Friday, July 17, 2009

It Matters What Road You're On

After extending my stay in Sri Lanka, I was forced to move hotels. Apparently, I’d overstayed my welcome at the Cinnamon Grand (also, I was getting a little sick of hotel staff opening my door without knocking, but that’s another story). Given that, and all the maddening weddings (I stopped counting at 15) I am happy to leave.

Today I moved to my new digs, the Taru Villas in Colombo 3. Off a busy street, this unassuming gate opens up to a finely clipped fresh front lawn, and refreshingly empty grand hall, done up in Dutch and British Colonial style. There are ten rooms, and only three people staying here. After the hustle and bustle of the Grand, I am happy to find a quiet, contemplative space.

After unpacking and doing a bit more work, I headed out to meet some friends for dinner at the Mango Tree, a local Indian restaurant known for its excellent food. Seeing as I hadn’t gotten my bearings yet, I took a cab. Many streets are one way in Colombo, punctuated by occasional police check points and at times out and out road closings (for Ministers driving by), which results in some very frustrating and circuitous routes to get to a destination not so far away, actually. If you were only a bird.

This was exactly what happened to me tonight, on my way to Mango Tree. I teased the driver that he was taking me in circles, just for an extra fare (you pay by the km). He complained about the one-ways, which was indeed what had happened. I arrived at the Mango Tree, paid him the $1.50 fare and joined my gal pals for a fun evening. At the end of it, I thought about walking back, but as I didn’t really fancy a walk in the dark by myself to a place I wasn’t quite sure I could find again, so I called a cab.

I had looked up the hotel address online, and was confident it was #20 Park Road. The cab takes off in the direction of cab road; only it’s the complete opposite direction of where I think we should be going. At first I thought it was just the one-ways again, but after years of travel, I’ve learned to follow my inner compass (which is pretty darned good, if I must say). After a few zooming kilometers, I KNEW we were going the wrong way. Knowing my new place is near a local landmark hotel, I said that hotel’s name and the cab driver perked up. Ma’am, that’s in the complete opposite direction, he said.

Yes, I realize that, I said, sorry, sorry. I am new. Please just turn around. The big chain hotel was the only place I could tell him to go to that I knew was remotely close to my new place. And, thinking quickly, in a worst case scenario, I knew that the concierge there could look up the number and address of the Taru Villa and explain it to the cabbie.

This is indeed what happened. Except the concierge didn’t know, either, and he ended up walking up and down the street, asking the tuk-tuk driver’s if THEY knew.

The cabbie was mystified.

“Don’t you know the address, madam?”
Shamefacedly, I had to admit I had no idea what the address was. Apparently it was NOT Park Road. Damn.

“Do you have the hotel number?”


“Do you know the NAME?”

“Yes, it’s Taru Villa. It’s near here. I know it. It’s not far from the Gangarama Temple.” (we’d just passed it, but the roads are so winding behind it, I quickly got lost trying to direct him.) In that second, the concierge comes back from his night walk up and down the street, and says to the cabby, essentially, in Singhala:

“This idiot girl is staying at the Taru Villas. It’s on 20 Park Street, about thirty meters behind you.”

The cabby then turns to me and says in English, “OHHHH. The Taru VillaSSS. (extra emphasis on the SSSSss).

“Yes,” I say, “Taru Villa.”

“VillaSSS,” he says. “On Park STREET.”

“Right. Not Park Road,” I say.

“No, STREET. It’s different madam,” he says, by way of explaining.

When I finally arrived safely home, I paid him $10 for his trouble - and my embarrassment. I laughed with the hotel owner, asking him if they’d moved hotels from Park Road to Street and he gasped, “But that’s on the other side of town, madam.”


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