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Until the other day Kotmale was mostly known to me as a brand of dairy products. Sure, I knew it was a place, and roughly where – off the Kandy to Nuwara Eliya road on the right. And that it had a dam and an impressive reservoir behind it (two, as it turns out, but I hadn’t known that). I’d never guessed what a fascinating place it is, for connoisseurs of off-the-beaten-track Sri Lanka which is a large part of what Jungle Tide is about.

It started with a conversation with our insurance agent Chandima who, like many professional Sri Lankans, leads a double life – suited and booted for the day job but with a completely unrelated sideline or two. He rocked up unannounced one afternoon with his cousin Kelum in a battered jeep, announcing that this cousin offers guests safari tours and Kandy city tours. There being no safari parks within a day’s ride of here, and Kandy city tours being ten a penny (and I’d personally choose either a tuk-tuk for fun or a nice comfortable car but not an ancient jeep) this wasn’t a promising start. But as he elaborated his sales pitch a couple of ideas piqued the imagination. One was an overnight camping visit to the Veddha village and reservation near Mahiyangama which sounded as though it might involve a more culturally sensitive and appropriate encounter with the Veddha people than the frankly embarrassing one we underwent three years ago. Though we’re not yet convinced.

The other was a range of day and half-day trips to see the various sights of the Kotmale area, about two hours’ drive from Jungle Tide – not a lot by Sri Lankan standards. The full monty day trip included hiking, mountain climbing and waterfall scrambling which we’re a bit too decrepit for, though we’d love some younger guests to test it out for us sometime. But we decided to try out the half day trip as we were especially keen to see a couple of ruined temples which emerge from the reservoir in the dry season – the last remnants of a large village which was evacuated when the dams were built in the early 1980s. If you’re from Sheffield think Ladybower (if you’re not, ignore that last bit). The rains having just begun, this was the final opportunity before next February to see the temples.

On the way we were treated to a walk down to a riverside ‘bathing place’ where half a village seemed to be engaged in laundry activity, then on to see and photograph the ‘Foolish Bridge’, so called because it was assembled off site and then erected upside down by mistake, the guard rails suspended towards the river. The railway line it was supposed to carry was never built and though I’d like to think the bridge has been preserved as an allegorical monument to the folly of humankind I suspect the real reason it’s still there is that no-one could be bothered to take it down and now it’s become a minor tourist attraction.

Further upstream there is a very scary-looking suspended rope footbridge which we gave a miss to, then the main dam. Visitors are allowed to walk on the dam and take photos but it’s still guarded like a military installation and the ticket office is a 1km there-and-back walk from the dam itself, for reasons that only a Sri Lankan could understand. Our driver went off to get our tickets, though, and through the army checkpoint we passed and on to the very impressive dam, passing a series of notices forbidding various activities on or near the dam and, as a final catch-all clause, one simply saying ‘Behave Yourself’.

The temples are reached by a longish but easy path from the road a couple of kilometres upstream, passing en route an abandoned factory in the jungle which we were assured used to manufacture false eyelashes. There are two temples, side by side – one Hindu, one Buddhist. Little remains of the Hindu temple. Whether because there was less to start with or because it has suffered worse from watering and weathering I couldn’t say. But the Buddhist temple, unremarkable from its rear wall, was astonishing from the front. One of the most haunting places I’ve been to. Chandima, who’d come along with his cousin for the ride, told me that no attempt is being made to preserve either ruin and they are both gradually disappearing. Whether this is an act of deliberate policy or simply negligence I don’t know, and a part of me quite likes the idea of not preserving everything, letting some things just go their own way as the elements do their work.

We left to the accompaniment of thunderclaps and reached the jeep as the first drops of rain began to fall. Soon the temples will be beneath the water again for another nine months. And to round the day off we impressed Chandima and Kelum by showing them a route back to Jungle Tide which was not only far more scenic but shaved twenty minutes off the journey time. When you know back routes that drivers are unaware of you begin to feel like you’re a proper local.



Meenawatte is the estate where Sally lived from the age of ten to thirteen (and also as a baby, but of course she has no memory of that). Her father didn’t plant on the estate; by then he was a Visiting Agent (tea estate inspector) based in Colombo and the family had the lease of the house as an up-country retreat as Sally’s Mum had got tired of the Colombo life. Meenawatte provided a place for him to spend weekends with his family.

We’ve been back to Meenawatte, which sits on the slopes of Hunasgiriya mountain, the pointy peak visible from Jungle Tide, a few times from 1998 onwards, watching it change from a semi-occupied house for temporary workers through to an empty shell awaiting its fate, to a refurbished but still empty place awaiting a suitable buyer and, now, to part of an up-market hotel – Simpson’s Forest. Having spotted this latest incarnation by chance on the internet we just had to pull together our pennies and go and stay a night there, which we did in February. And here’s Sally in front of her old home.

The bungalow is small by tea estate standards with only three bedrooms. The new hotel with about twenty rooms stands where the old ‘lines houses’ (tea estate workers’ homes) used to be. But we stayed in the ‘colonial bungalow’ – and found ourselves in Sally’s old bedroom! The other two bedrooms used to be her parents’ room and the nursery – when her brothers returned from boarding school in England for the holidays it was quite a crush!

The house has been brilliantly renovated with all the old styling of doors, windows and ceilings preserved. But outside, where the upper lawn once stood, there is an amazing infinity pool with what must be one of the best views in the island. Nearby there’s even a helipad on the walk Sally used to take with her dogs up to the jungle pool – though the manager admitted that as yet no guests have arrived by helicopter.

Sally was treated like royalty and they gave us a free dinner and wine. Next morning, on our way home, with Martin’s help we found Aslin, whose husband Kalu Banda used to work for Sally’s family in the 1960s. Kalu Banda, who is about Jerry’s age, was away in Wattegama town but we hope to see him soon. The photos below show, in order:The bungalow as it appears today; Sally in her old bedroom; the lovely ceiling restored, and some of the staff getting excited about the old photos we brought.

















And, in the next set: Sally in the pool; sunset view, Sally with Aslin, and an old photo of Sally aged twelve or thirteen at Meenawatte around 1970, with her dogs Jill and Puffin.








Sri Lankan tourism is becoming a victim of its own success. 2.2 million visitors last year and voted best destination for 2019 by Lonely Planet is great news for the economy, but the powers that be are playing catch-up. The administrative arrangements, public transport and infrastructure in some places are creaking, while poor regulation both of new buildings (especially hotels) and tourist activities can result in a bad experience for some visitors. Their Sri Lankan holiday may not be what they were led to expect by all the hype put out by travel agents and tour operators.

East coast sunrise

Most organised tours only cover the southern half of the island. Sigiriya and Dambulla are as far north as they get. And they concentrate on the best known places rather than the best places. Yala national park, Ella in the hill country and Mirissa on the south coast are all massively overcrowded as a result. And so are the trains in the hill country.

Maybe things will improve. There have been recent attempts to regulate the chaotic whale watching activities out of Mirissa especially and we applaud that. There is talk about restricting the ridiculous numbers of jeeps crowding Yala, Horton Plains and one or two of the other national parks and we very much hope that comes to something. Maybe one day there will be a serious attempt to sort out the traffic and pollution in the sacred city of Kandy. But for now, the solution lies in your hands as visitors – try to get beyond the obvious and don’t believe everything the tourism industry tries to sell you. Be independent!

Dambulla is not the only cave temple. Not telling you which one this is though.

Believe it or not, there are other and better national parks than Yala. There are much quieter hill towns than Ella, set in equally stunning scenery. There are better, bigger and quieter beaches and other places to go out whale and dolphin-watching than Mirissa. And while there are no railway alternatives to the spectacular hill country line, you can see the same scenery from a vehicle without a crowd of bodies in the way, and be able to have a comfortable seat and stop wherever you want to – though of course it costs more.

We have travelled the length and breadth of the island and we also rely on our guests to tell us of great out-of-the-way places they’ve visited. We could tell you here of all the wonderful (and often much cheaper) alternatives to the usual hot-spots but we don’t want to help create more Yalas, Mirissas and Ellas. So here’s the deal: If you’re still at the early stages of planning your Sri Lankan holiday and want to avoid the crowds and see the real Sri Lanka, get in touch with us. Provided your holiday includes at least a couple of nights at Jungle Tide we will give you ideas and free advice on your itinerary, suggestions of places to stay and lesser-known places to visit. And if you want us to we’ll book accommodation and arrange all your transport for you, though we do make a charge for this.

No crowds here. And entry is free!

Contact us. We’d love to hear from you!


I was talking to a guest recently who works as a business advisor. When I told him that we pay 15% commission to Booking.com (and similar amounts to Trip Advisor, AirBnB, Agoda and all the rest) for bookings that come through them he was astonished. In any of the sectors he works in that commission rate should be more like 5%, or even less.

Online Travel Agents (OTAs) such as Booking.com have a business model which loads all the costs onto the accommodation providers, offering a free service to people wanting to make bookings. And a damned good service it is too. We are impressed by the design and ease of use of their systems. They certainly know what they’re doing. But how many customers stop to think who is paying for this fantastic service? Or where their money is going?

Being a bit of a data junkie I analysed how life has changed for Jungle Tide in the last few years, in terms of which routes our bookings come from. Back in 2011 over 80% of our bookings came through our own website, mostly people having found us on Trip Advisor and having clicked the link. We pay Trip Advisor a considerable annual fee in order to have a link to our website direct from our listing with them. And they still hit us for another 15% if anyone presses their “book direct” button. But if you’ve visited our listing on Trip Advisor you probably won’t have spotted our link. it’s a tiny icon, overshadowed by dazzling claims from online travel agents that only through them will you get the best deal. Not true! We offer cheaper room rates and better customer service to people who book directly through us – either via e-mail, phone, text or through Free-to-book on our website. Because that way we’re saving 15% by not paying commission to an OTA and it’s only fair to share that saving with our customers.

The figure now for direct bookings through our website is a little over 20%. A similar percentage is down to our own efforts – friends, friends of friends, repeat business, people recommended by former guests. Almost all the rest – well over 50% – comes through Booking.com. Our contact there is very helpful and as an organisation they are highly professional. But we still think 15% is way too much to pay for what is a very small service, no matter how well it is delivered. And, from what we hear, so do a growing number of small guest houses, B&Bs and homestays. Individually we may be microscopic but there are an awful lot of us and if we were all to reward direct bookings the OTAs might have to sit up and take notice.

But I know the mountain we have to climb. Once an organisation – be it Booking.com, or Trip Advisor, or Facebook, or Google – gets to be so good at what it does that people identify the organisation with the product or service (think of Hoover if you want an historic example) the competition is pretty well squeezed out. Market rules cease to apply. And just to make sure there’s no room for competition the giants form “partnerships” with one another. One day a few years ago we took a look at our Trip Advisor listing and were surprised to see a flash across it saying “We cannot find rates for this property”. Since we pay them for a business listing and this includes a link to our website where our rates are clearly displayed this was, we thought, some mistake, so we contacted them. No mistake. The flash was put there because at the time we were not signed up to one of Trip Advisor’s “partners” – Booking.com, Expedia, Agoda and the like. This was, we were told, Trip Advisor’s new policy and we were powerless to change it. So we signed up with Booking.com just so folks could see a price when they looked on Trip Advisor. I think they call it being over a barrel. Since then, Booking.com and Agoda have merged. Well, not merged, they are just owned by the same parent company. So that’s all right then.

So, if you want the best prices and the best customer service, and you would prefer that 15% of your money to go into the local Sri Lankan economy rather than into the pockets of a multinational – or if you’re just feeling a bit rebellious today – BOOK DIRECT!

Thanks for listening.


The road from Kandy to Uduwela village and beyond to Galaha has now been finally repaired and resurfaced – other than a couple of very short stretches of a few metres which are awaiting surfacing but easily passable. The final piece in the jigsaw was the demolition and rebuilding of the bridge in the village which closed direct access to Jungle Tide for a few weeks but was finally reopened on 15th October. During the bridge works we had to arrange shuttles of local tuk-tuks to ferry guests to and from their own transport parked in the square on the other side of the bridge. Luckily it was after the end of our busy season and the guests were all very positive about it.
The last 700 metres of road when you turn off the Kandy-Galaha road remains a private and unsurfaced tea estate road but any vehicle can cope with it (slowly) and all our guests now have to face is five minutes bumpy ride rather than the almost 30 minutes it was a year a so ago.


While my attempts at growing vegetables continue to be abysmal failures, the fruit trees to which I give no attention whatever just carry on cropping in vast quantities, mocking my efforts. There must be a lesson in there somewhere, probably to do with Buddhism. I still can’t get used to trees producing fruit twice or more per year. Lately it’s been mulberries, Chinese guavas and another monster crop of avocados, all of them testing out Sally’s jam-making and my ice-cream-making skills to their limits. The guests appreciate them, though, and so do our volunteers. We had a Trip Adviser review recently, in French, and being lazy I decided to apply Google Translation rather than translate it myself. I was alarmed to read how much our guests had enjoyed “eating the lawyers Sally and Jerry gave us” until I realised that “avocat” is French both for “lawyer” and “avocado”. So if you come a cross that particular review, fear not. We have not descended to cannibalism.


Sinhala and Tamil New Year this year meshed with Easter weekend and a group of us went for a walk in the area around Jungle Tide on Easter Sunday, the day after New Year. Half way round our circular route we heard the strains of amplified music and a great deal of cheering and laughter and shortly afterwards came upon what I can only call a small village fete. Just one of many New Year celebrations across the island. A game of ‘Elephant Eye’ – the local version of ‘Pin the Tail on the Donkey’ – was in progress. An elephant had been crudely drawn on a whiteboard nailed to a tree and children were blindfolded, spun around and given a marker pen to mark where they thought the elephant’s eye should be. As we elderly whiteys hove into view a great cheer went up and a clamour that we might be invited to participate. Since refusal seemed pointless I volunteered to go first. A guy reeking of arrack applied the blindfold and turned me this way and that for an eternity then set me loose in the wrong direction to great mirth. Eventually with a lot of helpful pushes and shoves I made it to the whiteboard. The rest of the group then took their turns.
The New Year festivities went on and on over about four days, mostly involving noisy fireworks day and night. All quiet again now. One of our friends reported seeing an event that involved a tug-of-war between the residents of two homes for the elders – now that I wish I had seen!


A quick update: The final really bad stretch of road – the short hill from the village square where the bus from Kandy terminates, up to the turn-off for Jungle Tide – has now been completely resurfaced and is a joy to drive along. There is still just under 1km of road into the village remaining to be completed but this is not in too bad a state. The final 700m of estate road down to Jungle Tide is not part of the road improvement scheme so will remain slow and a bit bumpy, but all vehicles can get down the track.

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We recently took a trip up to Jaffna and the north of Sri Lanka. I’d never been before – too dangerous during the war and since then we’ve been too preoccupied with getting Jungle Tide running properly to do much exploring. Besides, Sally’s brother Jeremy and nephew Tom who came to see us last month both wanted to go there so we delayed our trip until they could accompany us. What follows is an account of the trip which is also a short extract from the book I’m writing: Broke’n’English – Learning to live in Sri Lanka. Anyone know a literary agent???


There’s not a lot to do in Jaffna. Actually that’s probably not true, it’s just that there’s no information and hardly anyone speaks much English. Or indeed Sinhala, which creates problems when you turn up with a Sinhalese driver who doesn’t speak Tamil. The vestigial tourism industry appears to be run by a mix of NGOs (or former NGO wallahs) and the military, notably the Navy. Sound fellows all, no doubt, but not showing much of a clue about what visitors want or how to drain their pockets for the benefit of the local economy. The famed library, destroyed with its priceless collections at the start of the war and since rebuilt, is open only to its local members most of the time and to ‘visitors’ for an hour or so at the end of the day. The Information Desk was unstaffed when we went. There are several impressive Hindu temples and many good if less impressive churches for visitors who want to engulf themselves in religion, and a large but uninterpreted Dutch fort – like Mannar’s heavily damaged in the recent war even more than it was in the historic past – but I’d seen so many of those that another one held little interest. What did fascinate me was the collection of ruined buildings. All over the north shelled and wrecked homes can be seen with depressing regularity, but in the north’s ‘capital’, Jaffna, there are also the ruins of many civic or religious buildings which were clearly once of huge local importance. One in particular stands opposite the new Jetwing Hotel and the even newer Cargill’s Square shopping complex. It was obviously destroyed some time ago as banyan trees grow up through its walls and foundations. We asked our taxi driver “What is this building?” “Ah, Sir, breaking in problem time” “Yes, we know, but before breaking, what was it used for?” “Sir, Government building” was all we could get from him. I’m not a ghoulish war tourist, but I don’t think I’m the only visitor who would love to know more about these places, and what Jaffna was like before the war. How much would it cost to put up a few signs? A lot less than the cost of the lavish ‘war memorials’, which I’ll come to.

Jaffna may have a proud library but as far as I could discover it possesses not a single bookshop – other than the usual outlets selling school textbooks. There is no local guidebook and no city website. But as noted it does now possess a brand new shopping centre and a Jetwing hotel. The former houses a large and well stocked supermarket so full marks to Messrs Cargill for that, but the rest of the small complex is of limited range. The Jetwing charges Jetwing prices but doesn’t deliver the level of quality one associates with their other hotels and doesn’t even have a swimming pool. The guest house we stayed in was clean and run by a well-meaning and hard-working woman with little English; the rooms were small and dark and the food dull. Two oases we did discover were Morgan’s, a delightful garden bar on Temple Street, and the nearby Mangoes restaurant – fabulous dosas at knockdown prices. But Jaffna is a gem waiting to be unearthed, or maybe unearthed and waiting to be cut and polished.


To the west of Jaffna Sri Lanka peters out in a series of flat islands joined by causeways or ferries. Some have Dutch names (Kayts, Delft), others Tamil names (Punkudutivu, Karaitivu). Up early for the 8am ferry to Delft, the first causeway linking Jaffna to Kayts is a well-surfaced road, presumably rebuilt since the war, flanked in the dawn light by rectangles of prawn and crab nets and traps in the flat calm waters. Jaffna has a reputation for the best crabs – and the best mangoes. Silhouetted fishermen check their traps soundlessly; the tide flows left to right under the causeway making no fuss at all. An honour guard of pelicans, Brahminy kites and spoonbills mans the wooden and concrete posts alongside the causeway. Further out stilts and flamingos go about their business paying us no attention. Once on Kayts, the road becomes potholed and the second causeway, from there out to Punkudutivu and the ferry, is a bumpy old ride with a couple of inches either side separating the van from the briny. But buses somehow do the trip.

They, along with bicycles, motorcycles, tuk-tuks and the occasional car or van congregate at the end of the pier. The eight o’clock ferry is free and is a motorised sardine tin run by the Navy. We were warned we’d have to pay a few rupees on the return journey in a ‘private boat’. Packed into the hold on hard benches we waited for the engines to start and therefore, more importantly, the fans. Even at this early hour it was stifling. The fan nearest to us had a union flag emblazoned on its middle and a notice informing us that it was ‘sponsored by the Delft Society (UK)’ – hard to think of a more niche organisation. A genuine fan club. It was non-operational, having a round-pin plug next to a square pin socket. Perhaps a metaphor for the relationship between the UK and Sri Lanka. A sailor eventually turned up with an adaptor and put us out of our sweaty misery.

On the quay at Delft Sally and I had the same immediate reaction: “Isn’t this like Rottnest?” she said. A year earlier we’d spent a day on that island off Perth and the similarities were surprising and hit us both. It was also a lot like Sark. Perhaps there’s something in the way small islands speak to us, something that connects their visual language and geography irrespective of latitude and climate. Of course there were differences. Delft is built not of pottery as one might wish but it is built of dead coral. Great lumps of it making everything from dry-stone field and garden walls to churches and forts. It doesn’t look anything like anywhere else in Sri Lanka. One piece of coral stands about six feet high and is revered as it is apparently growing by itself. Carved deities, incense burners and coloured cloths sit on and around it. We were taken around the island in a converted pickup truck, stopping to admire a baobab tree; a ruined and atmospheric British hospital with a Dutch pigeon cote in the back garden from a time when the birds were the only form of communication with the mainland; a Buddhist temple dating to the Anaradhapura kingdom when the whole island was for a relatively brief time Buddhist; an indent in the ground looking like a giant footprint said to have been made by Hanuman as he hopped across from India; the nearby remains of a hundred metre long building constructed by the Dutch simply to stable their vast collection of horses, then on to ‘the wilderness’ – a barren seaside plain populated by wild horses descended from the inhabitants of those stables and left behind when the Dutch abandoned Ceylon following its takeover by the British. Some of the horses had elaborately permed manes and looked quite fetching. Perhaps they shopped at the place on our road which advertises ‘bridle wear’.

The whistle-stop tour over, there were still two hours to kill before lunch and the return ferry so they took us to the beach. Small problem: no shade, nowhere to get anything to drink, no changing facilities or toilets. We and a few other hapless tourists moped disconsolately around for a while then asked our drivers to take us back into town, ‘town’ being a relative term on Delft as the only settlement is the size of a small village by the ferry dock. Here we managed to kill the remaining time in a café where no-one spoke any English, then in the other café where we had booked lunch, which was actually rather good. Then off to the jetty to claim first place in the queue and prime seats on the return boat, due to leave at two thirty. A jolly-looking waterfront bar turned out to be exclusively for the Navy. Next to it a building declared itself to be the ‘Naval Sewing Centre’. I’m still trying to work out what might go on in there.

There were a couple of false starts as groups of Sri Lankans pushed past us and on to the jetty. Thinking they were the usual queue-jumpers we tried to race them only to be turned back by the Navy. These were not returning tourists but the WAGs of naval personnel off on a jolly on a gunboat. Among the many boats tied up at the quay in various stages of dereliction and seaworthiness one had attracted my camera’s attention earlier. It was a large open boat whose wheelhouse was an elderly tuk-tuk roped across it towards the stern. A curiosity to photograph was all I’d thought. Until it emerged that this was our return transport. We all clambered aboard and arranged ourselves on the various planks serving as seats. The captain sat sidelong to the action in the tuk-tuk’s driver seat, gazing out to sea and wearing a headset, though whether this was anything to do with running the ship or just his personal in-boat entertainment system I couldn’t be sure. It was equally unclear whether the two guys in the passenger seat behind him were the bosun, first mate, purser or cabin boy, or just his friends, or even the first two passengers to clamber aboard who grabbed the only upholstered seating in the boat. Although thunderclouds menaced in the distance the sea remained obligingly calm and we made it back to Punkudutivu without mishap. I couldn’t remove an imbecilic grin from my face for the whole bizarre trip.


We’d arrived in Jaffna by the relatively little-used coast road from Mannar; stretches of recently applied tarmac frequently interrupted by lengths of dirt-track where a blown-up bridge waited to be replaced and a diversion took us over the river on a few concrete pipes. We returned south on the A9 through the famed Elephant Pass where a long causeway and bridge connects the almost-island of the Jaffna region to the main part of Sri Lanka. Elephant Pass was of great strategic importance during the war and two contrasting memorials stand at either end. To the north is the war memorial itself which tells how former President Mahinda Rajapaksa beat the Tamil Tigers almost single-handedly with just a little help from one of his brothers who happened to be Defence Minister. Oh, and a few words are added about how nice it would be if everyone lived in peace and harmony. I know history is written by the victors but this is a particularly crass example and leaves a nasty taste in the mouth.

At the southern end of the causeway, by the new train station, stands a more interesting and more touching memorial. The eye-catching bit is not the statue of the soldier whose self-sacrificial gallantry is commemorated (Corporal Gamini Kularatne) but what stands in front and to one side of it: the rusted and shell-pocked remains of the strange Tamil Tiger vehicle he disabled – a converted armoured bulldozer which, armed and packed with explosives, was trundling towards the strategic army base before Cpl. Kularatne managed to climb aboard and throw a couple of grenades into it, killing himself in the process. The event happened in 1991 but the memorial is of course post-war. It records that the soldier was posthumously awarded Sri Lanka’s equivalent of the Victoria Cross by the President. The President’s name is not recorded, since it was not Rajapaksa.

Chewy as it is for us pacifists to swallow, it is an unfortunate fact that war (or the preparation for imagined future wars) acts as midwife to a lot of technology which may be adapted for more peaceful uses. And that’s true of both conventional warfare – radar and the internet both come to mind – and less conventional conflicts such as the civil war in Sri Lanka, although here it is more likely to be intermediate or alternative technology. There is no doubting the resourcefulness of the Tamil Tigers whatever view one may take of their aims or morality. They had field artillery, a miniature air force, converted bulldozers to tanks as we have seen, and a navy, known as the Sea Tigers. In 2006 the Sea Tigers captured a Jordanian freighter, the Farah III, which had anchored off Mullaitivu with engine trouble. Having conveyed the crew to safety (the LTTE were merciless with their Sri Lankan foes and with Tamils who disagreed with them but had no quarrel with foreigners) they raised the anchor and let the ship run aground, where they systematically stripped it of everything of value (having first nicked its cargo of rice and other goods) to be turned into military hardware. The skeletal remains of the ship stood on the beach for years after the war ended – and feature as the cover photograph of John Gimlette’s wonderful book Elephant Complex. I was very keen to see and explore it but turned up a year too late. What was left of the ship had been sold for salvage and removed. It had become something of a tourist attraction and we were told that the Government was worried that this may lead to it becoming a kind of shrine to the Sea Tigers.

Strange, then, that the Sea Tigers’ dockyard ‘museum’ remains open close by, though it’s hard to find. As museums go it has to be one of the oddest. Head south east down the A35 until you pass a contender for the world’s most tasteless war memorial – a phenomenally ugly and garish erection featuring raised guns flanking the Sri Lankan flag – then look for a red dirt track on the left with a small sign indicating ‘Sea Tiger Museum’. If you then take the correct fork in the road (unsigned but pssst, it’s the one on the right) you emerge into a yard with a lone soldier standing sullenly and wordlessly in a kind of home-made sentry box. Ranged around the edges of a dirt yard the size of a football pitch are the war-damaged remains of what I gather was only a small part of the Tigers’ sea power, ranging from a converted jet ski up to quite sizeable fast launches. This being Sri Lanka I was most disappointed not to find an armoured swan pedalo among them. But it’s the submarines that grab the attention, from one-man jobs not fully submersible to a full-sized vessel under construction when time was called on the Tigers’ war effort. At the far end is a test and launch tank whose gates once led into the ocean. Information is minimal and the soldier speaks no English but even in such an off the beaten track attraction the local nose for a tourist proved to have its usual sensitivity. We’d been there maybe twenty minutes when a lad with a refrigerated box on the back of a small motorcycle rolled up. “Ice cream? You like ice cream?” We did. It was astonishingly hot and the container promised choc ices which we selected. “You have chocolate ice cream?” “Yes, Madam. Chocolate have”. A rummage in the box led to a revision of this statement. “Sorry, only orange have”. “OK, then, five orange ice cream”. Who cares? Anyway, we’d probably have rewarded him for his entrepreneurship if he’d been selling sand. Sadly the ‘orange’ iced lollies were fluorescent pink and tasted abominable. I ate three of the five (I hate waste), we gave one to the soldier and our driver ate his own uncomplainingly.

The end of the war in 2009 took us news-starved foreigners by surprise, but didn’t come as a surprise to Sri Lankans who had been expecting it for months. And stockpiling celebratory fireworks accordingly. Ironically, according to a friend of ours, the photographer Stephen Champion who recorded so much of the horror of the civil war from start to finish, and who therefore should know what he’s on about, the defeat of the LTTE was partly due to their decision to diversify from guerrilla attacks and suicide bombings into full-scale frontal assaults using their home-made military hardware. Taking on the Sri Lankan army in battlefield conditions amounted to a kind of fatal hubris; they could never hope to win a conventional war with unconventional weaponry. International events over which the LTTE had neither control, influence nor even interest, namely 9/11, then led to their being proscribed and demonised as ‘terrorists’ in the west’s ‘war on terror’ and to the drastic reduction of a great part of their foreign arms supplies and their foreign media influence. Defeat was only a matter of time. Though it still took another seven years. And the sheer bloody-mindedness of Rajapaksa who understood correctly that only overwhelming military force would defeat the Tigers and didn’t care who else got hurt or killed in the process.

I never know what to make about the tendency some people have to diminish war. People in Northern Ireland who refer to ‘the troubles’ or in Sri Lanka to ‘problem time’. Is it a reluctance (understandable) to face up to the horrors, or, more positively, an attempt to move on? ‘Problem time’ to me is redolent of something like the washing machine breaking down and flooding the kitchen, not the deaths of thousands. “Now problem all gone, Sir” our Jaffna taxi driver had continued. “Now all good”. Which it clearly is not. But if we pretend things are OK does that increase or decrease the likelihood that they will become so? Answers on a postcard.

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Our Family Garden Room, which is separate from the house, has proved popular as budget accommodation for families with up to four children who can’t afford to take two rooms. But its drawback is that if the kids are too young to be left alone, Mum and Dad can’t spend the evening up at the house and have to sit in the room with their kids with very little space to do anything. So we’ve created a sheltered, covered patio with table, bench and chairs in the front of the room where parents can sit out with a book, a drink or whatever in relative comfort but still close to their children. For this we have to thank our wonderful volunteer David Vacl who has been with us so many times he’s more or less part of the family, along with his Dad Peter who is a builder – and a damned good one, too. They came out from Czech Republic last month to build this for us, and made a great job of it as you can see below. They also made a start on building our new barbecue, which will be continued by other volunteers in the coming months. Thanks guys!

David and Peter Vacl built our new patio.

If you are interested in volunteering at Jungle Tide, or know someone else who is, find us on Workaway or on HelpX. We’d love to hear from you.