Travel is so romanticised, it’s easy to forget how much of it consists of killing time, waiting for transport in towns made for leaving, or riding stinking hot buses with your knees wrapped around your ears sitting in seats built for a six year old. After six months on the road it’s easy to get jaded sometimes, and then you find something that reminds you why you love it. On the side of a dusty road in north-eastern Sri Lanka, the Pasta Hut reignited my faith.
It had been a rough 24 hours full of indisputably first world problems. After a long day of riding the chicken bus we’d arrived at our accommodation to find it had been double booked and we’d be sleeping in the abandoned dive camp next door. Lacking drinking water and toilet paper, it was one of the more squalid abodes we’d spent the night in during a pretty rustic trip around the pearl isle.
It was in what could be charitably called an irritable state of mind we wandered along the shoulder of the highway the next day looking for some lunch when we stumbled across the Pasta Hut. It looked like a café built in someone’s old garage (turns out it was) so we were a little sceptical, but we trudged in and were promptly converted.
The majority demographic in Sri Lanka are Buddhists who speak Sinhalese, followed by Hindus who speak Tamil and Muslims who speak a mixture of languages. A very small minority are known as Burghers, which meant they were mixed Dutch and Sri Lankan heritage and their native language was English.
The Pasta Hut is a small establishment run by a group of brothers and friends – all Burghers from nearby Trincomallee. The food here was simple but delicious, the prices were so reasonable even by Sri Lankan standards that we felt guilty every time we paid the bill, but what really mattered was that they were the most genuine guys we’d ever met.
Gordon had worked for more than 25 years at a shipping company and around his neck he proudly wore the gold medal that he’d received for loyalty to the company. His brother Patrick had spent 15 years cooking in London and Italy, which is one of the reasons that the pasta was so good (they also grew all the herbs themselves in the garden and cooked only with fresh tomatoes). Jolly old Trevor was a the joker of the bunch who’d spent time cooking at the best hotels in Dubai and loved to show off his culinary skills with locally caught seafood.
We ate three meals a day at the Pasta Hut for six days. We became fast friends with the three amigos who really inspired us – we were mostly there to hang out with them rather than for sustenance. They loved to joke around and share some of the stories accumulated over fourty-plus years of friendship and adventure. They were so happy that it was infectious. They were genuine, authentic and kind. They were three of the best humans that I’ve ever met.
Every morning they’d wake up and scour the fish market for the best produce. When we arrived for breakfast they were bursting with enthusiasm to show us what they’d procured – giant tiger prawns, freshwater crabs or beautiful fish. We couldn’t help but be swept up in their excitement and always ended up eating the specials. The boys would all come out and wait for our reaction as we tried the food, laughing delightedly at our efforts to crack open the crabs.
Gordon saw us huddled over a Sudoku one morning and every day after that he saved us the back page of his newspaper so we could do the puzzles. When we had trouble finding buffalo curd, Trevor woke up early and ordered a pot from the local vendor so we had some at breakfast. They extended this care and generosity to all the people who stumbled across their restaurant, lending bikes or arranging transport.
We were pretty gloomy when we finally had to leave town in order to make our flight from Colombo. We presented the gents with a framed photo of the three of them in front of the restaurant to say thank you for their hospitality, then ate one big last dinner. The boys cooked us an extra pizza on the house to take as a snack on the bus the next morning – one of many surprises they’d sprung on us during the week.
It’s not often that you meet people like Gordon, Patrick and Trevor, but when you do it puts the trivial frustrations that come with travel into proper perspective. They filled out hearts with a contagious joy, they inspired us to take satisfaction in doing something simply with pride, and they showed us the best example of how to be humble and generous – the true spirit of hospitality.
Whenever we think back on Trincomallee we won’t remember the accommodation we stayed at, the beaches we swam at or the roads we walked down. We will remember the three perfect gentlemen – Gordon, Patrick and Trevor – and the humble Pasta Hut. Here’s to the real ecstasy of travel – the true characters you meet along the way.