A murder in paradise

A more exciting day with a healthy fruit platter, a 2004 tsunami survivor’s tale, checking out a Sri Lankan ayuveda “medical massage hospital”, meeting an interesting lady from Wales who comes here every year, and a power blackout in the entire city. Oh, and a shootout murder next door…

I had only just finished a fabulous fruit platter (about AUD$9) and waved away a large-ish, well fed local woman begging for money to feed her son (if I were sure she was a single mum I would gladly give money but this approach treats tourists as suckers), when “My Man in Hikkaduwa”, Saleem, arrived, sporting a St Kilda Football Club cap (I had told him I was from St Kilda). Saleem is the “go to” guy in Hikkaduwa… you want, he gets. He first encountered me in a flustered, bewildered, cashless state as I alighted from the train at Hikkaduwa station (ahhh another dumb, white tourist) and he soon convinced me that the hotel I had booked into – which took cash only – was way out of town but he had a much better option. (Like a movie script!) We hopped in a non-rip off tuk tuk, he took me to a secure ATM, and got me the last room at the Royal Beach Hotel. It only cost me a AUD$10 note tip, it’s a good cabana and I’m grateful for his advice.

Anyway, so he rocks up again, with his slow limp, to see how I might again use his services. He tells me the story of how he almost lost his right leg in the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami. The first two waves were half a metre high, but the third wave was over 8 metres; he climbed a small tree but it was swept over, and he smashed into a rock. He was lucky to survive, and his wife and children fortunately were high up visiting Kandy that day. He is happy and thanks his good luck every day! Also, the owner of the Royal Beach Hotel generously covered the costs of eight operations to save his leg, and helped him financially during his long recovery. In return he brings guests here when he can. (Fair enough.)

I asked Saleem about these ayuveda massage joints everywhere, that say “hospital” and “medical” and “doctor”. He says it’s the local version of a well-being massage, and owners are just shonky blokes who pretend to be doctors. So he takes me down the busy Galle Road to check out one “he knows”.

We walk past a neighbouring hotel entrance which earlier in the day I had recognised as being a crime scene – then it had been taped off, with a police SOCO truck, armed officers in uniform, and plainclothes officers rummaging through the undergrowth in the vacant lot across the street while another interviewed locals. I had hoped to take a pic but the officer sporting a sub-machinegun had not looked particularly photogenic.

Saleem now tells me there had been a double murder. He is unsure of the details but believes they were stabbings involving locals. We could still see two large patches of blood on the side of the road.

Saleem then takes me down a short, unkempt, palm lined dirt driveway to a once magnificent but now hopelessly dilapidated colonial mansion. A renovator’s dream or a dreamer’s renovation, take your pick. We negotiate an ayuveda massage price: AUD$40. (Hmmm no doubt there’s a generous spotter’s fee built into that figure.) Anyway, it lasted about 40 minutes, I wore disposable undies (how undignified!), lying directly on a hot, uncovered vinyl table, and under a very noisy ceiling fan. The therapist I had chosen was very pretty, with a typically beautiful Sri Lankan smile, and hands rough as gravel. (Grin and bear it, it’s all part of the “Sri Lankan Experience”.) On went the coconut oil, with the care and consideration of an airport baggage handler. Then in came a young trainee! So… the two “therapists” are now busily chatting while prodding, poking and rubbing me, and I’m lying there like I’m on a slab during an autopsy. At the welcome conclusion, my therapist kisses me on both cheeks and says something about me giving her my mobile number and calling her tomorrow for a special massage (cutting out the “middle man” Doctor’s fee no doubt) but I explain that I turn off all calls on my mobile when overseas. I also ssk her for a small as I was the training dummy … but she’s not buying that one.

We leave, I give Saleem another $10 note tip, and, smelling like a sweet “Bounty” coconut bar, I seek refuge with a large Lion Lager across the road in Ranjit’s Bar, where the nice Queensland surfing couples hang out. There I meet Holly, from Swansea in Wales. Holly loves the place and says she has been coming to Hikkaduwa pretty much every year since the early 2000s. She is the font of all local knowledge – where the locals go for the best curry, where to watch Australia versus India in the cricket World Cup semi-final (every Sri Lankan will be watching it too so I dunno what the Russians and Germans will do for drinks service on the beach. Hehehe).

Holly seems to have “the mail” on the earlier homicides: She says guns were involved and one man was shot dead – and, in a hushed voice, “it was the Sri Lankan Mafia!”

Sri Lankan Mafia, guns, a shootout across the busiest main road in Sri Lanka. Now, that’s what I call the ingredients of a good news story. Holly should be working at News Corp. We just need to re-nose it slightly along the lines of a Russian crime czar in a bloody shoot-out with a Sri Lankan Mafia boss over a beautiful, blonde, blue eyed German tourist. And somehow weave in a woman falling in love with a tree. Classic News Corp stuff!

Anyway, back to reality… My new Queenslander friends head back to Noosa tomorrow so farewells are exchanged, and Holly and I tentatively arrange to meet next day at the Harbour Bar for a further rundown on Hikkaduwa tourist attractions.

I wake up in the morning to find the entire Hikkaduwa area has a power blackout! No aircon in the hotel rooms, no wi-fi, no fridge for cold beer. It better be fixed by tomorrow or… no TV means no cricket telecast, which spells “riot” in Sri Lanka.

The friendly hotel restaurant manager assures me an electrical sub contractor is on the case, he can still make me my morning “cappuccino” (the closest thing to a caffe latte, a coffee sweetened with condensed milk, $3.30), and he gives me the definitive version of the street homicide: Local criminals with guns, and one man is dead and a second in the Intensive Care Unit in hospital. And I don’t think he means an ayuveda massage “hospital”.

A deliciously healthy fruit platter.

A deliciously healthy fruit platter.

The scene of the crime: busy Galle Road, Hikkaduwa, where local criminals had a fatal shootout.

The scene of the crime: busy Galle Road, Hikkaduwa, where local criminals had a fatal shootout.

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