Sri Lanka.. The most unplanned of all my travels. I decided to travel to Sri Lanka over a traveller’s meet at the Hauz Khas Village by Airbnb. A couple had mentioned it, described it and within days, without any research what so ever I had booked it. Did not even bother checking areas or distances or currency.. I was told I will love a place called Galle and I looked up for a place to stay near Galle on Airbnb and booked it. Simple!
There is something about travel.. which makes all of us a little more positive and expressive and so willing to share and help. Like an old college friend reached out to me after 14 years to give me the number of a reliable cab driver in Sri Lanka so my solo travel would be safe; along with a list of to-dos and to-avoids. I wish I had trusted him blindly!
I reached Colombo pretty late in the night and my wonderfully helpful landlord for my only night in Colombo; Dijen had already organised a cab to pick me up and bring me to him house. The drive was nice and lead me to a beautiful, very colonial style house. A very big house with large door like windows all over. The beds were comfy and I think I slept right away from the fatigue and excitement.
The next morning, the moment I opened my door, I knew Christmas was around the corner with my senses being overwhelmed with the sweet smells of fresh bakes and cakes. Dijen’s wife was a brilliant baker with a home based business and was stocking up for the Christmas orders. The breakfast was the best I’ve ever had in my Airbnb stays. At the breakfast table was an adorable couple from Russia and another German couple. Alexander and Tatiana from Russia were going to be taking a car on hire and driving all over, and the only thing we were hoping for was that it would stop raining.
Dijen organised a tuktuk for me to take a quick tour of the city along with getting me a local sim card and currency too. But like I said, I wish I had blindly trusted my college friend Deepak and skipped Colombo totally. The Gangaramaya Temple was my first stop and lacked any and all instructions and you are also forced to pay donation for keeping your shoes without any prior intimation. There is nothing written in English anywhere so there is no way you can know any history or why what is placed where. I was even yelled at by a local man for taking a picture while there were no signs of ‘pictures not allowed’. The Buddhas everywhere were a beautiful sight inspite of the rains but I had no clue what I was looking at. And then there was a room filled with glass cupboards and many things inside them kept shabbily… even a shelf full of watches.. and sunglasses. Again.. dirty, dusty and unexplained. The temple by the lake was a bit more serene but full of people sleeping all over the floors. And the last stop at the Beira Lake was even more dreadful, with lovers making the best of the rain and umbrellas all over the benches and canopy. Oblivious to the monitors who lurched all over the lazy, wet grass. I walked with my eyes digging the walking path around the little island as lovers made sudden movements of adjustments.. haha!
I had thought I’d leave by 7 in the evening to reach my next stop at Galle but was on my way already by 3:30! Belinda, my host in Hikkaduwa, Galle had kept constantly in touch with me and before I even met her or saw her home I had the warmest feeling of being welcomed and like she was waiting for me. And she waited and waited and kept calling to check on me as my one and a half hour journey became over four hours long due to the rains. She had some friends who had also been waiting for my arrival from Spain. Finally she suggested I get off at the bus-stop and her tuktuk guy Kumara would be waiting for me and would bring me to the bar they were heading for and then would safely drop my baggage at her place. Now under normal circumstances I would have been sceptical, but Belinda’s voice was so warm and worried that without a thought I had agreed to the entire plan; not caring about me or my baggage’s safety after the disappointing day at Colombo and the laboriously long journey in the bus. What a good decision!
Belinda is a gorgeous, confident red head with a smile that could light up the skies. She waiting for me outside the restaurant in the slight drizzle and came across the road to welcome me and without any hesitation we were already holding hands as she protectively made me cross the road. It was like we were never strangers! At the bar I met all her Spanish friends and within 15 minutes flat we all felt we were meant to be sitting at that table together.. like it was the plan all along. The bar had a karaoke night and the beach was right next to it. The sea was calm, the weather was damp, the music was full of energy and our group of 7 was connected! Within moments Belinda and I had taken to the stage and were hollering the songs we sang with all our emotions poured in…
Post our night of fun and my new friends Jose, Sergio and Inma saving me from drunk Sri Lankans and an extreeemely friendly Russian woman, we all got on scooters and made our way home. I held on to Belinda for dear life cause I was on a two wheeler after many many years. We crossed a railway line and then entered a forest feel place.. and shortly reached the Dragon Fly house. My room was the first room with red walls and a simple four poster bed with a white net on it and my bath area was in the open. Yes!! My shower and facilities were under the open skies and on pebbles. Five of us; Jose, Inma, Sergio, Belinda and I sat up for a while around the dining. Jose, Inma and Sergio are best friends and were travelling together through all of Sri Lanka. While in Hikkaduwa; Jose and Inma were helping a friend, Eva with the construction of her house and Sergio was taking a diving course. Too tired to think or talk I crashed in moments after being guided by Belinda to cover Hikkaduwa and Galle the next day and she promptly organised for Kumara, the tuktuk guy to take me around.
It was the 24th of December; Kumara and I were on our way by 10, it was not raining thankfully. We started with the sand Buddha, a Tsunami Memorial site. It was located facing the sea in the middle of a lotus pond. I soaked in the calm while Kumara started telling me about the devastation the Tsunami had brought to Sri Lanka and Hikkaduwa in specific. I recall just sitting at the back of the tuktuk with my hand on my mouth in complete disbelief. We paused at another Monument site where they had made a brass painting of sorts on what the Tsunami had done and how people had hung on to trees; dead or alive; thousands died inside a train… oh the tragedy of it had my heart sinking already. But the last stop broke me; it was the Tsunami Photo Museum.
A shabby shack with hand-written charts wrapped in plastic giving details, prayers, numbers… stats… stories… events… blow by blow description. Hundreds of photos from all over the world donated by so many people. Ohhhh the story each picture told… thousands of lives destroyed by death and devastation… by nature’s fury. None of us had even known a term or word like Tsunami before that day.. 10 years ago… Children being the worst hit cause they could not outrun the waves. They never stood a chance! I stood still in front of all those walls with pictures… and photos and news articles… I stood still and stared… for hours.. and even though I didn’t know any of them… my eyes had welled up. I sat down on the floor for a moment with my head in my hands with the room full of photos spinning in my mind and the pain I was surrounded in. Yes there was hope that so many had come to this country as volunteers and tried to rehabilitate this beautiful and peace-loving place. Belinda was one of them. She had been invited by Joy; a social worker in 2006 and now both of them were living here ever since.
My heart was too heavy as I hugged the woman who ran the place and also had lost someone to the Tsunami. I just could not ask her who it was and what her story was. I requested Kumara to just stop somewhere by the beach so I could collect myself. I just stood there watching hundreds of tourist and people by the beach and then I stared at the sea… the sea they had come to enjoy… It must have been a day like this 10 years ago I thought. As I kept sulking, Kumara came to join me and said… I know just the place for you… I quietly walked behind him and sat in the tuktuk.
And he was right.. he took me to the best place.. the Turtle Hatchery… Perfect way to forget about Nature’s fury is to start seeing Nature’s beauty. As the owner started showing me the whole process of how they rescue the soft shelled eggs of turtles and then take care of them. They allow you to touch them and send as much time with them as you’d like. They have turtle of all ages; from a few weeks old to the few years old. The special part is that they have a rescue zone for the handicapped turtles too. The cutest reptiles ever… as I interacted with them and tickled them over their shells and let them rest on my out-stretched arms… I kept smiling for hours. This is definitely a must do in Sri Lanka!
We decided to head to Galle from there to check out the Galle Lighthouse and Fort. Umm… Honestly.. the structure was just nice.. nothing out of the ordinary but the view was amazing and for me personally; it was the quaint food and shopping areas all around it that made this place unique. I walked around idly and ate and shopped for souvenirs.
It was Christmas Eve and Belinda being the fabulous woman she is; had been kind enough to invite and include me in her friends and family group for a proper sit down Christmas Dinner with crackers and everything. We all got home by 7 in the evening as Sergio made Mojitos for us at home and we girls got into pretty clothes to celebrate. We headed to the Crab Restaurant and were joined by Dave, a Welsh man married to a gorgeous Spanish lady and they live in Dubai, Aaron was from Australia with Anna from Switzerland, and then there was Eva, absolutely hot looking woman who is also a ranger in Africa for a few months every year. It was a very International table of friends who were away from family and yet sitting cosy on a rainy night at a dinner table to celebrate Christmas. As we cheered we all made our prayers in our own languages and as the wine kept pouring we heard everything from Spanish chorals to songs on flamingo dancing and then came the naughty songs which were all translated for me and Aaron.
The next day I had planned for my Christmas to be spent at Yala National Park with leopards and elephants, and for that I had to leave Hikkaduwa at 5 am. Hence I decided not to drink and stay up all night. And my god we the women DID! Post the dinner Belinda, Eva, Inma and I went crazy party hopping and danced the night away… Saw an old man who trips on trance in his lungi, saw a couple of men dressed with Christmas tree decorations all around their heads.
One caution to be taken for all women travellers here is.. Umm the Sri Lankan men can be trouble and can get touchy, its best you stay safe and a bit distant.
More in part 2…..