I hit the road again on a sunny Sydney Monday. Per usual, on the morning of the trip, I suddenly felt completely unprepared and questioned my sanity. I have barely any money; how am I supposed to survive three weeks of traveling?
I spent the morning running around my apartment, moving my stuff out, getting the keys to the girl who was going to sublet my room, running to the bank to make a deposit, then running to the airport to catch my flight. Somewhere along the way, AirAsia decided to change my flight time from 11:55 to 10:55 on their website, causing my heart to go into a new kind of arrhythmia. I’d never missed a flight before, and I was not keen to start now.
Luck was on my side, as when I got to the check in counter the girl was like, “wow! Everyone from this flight arrived early today. I wonder why!” I gave her a death stare usually saved for special occasions only, but then I was just too relieved to care anymore. I made it to my gate with enough time to grab a ham and cheese toasty for the flight. Nine hours later (without any free drinks or snacks, AirAsia is the worst), I was touched down in Kuala Lumpur.
I had a couple of hours to sit and ponder my entire existence while throngs of people ran to catch their connecting flights. In just a few hours, I’d gone from one face among a million westerners in Sydney to one of the only westerners in the airport. People were fascinated already, coming up and asking me where I was from and where I was going. The types of people that in America we are taught to fear were coming straight up to me, having a chat, and letting me play with their toddlers. I realized, “Damn. These people are actually 10 times nicer than people at home.” Traveling: the greatest way to reduce personal prejudices.
The flight from Kuala Lumpur to Colombo, Sri Lanka was only about three and a half hours. I was planning to stay awake, but instead I slept for literally the entire flight. When we landed, I learned that not only did we go back a few hours, but we also went back by 30 minutes. I had no idea a time zone existed that changed the number of minutes. Very confusing stuff.
I arrived in Colombo at 10 pm. I’d done a bit of research, so I knew that walking around as a single female after dark is like carrying a sign saying, “Attention criminals: please kidnap me,” so I had made arrangements to stay at a home stay that provided airport pick-up (Henderson Lake View Residence; amazing family!) I rang the owner and he came within a few minutes of my landing. I made sure he addressed me by my full name before I agreed to get into the car. The whole ride back to the house, he unleashed endless tips on what I should do and where I should go and how I should get there.
I told him that I wanted to go to Mirissa the following day, and he arranged a tuktuk to pick me up in the morning and bring me to the right bus to get me there. The public transport in Sri Lanka can be hectic, so he recommended I take a coach bus for the journey. I definitely wanted to avoid the groping I had read about online when women take the crowded buses and trains, so I was happy to spend a little extra. The tuktuk cost 150 rupees (roughly $2 AUD) and the bus cost only 600.
The bus was air conditioned and took about four hours to get to Matara, which is a few miles south of Mirissa. I got off where I felt was closest to Mirissa and attempted to then find the local bus that would take me there. Unfortunately, the buses had no signs in English and the streets were crowded and smelly. I got quickly overwhelmed and decided to just get another tuktuk to the beach. I haggled with the driver, as he wanted 800 rupees, and got him down to 500 (which was probably still overpriced). At this point, I didn’t care. I was dripping sweat and just wanted to plop myself into the ocean. I arrived at the beach within twenty minutes and checked into my hostel, Hangover Hostel Mirissa. It is located literally across the street from the beach, which is perfect.
My first dip into the Indian Ocean was amazing. The beaches are virtually empty (compared to Sydney’s beaches anyway) and the water in unbelievably warm. I felt refreshed and wiped the last two days of long travel from my mind. Back on the beach, I bought a fresh coconut for 50 rupees ($.50) and laid back to enjoy the sun. That night, I bought a feast of rice and chicken curry with a side of fresh pineapple juice for less than the cost of a beer in Australia. I would have loved to partake in the night life, but it just didn’t feel safe. I was exhausted anyway.
The morning of my second day in Mirissa, I got up early to get started on my hunt for an ATM. I was down to just 100 rupees cash and all the ATMs in Mirissa were broken. The nearest town with a working bank was Weligama, about 5 miles from Mirissa. I finally felt comfortable enough to take the public buses (plus, I couldn’t afford the tuktuk) and caught the number 2 bus into town. It cost only 20 rupees and wasn’t nearly as bad as people make it out to be. While yes, they slow down rather than stop the bus to allow you on and off, they were very helpful in getting me to where I needed to be.
After procuring 10,000 rupees at the ATM, I stopped in a little shop that sold saris. The man working there outfitted me in a gorgeous white sari and undershirt for only 1,000 rupees. He then tried to sell me about 15 more things, so I quickly left his shop. It’s funny how different the people reacted to me once I was outfitted in my sari. Women smiled and giggled, and the men began shouting things like “beautiful Sri Lankan girl!” I’m still not sure if they just found me amusing for trying to appropriate their culture, but it made me feel just a little bit more connected to them.
I spent the rest of the day on a beach lounge, sipping fresh fruit juices and eating endless curries and rice, all for only a few Australian dollars.
For dinner and a drink (I had a papaya juice, as I’ve decided to lay off drinking while in Sri Lanka) I went out with two of my dorm mates to Zephyr on the beach. It was one of the highest rated restaurants online, and for good reason. I had a fish fillet burger that was to die for. The restaurant had an adorable puppy that the staff had adopted who spent the meal lying on our feet and sleeping.
Dining with my dorm mates was awesome. They are both two women in their thirties traveling alone. It was awesome to chat with not only fellow single female travelers but with women a decade older than me who are still partaking of this tramping lifestyle. Different life events led us all to this same place. It gave me inspiration and hope that this is not just a phase of my life, but is a lifestyle.
On the morning of my third day in Sri Lanka, one dorm mate and I woke early and packed up to hit the road. We were both heading to Kandy and decided to make the trek together. We first hitched a ride on one of the treacherous local buses from Mirissa to Weligama for 18 rupees. Then, we caught a train from Weligama to Colombo for 220 rupees (woo!). The train took us through some amazing beaches and we were lucky enough to score two seats next to each other. Most people ended up standing for the two hour ride. Once in Colombo, we had intended to grab the train to Kandy. Unfortunately, we found out that all tickets were sold out except 3rd class and those wouldn’t be on sale for another hour. We grabbed some ridiculously cheap rice and curry (90 rupees whaaaaat) and recuperated. I knew there would be a bus to Kandy and my mate had faith in my navigation skills, so I got us to the bus station and within twenty minutes, we were on board a cramped, air conditioned bus to Kandy.
One thing you notice while traveling through Sri Lanka is just how impoverished much of the country is. Many people live in shacks with wood slat walls and tin roofs just beside the railroad tracks. It really makes you think about how different a life you live and how lucky you are to have been born into different circumstances.
We arrived in Kandy just after six and took a tuktuk to our hostels, which turned out to be directly across the street from each other. My hostel, Kandy city hostel, was the nicest hostel I’ve ever been to. Seriously. It was like a palace. And only $15 a night!!! We ran down the road to grab some dinner and had our cheapest meals yet (180 rupees for mine!) We opted not to stay out after dark, as there were lots of men out and about. Kandy was the most cosmopolitan place either of us had been to in Sri Lanka.
In the morning, we headed straight for the temple of the tooth. We planned to also go to the big Buddha on the hill and Helgas Folly hotel before I headed to the airport, but we ended up having to stand in line for over an hour in a crowded, hot room waiting to glimpse the shrine. Since the line wasn’t moving, we got fed up and just left to walk around the gardens and the temple. It was all still beautiful, just not worth the wait or the 1000 rupees to see a shrine for a tooth. Since it was hot, we just looked at the big Buddha from a distance. Then, we got some fresh juices (80 rupees!!!!) and had a few rotas for snacks. Before we knew it, it was time for me to catch a bus back to Negombo to the airport. I caught the public “blue bus”, the cheapest and only non air conditioned option because I’m just reckless like that.
I arrived at the airport with plenty of time to catch my next flight to Paris. I grabbed some Burger King (you can take the girl out of America but you can’t take the America out of the girl) and waited to start the next leg of my trip.
In all, Sri Lanka was absolutely beautiful. I conquered my fears and went there alone and am so glad I did. Sri Lanka has an amazing culture completely different from my own. For anyone considering the trip: go. You won’t regret it.