On tour with the Sri Lankan Walter Mitty

We were being driven by either the biggest liar, or the unluckiest man in the country
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The Independent Online

I like to think that I'm a pretty seasoned traveller so when I first met Arthur (not his real name), our Sri Lankan driver, I wasn't wary of much. The only indication that Arthur might be a bit of a "wrong 'un" was his pencil-thin moustache that afforded him a touch of the spiv.

As we hurtled down to Galle, Arthur told us, between endless near-misses, that during the tsunami that hit this coast 10 years ago he'd rescued a couple of Germans from the raging water – fed, clothed and paid for them for 10 days until they could get home. Despite effusive promises of recompense, they gave Arthur fake contact details and he never heard from them again.

We were obviously outraged by this story and proclaimed that he should never trust a German.

In Colombo, Arthur assured us that the Sri Lanka-England one-day match that we had come to see started at 2.30pm. By chance we discovered that it started at 10 in the morning but we missed the opening 30 minutes. We were a touch peeved with Arthur but not for long, as he told us a terrible tale of his being robbed by "very bad men" with whom he was billeted during our trip. "They have taken all my money, sir. Damn ruffians."

Again we were totally outraged and we agreed that we would help him out for the rest of the journey.

On the drive up from Colombo to Kandy for the next match he told us a heartbreaking story about his time working for an NGO up in the north-east of the island at the peak of the violent civil war.

"Sir, a scoundrel stepped into the road and threw a grenade at my van. I managed to kick it down but it exploded and injured me greatly. My passengers were happily not much wounded …" He pulled up his left sleeve, ignoring the road ahead, to show us a rather impressive scar.

By now we were starting to wonder whether we being driven by either the biggest liar or the unluckiest man in Sri Lanka. Whichever it was, it didn't make us entirely comfortable in the passenger seats, but we were now committed.

We played a lot of golf up in Kandy. As we got into the van after a particularly hot round, there was more news from Arthur.

"Sir, while you were playing, a caddy got badly bitten by a cobra." We were shocked – especially as we'd been traipsing through thick undergrowth in search of many a lost ball.

"Fortunately sir," he continued, "I was able to tie his leg up with a shoelace before sucking the venom out with my teeth …" We looked at each other incredulously. Was this the Sri Lankan Walter Mitty?

I'm still not sure.

Whatever the case, Arthur earned his tip with a truly hair-raising final drive from Kandy to Colombo that allowed us to just catch our plane. Had it been in the UK it would have been a front-page story – but was just another day in this most enchanting island.

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