Sri Lankan interlude

By Neil

Where to begin? We were only in Sri Lanka for ten days and only saw a tiny part of the country, so our perspective is admittedly limited. Sri Lanka, I think it is fair to say, was well beyond anything we had expected; a true culture shock. That’s not meant to imply anything negative, far from it. It was just so very different. We had anticipated challenges with language—without really considering how we would cope, different cultural practices, different climate and different lifestyle, but we really had no clue about what we were getting into until we got there.

Going to Sri Lanka from Adelaide, I thought we would have no problem with the temperature and that was indeed the case. What I hadn’t anticipated was the humidity. I spent tens days feeling like I had just dressed after a warm shower without bothering to dry off first. Oddly enough, after the first couple of days, you just kind of get used to it. The great thing about the climate is that the country is quite lush and there is an abundance of greenery. This is no doubt sustained by periodic torrential rainstorms, of which we witnessed one or three. Not that we were particularly bothered as we spent a good deal of our time either in the ocean or in a cosy bar adjacent—-the perfect refuge from which to witness monsoon-like rainfall over the water.

Our ocean side refuge and entry point to the water was the village/town of Hikkaduwa. It’s a really interesting place (see Rachel’s posting about transportation), a long meandering place along a main road, festooned with hotels, shops, restaurants and pubs. What I really enjoyed was it’s vibe. At times, it felt like Hikkaduwa pulsated with activity or potential (the latter being mostly the weather). From a tourist perspective, pretty much everything you could reasonably want was readily available, from art work to surfing and everything in between, as long as you were willing to pay. But let’s face it, if you are a tourist, you expect to pay for just about everything. That’s a good attitude to have in Sri Lanka. Things aren’t necessarily expensive, but nothing is free.

One of the best things about Sri Lanka is getting up close and personal with wild life. We had decided before going that we would like to see elephants. For some reason I had envisioned this being a trip to an elephant rescue or something of that nature. Needless to say, I was mildly surprised to learn that we would be going on Safari in a huge nature reserve. The only thing that surprised me more was getting to film wild elephants from less than three metres away. The thrill of this was only matched a couple of days later when I swam slightly closer, unintentionally, to a Moray eel while snorkeling. I know at least one of us was surprised and, yes, they are as fearsome up close as you imagine.

Culturally, Sri Lanka is amazing. It has a history stretching back millennia, a seafaring trade nation from its earliest times. It has links to ancient Persia, Saudi Arabia and China, with all of these nations leaving a cultural imprint. Sri Lanka also has a long colonial history, being ruled at various times by the Portuguese, Dutch and the English. The latter relinquished control only seventy years ago. Colonial influence and its aftermath have had an impact here and not always in a positive way. I would describe Sri Lanka today as a developing nation, with all of the incumbent issues. That being said, it doesn’t seem to diminish the spirit of the people.

People, in my mind, are the best thing about Sri Lanka. The people we encountered in Gonapinuwala were fairly reticent until you smiled or said hello, kids excepted. Children were always quick to say hello when you met and goodbye when you left; thoroughly charming. On the whole, that could be said of pretty much everyone we met. The other thing I really liked about Sri Lankans is their gift for entrepreneurship. I came to believe that if you stood still long enough, someone would attempt to sell you the time of day—and almost succeed. We tried to resist most of the street or beach vendors, but in the end we did buy from one  fellow we had seen on the beach a number of times, simply because you just had to admire his work ethic.

Our interlude in Sri Lanka was all too brief, but it did make us want to return and learn more about this fascinating nation. Oh, and to ride the bus again—that is a thrill that no one should miss.


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