.
Alice and Theo, a Dutch couple we met in Kandy, recommended coming to Palm Paradise and it’s a pleasant surprise to discover that they’re here when we arrive. We have dinner together, taking down their recommendations for Thailand, which Alice – who has traveled extensively in South East Asia – is well able to give. One idea is a guided bicycle tour of Bangkok’s slums, a side of the city it would be otherwise impossible to see on our own.
We are a tad envious of Alice and Theo as they return home, and could well envision our going back to Germany and having a ‘normal’ daily routine for a few months before continuing the journey. This once-in-a-lifetime gift of a year of travel is a bit like having dessert three times a day for months on end. It’s so sweet it leaves us craving more substantial fare. Dessert is satisfying at the end of a meal just as rest is satisfying after a good day of work.