There’s barely a spot or a soul on earth that hasn’t been touched by the Corona virus. But among the most affected are the restaurants, hotels and vacation getaways where we seek a bit of fun, a time to relax and a place to replenish ourselves.
Sri Lanka, too, has been inordinately quiet. Like the ghostly images of Times Square and Piccadilly Circus, the tourists spots of Anuradhapura and Galle have been empty. The government shuttered the airport for months, imposed curfews, restricted internal travel and reacted swiftly to outbreaks.
It mostly worked. As of March 2021, fewer than 500 deaths were recorded. Now as vaccines begin arriving, the country is cautiously opening again. Some visitors may be quarantined and testing may be required. It’s advisable to check out the government web site https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/sri-lanka before buying tickets.
For the hospitality business, the Tourism Board has not made it easy. Hotels and even the smallest guest houses need certification to reopen. The requirements are exacting.
Happily, Max Wadiya has been awarded a “Safe and Secure” certificate and is once again welcoming guests.
Getting certified took weeks of preparation. The guidelines were pages and pages long, laying out rules of personal hygiene, interaction among staff and guests, cleaning of public spaces and emergency procedures. We consulted health authorities and lined up an on-call doctor. We trained the staff on the extraordinary measures they must take. An inspector came and failed us. We retooled our precautions and passed a second inspection.
Closure has not meant inactivity. Unlike many hotels that let their staff go, our team stayed on. They came to work daily, continued their routines and took advantage of the guest-less time for maintenance jobs like recaulking the pool. The grounds were kept swept, the beach clean, the rooms spotless.
And our turtle conservation project continued. Ignorant of the raging disease on land, giant green turtles and olive ridleys laid eggs on the beach as usual, keeping our small hatchery full. As of April, more than 500 hatchlings have been released into the ocean this season, adding to some 13,000 over the last 12 years.
There was never any thought of staff reductions. Over the years, our “boys” (there are no women, alas) have shown their dedication to Max Wadiya, no more so than now. Ranjan and Indika have been with us since the beginning in 1999. Chandima came after the 2004 tsunami. Most of the others also came as youngsters and have grown with us.
If Sri Lanka has had some success in containing the virus, it has much to do with the compliance of its people. Ruth and I were there in March 2020. Curfews were in place, lifted only for a few hours a day for essential shopping. In our neighboring town of Ambalangoda, we saw long queues of people waiting patiently outside stores, everyone masked. People stayed home when instructed.
We managed to leave on one of the last flights out of Colombo. Now fully vaccinated, we’re aching to go back.