Saturday, February 11, 2012
Ceylon: How I Fell in Love with Sri Lanka
I fell in love with Sri Lanka before I even passed through immigration. We arrived on the eve Christmas Eve and the clean and bright airport was full of good cheer and carol singers, however it wasn’t just the holiday spirit that instilled good will, it was the whole atmosphere, the vibe of the place and the country. Within minutes of being there, I didn’t want to leave.
My decision to visit this magical country was last minute and slightly serendipitous. Due to a long trip to the US/UK in the fall, I knew I was unable to make the long haul to spend the holidays with my family, and when my Thailand plans fell through, I’d resigned to a Christmas in Hanoi. However, as the date grew nearer (and the weather began to turn nasty) I felt the familiar feeling creeping up, I needed to get away, and impulsively (like many of my decisions) booked a week in Sri Lanka.
It’s one of the better travel decisions that I’ve made.
The first time Sri Lanka ever seriously popped up on my radar was July 2010. (Obviously, I knew about the country’s history and followed the civil war) What I mean by popped up is the notion of it being a country I could realistically visit . I was sitting in The Kuala Lumpur airport with my friend Jenny, waiting to fly back to Hanoi on the six am flight. There were two flights leaving at that time, side by side, one to Hanoi and one to Colombo. Jenny and I joked about what if we got on the wrong flight and then made some silly little pact that we’d go there. Though truthfully, I never thought I would. Don’t get me wrong, it seemed cool, but there were so many other places that were on my “travel to-do list” before Sri Lanka. A year later, one of my closest friends got a job in Colombo, imploring me to visit her, so I figured why not?
I had no idea what to expect when I arrived, and perhaps my lack of expectations is what made the experience much more magical. I had no preconceived notions, no plans….I was just ready to soak up everything the country had to offer.
Colombo is a city that boasts culture and old world charm/history while managing to be modern, organized and internationally diverse. As a traveler (or expatriate) it is very manageable and uncomplicated to navigate and explore…and has anything and everything to offer.
Our first day was spent poolside at the historic Galle Face Hotel, whose beautiful view and prime location make it a popular hangout for the expats in the city. From there we had our Christmas Eve dinner at Gallery Café, an enchanting, aesthetically pleasing café with mouth watering international cuisine. At our table we had Americans, Swiss, Vietnamese, French, Japanese, Brazilian amongst others, which kind of reinforced one of the main reasons I enjoy living life abroad. I am always in a multicultural environment, listening to ideas and stories from different perspectives and backgrounds.
Sri Lanka is one of these countries that despite being small in size, has vast appeal geographically. You want a city? It’s there. The beach? Hundreds. Mountains? In the centre. Ancient cities? After Colombo, my travel companion (Anemi) and I headed, with our new Sri Lankan friend, to Sri Pada (aka Adam’s Peak,) a five hour drive east. Once we got out of the city limits, we entered Hill Country, and were surrounded by plush green and passed tea plantation after tea plantation. Sri Lankan tea is the best in the world. That’s a bold statement, I know, but as a tea connoisseur, it’s a statement I can make with a great amount of confidence.
Adam’s Peak is 7,359 ft (2,243 metres) tall known for the "sacred footprint" rock formation near the summit, believed in Buddhist tradition it is held to be the footprint of the Buddha. It is an important pilgrimage site, and the (approx four hour climb) traditionally begins at 2am to arrive at the top before sunset.
I was worried about this.
I don’t make any pretenses about being a climber, nor did I bring any appropriate clothing for the hike, but a few trips to a shopping centre and a desire to see this glorious site drove me up the mountain, resting every half an hour. I am so delighted that I did, the sense of accomplishment was fantastic and the view was breathtaking. It was unlike anything I’ve ever seen before and strangely powerful. While the top was filled with other tourists, there was a mix of Sri Lankans who had made the pilgrimage and whose presence gave the whole experience a spiritual feel.
The walk down was considerably more difficult than the way up. Perhaps it was the exhaustion finally hitting or that the climatic moment was over but it seemed to go on much longer than desired and energy levels were waning. We finally made it, had lunch and were on our way back to Colombo. We couldn’t walk properly for days, so it was fortunate that our next stop was down south to Unawatuna beach, a place where we could just unwind and relax.
We’d heard stories about the local buses so I was prepared to be shocked but, maybe on account of living in southeast Asia for two years, I didn’t find it to be anything stunning. The bus was crowded, no doubt about that, and there was no room for our bags so I had to but mine on the floor and have my legs up against my chest for the three hour journey. That was not the best thing as they were still tight from my climb, and I practically fell out of the bus on account of not being able to walk.
Galle Fort (reminded me so much of Hoi An) and Unawatuna Beach is where we spent the next few days, wandering around, looking at the architecture, discovering little things that made this area so unique and so exquisite. It was an area that was hard hit by the tsunami and I spent several hours with a man who had lost half of his family in this tragedy.
The people of Sri Lanka are friendly and positive, welcoming and kind. They are proud of their country and like to show it off. For the most part, the people I met while traveling and ambling about didn’t have an agenda other than to talk to me and share their stories, experiences and the beauty of the country that they love so much. Their affection for the place furthered my adoration for the country and everything it has to offer.
I obviously can’t talk about Sri Lanka without touching on the food there, which was divine. The spices, the curries, the sweets…all of which are eaten by hand. Your right hand, by the way. Eating with your hand goes against everything I’d been taught about proper decorum, but once I got used to it, I enjoyed the experience, mixing the different dishes on my plate and savoring each bite.
Also world renowned for it’s gems, I picked up a few trinkets that I will cherish.
When I left, seven days after I’d arrived, it was with regret that I didn’t have more time. I wanted to see so much more, absorb other experiences. I started looking into ways that I could move there and work there. I felt such an energy and connection to this place that I, prior to this journey, had never expected to go to.
I have every intention of returning some day, sooner rather than later, and maybe it won’t be in a long term capacity, but I know that I need to enjoy its splendor some more.
If you ever get the chance to go, don’t hesitate, book your ticket, get on a plane, and fall in love.