|At a Hindu temple overlooking Triconamalee on the East Coast|
Not everything we experienced or observed in Sri Lanka fits into the narrative of our previous five blogs. Some topics need their own mini blog or at least a photo. Here are some answers to questions we were asked, plus a few things we found interesting during our three-week trip. The most common one we got was from an unlikely source--an older American Airlines pilot on the hotel shuttle at the Portland airport. "Where is Sri Lanka?" he asked. (It's off the SE tip of India, one-third the size of Oregon.). I guess geography isn't part of the navigation curriculum in flight school.
|I think it means we're in Ohiya,|
1,774 meters above sea level
Most Sri Lankans speak at least two languages, often three. Since most of the people are Sinhalese Buddhists, Sinhalese is often the main language, followed by Tamil, a South Indian language. Both were unintelligible to us, and the long names of people and places are tongue twisters. However, nearly everyone who made it through grade school speaks English, making it easy for tourists. We had fascinating conversations with maids, waiters, tuk-tuk drivers, museum guards, shop owners, and our Rotarian friends.
What can we say? The narrow roads, variety of vehicles at different speeds, and driving on the left side can be nerve wracking. But we soon learned to just relax. Except for bus drivers, Sri Lankans rarely honk their horns. They are mostly mellow and cut one another some slack, often with just inches to spare. For as many close calls as we experienced, we saw few—if any—dented or scratched vehicles. To really get a feel for it, click on video link at the end of this post to see the “Standing on a Street Corner” video.
The employee parking lot near the
defense ministry. Some of the tuk-tuk
owners try to pick up extra business
on the way home.
|On a supped up, heavy duty tuk-tuk in a fishing village|
And speaking of traffic, the three-wheeled tuk-tuks and their often-crazy drivers are what makes the traffic so quintessentially Sri Lankan. With a population of 21 million, Sri Lanka has over 1.3 million tuk-tuk drivers. The government recently banned imports from India, hoping that more young men would go into construction and manufacturing instead. About halfway through our trip, we realized that some of the tuk-tuks we saw weren’t for hire. Rather, they were just a cheap means of transportation compared to a car. Our link of photos at the bottom has a few shots of them. Also, check out our clip of a fun ride in one of them at the end of this post.
Sri Lankans love dogs. Most of them are mellow and look alike. Dogs are also part of the traffic equation. They think nothing of taking a nap on a busy road or jaywalking. We saw so many near misses.
|Typical looking dogs that seemed to belong|
to our jungle camp in Yalla.
|"Temple dogs" at a Buddhist temple|
I can't remember if this was breakfast, lunch, or dinner
at Gihan's home, but it was fantastic!
If you followed us on Facebook or Instagram, you no doubt saw some of our food porn photos. The rice is flavored with lentil, fish, and green bean curries, hot but not that hot. The curries were unique, but they resembled a combination of Thai, Malaysian, and South Indian dishes. They are best enjoyed eating with your right hand fingers and thumb. We
loved it, and often had curry-rice morning, noon, and evening. Sri Lanka is clean, and so are its kitchens and eateries. Even eating in the cheap dives where only the locals went for lunch, we never got sick. Bottled or filtered water was available everywhere and in every hotel room.
But it beats the cold
rain and fog of Oregon
Unless you are in the tea country up in the hills, it is hot and humid. Every place we stayed had air conditioning, but Sri Lankans are very judicious about its use because electricity is very expensive. It can be upwards of 30% of a large household’s budget.
Getting there and back
Coach airfare and economy-plus are relatively cheap. It just takes a long time to get across 13.5 time zones. Our outbound trip, with layovers in LA, Tokyo, and Singapore took 44 hours. Returning without the Tokyo layover took 30, but we had a 15-hour flight from Singapore to LA. That said, Singapore Airlines is the best we have ever flown. And no matter what, it was so worth the effort.
Our hotel near Badulla, complete
with a swimming pool.
Once you get there, Sri Lanka is a bargain. Nice hotels cost less than a budget hotel near the Portland airport. And there are some very spectacular ones on pristine beaches or with stunning views in the tea country hills. All provide breakfast. Eating like locals, we’d often spend less than $5 on a huge lunch, maybe $10-15 for a fresh seafood dinner including drinks. Western style restaurants and fast food chains cost more. You can rent a car and driver for $50 per day, but trains and busses cost much less.
We traveled over 800 miles by car. Some of our drivers had a thumb drive of mellow Sri Lankan music which we enjoyed. Others cranked up the radio. But for the Sri Lankan English accents, it sounded just like the top hits, oldies, or I-Heart Radio stations here with the station breaks, promos, commercials, etc. (Booming voice: “All the music you love right here on FM 98.5 Radio Columbo where the hits never stop!” Music jingle: “98.5—top hits.”) Then Kelly Clarkson.
Our visit to Sri Lanka was because of Rotary. We hosted the leader of a Sri Lankan Rotary Group Friendship (RFE), exchange in October. They reciprocated big time, driving us from place to place, hosting meals, and sharing insights. That said, it is very easy to experience Sri Lanka without the help we had from hospitable Rotarians. Sri Lanka and “nearby” Maldives have about 62 clubs. They usually meet over dinner and drinks. The one we attended had only 12 attending, but it was fun and very social with some coconut whiskey and snacks afterward. Because of Sri Lanka’s diversity and languages, English is the official language of the meetings.
Open for Business
The world’s memory of the Easter Day bombings of churches and hotels in 2019 has fallen through the cracks. Over 250 people were killed and many more were injured. Nine months later, tourism is still way down, despite CNN and Lonely Planet naming Sri Lanka the best destination of the year. In a couple of cases, we were the only guests in small lodges or a jungle camp, and we were among just a few in larger places. For those Sri Lankans dependent on their 10% tips from tourists, or who own a tourist-related business, life is hard. And the loss of Chinese tourists will hurt them more. We felt safer in Sri Lanka than we do at home. Security is tight, the people are friendly, the country is clean, the scenery is spectacular, the culture is unique, and bargains abound. We’d go back in a heartbeat. The only downside? The long flights to get there.
And for those of you we met in Sri Lanka reading this, thank you so much! You made the trip so special. Bohoma istouti (ඔයාට බොහෝම ස්තූතියි) and in Tamil, mikka nandri (நன்றி மிகவும்).
(Note: In case you missed our previous five Sri Lanka blog posts, simply click on blog archive to the right.)
Photos and Videos
These carefully curated photos capture the essence of our trip and many are our best shots. They should be viewed on something larger than a mobile phone. Sit back with a cup of tea (preferably Ceylon with milk sugar, and cardamom) or a scotch or a coconut whiskey and enjoy!
Link to our best shots and the essence of our trip, click HERE
Link to six videos: Inside a Buddhist cave, Monkey business, standing on a street corner, Hindu Puja ceremony, samar deer fighting for dominance, and a wild ride in a tuk-tuk. click HERE