Anuradhapura butterflies
Anuradhapura butterflies

Sometime it takes going away to realise where your home is.

I haven’t felt homesick once since the move to Singapore. Of course, I miss friends and family, and I’m very much looking forward to going home for Christmas, but there hasn’t yet been that overwhelming sadness of the “What have I done? I want to go home!!” variety.

Naturally, I swirled my kopi and attributed this to my imagined status of “citizen of the world”. “The world is my home,” I said to Tippy, who did not even look up from licking her foot. This wankery delusion was further supported by a weekend trip to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. It felt very cosmopolitan and worldly to jet off to Vietnam for the weekend. Because when you’re cosmopolitan and worldly you don’t fly, you “jet”. Even if it’s in economy with screaming kids and snuffling Vietnamese men, it’s still “jetting”. Anyway, it was nice to come home after that, home as in Singapore. Nice to come back to our bed and our couch, to be able to drink tap water again.

Sri Lanka though, still only a short trip, changed that. As we puttered through the country side in a tuk-tuk, going from Anuradhapura, the fabled ancient capital, to Kalpitiya, the deserted windy beaches straight out of kitesurfing fantasies, I caught myself thinking about Australia. Specifically, though I loathe to admit it, Bundaberg. I thought about the smoke plumes from cane fires and catching ash as it fell from the sky. I thought about sitting behind the couch at my Grandma’s house with the cat, squinting at the street through the yellow frosted glass windows. I thought about Arnott’s Assorted Creams and the lolly jar on top of the fridge that became easier to reach as we all got older. How strange it was to be suddenly back in the home town I had joked off for years as “You know, where the rum comes from?”. In the middle of Sri Lanka, of all places. Maybe two months and two weeks is too soon to receive a “Citizen of the World” Passport?

I’ll go back at the end of the year though. There’s no more cane fires, the cat’s long gone. The lolly jar has likely been replaced by bottles of rum: my 21-year-old cousin lives there now. I’ll buy some Assorted Creams though, I’ll eat the Monte Carlos first. I’ll drive through the streets that are the same every time I’m there, a constant cause of outer derision and inner comfort. I suppose they calls them roots for a reason. As far as you go, as wide as you spread your branches, as many different creatures come and build nests on you (maybe not), your roots stay in the same place. You know, where the rum comes from.

A few snaps from Sri Lanka

Insular travel: why I don’t like resorts


Our time in Sri Lanka has come to a close already. I type this from my kitchen table, wrapped in Singaporean humidity, half a world away from that other little island.

The last week of our travels was spent kitesurfing. The first week was travel, the second was spent sequestered in the kiting haven of Kalpitiya. It was great: the wind howled through the palms everyday and I very much enjoyed being constantly barefoot and salty, and even the (Naughty! Bad! Pre-cancerous!) tingle of sunburn on my shoulders.

One thing that didn’t quite sit right with me was the style of accommodation. We stayed in kiting accommodation which could be described as resort-style in that all our meals were provided, as were trips to the kiting spots and beach toys. It was lovely. But. You could just about be anywhere else in the world. There was nothing that remotely even whispered Sri Lanka. Even the food. We asked if they served any local food but were told most kiters didn’t like it. Um ok. 

Our first trip into town was halfway through the week when we were changing accommodation because of availabilities. It was my first real exposure to Kalpitiya town. There was not much there. Whatever tourist rupees that were being pumped into the kite camps were definitely not being seen in town. The place was run-down and dirty, lots of dirt roads and wild donkeys. It was something I had not even considered, coming from a place where prices are quoted in euros and everyone wields hundreds, even thousands, of dollars worth of sporting equipment everyday. 

Suddenly, I felt uncomfortable in our sheltered faux-Lanka. I thought about the amount of money even scungy backpackers like me inject into local economies. Just simply through getting something to eat, having a few beers on the street or catching a tuk-tuk somewhere. Resorts almost deprive a local community of that income. They provide local jobs of course but I wonder about the comparative effects of both approaches. Admittedly Kalpitiya didn’t seem to have the infrastructure to support much tourism but is that the result of not getting any tourists through? Impossible to know. 

I’m by no means an expert on the economic development of communities through tourism, just something I got thinking about. The second place we stayed in was a lot more my style. We were in a smaller, quieter place, foreign-owned but locally-managed. All our meals were provided but at least they were made by a crazy-talented local. We had some great curries! This place at least embraced being part of the village rather than shutting it out. The local kids took Partner 2 for a midnight kiting session on the lagoon! It just felt better.


The hornets on Lion Rock

Sigiriya, the sign and the nests

As an aside, the title sounds like it could be an episode of Game of Thrones. Alas though, brothers, this be not a tale of elaborate deceit and twincest, tis simply a tale of the hornets on Lion Rock.

Yesterday we left the cool mountain air and Perahera madness of Kandy for the scorching plains, home to Sri Lanka’s ancient cities. The itinerary was Kandy -> Dambulla -> Sigiriya -> Anuradhapura, or A-rad as it will henceforth be known. Our driver suggested we change our itinerary, visiting Sigiriya first, then Dambulla. Yep, fine, no worries, why? “Sigiriya very dangerous, 12 o’clock after,” he told us seriously. Yep, ok, heat stroke, hot, maybe crowds, why? “Many wasp attack.” Wasp? That was chalked up to the mountain of what is and has been lost in translation.

It took us about two and a half hours to go the 90-odd kms from Kandy to Sigiriya. There’s a few theories about the history of Sigirya but nothing concrete. Archeologists say it was most likely a meditation spot but locals maintain it was a palace or a fort. A rock fort. Sigiriya is most commonly known as the rock fort of Sri Lanka.

Something I’ve noticed, and I’m not sure if it’s the Bundaberg showing, is my cavalier attitude towards things that people in other countries tell me to watch out for. African sun? No worries, mate, I’m from ‘Straya. Second degree burns and superficial pride wounds ensued. Snakes? Mate, we had a red-bellied black the length of your ute in the back yard the other day, now THAT would make you run like a rat up a drain pipe. I swear I even get more of an accent. The wasp warning was no exception. My scorn grew at the Sigiriya ticket booth, when we were told we could only proceed to the summit at our own risk. They recommended coming back at the Lion’s Paws. Mate, if I’m gunna pay 3900 rupees, I’m gunna bloody well go to the top of the bloody rock.

So we did. Joined by a British/Aussie couple, we climbed countless stairs to the Lion’s Paws, about halfway up. People lingered, posed with the paws, and the more cautious collected apiaries costumes from the First Aid shed before making the summit climb.

How we laughed! Those paranoid tourists sweating in their modified raincoats! Signs warned us to be quiet but we simply mocked the scale of the hornet illustrations. Then, we climbed the narrow iron stairs, bolted into the rock face. About 100m up, we saw them. They clung to the rock, five or six, each one the size of a human child, their surfaces shimmering with the movement of a million wings. The nests. The line of summit-bound tourists hushed as they saw them. I began calculating the reaction of a hundred tourists on a narrow stairway when faced with a swarm of angry hornets. Humbled, I tiptoed past and triple-checked my flash was off when snapping a few pics.

To summarise, thus far Sri Lanka has left me humbled. Not in a Buddhist-enlightenment kind of way, more like when they say watch out for hornets, they’re not fucking kidding.


First impressions of Colombo

imageI’m still yet to find a word that encapsulates the experience of Sri Lanka so far. Special is the best I’ve come up with and that, well, sucks. Partner 2 and I landed in Colombo on Sunday. It’s not a place that necessarily wants you to like it. Some cities exist to be liked and loved, to have sonnets written about them, Colombo isn’t one of them.

Similar to Australian country towns, there is not much happening in Colombo city on a Sunday, much to my initial chagrin. Walking through the streets, fresh off the plane, felt like walking blindfolded. One moment, you’d be walking through a market, taking in the haggling and strange vegetables. Then you’d make a turn and be on a dusty, empty street: stores shuttered, rubbish tumbling in the breeze, the only living things were a pack of mangy street dogs and a slightly more appealing pack of leering construction workers. One second you’re on solid ground, the next your foot is sinking into the unknown.

We eventually yielded to the unknown and convinced a tuk-tuk driver to take us to Galle Face Green, which turned out to be about 500m away from where we were. Easy money for the driver. Suddenly the Colombo we heard about materialised. People had told us mixed things about the Sri Lankan capital: some loved it, some left as soon as they arrived. I wanted to find what people liked, it couldn’t just have been the market. Galle Face Green was it. After whizzing past well-preserved examples of colonial architecture, we made it to the beach. It wasn’t the beach itself that was the attraction, the water was polluted and the waves were erratic from the swirling currents. No, it was the concrete stairs and path above the sand, and the stretch of open grass after that. We had burst into a snapshot of a Colombo Sunday afternoon. Families were sprawled on picnic rugs, flying kites and snacking on vendor food. Couples shuffled along the path, playfully arguing, never touching, making eyes at one another all the while. There was even a spirited game of cricket.

We were suddenly given insight into life in Colombo away from the grumpy stall-holders and dirty streets. The uncertainty of earlier slipped away and we found our footing. Here, people were smiling and laughing at our attempts at simple Sinhala, rather than just staring.

It always takes a while to hit your stride when you’re travelling, to get used to the unknown and unfamiliar. Colombo didn’t make it easy, but we got there in the end.