So, we have been traveling for about 3 weeks in Sri Lanka and feel like we have finally managed to get bit of a feel for it and find the fun bits, the quirks and the annoyances. When we first arrive somewhere new we like to take a minute to try to get rid of our preconceptions and draw our own conclusions.
I guess the big question I keep getting asked, not only from friends and family, but from every local person you meet is do we like it here? Normally that is a fairly cut and dried yes or no but here it is not so simple.
We would both agree that the countryside that we have seen so far in covering almost half of the country is spectacular. The beaches along the lower east coast were a combination of smooth protected bays crowded with people (mostly European tourists – especially Russians) or long stretches of pounding waves crashing onto empty beaches.
The western beaches were definitely more rugged with big messy waves breaking close to shore and practically no tourists outside of the ‘surfing towns’. As we started more inland we found everything to be intensely green with people making their living from mostly rice paddies, which felt like endless seas of waving green. Once we went up into the ‘hill country’ we moved from rice to tea with the most idyllic scenes straight out a Lipton tea advertisement. Long lines of interconnected tea plants run over hillsides with large plantations as far as the eye can see.
Sounds great right? Well, it is. However the towns/cities are another story. They are messy jumbles of shops that seem to sell a collection of what we would consider to be cheap Chinese rubbish. The whole place feels like Crazy Clarks (a cheap $2 shop in Australia) on steroids. I wanted to replace my thongs with a thicker more robust leather pair. Surely not that difficult? We traipsed through at least 10 shops and it seems that the only shoes they have are ALL made of vinyl, and not the ‘nice’ soft kind either, the kind you know will blister in 10 minutes. We literally have not seen a single pair of leather shoes in any shop anywhere.
Guest houses are plentiful and the conditions and prices range dramatically. We began our journey at about $15/night and have ranged up to about $23/night, which may not sound like much but the standard is very rudimentary. The quirks of hotels: almost all double rooms are 2 single beds pushed together, they have a bottom sheet but no top sheet and no towels. I have now learnt to ask for towels, sheets and toilet paper. As we expected most places have cold water showers which is fine until they advertise hot water, at which point I get really excited, then feel crushed when it turns out there is none 🙁
The people are the hardest thing here. They are so friendly, constantly stopping to say hi. The standard questions run: Hi, where you from, I love Australia, I have a brother/sister/aunt who lives in Australia, good cricket team 😉
The downside is that you are never sure whether they are just being nice or are looking to try to sell you something. We are constantly harassed by tuktuk drivers who will lie through their teeth to get a fare. The worst is at the bus stations. Where you go? We go here xyz. Ah you take my tuktuk for 1billion rupees (ok small exaggeration but not much). No thankyou, we take the bus. Oh, bus not go there/bus already gone/bus goes from other station…. Then they relent and take us to the bus on the opposite side of the station, which is not where the bus actually goes from. In the end we have learnt to ask the driver of the buses, they are usually pretty good although very busy. I guess that the bottom line is that everyone is just trying to make a buck 😉
The entire country seems so intent on trying to get top dollar for everything that it is almost pricing itself out of the market. Today I was quoted 75cents per item to do laundry in a place where I couldn’t do it myself (no buckets and no clothes line to dry anything on). For what I washed later in the day after we moved towns it would have cost me $25+ to do a load of washing. Motorscooter hire has gone from $5/day to $13 as we have moved inland. Prices like this make travelling here an expensive proposal for a third world country.
So, do we like Sri Lanka. Yep, mostly. Would we stay here for months on end – nope. Will we ever come back – never say never 😉 The little annoyances that we have encountered are just a part of travel and they are the threads that weave a travel story. We are loving the travel and the chance to try new things and this country is certainly very different from our expectations.
I realise this blog is a bit longer than normal and perhaps a bit long winded but I just felt like a bit of tell it like it is.
And so to finish off for today below is a random selection of photos from along the way.
Sadly these fishing boats are the same ones that desperate people use to come to Australia.
Pohlena Beach in Matara is the only place we found where the local people swim. This is their local holiday spot as the waters are calm and the tourists few.
Up in the town of Ella I watched the sun wash the mountain mists for dawn.
Loved the tea plantations.
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