High Security Zone = Restricted Area = NO PHOTOS!
Colombo Travel Blog› entry 25 of 68 › view all entries
Checkpoints, restricted areas and army soldiers are still common sights in Sri Lanka. The war has been now over for about four months, but random spot checks of vehicles and people coming in and out of major towns happen everyday. In fact, on arrival in Sri Lanka on my way to Colombo my taxi was stopped 4 times for identity checks. Welcome!
Unlike times when I had come before, the officers at the checkpoints seemed a little less on edge. On edge is what everyone was for years. I remember coming here about 20 years ago and when they searched cars and IDs a machine gun was place close to your head. I’m glad times have changed.
Sometimes checkpoints are joined by restricted areas, highly restricted in some cases. “Highly restricted” didn’t seem to register when I decided to take a picture just outside a high security area! More on that in a bit.
Early in the day I met up with a friend from back home, Kevin. Our trips to Sri Lanka had some overlap, so it was great to spend sometime with a familiar face. We went out for lunch with his cousin and then headed out on the town on our own. Interesting, given how much I travel, when in Sri Lanka I don’t seem to venture out as much as I do in other places. It definitely has something to do with family members everywhere I think, so getting rides where ever you want is always an option. Nevertheless, I was glad to step out on my own for a bit.
We ended up walking up the coastline towards downtown Colombo, where all the big hotels were. Originally we were walking to some shopping mall, but we both soon forgot the name and where it was located! So we just kept walking. As usual when I walk around any place, I have my camera with me an I’m taking pictures. As we walked past some old Colombo building, some well over 100 years old, I came upon a beautiful Islamic-inspired building so I snapped a photo or two. About two seconds later I hear in Sinhala “Sir! Come here!”. I turn around and see two army commando’s staring right at me! At first I didn’t think they were talking to me and Kev, and started to walk away, but they yelled again and told us to come to them.
Great! What the hell did I do!? As I walked towards them, I noticed the multiple barriers up and the army checkpoint. The barriers all said “highly restricted area, high security zone”. Oops! I didn’t notice the signs, since I took the picture before I crossed the street and would have seen the signs. At the army commando checkpoint, is where things start to get a bit odd.
Now I totally can understand Sinhala, I just have a hard time speaking it. I think its mainly because people here like to make fun of my trying to speak. This used to happen a lot when I was younger, so I never really have spoken since. Also another reason, everyone speaks English here, so they may ask me something in Sinhala and I always respond in English.
So now the army commando, mind you in full gear with a big ass assault rifle on him, asks to see our IDs. We hand over our identification and quickly you can see the confusion on his face. He keeps looking at me and then down at the drivers license, somewhat baffled. The problem, at least to him, was that I had Canadian identification and had a Singhalese name. I’m pretty sure he’d never seen an Ontario driver’s license! So funny enough he asks me to say my name! So I say my name and he still looks confused. Then he starts asking all these questions and we explain, our parents were born here and we were born in Canada and are Canadian-Singhalese. “Hari, Hari” (ok, ok). After about 5 minutes of questioning, he asks to look at my camera. Then starts going off in Sinhala that this was a restricted area and no pictures were allowed. I’m like no problem, the pictures suck anyways! So I erase the pictures and we were given a little scolding and told to move along. As we left I still didn’t realize what the big fuss was about.
Only when I got home that night and told our little tale, was I told that we were on the main road to the Sri Lankan President’s House! Oops.