10 Years Later in Sri Lanka

If they handed out awards for laziest blog writer in the last month, I don’t even know how I could not win it.

I wish I could say it was because this month has been so wild and crazy, but in reality, as I’m about to wrap up 16 days in Sri Lanka, I can’t really blame it on India, can I? 

OH. NO. HAVE I ACTUALLY NOT WRITTEN SINCE CHRISTMAS? This is the worst. I’m seriously apologizing in advance for the length of this post because you all might lose your eyeballs from staring at a screen for too long by the end.

We went from Mysore, west to the coast, to Kozhikode in order to catch a train down to Kerala. The last state in India we were to explore before heading off to Sri Lanka. It took almost 8 full, long and sweaty hours crammed onto a government bus in order to go 200km. Yes, less than the distance it takes me to visit Dustin or for him to visit me. And it took 8 hours. The only noteworthy thing to mention about Kozhikode itself, is that our hotel was perfectly situated in between a Domino’s Pizza and a KFC. And it was amazing.  We caught an uneventful train to Kochi and immediately caught a taxi out to Fort Kochi which is seperated from the mainland by the massive canals that are present in most of Kerala. Basically makes it almost the Venice of India, if you substitute pasta for curry and romance for garbage. We actually enjoyed Fort Kochi. It was relatively quiet although somewhat busy with European Holiday tourists.

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Famous Chinese fishing nets of Fort Kochi

Kerala’s food is shaped by her coast and almost everything featured seafood. Dustin and I had read it is quite common and delicious to buy seafood from the local fishermen at the markets and ask a restaurant to cook it up for you, for a fee. This sounded like an adventure and because Fort Kochi was swarming with tourists, it sounded like a more cost effective option (rather than paying Rs. 300 for 7 prawns again). We made our way to the area where all the fishermen had their shacks set up and approached one stall to inquire about the prawns.  It all happened quite quickly and suddenly we bought a 1.5 kilos of prawns. One. And. A. Half. Kilos. It was reeeeally cheap and I was slightly buzzing from the high of finding such a good deal that I had forgotten that I was holding what felt like the equivalent of all the prawns in the whole ocean. We brought it to a restaurant and they agreed to cook our 1.5 kilos of prawns for Rs. 200 ($4 CAD). We tried to be clear (as clear as you can be to another person who has no clue what you’re saying) that we wanted the prawns completely cleaned. Legs, shell and heads needed to be off.

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Our prawn stand

Flashback.
When my siblings and I were quite young my parents bought live prawns for dinner from the supermarket to be cooked that evening for dinner. I remember the feeling of the prawns lurching around in their plastic bag prison while I stood in line at the grocery store. My dad proceeded to chase us around the kitchen while holding one with a large pair of tongs and then couldn’t figure out how to kill them effectively before they started lurching around on the kitchen counter while the entire family was plunged into utter chaos and panic. Since then I have been unable to stomach the idea of prawns with anything more than a tail still attached.

After what felt like an hour, a mountain of prawns was placed before us. With all 1.5 kilos staring at me with their still attached beady little eyes. Dustin, being much more of a trooper than I,  picked up a prawn, removed the offending parts and ate it. I just stared at him aghast. He decided it was too much work, or so he says (I’m sure the 870 eyeballs were getting to him too) and we told the waiter we wanted them sent back because it was absolutely not what we had asked them to do. A short while later we were brought back a MUCH smaller plate and I suspect the other two-thirds had somehow made its way onto the plate of prawn fried rice at the table next to us. Looking back, we have had better dinner plans.

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The famous Chinese fishing nets of Fort Kochi

That night Dustin was quite ill. No vomiting, which I still consider a success in terms of Delhi Belly, but he might disagree. He remained sick the next day which was quite shitty  (haha) because we had to move onto Alleppey by train. I went out solo that morning in search of pharmacies and markets in order to try find magical things to cure his ailment. I met a tuk-tuk driver who offered to take me for free which seemed like a kidnapping waiting to happen but he did direct me to a pharmacy so I can’t hold the attempted kidnapping against him too much.

We made it to Alleppey which is the the mecca of houseboating down the Keralan backwaters which we planned to do for New Years Eve the following evening.

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We spent New Years gliding through the canals that snake through Kerala in absolute luxury. We had a driver and a cook and we were just able to spend the day relaxing and drinking beer. We docked in the evening and were able to watch Indian families having dance battles on nearby boats. Dustin and I played cards for several hours, trying to fight the intense sleepiness that accompanies being 100 years old internally. Eventually, we seccumbed to the lure of our bed. We rang in the New Year laying in bed, watching Pineapple Express.

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The following day we took another government bus (shudder) to Varkala.
Varkala is situated on top of massive red-earth cliffs that shadow sandy beach below. We had a nice time there minus the hordes of Indian men who slither down the beach in jeans and sneakers to gawk at the tourists in bikinis. I almost lost it a few times.

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After Varkala was Trivandrum. Trivandrum is its colonial and the true name is Thiruvananthapuram but for obvious reasons I am not going to refer to it by that name. We had one of the nicest hotel experiences thus far in Trivandrum. It was a hotel build inside the old house which the king kept his mistress and the family that ran it was sooooOOOOOooOOo nice, I wanted to keep all of them. It was extremely reasonably priced and our stay was so comfortable. They arranged a foot massage for us through the attached Ayervedic facilities. We assumed we would be seated side by side (almost pedicure chair style) but we were both lead into dark, seperate rooms. My girl told me to hop up onto a hard, black table and lay down. I felt like I was in a morgue. During the massage she steamed my feet with some sort of contraption and I actually felt like the skin would melt off, so I wouldn’t put it on the top 10 most relaxing experience in my life.

From Trivandrum, it was an 8 hour train to Madurai. Madurai gave me intense and horrifying flashbacks of Delhi. It is one of India’s oldest cities and it is said that it traded with ancient Rome. Although I only saw it briefly, I don’t want to go back. It was heaving with dust and smells and people and noise and garbage and chaos and I was delighted to get on that plane at the Madurai airport, bound for Sri Lanka. 

The airport was a complete and utter joke. When you enter an airport in India, you have to provide proof of your flight itinerary and identification. We did not have our boarding passes for the obvious lack of printer access while you carry your life around in a backpack. We ended up paying $2 for a print out of our itinerary from the counter outside the airport and were let in by the military personal at the front door. Before we checked in, we were ushered into another line to scan our checked baggage where it was zip-tied and then we lined up to check in and check in our bags. THEN we were told we had to wait 10 minutes before they opened up customs counter. We waited. We went through.  When we checked in the desk agent passed us two little paper tags that look like the tags that you write your name and contact information on incase of lost bags. These ones had a stamp on them that said, “OK for carry-on”. The desk agent had not checked our bags or even so much as looked at them when he passed them over. I put it on my little backpack which left my purse naked of this tag. After customs we had to wait another 10 minutes for security to open. Maybe it was the fact that I had not eaten in quite a while but I was furious. When security finally opened and I made my way to enter the line, the lady asked me where my baggage tag was.  I motioned to the one on my backpack and she quickly asked where the one on my purse was. I nonchalantly told her I had not received one. She immediately told me I would have to go BACK DOWN, BACK THROUGH CUSTOMS TO THE CHECK IN COUNTER to get a little paper tag. I don’t know if it was the hunger, the exhaustion with India or the fact that this airport had no idea what it was doing, but I immediately was transformed into a monster. I snapped. 

“I’m not going to do that.”

This little Indian woman just stared at me, obviously shocked by my transformation, but she wasn’t giving up yet to this hangry white girl. “You have to. You need it.” At this point I’m about to launch into a massive rant about how ridiculous this is to hold up the line because I don’t have a small paper tag which features more airline advertisements than any useful or necessary information. I glance at Dustin and his expression deflated my stubbornness momentarily and I decide to stuff my purse into my small backpack. Take that, small Indian woman. After I finish shoving it in, the woman checked over my boarding pass and passport veeery carefully which annoyed me even further. The security was a mess. They put men and women through seperate screening processes but your bags and belongings all go through the same one x-ray so everyone is just kind of shoving things everywhere and lining up in various places. While I waited for my bag outside the x-ray I was mentally daring them to check my bag because I was ferocious. They put it through twice and THEN made sure the little paper tag had that “OK for carry on” stamp before I was allowed to take it. I just watched it all in disbelief. I know I’m psychotic and this was all pointless but I could have drop kicked everyone in security.

Eventually, I put psycho Sara back in her mental prison and we landed in Colombo, Sri Lanka. We heard Colombo is a bit of waste of time (I have no actual opinion on this, it’s just what I’ve read) so we immediately jumped on a public bus to Kandy. With a name like that, how could you not want to go there? First impressions of Sri Lanka: similar to India. Less garbage. Less conservative dress for females. Less stares. More expensive Snickers Bars…but still crazy. That night we met two other couples that we ended up spending the majority of our time in Sri Lanka with. Unlike ginormous India, alot of people are headed in similar directions while traveling Sri Lanka which makes it nice to meet people and not immediately have to say goodbye – often before you’ve even had a chance to introduce yourself.

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Kandy has a famous temple called the Temple of the Tooth which supposedly houses one of Buddha’s teeth. I’m not lying. It’s famous for a tooth. Dustin and I are slightly temple-d out from India in all its glory so we decided to skip it, plus we heard you can’t even see the tooth so what really is the point? We had a nice enough time in Kandy except the only candy we had there was some fruit mentos because did I mention prices for Snickers here? Almost $2?????? One day we took a tour 3 hours north to Sigiriya which is a historical site that you can hike up for the small price of lkr. 4300 ($43 CAD). When was the last time you felt like spending almost $50 to climb up stairs in the blazing sun? Luckily we were with 4 Dutch people so they obviously also felt like climbing a smaller rock for a fraction of the price. It was nicer, anyways, because we were able to see Sigiriya from there. 

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At one point on the drive, while bumping around down a jungle road, the driver stopped, turned around and said: “Get down”.

“Get down”.

Now, in a country that was wracked with a dangerous civil war for more than 20 years, that is not really something you want to hear in general, let alone in the middle of nowhere. I immediately began picturing patrols of rebel forces. Scraps of fabric tied around their foreheads… slings of ammunition around their bodies…I saw everything flash before my eyes.

In reality, our driver really meant, ‘get out,’ but his English was too poor to communicate it properly and instead created a massive internal panic in his passengers.

Following Kandy, we aimed to take a train south to Nuwara-Elyia for a day or two before continuing on to the beach. The train ride was extraordinary. First of all, the trains are much nicer inside than Indian trains and the views were magnificent. The train took us over mountains and right across ridges overlooking deep valleys, with the sides cloaked in tea plantations. Apparently the trains were also donated by Canada…which seems really random.

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At one stop we noticed a flood of white tourists on the platform, disembarking the train, while we watched out the window. This immediately called Dustin and I to question what exactly was in this town that everyone was seemingly getting off. Had we missed something?

Yes.

We missed our stop.

We both are half giggling and half crying on the inside as the Sri Lankan country whizzed by and decided it’s fine because the train will continue on to a town called Ella. We had heard good things about this town, situated in the mountains just slightly south east of our original destination. We climbed Mini Adams Peak in Ella and I think hiking is pretty much the main thing to do there because it was extremely tiny and mostly just alot of restaurants for the tourists. The cooler temperatures of the mountains was much appreciated from the sweltering heat of South India…especially for someone who has to be in pants. All. The. Time.

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The train system isn’t quite as well developed as India and it seems like alot of people either traveled by car or by bus. The busses are more cramped than airplanes even if you completely ignore the sardine-like packing of people in the aisles. Hoping the bus down to the coast would be least busy on the earliest bus, we rolled out of bed at 6 am. Unfortunately, it seemed everyone had the same idea and the bus was absolutely packed. It was so packed the girl in front of me was able to step up onto the first step of the bus and was not able to move any further. The conductor shoved us from behind until we all somehow managed to pack in. Everytime he pushed my back, I would press closer against the British girl in front of me who clearly thought I was being aggressive and kept rudely muttering, “I can’t. I can’t move anymore, dear.” Girl, I am the victim here. All 110 pounds of me is no match for the 15 people pushing to get onto this bus behind me.

Sri Lanka has got to get that shit sorted because it was not pleasant.

We ended up being quite lucky and were able to sit just over an hour into the journey. We got off the bus in Matura, realized it was a buzzing city, and switched busses for one headed for Mirissa. Meanwhile, our friend from Holland messaged us saying they heard Mirissa was nicer and were on their way there to which we gleefully told them we were as well!

We found an amazing place to stay in Mirissa called Green Hill which was brand new and featured only 3 rooms (3 others were incomplete) and Dustin and I decided to plant some roots there for a week. It was so nice to be able to slightly unpack and settle into a place. Eventually both couples (Adam, Lucy, Danny & Lieve) we met in Kandy came to occupy the other two rooms which was a blast. We spent our days laying on the beach and the evenings playing card games and drinking beer.

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Mirissa is famous for whale watching so after several failed attempts at haggling a lower rate, we booked with a company and set out on the boat at 7am. Whale Watching Club Mirissa did an excellent job and were one of the more affordable options amongst the competitors. We had read reviews online of people who opted out of the complimentary sea-sickness tablets and ended up seriously regretting it. Therefore, I gladly accepted and readily swallowed the mystery pill handed to me by the Sri Lankan on the boat. After taking them, they told us the pills might make us slightly drowsy. I assumed it would be like the warnings on the package of any given cold-medicine which have little to no effect on this insomniac.

I have never felt such an intense and heavy drowsiness settle over me in my entire life. And I’ve taken some pretty good sleeping pills. I thought I was going to die. I’m not sure if the theory was that no one feels seasick if they’re knocked unconcious, but it sure felt like it. By 11 am, half the boat was asleep. Many of them slept the whole time and only awoke when the awake ones started freaking out about spotting a whale. We saw 3 or maybe 4 (there was some confusion about which ones we had seen before) Blue Whales and a ton of spinning dolphins, which is an experience I could not effectively describe in a way to do them justice. It was incredible. One Blue Whale was at least 22m long!

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Photo 100% taken from Adam

The rest of the day was pretty much a write-off. Dustin and I went to ‘nap’ at 5 pm which seemed like a good idea until we woke up at 11pm. Shit.

On our final day in Mirissa, we spent the day at the beach. I finally saw a rental for a stand up paddle board and had my sights set on it. The beach we were on had alot of beginner surf schools so you had to go quite far out to get beyond the break. There was a moment before I set out where I contemplated the wisdom of taking my sunglasses out in the water, but I decided it was safe because I normally don’t fall off the paddle boards and I was just going to relax. Bad idea. First of all, getting out beyond the break with such a long and heavy board was a shit show. I was trying to hold the board down, hold the paddle and the GoPro (which for some reason, Dustin had given to me before I set out).  The board kept flipping up with the nose in the air and I was having a hell of a time trying to keep everything together.  Finally I got out to a semi-safe location and was able to start paddling around.  Eventually, Dustin and Danny joined me out there, both on body boards (Adam also out there, filming to two with another GoPro). I was having a lovely time. Although I had to hastily paddle into a few big waves, as to avoid them crashing directly only me, it was nice out there. Until everything changed.

I spotted a fish jump out of the water just ahead of me. I was delighted and anxiously waited for it to happen again. It didn’t.  I then peered into the same location and noticed small things leaping out of the water. As I approached I could see a large swarm of these things just below the surface. I honestly thought they were small fish. I glided my paddle through the group, expecting them to scatter. They didn’t. 

Half of them lept directly out of the water and landed on my board.

Everything was a blur. I realized they were not fish but transluscent worms. Jumping worms. On my board. In absolute terror, I fell off the board backwards. I was plunged into the water and the realization that I was now treading water amongst the worms themselves.

I could see them jumping out of the water around me. I’m not sure if I screamed during any of this but I certainly was making loud whimpering noises and swimming frantically backwards towards the boys. The board is still attached by a lead to my ankle but there was no way I was planning on touching it until I knew it was safe from the reign of terror these creatures who looked to be straight out of a sci-fi movie. Finally I reached my confused boyfriend (I hadn’t been able to get out any other sounds other than whimpering). He washed the remaining hell-creatures off the board and I was able to return to the safety of it. I didn’t really feel like being in the water following that experience. Dustin wanted to catch waves on my board so I reluctantly returned to the water and floated with his body board instead. For some stupid reason I thought it would be fun to catch a wave on the body board and decided to try. I don’t really like body boarding because, as I mentioned before, I have certain feelings about sand everywhere and this is one of those activities that contributes to sand literally everywhere sand could be on your body. I tried to catch a wave and ended up getting absolutely slammed. Fortunately this was only the beginning of a massive set rolling in and I got destroyed several more times. I lost my sunglasses in the mix and although I was heartbroken, I was fighting for my life in the waves. Eventually I made it into the safety of shallow water and attempted the hopeless search of finding your sunglasses in the ocean. RIP sunglasses.

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We wrapped up our time in Mirissa with a BBQ, thrown for us by our host at Green Hill, which was delicious and very fun. The staff (two other men) who had been on the property didn’t speak very good English but they joined in on the festivities. Apparently the man who had cooked our breakfasts gets really giggly on vodka because after a couple drinks he would giggle insesently. Following dinner, I went into the kitchen to get a cloth to wipe the table. The cook was also in
the kitchen and he would not stop giggling at what I was doing. Although I was also giggling because it was weird, I was also very self-aware. Maybe that’s not how they wet cloths in Sri Lanka.

We hopped on a bus yesterday, following to coast west, to Hikkiduwa. We have been assaulted by millions of Russian menus again so I’m having Goa flashbacks. We rented a bike to explore Galle which was settled by the Dutch (!!!!). The inside of the Dutch Fort is adorable and feels very European and romantic. I loved it. We will spend the remainder of our days here until we fly out on the 22nd.

If anyone made it this far in one sitting, I applaud you, thank you and promise never to put you through it again.

Until India!


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