After months of planning and the sending of (probably) 100s of emails my year of exploring has finally begun!
My first flight was with Oman Air from Heathrow to Muscat. The other passengers and I eagerly scurried aboard the plane like rats fleeing a sinking ship, where we were rewarded with the sight of a mysterious thing called ‘leg room’. Yes, actual leg room for normal-sized humans in the economy seats! Of course, as we grudgingly walked past the first and business class sections it became obvious who had the lion’s share, but, as a longer-than-average-length limbed person, it was wonderful not being faced with the prospect of having to squash myself into a space designed for a pygmy. Three of the four seats next to me appeared to be vacant – my luck seemed to be in. Sure, the seat at the end of the row had a petulant, pouty, seat-kicking child in it, but it wouldn’t be bothering me and – if I wanted – I could flop across the empty row and maybe sleep on a flight for once. I had a peruse of the in-flight movies, great choices and lots of them, Mad Max and Fast and the Furious 7. I began to look around –beaming! The plane rolled down the runway and, just as the wheels left the ground, my expectations of a bliss-filled 7 ½ hour flight were shattered by the scream of some hate-filled demon just out of my view, a few rows up the plane. Just as many poor souls before me must have experienced, I too, had to endure the sound of hell for every single hour of my flight.
Finally, relief at Muscat from the surprising stamina of that Satan’s spawn. I tiredly trudged through the airport to meet my connection, once again having to go through the palaver that is the security check. Only when you’re away from home do you truly miss the important things, and being English I missed people understanding the concept of queuing. You’re processed through a metal detector one-at-a-time so how on earth does ‘queuing’ (and I use this in the loosest sense of the word) 5-7 wide help? As soon as there was the smallest gap, even for a millisecond, someone would wedge themselves in, even if it had been 2 people in front of them. When I eventually managed to squeeze through I was ready for the usual inquisition and disrobing, but neither experience materialised. Either the Omani security have amazing visual understanding of x-ray pictures or our machines work in a ‘different’ way, because there was no requirement to dig every little bit of electronic equipment out of my bag, take my belt and shoes off or show them the contents of everything in my hand luggage. After making it through the new ‘queuing’ system I was hustled straight on to my next plane, another Oman Air flight – expectations were high. Apparently you don’t need to be comfortable for a mere 4 ½ hour flight and to add insult to injury the hellion had followed me onto the plane.
At Colombo I stumbled off the plane with my tired crazy-eyed look, desperate to get away from the Siren of Doom. All of the border force officers were eerily quiet and didn’t seem to speak a word to anyone they processed. There was no way anybody was going to be able to read my scrawl on the arrival papers and yet the officer handling them still didn’t speak. Could they read minds instead or was he just freaked out by my manic-looking face? After a slightly bemused smile I was given the nod and plodded off to find out if my luggage had made the transfer at Muscat with me. After 15 tense minutes, SUCCESS, my rucksack rolled around the conveyor belt looking like me: a little worse for wear. My rucksack and I staggered off to find my airport transfer and for once my name was spelt correctly, I wouldn’t have to assume that Fina Fen was me and hope I was going to end up in the right place. As we left the airport I heard my first Sri Lankan bird call, I was excited! Desperately, I tried to catch a glimpse of it and was rewarded with….. a crow.
After being a tad disappointed with my first wildlife sighting I remained optimistic. Driving down the road I could see overhead wires teeming with birds. I’d bought a book on Sri Lankan wildlife a few weeks prior to my departure and, as we drove closer I started to make them out and realised I could identify them as……pigeons. Although they weren’t as exciting as I’d hoped for, I had only been in the country 5 minutes and you have to see the common species at some point. The closer we got to Colombo the more wetland areas I noticed, they were all around me and I couldn’t help thinking every time I saw one ‘Ooooo! There could be a fishing cat in there’. After battling with sleep in the taxi I was rewarded with the sight of a very large bird of prey, maybe a kite of some sort, I thought as I began to drift off.