I have arrived in Sri Lanka. Such a romantically green country. The first thing I noticed outside of the airplane window were the trees. The tall hanging among the short; the stout overburdening the plots of green. A chaotic view of so many trees accompanying the view of clouds as we began our descend. It was poetic how innocent the country looked just by that initial glance.
And the story of the country continued, within the airport walls as the airport attendants passed by, drapped in country pride. Bold, bright, purple and blue traditional saris. It felt refreshing to see country pride – as if I had grew numb to it in the my daily life. But, as I let that thought pass, I realized coming to Sri Lanka had prepared me to open up my senses – and be aware. Note the uniqueness, be conscious of different cultures. One of the biggest shocks was getting into my cab, noticing that the driver was on the other side of my ‘normal’ driver’s side! I was taken aback yet still intrigued of this other world as I watched the cab driver driving on the opposite side of the road. It felt as if my brain had been rewired, upside down and inside out as I accepted this new view and marveled at these drivers, trucks and tuk tuks command of this foreign side of the road.
And alas, 20 minutes later, I arrived at the Lespri Grande. Located in Negombo, about half an hour from Colombo City, it was euphoric as I entered through the breezeway of this white with mahogany red wood resort, barred by a small pond with fish swimming freely. There it was. Home for the next few days. I as so happy to see the same chaotic trees would be wrapping my view and entertaining my stay.
I decided to go into town to pick up a few essentials. I was escorted by the resorts tuk tuk to Aprico Supercenter. When the doors of the supercenter automatically opened, I immediately felt myself immersed into someones normalcy of life. The mundane procedure of grocery shopping. Systematic, yet still aged. People buying their household goods and me, a foreign disruption in their normal life. Or maybe foreigners were expected, as I saw a person who appeared to be Western enter in after me. But for all I knew, they may be actual residents here!
I made my way to the back of the store as I looked around to see what they had to offer. I found myself in the jewelry and accessories section staring at leather shoulder bags hung from the ceiling of the store. As I stood in the 1×1 stand set up to access the bags, my eyes immediately shifted to a brown leather crossbody. 2,800 SLR; sold.
Not too long after, I was back in the hotel to indulge in the miraculously exclusive pool for myself. It was a birthday week starting off right, as I was the only guest checked in during my stay! Also, the perks of off-season. I took a dip in what seemed like a 2 foot pool/pond and enjoyed the Sri Lankan summer sun at the nape of my neck. A few Lions down, spicy Sri Lankan ring chips, and I was in eternal sunshine.
A Sri Lankan Breakfast
I woke up at 9am, after a much needed 12 hour sleep from the trip, to a simple breakfast set up: banana, watermelon and a freshly squeezed mixed fruit juice. It was surprising refreshing and made due as the first course. Then, the fried eggs, chicken sausage, warm toast and freshly brewed cup of Joe to set the breakfast tone right. It was filling, and just what I needed but I couldn’t help to think it wasn’t a traditional style set up. Or maybe it was? The coffee was great, so satisfaction was met.
I made my way to Colombo City as I watched my cab ride view be disrupted with the industrial side of the country. It was city, it was busy and it was moving. The trees and green still followed, but in blocks as it made way for the buildings. I found myself in the Old Dutch Hospital area with a good collection of restaurants and pubs. As it was nearing dinner time, I sat down to order. Seafood Sri Lankan curry. That was the dish of choice as I loved seafood and wanted to try Sri Lankan style food. And when it arrived, it was everything I expected, except on fire. Sri Lankan food was spicy! Granted I should have excepted that, but my refined East Coast tastebuds are anything but spice-friendly.
From here, I made my way to Cinnamon Red – a hotel with a stellar rooftop view of the city. Luckily, I made it right before sunset so the view was a glimmering orange, to blue to grey. The city lit up as I watched the streets move in waves as people busily made their way from work to home, to out and back. I glanced over to the infinity pool that held one side of the rooftop and I watched as the water made it over the ledge. The buildings hugged the view of the city but just beyond that, you could see the ocean. You could see the waves pass the shore and make music to the night. If you could focus your angle right, the pool and ocean almost connected. An ever-flow of water passing through the city, washing away the view of the buildings.
Packing up from the resort and waving goodbye to the city, I met a friend at the airport and we made our way to the culture capital of Sri Lanka. A four hour drive, extended by a few stops along the way as we indulged in a traditional Sri Lankan meal and an elephant trek. The meal that was a simple curry order, came out with endless side dishes that made the simple curry something extravagant. As we finished up, and made our way along, we stopped at an elephant park along the way. Eager to experience an elephant ride, we paid our 2,000 SLR and hopped on the tamed giant. It wasn’t until I got on top of the animal that I realized how tiring this was going to be for him. Us, a couple of tourists not custom to elephants, were going to stroll around riding him for 20 minutes as the keeper commanded him to move by poking his ear. As we took off for the ride we were greeted by different plants and greenery and other elephants, chained up. The gentle giant was led to a stream that we made our way down. The keeper was keen on us taking pics and so we obliged. A few forced splashes later, we were back on the road.
When we got there, we were given the ‘tourist treatment’ as I like to call it. Checking out the temples, museums and other tourist-certified landmarks. The city was beautiful but the experience was underwhelming. So much green, so much natural splendor but for some reason, the locals thought the tea farm and jewelry museum where things that made the city beautiful.
One thing they did get right was the herb garden – that was an experience. Learning, watching and hearing about different natural remedies from the Earth and how simple the plants, trees and flowers were in their elegance.
There’s something magical that happens when you stay in a beach town. Hikkaduwa. The Southeast region of a tropic paradise. once you arrive, you find yourself entrapped in a new time cortex, where time is irrelevant. Endless.
A two-hour train ride, and four hour bus ride later, we had arrived. Maybe it was the sight of the endless shore, or the palm trees galore, or maybe even the smell of fruit at every corner that reassured me, all was well. All was as it should be, at this very moment. At this exact time. We tuked our way to our guesthouse, across the from the endless waves on the beach. I was in bliss. I was in splendor and utter ease. The perfect setting for a few brews and nothing in the background but the music of the waves. Maybe it was the authentic island vibes that won me over. From the Southeast Asian/Bob Marley music on the bus, to the local surfers serving us lunch at the ‘Top Secret’ spot. Or, maybe it was the Earth-escaping view. Where the waves crashed in the disrupted continuous harmony along the red-colored sand. It was romantic. As if, every hour of every moment, the ocean made it’s secret rendezvous with the land public, and for all the other bodies of water to envy. It’s strange seeing how the green hugs onto this relationship as if it were only alive through the continuous efforts of the ocean to make it’s vows to the shore.
With a total of only 8 tourists in this off-season town, and only 3 restaurants open, we had the best of both worlds experience here – with the locals and the roundup of tourists. The best part is that because there are so few of us, we stand out – surely and sourly. A tourist means, a tour guide opportunity, the, ‘yeah, I’ll take you there, wait around and charge a ridiculously far.’ Still, the island vibes were too positive for any slight disappointment. How could they be, when you smoke trees, pay pennies for Lions and party it up on the makeshift dance-floor along the beach?
It was the joy of freedom of care, expectation and acceptance that made this trip so enlightening. Each day, was an adventure and experience on its own. Every experience was only contingent on that experience itself, and happiness didn’t rely on the execution of something else. I hiked to the top of the Walking Buddha, tuked through town, sat in the public bus for hours, and stood on the train for a morning. It was new, it was eye-opening and much needed.