I was bored on Facebook one weekend while living in Abu Dhabi, when a Turkish friend of mine popped up in the chat window. I hadn’t spoken to her in a quite some time, but simply assumed she was still in Istanbul, however when I asked her how she was, her response was “I’m in Sri-Lanka! It’s so great here! You should come and visit!!”. Well… I did! A couple of weeks after we spoke, I bought some budget airlines tickets and was on my way to a country of which I only knew one thing about: They love cricket!
My flight arrived in Colombo very early the morning… I think it was probably around 4am. I drearily got into a taxi and explained where I needed to go. Well, the taxi driver seemed slightly confused but assured he could get there. My friends little map and directions were of no use to the taxi driver, but we got to the house after I managed the taxi driver to phone my friend and get precise directions.
Even though we hadn’t seen each other in over a year, the welcome was short but hearty, as it was only 6am. She showed me where to sleep and both of us, went back to sleep. We finally woke up at a more reasonable hour for a weekend. My friend, Berna, lived in quite a multicultural house, with a Brazilian, a Dane and a Sri Lankan, who were working in Colombo and were part of the AISEC organisation, a 60 year-old global organisation that develops students and recent graduates into leaders by running and participating in an international exchange program. We would hang out with them later, as first Berna had some of Sri Lanka to show me.
Though, breakfast was our first objective of the day, as both of us were famished. We took a short tuk-tuk ride close to the bus station where we had some coffee and pastry. From here we walked to the bus station, from where we would take the bus to Pinawala where we were going to visit an elephant orphanage.
For some reason, I had a very negative impression about Sri Lanka and was expecting a dirty and smelly country (I know how wrong that sounds), however this was dispelled straight away, especially when taking the bus to Pinawala. The buses weren’t amazing, however they were comfortable and clean! This is one of the reasons I love travelling as it is a great eye opener and makes you realise that things aren’t always as the media makes you believe!
When we finally arrived in Pinawala mid-afternoon, we arrived just as the elephants had finished bathing in the river and were walking up the village back to the orphanage. We missed the elephant bath, but we still made our way to the river where we sat down and caught up properly over some coffee and tea. The region is a beautiful jungle which for me was a very pleasant change from the hot desert of the gulf.
After a great afternoon in the central jungles, Berna and I made our way back to Colombo where we were to meet her friends and housemates for some drinks by the beach. It was a good evening of chats, laughter and general merriment, however considering that we were leaving early the next day towards the South, we didn’t make it a late one.
We all got up quite early the next day and made our way to the train station, where we would take the train down to Galle and then a short tuk-tuk ride to Unawatuna beach. The group that gathered were quite a multicultural bunch which included an English girl, a girl from Hong Kong, Two Danes, a Czech, a Pole, a Turk and me, the confused Portuguese South African.
The train ride down was beautiful, all along Sri Lanka’s West coast, with the sea on one side and the jungle on the other. Once again, I imagined trains in Sri Lanka to be like the packed images of trains you see in India, but quite the contrary, a calm, comfortable ride down to Galle.
We arrived in Galle two distinct images, one of a typical South Asian city, vibrant, busy, bustling and slightly chaotic, though once you cross into the old town within the fortified walls, a calm and serene place with various buildings from its colonial past (under the Dutch).
From Galle we clambered into tuk-tuks to make way towards the seaside resort village of Unawatuna. The crescent shaped beach with turquoise waters is a chill out haven with many little many bars and cafes scattered along the beach. We chose a cafe and settled down and would spend the remainder of our day eating, drinking, smoking shisha, swimming and simply chilling out. There’s no point in expanding more but to say it was one of those amazingly relaxing days where you feel like you are in paradise.
At the end of this chilled out day, we made our way back to Galle, where we took a bus back to Colombo. Unfortunately for me, this was the end of a great weekend in Sri Lanka. I was sorry to have only spent so little time there and one day hope to be able to visit again, but one thing is for sure, I found out Sri Lanka is so much more than Cricket!