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Report from Sri Lanka: The long trip east

Published or Revised February 28, 2007

sl-temple.jpg

A Hindu temple in Sri Lanka captured on camera by Tony Underwood and Harrel Harrison.

Editor’s Note: Tony Underwood and Harrel Harrison, instructors at PJC’s Texas Institute of Jewelry Technology, are spending the summer teaching at the Gem & Jewelry Institute of Sri Lanka. They agreed to file occasional reports about their teaching adventure. Here, Underwood talks about the pair’s long journey east.

» View a set of photos from Sri Lanka.

Hello from Colombo, Sri Lanka.

It’s been about seven days since our arrival in Sri Lanka, and what an experience it has been for two small-town guys from Texas.

Our travel, which began on Monday, July 11, occurred in three legs.

Leg One

Harrel Harrison and I left Paris at around 11 a.m. headed for DFW International to catch a 3 p.m. flight to Chicago with an ETA of 6:15 p.m. Our layover at Chicago’s O’Hare International was about three hours, so we walked, sat and worked until the jet finally pulled up to the gate, was serviced and ready for boarding. This baby was a Boeing Triple 7 - the largest commercial aircraft I’ve ever climbed aboard. The stream of passengers kept flowing until there wasn’t an empty seat anywhere on the plane.

Leg Two

At about 10 p.m. we taxied onto the runway, and it was up, up and away.

An interesting feature available on each of the monitors on the plane was a map-tracking screen that allows passengers to view the aircraft’s flight progress in real time. We took off towards the southwest, turned right, accelerated and headed northeast over the Great Lakes, north and east into Canada, then onward over Nova Scotia and out over the Atlantic Ocean toward the United Kingdom.

This leg of the journey took nearly 8 hours in the air. It was 11 a.m. Tuesday morning in London when we touched down. We had just traversed six hours worth of time zones. Knowing that our flight from London to Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka, wouldn’t leave for four hours, we headed downstairs to customs to retrieve my luggage. While Harrel’s bags had been checked through all the way to Colombo, the flight agent in Dallas would only ship my bags to London Heathrow.

Once my luggage was collected, we learned that our departure terminal’s location required that we take the “underground” train to reach it. Because of the tragedy earlier in the week in London, security personnel were very attentive to our train as we traveled to our terminal. It was a good thing that no time was wasted getting to the terminal because at the desks for Sri Lankan Airlines we found the longest line in the place. So we waited. In just over an hour, we had our boarding passes in hand.

Leg Three

By now we had been gone from Paris over 16 hours, 11 hours in flight. This leg of the trip would take nearly 12 hours to complete - all in tourist, mind you - so we were already a little tired.

But off we went up and over the English Channel toward Europe, over France, Germany and Turkey, then on to the Middle East. We flew just north of Iraq and over Saudi Arabia, beyond the Arabian Sea and down the east coast of India.

Just as we were about to run out of coastline, we banked left, crossed over the southern tip of India and touched down in Katunayake, a city just north of Colombo in Sri Lanka, at about 7:30 a.m. on Wednesday morning.

In Paris, Texas, it was Tuesday evening - only three hours until bedtime. But here, it was early morning, the work day was ahead.

We now understand the real meaning of “jet lag.”

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