The first stop on my solo trip to South Asia was Sri Lanka. I was heading to a yoga retreat in Kerala, south India and Sri Lanka being only a 30 minute flight away provided the perfect opportunity to chill on a beach before taking on the mayhem of India.
On landing in Sri Lanka the heat hit me like a punch in the face and I reluctantly said goodbye to two girls I’d met at Kuwait airport. As the only 3 young western girls amongst a sea of black and white (the women covered in abaya and the men in ankle length white cotton shirts) we naturally made a bee line for each other. They were volunteering at an elephant sanctuary in Kandy and getting picked up at the airport. We chatted for the whole flight and I so wished I could go with them… instead I had no idea where I was going and I wondered why I always had to do things the hard way.
I ended up getting a taxi up to Fort Colombo train station, tired and a little lost a tout helped me find the platform I was meant to be on. After turning down his generous offer of staying with his family I made friends with a really lovely Indian man as I waited 1 hour in the blistering heat for the train to the beach town of Bentota. I enjoyed the train journey along the coast and was deliriously happy to see an elephant (perhaps mainly due to nearing the end of 23 hours of straight travel = total exhaustion).
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Of course the first thing I did after checking into my hotel was hit the beach. Breathing in the salty air and feeling the sand under my feet I began to let my fear of the unknown slip away. It was January, I’d escaped the miserable freezing London weather and finally arrived in paradise… hooray! Within about 5 minutes I’d met a nice Sri Lankan boy who gave me a coconut to drink and a tuk tuk ride to see turtles, monkeys and alligators. We ended the day with a beer together overlooking the Bentota river.
A few days later I moved on from Bentota to Hikkaduwa another seaside resort town in the southwest of Sri Lanka. I did attempt to get a train there and began walking up the road with my backpack on but it was so hot I almost didn’t make it (I believe I got about 20 yards). Luckily the same sweet tuk tuk guy from my first day drove by and saved me by taking me directly there (at a highly inflated price of course).
I loved Hikkaduwa, it was touristy but as this was my first time traveling solo I was fine with that – it made life a little easier. In Hikkaduwa there’s cute cafes, rotti shops, guest houses and trinket shops everywhere and everyone is so friendly. I got chatting to an English guy who’d been there for 6 weeks. We had lunch at various Rotti Shops a few times and I’d see him getting thrown about in the sea.
Unfortunately I’d checked into a $5 a night sh*thole of a room on the beach and although I would expect to have to lay sarongs down on the bed to sleep (due to the price and some odd stains) there was a traumatic incident in the bathroom on my first night. While bending over the sink to wash my face a 12 inch centipede (about 1 inch wide) shot out the plug hole, my face being 5 inches away, spun around the sink bowl at 100mph and then half hung over the side of the sink before dropping onto the floor and darting into the shower. I was horrified! I checked out the next day and into a much nicer place. You get what you pay for… lesson learnt.
Talking of lessons
The currents at Hikkaduwa were terrifying and I didn’t dare go into the sea past my knees. The first time I ran in unaware and was pulled under the water so quickly I was slammed into the ground and came up for air with my bikini dislodged. I’m glad I stayed out of the sea after that because a few days later I was sunbathing and the bloated body of a middle aged tourist washed up in front of me. Her feet were blue. People, mainly locals gathered around her. There was an alarming sense of a lack of urgency amongst the crowd. I shouted for someone to do something, to call an ambulance. I felt so helpless. I don’t know who she was, how long she’d been in the sea for or if anyone had been searching for her. I wanted to save her but she was clearly gone. It was surreal and deeply disturbing.
My time in Sri Lanka consisted mainly of working on my tan (don’t judge me), eating banana, chocolate and honey rotti, drinking ginger beer, drenching myself in coconut oil, taking photos of snake charmers and palm trees and chatting with random locals and tourists. One nice local even gave me a free massage (don’t ask). Oh and crying down the phone to my boyfriend in London about how much I miss him (and about the dead body incident and the centipede plug hole incident).
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My last few days in Sri Lanka
I spent the last few days of my Sri Lanka trip in Negombo, a city just a bit north of Colombo and the airport (a handy location for someone with a fear of missing flights). Here I met 2 Bohemian artists Eric Weets and Filomina Pawar who were staying in the same Villa. Eric was working on a huge abstract on canvas masterpiece, it was so vibrant, bursting with color and clearly inspired by his travels in Asia. We had dinner and talked through the night during a power cut about everything from politics in India to art and travel. They’d lived in India for 10 years and told me to visit their favorite place… Auroville near Pondicherry (East India).
They were so well-travelled, spiritual and inspiring. I was grateful that they were willing to spend time with me, a 19 year old 5 days into her travels. Their kindness helped me to feel much more positive about my solo travel adventure and my next destination… Trivandrum in India!
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