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...two travellers in search of the world's wildlife

4 January 2020

Resorting to architecture

Geoffrey Bawa's garden

Geoffrey Bawa’s garden

26 December 2019

And so today we drove back to Colombo, or more precisely Negombo which is closer to the airport. We broke the journey with one stop along the way, at the country house and gardens of the world-renowned Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa. This was one of his earliest projects, so he was obviously a wealthy guy before he became a world-renowned architect.

I like his sensibility of buildings in tropical places being a natural merging of outside and inside spaces. It’s very obvious when you find yourself in poor, traditional buildings around Asia made of natural materials. But with modern public and commercial buildings naturally inheriting from western or colonial traditions, it takes a leap of imagination to also allow the outside in.

Last day diarising

Last day diarising

The gardens are beautifully laid out, it’s easy to see a real sensitivity to detail and aesthetics at work. But I must admit, as I toiled across a sunny lawn in 33 degree muggy heat after our guide, I couldn’t help wishing it might be transplanted to England. I don’t think I will ever live in the tropics. It takes me two weeks to acclimatise every time we visit (and then on a two week holiday it’s time to come home!?), but even after that I never find I have buckets of energy, the heat makes it hard to be bothered and you know that if you do bother you’ll end up a sweaty mess.

Last day cocktailising

Last day cocktailising

Seafood lunch by the lake opposite Bawa’s garden was nice, pleasant enough that I forgave them the almost-hour it took to serve it. Looked like we had been the only customers that day, which basically means they only cranked up the kitchen once we arrived. For all I know they had to go out and buy Maureen’s squid!

Our last night in Negombo is a classic identikit mid-range tropical resort hotel. The room is basically okay and fully functioning, although there is a bad sewage smell in the bathroom. Toiletries are cheap, coffee is Nescafe grits, and the air conditioning sounds like a jet engine taking off (but the temperature is intolerable without it). The staff are vast in number and mostly kinda inept. Dinner is of course a buffet; a la carte is available but they warn you it’ll take 30 minutes to cook anything, so maybe you’d prefer the buffet, hint hint? Funnily enough I find I can see Geoffrey Bawa’s influence here, when you round a corner inside the hotel and suddenly realise that it opens straight onto an outside courtyard.

Sunset on Sri Lanka

Sunset on Sri Lanka

Anyway, it’s good to have a decent shower and room to spread out before a long travel day. Recognising this type of hotel so clearly just brings home how much exotic travelling we’ve done. Although Sri Lanka has some lovely landscapes, super friendly people, lots of wildlife and tasty food, it has been nowhere near as exciting and engaging as it would have been if it was our first visit to tropical Asia. I fear we are becoming jaded! Reading back over this blog, it certainly sounds like it.

Postscript: we’ve been home for a week now, and of course all the grim and irritating parts of the holiday are already either fading away or turning into anecdotes to be grinned ruefully over. I know we would have liked Sri Lanka more if we had spent six weeks there. When you are on a two week holiday, the pressure to make every day full, unique, special and successful just gets in the way of enjoying yourself.

Geoffrey Bawa's garden

Geoffrey Bawa’s garden


One Response to “Resorting to architecture”

  1. Matthew and Maureen, I wish I had found your blog a year ago!!! We are an American family of 4 taking a year off to travel, and we’re also focusing on wildlife hotspots. We’re in Chile now, and I found your website while searching for “Fernando who takes people to see otters in Chepu on Chiloe” (but I have found multiple Fernandos who do this, and had to laugh about your post talking about all the Fernandos…). We’re also trying to figure out plans in Lauca and Galapagos coming up – I looked at your Galapagos posts but couldn’t figure out which boat you were on – maybe I missed it, but I’d love to know. I can’t tell if you monitor comments here, but I’d love to hit you up with some specific questions: erin@robertsonrambles.com. I know your trip was a while ago, but we are heading many of the same places. We have 3 months left, Chile north to Costa Rica.

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