Some readers have given us feedback on this blog, saying that while they love the luxe angle and reviews of top accommodations in Sri Lanka, they would also like more insight into the real, everyday Ceylon. While we might say that this isn’t really what this site is about, as outlined in our first post, we do accept that too much coverage of luxury travel with no relation as to what you can expect outside and around your chosen home might not be a completely realistic representation.
So we are asking our readers to contribute reviews on their experience of Sri Lanka. One email we received is from Prudence Cook– a writer from Australia who served a month’s internship as a journalist with Upali Newspapers.
“It was dark when I arrived in Sri Lanka and, after 24 hours worth of flights and transits, I was tired. I tried to make polite chit-chat with my driver, but neither of us could understand the others accent so I resigned myself to looking out the window sleepily, taking in my first impressions of the country that was to be my home for the next month. All I managed to make out were colourful Buddha’s in brightly lit glass enclosures and silhouettes of soldiers, the shadows playing against their guns making them look enormous.
My first days passed in a slow haze of jetlag and humidity, and a particularly nasty trip on a jagged piece of concrete protruding from the sidewalk. I left a trail of blood all the way back to the hotel and have worn closed toed shoes ever since.
People assume that coming from Australia I should be used to the heat, but I’ve come from Melbourne in the middle of winter and it’s freezing. Where I’m from, we have dry heat that penetrates your skin and send people running for the shade until a cool change comes through in the evening. Here the heat is heavy and sticky all of the time. The only respite comes from a cold shower, and even then, feeling of being fresh and clean is fleeting.
The traffic is perhaps the first thing you notice in Sri Lanka that is entirely different from home. Lanes, traffic lights, road signs and pedestrian crossings are indicators only and not necessarily firm rules. Car horns, unlike at home where a toot is usually followed by a stream of abuse and a rude hand gesture, are simply used as a common courtesy. Although its congested and chaotic, at least the traffic is constantly moving. I’m usually a poor passenger, tensing as cars approach and often clutching at my seat during fast turns, but surprisingly, I’ve remained relaxed in Sri Lankan traffic, even when my driver has to negotiate cows, dogs, tuk-tuks and hair-raising roundabouts.
The public transport too, has left me unfazed. Initially I was nervous as I had heard horror stories from other travellers, and even some Sri Lankans seem surprised that I regularly take the bus, but I don’t mind the sharp corners, the exhaust fumes in my face and the dust under my eyes. The buses here are no more crowded than Melbourne ‘s public transport and there’s a slight exhilaration to jumping on and off a bus that’s in motion.
The first question I am always asked by both Sri Lankans, and my friends and family at home is always about food. Luckily for me, I have always been a fan of spicy foods, and the novelty of spice, rice and curry at every meal is yet to wear off. I’m always provided with a knife and fork to eat my dinner, but I find that eating with my fingers allows for a greater blending of flavours and gives you a closer relationship with your food. The fruit here is the best I have ever tasted and it saddens me to think that when I get back to Australia , the mangos, bananas and pineapples will never taste as sweet as they did in Sri Lanka . I don’t think I will find a king coconut or a mangosteen anywhere in Australia , particularly not at the ready, sitting brightly coloured and appetizing on a roadside stall.
Sri Lankans are wonderful people, genuinely interested and happy to help out. Unlike other Asian countries, where asking for directions, or getting someone to take a photo of you will result in you being fleeced out of cash, Sri Lankans will go out of their way to ensure you enjoy their beautiful country. I’ve had a gentleman lead me across several pulsing roadways in order to ensure that I get settled onto the right bus, conversing with the conductor in Sinhalese on my behalf to ensure that I arrived at the right destination.
Perhaps the thing that took the longest to become accustomed to is the concept of Sri Lankan time. I have always been incredibly punctual and impossibly impatient, two characteristics that are only accentuated by the frenetic pace, corporate drive and hustle and bustle of Melbourne city. Here, everything runs late, but no one is fazed by that, it’s just accepted. It took me a good two weeks before I lost my purposeful stride and learnt to amble along at a slow walking pace like my fellow pedestrians, although sometimes I catch myself starting to hurry and stop myself, because there really is no need. I envy the Sri Lankan ability to sleep anywhere at anytime.
In addition to my new found patience, I m also learning that personal space, something revered back home, is not only unknown in Sri Lanka , but also unnecessary. Being jostled along is simply a requirement in getting where you’re going and even the slightest hesitation will mean that you miss opportunities. There are no ladies before gentlemen rules, but I don’t mind. If you’re not quick enough, you miss out. It’s a simple philosophy and I think it’s quite effective. It’s kept me on my toes.
I heard many a story from other travelers about bad things can that happen in Sri Lanka , but I am yet to experience any of it. All my experiences, with the exception perhaps of a few close calls in Colombo’s traffic, have been pleasant and I far prefer the company of Sri Lankans to the other travelers I have met, who want everything to be the same as home only cheaper, or expatriates, who enjoy the luxury’s of five star living without ever really getting to know the real Sri Lanka and its people. Sri Lankans have welcomed me into their homes and lives, explaining the ins and outs of their lifestyles and diets, and preventing me from making ignorant faux-pas. Their generosity, kindness and hospitality are something that I hope my fellow Australians can aspire to.
Everything in Sri Lanka, no matter how foreign it is to me, is endearing in its own way; the cows grazing contentedly beneath the perfectly manicured hedges of the roundabouts, the smell of incense and the sound of sweeping coming from the temples of an evening and the man in the faded blue sarong who I pass on the bus every morning who cuts up fish with three expectant cats lined up at his feet. There is an inherent beauty to this land, and something delightful and rewarding can be taken from every little experience.
Sri Lanka has helped me to be more patient, open-minded and accepting and has also planted in me the firm belief that I am capable of doing anything. I won’t miss the mosquito bites, or the smell of rotting trash on my walk to the bus in the morning, but these are minor annoyances that have in no way detracted from my over all experience. Upon my return I think I’ll find that I miss Sri Lanka more than I missed Australia . I’ll come back, hopefully sooner rather than later, there is still so much more I need to see.“
Many thanks to Prudence for sending this! If any of you would like to send us your own experience and perspective on Sri Lanka, please use our contact form 🙂
Image via Stop Having a Boring Life
Originally posted on September 27, 2009 @ 4:32 pm