Published: November 12th 2011November 12th 2011
There was once a conversation between two, one was an inquisitive would-be traveller, the other Sri Lanka.
Traveller: So Sri, do you mind if I call you Sri? How are you?
Sri Lanka: Sure, I don't mind, I'm a really chilled out kind of country, Sri it is. I'm doing good. Weather is good, bit wet in the afternoons though, and the tourists are starting to arrive from Europe. All in all pretty good.
Traveller: Cool, good to know, so I'm planning on coming to see you in the not too distant future and wanted to ask you a few questions if that's ok?
Sri Lanka: Of course, go ahead. Shoot.
Traveller: Well I heard recently you were visited by three intrepid girls? Why did they ever come to see you?
Sri Lanka: Ah yes, those three. Well from what I know they were all set to go to the Phillipines and elsewhere in South East Asia but apparently travel was a bit difficult, you know, timely and expensive. So they went online and asked Air Asia where was cheap to go and easy to travel around. And who do you think popped up? Me!
I seemed like a good idea, I'm cheap to get to, easy to get around and well, not nearly as scary as India.
Traveller: So they just bought tickets online and turned up?
Sri Lanka: Pretty much, but I can tell you know, many times on the plane journey they looked at each other and said "What the hell are we doing?"
Traveller: I'm sure they were a bit worried, I mean you're not a place everyone first thinks about?
Sri Lanka: I guess not, but they had a blast! In fact they happened to say that I was in the top five countries visited! Bit of a title I like to think, I mean they have been to like...a gazillion countries!
Traveller: Wow! How did you become the bee knees?
Sri Lanka: Well, they said I was easy going, a breeze to get around in, my people were some of the most friendliest they had met, they felt safe, welcome and liked my food as well. They were only here for a short time but they seemed to see all the 'must-do's'.
Traveller: Where did they end up going?
Arriving here they were a bit worried about what to expect but what they didn't know is that I am actually a massive attraction to Germans and French. Thousands of them come to see me so all the regular tourist infrastructure is there and everyone pretty much speaks English. So after just one night at the seaside town of Negombo they were ready to take on the rest of me. In fact, despite being pretty jet lagged and dying for a good sleep they said they had the most amazing seafood platter on the first day - crab, huge prawns, tuna, calamari, you name it they had it, oh and a bit of Lion Lager on the side - which, of course, they seemed to like a bit too much.
Traveller: Ok so Negombo was first, where to next?
Sri Lanka: Buoyed by their new found bravery they caught a local bus to the second biggest city I have which is Kandy. Set up in the hills it's a green, lush and ancient city which also homed the Indian Visa Application Centre which Zoe and Susan needed to get too - and which Suze had to go along
for the ride. The bus journey gave them their first real taste of local life. A bus for 50 people ended up being rammed with about 200 and the four hour journey gave them a bit of an adventure but also only cost them $1 and a bag full of samosas. If you don't mind taking public transport around me, it's very cheap and easy.
Traveller: So did they like Kandy? I hear it's pretty nice.
Traveller: Oh yeh! They had a great time. As soon as they arrived they befriended a local tuktuk driver called Tara, as in Tara Reid without the drug issues, and got him to deliver them to their guesthouse and find them a pub showing the Rugby World Cup Final pronto! Tara was up to the challenge and took them to a relatively pubby pub but was full of local Kandy rugby fanatics and mainly French tourists. Did you know that rugby is actually quite popular in me? Yeh, they are mad for it, Kandy is even the country's most successful team - apparently winning at least 15 leagues in a row! So anyway, back to the story. Suze and Zoe, the Kiwi
fans were happy, Susan the Australian fan clapped, and the French buried their heads
as the All Blacks won the lowest scoring final in history. When they found Tara outside he said, "Firstly, congratulations! All Blacks are the best team!" Suze and Zoe loved him immediately. The next day they had arranged with Tara to go on a full on welcome to Sri Lanka tour which included spice gardens, elephants and tea. I mean I am quite famous for all those
things. Zoe and Susan also managed to get their Indian Visas submitted - but not after a two hour ordeal - I mean who wants to go to India when I'm so much fun? Suze meanwhile hung out with Tara and got invited for Jackfruit Curry at his families house. Next time she promised!
Traveller: So Kandy sounds like it was fun, how long where they there for and where did they go next?
Sri Lanka: Funny story next, the three were all set to go to Ella which is described in the guidebooks as a beautiful mountain town complete with massage, good food and the best views around - but what made it even more attractive
was that the seven hour trip to get there on the train was supposed to be the most spectacular I can offer. So they asked Tara
who immediately replied "Beautiful yes, but no seats! First class sold out and no seats in the second class. Train comes from Colombo, so all seats taken." The three were a bit disconcerted, but wanted to go to the station in the morning to make sure. "Maybe I take you in tuktuk?" Tara cheekily said, but the thought of a eight hour drive in a small tuktuk complete with three hot ladies and all their luggage meant that idea didn't get off the ground. So they went to the station the next morning and sure enough there were no first class tickets as they are sold out ten days before the trip
each time, and with the arrival of a bus load of tourists their chances of getting one by chance were slim. So they went to buy second class tickets ready to fight for places. But, super Tara came in handy, he bumped into a friend who had a friend who had another friend who had a friend who knew the guard on
the train. Good news! The seats were all sold out but
about two hours into the trip four tourists were getting off so if the girls wanted to pay the difference, and a mere thank you amount to the guard, they could have seats for the rest of the journey.
Traveller: So? Did they get the seats?
Sri Lanka: Well they squeezed themselves onto the stuffed train which smelt like wee and was full of rubbish, look I'm not proud of the cleanliness of my trains but they get people around, and were told to hang out in the part where the two carriages join so they could be spotted by the guard when it was time for them to move up a class. They were a bit worried,
I mean they had to stand for two hours in the smelly dangerous part of the train, but they loved it! Within twenty minutes they had about ten new friends all intrigued as to where they came from, what they did, and was cricket any good in their countries. They were bought mangoes and offered whiskey and well, they had a blast. But soon the guard offered them a
chance to hang out with him in his separate compartment instead of standing. This was a bit of an honour as other tourists were told quite categorically to get out if they ventured in. He had wonky eyes and had worked on the train for thirty years but the girls had good chats with him and he pointed out the best bits of what was soon becoming a stunning train journey. And yes, they did get moved up to first class, after paying a bit extra if you know what I mean, and they were very happy that they could spend the next five hours on a chair!
Traveller: A bit of a crazy journey to get to Ella...but worth it I assume?
Sri Lanka: They said the train journey was one of the best bits. People sometimes don't know what to expect when they come to see me. But I have alot to offer, yes I have sandy palm tree lined beaches but I also have cool hills full of lush green trees and miles of tea plantations. No wonder the English loved me! It's like being back at home in places like Ella. The girls had
a lovely guesthouse in Ella, they managed a hike, a very intimate massage (apparently the Sri Lankan ladies want all clothes off when you get an ayuverdic massage, so modesty's were left outside) and some very good food. They also managed to organise the next part of their trip which to the Yala National Park to try and spot the very shy leopard.
Travaller: National Parks as well? You do have everything! Did they see any leopards?
Sri Lanka: I know, I have many hidden talents. Well they did make the journey all the way down and stayed in a pretty dodgy town called Tissa to get to this park, but yes, they were rewarded for their trip and got to see lots on this safari - including the leopard which not many get to see. They were also spoilt with an array of my birds - and I don't mean the
lovely ladies - deer, wild pigs, elephants, lizards, crocodiles and all sorts!
Traveller: Lucky girls! I assume they were only there for a short time?
Sri Lanka: Yep, you only really need one day to do a safari - I'm not as good as
Africa in that department you know! I'm good but I do have some things I can't do. So they went onto the fort town of Galle. This was to be the last stop for Suze who was back to Australia in a couple of days to get back to real life. They really enjoyed Galle, they walked, drank coffee, ate amazing Sri Lankan breakfasts, witnessed a fantastic storm and spent time chatting to more of my friendly locals. In fact, they had a funny random afternoon with a Bob Marley wannabe called Captain S at small cafe. They only went for a couple of beers but ended up spending hours chatting to this self confessed ladies man/hammock maker/pot dealer who was one of my many characters. He regaled them with stories of his four sons by three women - including a German lady who lied that she was Dutch as he said he didn't like Germans - and of the tsunami which not that long ago hit my shores.
Traveller: Of course! I never thought about that. You tend to hear more about the effect in had on Indonesia and Thailand to be honest.
Sri Lanka: Yes, I
know. It's sad but true. Few people thought about me at that time. In fact I was badly hit, the main tourist area I provide on the south west coast was wiped out. Over 30,000 of my people were killed and dissapeared. In the national park the girls visited alone 57 were wiped out as they took part in various safaris. Captain S told them how he was on his bike and people started shouting "The water is coming", now most of my people didn't know what a tsunami was and why it was there. Captain S explained he was hit by the wall of water and driven about 400 metres
inland where he held onto a building, he only had minor injury so as soon as the water receded about half an hour later, he set about helping the wounded. The girls were also told a similar story by their guesthouse owner who explained that he was actually at the airport picking up guests and only knew about the tsunami when his brother called to tell him
not to come back, he told him "the water is coming". Naman (the gueshouse owner) feared for his family who lived within
the fort area of Galle and so took his guests upcountry to Ella and then drove to his home. When he reached Galle there was utter devastation and the army had taken control. The army would not let him in as it was a disaster zone, Naman explained his family was there and he was desperate to see if they were ok. Naman told the girls, "I had my brother, my mother and father
and my young nieces - I feared the worst, so when the army told me I couldn't go in I told them they could shoot me but I was going in." By some miracle Naman explained how when he entered the old walls of the fort all was the same and he arrived home to find his nieces playing peacefully in the street. The water which hit my shores had not managed to go over the walls built by the Portuguese over three hundred years ago. Ironic isn't it? The new town was wiped out but the old survived. Galle was worst hit and Naman explained how when you walked to the walls which drop down into the sea all you could see was bodies.
Traveller: Those are some terrible stories, ones which I'm sad I never knew about. It's sad Sri Lanka wasn't that publicised in our media.
Sri Lanka: It is. But to be fair many European countries who send all their tourists here helped out. The Germans and French especially. The girls were amazed at the resilience of my people and how despite coming from utter disaster you wouldn't know believe I suffered such a tragedy except for the few memorials dotted around. My people carried on, they built new hotels, they received new boats and again they began to flourish - life carried on.
Travller: No wonder the girls were amazed! So Suze left them in Galle, what happened next?
Sri Lanka: When Susan and Zoe said a sad farewell to Suze, but happy that they had had such a great adventure together, they then headed further south to a small seaside town of Mirissa.
Traveller: Mirissa? Never heard of it?
Sri Lanka: You wouldn't have. It's tiny, a small example of what I used to be like before the packages holidayers came. It has white sand, palm trees, lovely sunsets and lots of delicious seafood.
The two girls blobbed out for three days and seemed to really like my slightly more relaxed side.
Traveller: I guess it ended to soon?
Sri Lanka: It did, the time flew by and before they knew it they had to make their way back to Kandy to pick up their Indian visas that they were expecting. So they took two buses and a total of nine hours to get to Kandy - which by the way cost them less than $3 each, told you I was cheap to get around in - but made it to pick up their new visas.
Traveller: Pah! India! Why would they want to go there after they had so much fun with you?
Sri Lanka: That's what I told them, but you know they needed a new adventure and all. Travellers these days!
Traveller: So what do you think the girls would tell me about you if they met me? Be honest now.
Sri Lanka: I can't speak for them but I think it might go something like this. They liked me, now actually, they loved me. I was a dare, an inpromtu visit, I wasn't planned
and I wasn't expected. They arrived with no ideas and a bit of trepidation. But after spending time with me they realised I wasn't scary, in fact, I think I am pretty much harmless. They felt safe and welcomed. They met so many of my people who were genuinely interested in their backgrounds. Every turn they were met with a cheery 'Hello, where are you from? New Zealand? Rugby Champions!". They thought my food was delicious and my country side beautiful. I had the mountains and I had the sea, I had small towns and I had busy towns. My men don't
stare and leer and the ladies smile and wave. My children want to play with you and know all about you. My people are proud of me and want people who visit to love me as well. I have had a few political issues in the past but that's over with now and peace now prevails. The girls would tell you that they were very sad to say goodbye, and that they would be back.
Traveller: Quite a recommendation then?
Sri Lanka: I like to think so. I mean I'm not that far away from anywhere,
I am cheap to get too - although the girls and I would admit I am quite expensive in terms of accommodation and food - but I really am quite lovely.
Traveller: It sounds like you are! Looks like I will definately have to come and see you.
Sri Lanka: You must - and I make a mean cup of tea. Zoe, Susan and Suze - thanks for taking the risk to come see me. I hope I was worth it?
Note from the writer: Sri Lanka, you were amazing. Noone moves into our top five without good reason. We loved you. Suze we loved travelling with you. Till next time?
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