Long lunches and practical jokes in Sigiriya

Hello from a luxury hotel in the middle of a jungle and a lake, with monkeys just outside my window. It’s been another really fun day here in Sri Lanka for us, beginning with a long drive, a lunch full of (again) philosophical conversations, a visit to the Dambulla caves at twilight, and a complete success of a practical joke.
We’d started from Colombo mid-morning and it had taken us a good 4.5 hours to get to Sigiriya, to have lunch at The Elephant Corridor, perhaps the best boutique hotel in the Sigiriya area. The idea of this pretty comfy design hotel in the middle of nowhere was quite amazing, and the glassed-in restaurant on the second floor provided a very nice view from afar of Sigiriya. The perfect setting for lunch and we had the place to ourselves.

The menu at the Elephant Corridor was all Western, for some reason, and I was so in a curry mood still, in spite of already having curry morning, noon and night in Colombo. However the guys happily ordered grilled steaks and I finally chose a meal of vegetable tempura with garlic noodles.
“Whatever are garlic noodles?” I asked the waiter. But there was a language barrier here so he couldn’t really explain well; but I decided to go for it anyway. It was so good that I ate everything on my plate.
As usual, the three of us laughed so much throughout lunch. We talked about everything possible, including some very tweetable Tweets about love, heartbreak and cliches from movies. Then one of the guys asked: “So who’s this guy in that blog entry ‘4 + 1 equals 45’? Do I know him? Solve the puzzle.”

He was referring to a guy I’d written about who likes to lecture me about the sorry state of Philippine political affairs. I’d written in the blog that this guy had gone to Penn and this friend who’d come along to Sri Lanka had gone to Penn as well.
I just replied: “Just like lots of other puzzles in the blog, I can’t tell you.”
The guy said: “For all I know, he’s already been to my house for dinner.” Obviously he’s had lots of Penn friends over to dinner in his pretty huge house. Perhaps. I certainly wasn’t saying.
Then he continued: “So what were you thinking about when you were here last time?” Again, this was a reference to a previous blog entry. But I only shook my head and shrugged. He persisted: “Was it about the magazine?” Well, that much I could tell him. I replied: “Nope, not about the magazine.”
Purely by coincidence, I have one Atenean and one La Sallite with me, and they began a pretty enthusiastic school rivalry thing at lunch today. Of course my sentiments on this matter are pretty clear, so the La Sallite was by himself at lunch today. Basically, we blamed everything that happened or didn’t happen on the La Sallite, including the fact that it rained and that a rainbow showed up and then suddenly disappeared when he stood up to take a photo of the rainbow.

Wow, this is a replay of last year, I said to myself and then to them. Last year, I was in Sigiriya as well with three pretty rabid Ateneans and one La Sallite, and of course the La Sallite was left to fend for himself for much of our ten days in Sri Lanka together.
Meanwhile, the rains made the climb up to Sigiriya pretty slippery, so we decided to postpone our climb to tomorrow instead, and to see the Dambulla Caves nearby, which are also a UNESCO World Heritage site. We took so long at lunch that by the time we got to the caves, it was 6 PM and light was disappearing fast.
But, as the things to see are all inside the caves, it really didn’t matter whether we went after dark. And now I realize that it actually made the visit really special. First, we had the caves to ourselves, and this was a pretty surreal experience to be able to see and appreciate all the paintings on the walls and the statues from the 1st century BC in total isolation, sans the crowds. How wonderful.
By the time we finished the last cave, it was pitch dark outside and we had a 15-minute climb down a mountain in a drizzle to get to our car. Fortunately the guide brought a flashlight but of course it wasn’t really enough light. So we walked down in quite a dark atmosphere which made the three of us think of a horror movie or some ghost stories.
We even closed the lights completely for a few minutes and tried to walk down the mountain. Foolish, I know, but we just felt like doing it a couple of times, just for the surreal effect. We’re all Manilans after all, so we hardly ever get an opportunity for total darkness in the middle of nowhere.
One time, I closed the flashlight again; and when I opened it, there was a stray dog right next to one of the guys’ legs. Uh-oh. We certainly didn’t close the lights again after that.

Then came the best part of the evening. One of the guys actually was supposed to leave tonight as he’s flying out of Manila again the day after tomorrow. But we were all having so much fun that he suddenly didn’t want to leave — and it didn’t seem to matter to him whether this meant risking his 2nd scheduled flight out of Manila on Saturday. So at 7 PM — not very long before his 1 AM flight, and we were 4.5 hours away from Colombo — we started calling the airlines, airport, and travel agencies to try and get him re-booked for tomorrow instead. He really wanted to stay at least one more day.
Our guide was on the phone for most of the time with a travel agent in Colombo. And when he finally got off, he had a sad expression on his face. He said to the guy supposed to leave tonight: “You really have to go, unfortunately. And there’s a train straight to the airport that’ll get you there in time for the flight.”
We all looked at each other. A train straight to the airport from where we were in the middle of nowhere in Sri Lanka? Not even in 21st century Japan did they have such a thing, but now here was our guide saying that it could be done. I was already on Facebook when all this was happening so I wasn’t really paying attention, but there were sad faces everywhere and my friend asked: “Is there really nothing we can do?”

The guide shook his head. Meanwhile, my other friend — they didn’t really know each other before the trip, but now they’re pretty good friends — said: “Okay. If he has to go, let’s bring him to the train station at least…”
So we all rose up to see him off, although I was planning to just go until the hotel driveway as I was completely exhausted. My friend who was supposed to leave us tonight was literally dragging his feet.
But when we got to the driveway, suddenly the guide turned around and said: “It’s just a joke. It’s all been fixed and you can stay.”
I laughed so hard at the cleverness of it all. We’d been teasing and joking all the time here in Sri Lanka, and now our guide was getting into the picture as well. And all I can say is: He’d better watch his back tomorrow because my friend’s out for some revenge on all of us…