So finally – thankfully – wearily, we arrived at Colombo airport. Where everything went without a hitch – our suitcases rolled up within a minute of reaching the carousel, the lady at immigration smiled and stamped our passports with a 30-day visa, the taxi office promptly found us a car to take us to our first night’s hotel.
And several dark streets later, we drew up outside a fenced compound with a pair of imposing metal gates. A uniformed guard bent slightly and leaned into the driver’s window. Did he need to see our passports? Our wan winter faces in the dim light?
But no, everything was in order, and opening the gates, he beckoned us in. A short drive between big shadowy trees and we reached the brightly lit reception. And what was this? A huge Santa made out of paper cups. Even a richly decorated Christmas tree!
“Welcome to Tamarind Tree,” said the man behind the counter. “Just sign this form and then our friend here -” he gestured at the porter who had silently appeared “- can take you to your room.”
It felt just like that scene out of Doctor No. The one where a mangrove-muddied James Bond and a tired Honey Ryder arrive at the sumptuous base of the film’s ubiquitous baddie. Except we hadn’t been fighting dragons in a marsh; we’d been sitting for hours on end in the same airline chairs. And Tamarind Tree wasn’t about to get wrecked or blown up. In the morning, it would turn out to be a very pleasant relaxing hotel with lots of trees and an awesome thirty-metre swimming pool.
First however we needed to catch up on some sleep. And after leading us along several spooky paths, it was well after midnight, our porter showed us a room that might have come straight – no, not from Dr No – but a period piece set in nineteenth century Ceylon. A magical little balcony with two wicker chairs. An airy lounge with a sofa and dining table and a chest of drawers. Then at the back a separate bedroom with two beds and a huge bathroom. We might be exhausted and sleepy-eyed, but first impressions were sublimely good.
The next morning Tamarind Tree continued to impress. The ground and trees – tamarind, jack, maybe teak – were well laid out and wonderful to walk between. The breakfast too, tropical fruits, scrambled eggs, pastries, toast and coffee, would have pleased even Ian Fleming. And all as we gazed out on the most beautiful swimming pool – a real gem in which to soak and unwind afterwards.
The pool is well looked after by Amarasingha who has worked at the hotel as groundsman for twenty four years. Diligently he dragged his scoop through the water, extracting any leaves, and explained how it would be ready for swimming in fifteen minutes. And returning quarter of an hour later, it was well worth the wait. The water was warm and surrounded by trees. The pool was a decent length too for doing laps. Think Khandallah summer pool (which coincidentally opened yesterday) but ten degrees warmer and without all the kids. So fantastic in fact that Kate decided to take a dip too, and not just a dip, an immersion during which she said, several times, “Boy, this pool is so good!”‘
For some reason however, Amarasingha thought Kate might be German. The taxi-driver too as he left us saying “Gutenacht.” It could be Kate’s freckles on her pale skin, or her hair cut short. Although thinking about it, maybe we have landed in the middle of a James Bond movie. The taxi drivers are spies for the opposition. The minibar contains a secret communications device. And the actress who played Honey in Dr No actually did come from Switzerland.
“Do you see what comes of all this jet setting around, Mr. Southall? All these meals in trays and wine in plastic glasses? It’s exhausting! It’s sleep destroying! You’re at the Tamarind Tree now. Nothing more to do, except relax.”