And... November 2, 1999 (and more)

My Precious Popadums,

Namaste from India, my work (yes, someone has to pay for all of this!) has finally taken me to India. Southern India to be precise, Bangalore and Madras. Actually, Madras, (not to be confused with that ugly preppy-jacket-and-pants material) has reverted back to it’s correct name of Chennai.

You just have to love a country where the bottled water has an expiration date and the arrival form that you must fill out, includes a section for "Passengers expecting mishandled bags"…at least they let you know what you are getting into.

India certainly is a world of it’s own. Sari clad women and crazy little head wobbling men stroll around in the heat and dust with no apparent direction and no apparent concern for the swirling mess that is all around them. Nuclear weapons and Mujahadeen terrorists are just not a concern when the elephant standing in front of you decides to have it’s morning bowel movement! The monsoon rains (or a couple of peeing Elephants) can quickly turn the streets into what they call:Chocolate-Chocolate (descriptive non?). But everyone takes it in stride! They just wobble their heads and carry on.

The people here are beautiful! Strapping handsome dark skinned fellows, with gleaming white teeth (ergo not Chinese) and women with tasteful nose piercings, can carry-on an intelligent and lovely conversation. It was such a pleasure to not sit and discuss the weather or food (Engrish I and II) with my normal customers!

The local language can, however, be a little misleading. We were late for a meeting (Mary Kay can be a vicious client!) so my co-workers told me that "We’ll grab an auto." Fully expecting a company limo to arrive, I prepared myself. Imagine my shock upon the arrival of an Auto-Rickshaw. Picture three of us piled into this slightly enlarged moped with a bench bolted onto the rear and heading off into the traffic, carefully dodging sacred (but not scared) cows, monkeys and at one point a rat that was larger then the ones in the NYC subway system.

We took off into the dusty head-wobbly roads…My co-worker's sari left a flapping pink trail in the dust…maybe she had gone mad and knitted the thing! (Jacqui, you are the only one who will get that Like Water for Chocolate reference!).

I believe that it was right about this time that my Bangalore-Belly problems started! I thought that it was time for me to pack up and head to the airport. Imagine my horror to discover that the departure lounge toilets had no toilet paper! Thank god for a couple of rupees to buy some Kleenex tissues. The shop keeper assured me that there is no cure for the Bangalore-Belly, he just wobbled his head a little harder and commiserated with me! I knew it was time to leave India. I had to find something fun to do!

Sitting in the Madras Airport, I though I needed a good cup of tea. OF course! It was off to Ceylon/Sri Lanka, the Tea Capital of the world. Anywho, Sri Lanka! There were a couple of fine young gentlemen who have been corresponding with yours Verly, and they persuaded her to come down to Colombo (it does not take much).

Checking in my bags, I wobbled my head as best as I could to wish India good-bye and booked a quick passage off to Sri Lanka: The Vitilago capital of Asia.

Sri Lanka has a strong english influence, the crisp white Indian sarongs (not very functional when the streets go "chocolate-chocolate") are replaced here with quaint tartan ones. Now, whose bright idea what that? But what a beautiful place! Lush! (that word always reminds me of my ex-friend in Raleigh, who for legal reasons, I am not allowed to mention, but you know who you are and I hope that you are drying out) Tropical jungles and millions of coconut trees permeate the landscape. The smell of tea and spices saturate the air. Scrumptious! An me without my Skin So Soft!

I had plans to stay in the very southern tip of the island but my new friends told me that I was out of my mind, as it would take a day drive just to get there and another to get back. I had pictured a drive through the country in the back of an old black car with ample room for my luggage at my feet and my fan pumping to the beat of my mini disk. My pitcher of mint ice-tea perched on the floor next to my trunk… back in the real world, my actual transport barely had air-conditioning, and we had to slow down every kilometer or so to swerve between sandbagged (but smiling) soldiers with fully loaded machine guns pointing at yours Verly. I am very glad that I did NOT do the longer drive to the southern end of the island!

Well, Friday night, my new Sri Lankan friends came over to my little hotel! We had a lovely evening of dinner and drinks by the pool overlooking the cliffs and the roaring surf. I had my rum&ginger&bitters&lime (I wish that someone would come up with a name for that, so that I can order it in a bar), and I was in heaven.

This delightful couple were terrific hosts and even brought me a little present of some pottery. I gave them a special gift, one that I have been saving for a long time, but you know it’s just impolite to divulge too much! They were very gracious and warm. Complete strangers became fast friends! Sometimes, I take chances that pay off and this was certainly one of the better things that I have done! Due to their high profiles of this couple in the local society I shall refrain from mentioning their jobs but if you handsome readers need a lovely evening in Sri Lanka, I will be glad to put you in touch with them.

The following morning I got up at about 11:45! (NB: I never did say what time I got to sleep!) and was politely moved (evicted) to a room. I was warned that my new room did not have A/C, but it was only $30US a night, so I thought, well, I have to do this for one night. I’ve stayed in worse places, with better people!

Actually this is my transport in Manila but Sista Juci did point out the "Freedom rings" and the fact that it was called REGAL EXPRESS ...nothing less for the ex-princess.

I could not believe it! The hotel took me over to this wing of an old Governor’s Mansion. The old queen in the old Governers Mansion. These rooms were actually in the old part of a colonial home. Huge gentle wooden staircases, old floors and even a rickety old elevator with gates to close. (Jacqui, you would have swooned). My room was just as you can imagine: 15’ ceilings, no TV, no mini-bar, just a radio and a ceiling fan. It was PERFECT. The windows opened out onto a beach and even sitting on my toilet, I could have the most amazing view (of the sea dears, not of anything else!). This was the view from the Toilet.

The beaches here were not as nice as I was expecting. BUT, everyone told me that this was because of the monsoon season (OK, so maybe I did not time this trip exactly right) and that the sea was normally "a little bluer, and much calmer". I’ll have to see on my next trip.

I bummed around on Saturday and even found myself heading out to the local in the hotel to listen to a live Sri Lankan band and some pretty darn good music. It was interesting to see all the locals men dancing together. I tittered over my rum&ginger&bitters&lime and wobbled my head to the music.

By the time I crashed into my room I think that I fell into the deepest sleep that I have been in for a while! The pounding surf and the cool ocean breezes knocked my out and for the first time in a long time I had a deep dream filled sleep.

On Sunday, I got my driver (Drivin’ Ms Verly…I can see it now on the big screen!). We drove down to Galle, an Old Portuguese Fort, Just THOUSANDS of coconut trees and windswept sandy beaches and fishing villages. Indians scurrying all around with coconuts and fruits spilling out all into the streets filled with carts being drawn by water buffalo (I believe that all the cows were in the streets of India…hey…"it’s what they do").

On the way back I stopped and had lunch at a little fishing village of Hikkadua. I was told that this was the old "hippie capital" and that there was "lots of corruption" and "drugs". These were told to me in whispered tones…so where else could I go? I knew that I should head to this place! I was warned to be careful of the beach boys…Moi! I behaved and was not swayed!

I stopped at a Spice Garden and impressed the HELL out of the guy by knowing every spice (well, except Ginger and Scary). I even knew Citronella (I see a Drag name in the making!). This spice forest was quite full of the local medicines and of course there was quite a sales pitch. I did not purchase any of these HUGE black pills that were made of Marijuana, Opium and Cocoa (for the taste I guess). These were to be dissolved in a glass of beer 1-hour before intercourse and would guarantee a long lasting sexual experience. The Sri Lankan Viagra… Well, I told the guy that if the drug-dogs in Singapore, only got a WHIFF of my bags, that I would be in serious trouble! Me…in vertical stripes…yea, right! In addition, after getting stoned on Marijuana, Opium, Beer and Cocoa, who in the hell can remember if you had a good sexual experience or not?

I was paying NO attention to the sales pitch UNTIL someone mentioned that they could offer a herbal massage. My ears pricked right up! I checked with Moham (my driver) and he did not look like he was in too much of a hurry to go anywhere, so suddenly I found myself lying naked in a little galvanized hut getting a truly incredible massage (no, there was no "special" massage offered). The massage finished with me getting my head massaged with King Coconut oil…well let me tell you…that was sweet! I got some Sandalwood Oil (for skin and wrinkles, sigh a girl must take care) and some balm. It was quite a sales pitch. I am sure that Mohan got his cut of the money that I spent there…but I was happy and went to sleep again, well rested.

Well, I will sign off, my passage to India has come to an end for now! Next week I will fill you in on the adventures of Serene Verlene in the Philippines!

Vishnu Ver-here Verlene