Tuesday, June 1, 2010

A wanderlust tourist's perspective on post-conflict Sri Lanka-Lasting memories.

The writer who is a friend of mine and this is his first visit to Sri Lanka, he relates his experience as a traveller in the country which not long ago was categorized as one not recommended for tourists.
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For a small country, the sheer number of places of historical and natural interest was amazing, and knowing that we could not fit in everything Sri Lanka has to offer in one 3-week trip we decided that we didn't have time to visit the east coast as well as the north. A Swiss gentleman had previously told us that tourists still experienced difficulties travelling to the North, being told that they needed permits that they had no idea of how to obtain. Looking back on our Sri Lanka trip, it was full of experiences and memories that will never be forgotten. I realise now that as a tourist there it was never truly possible to fully blend in and be treated as part of the community.

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Arriving in Colombo airport from UK on the 9th of April, I really did not know what to expect of Sri Lanka. Unlike Heather, my partner with whom I was travelling, I had not done much research into the country. I knew that the civil war had recently ended and could not say that I was not a little apprehensive about visiting a country that had so recently been the home of conflict.

We had a little over three weeks, and tried to take in as much as possible of the country by staying for no longer than 3 nights in any one place. The idea was to start in Colombo and work our way down the west coast to Galle. From here we planned work our way though the more touristy south coast towns such as Mirissa, up into the Hill Country and finish up by exploring the Cultural Triangle before making our way to our final destination, Negombo, and catching our flight home.
We had been forewarned by our guidebook of people trying to scam tourists out of money, and in Colombo no time had passed before we were approached in the street and asked to make a donation to a phoney(?) school. We had a lot of experience of visiting a temple or similar, and a person appearing out of the blue and forcing himself upon us as a guide. The person would inevitably be impossible to shake off without being rude, and would only finally leave on receipt of a payment which was annoying as we had told them previously that we did not want a guide. Of all the places we visited in Sri Lanka we found Colombo to be the worst for tourist scams.
All in all, however, we found the Sri Lankan people very amicable, and were especially taken with the community feel that everyone has: people sitting in buses carrying the bags of people standing, the protectiveness and caring shown towards the younger generation. We also never tired of the small children, who would always greet us with a friendly "hello!" the more enthusiastic ones adding a further "how are you?"

We found the cost of travelling by bus or train in Sri Lanka very low, and were taken aback in Colombo by how little a meal cost. In the more touristy parts (I later discovered that Sri Lanka has witnessed a 30 percent increase in tourists visiting the country in the past year, undoubtedly caused by the end of the civil war) prices were higher - sometimes astronomically - and a meal in Mirissa would rival the cost of a meal in a tourist resort in the west. The south coast was the most expensive place we visited, but it did have some spectacular beaches.
For a small country, the sheer number of places of historical and natural interest was amazing, and knowing that we could not fit in everything Sri Lanka has to offer in one 3-week trip we decided that we didn't have time to visit the east coast as well as the north. A Swiss gentleman had previously told us that tourists still experienced difficulties travelling to the North, being told that they needed permits that they had no idea of how to obtain. The areas we did visit, though, were varied and absorbing enough to satisfy our wanderlust.
I think the most impressive place I visited was Sigiriya rock, but it was closely rivalled by the natural beauty of the views from Adam's Peak and of course the ethereal shadow that the peak cast.

Looking back on our Sri Lanka trip, it was full of experiences and memories that will never be forgotten. I realise now that as a tourist there it was never truly possible to fully blend in and be treated as part of the community.
In order to fully appreciate the culture, history and nature of Sri Lanka it was important to stray away from the touristy areas, intermingle with the locals and stay at family-run guesthouses as opposed to faceless hotels.

Once I accepted that when out and about I wouldn't be able to walk 20 feet without being offered an overpriced tuk-tuk or asked if I wanted a guided tour of a national park, Sri Lanka became a very stress-free, relaxing place to be, and of course how could I forget the food? I don't think I could ever tire of having curry for breakfast, lunch and dinner!

Land like no other true, it’s a small miracle.

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