I have written love letters to quite a few places like Bangkok and Marrakech and many more are in my heart. I travel because to me it is like falling in love without any of the potential bad consequences. I either fall in love or I don't, but there are no breakups, no cheating, no boredom - it is a hassle free relationship and my only complaint might be that I am in love with many places. I am not a monogamous traveler, but luckily the objects of my desires don't mind. I am the only one bearing the consequences of constantly missing a somewhere else.
And now I found someone new, someone very exciting and I actually can't wait to make it official and tell you all about it. While it may not be an actual love letter (yet), it is definitely a note saying: "Do you want to go out with me? Yes, no, maybe - please check a box!" Obviously, I am sitting here, hoping with all my heart that the answer will be yes because, boy, do I have a crush!
Sri Lanka Holidays
Who would have guessed? One of those countries that never came to my mind. What did I know about Sri Lanka? Cricket, obviously, you can't help it when you are in South Africa. Tea. Elephants. That was about it. My cousin had gone with her family, loving everything and buying every single fabric there was (if I come back empty-handed it will be her fault!), but still it was never on my radar. But then I won Sri Lanka holidays with Cinnamon Hotels at the ITB and with that attendance at TBC Asia (a travel blogger conference) and also the opportunity to discover a new country. Who would say no?
I extended by a week, picked a somewhat random spot on Sri Lanka's map to start, packed my bag somewhat clueless - what do you pack for hot and rainy? - and next thing I knew I am on a plane. 10 hours with Sri Lankan Airlines admiring the flight attendants' sarees, staring at my phone screen excitedly and not sleeping.
Finally Colombo. Immigration, getting my luggage, organizing a taxi - my three most hated things in any destination. They make me nervous, still today. But it seems Sri Lanka wants me to like it, wants me to send that note and answer with a big fat YES. Everything goes as smoothly as possible and an hour after landing I am fast asleep in an air-conditioned van taking me to Galle.
While Galle is utterly charming as only these little UNESCO heritage towns can be I am well aware that Sri Lanka stretches far beyond its derelict, tourist-friendly facade. Yet that charm isn't even my first impression. My first impression are wide smiles everywhere. Yes, people want to sell their services, wares, tuk-tuk, mam? but I don't feel hassled or scared to get ripped off, these smiles make me feel safe and welcomed and will be my constant companion on my trip through the country. The kindness of strangers.
Then there is the food. I love nothing more than getting the feel for a country through its food. Which makes it really hard for me to connect if I don't like the cuisine of a place (sorry, looking at you, Brazil!). I had no notion of Sri Lankan food but was curiously optimistic and immediately charmed. Curries but with the right amount of spice for me, fresh fruit galore, the infamous hoppers which I eat every day for breakfast, fresh coconuts, seafood, and of course, Ceylon tea. When I get silly excited for my meal times and am almost sad to know I won't manage three full meals - portion sizes are not Sri Lanka's forte! - I know I have come to the right place. After all, they say love goes through the stomach and why would that only apply to people?
The air is warm and humid. Smells of frangipani, jasmine and a little bit of mildew as is common in seaside towns and reminds me of my childhood. The surrounding area can only be described as lush. Green, hot and wet. Sri Lanka weather is sultry, even or especially during monsoon season, and easy to like, almost flirty. Alas, sunsets are hard to catch and I have to wait for my 5th night. When it comes it is almost shy though it can rival the best.
My courting with Sri Lanka continues. The journey takes me north through Colombo and up further. Here the sun is hot, the humidity lower and the smiles even bigger - if that is even possible. I like the countryside with its wood fire smoke, dogs, and more peacocks than chicken, and the fact that the people dry their laundry over hedges and bushes in their front yard. Something I would have done.
From palm trees to rice paddies, cashew and jackfruit trees, hibiscus and of course, always more frangipani, also called the temple flower here.
The children usually in proper school uniforms, white trousers or skirts with a red tie, the women in sarees and the men in sarongs. Everybody answers my looks with friendly curiosity in return. Kids giggle. What's your name? Where are you from? How old are you? And then some more giggling. I know the country has been through a lot but in these faces I can only see hope, happiness and very white teeth.
Sri Lanka is also history, religion, and wildlife. Nothing makes me happier than seeing the monkeys run wild at the Cinnamon Lodge Habarana except the view from the top of Sigiriya a 2.5 million-year-old rock and former holiday palace now in ruins. Everywhere stupas enough to make you stupafied, tall enough to rival the pyramids and too high to fit the screen of my camera. 50 shades of green everywhere, Buddhist flags and the sound of my bare feet walking on holy ground. Something is always holy in Sri Lanka so be prepared to take your shoes off, cover your knees – yes, that goes for guys as well! - and watch your back: turning it to a buddha or the ancient Bodi tree is considered a big offense. I like the way Sri Lankans think and so I don't mind, making my way through the country usually barefoot and smiling.
The evenings are balmy and offer an enticing mix of mozzies, crickets, and cold beer. It feels like most South East Asian countries and with that familiar. Yet there is something about it that is quintessential Sri Lankan though I have no words to describe it adequately. Something that can only be and happen right here and nowhere else, something that cannot be taken and put in another place. Something just like the beginning of any great love story that makes your stomach flutter and you know you don't ever not want to feel. Sri Lanka, I am falling for you. Hard.
Since this trip I have been to Sri Lanka a few times.
Need some inspiration for your Sri Lanka holidays?
An unexpected Gem in Sri Lanka – Colombo City Tours.
Sri Lanka Safari – Where to See Elephants in the wild.
The Elephant Guide to Galle, Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka Itinerary – The North Central Province.
Hopper, skip and a jump.