You are what you is.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Trincomalee: Gorgeous Beaches and Exposed Rebar

I am at a hotel in Trincomalee, which is on the east, and to the north of Sri Lanka, in a corner of the country that was nominally on and off again under Tiger control for parts of the conflict so recently and noisily concluded. There is a heavy police and military presence here, though people are telling me that things have lightened up significantly in the last month. Its a seaside town, one of the reasons I came here, to escape the rain of the hill country in favor of some sunshine, of which there is plenty. The town itself is somewhat grim, as you might expect from a place that's been on the fringes of a fluid and mercurial warzone for decades. Every building here seems to be either in the process of being destroyed or re-built. Nothing says “unfinished conflict” like exposed Rebar.

Damage from the Tsunami, arguably Sri-Lanka's 9-11, is still evident.

I arrived by bus two days ago, a trip that took me through the winding mountains of central Sri Lanka. The bus trip took about six hours, during which time the mountains became hills, and the hills became a dryer jungle savanna. As we got further north, there were more military convoys on the road; once we were within a few miles of Trinco, military and police presence became very obvious, with regular checkpoints (though our bus was only boarded once) along the side of the road, and plenty of roadside mini-fortresses, piles of lumber and sandbags with rifle muzzles sticking from narrow slots.

Once in Trinco, I was taken by tuk-tuk to a horrible guesthouse on the beach, crawling with bugs and owned by an ancient Tamil Christian who, I later learned, had been laying down rat poison all over his property. During the course of my stay at the place, which lasted one sleepless night and a very tense morning I watched two crows and one dog die horribly after eating the poison. At one point I went looking for a soldier; I wanted to ask one – they are mostly Sinhalese, Buddhists – to come and shoot the puppy, but I couldn't find one. They were all manning checkpoints elsewhere. I checked out early, deciding that the Italian run hotel down the beach at three times the price was a wise investment.

My neighbor at the guesthouse was an older American who'd lived in Sri Lanka five years and seems to understand what's going on here. Grim tales indeed, which I plan to think on heavily before digitizing. I spent several hours in a motorized three-wheeler yesterday, exploring the area, chatting with locals, Sinhalese and Muslims and Tamils, the latter being the majority in this neck of the woods, and with police and soldiers, and taking pictures of life going on, as life always does no matter what events attempt to stop it from doing so.

Am now spending one last day in Trincomalee, though only because my train to Colombo doesn't leave until the evening. There isn't really much to see here outside of an outstanding beach and a few crumbling dutch forts and Hindu temples. There is talk of a resurgence of foreign tourism in the area, as “peace” - and I put the word in quotes because unless the underlying roots of the ethnic conflict are dealt with I suspect peace will be elusive at best - brings investment and infrastructure, but at this point, outside of myself and a German backpacker, the only westerners in the area are UN and NGO types living in walled compounds and drinking imported tonic water.

Off to the beach. More on this, and everything, in a later post. And of course, photos. (Am currently working on a small linux machine without proper image processing capabilities. Will upload photos in about ten days).

Post-swim postscript: The beach here is amazing.


  1. Err...

    You might want to consider comparing natural disasters to other natural disasters, e.g. "The Great 1906 San Francisco Earthquake".

    Just sayin'.

    Otherwise, how 'bout some pics? Show us the sacred and the profane!

  2. Good writing, Josh. You've got a book in there somewhere. Now, about that great insight gleaned in the first few days ... what was it?

    And when might we see you around these parts?

    Take care and stay healthy.

  3. Eve: Personal thing. Will tell you about it over lunch when I'm back,

    Dave: What's your point? Also, I am instituting a voluntary ban (I know, typical liberal, eh?) on the phrase "Just sayin' " here at Snarky Tofu.

    This strange faux-folksy Americanism that has cropped up over the last couple of years seems more suffix for inanity than meaningful collection of syllables, as in:

    "How do we know Ben and Jerry's Vanilla isn't made from whale semen? Just sayin'"

    Discourse, baby! Seriously. Don't get your point about the 1906 quake.

  4. I think Dave is saying that the analogy to 9/11 isn't appropriate given that one was a natural disaster and the other an act of terrorism.

  5. Granted - but the analogy is more geared towards the effect that the Tsunami has had on the mindset of Sri Lankans, a world changing event, one changing forever the psyche of the nation itself.

    My experience in talking with people in Sri Lanka led me to believe that the 9-11 analogy is correct in this regard.

    just sayin'


  6. Yes, but the psyche is what is at stake and acts of nature impact the psyche differently than acts of man. It isn't a question of "more or less" or which one is worse, obviously.


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