Love and bug spray in Sri Lanka

by Norbert & Elizabeth Perera

This story is part of our 'Romantic Travel Stories' series, featuring tales from luxury hotel guests which were sent in for our travel writing competition.

Photo by Steve Weaver.


Our muscles were aching and begging for rest. We had spent all day climbing and exploring the ancient rock fortress of Sigirya, located in central Sri Lanka.

We were tired and looking forward to returning to our hotel, Kandalama, where we would sit on the balcony and, with a drink in hand, watch the sunset.

The heat on this day was merciless and there was no shelter from the burning sun. Drenched with sweat, we climbed steps cut in the steep stony wall, explored the rock’s plateau and visited a cave with ancient paintings.

My husband Norbert and I had just retired after many years of hard work as physicians and we were now enjoying exotic travels.

We needed more sleep and leisure after several days of wandering among archaeological sites with soaring temperatures and tight schedules.

Kandalama was not only luxurious but also beautiful. The great Sri Lankan architect, Bawa, designed the modern hotel to be built into surrounding rock. It gives the building an unusual and modern appearance, and with big windows and creepers covering the walls, produces a spectacular effect.

The sun was setting. We swam in the balmy pool, changed and sat in the open-air restaurant. The curried shrimps, crabs and fish were delicious. Australian wine made us sentimental and we blessed the fate which had allowed us to be together for so many years and have such a wonderful time. Our room was prepared for the night. There were petals of red flowers sprinkled on the blanket. The mosquito-coil was lit and the room smelled strongly of what I thought to be the insect repellant. We started to prepare ourselves for night, happy with a day well spent.

And then I started to sneeze...

My eyes became itchy and I kept sneezing, crying and laughing at the same time. It was the insect repellent which most likely caused this misery.

Sleeping was out of question and the antihistamine I took seemed to need a long time to work.

We left the room. The corridors were well lit and empty. The huge owl carved in stone seemed to fly toward us from the top of stairs. I was still sneezing and worried that I would wake the security guards who might raise alarm, mistaking me for an intruder. Norbert was laughing non-stop, feeling the situation ridiculous.

We got outside to the indescribable beauty of the tropical night. The huge moon was hanging over our heads and left a shadow of us on the gravel path.

We sat down on the stony wall and listened to the noises of the night; were they insects, birds, frogs? - we did not know.

We were there together for about an hour and never felt so close to each other, alone in the world, just us and the moon.

My sneezing gradually subsided and I started to smell jasmine and roses, fortunately without irritating effect.

In the morning we requested no more insect repellent be used in the room; it was accepted with surprise.

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