The affect of the tsunami on the Sri Lankan coastline could have spelt disaster for the latest CTC annual tour in Sri Lanka. However, organiser and leader, Peter Crofts, decided otherwise. In communications with his party he pointed out that although the coastline was affected, the remainder of the country was working normally. 'Thousands of Sri Lankans rely directly on foreign tourists for their livelihood not only in the tsunami affected coastal tourist resorts to the south of Colombo but at tourist centres over the whole country. If we donít go we will be adding to their hardship.' Most of Peterís party agreed and were determined to travel although 5 were not convinced and cancelled their booking.
Two weeks before departure Peter visited the Sri Lankan Tourist Office in London, whose Officers had been expressing great interest in the tour. Ideas on how the party could provide direct help to tsunami affected people were discussed. Presenting a bike to someone was mentioned. Why one bike? Why not 14 bikes? After all they are extremely cheap in Sri Lanka. To whom should they go? To coastal fishermen Peter suggested. They transport fish for sale around towns and villages. Many have lost everything and a new bike would be helpful in getting their livelihoods up and running again. So an idea was formed and with help of the Tourist Board contacts were made at Habantota, one of the worst affected towns on the south coast. Destitute fishermen would be selected to receive a bike from the party at a ceremony in a local village.
On arrival in Colombo, Peter purchased the bikes and arranged for them to be transported to Uda Welawe, our nearest point to the coast.
The party snaked its way around the country during the following two weeks and became ever more convinced that their decision to travel had been correct. So many people were affected by the almost complete collapse of the tourist industry. Hotels were empty and many had laid off staff.
The guides at the famous Minihtale religious site said we were the first large foreign group to appear since the tsunami. Most of them were destitute and were relying on handouts and the generosity of fellow Sri Lankans.
A large wood carving centre had laid off 25 craftsmen out of a total workforce of 40.
A tourist shop usually employing 17 staff had only 5 working. The owner had been obliged to borrow money even to pay this reduced staff.
A taxi driver stationed outside one of our hotels had only one additional customer the day we used him.
A large restaurant at the famous Pinnewala Elephant orphanage had seen daily takings drop from £500 to £25 with 14 out of 18 staff laid off.
The party eventually arrived at the national park resort of Uda Welawe and had to set to making 15 Sri Lankan bikes roadworthy. Next day we travelled south to Habantota. Habantota is partly on a rise and it was when we descended to the lower town we saw the devastation caused by the tsunami. A wall of water 14ft high had funnelled into the bay and swept everything aside leaving just a few walls and buildings standing. It was very sobering to reflect, as we passed by the multitude of tents, that nearly 1000 people had died here.
We had decided to ride to a village temple situated a few km from Habantota chosen for the ceremony by the Senior Police Officer for the region. What a sight greeted us as we swung in through the gates. A huge crowd of people were there dressed in their best and dozens of children and teenagers all decked out in white were lined up. Flags and bunting abounded. We dismounted, parked the bikes and went among the crowd to give our greetings. They were intensely shy but showed their pleasure with huge smiles.
Following a short ceremony with the customary presentation of leaves and flowers to the group, everyone moved inside to the village hall. There was another religious ceremony of candle lighting followed by a young girlsí choir singing a song of welcome. Many speeches were then made by local dignitaries which included the high priest of the village, thanking us for generosity.
Coconut refreshments were served to us by children who had lost relatives in the tsunami.
The priest had chosen fourteen people who needed a bicycle in the family, to increase their chances of making a living. Each person came forward to be presented by a bicycle by a member of the C.T.C. party. A small sum of money was also given so that the bike recipient could take the bike to a repairer if a problem developed.
Each member of the party gave a parcel of books and school items to 15 orphaned children. 'That brought tears to my eyes,' said one party member later.
More speeches followed and Peter was asked to respond ably helped by a translator.
Finally the girlsí choir led a rendering of the Sri Lankan National Anthem.
As we moved outside again the party members mingled with their hosts for some time and just before they climbed aboard the minibus for the journey back north, a four year old girl ran to a member of the C.T.C. party and knelt before her, in gratitude. This gesture will never be forgotten.
Three days later the tour finished at Negombo and as we sat on the hotel terrace on a beautiful Sri Lankan evening, we reflected on the tour and that one afternoon when local Sri Lankans had made us so welcome, with warm handshakes and smiles, despite their traumatic experiences and loss of so many loved ones.
CTC Cycling Holidays and Tours is proposing to continue with Peterís initiative and purchase more bikes in Sri Lanka for the tsunami affected fishermen. If any CTC member would like to contribute to this cause and purchase a Sri Lankan bike for £25 he or she would be most welcome. Please send your cheques payable to CTC Tours to:
CTC Cycling Holidays and Tours, 30 Henlow Rise, Shrewsbury SY3 6BL
The Board of CTC Cycling Holidays and Tours decided to continue the initiative with an appeal for more donations and a sizeable sum was realised during the ensuing months.
On completion of their CTC tour in China, Peter and his wife, Anita, diverted to Sri Lanka. Their first task on arrival was to obtain bikes. They visited a major manufacturer near Colombo and purchased 18 ladies bikes, 18 menís bikes and 4 mountain bikes in accordance with arrangements they had made with Sri Lankan organisations. These were transported to the south coast to a pre-assigned meeting point with Peter and Anita and various Sri Lankan officials.
Peter and Anita rode the last few km to their first venue for presentation. This was to a group of women, who had lost their husbands in the tsunami and who wanted a bike to set up their own small businesses. These included selling hand made goods, flour which had been hand ground for bread, taking fruit to market etc. 'We had a tremendous reception and after the ceremony had a real buzz seeing women trying out their new pink and blue bikes around the grounds of the local temple. We also gave 4 mountain bikes to the local village to hire out to tourists. The hire income is to be used for the benefit of the whole village.'
Peter and Anitaís next port of call was some 40 miles away and again they rode the last few km to a temple complex, unfortunately getting caught in a major tropical storm. 'We arrived through the deluge like drowned rats much to the interest of a large number of villagers and student monks who were there to greet us. The area priest gave us his private room to change into dry clothes and we appeared again to be greeted by an enthusiastic applauding assembly. Once again we took part in a very moving ceremony and presented bikes to 18 fishermen who had lost everything in the tsunami and desperately wanted a bike to get back to work.'
Including the February presentation, there are now 50 families or individuals who now own bikes made available by donations and Peter and Anita want to thank all of the CTC members who have helped financially with this project. They will be visiting Sri Lanka in two years time to visit the owners to see how their businesses are progressing.
CTC Cycling Holidays and Tours is proposing to continue with Peterís initiative and purchase more bikes in Sri Lanka for the tsunami affected fishermen.
If anyone would like to contribute to this cause and purchase a Sri Lankan bike for £25 he or she would be most welcome.
Please send your cheques payable to CTC Tours to:
CTC Cycling Holidays and Tours, 30 Henlow Rise, Shrewsbury SY3 6BL
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