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  • Writer's pictureJosh Oldridge

2: Leaving the past behind and an Arabian night

Updated: Mar 9, 2020

Before I went to the USA on my own after dropping out of uni in Leeds, a very nice friend of mine, who I think sensed I was going through something, recommended going travelling. “It’s a really reflective experience,” she said. I had no idea whether this was a good or bad thing at the time. I didn't really even know what she meant. Now I get it. Reflecting on something you’ve done is important for moving on in your life. Because moving on can be hard, but mulling over the reasons why, perhaps even talking them through with a stranger-turned-friend over a beer wherever in the world you are, can help to lend a kind of closure that allows you to gradually move beyond that stage in your life. It’s something I struggle to do, and finishing uni in Cornwall is definitely one of those things for me – it was possibly the best three years of my life. Sitting on a four hour train from the capital, Colombo, to Weligama in the south – my home for five nights – drowning in sweat from my all black long-sleeved tracksuit I wore on the flight, gave me opportunity to ruminate on some of the best moments, the lows, and most poignant events of that three years. It really helps.

Somewhere near Abu Dhabi by night (complete with smudge on window, soz).

I’m writing about this topic because it was on my mind; something I’ll be doing throughout this blog. But also, a few incidents of that theme aligned on my day of travel. First, the long-haul flight made me think of the USA. Then I listened to this song by someone called Weyes Blood, called “A Lot’s Gonna Change”, which I really liked and was themed along those lines (kind of indie folk with hints of Kate Bush and *gulp* ABBA; I loved it). I’d never heard of her before sifting through the surprisingly good mix of albums on the Oman Air in-flight entertainment headrest screen thingy. Then I finished my in-flight meal, which had been fantastic, and I spent my entire time in Muscat airport on the layover thinking about that meal now forever locked in the past. It was a strange night I spent at Muscat, on the Arabian peninsula, I guess partially because I’d woken before sunrise in London, so witnessed the sun coming up from the plane, but heading east meant it wasn’t at the window for very long at all and it was dark long before our descent. It was a little disappointing to have missed seeing Dubai and Abu Dhabi from the plane in daylight, but to be fair, seeing the latter all lit up amid a black mass of both land and sea was pretty cool. Next to one of the departure gates at Muscat I watched a man (looked like a passenger) the other side of one of those glass walls, separating our sections, stare at a door with a big push handle across the middle for a minute or two. He was looking at the massive warning signs and the writing in red below them. After considering his actions a while, he proceeded to tentatively push the handle and the alarm blurted and ricocheted around our waiting hall. The man seemed surprised. Still, he stood staring at the door a minute or two longer (no officials came), then he started walking away and returning to the door (still no one came); he did this for a while longer. After five minutes of deafening alarm, he just turned around and wandered up a flight of escalators nobody had been on the entire time myself and a few others had been watching. He just vanished. I’d wager that alarm is still firing out. Back to letting go of the past. We also flew over India, on a flight path just west of Mysore – almost exactly over the village I volunteered and had E. coli in, so I thought about that too.

Airplane food: a highly reflective experience.

But the main thing was this film. After reading a fairly recent copy of Empire while waiting for my £6 haircut the other day (love Goole sometimes), I stumbled upon a film preview that caught my eye. It was quite a kick when I was scrolling through the in-flight movies – tucking into a decent chicken lattice and hot chocolate cake in this strange cardboard complimentary snack box later in the first flight – and there it was: Booksmart. And it’s a cracking film. Packed full of energy, creativity, humour, and a romantic twist towards the end, it’s also heartfelt and relevant. On the more poignant, gloomy side, it’s about moving on from years in the bosom of education among tons of peers, and not having regrets about having missed out during those years. The film homes in on two best mates who’ve worked hard all the way through US high school. The day before graduation, one of them makes a shocking discovery: while she’s been busting her ass day-in day-out to get into Yale, when talking to a group of classmates she thought all along had been nothing but hedonistic slackers, she learns that they too are going on to highly regarded colleges and good jobs. She realises she’s missed out; the pair chose work over socialising, and abided by this for years, only to find out a day before finishing that they could have had both. Cue a night of partying. The pair give it a go. I don’t want to spoil it, so all I’ll say is they go to three very different parties, in the same night, basically all hosted by rich kids. There are a lot of rich kids in their school. Most students in the film don’t appear to go without. But perhaps that’s just how it is in such schools. Anyway, it doesn’t detract from the film’s message about coping with social pressures, trying to impress, and the ability to fit in. If anything it strengthens that message. And Jared – perhaps the richest of them all – is charming and actually hilarious. He too has his moments of poignancy, as the young people discuss relationships. The film has a great balance to it. I came out of it somehow reassured and enlivened. I found it really relatable.

Then for a switch up I watched Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, which was absolutely ridiculous and I enjoyed it way too much.

There were a few Brits on the flight from Heathrow to Muscat, but I was a little surprised that on the second, smaller flight, white British seemed to become the majority group heading to Sri Lanka. I befriended one, we got speaking over a football autobiography he was reading, and together we managed to brush off the hounding taxi service reps who were trying to give us a comfortable ride into Colombo city centre from the airport for the equivalent of $18 (US) – a bargain, they said – and instead we stood in a queue that eventually filtered onto one of the dirtiest coaches I’ve ever seen. We chucked our bags on and hoped for the best, and with relief the bus did go into the city centre and our bags were still in the storage when we disembarked, and it had cost 80p each. On a buzz, we followed some locals into a hotel (I gather that’s what they call a restaurant/café thing here), and ate some authentic dosa for breakfast. Amazing, cheap, and complete with unabashed stares from all the local lads who were in there getting a good feed in before work.

Clean and tidy travels.
Brekkie with the lads.

I slept all afternoon in the hostel. I wanted to stay awake and try to counter jetlag early by staying up and going to bed at a normal time, but my body just basically insisted. Because of the two flights and the time difference, it’s hard to say exactly how long I had gone without sleep (just can’t seem to do it on planes), but it was somewhere around 29 hours. I can’t even remember my head touching the pillow this afternoon.

Woke up to find the group had already gone to neighbouring town Mirissa for a mini food festival. I quickly took a shower and hoped to find them based on advice from the guy on reception at the hostel, who said they were at a place called Surf Bar. I got a tuk-tuk. The driver assured me he knew where that was but then dropped me off next to a supermarket away from the beach. Great. I trawled the streets amid the beeping cars and brash lights of some of the bars before heading down to the beach. Mirissa is leaden with Western tourism, and half of the establishments packed onto the beachfront, with seating sprawled out along the sand, had a bar and either hired out surfboards or had hanging signs in the shape of a board. Ideal. By luck or fortune (or just from walking a long way) I found a place with a discreet little painted sign reading those two magic words. I went through to the back and there was indeed a little food festival … but no sign of any of the people I’d met earlier in the hostel. I lingered for a while in case they arrived or came back, but then left head down. Annoying, but I’ve learned that when travelling you can’t let these small setbacks get to you. Besides, the hostel is good and I knew I’d meet people there. I decided to cut my losses and head back, but just before I did I spotted a little food place across the main road with locals cramming the doorway and a few tourists eating out front. This was just away from the main touristy section so I had greater faith of not getting ripped off. I took a seat next to a Czech guy who turned out to speak little English, but we bonded over hearty smiles which stemmed from unbelievably tasty and filling plates of kottu. The locals were lovely and it cost little over a pound per plate. The Czech guy showed me some amazing pictures of his recent sojourns in Kandy, Ella (his favourite place), and Udawalawe National Park. We exchanged friendly goodbyes and I took a tuk-tuk back (somehow half the price of the one on the way in). You need those little moments, especially when travelling alone.

I got back and got talking with my roommates. Pretty soon had a surf trip planned for the morning! Really excited. More about the surf in coming posts!

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