Friday, August 26, 2016

Sri Lanka

I recently did something I'd been fantasizing about for a long time: I got on a plane with Scott and we went to Sri Lanka. I am saying it as if we made an impromptu decision one weekend even though we booked our tickets well in advance, because underneath our seemingly sluggish and rigid exteriors we really are just two very fun, spontaneous people. Except when we are tired, then we just want to stay in bed and watch movies all day – please do not disturb.

Our holiday was only for six days and I was allowed to plan everything – from which parts of the country we’d visit, where we’d rest our heads at night, what we'd eat to how we'd spend our afternoons. Being given control (and hence responsibility) typically annoys me because I am a super lazy and disorganized person who prefers to just ‘go with the flow’ and ‘wing it’ aka ‘let someone else work out all the nitty-gritties and just show up,’ but holding the reins in this instance actually delighted me.

Vacations are tricky beasts. You plan them with high hopes and the best intentions, but there are variable factors that affect how enjoyable the trip ends up being. Everything from where you stay and the weather, to how well you packed and the little unexpected moments – a secret hike that an insider tells you about, finding pretty shells and the sunbaked remains of a ‘turtle-fish’, or seeing a shooting star while dining on the beach – can make a holiday a lifetime highlight, or something you want to forget.

Immediately, I had to wrestle with the pressure of going so far away for so little time – how would we strike the perfect balance between chilling (very much needed at that time) and seeing all the shit we were supposed to (FOMO)?

This is no easy question to answer, particularly when you're navigating the issue with companions – or in my case, a boyfriend, whom I've never travelled with before. This added another dimension to the conundrum. We’d spent entire weekends together, but this was six consecutive days in a completely new and foreign environment. I was both excited and anxious because I knew that this could unlock whole new worlds of intimacy and self-awareness and good sex and personal growth. But possibly also turn our relationship into a carnival funhouse – the scary kind.

So without truly knowing what to expect or how things were going to turn out, we set off trying to find that sweet spot between doing and hanging, all the while trying not to scare each other off as we let our guts out and revealed our most relaxed true self to each other – gross habits and moodiness included.

We mostly got it right, achieving a satisfying mix of lazing by the beach and walking around absorbing, though it was not without my occasional cry to sit the fuck down and have some food. "Scott, I'm hungry! Food! Now!" I become a super crabby person when my blood sugar falls below a certain level.

One thing I completely overlooked is our very human need to defecate every now and then. Unfortunately, I did not have the foresight to practice doing this gracefully before our trip so I spent most evenings hopping around our room and contorting my body into funny angles on the bed. You would think that because I eat so much vegetable I’d have no problems dropping a daily deuce, but the world is full of surprises! By the end of our trip we were exchanging high-fives and kisses for every pellet I managed to expel from my bowels.

Anyway, here is my non-exhaustive list of must-sees and must-dos if you’re planning on going to Sri Lanka anytime soon. And if you don’t have a trip on the books just yet, let’s just say you might want to plan one soon! The island is magical.

We arrived in Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka, at 2am and then immediately set off on a long and nauseating car ride to Ella, a peaceful town on the southern edge of Sri Lanka’s Hill Country. If you are prone to carsickness and need to look far out into the wilderness, you may want to consider making this commute by helicopter instead as the roads are hella windy and narrow. Another smart idea would be to embark on this journey at a less insane time than 2am to avoid being tossed around the backseat of a taxi in complete darkness for six hours. And do not trust anyone who tries to entice you on this journey by making it seem quick and easy and, “just four hours.” It is not for the faint-hearted but sucking on some candied ginger will help.

Ella is all about the great outdoors – breathtaking views, adventures, and small-town vibes. It was such a treat for the nature freak that I am.

1. Check out Ravana Falls

It’s a 10-minute tuk-tuk ride from the town center, which is essentially one street with lots of food places and Ayurvedic massage spas. The waterfall is steep as fuck so don’t try to climb it. The many kids climbing it will give you the illusion that it is easy and totally doable, but kids are nimble and also crazy – you are not. If you plan on skinny-dipping in the plunge pool, try going in the morning. We went in the afternoon when it was pretty crowded but still managed to soak in the negative ions and watched a local family bathe. If you are travelling with someone with really bad/no balance – not gonna use names here – it would be wise to buy some travel insurance.

2. Hike up Little Adam’s Peak

I lead a sedentary life and have almost no confidence in my physical capabilities but this was a relatively easy hike, which we managed to complete in a couple of hours. Personally, I think it is lazy and dangerous to go hiking in slippers, but we totally did it and live to tell the tale. We made the rookie mistake of hiking at noon and I forgot to bring sunblock out with me so Scott ended up getting sunburn. Then we went to cool down and fill our tummies at a cafĂ© in the 98 Acres Resort, a super fancy place with a great view of the valleys and hills in the area. (They have a helipad for their guests – I wasn’t joking about helicopter being a mode of transport into Ella.)

Not too far from the resort is the Nine Arch Bridge, so off we went trekking through more lush hills. Poor Scott had to wrap a tote bag around his neck and my t-shirt around his arm because further exposure to the sun was going to result in him bursting into flames. (Update: he has tanned to a nice beige now in case anyone was worried.)

3. Explore Galle Fort

We set off after breakfast on another six-hour car ride but to our relief, the roads started to straighten out as we left the hills and drove towards the southern coast. We got some sightseeing in en route and stopped to say hi to an elephant along the road.

Galle Fort is a bit more touristy but the streets are still quaint and make for a nice wander in the evening. A gemologist started talking to us while we were sat somewhere eating some food. (I realize that if I’m going to go into travel journalism I’m going to have to provide better details, but just bear with my vagueness in the meantime.) Scott, more amused by the fact that they had misspelled sausages in the menu as ‘sasusages,’ pretty much ignored this man and kindly declined a free lesson in gemology lest I ask him to buy me a ruby. (Hey! I love rubies! Just thought I’d very casually slip that in.)

We also bought some curry powder and nutmeg from a spice shop. (We used the curry powder to make Empire Chicken the other day – so delicious!!!!!)

4. Laze on Umawatuna Beach

For a long time I managed to convince myself and others of my allergy to sea water – I still think I am allergic – but I think more than my allergy is the fact that I have an irrational fear of getting into the sea. (Sharks and stuff.) Scott is big and less retarded than I am, so he enjoyed the sea while I watched from the shore. You can also do water sports but we opted to walk along the beach and pick a ton of pretty seashells, corals, and a strange thing we haven’t figure out but refer to as ‘turtle-fish.’ (Note: these precious items will amuse airport security, significantly slowing you down at the checkpoints, which is not ideal if you are running late for your flight, which we were.)

We had a nice seafood dinner on the beach that evening. Again, I do not remember the name of the place or what the prices were like, but it was delicious. Five stars. Highly recommend. We shared a banana split and saw a shooting star – not to be confused with the fireworks in the video.

5. Blah blah blah

Colombo, I wasn’t too crazy about so I’m not going to write about. Also, I’m getting a bit restless now. What we did was take the train from Galle to Colombo, an experience itself. We thought we’d spoil ourselves by paying the extra 80 cents to upgrade from third class to second class but I ended up sitting in Scott’s lap (first class) most of the journey because the train was so, so crowded. The train ran along the coast, making it very enjoyable as it was scenic and there was always a cool breeze flowing through the carriage. I also managed to miss the wide carriage windows when attempting to dispose of an apple core, which resultantly ended up on a man’s arm and some laughs.

Finally, relax and make your holiday your own. Travel books make other countries seem like magical escapes, but what they really are is an endless stream of fun little puzzles of adaptability. Take in as much as you can, enjoy the company you have – bring a book in case you fight. And beware of Sri Lankan ants because they will find their way into anything that’s remotely edible.

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