Our adventure in the small island country called Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka started in Colombo on 11th of December.
We realized, just when we were in the airport, Sri Lanka is far different from its neighbor India. Streets are clean, there is no odor, asphalt is nice, and pedestrians have priority… People are conscious about not to litter, but in picnic places the situation is still bad. Because of that, it is prohibited to enter natural protection areas with plastic bottles and packs.
In Sri Lanka, the level of literacy and education is high and almost everybody speaks very good English. There are three languages on all signs: Sinhalese, Tamil and English.
Sri Lanka is in the peace (!) period after the guerilla struggle in the northern region of the country, where is inhabited by mostly Tamils, and after a long lasting civil war which was ended by a slaughter that can be considered as a genocide. Permission from the Ministry of Defense is needed to visit the Northern Province as a tourist. Still, there is something hidden from journalists and human rihgts observers. Tension is going on in the political area as we felt. The speech of everybody was tense the day we left, the eve of general elections.
Gothama Buddha, Bob Marley and Che Guevara… Three important people who meet in Sri Lanka.
Majority of Sri Lanka is Buddhist. Buddhist monks in orange clothing, small and big Buddhist temples, huge Buddha statues and tiny Buddha souvenirs are everywhere around. Foreigners who visit Sri Lanka for meditation form an important part of tourists. The general tolerance and calm mood of the people goes with respect to every religion.
The person we ran into constantly after Buddha is Bob Marley. The colors of yellow, red and green are used in the decoration of many places as a dedication to Bob Marley. Almost at every beach, it is possible to find a place decorated in this way and playing reggae music. Also there are stickers of Bob Marley on many rickshaws. This is not only because of love of Bob Marley, but also it’s a symbol among marijuana sellers and consumers.
Even we couldn’t understand why Che Guevara is so important, we ran into his portrait almost as often as the flag of Sri Lanka. On busses, cabs and rickshaws… Che is like a national hero. Even there is the word “socialist” in the name of the country, it is not observed in daily life. Yes, we couldn’t examine to understand exactly why, but it is certain that Che Guevara is liked by the people of Sri Lanka.
Density of population is relatively low in Sri Lanka (population is just 20 million), so generally there is no traffic jam. Public transportations are not also crowded but rush hours. Only in Colombo, trains are crowded in the evening, as you can take one of those “Asian country train” photographs.
Rather than traditional fashion, Western style clothing is common. That means wearing freely especially for female travellers. So, Ebru finds a chance to wear what she hesitated to wear in India. At the coastline, streets are full of tourists in bikinis. Even the local women still swim in t-shirts and shorts; nobody is disturbed by the difference. Tourists are the patron.
If you want something without spice, it’s easy to find. It is also probable to find something special you want.
Of course, the price of this tourist bang is high for low-budget travellers like us. Food prices are still cheap but, especially in high season, lots of money is paid for accommodation. ( 15 $ min.) As our budget was shaken by the economy of Sri Lanka and the repair of our broken computer screen, carrying a tent, even it is heavy, saves our lives.
In the largest city of this beautiful and relatively expensive country, our need of accommodation is met by Pınar, thanks to Couchsurfing. The number of Turkish speaker rises to five at home, with another traveller couple who comes Sri Lanka at the same time with us, by chance. But this is not the only surprise. Ricardo, with whom we visited Refikler Farm in Turkey, is in Sri Lanka with her girlfriend Hsiaoting. We were dreaming about meeting and working voluntarily in an organic farm, but we can not find any option but eco-tourism in Sri Lanka. The option, in which accommodation is expensive and voluntary working nothing but a show…. After two days of visit to a farm and entertainment of planting potatoes and harvesting, we go to Adam’s Peak together.
Adam’s Peak is a high peak at the centre of Sri Lanka. It is also an important center for many religions. The mark at the top is believed to be the point where Adam first stepped on earth. For Buddhists, of course it is the foot print of Buddha. There are three different routes to go to the top. We chose the shortest one. The shortest one starts from Dalhousie, consistent of five thousand steps, and lasts approximately for 3 hours. The view is amazing at the top, if the weather is nice; a fascinating sunrise is waiting for you. Of course, you also have to go down, which is as hard as climbing. The pain on our legs lasts for the next five days. But luckily, we don’t need our legs for our next activity.
We go to Dhamma Kuta Vipassana Meditation Centre in Kandy. Our seclusion starts on 20th of December and lasts for 10 days. For ten days, there is no cigarette, no talking, no looking, and no smiling. We meditate for 10 hours every day, which starts at 4.30 ends at 9 pm. After breakfast and lunch, there is no meal except for tea and biscuits at 5 pm. Just the sensations on our bodies… We are trying to focus on the sensations on our bodies, staying at the moment and trying to see everything as they are. Trying to move away from all of our thoughts, trying to meditate for hours without moving… Sitting for days and not speaking is hard, but it is harder to focus our mind to our body and leaving the other thoughts behind. It is a behavior that we didn’t get used and it is infuriating being unsuccessful. Sometimes we both think of leaving without knowing about each other. As we are not talking to each other, we don’t know what one another experience. We can communicate with the instructors only, and they are very successful on giving morale and convincing us to stay. When the last day comes and we hug each other, we are only laughing…
On 30th of December, we go to outer world again and enter the New Year. On the 6th Northern latitude, in Hikkaduwa… After the days of silence, we find ourselves at one of the beaches of Sri Lanka, where the most touristic and crazy parties are held. Anyway, we smile. We experience a hot New Year’s night for the first time and enjoy the waves of the ocean.
We make our first camp abroad in Unawatuna, at Jungle Beach. Jungle Beach is the name of two small beaches next to each other. In both beaches, there is only one restaurant. As it is a small bay, the sea is less wavy and nice compared to the other beaches. A forest habited by 2 different kind of monkeys begins just after the beach. The night is enlightened by the lightning bug and the full moon.
Before leaving Sri Lanka, we go towards the south a bit more and reach Mirissa. It has a touristic beach, more expensive but still calmer. Prices are higher than we can bargain on. In our most desperate moment, we get into a place called “Our World” when we see the sign “Backpacker” and “Cheapest”. We really get the cheapest price here but it is still too expensive for us. Lagath, the owner of the pension, is really a backpacker friendly person and allows us to camp in the garden of his guesthouse without asking for any money.
Even it’s a small island, there are many things to do in Sri Lanka. Without visiting one of the huge and well preserved wild life sanctuaries and seeing an elephant or a tiger in their own environment, visiting the ancient cities founded on 1000 BC, going to virgin east coast and Tamil region in the north, our visa for one month expires. It is possible to extend, but not the waste our valid Indian visa and money over our budget, we decide to go back to India. Another time, maybe…
On our last day, we go to Colombo to catch the plane which will take us to India and stay in Pınar’s house for one more night. We listen to the stories of Pınar’s traveller Couchsurfers from Argentina and cook “dolma” and “lentil-balls”for her Sri Lankan friends. (Actually, of course for ourselves… We missed them a lot!).
Before the curfew to prevent protests after the election starts, we reach the airport. On our last minutes, we hear about the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris. Our excitement turns to grief before going back to India.