Ancient Ruins and Ruining a Gala

Sunday, December 23, 2018

The original plan for today was to hike Sigiriya rock.  After the cluster fuck that ensued on Pidurangala rock yesterday, we are all rocked-out and plans have changed.  It’s rock city, bitch, here in Sri Lanka.  Today we are visiting the ancient royal city of Polonnaruwa, which was the second capital of Sri Lanka around 1100 AD.  What can I say, I’m a sucker for a UNESCO World Heritage Site and you all know I love me some ruins.  Carly isn’t quite as thrilled, but she knows what she signed up for and is no stranger to humoring me.

Pradeep picked us up after breakfast and we drove about an hour out to the ruins.  Sri Lanka’s road side eye-spy game is on point.  Along the drive we ran into a few wild elephants trying to cross the road, more elephants bathing in rivers, a heard of water buffalo, a peacock, and a mongoose.  Yes, I’m aware no one gives a shit about the mongoose.

We stopped to buy our tickets at the museum and Pradeep found us some bicycles to rent from a guy on the side of the road for about $4.  From there, Carly and I biked through the site’s many temples and palaces.  It’s not a true vacation with Rory until a bike tour happens.  We actually just followed Pradeep’s car on our bikes from one parking lot to another, so he could watch our bikes to make sure no one stole them while we toured each site.  It was pretty much the definition of transportation redundancy, but I was biking around an ancient archeological site so I’m not mad about it.

At each of the ruins that signified a temple, which covers about 90%, we had to take off our shoes and socks and cover our shoulders.  If you don’t, you are scolded by old Sri Lankan men and women who sit at the gates for the sole purpose of keeping the white people in-line.  I do a lot of shit that could reasonably be considered offensive in any part of the world, but I have a hard time accepting the fact that wearing a tank top is one of them.  However, given that these are active religious sites, I begrudgingly put a shirt over my sweat-drenched shoulders.  I am very tempted to go off on a completely tangential rant about the patriarchal nature of religious modesty and my personal views on the imposition of those values on foreigners, especially those that pay entrance-fees.  Luckily, despite the fact that I’m a few vodkas deep while writing this, I realize that I would be making an argument for logic, rationale and modernization within the construct of organized religion.  I know an exercise in futility when see one.  Moving on…to my next drink.

If there is one thing that bugs me about Sri Lanka so far, it’s that there are rules for everything.  Shoes off, shoulders covered, no booze sold on a full moon.  They are also sticklers for opening and closing times.  If something opens at 7:00 am, they will not so much as glance in your direction until 7:00:01.  Every time someone tells me about a new rule, my subconscious is waiting for Patrick Swayze to magically appear and say “no one puts Rory in a corner”.  Until then, I’ll just do as I’m told and bitch about it in my blog.

Carly and I spent the rest of the day lounging at the hotel pool – knees, shoulders and all.  Carly made me work out, which was fucking awful because the AC unit the hotel “gym” was broken so I felt like I was running on the surface of the sun.  We basically did a Barry’s boot camp class in a hot yoga studio.  After showering, we spent a very hungry hour waiting for the buffet dinner to open.  In our defense, we skipped lunch.  The second they opened the doors at 7 pm, Carly and I hit the buffet hard.  It was actually disgusting, so I won’t go into detail. We went to bed at 9 pm.   I’m really digging this early vacation bed time.

Pool time in Sigiriya

Monday, December 24, 2018

The original plan for today was to go on a safari in Minneriya National Park, which is famous for large heard elephants.  Unfortunately, due to heavy rains in recent days (cue “Africa” by Toto playing in your head for the next hour), there is too much flooding for the jeeps.  Not to worry, I’ll have another crack at a safari later in the trip.  You didn’t think I’d come all the way to Sri Lanka without a safari fail safe in my itinerary, did you?

Sunrise in Sigiriya

Carly and I took the flooding as a sign from the universe that we should man the fuck up and hike Sigiriya Lion Rock.  Lion rock is an ancient rock fortress built by a Sri Lankan King around 500 AD as his capital city.  He built his palace on the top of a giant rock with a big moat around it.  Straight gangster.  As you’ll remember from our little issue on Pidurangala rock the other day, it’s not the hiking we are terrified of, it’s the buddha-awful hordes of tourists (see what I did there?).  Luckily there is an easy trick to avoiding crowds – be the early birds.

The ticket office opened at 7 am, so we were third in the queue at 6:50 am.  By the looks of the two groups in front of us, Carly and I would make them our bitches in a foot race, giving me complete confidence that we would be first to the top of that rock.  Nothing makes me happier than winning the tourist game by being numero uno.   We hauled ass up straight up the 1200 steps in about 20 minutes and emerged victorious at the top of Lion Rock to see…one couple had beat us to it.  They had purchased their tickets the day before and tried to climb the rock, but it was too crowded, so they turned back and asked to have their tickets validated for the next day.  An unfair advantage, to say the least.  But you had to respect them for knowing when to throw in the towel in the face of a Sir Lankan tourist mob.  Excellent pivot on their part.  On the bright side, we now had people to take pictures for us.

Here’s the rub on being the first to the top of Sigiriya Lion Rock in the morning – fog.  You can either fight your way through thousands of tourists later in the day and be rewarded with clear and sunny vistas, or you can hike up early without fear of being smothered and wait patiently for the fog to clear.  We gave it about 30 minutes until the fog cleared from a solid 180 degrees of sky line, snapped some pics, and headed back down just as foot traffic was picking up.  Rock redemption and domination has been achieved, and my travel homeostasis has been restored.

We headed back to the hotel and dismissed Pradeep for the day with a bottle of wine so he could get drunk on Christmas Eve with his driver buddies.  Carly and I went for a bike ride around our hotel, managed to avoid being trampled by wild elephants, and then settled into some lounge chairs at the pool around 10 am.  I busted into my duty-free vodka that afternoon and got surprisingly drunk off a few double vodkas.  Or perhaps they were triples.  I make a point not to keep track of such trivial things while on vacation.  I’m guessing that the humidity was just as much to blame as my heavy hand.  Carly attempted to get me to go the gym.  I laughed as I jumped in bed for a nap.

The hotel was throwing a compulsory Christmas Eve “gala” this evening, so Carly and I skipped lunch (read: snacked all day) to prep ourselves for another buffet.  The hotel had emailed me when I originally booked the room to let me know in advance there would be a charge of $18 a person for the gala, and that attendance was mandatory for all hotel guests.   Imagine my shock and horror when the front desk called ten minutes before the buffet line opened to confirm that they would be charging me $70 (USD) per person for the evening!  What does $70 worth of food in Sri Lanka even look like? Unless Buddha himself is shaving black truffle directly into my mouth, that is fucking preposterous.  I attempted to explain their fuck up over the phone, but arguing with a Sri Lankan is nearly impossible, because when they don’t understand you they literally repeat everything you just said back to you.  It’s like arguing with a parrot on a fucking merry-go-round.  I told them I was coming to the front desk to discuss this and have the manager waiting for me.  I was heated, to say the least.  Carly said that before hanging up I said something along the lines of “do not charge my credit card or I will come to your gala and fucking ruin it”.  I think I blacked out with fury for a few seconds, but that totally sounds like me. I’ll try being sweet in 2019.  2018 is no longer salvageable, so I might as well save some cash.

I headed up to the front desk, guns blazing.  I almost felt bad for the hotel manager, who by the way, looks like a Disney villain that I can’t quite put my fingers on (no its not Jaffar – that would be way too easy, not to mention slightly racist).  When I come to a fight, please believe that I come correct.  With receipts.  I pulled up the email they sent me on my computer and marched up to the lobby to show them my smoking gun.  I was told this was obviously a “miscommunication”.  I agreed, and pointed out that the miscommunication was on their end, and asked if there were going to honor the price that they quoted.  The manager spent the next ten minutes yelling at his frightened employees to search for any other emails they could have possibly sent me with the correct price.  Nothing says “customer service” like insinuating your guest is lying straight to their face while making them watch other guests beat them to the buffet line.  Once their pointless little witch hunt turned up nothing, the manager and I stood there arguing in a standoff.  The gala had begun so I elevated my voice to cause a nasty little scene.  He had no choice but to relent, and give us the “gala dinner” for the originally stated price of $18.  The guy sure did put up one hell of a fight just to cover $104 worth of overhead.  One would think a general manager of a hotel would have bigger fish to fry on Christmas Eve.

Xmas Eve Gala Dinner

Using the word “gala” to described an incredibly large buffet with a 4-person band and some Christmas decorations seemed like a generous word choice.  It was at this point that I realized every other person in this hotel had actually paid $70 for this dinner.  The price didn’t even include booze!  What a bunch of schmucks.  I forced Carly to keep eating long after she was full out of principle.  I wanted that ass hole manager to see me enjoying a new plate of food each time he walked through the dining room.  Who knew spite was so high in calories?  They had a Santa coming later that night, but I was pretty sure I had already been put on the naughty list, so we headed to bed early. Tomorrow, we head south to Sri Lanka’s “little England” tea country.

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