A Travellerspoint blog

Things I loved and didn't love about Sri Lanka

( p.s travel should be interesting, vacations should be lovely)

Things in Sri Lanka that make me smile:

1. THE FOOD! String hoppers to mop up delicious curries. A table laden with eight different delicacies for dinner. Roti bread. Coconut sambal, soft cashew nut chilli dish, delicious fried short eats, fresh cuttlefish, curries so spicy they make even MY eyes water!

2. Crazy buses that don’t so much stop, as slow down to allow passengers to jump on and off, bus boys hollering the name of the destination drumming up business for a full ride.

3. Family relationships. Generations living under the same roof, everyone must be home for a hefty lunch and dinner, which has been slaved over for hours. A few days ago I was lucky enough to participate in such a family feast, and it is true string hoppers and curry do taste better when eaten with your hands ( providing they are clean)!

4. Open carriage trains speeding through rice fields and along coastline, plunging through hill country jungle while buskers hop on to earn some cash and men selling snacks board at each station.
5. The fact that unlike places like Thailand, Cambodia and even Laos these days, Sri Lanka is not overcrowded with tourists. Despite some resort towns , overall it has retained it's very unique culture.

]Things in Sri Lanka that definitely do NOT make me smile.

1. Sexual harassment( Refer to earlier post).

2. Racism/classism: Having lunch with two local friends and being treated with a definitive air of coldness and hostility by the Italian run restaurant. Having my friend’s brother come to visit me in my guesthouse, a remarkable well spoken, well dressed young gentleman who was made to wait outside while they interrogated first him and then me on why he was there.

3. Poverty: The desperation in the three wheeler man’s eyes, the fisherman shanty town, just a stones throw from the majestic Mt Lavinia Hotel.

4. Foreign Pricing: I actually agree that foreigners should pay more than locals, particularly for religious sites, where locals regularly come to worship on a regular basis, BUT 500-900% more is a bit steep. We are not all package tourists Sri Lanka, stop living in the 80’s tourist market.

5. Military and police presence always makes me feel a little nervous. Young men carrying big guns, military checkpoints and high security zones. As I overheard one Sri Lankan man at a party say, in lowered voice : "Off the record, Sri Lanka IS a police state".

Posted by Jhaniaruby 21.01.2012 05:41 Archived in Sri Lanka Tagged sri lanka Comments (0)

Accommodation Types

Some of my nicest experiences in Sri Lanka have been staying with local families. You do not need to know people in Sri Lanka for this to be possible, but you do need to choose your accommodation carefully.

Firstly, I would suggest bypassing big hotels and staying at locally run guesthouses, some of the ones suggested in Lonely Planet are great, but there ARE others! In my experience some of the guesthouses ( particularly those who have MADE it into Lonely Planet), have become more like small hotels.

I stayed with a family who rents just one room, in the beach side town of Mirissa, and had a delightful time. Throughout the day and evening one of the family members would appear at my door offering tea or biscuits. On my first evening they were very concerned that I was alone, "So sad for you! No husband. No friend." I appeased them with assurance that I had some lovely friends and family in Australia, and soon the whole family was sitting on my bed, as I trawled through facebook pictures of my nephew, sisters, parents and friends.

Posted by Jhaniaruby 09.01.2012 04:53 Archived in Sri Lanka Tagged local hotel family guesthouse experience Comments (0)

The Pros and Cons of travelling as a solo woman in Sri Lanka

Sexual harrassment and preferential treatment.

Con: Sexual harassment.

Days into my trip, I was grabbed on the breast by a boy who looked all but 13, on the beach at Negombo, after naively agreeing to having a photo taken with him, and his two equally pre pubescent buddies. Since then being rubbed up against on the bus, by men definitely old enough to know better, has become a regular occurrence. The solution? Follow the lead of the Sri Lankan woman, who fend of unwanted advances with a quick jab of a sari pin. No Sari pin on hand? Wedging your bag in between sleazoid and self, or a sharp elbow to the ribs usually does the trick.

Pro: Preferential Treatment

Today I was stopped by the notoriously corrupt Sri Lankan police. My heart sank, as I have seen them many times on the side of the road, issuing fines to bikes, cars, and trucks. I chatted with the officer for a while, playing dumb and looking up at him with blank, blue eyes. After some lecturing, and talk of the fact that “Sri Lankan licence costs 50, 00 R”, he said “Since this is your first time in Sri Lanka, this is a warning” and I was free to go.

A few hours later I ran into the back of a bus, which stopped short in front of me. Jumping off to inspect the damage, I saw large red scratches of paint from the bus. Soon a crowd of elderly men had gathered around me to inspect the damage, after some discussion one of them disappeared, and returned with some polish, black paint and a cloth. Moments later there was no sign of the red bus on my bike. “Ok , No problems for you now Madame”.

Posted by Jhaniaruby 09.01.2012 04:48 Archived in Sri Lanka Tagged bus police motorbike alone female sexual harassment Comments (0)

South bound bus

Ella to Mirissa

sunny

To me the local buses in Sri Lanka are very reminiscent of the ‘’chicken buses in Central America’ ( I have yet to travel to India, so I can’t draw any parallels there). Unlike Central America however, it seems that most tourists steer clear of these rattly, noisy, packed metal contraptions and opt for hired taxis.

As I changed buses in Wellawaya, to avoid standing on one leg for an hour, which I was warned may be the case if I took a direct bus passing through Ella, I was befriended by a charming elderly local man. As we chatted, he asked me “Why do no tourists catch our buses?” I had been pondering the same thing, because I think local buses are awesome.

Ok sure, so you may be packed in, sweating profusely and fearing for your life as the bus swerves around cars, blasting its horn, but the interior of a local bus gives you an insight into the colour of local life. Throughout the journey men hop on and off, selling fried shrimp cakes, lottery tickets, and fruit or asking for a donation for war victims.

My 4 hour journey south (more like 6.5, with some unexpected stops at the local fruit market etc), was a lively, entertaining one. Locals of all ages smiled shyly at me, and the baby behind me poked my skin and pulled at my hair, giggling mischievously at me when I turned around to see what was happening.

“Where are you going?”, “Where are you from”, “married’?, “children”?
“Mirissa”, “Australia”, “Yes CRICKET!”, “Of course, my husband is merely away on business with our 6 children”. Smile. Nod. Smile.

I think much is missed from the interior of an air conditioned taxi.

Posted by Jhaniaruby 07.01.2012 06:59 Archived in Sri Lanka Tagged local beach bus south mirissa Comments (0)

Slow Train Through the Hill Country

Ella

Sometimes it is the journey rather than the destination that matters and catching the slow train through the Sri Lankan hill country is testimony to this. Setting off early from Peradeniya ( Tip the train leaves from Peradinya and NOT Kandy, although you can catch a connecting train from Kandy to Peradeniya) I was lucky enough to nab a seat next to a Tamal family on the packed Badulla bound train.
Not 30 minutes into our trip the train screeched to a halt. An elderly woman had been struck by the train and was sprawled next to the tracks bleeding. After much commotion, the woman was bundled onto the train and we chugged slowly backwards to the last station where paramedics rushed out to take her to hospital. Not a great start to the trip.
After some time I managed to relax, soothed by the rhythmic music of the train and the rolling tea plantations. The 7 hour train journey is definitely worth the sore bum as it ambles through hills of tea plantations and jungles and skirts along sheer cliffs. There is something hypnotic about gazing out the window at a beautiful countryside, which changed in appearance and climate the higher up we wound.
The air became fresher and the mists and rains rolled in around Nuwara Eliya, making it an easy decision for me to stay on the train for Ella, a couple of hours down the line at slightly lower elevation.
Ella is a quaint little town, if not a bit artificial, as the one street is predominately occupied by guesthouses and Ayurveda centres ( herbal treatments, massages and steam baths). It is the surrounding countryside which is spectacular. Hiking up Little Adams Peak gives a great view over to the impressive Ella Rock and through Ella gap. As I sat on top of the peak to catch my breathe and gather my thoughts, I struck up conversation with a lovely Austrian woman, and as we chatted the mists started rolling in, in moments we were surrounded by clouds and then the rain started pouring down. Scrambling back down the path to the nearest cafe ( 30 minutes of scrambling mind you!)we passed a determined middle aged German couple, soldiering up to the top in spite of the bucketing rain.

Posted by Jhaniaruby 06.01.2012 04:12 Archived in Sri Lanka Tagged rock peak ella adam's nuwara eliyalittle Comments (0)

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