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Waterlogged but well fed on an island called Serendipity; CS CLANCY CENTENARY RIDE: WEEK 8; Geoff Hill and Gary Walker are retracing CS Clancy's historic trip around the world by motorcycle. This week they visit Sri Lanka.

SRI Lanka has been likened by travellers to a pearl at the southern tip of India.

As our plane approached it, at first there was only the deep aquamarine of the ocean, then an endless golden strip of beach. Beyond that the verdant smack of jungle punctuated by the terracotta roofs of colonial-style bungalows.

You could see why the early Arab traders who stumbled on it had called it Serendib, which became serendipity, the art of happy coincidences.

We had stumbled on one ourselves in the form of Alfons van Hoof, a Belgian ex-teacher who was going to take a few days off from his job as a freelance translator and show us around.

He led the way through streets which were like a more relaxed and less crowded and chaotic version of India to a pleasant guest house a short walk from the beach in Negombo, a seaside resort about 25 miles north of Colombo.

All in all, we'd done slightly better than Clancy, who stepped ashore in the city with scarcely a penny to his name, as his letters to the Motorcycle Review asking for payment for his articles had either disappeared in transit or vanished into the bowels of the accountancy office.

Stepping into a rickshaw, was borne to the Globe, a favourite watering hole of expats and the cheapest hotel in town, at which he arranged a line of credit for a room at $1.65 a day, including meals.

That night, sitting on the hotel verandah with the palm trees swaying in the warm, aromatic air, the sun sinking to the ocean and a large lizard at his feet eating a moth in instalments then retiring for the night, Clancy had already fallen in love with the tropics.

He retired happily to bed, interrupted only by a beetle resembling a baby elephant which he dispatched with a well-aimed shoe.

And if he had dined like a pauper on board the Lutzow, he feasted like a prince in the Globe, for he was woken at 6.30am by a boy with "early tea for master".

That was followed by breakfast at 10.30, tiffin at 1.30, afternoon tea at 4.30, dinner at 7.30 and supper from 9 to 12.

All but afternoon tea and supper were seven-course meals involving curry so hot he thought it would have been more appropriate to Iceland and all washed down with lemonade.

Since the Globe is long gone, possibly as a result of feeding its customers six meals a day for $1.65, that evening we met Alfons and a couple of Dutch friends, Hans and Henk, at a little restaurant by the beach for beers and that well-known Sri Lankan delicacy, lasagne.

As we sat down to eat on the patio, thunder rolled across the city, lightning split the sky and great, warm drops of rain fell in the courtyard with such ferocity that it was difficult to tell where they ended and their splashes began.

"Here," said Gary, "whose stupid idea was it to come to Sri Lanka at the start of the monsoon season?"

"Possibly the same person whose idea it was to leave Belfast in the worst snow in living memory," I said, catching sight of the culprit reflected in the window.

With Clancy's stomach as full as ours, his wallet followed suit two days later with a cablegram bearing the news that he was back in funds.

"It was wonderful what a store of inspiration and courage came with the feeling of money in my pocket again, and the knowledge that the confidence of the powers at home continued," he wrote in his diary.

He then took a rickshaw to the docks to get his Henderson, fit it with a new pair of Goodyear tyres and bade a genuinely sad farewell to the ones which had carried him through seven European and two African countries with only three punctures.

Having got his tyres sorted, he rode through the "fascinating but odorous" Pettah bazaar, across the great Victorian bridge and off on the jungle road, dodging naked children, small alligators and bullock carts. We were probably doing about the same speed as him the next morning when we rode to Colombo, but had the added twist of taking place in what felt like a Turkish bath.

As I rode alone glowing damply, a man on a Honda 250 pulled alongside me.

"Pardon me, sir, would you like to rent a motorcycle?" he asked.

"Er, I already have one," I said, not wanting to state the obvious.

"I can rent you a much better one for Colombo traffic, only $10 a day."

"You're OK, thanks." "Oh well, never mind. Tell me, what is your name, your profession and your home?"

I said: "Mohammed Singh, clothing exporter, Amritsar.".

"Oh, you jest. You look more like Hindu to me." Victoria Bridge was a modern concrete replacement rather than the ornate wrought iron structure Clancy rode over, and Pettah bazaar was just as fascinating, give or take a mobile phone shop and possibly less odorous. But the tall neoclassical building which once housed the Globe now lay an empty shell.

The next morning, we had planned to set off with Alfons but were awakened by a clap of thunder so alarming I feared the windows would break.

As we were tucking into a hearty breakfast of white toast washed down by Nescafe with powdered milk, Alfons arrived and we sat, and waited.

At noon, it cleared slightly, if only to the extent that we could now hear each other, and we set off into the jungle.

BMW Motorrad UK for the R1200GS Adventures, clothing, helmets and subsidiary sponsorship. www.bmw-motorrad.co.uk

Motorcycle shipping by James Cargo, www.jamescargobikes.com, with support from Geoff McConville, www.geoffmcconville.com

Hong Kong accommodation and further flight assistance by Swire Hotels. www.swireproperties.com

Belfast to Cairnryan and Harwich to Holland crossings by Stena Line. www.stenaline.co.uk

Motorcycle Adventurer by Greg Frazier can be found at www.amazon.co.uk

If he dined like a pauper on the Lutzow, he ate like a prince in the Globe GEOFF HILL

CAPTION(S):

TRAILBLAZER J Clancy and Sri Lanka map

GRIDLOCK J Colombo traffic can be a little trying

ONLY WAY TO TRAVEL J Clancy era Rickshaws

CATS J AND DOGS Monsoon season

EXPLORERS J Geoff Hill, his Sri Lankan guide Alfons van Hoof and his son Roshan
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Geographic Code:9SRIL
Date:May 18, 2013
Words:1078
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