Colombo and Southern Sri Lanka

[Sorry for the delay in posting, it’s been more than a little difficult to find an Authorized Dealer to perform warranty repairs on a dead MacBook in Sri Lanka.  It’s been a while, so this is a tad longer than I was intending…]

I landed in Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo, and spent two days trying to find any charm there whatsoever, but failed.  Perhaps my time in Bangkok and Phnom Penh got me too accustomed to having entire neighborhoods dedicated to satisfying each and every tourist whim I might possess.  Instead of cheap massages and street side beer patios, I got over-priced cockroach rooms and endless blocks of charmless grimy streets.  I hopped on the first over-filled train heading for the South Coast I could find.  I hope I missed something. 

At my first stop in the south I debated renting a motorcycle for the month (an idea reinforced after the crammed train ride).  It’s a surprisingly big decision to make as it defines the kind of trip you will have.  Meeting other travellers on trains and witnessing the bustle of life surrounding the stations, verses pure freedom and independence (and being perpetually lost in a strange place).  Also, naturally I did zero research into the idea of motorcycling in Sri Lanka and spoke to no one who has done it before.  Are there insurance issues for foreigners? Do I need to get an international license?  Will local police be pulling me over pestering me for bribes?  All questions that would have to be answered later I guess.  I saw a handmade sign for motorcycle rentals and my mind was made up.  After negotiating a price (a pittance at $5 a day) from a man quite happy to have a month long transaction, I drove away with him likely thinking I would be going from my guest house to the beach for the month.  Little did he know I had already mentally planned a circumnavigation of the entire island.  In an act of good faith, I changed the oil.

As soon as I pulled out of town any doubt about my decision vanished.  The last row of shops ended, leaving an exposed view of the pristine coastline on my immediate right.  Idyllic surfing waves curled slowly towards a gorgeous beach lined with lush trees and green palms all contrasting with a bluebird sky.  As I turned the first corner, on my immediate left a rusty antique of a passenger train chugged slowly past, crammed occupants with arms and faces spilling outside the open windows.  That was a train I did not wish to be on.

Driving in Sri Lanka was a bit challenging at first.  The traffic here is far more playful than one would usually prefer, but once you get used to the rhythm it’s a pretty fun dance.  The saving grace here is that there is so much activity on the little two lane highways that traffic really only cruises at 40-50 km/hr.  In the busier areas, roadside shops, local bus stops, homes, children playing, people selling corn, etc. are all located inches from the edge of the shoulder.  So you can set a casual speed, get out of the way of honking busses and trucks, and watch Sri Lankan life slowly whiz by.

The South Coast of Sri Lanka is where the most established beach towns can be found.  And although I’m not crazy about spending time on beaches while travelling alone, I felt an obligation to go to one known for whale watching.  Now, I’m normally not crazy about whale watching either, but the double superlative of ‘ best place in the world to see the world’s largest animal proved too tough to ignore.  As expected, from far away the blue whale’s tail looks equally as small as other whale’s tails.

By chance, I visited the costal town Galle as they were preparing for a huge celebration.  I never really received a straight answer on exactly what the celebration was for, but it was quite impressive nonetheless.  A huge carnival with rides, music, games, and cotton candy; but the best part was the parade.  There were hundreds of people dressed in traditional costumes performing music and dances as they marched through the town.  There were drums, fireworks, fire dancers, devils, stilt walkers, and elephants covered in lights, all parading around for crowds of people.  And just like back in Canada, all the local people got in drunken fistfights as the exhibition came to a close; it almost made me homesick.