I went on my first backpacking experience and it was totally body-mind-soul changing. My friends laughed when I told them I was buying a backpack and going with 2 experienced backpackers to Sri Lanka. “You’re doing what this summer?!” was most people’s reaction. I go to Africa once a year, what do you mean? Apparently that’s not the same..and it wasn’t.
I went with the mindset of having zero expectations and to take in as much of the culture and surroundings as possible. I wanted to have a moment where I felt complete gratitude, I ended up having several of those moments. At one point I even folded my hands together and thanked any higher power for my life. Not because I felt sorry for anyone else but because I felt sheer gratefulness. Hashtag Blessed.
A few days into the trip I stopped wearing make-up, I removed my nail polish, we walked around in either flip-flops or barefoot the entire time. You just wanted to plant your feet in the sand, grass, earth. It sounds so cliche and it probably was, but it felt good to be so disconnected from my reality and reconnected with nature instead.
I was super excited to embark on the adventure, it was my first trip to Asia and sticking to a $10 a night budget was going to be interesting to say the least! After 23 hours, I arrived at 4 a.m with no luggage in sight and had about 12 hours to wait until my backpacking girlfriends would join me. I decided to splurge a bit on the room the first night, I was all alone in a brand new country with no luggage and no company after all, a big bed and AC was justified.
We travelled from Colombo/Negombo to Dambulla and spent our first night in a cute and quaint B&B with 2-3 other guests (at least thats all we saw) We hired a driver from the airport to take us on the 3-4 hour drive and had fantastic local cuisine along the way. The following day we discovered Dambulla’s gems like UNESCO’s Golden Temple and Cave Temple. We played with wild monkeys and hiked the beautiful Sigirya Rock.
We continued our travels to Trincomalee and later Batticaloa which are harbor cities with nice beaches (like all of Sri Lanka really) and incredible food (also, like all of Sri Lanka) The tourism doesn’t seem to have spread so much on the East coast of Sri Lanka yet, and the locals do their best to make sure you are having fun and feeling safe. That was probably one of the most beautiful things about the trip – the people. They will do anything to please, which we learned quickly is a gift and a curse. We realized if the tuk-tuk driver understood where we wanted to go TOO quickly, it definitely wasn’t the place we meant to go. Just to give an example, in Batticaloa we needed wifi (we were all working on holiday) and asked the tuk-tuk driver to take us to the city center where we might be able to find a restaurant or cafe that had wifi. He was totally eager and understood exactly where to take us. We ended up specifically at “City Center”….the name of the grocery store.
We had to have the local experience and take public transportation so we threw on our backpacks (Ida, the experienced backpacker showed up with a suitcase…No comment :P )
So we rode local buses for about 30 cents (3 hour trips) We got strange looks, laughs and comments. But there was an Aha-moment in the midst of this. It was the last leg (I think bus number 3 or 4) from Batticaloa to Arugam Bay. The sun had set, we had been waiting for the bus to leave for 1 hour with over 40 degrees inside and more people kept piling and squeezing in. The men are getting up to let the women and elderly sit. Everyone is so KIND to one another. The man who is standing places his bag on the lap of his neighbor who’s lucky enough to have a seat. There are no questions asked. They don’t know each other, but they are just kind to one another. I can’t imagine someone on a bus or metro in Europe putting their things on the lap of a stranger. We barely smile or talk to each other, let alone HELP someone we don’t know. It was that moment, sitting there sweating, literally giant drops seeping out of pores, it looked like I had just completed a 2 hour spin class. I thought to myself, these people on this bus..they do this daily. They are on their way home to their wives, husbands, kids, mother. Sweating beads and standing for hours on end to get to and from work. No one seems agitated or annoyed.
We spent a few days in Arugam Bay which is surf central and where most tourist go on the East Coast. We lazied it on the beach and drank passion fruit mojitos at night. I only had a 2 days left of the trip, the girls were going to stay another week. So we jumped on the opportunity to take “the world’s prettiest train ride” from Ella to Nuwara Eliya (tea central) It really was a beautiful ride, we had bought 2nd class tickets to get the full experience. (1st class you can’t open windows and there is AC..who wants that) We sat down and was all excited with a group of 8-10 young boys playing drums and singing behind us. It was such an awesome experience. The train inspector came to us and told us “Ladies, you are sitting in 3rd class…” We told him we had more fun in 3rd class if it was ok we just stay there. He looked at us strange and shrugged.
In Nuwara Eliya we explored tea plantations, saw the process of how it’s made, tasted tea and took in the amazing greenery and waterfalls that’s all around you. Our last stop was Kandy which is “big city life” where we did some shopping before I had to head back 3 hour trip to the airport.
I cannot recommend Sri Lanka enough. People say it’s how Thailand and Bali was 30 years ago, before the mass tourism took over. The people are so humble and nice. The food so local and authentic. I felt really good being there and experiencing this beautiful country.