I returned from my ‘to me, from me’ vacation where I spent 17 days in Sri Lanka and I’m still trying to process how mind-blowingly incredible the experience was.
The country has wowed me; after 17 days in Sri Lanka, 9 towns, 10 different beds, a dozen of curries that have murdered my insides, hundreds of smiles between me and strangers, incredible landscapes and a jaw-dropping slice of nature it has exceeded all my expectations, it has smashed any preconceived ideas I might have had and offered me the chance to feel, touch, see, hear, taste and smell the heartbeat of Ceylon.
My head is spinning with ideas of blog posts, possible articles and making a video from all the minutes of video footage I’ve amateurishly shot. When someone asks about my trip my face lights up and a non-stop ramble flows from my mouth as I try to convey my experience.
During the last year and a half I’ve lost the plot when it came to vacation; every breakaway and short getaway turned into work and between the deadlines and the social media I’ve lost the ability to do the proverbial sit back and relax.
Sri Lanka was different.
It was not another missed opportunity to recharge, rejuvenate and revitalise but this time it was actually an actual vacation.
A real one.
I took me about 4 days to find my holiday-mojo but when I located the switch to tranquility there was no turning back. I became so relaxed during my days in Sri Lanka that I’ve even missed the RSVP date for a launch I was supposed to attend… oops.
During the next month or three a few Sri Lanka blog posts will make its way to my blog alongside a few other reflective and possibly introspective blog posts; so sit back, relax and read on. And if you see a special on a plane ticket and get the opportunity to spend a few days Sri Lanka, please do yourself a favour: go ahead and book it! You won’t be sorry!
Here are 17 photos of my 17 days in Sri Lanka. It was difficult to choose just one photo per day, but here goes.
17 Days in Sri Lanka – A Few Highlights
Day 1 – Negombo
Made it to my first destination just in time to drop my bag and head for the beach for sunset in Negombo. Before the sun said its final goodbye the rain also headed to the beach so I only got a glimpse of golden hour.
Day 2 – Negombo
While waiting for the rain I ordered coffee and instead of a tiny bit of milk I got a whole jug; it goes without saying that the stray ginger got lucky (and I’m pretty sure it is the same cat I fed chicken to the previous night at different restaurant).
Day 3 – Negombo to Dambulla
The majority of temples are never just a hop and skip away but more than often it requires you to sweat up a mountain or hundreds of steps. Dambulla Caves Temple, a scared pilgrimage site for 22 centuries, was no different but the monkeys, the views and the incredible art on the cave’s walls (and ceilings) made it worth all the sweaty steps.
Day 4 – Dambulla to Pidurangala to Polonnaruwa to Dambulla
I climbed up a rock (Pidurangala) to see another rock, Sigiriya (an UNESCO site), visited the ruins of the ancient Kingdom of Polonnaruwa but when I looked up and saw a bunch of Alexandrine Parakeets in the trees my day was made. How beautiful are they? Free and uncaged, as nature intended.
Day 5 – Dambulla – Kandy
When I arrived in Kandy I did not quite get the city that everyone raved about but it took one stroll around the lake before the city – with all its colonial architecture – grew on me. With the lake also came multiple sightings of monitor lizzards, birds and tortoises (on this day I also re-realised that nature and all its creatures will always be my number one).
Day 6 – Kandy
Good coffee was hard to find in Sri Lanka. It’s almost impossible to believe that before Sri Lanka became the world’s tea capital it was the biggest exporter of coffee beans before all the plants were destroyed by Hemileia vastatrix, which caused leaf rust. I stumbled upon Natural Coffee in Kandy who not only understands the art of coffee, uplifts and give back to local communities where their coffee grows, but they are also roasting and selling their own coffee.
Day 7 – Kandy
Due to my love for colonial architecture I obsessed about this hotel since I first laid eyes on it. When Booking.com offered a 55% discount I put my accommodation budget aside and went back to 1844 for one night only.
Day 8 – Kandy to Nuwara Eliya
The train ride from Kandy to Nanu Oya (a short drive from Nuwara Eliya) and from Nanu Oya to Ella is one of the most scenic train trips I’ve ever taken; from left to right I just saw tea plantations and about a dozen waterfalls. There is just something about trains: the elbow-pushing to get a seat, the rhythmic sway, the click-clack-click melody when steel meets steel, the vendors selling fruit, the hellos and goodbyes, the views of the hills, rivers, countryside and life in the small towns in between.
Day 9 – Nuwara Eliya
After meeting some of the tea pluckers of Sri Lanka and learning more about the hard and harsh work they do I will never look at a cup of tea the same again ever. These ladies – highly-skilled and underpaid tea pluckers who is from families who came to Sri Lanka as slaves when the British started the tea plantations in 1867 – are some of the hardest working women in the world. They, and their hands, deserve a whole lot of respect.
Day 10 – Nuwara Eliya
I mixed up my dates – vacation-brain – and stayed for an extra unplanned night in Nuwara Eliya. For the duration of my time there I stayed in one of the cheapest rooms in the area and it ended up being the best homestay experience during my 17 days in Sri Lanka thanks to the wonderful family who runs it. The conversations with the family – a mother, father and their visiting daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter – made it such a memorable stay! If you ever find yourself in Nuwara Eliya, have a look at Pedro View – it is set between the tea plantations, next to Pedro Tea Factory.
Day 11 – Nuwara Eliya to Ella
While waiting for the train to choo-choo its way over the remarkable Nine Arch Bridge in Demodara (a few minutes from Ella), I saw this green fella. The train came, the train went but this one stood still and posed.
Day 12 – Ella
I climbed up Little Adam’s Peak (it’s really little and it took less than hour to get to the top) and even though I missed sunrise I caught a glimpse of the sun breaking through the forest as it caressed the tea plantations.
Day 13 – Ella to Tangalle
On the way from Ella to Tangalle the road ran parallel with Udawalawe National Park and this Asian giant stood next to the national park’s fence. Free, unchained and uncaged, as nature intended.
Day 14 – Tangalle
Never have I ever seen waves and currents so crazy than the rumbling gush of water that I’ve witnessed in the South of Sri Lanka. My homestay was a 2-minute walk from the beach and a short drive from town (where this photo was taken) and as I sat on the beach eyeing and summoning the crabs to stay away from my toes, the waves went almost-Tsunami-nuts in all directions with no pattern whatsoever.
Day 15 – Tangalle to Unuwatuna
I visited a total of 10 towns/villages during my 17 days in Sri Lanka and to get from point A to point B I used public transportation (buses and trains) and a private vehicle from one stretch (Ella to Tangalle) after meeting people who wanted to go in the same direction. The ease of getting around in Sri Lanka and knowing that there is almost always and at any time a bus – or a connection – to anywhere in the country made travelling so much easier (and cheaper).
Day 16 – Unawatuna
I’m a mountain, river and forest person but this postcard-perfect beach flirted with me. It was not exactly in Unawatuna, but in the more quiet Dalawella, a short walk from Unawatuna Beach.
Day 17 – Unawatuna to Galle
Galle is 5-minute tuk-tuk ride from Unawatuna and after visiting the old Dutch Galle Fort the previous day I knew that I just had to abandon my plans and spend my last night in Sri Lanka in Galle’s old town. I saw this 1963 VW Beetle and asked to see the owner; we went from chatting about the Beetle over cinnamon coffee, to talking about the tsunami and civil war. And then I met his daughter, mehndi followed, the dad went to the mosque, we continued chatting and three hours later I walked out of their house and later I did a tour around the Fort in this 1963-beauty. The people I meet along the way will always be the highlight of every journey.
And then the next day it all came to an end…
It’s been a week since I have arrived back in South Africa; I’ve met a few deadlines, caught a bug or something with a doctor’s note saying that I should go for a Malaria smear (what the hell is that?!) if I don’t feel better by tomorrow, I’m still not shutting up about the wonder that is Sri Lanka and a part of me is still in vacation mode.
I’m activating my productivity switch now… if only I can find that button!
(Side note: Malaria is too fancy for me and I’m better already and keen for another trip).