Let’s get this out of the way, because I’ve been telling everyone I meet for the last few days – my dad was born in Sri Lanka. So of all the locations we’re visiting this series, this was the one I’ve been most excited about, seeing as I’ve never been here before but heard so much about it (although my grandfather only worked out here for a few years, it left a large mark on his and my grandmother’s lives, seeing as it was the first place the came to once they were married in the 1940s).
We arrived here on Monday on an early morning flight from Kerala, and our first impression once we’d boarded the bus and left the airport was – like India but cleaner. In fact, an Australian friend of mine calls it “India for beginners”, and I can see why. We spent the rest of our day in Colombo being driven round various government buildings having our photos taken and filling out forms for our media permits. It was even more bureaucratic than China, and that’s saying something. In the evening some of us took a tuk-tuk down past the famous Galle Face Green (well, famous if you live in Sri Lanka) and enjoyed a drink in a rooftop bar while I wondered which of the buildings below was the hospital my dad was born in.
The next day was our day off, so I completed my Petrie Family pilgrimage by finding the spots where old photos my grandfather took were taken and recreating them. Then in the evening I persuaded my newly arrived co-presenter Michelle Ackerley (dealing with her jet lag like a trooper) and most of the rest of our team, to go for dinner in the Galle Face hotel – the oldest hotel in Sri Lanka, where my grandparents first stayed when they arrived here. My family history checklist was pretty well ticked off by the end of the day.
It was another early morning start today as we aimed to beat the rush hour traffic and make it to the outskirts of town before it got too hot to film Michelle, me and lots of Sri Lankan lads playing cricket on a dusty suburban ground, flanked by a tin shack and occasional stray dog sniffing about. Michelle and I were both dressed as the rappers Run DMC, singing a parody of ‘Walk This Way’ with the word “walk” switched to “bowl”, “bat” etc. It was yet another “How did I end up in this situation?” AOTP moment as I paused every now and then to look around me and take it all in.
Having played cricket as basically as it gets, our next stop was the SCC ground – the Sri Lankan home of international cricket, where many of their most famous test match victories took place. We stuck our heads out of the scoring board, chucked balls around on the pitch, and generally messed about while the staff didn’t seem to bat an eyelid (everyone we’ve met in Sri Lanka so far seems super chilled out). We finished off the song at a cricket themed cafe run by two Australians who fell in love with the country and stayed. Is it too early to say I can see why?
Our afternoon task was to film our very own ‘Top Gear’ style challenge in tuk-tuks… in 4 hours, with a crew about 10% the size of theirs. I think we pulled it off! We’d booked 2 of the tinny little 3 wheel taxis for the afternoon, and Michelle went off first on a quest to see who could buy the best Sri Lankan souvenir and take the best selfie in front of a famous landmark. To be honest it was all so frantic I can’t remember what she came back with! When it was my turn we headed off towards the port, where there are lots of tiny shops packed among the tight streets. Traffic was getting pretty crazy and we kept getting penned in between the other tuk-tuks and bikes, and the souvenir I came back with wasn’t very impressive – a sarong. Got a selfie in front of the Galle Face Hotel though!
Our last challenge was to both leg it down to the seafront and buy the most “Sri Lankan” street food. Once again, I have no idea what Michelle or I bought, but she was declared the winner by our judge just after sunset in the rapidly fading light. But, although the sun had gone, we all had a warm glow of smugness at just how much we’d managed to film in one day. Epic.