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  • Writer's pictureDeb Smithers

Adventures travelling Sri Lanka

Stepping out of the comfort zone.

Vibrant and colorful are the amazing Hindu statues in Sri Lanka
Vibrant Hindu Statues, Sri Lanka

After a whirlwind few months in Vietnam of both traveling and teaching, it was time to take another leap out of my comfort zone and do some traveling around Sri Lanka, or as previously named, Ceylon.

I was not overly familiar with Sri Lanka, but I felt it was my stepping stone to perhaps one day traveling to India. I was so lucky to have a friend living down south in Hiriketiya and having a local to spend your first days with makes a lovely transition when arriving in a new country. She works at a health retreat in Talalah and has asked If I would like to take out a tour for the day whilst in Hiriketiya, to accompany 3 young ladies on a safari in the Udawalawe National Park, simply keeping them safe, overseeing lunch, and organizing transport etc, and with the opportunity for myself to see the elephants roaming free through the National Park, in a jeep! Ending the day visiting the elephant orphanage and seeing the cutest little bums you have ever seen, now that’s what we call, “In the right place at the right time”.

Three ladies posing for a photo in a jeep in Sri Lanka.

The back view of all the little elephant bums at the Elephant Orphanage. Sri Lanka.
Cutest little bums.

There are many adventures to take while traveling Sri Lanka and I was hoping to experience some great things, my "must visit list" includes Hiriketiya, with the amazing Horseshoe Bay, beachfront huts, and endless waves rolling in. A chance to take the board out in the ocean is what I miss the most when living in Vietnam.

I planned a trip to Kandy to find the Ambulwana Temple, I heard it is not easy to find and the climb is not for the faint-hearted. The challenge was to see how far from the top you could reach.

The ancient stone temple towering over the woman with a vibrant clear blue sky.
Ambuluwawa Temple,Sri Lanka

There would be a journey to the incredible province of Ella to see the Iconic Nine Arch Bridge and Sigiriya, to climb Lions Peak.

An arial shot of the famous 9 Arch Bridge in Ella with its lush green landscape and mesmorising architecture
9 Arch Bridge, Ella. Sri Lanka

Some more waves to catch in Mirissa and Weligama, days chilling in the hammocks of Bara beach, and over to Hikkaduwa to swim amongst the giant green sea turtles, 3 weeks to explore this beautiful and unique Island.

Getting to Hiriketiya from Vietnam was to be a journey to remember. I would leave from Halong Bay in Vietnam, and travel by bus to Hanoi, the country’s capital. Spending one night in Hanoi I would then take a flight to Thailand to have a mammoth 9-hour, overnight transit in Bangkok. Then boarding a 6 am flight to Colombo. After arriving frazzled?? Now I was just to follow the simple few instructions from a friend that I had jotted down on a crumpled serviette when back home.

The itinery

I searched for the Tuk Tuk driver with the most honest face and I showed him my directions, with a smile from ear to ear he loaded my backpack into the Tuk Tuk and we were away. I remember about 20 minutes into the Tuk Tuk ride seeing a familiar painted yellow wall adorned with graffiti and knew I had already seen this similar previously?? As it turns out, my honest smiling friend had been driving up the fare by driving happily and repeatedly around the block ($20). Who would know otherwise, with the streets and markets so loud and manic,

I find the next bus that will take me to Matari, there are only limited seats left and the queue is long, I take a standing ticket and for the next couple hours, that's just what I did, stood in a hot, jam-packed bus, traveling a very rocky road down south.

On our only stop, I had my first introduction to Sri Lanka toilets, and they did shock me a little. The few cubicles you could find were so tiny and with nothing but a hole in the floor, a bucket and a scoop. The floor was filthy with mud and water, and while still wearing my oversized backpack I can tell you, there is a certain skillful art to doing your business successfully and without injury in these situations. By this stage, I had purchased a packet of Bidis to smoke and some sort of very strong local coffee to keep me awake.

Sri Lankan buses are best described as crazy! The music is pop Desi and it is loud. They were wildly decorated in loud, vibrant colors and pimped up like nothing I have ever seen. They drive at record speeds and I remember still wearing my backpack and hanging on as tight as I could not to be thrown across the bus. When they pass the bus stops, they never really stop, you have seconds to get on or off the bus while they scream at you "Get Off, Get off!! If you were to get caught on something while exiting the bus, you would surely lose your life.

After hours of traveling, I arrive at Matari, it's dirty and there are hundreds of locals trying to get a seat on the next buses. I can't figure out how to buy a ticket and there is not a foreigner in sight. I see a group of local men, all standing and staring, chewing on the beetle nut leaves, their teeth are stained orange and brown and they are spitting brown spats onto the ground. They actioned to tell me there are no more buses and he pointed to his Tuk Tuk with his dirty smile, I lastingly glared at him with sheer annoyance and kept searching. I find a young woman who reads my instructions, across the road is the bus I need, am desperate to get on, ticket or not. I give the bus driver more than the ticket price and he allows me to get on, not before this local man with brown teeth and a cheek full of spit runs toward me, stops, and licks all up my neck before laughing and running away. Shocked and horrified, I took my seat and searched desperately for the travel wipes I thought I had packed, hoping that this was actually the bus I was about to travel on.

I travel for a few more hours, the bus is so hot, and after so long without sleep, I am beginning to feel like I could pass out, I have shown my directions to the driver and he tells me when it's my stop by repeatedly screaming to " Get off". I am quick to realize my stop was over 4kms back and I begin walking till I finally arrive in Talalah at 7 pm, and after an unrelenting 2 days, I can finally take off my pack, eat and sleep. I was ruined, but I made it to Sri Lanka, unscathed, without getting lost, and only by the directions scribbled on an old serviette. I was feeling very liberated and proud of myself. I imagine after a few less desirable moments from the day, I had seen the worst already of Sri Lanka and was excited for what the weeks ahead will bring.

I made it!

Beach tree house, over the ocean with pink skys while laying under the mosquito net watching the sunset.
Beach Treehouse, Sri Lanka

"A knowledge of the Path cannot be substituted for putting one foot in front of the other"


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