Anywhere that we’ve travelled to in the world, the food is often one of the main differentiators that give you a real sense of the local culture. While it’s possible to get hamburgers and pizza pretty much anywhere, we always want to try the local cuisine. In Sri Lanka, more than any other dish, local means rice and curry.
Here in Sri Lanka, curry is often made with chicken, fish or beef and I’ve found it to be quite different than the curry that we had in different parts of India with Sri Lankan curry often much hotter.
If you wished, you could have easily eaten some variation of rice and curry every single day in Sri Lanka for breakfast, lunch and dinner. For many of us, we were eating curry pretty much every single day for at least the first two weeks before starting to look at alternatives. Unfortunately, we’ve found a lot of restaurants around the country where we visited, often have an unsatisfying alternative to rice and curry. It’s unfortunate that other than rice and curry, we’ve had a string of bad dinners between the seven of us over the past several weeks.
Anything that I could write about our adventure in Sri Lanka would be incomplete without mentioning the dogs as they were a single constant, seen every single day of our trip since we arrived.
Throughout Sri Lanka, no matter where you go, stray dogs are everywhere. On an average day, we would pass by hundreds of dogs, roaming the streets or just sleeping in the street. While some of the dogs appear to be well-fed, many of them are scrawny and a good proportion of them look like they just had pups. The dogs are not aggressive and appear to mostly be looking for a handout of food.
I’ve been told that some of these dogs belong to people who live here but the sheer number of stray dogs in the streets doesn’t support that. I don’t understand the complete reason for so many stray dogs in this country but it’s unfortunate nonetheless.
Earlier this year there were bombings in Sri Lanka on Easter, targeting several local hotels and churches. While the seven of us had made the decision to continue with our plans to come to Sri Lanka, many, many groups cancelled their travel plans. The impact of this was very noticeable.
For the most part, at the vast majority of hotels, we stayed it often appeared to be less than 20% occupancy – often far less than 20%. In most restaurants that we went to over our trip, it was common for the seven of us to be the only ones in the restaurant, or in a small minority. Without exception, everyone who we talked to said that there has been a big drop in tourism since the bombings and it’s uncertain when tourism will return back to normal again.
We’ve been moving around quite a bit. For the first two weeks, it was normal for us to be in a hotel for no more than 2 nights, then a long drive to our next destination. A few times we discussed with our driver and guide that we wanted to scale back our agenda to get more downtime as we sometimes felt that our agenda was too full. With this in mind, we were all looking forward to our stay in Hikkaduwa as we would be there for three nights. Best of all, Hikkaduwa is a beach town and we had a full day and a half of downtime with nothing planned, allowing us to recover and really just do nothing other than stay by the pool and relax if we wished.
Over the past two weeks, many of us have gotten sick to some degree – all with colds. I can say with experience that there’s nothing worse than getting sick while travelling. It’s been weeks since there hasn’t been at least one of us coughing in the van as we’ve driven from place to place. I’m fairly certain that constantly being in air-conditioned places has something to do with this.
Even worse, on this trip, it just wasn’t practical to stay in the hotel for several days to recover as we were moving around the country quite a bit and in most cases, we were all back in the van the next day for another long drive to get to our next destination. The group supply of cold medicine has been nearly exhausted and it’s quite possible that some of us might be flying home at the end of our trip still recovering.
The Big City
We finally got the rest and relaxation in Hikkaduwa that we were looking for and after a couple of days of not having any structured plans we were back on the road again but this time to our final destination: Colombo.
We ended up driving north into Colombo on Friday night and in hindsight, this couldn’t have been a worse time to be travelling in that direction as we found that Friday nights were the absolute worst time of the week for traffic. We ended up crawling along at 5-10 Km/hr for a good 1-2 hours and we wondered how late it was going to be when we got to our hotel.
Once we had all checked in, we had to contend with loud live music playing in the street below our hotel at all hours of the night. Nonetheless, Barb, Wendy and I decided that we wanted to go out and found a lively bar within a 2-minute walk of our hotel and went out to join the crowd.
The very first thing that we all noticed was how cosmopolitan and modern the part of Colombo we were in. The very modern hotels and bars in our area and the young crowd out having a good time could have easily been the same thing seen in any other city in the world.
Before we had even left Vancouver, we had plans to try and get together with family members, whom we have never met, and who lived here in Sri Lanka. It ended up being a bit complicated to set up but we were able to make plans and had dinner with about 10 of my relatives on the last night of our stay in Colombo. We’ve had this situation happen before in both England and Australia and as in both those other cases where we met the family for a very brief time we all came away thinking that we would have loved to spend more time with them – at least several days. It’s something that we’ll have to do for planning a return trip to Sri Lanka.
By this time tomorrow, we’ll be at the airport for our return flight back to Vancouver as our Excellent Sri Lankan Adventure comes to a close. There are a number of closing thoughts that I have running through my mind, in no particular order.
I would describe Sri Lanka as a mix of 3rd world meets 1st world. The 1st world part of Sri Lanka is a very thin veneer only really seen in Colombo. Service in hotels and restaurants can be insanely frustrating and most things take 3 times longer than expected.
I’m not sure that I could ever get used to the near-constant high humidity. The only respite that we got from the humidity was the few days that we stayed in the hill country.
Barb and I were in India a few years ago and we were constantly remarking about how much cleaner Sri Lanka was. We remember garbage on the sides of the streets and highways almost everywhere in India, rarely seen anywhere in Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka now has the record for being the least expensive country to where we’ve ever travelled. When converting everything into Canadian dollars, just about anything that we’ve bought here in Sri Lanka is very reasonable.
In hindsight, we would have done a completely different itinerary where we stayed in each location for at least 3-4 days with less running around. Funny enough, this exact same comment was what I said at the end of our trip to India.
Getting to Sri Lanka from Vancouver is pretty brutal – about 30 hours of total travel. We missed our connection in Hong Kong on our inbound flight and this delayed our arrival but best case scenario, travelling here is always going to be more than one full day of travel. Of course, this is on top of a 12.5-hour time zone change.
So would I come back again to Sri Lanka? Yes, but not for a long time and definitely not while I’m still working. The recovery from the time zone change is going to really take its toll on me when I get back home in a few days.
That’s all I’m going to write and I hope that you’ve all enjoyed travelling along with me on this Adventure. All the best.
PS: By now I’ve uploaded all of my Sri Lankan photos to my photo website: https://www.photos.excellentadventure.ca/Sri-Lanka-2019