But all this lay a long way ahead. In 1983, I did not know what to expect. We went up by bus, me and Nigel Hatch, who was a regular companion in those days, not least because he had been the first to warn me about Lyn Illangakoon when I went to S. Thomas’ as Sub-Warden. The general consensus was that Lyn was a sweet old man who had found S. Thomas’ all too much for him, but Nigel, whose older brothers I had known when I was in school, had been treated badly and insisted from the start that the man was a bounder.
He had been a tower of support when I found this out for myself, and was great fun too on trips, game for any adventure as I had found when I took him along with my old friend from Oxford, Gillian Peele, on a delightful tour over the Christmas holidays while the crisis at S. Thomas’ was brewing.
Within a few minutes of us arriving at Alu, Ena asked whether we were willing to go off to the Sinharaja early next morning. There was no reason to refuse, and so, after a fantastic dinner, the first of many, we were woken up at 2 am for the expedition, also the first of many.
Ena had a double cab driven by a distinguished old gentleman called Sena. Apart from her and me and Nigel, we also took along Suja her cook, and one of the girls from the Centre, Suwineetha, who was herself an Aluwihare, a retainer called Perumal and a dogsbody called Mani. This boy seemed to travel on top of the van most of the time, for there was no room for him at the back, packed as it was with loads of supplies.
We drove through the night, not quite sure of our route but, after much cogitation over a map, we managed to arrive at the entrance to Sinharaja by mid-morning. There we found that we needed to have a permit. Things had clearly changed since the days when Ena had been a mainstay of the Wild Life Department, but they did let us in for a brief walk. This was not however very productive so, after an hour or so, we decided to resume our journey and explore some more.
I think it was my suggestion that we go on to Deniyaya. I had heard of the Hayes-Lauderdale Road and its scenic beauty, and Ena was quite happy to revive ancient memories. So off we went, lumbering along in the laden pick up, and night fell and lights started twinkling in the distance, and each town we arrived at turned to be merely a village. It was around 9 when we finally got to the Resthouse at Deniyaya, only to find it full. The keeper took pity on us however, and said he had one large room at the back, which we were welcome to have.
So we spent the night there all together, Ena and Nigel and me and Suwineetha and Suja, and several dogs that crept in for warmth in the course of the night, as did Sena I believe. He was far too distinguished to spend the night in the van, which Perumal and Mani had done. We were given a good dinner, and an excellent breakfast too, and were able to admire the fantastic view across the valley from what must be one of the best situated resthouses in the country.
The next day was what cemented the friendship. I found Ena as keen as I have always been never to retrace footsteps, so we found another route back, across Sooriyakanda and Embilipitya. We decided then to have lunch at the Walawe reservoir, and we settled down there while Suja cooked a fantastic meal on a hearth she made up amidst the trees on the bank of the lapping waters. Nigel decided he would fish in emulation of the villagers, and actually caught a few small creatures which were added to the meal.
Ena and I lay on the loungers we had brought along and and continued to talk. We talked about her youth and her elopement, about Ossie’s DIGs and the coup of 1962, about S. Thomas’ and her relations, and everything else in the world. We continued to talk as we travelled on after that idyllic lunch, taking the road over the hills from Balangoda through Bogowantalawa. This was an indulgence which I had craved, since three years earlier, travelling with some friends, we had gone on this route against the better judgment of the driver, and got stuck at a stream which was gushing too deep to ford. We had had to spend the whole night in the car, arriving at the estate in Dickoya we were due at after the waters subsided in the morning.
I wanted to prove that the route was not a bad one, and it certainly satisfied Ena’s and my craving for continuing adventure. Once more night fell and lights twinkled in the valleys, and we drove on and talked on, while Nigel slept. We stopped on the way at the Bogowantalawa Resthouse, where some enthusiastic boys produced the worst coffee I had ever drunk – until the experience was repeated a year later, at another Resthouse, at Vakarai, at which point we recognized the boys who had been transferred by then to the East.
Before the journey ended we had another epiphany. It was Wesak and as we passed through Geli Oyka, between Gampola and Kandy, we saw the whole town celebrating, or rather all its young men, dancing vigorously in the middle of the road. It was an enchanting sight, even though it slowed us up considerably, Sena having to navigate very carefully, whilst the enthusiastic youngsters teased him by refusing to get out of the way, even while their grins as he shook his hoary locks made it clear they knew exactly how irritated he was becoming. But we forgave them easily, and for Ena and me it has been a sight we talk about still, in reflecting about life in rural areas – and reminding her of Ossie’s efforts to engage the police in community development, for he had told her how dull were the lives of the villagers and how it was important to provide them with entertainment and additional occupation.
We reached Alu well after midnight, 48 hours after we had set out, on what I still think of as one of the most important journeys I took in Sri Lanka. We had to leave the next day, but clearly this was a show that would continue to run. I had a friend coming out from England in July, and obviously Alu was the best place to which to bring him, not only to explore the ancient cities, but also if possible to do a loaf, as we thought of the journeys into unknown distances we both relished so much. I had found a soulmate, and I believe Ena felt the same.