Can travel heal you? It is a notion many fall for, it is a tempting one. And I guess for some it works. Leaving your ordinary life and the people in it behind, learning new skills and being self-reliant, and sometimes just reinventing you on the road – yes, sometimes travel can heal you or at least upgrade your life quite radically.
For me though, that hasn’t been the case in a long time. I travel too much to still ask to be healed from travel. It has become my everyday life, in good times and in bad, and so I think it would be too much to ask from something as mundane as traveling (mundane to me that is) to heal me when I am broken.
Mind you, I didn’t think it would do the opposite either but after last year I am not so sure anymore. And that’s why I have returned to Sri Lanka. I have returned to reclaim my love for solo travel, my love for this country, and most importantly, my heart.
I have written a love letter to Sri Lanka before, how much this country surprised me in the best way possible, and how, ever since it has etched itself into my heart deeper and deeper. The greenery, the people, the food, and most of all the wonderful merge of excitement and adventure with a deep-rooted sense of home, one I still don’t know where it comes from but one that I am grateful for. I haven’t seen a lot of Sri Lanka but have already managed to gather favorites, places that I don’t need a map for anymore. One of these places is Galle.
Some may call it touristy and the opposite of unspoiled and those might be right but I don’t really care. Galle Fort has the charm only
a UNESCO heritage town can have and I guess that always comes with a certain popularity. But to me, Galle’s charm makes up for its tourists.
That was until last year when I came here after a fabulous trip to the Maldives and had my heart utterly broken while I was in town. In hindsight, I should have seen it coming and for full transparency, I guess I was doing most of the heartbreaking. Not that it mattered. At a certain point when you love someone who cares if you are on the receiving end and dare I say inflicting pain on another person can be just as bad?!
It started with an innocent argument via Whatsapp while I was staying at Kula Kula and got progressively worse from there. I always thought having 600-thread-count hotel sheets to cry your tears on would be preferable but learned better when I moved to the Shangri La Hambantota afterward where the alcohol was too expensive to properly drown my sorrows. Unfortunately, it didn’t end there but came with me to Galle. Here I stayed at the cheapest Airbnb I could find, run by the kindest people in town but let’s just say that it was far from 600-thread-count chic and there was no wine whatsoever to console me.
For the past year whenever I thought of Galle I saw myself sobbing hysterically in my room. An almost out of body view of myself accompanied by the flickering neon lights in the room, a raggedy fan not strong enough to get rid of the heat and the humidity, and to make matters worse – at least to me – lime green walls that hurt my eyes even further.
For the past year, I only felt sad when I thought of Sri Lanka and I was beginning to wonder – had I not only lost the love of a man but also my love to a country?
A saying that never ever helped anyone truly heartbroken but oh so true, time heals all wounds, eventually also came true for me. One step forward, two steps back, too many epiphanies to count but eventually I found my true north again. I started to look back on events with sadness but not with the unadulterated sorrow I had felt for almost a year. I could recognize my mistakes with honesty but also cut myself some slack when I needed. And most importantly I started to feel like myself again. The final puzzle piece missing was a return to Galle and to reclaim my love for Sri Lanka in particular and travel in general.
I had done it once successfully with Koh Tao, another destination tainted by a love that was no more, and was determined to do it again. But to be honest I was scared. Scared to not love Sri Lanka anymore and scared to be haunted by memories but most of all scared to undo all the work I had done for my well-being in the past few months. But I also badly wanted some hoppers and so I booked a flight. I decided I would just book myself next to the restaurant with the best passionfruit mojitos in the country in case shit hit the fan.
It hasn’t hit the fan but maybe so far only the jetlag is to blame. After 36 hours of traveling (train, flight to Kiev, flight to Colombo, taxi to Galle) I arrived bleary-eyed, looking just the part in time for Halloween, at my guesthouse. I had chosen a different accommodation, partly because I couldn’t bear the thought of returning to the place I had been so miserable at and partly because I wanted regular colored walls and aircon.
Now I have been here for about seven hours and I feel nothing but content. I feel like I have arrived. I also feel incredibly tired, scared that I still won’t sleep tonight because jetlag is a bitch and I forgot to bring sleeping pills, and my shoulders haven’t hurt that much in ages but those are just regular travel occurrences and nothing to write home about.
The contentment outweighs the physical stuff. I have stuffed myself with a big salad thali, drank my first coconut, and my room smells of jasmine which irritates
my mind in the best way possible as jasmine tends to be my Bangkok smell. I have done and seen little and instead taken a nap and played with a kitten. Eventually, I gave up on getting any work done and just accepted that ‘arriving’ is a verb as well and I had done my quota for the day. Especially after walking past that Airbnb from last year…
I have also probed myself, gently but insistently to see if any old feeling stirred but nothing has happened. I was just happy that it was warm and there was a new ice cream shop and a new restaurant on my street that looked promising. My only irritation came thanks to my overly sweaty face and the fact that the spa couldn’t fit me in for a massage. Mind you, I will take hurting shoulders over a hurting heart any day. Other than that, Galle is still the same. Too many tuk-tuks, coconuts laying around, men in lungis, colonial houses with their charm of having seen better days, creeping banyan trees, and the sound of crashing waves behind the ramparts. And I realize, I still like it all.
I have an early dinner and return back to my guesthouse, humming “Baby Shark” while I pass the aquarium in the courtyard. I almost run to my laptop, hoping it still has enough battery for me to write this post. It seems important to get it out now, tomorrow might be different.
But no, deep down I know it won’t be different. I am healed, I am me. It is Halloween but there are no ghosts here. At least none that belong to me.