With John Hampson
We started off in Colombo, which is a noisy, busy, messy sprawl, with the 24/7 sound of peeping horns. Every journey on the roads was fairly hair-raising. It was interesting to soak up the chaotic atmosphere, but there is little in the way of attractions or sights in the city. It is not yet at the development or wealth level whereby it can be more than a functional city – maybe in the future. Despite the rawness, the people generally seemed friendly and there felt little threat, and that proved to be so throughout our Sri Lanka stay. In that I am mainly referring to men, because most of the service jobs are taken by men, with the women home. It was not uncommon for the complete range of hotel staff to be male, from cleaner to manager. Tuk-tuks are truly everywhere, used by locals and tourists alike, but every driver was a male. So here goes one person’s experience of the Sri Lankans (largely males) – backed up by a little research:
The Sri Lankans are often keen to sell you something, and if you stick only to the main tourist circular route (Galle – Nuwara Eliya – Kandy etc) then that it likely to be at the most intense. But they are generally friendly and keen to say hello, and it felt very safe. Personally, I would rather people came up to me wanting to make a living (as in Sri Lanka), rather than coming up to me trying to con a living (countries where it doesn’t feel safe), and like in Bali, if you step off the main tourist circular then you’ll experience less opportunists. I didn’t find the Sri Lankans as charming as the Balinese or Malaysians, as there appeared to be some pettiness, impatience and competition amongst the Sri Lankan men – not so much with the tourists but with each other. There was also a little incompetence and lack of confidence, particularly evident at the higher-end accommodation, whereby the general standards didn’t measure up to other countries on the trip. Nonetheless, these were niggles in an otherwise positive experience, with these highlights:
The beaches of the south-west (down from Colombo and across to Yala) are excellent: palm trees, soft sand and dramatic waves. The staple ‘rice and curry’ dish on offer everywhere is in fact a great banquet-for-one at a very cheap price: you get a fish or meat curry, 3 vegetable curries, rice and poppadoms. We experienced great wildlife on the doorstep of a lot of our accommodation choices: chipmunks, bats, monkeys, fireflies, mongooses, and more. Plus on sea safari blue whales, dolphins and manta rays, and on safari in Yala elephants, eagles, crocodiles, water buffalo, and others. You can’t stay in Yala National Park, but the closest hotel is Chaaya Wild, which is completely open to the wilderness, and the wilderness comes in. In and around the hotel complex we saw iguanas, langurs, crocodiles, snakes, leopards and more. So as well as a safari in the national park, just being at that hotel was a real wildlife treat (rooms, beds and food all excellent too).
The Sri Lankans are mainly Buddhists, but various religions are practiced and there are statues of different gods in large roadside glass display cabinets, including Jesus and Hindu gods. One principle of Buddhism is anti-alcohol, and whilst booze is legal in Sri Lanka, it is therefore not moral for many of them. Instead, betel leaf chewing (stimulant with euphoria) is common, with red spit marks all over the streets as a result. English is widely spoken but not everywhere. There are 3 different main languages, with 3 different scripts. The far north, home of the Tamils (which is one language and script), is still considered unsafe for tourists, and it was only 5 years ago that the Sri Lankan army defeated the Tamil separatist movement, ending a 25 year civil war in that region. There are still many soldiers around guarding the streets throughout Sri Lanka, a reminder that those troubles are still fresh.
For some of the reasons outlined in this brief summary, I did not come away wanting to invest in Sri Lanka (shares/funds). But understand this is based on 3 weeks, in 6 different areas, in particular circumstances, and is only based on a shallow understanding. If a Sri Lankan reader wishes to pull me up on any inaccuracies or generalisations I shall humbly defer. But this was my experience, and I would return as a traveller for the beaches and the wildlife. Let me end with some pics.