13. Things fall apart and future plans
Updated: Apr 19
So came the last full day of the trip. It began at 7am with a round of Wii golf and an iced coffee with Sam, a Maltese guy from the hostel. We played on beginner, with low wind and few bunkers and water obstacles. It was a very gentle start to a day that ended quite differently. Having ditched the sunrise surfs due to the necessity to nap in the afternoon this lifestyle requires, and having bedsheets caked in sweat from days of doing just that, we got into the water around nine – post-breakfast for the first time in a long time – and it was decent enough. But the main focal point of the day was The Doctor’s House – Wednesday edition – in the evening. Talk of the big night out echoed through the hostel corridors all day. Naps were organised such that one would be in good form by the 7pm tuk-tuks, food had to be healthy but filling enough to soak up alcohol, and makeshift beer pong using mugs, as well as other drinking games, kicked off the night. Then we got to The Doctor’s House and it was tipping it down. The place was almost flooded and looked quite empty from outside. But this was fine; we had a really good group of almost twenty people from around the globe spread over six tuk-tuks from our hostel. We didn’t need anybody else. As it turns out, the small roofed section at the party, partially hidden from view at the entrance, was completely packed as people danced off the rain and waiters squeezed through impossible gaps to deliver pizzas and burgers. The vibe (yes, cringe, I said that) was positive. People were on a good level. One of the Aussie girls was on a whole different level, but it was all good and she was well looked after. Once the rain cleared up people let loose outside and the beer buckets started to really flow. Being around so many smiley people who are happy to talk about anything and for any amount of time, and who are so different but somehow bonded merely through clicking on the same accommodation option on a booking site, makes for a great time. In a way it’s really all you need. I can’t tell you how much fun we were having. But then people started getting too drunk and the group split off a bit. As The Doctor’s House was winding down a few of us went to a party on the beach in Mirissa, some to a rooftop bar in Midigama, while others made their way back to the hostel. We shared beers and danced in any fashion to the worryingly loud music (worrying because there are so many hostels and guesthouses nearby) until tired and hungry, when we found a tuk-tuk driver willing to stop at a roti shop on the way back to Spindrift. I spent almost ten grand in a night … okay, not so rock’n’roll in rupees. Still, around £40 and worth every penny.
Surfed wearily the next morning, had a healthy lunch with friends at nearby Moochies, and before I knew it I was alone with my hangover on the train to Colombo chomping through my final handful of Lemon Puff biscuits and watching the scenery – which four weeks ago I’d found enchanting and heavy with wonderment over what tropical mysteries lay beyond the foliage – breezing past. This time I was hungover and down and couldn’t get roused too much about the beauty at my window. I think this is the saddest I’ve felt to be leaving somewhere. The final surf was probably the worst of the month; full of close-outs and a bit of wind causing a chop on the water (not just because of the hangover). Paradoxically, this means I was in for too long because I couldn’t get the waves I needed to feel satisfied. After that and the food, I only just made the train, and owe thanks to Charlie for helping me carry my bags. Charlie, I owe you a beer in Brigg or Goole Wetherspoons. Looking forward to it. I’ll miss Charlie a lot. I’ll miss the whole hostel crew a lot; the owners, Josh and Charlotte, the group I grew quickly attached to in my first week, and all those from the second stint: Ru, Sarah, Tamsyn, Sally, Sophie, Gil, Jo, Alex, Larissa, Madison, Julia, Sam, and all the rest. I’ll sorely miss you all. And that’s not an exaggeration. I think it might be a condition. One recognised by J. D. Salinger, and one of the reasons he’s one of my favourite authors and The Catcher in the Rye one of my favourite books. The last line of that novel is probably the line I associate with more than any I’ve read in fiction. It feels a little clunky when not read in context, but I’ll include it anyway because I empathise with it, while loving and hating what it is about to a painful extent at the same time: ‘Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.’
While the goodbyes were too brief to be too emotional in the moment due to the rush, one rounded end to the trip was things falling apart. My sunglasses were broken already, but then my tights started tearing at the seams, as too my rash vest and travel towel. My flips-flops are breaking and I left my rockpool shoes (brought for reef surfing) in Sri Lanka because they were fucked and full of sand that somehow wouldn’t budge. In an innocuous yet poignant moment, accentuated by the many Lion beers consumed the night before, I finished my 200ml bottle of Lifeventure All Purpose Soap yesterday. It doesn’t sound like a big thing, but that stuff is incredible and I can’t recommend it enough. It’s biodegradable, not overly expensive, and you can use it on your hair, skin, to wash food, hands, clothes, and I’m pretty sure if you ran out of Colgate it’d do a job. Just 200ml lasted me six years; I got that bottle just before the trip to India in 2014 and it saw me through that and many other trips as well. Being tossed into the recycling bin doesn’t seem like a proper burial for such an instrumental little bottle. Also, my North Face wallet is more or less the skeleton of its former waterproof self now. But the worst item hit was my one pair of shoes I brought. After using them just twice on the trip after realising flip-flops and bare feet are the only way in Sri Lanka, I packed them in the bottom of my big rucksack early on. I thought they were fully dry when I did so. But after the big yellow moon guided us to the terminal building along the Heathrow runway upon touching down, and my toes almost instantly turned to icicles this morning when stepping onto the shockingly cold 5.30am February English soil wearing shorts, a t-shirt, and flip-flops, I was rubbing my hands together at the prospect of getting into the toilet cubicle (always) and popping on my fabric Reebok’s. I took my rucksack from the baggage drop and removed the carrier bag in the loo, unravelled it, and was hit with a putrid smell. When I peered into the black bag, I saw my blue trainers were mottled with white, brown, and yellow patches of mold. The heat in Sri Lanka must’ve meant the semblance of moisture left on them when they were packed away led to their doom. I had to throw them in the bin and wander the airport and take the tube in flip-flops (only footwear left out of three pairs) and socks (just no other option ... this is why I don't have Instagram). Apologies to all those offended. If it helps, karma has stung me because I’ve gone from not wearing more than a single layer over my torso all month to having to have five on, and still shivering, as I sit in King’s Cross waiting for my train to even colder climes in the North. But more generally too, my body feels rough. Definitely not quite one of those fully refreshing and relaxing holidays, owing to the booze, the tiredness from being on a plane all night, and sores on my chest from lying on a surfboard for too long for too many days (yet still not enough days). Also, sea lice must’ve gotten trapped in my rash vest on more than one occasion because what I thought to be mosquito bites during the night turned out to be from those little scumbags instead, I found out from a friend. It really is like chickenpox on my back and proper itchy at times. Still, nothing a stern Yorkshire brew can’t help resolve once I'm back home.
Along with The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger, Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe is one of my favourite books. Definitely read it for a rich and shocking plot with real poignancy. But I ditched another of Achebe's books, Arrow of God, at the hostel book swap, along with a non-fiction text on cycling I couldn’t get going with. This, combined with using stuff up and having to throw some things away before the flight, means my rucksack is about half the weight it was when I departed in early January. I’m really nimble getting around now, especially thanks to my socks and flops. However, while this fits neatly into the context of things figuratively and literally falling to bits, it doesn’t feel neat. It sucks. I’m looking forward to seeing people at home but gutted to have left Weligama. At lunchtime on that last full day a group of us convened at Hangtime, and while laughing genuinely and purely through a game of What Do You Meme?, I’m pretty sure I resolved to take another trip out this year, everything permitting. The month has absolutely flown past and I didn’t want it to end. Though right now the last thing I want to do is step back on a plane – especially after my in-flight entertainment screen was broken and closed itself down every so often on both legs of the journey back from Colombo to Heathrow (via Muscat again), meaning it took five hours spread over two flights to watch The Revenant (worth it) – I want to get out there again. Soon.
I think it’s a matter of perspective as well though. As much as I’m not looking forward to getting home too much, it is always nice to come back, see what might have changed (even over the course of one month in a village), and, especially after things have fallen apart, it’s a chance to rebuild. Or start something new. Maybe I’ll finally get some luck on the job front or a break with the writing. On the topic of new things, or, reverting back to old things more accurately, something I’ve genuinely found refreshingly nice is not having data on my phone abroad. Okay, some will hate me for that comment because I’m not the best at replying regardless, but I see now how much better it is just to see people face-to-face and spend the time in between looking at the world and not a little screen (ah, gap yah epiphany). It really has been nice to not have that constant little nag that something on my phone could be interesting, or relevant, or I could contact someone about something, because it hasn’t even been possible to do that. All communication had to be done at the hostel, where there was WiFi, or in person. I loved it, though maybe this is just a holiday thing. I’ll probably find myself reading the latest Star Wars conspiracy article in earnest on my next wait at a bus stop. But I hope not.
Finally, a word on Sri Lanka. I would definitely recommend it as a place to travel for anyone. It’s not too big of a country, so you can see lots in a small space of time, people are generally really friendly, it’s cheap, it’s warm, it’s blessed with incredible natural beauty but you can also live in the chaos of an Asian city, such as Colombo or Kandy (albeit diluted compared to some in India, or Bangkok, for example), and you can surf at any level! I’m really considering heading back same time next year. There are places I didn’t visit – Sigiriya, Adam’s Peak, and beautiful beaches like Hiriketiya, Tallala, and Tangalle – and places I still need to surf – Plantations, MarshMellows, and Coconuts. Some of this stuff I consciously left out as an excuse to come back. It’s that kind of affecting place. So … anyone want to join?