Tuesday, February 16, 2016

2015 June 6: The Secret Garden and Other Places

One of my favourite things to do when I am traveling is to get up early in the morning, just as the sun is beginning to rise, put on my running shoes and head out the front door. Not to run - I don't run! - but to explore. Most times I have no idea where I am going, and rare is it that I follow the exact same path twice in its entirety.

In 2002 I spent the summer in Beijing. Each morning I would leave my hotel at the crack of dawn, often not returning until late in the evening, bone tired from walking fourteen kilometers or more in the searing humidity - ground temperatures were often 50 degrees Celsius.

This was back before the era of digital cameras, and I still managed to take forty-two rolls of film! I saw sights that few Westerners have seen. For example, I visited one tiny little museum that I stumbled upon one morning that used to be the home of a very famous - to the Chinese - author. As I was leaving, the curator told me that while I was inside she had looked through fifty years worth of visitor logs, and I was the only Westerner to have ever visited the museum.

One of my favourite areas to walk in Negombo was among the myriad little streets and alley ways just to the north and east of Cemetery Road where our house was. I grew friendly with some of the people who live along those little streets, and never tired of seeing the abundance of flora and fauna in the middle of a big place like Negombo.

On June 6, 2015, I was walking along one of my favourite streets, listening to the singing of early morning birds and chattering people and blaring radios and squeaking bicycle wheels as children went off to school. I was taking photos of some of the flora on my way, when an older gentleman I had waved to and exchanged pleasantries with on several occasions asked to see my pictures. He was very impressed that I was so interested in flowers, and invited me into his yard to see his and his wife's beautiful garden - not visible from the street, all the while regaling me with tales of when each was planted and why they had included it.

True gardeners, we exchanged flower stories for quite some time as I took pictures of this hidden tropical backyard paradise. It was a very nostalgic experience for me, as many of the flowers that grow year round in Sri Lanka are ones that my mother plants every year as annuals back in Newfoundland..

I left his garden with handfuls of fresh roseapples, one of my favourite Sri Lankan fruits. With a texture like an Asian pear and a taste reminiscent of cardamom, I could not get enough. Steve and Elanor did not share my enthusiasm for this pink fruit with white flesh, but I ate them as often as I could. When our friends found out that I liked them, rare was the Sunday that one of the women from church did not bring me some from her garden.

As I munched along that beautiful morning, I stumbled upon a faint path that led down to the canal, where I was greeted by this gorgeous view, little seen except by the locals who use the makeshift footbridge to go to their homes in a poor neighbourhood hidden from sight from all who pass by....unless like me, they stray off the beaten path to discover the secret beauty all around.