Looking back, our days in Sri Lanka were as unique as a traveler would hope for. From political riots to local festivals, we had a truly Sri Lankan experience.
Though, we also had the tourist experience; people are waiting to squeeze a tourist for every dime of course. Though we had people treat us very kindly too. A woman on the long bus ride shared her food. We didn’t speak a word in the other’s native tongue but we ate together none the less. Though by far the most hospitality shown to us there was a girl who saw us looking for a place to eat and invited us into her home. Every family member came into the living to test their english or, at least watch us eat. The girl gave my wife some of her best clothes and even though we didn’t feel comfortable taking them, she insisted.
An evening with a local family certainly was a peaceful ending to our day but it didn’t represent the rest of the day. First thing in the morning, I asked about renting a jeep (with self safari in mind). The hotel manager had a friend who could help, as always. Yet, after an hour in our room the hotel manager came to our room to inform us that his friend couldn’t make it. “You see, the government raised petrol 35 rupees a liter and the fisherman are on strike.” He began. One can not help but wonder where in the world he was going. My eyes squinted and ears tuned in, I listened, but was slightly confused. “And you see, today they continued there protest by blocking the roads. The buses can not run. You can not leave today. Maybe tomorrow.”
Now I’m no fool. People have tried to pull some fast ones on me in Asia and I’ve learned the key is to listen. Just let them talk. “So you are telling me I have to stay here? Riiight. Will the roads be open in the morning?”
“It is hard to say but I think so. In the morning you can try to go.” He answered.
After a few minutes I still couldn’t figure it out. An unbelievable story if I ever heard one. So I left the room to walk down the street in hopes of asking a more credible source.
I found what I was looking for. Why not ask the angry mob shutting down the roads? Who could be more credible? The man wasn’t lying; every road was blocked and no one was let through! No more contributing to the President’s monopoly. The fisherman of Negombo were the first to protest and they did all day. It was the talk of Sri Lanka our entire trip. They were extremely friendly to us and even posed for our camera at times. The mob was angry but gentle. They let through only fathers on mopads to bring back their kids from school (in one trip!). The only violence was an act of the police in the morning. We just missed it, but it seemed they used a little tear gas. I’m glad I missed that part I guess but it sure was an exciting day.
We moved on to visit the beautiful beaches of the south and of course a Sri Lanka safari. Dozens of Peacocks, deer and buffalo we constantly spotted, scattered with the occasional elephant, crocodile and we even saw a leopard. The trip set us back $80 because there’s no way to pay for that with points. (Though I did try to barter, offers of graphic design but the $80 I think was the better choice for us). Well worth the money though.
After relocating to Trincomalee in the north east on what was the worst train ride I ever had, we landed in our beach town during the most unique of festivals. Tricomalee is already a unique place. Its beauty has made it a local hot spot, but only recently. After all, Trinco was in the middle of the worse parts of the civil war that ended only a few years ago. It was definitely a highlight to visit it.
In our first of five days we befriended the two German travelers next door in our hotel. Besides lounging around, eating and good conversation we joined in the festival. Once a year in Trincomale, the local god of the people (in the form of an idol) is placed on a jeep and paraded around the city to bless the people. Every night, all night, for five nights. The goal is to hit every street (except the few muslim streets) and bless everyone who wants to receive. The big tradition is the smashing of coconuts. It’s for good luck but it is mostly done by women who want children. I was told, “if the coconut breaks it is good luck and the coconut is broken like us.” I’m not 100% sure what the analogy was but I nodded with conviction. Live music blasted from the back of another jeep that led the parade as it gained momentum. People would break their coconut and follow. Til 5 am it grew and grew. Hundreds of people, with hundreds of fireworks and coconuts. What a mob. It was incredible but as incredible as it was, we lost steam around 2 am. We don’t party as hard as Hindus I guess.
You may remember my complications leaving the country as I mixed AM and PM, missing my flight by quite a few hours. By the time we got to Bangkok I was ready for our reserved Marriott and Radisson. After all, the last hotel was possibly the worst I ever had. The first time I went to use the sink it had a delay. It was more like a cough really, but the sink recovered after it spit up a black ball or too. Which is gross enough but made worse by the realization that the sink pipes drained onto my feet. Yes, on my feet. That’s the half of it.
While there aren’t any major hotel chains there except Hilton (and that’s only in Colombo), any major alliance can fly there, I’m sure. If you want to go, collect miles not hotel points. It’s worth it. It is a genuinely different experience. Though I warn, many people go to the same places and have different experiences. I think people mostly want to follow their guide book and aren’t as willing to venture where the locals go. If you are willing, Sri Lanka is truly authentic.
Photos by Caroline Macomber