I was recently invited by Sri Lankan lifestyle magazine “Hi” to go and visit Trinco on Sri Lanka’s east coast as part of a ‘celebrity review feature.’ Since Sri Lanka doesn’t really have a celebrity culture, somehow being a foreigner meant that I was classed as a celebrity! Whilst I hardly think this is an appropriate word to describe my status here, I was very flattered to have received an invitation, and gladly accepted the offer to make an all-expenses paid trip to a five star hotel!
I didn’t really know what to expect as I headed off. The journey from Negombo (where I am currently living) to Trincomalee was almost 9 hours, and was quite exhausting. I have actually visited Trinco many times before, but never to stay in such an extravagantly expensive hotel! The hotel in question was called Chaaya Blu, which is part of a chain of five-star hotels in Sri Lanka, and has a great reputation. Upon arrival we were greeted with cocktails, and had our bags taken to our rooms by a porter. When the porter left my room I sort of dawdled around in the doorway wondering whether to tip or not, and how much I should tip, but by the time I’d stopped worrying about this the porter had already left, so I went to have a look around my room. It was pretty amazing!
After I’d taken a quick shower, I went to meet the other ‘celebrities.’ There was a man who runs two restaurants, a couple who run some hotels in the hill country, and a woman who wrote a book on the Sri Lankan civil war. Weirdly enough I’d actually read her book, so it was really fascinating to meet her! We were also introduced to the lovely staff at Hi Magazine and the film crew, who were going to be following us around like paparazzi for the weekend. It all felt very surreal. Luckily a few of my friends had managed to help me out with some outfits to help me fill the boots of being a “celeb”
We spent the first evening racing around on jet skis on the ocean whilst being photographed the entire time, and then we were asked to change into our dinner outfits and be photographed again both before and during dinner. It was all a bit embarrassing because there were other guests at the hotel and they kept giving us odd looks as if they were trying to figure out if we were actually real celebrities! Luckily the dinner totally made up for it. We went out to the beach where the fisherman were pulling in a fresh catch, then they handed the fish straight over to chefs lined up along the beach who cooked it and put it straight on to our plates. Super fresh!
The next day we all headed out to an island just off the coast called Pigeon Island. Pigeon island was actually the first place I ever tried scuba diving back in 2010 when it had just re-opened post-war. Whilst the island itself looked as beautiful as ever, I was very sad to see that the corals have been mostly destroyed. Where I once saw amazing splashes of colourful soft and hard corals, purple and pink anemones, large schools of fish, and reef tip sharks, there now seemed to be very little to look at. The swarms of tourists snorkling in the cobalt blue waters surrounding pigeon island seemed particularly adept at kicking corals with their fins, and I thought how sad it is that tourism is destroying something so beautiful. This is so often the case in Sri Lanka, where strict rules and regulations on conservation still haven’t been laid down by the government. Despite this, it was a lovely day and it felt so nice to be out of my office and splashing around in the sea.
Undoubtedly the best thing about the weekend, however, was the food. I don’t think I have eaten so well since I started travelling. All the meals came with multiple courses, and were so beautifully presented. Added to that, my champagne glass was being topped up constantly by the waiters, which certainly added to my enjoyment of the meal! It was also interesting to eat with people with whom I probably wouldn’t normally mix with in my normal life, and the conversation was both interesting and pleasing. We discussed a lot of topics from Sri Lankan politics, to tourism, to cultural differences, and women’s rights. Being the only foreigner there (and probably the poorest of the group) I felt some of my views differed quite a lot to everyone else’s, but it was nice to get some perspective on my opinions.
At the end of the weekend we were asked to write up our comments so that they could quote us in the magazine. I thought it would be a perfect opportunity for me to practise my Sinhala, so I wrote my comments in basic Sinhala. The editor of the magazine was so delighted she told me she will be scanning it in and putting it directly into the magazine!
Anyway, all in all it was a really lovely weekend, and even though being followed around by cameras all weekend made everything a little awkward, it was still nice to get a bit of luxury for once – especially when its free!