Sri Lanka: Beautiful Nature, Pirates, and Being a Walking Cash Machine
February 20, 2022
After such a long break to my travels due to the pandemic, I am finally off on my adventures again. In November of this year I am off to Nepal and then I’m travelling the length and breadth of India; but first I have travelled for a month-long trip to Sri Lanka.
It has been very frustrating trying to travel over the last two years, Covid restrictions have left me deeply frustrated and down. My beloved India put up so many boundaries to enter their country that my attempts at going to Goa were cancelled twice. Eventually I decided to try Sri Lanka as it’s a place I always wanted to go and their entry requirements were just one PCR test, so I booked, and all has gone well.
It should be pointed out, that the day I arrived in Sri Lanka, India changed its entry rules, recognising not only that the Omicron variant was a lot milder than previous bouts of Covid, but also that the damage being done to their tourist industry needed fixing fast. They now no longer require us to quarantine for 7 days or produce a negative PCR test, just proof of vaccinations. India still needs to bring back e-visas for UK nationals, but things are now looking much better for my entry into India in December.
Now, lets get back to Sri Lanka.
Checking in for the flight was a nightmare, UK check in had only two staff for a fully booked flight and not only were they checking us in but also doing all the Covid checks too; it took me three hours to get through to the departure lounge.
The flight was comfortable but long. It was a direct flight and so I was very ready to come off the plane after 11 hours. Customs in Sri Lanka were much more straightforward; I had made it.
I was then faced with the issue of how to get from Colombo to Kandy. I decided after being told of the many wonders of train travel by my good friend Geoff, that being brave and working out where to catch a train to Kandy was the best idea. I took a tuk tuk to the nearest station and then bought a first-class ticket to Kandy (2.5 hrs) for just £2.50. The train was late (surprise) but eventually I was on my way and what a journey it was. We travelled over mountains, through tunnels, through jungles and across rivers; it was magnificent. Eventually at 11.30 am I arrived at the former colonial hill station of Kandy.
A short tuk tuk ride took me around Kandy’s famous picturesque lake and up a steep hill to the first of many accommodations for this trip: The Kandy Residence. The accommodation is like a large, clean, and tidy house with some nice rooms to rent. The owner and his wife seemed kind and welcoming and quickly encouraged me to use them as a point of sale to book any tours to places like the elephant sanctuary. I quickly (perhaps foolishly) accepted their kind offer as I guessed they just need to make some money in these pandemic times. I booked the elephant sanctuary, a spice plantation, and a tea plantation for the next day.
After settling into this tropical paradise, I went for a walk around the lake, which was pleasant, but I have to say the ONLY thing to do in central Kandy. There was clearly no nightlife to be had accept a few empty pubs, so I settled on this first 5 days of my trip being about days out by tuk tuk to see nature, which is fine. What I didn’t realise was that every place I was to visit, my lovely landlord was phoning ahead and getting them to charge me double entry fee, so he got a commission, eg 5000 SLR for entry to the elephant sanctuary instead of 250SLR. It was only later I realised this.
This said, I loved all the places I went to, especially the elephant sanctuary, so before I get onto these places lets get my initial grumble out of the way. This is based on Kandy only, as I have not yet been to anywhere else.
Every time I tried to speak to Sri Lankans in Kandy about them or myself, I was ignored, and the subject was quickly changed to: “can I drive you, book you on a tour, change money, sell you something?”, I quickly realised I was not a person but simply a walking cash machine. This is sad and I hope not the case for all of Sri Lanka as I am someone who comes to places for the people and I need those people to see me as a person, not a commodity. Later I was in a tuk tuk heading to a bar and a tuk tuk in front had written on the back: PIRATES OF THE SRI LANKA. I had to laugh. Sadly, Kandy will not be on my return list.
Moving on to day one: Elephants, spice, and machines (sorry Tea).
The tuk tuk ride to the elephant sanctuary, not far from Colombo, was far but great fun. I got to see temples, Sri Lankan daily life and all sorts of sights, including a few monkeys. We eventually arrived and my driver swiftly jumped out and quickly got my ticket for me (a mistake on my part, I paid double). He then waited as I met my guide who introduced me to some elephants. I enjoyed the museum and learnt some interesting facts about this amazing prehistoric species (did you know African and India elephants cannot mate as they are made differently).
The sanctuary is set in a jungle, and I started by feeding some elephants. They looked so peaceful and intelligent, and their skin is strangely spotted with orange colouring. Their skin is soft and is covered in sort hairs. I was designated an elephant called Maura (female) and we walked through the jungle together (with a member of staff nearby). She stopped for a drink and kept wanting to explore me with her trunk but in a gentle way. Later, I got to wash her in a stream. It was a fantastic experience and well worth the £20 I ended up paying.
We then drove a short distance to a spice plantation which was free but with an expected purchase at the end (Sri Lanka is not cheap!). The guide was a really nice guy who explained all the different spices, I found it interesting. I was then offered a head and shoulder massage which I accepted, which was nice for a weary traveller. I ended up purchasing some green goo, aloe Vira based that is supposed to be good for sinusitis (you rub it on your forehead), at an overpriced cost of 4500 SLR. This first week was a lesson for me in how not to be a mug, lol.
Finally, we ended up at a so-called tea plantation in which a very bored women pointed at two machines, said bah blah blah and then sent me on my way, it was free at least, we made a hasty retreat.
Later on, in the evening on that first day I was taken to see some traditional folk dance and music, which was great and only 1000SLR about £3. My first day was busy and fun but doing too much after such a long journey may have been the cause of what happened to me next: ouch, ouch, ahhhhh!
The next morning I woke up in agony, my back had gone. I could barely stand. I suspect I suffer from sciatica, and it’s been getting worse over the years. My weight, paired with a long flight and train ride and doing too much on my first day, probably triggered it. I braved a tuk tuk ride to see a couple of temples and the giant buddha, but I was just in too much pain. My landlord suggested some traditional Sri massage at a holistic centre; I gave in and said yes. Little did I know he phoned ahead and got them to charge me 6000 instead of 3000 (I found out later from the tuk tuk driver), which left me fuming. The massage was incredible but sadly did not help. An attractive young Sri Lankan guy was gentle and thorough in this two-hour full body massage (no, none of that happened, its not Thailand lol). I spent the rest of the day lying on the floor in agony almost crying that this should happen to me when I finally get away. My landlord could not be less interested at this point and as I stayed in the next day he just ignored me (no money to be made).
What really cheered me up at this point were all the lovely messages from fellow hippies who knew I was coming to Galle next. They were all telling me how wonderful the area was and how I would love it much more down south and we could all meet up, and how Kandy was only a tourist trap. I was now excited about my next stop.
At time of writing, I am still in a lot of pain, this has been a real health kick up the arse for me, I am heavily overweight and need to get much healthier or things like sciatica and diabetes will ruin my life.
For now, a 4am wake up call, then off to the station for the wonderful, scenic, 7-hour train journey to Galle.