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There is something about Sri Lanka. My soul is being stirred continually. I feel like I have stepped back in time. To a simpler life. Albeit somewhat chaotic, a life where people are truly connected by the ordinary moments of daily life.
There are so many moments when you travel. Moments that are not able to be captured on camera. Moments that resonate somewhere deep inside of you. Mental snapshots. Delightful, and some not so delightful, moments of real life unfolding before your very eyes.
When the bicycle bell tinkled, I just knew what was about to happen. Sure enough the mailman glided down the driveway and dug into his metal basket to hand the guesthouse hostess her morning mail. What transpired was not just a mail delivery but a daily ritual. An exchange of smiles and small talk. Community.
A crowd gathers to watch family members swimming in the waves at Arugam Bay
Riding the local buses this sense of community is palpable. On one trip, when all the students piled on to the bus, there were knowing glances. Older students looking out for younger ones, backpacks piled onto the laps of people lucky enough to have a seat.
This bus driver, unable to go quite at lightning speed on the extremely curvy mountain road, exchanged waves with locals at the side of the road. Mothers waited to greet their children at the bus stops and then disappeared down dusty mountain roads.
When the bus passed Diyaluma Falls, the driver motioned for me to take a picture. I think I was daydreaming and missed it. A few minutes later, he stopped the bus, looked at me and said, “Get out!” I replied, “Well don’t leave without me!” I hopped out and snapped a few pictures while the entire bus load waited! Definitely a moment.
Emily, my daughter, and I went to pick up our laundry in Arugam Bay and it wasn’t ready and waiting. The shopkeeper made a quick call, hopped on his motorbike, and was gone. I then realized that he had asked us to mind his store while he retrieved our laundry!
There was the tuk tuk driver, Fawmy, we had used in Haputale. He happened to be at the train station the day our train was delayed. We chatted for a while and when he realized we had no food for the journey, he offered to take me in his tuk tuk to buy snacks for the train ride. Time. Generosity.
While admiring the stone carving in the wall at the Dowa Temple, a group of Sri Lankans, after much giggling, asked us to be in their photograph.
When we entered the temple, the man in charge personally escorted us and proudly showed us the ancient cave paintings and Buddhas. He tied string around our wrists (very, very important assured our guesthouse host), helped us wrap coins as an offering and left us to meditate in the temple alone.
Sri Lanka is bursting with old world charm. Train conductors, men in trousers, dress shirts and flip flops, ladies in their saris, tea served in china teapots with heated milk alongside, cows wandering down the road, daily electricity interruptions, men in sarongs pedalling their bikes and people joyfully bathing in rivers and waterfalls together. I am called “Madam” by everyone.
Sri Lankans curiously ask where you are from. It is the first question they pose. When we proudly say, “Canada” there is a slight pause. Then they respond, “It is hard to meet Canadians.” “Oh, Canada…so far away.” “You are lucky to be born in Canada. It is a peaceful and safe country, like Australia.” “You have snow.” When we tell them it can get to minus 30, they are incredulous. Short conversations with strangers lead to a handshake and an exchange of names. Every time.
Sri Lankans are proud of their country. In many conversations, I am told that their “Ceylon tea is world famous” and that it is “exported all over the world.” They want you to have a great experience – to hike their mountains, to ride the trains, to visit their temples, tea plantations and beaches. They grin from ear to ear when you tell them that you love a local dish. The grin turns into a huge beam when you tell them that you love their country.
The landscape is breathtaking.
The National Parks and wildlife are show stopping.
There is an air of spiritual mysticism where Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Christians practice their faiths. It is part of their daily lives. On one bus ride, the conductor hopped out to place an offering as we passed a Buddhist temple. Monks get the front seats on buses. Full moon days are a holiday and families, dressed in white, visit their temples.
Sri Lanka is a developing country. It is a country moving forward after a twenty-seven year civil war that ended in 2009. It was hit hard by the tsunami in 2004. Poverty, corrugated tin shacks and scrawny dogs are daily sights. Perhaps this history contributes to the beautiful energy in this country.
The people have warmed my heart. Strangers glance curiously our way. When I use the most precious gift I have, my smile, I am rewarded with beautiful smiles and nods in return. I am heading north to see one thousand year old ruins, elephants in an annual gathering and Sigirya rock. I am curious to see what other moments Sri Lanka has in store for me. Will my experience be different as a solo female traveller?