We all travel to escape reality in one way or another. But when your life is nothing but travel sometimes reality catches up with you. The annoying daily business, the issues and problems, sometimes even heartbreak will find you in the most remote corners.
My trip to Sri Lanka has been full of it. Last year Sri Lanka and I were off to an unexpectedly good start. I had no expectations and thus it exceeded them all – I was falling in love with yet another country, one to add to the list of places I wanted to return to.
I was excited to do just that and come back to Sri Lanka only a year later. I wanted to explore new corners and rekindle my newfound love for breakfast thanks to Sri Lanka’s national treasure – the hopper.
But from the start, nothing went right. Before I go on, I should say that nothing went really wrong either. I didn’t have an accident, get robbed or was somehow inconvenienced in any major form. But just because nothing truly terrible happened didn’t mean it was great. Sometimes we have a bad day when things just feel a bit niggly, a bit off and in my case, it was a bad trip. Now in almost hindsight, I hope it all was part of growing pains…
It started with a taxi driver who couldn’t find the way. That in itself is not so unusual and can happen. That it happened at 1 am and with GPS, the address of my hotel and its phone number present was more than unfortunate. Instead of thirty minutes, the ride took an hour and a half. At some point I not only yelled but I actually cried. It wasn’t my finest moment and I don’t want to make excuses but I was still stuck deeply in post holiday blues after the Maldives, tired after a day of traveling and feeling rather lost at this point. So when we got pulled over by the police after 45 minutes of searching, I lost it. I should add that the taxi driver was getting a fixed price so he wasn’t scamming me for more money. However, the fact that he must have been frustrated too didn’t make it any better for me.
After a short night and no hoppers for breakfast, I traveled on to Galle. I felt adventurous and so I decided to take the 3rd class train for only 50 cents. After all, that’s how one travels in Sri Lanka, right? Picturesque hanging out of the open train door, surrounded by locals while speeding through the lush green landscape. Or so I thought, the reality was a different one. The train was already full when it pulled into the station and the German in me refused to believe there was space for any additional people left. I was wrong. A nice stranger quickly lifted my 23kg suitcase and shoved it through the train door into the full compartment. I had no chance to object and lurched after it. The next three hours I stood firmly locked in place between the train’s squad toilet, its western toilet and twenty-something other travelers who also didn’t manage to get seats.
There was no chance to take any pictures because not only could I not move but the exit was firmly occupied by an elderly grandfather who was sitting in the doorframe. Without a doubt, he had the best spot in the very full and of course unairconditioned house.
While everyone was trying to be polite, spatial awareness isn’t everyone’s forte nor possible on a train in Sri Lanka. I thanked the travel gods that nobody was shoving their armpits in my face, made friends with a little ten-year-old who was holding on to my Rimowa suitcase, and just vowed to never do it again.
When I arrived in Galle my guesthouse was overbooked. The owner offered me a place at his mother’s guesthouse and I got mad that he hadn’t informed me prior. I didn’t find that courteous as he claimed but rather a bit disingenuous. Tired and exhausted after the long trip I agreed to move to a nightmare of frilly curtains and rusty shower heads.
Luckily a few days with Ayu in the Wild at Yala and Udawalawe Nationalpark followed and I thought Sri Lanka I could be friends again. But then the shit started to hit the personal fan and I spent much of my visit at the Elephant Transit Home in tears and too much money on wine at the luxurious Shangri-La.
A week in Galle followed and things went from bad to worse and the fact that I was staying at a rather uncharming Airbnb (basic is the best word I can describe it with) didn’t help. I needed an emotional refugee and what I got was herds of tourists, gray skies, and scary crows. I had set this week aside to catch up on work and got nothing done. Even my favorite hoppers were served with runny curry, I slept badly and all I wanted was to go home.
I may have done it if I had a home. Usually, I don’t mind that I don’t. Home is where the heart is and my suitcase. But right now my heart was breaking and my suitcase was full to the brim with my diving equipment waiting for its next Indonesian adventure and in no mood to go back to Germany yet. I was also still filled with emotions from my last visit at my old house where I saw my dad and at my mother’s place a few weeks ago. Both visits were meant to be joyful and resting and ended up being taxing and full of arguments. I had been more than happy to be off again and afterward, I realized that I needed to find my own figurative home when I was on the road: place, a situation, a thing that makes me feels safe and makes me feel at home with myself.
Today I got back to Colombo. I splurged and took a car and didn’t regret it one airconditioned minute. My friend Chamintha had organized the Airbnb for me this time around. She told me it was her neighbor’s cottage in a residential area of Colombo. It’s called the Writer’s Cottage which seems more than fitting. When my car pulled up I just took one look at the place and immediately felt my body relax: it felt like the home I was craving.
Looking up at the stars, I know quite well
That, for all they care, I can go to hell,
But on earth indifference is the least
We have to dread from man or beast.
How should we like it were stars to burn
With a passion for us we could not return?
If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me.
Admirer as I think I am
Of stars that do not give a damn,
I cannot, now I see them, say
I missed one terribly all day.
Were all stars to disappear or die,
I should learn to look at an empty sky
And feel its total dark sublime,
Though this might take me a little time.
The place is airy and green, I have a palm tree to hug and there is a shy gardener who is looking after it and the rest of what feels like a little piece of jungle paradise. I have missed green unmanicured spaces and their energy.
I made myself a cup of coffee and went to the supermarket for the first time in forever. After all, I have a fridge to put things in. I bought cheap wine, toothpaste, and fruit. One of them I have never seen or tasted before. Turns out it is not meant to be eaten on its own but to be used in curries. As is the banana that I got. But I don’t really mind either way.
I have never really been a fan of Airbnb or its initial premises to provide a local experience and stay in someone’s actual home I’ve always liked hotels and their anonymity but now this home is exactly what I seem to need. Space and green all around, a soft rain falling on the roof. Some annoying birds and the neighbor’s dogs too. A home away from home, a place with where I can just be alone with my thoughts and where no one sees my tears except for the shy gardener. A home away from home if only for two nights and a kettle to make a second cup of coffee.