My last few days in Sri Lanka have been bliss. I was supposed to be staying as a B&B guest with a hotel owner who I was introduced to through friends. Between us we managed to muddle my dates and instead of camping on a sofa bed somewhere I've been installed in a suite in Why House, a luxury boutique hotel near Galle. My room is larger than my flat in London, beautifully decorated and even has hot water, a rare treat in this country. The cooking is also superb and I have undone all that excercise from the hill country.
I might take this moment to write a bit about the food Sri Lankan food. In my opinion it is both underestimated and under appreciated. Contrary to popular belief it's not really like Indian cooking at all. There are poppadoms yes, but if you order a curry you get presented with a plate of rice and between six and ten different little dishes in tiny China bowls. Usually a few curries, chicken or fish, pineapple, pumpkin, aubergine and dhal. And then some delicious spiced vegetables which might have been fried, roasted or grilled. They also eat a good amount of Rotti, something between a crumpet and a thick pancake made with coconut which they often serve with dhal but is delicious with desiccated coconut and honey. I've lost count how many I've eaten. Bakeries are a big thing and I've taken to having something called a Crocodile Bun for my breakfast which is effectively a baguette dipped in sugar.
Why house is very near Galle so I have spent a good deal of time wandering the streets of Galle Fort. A colonial town stuck in a time warp dating back to 1640 when the Dutch first occupied the country, although their was also an earlier fort there built by the Portuguese. The paved streets are lined with low, tiled roofed buildings with white washed walls. There are also some more recent buildings left over from British rule including the lighthouse which I painted (below).
I've bumped into all sorts of people. One particularly hot afternoon when painting in the sun was leaving me looking more bedraggled and sweaty than I'd like to remember, some family friends suddenly popped up behind my easel. Shortly afterwards I heard a camera clicking away and there was Gary! Then came the French couple I'd met in Ella and the English girls from my B&B in Tangalle. I have however lost all my social skills after two weeks alone. The other night a girl sitting next to me in a restaurant asked if I'd like to join her. Instead of saying 'yes how lovely' I declined telling her how good my book was, without realising how unbelievably rude I sounded. We then sat in silence side by side for the whole duration of dinner.
Each day here began with me planning a day off by the pool but by mid morning the temptation to paint became too much. Roshan became my on-call tuktuk driver which was brilliant as he knows all the good spots to paint having also driven Clare Inskip and her team of artists around in November. I painted a bit in Galle but found the tourist paparazzi overwhelming so took to the beaches and stiltfishermen.
One day I went to Mirissa Beach where I did two paintings and was constantly brought delicious fruit smoothies by the beach boys from one of the restaurants. Luckily the tourists there seemed to know the dangers of sand and cameras so I wasn't put through another incessant photography shoot.
These four nights at Why House have been a heaven-sent treat. Hen who runs it, and her boyfriend Rory have made me feel so welcome and at home. The place is utterly beautiful, set in a Palm filled garden overflowing with birds. There's a pool, I've had my washing done and I've met some lovely people. Crocodile Bun breakfasts have been replaced with mountains of home-made granola and toast with marmalade and the evenings have begun with pink gin. Life of an artist eh!
My two weeks in Sri Lanka, the Emerald Island have been magical and I am desperately sad to be leaving. The country has offered an abundance of different subjects to paint, from rolling hills and tea plantations to fishing villages and colonial architecture; each pushing me well out of my comfort zone. Fourteen paintings are now winging their way back to England to start the collection for my November exhibition in London. These paintings, along with the people, the tuktuk rides, and all the other experiences have helped to give me the best two weeks of my life. I am now eagerly anticipating the next chapter, Vietnam here I come!