Well here I am, home from just short of three weeks away in Sri Lanka and what a country, I am not sure I can really do it justice, I am really struggling to find the right words to even start explaining all about it!
We arrived and stepped off the plane in Colombo and the humidity really hit us, I have never visited a humid country before so I had no idea what to really expect. I can certainly say that we needed the first 48 hours to acclimatise and adjust to a completely different climate and culture.
Our driver met us in arrivals and thank goodness! We knew that hire cars are not recommended (and virtually impossible to find) and the easiest way to get about is to hire a driver with a vehicle for the duration of your stay. For backpackers and budget travelling, trains and buses are popular and an excellent way to cover distances fairly quickly but for us it was definitely an air conditioned mini-van that worked. Having a local with us to guide us, advise us and generally help out was an absolute essential.
Leaving the airport and seeing the reality of the busy, crowded roads was quite an eye opener. There are motorbikes, tuk tuks, buses, cars and people everywhere! It really is like the YouTube videos you see!. And everyone sounds their horn continuously! But no one gets cross or upset, there is no road rage.
I was immediately struck by the fact that Sri Lanka is a much less privileged country to what we are used to. I suppose I did know that, but seeing it is a another thing. Having never been outside Europe or the States, arriving in my first Asian country I could definitely see the huge contrast. Our first task was to find an ATM as the Sri Lankan Rupee is a closed currency and as well as our Revolut card we wanted to get some cash out, it was a bit of a challenge and when we stopped at the ATM we were immediately approached by beggars.
But rather than this new environment upsetting me, I felt at ease, welcome and in awe, I couldn't possibly close my eyes during our long hours travelling in the mini-van as there is just so much to see. Travelling is as much part of the holiday as the sightseeing.
I simply loved watching people go about their day to day lives. I loved passing through the towns and seeing the shops, the fruit and vegetables beautifully displayed, the men in their sarongs and the bright outfits. I was mesmerised by the scenery and green countryside. I stopped to admire the rice fields. I loved the chaos of the shops, all selling the same thing, so many of them, and such a diverse and eclectic mix. Buildings and houses were unfinished and often just blockwork. There was washing hanging all over the place, at the roadside, on chairs, on roofs, in trees! People travel piled into a tuk tuk - meant for three passengers, they can easily squeeze a family or six or seven in! And mum, dad and a child on a motorbike with no crash helmet is a common sight.
But everyone seemed so happy and friendly. So kind and helpful. Tourism is still growing and becoming established in Sri Lanka (a long civil war and the tsunami had a long term effect) and away from the big towns it is quite common to be the only western person wandering about. We did get looked at!
There is no doubt that the experience has made me question some aspects of my own lifestyle. They have so little, we have so much! Too much. For a long time now I have been thinking about what I called Information Overload - I wrote a blog post in January about it and it has continued to rattle around my head. And Sri Lanka confirmed that I do need to readdress the balance a bit in my life.
I think this was really bought home to me when I struck up a friendship with a beach seller called Anne. For the first week or so I avoided the beach sellers and kept saying 'no thank you' until one day something made me stop resisting and I ended up buying some dresses but I also got chatting to Anne about her life. It may have been that I had recently seen the story of the Old Man Selling Eggs on Facebook, have you ever read it? We had been chatting at dinner about bargaining the prices down. And it helped me see the beach sellers in a different way. To be able to have a small business selling dresses or jewellery gives them self-respect and a way to earn a small income to support their family. Not for the luxuries in life like we have but to be able to buy basics like food.. By the time I had finished chatting and looking at her dresses we had quite a crowd come to see too so she did good business that day! She was quite emotional when she thanked me.
Another day I was sat on the sun lounger feeling a bit down as my daughter was struggling to cope with the culture and was not feeling comfortable yet with the volunteering she was doing (more on that in a separate post). Anne came over to me and asked if I was okay, she was so kind, I explained I was worrying about Emily and she reassured me. I told her about the school and that it was next to a Catholic church, Anne is Catholic and so am I and she showed me her small prayer book and the rosary beads she keeps in her pocket. We had something in common, her life is so different to mine, but we still found common ground, we are not so different after all.
A few days later, she called me over and gave me a gift, a bag of fresh red bananas. It was not the value but the gesture, the kindness in the giving. My husband is maybe slightly more cynical, yes she was ultimately selling her goods to me but I had kind of decided it didn't matter. It was the bigger message, she made me think about my own life and how we can help others and be kinder and more considerate.
Anne was incredibly grateful that I had bought from her, she was a bit teary and when we left I gave her a few items that we would take for granted, small shampoo's and shower gels that were unused and that Anne would never be able to afford to buy.
And so for me Anne represented the Sri Lankan people that we met. Yes there are more affluent Sri Lankan's but mostly it is a lower income, developing country but everyone was just so happy.
I want to tell you more about seeing the work done by Dogstar Foundation, the charity set up by my husband's sister-in-law and his brother and about the school they support and how Emily got on when she volunteered at the school. There is so much to share.
I will also be writing about our itinerary and giving some ideas, advice and tips if you ever fancy a trip to Sri Lanka. Plus I will share photos of what we did and what I wore! It wasn't easy getting outfit photos, it goes dark by 6 pm and most days I wasn't dressing up at all, so I had to let go of the style, relax and dress for heat, humidity, comfort and the culture.
For now though, I am continuing my summer break from blogging and social media and so my posts will be less frequent during the remainder of August while I catch up on the post holiday washing and ironing and spend some time with my daughter during her break from sixth form.
Read my other posts about Sri Lanka:
Sri Lanka | Three Week Itinerary
Sri Lanka | South Coast, Whale Watching and Elephants
Sri Lanka | Kandy and the Tea Plantations
Train Nuwara Eliya to Kandy
Negombo and Colombo
Helping good causes in Sri Lanka (Dogstar Foundation and Yawajeewa School)
29 really useful things you need to know when travelling to Sri Lanka
What to wear in Sri Lanka
Hi, I’m Michelle and my blog Fifty & Fab is all about my journey into and through my fifties. I share style tips, health and fitness inspiration, I talk about my holidays and days out and I tell you about my beauty regime and my lifestyle. I hope you might pick up a tip or two and get some inspiration!
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