30 December 2012

Galled in Galle

So beautiful. Makes me want to go crazy in my attic room, like a Jane Austen character.
I am lying in my fan-cooled room in an historic mansion near the Southeast wall of the Galle Fort, sticky and slightly pink like a Barbie left in the sun. It’s hot here. The kind of dizzying, sickly heat that makes you sway on your feet when you least expect it. The kind of weather that necessitates that you stay indoors between 1 and 4 in the afternoon – not that I ever complain about that. A typical Violet Dear travel day looks like this:

7/8am – wake up and read in bed
9am – breakfast, yo
10am – some kind of rewarding cultural activity
1pm – lunchies (cheap and local or streetfood)
2pm – FUCK ALL (which includes internetting and writing)
4pm – meditation…. (or nap) 
6pm – beer and sunset
7pm – dinner
9pm – writing or reading and music in bed
11pm – sleep

Right now it is my favourite part of the day. The “fuck all” part – a part that I NEVER seem to action when I am at home in Vancouver. I am a serial do-er of things, and I simply don’t relax often enough unless I am schlepping my way through a tropical country. Backpacking is actually pretty hard work, and so I cut myself a lot of slack when I want to lie on my bed under a whirling fan (or on a hammock, or on a beach etc), listen to Amy Winehouse and write.

But I’m angsty. See, I set out today to write a glowing piece about how much I love Galle Fort – how the history and living culture blend to create a place quite unlike any I have ever been, (my impression helped in part by the tours and books by Juliet Coombe) but then I got scammed. A shitty opportunistic scam that I should have known better about – that I should have seen coming a mile away.

Beautiful local rice and curry - but the fish wasn't the only catch...
Not too badly, but just enough that my ego was wounded and my identity as a “good traveler” was called into question. In my desperation to escape high priced, bland tourist food I dragged Mum and Tim to a locals-only rice’n’curry joint pointed out on one of our walking tours, excited for authentic spicy food at a fraction of the price found along Leyn Baan or Pedlar Street.

We sat down in the divey local joint, much to the curiousity of the local men, and were served huge portions of delicious food. The owner (or owner’s helper, or friend?) spoke good English, he was charming, and brought us fancy lime infused hot water with which to wash our hands (you eat with your hands and no utensils in Sri Lanka) and an entire pineapple cut into big juicy chunks. 
Mumsy eating with her hands for the first time
My mum looked at me and earnestly thanked me. “Dear, I would never walk into a dirty little hole in the wall like this if it weren’t for you. Thank you – you really broaden my horizons.” My chest puffed out and I felt so experienced and intrepid as I replied, “oh, yeah, well you just have to do this sort of thing, otherwise you’re just a tourist and not a traveler.” I never once suspected anything was awry, and that is probably why my ego took such a blow when the cost was announced.

Juliet had told us that the meal would cost about 150LKR a head (1.25 US). Factoring in the Pepsis and pineapple, I assumed that the total cost would be 700LKR. When we prepared to pay, the diminutive fellow who had been serving us announced that the bill was 3000 LKR (26 US)– four times what I had estimated and nearly the cost of a posh European meal at a nearby boutique hotel.

Now, I know exactly what happened. This gentleman knew we could afford the price, and he was sick and tired of seeing fancy establishments selling Lavazza espresso rake in all the dough. We walked in, sat down and ordered rice and curry of the day – without asking the price. We weren’t served the big sloppy, quick’n’dirty plates that the local men were given, instead we were given more of a presentation on platters and with shared bowls.

I tried – in vain – to argue politely and tell him that we had been told a much different price. He just used his strange looping English to run in circles and insist that the meal should be 3000LKR. I finally gave up and handed over the currency, the delicious taste in my mouth sullied by disappointment and the weird shame one feels when they have been cheated and they know it and the cheater knows you know it. Like a little bitch or a squealing little piggy or worse – a mark.

The happiness and pride that I had felt about being able to show my mum something unique and off the beaten track was dashed, and I felt hot anger rising in my already sticky hot cheeks. Thankfully, according to my scheduled relaxation time, the last few hours have been designated for “Fuck All” so I have had a chance to cool down.

I realized that I spent nearly half the cost of my fraudulent lunch on a fancy coffee today – so it wasn’t the actual cost that made me have such a vehement reaction, it was the feeling of being made a patsy. Somehow the crazy price we were charged took away from my blissful feeling of “traveler-dom” – the little dirty local joint doesn’t seem so authentic in my memory. #firstworldproblems

And therein lies one of the ethical problems of traveling in the developing world. As travelers we’re all scrambling to have these “authentic” experiences, but we get irked if the person giving them to us is entrepreneurial enough to want to earn enough money to one day travel the world himself – or at the very least, buy his family the necessities they need to like, live and shit. Sigh. Ethics. Bah.

LESSON 1 – No matter how experienced of a traveler you are, you need to remember that you can still get scammed, and it will be humbling and your ego will not like it.

That’s all I got today. I promise I will write much more lovely things about Galle tomorrow.

One Love, VD

1 comment:

Amanda said...

Every part of your experience is still valid. Do not forget. I had the worst trip ever to Panama (not because of the country I need to stress) but there were some great stories out of that. Just like this post. Keep on.