When I was teaching at Portland State University, spring break would come and all the instructors would ask each other, “Any big plans for break?” and the inevitable reply would typically be something along the lines of, gardening, reading, camping, crafting, or some other enjoyable but rather mundane activity. The oddity would be if someone was traveling – especially special if someone was traveling out of the country.
Now that I live here, when spring break comes, the first question everyone asks each other is, “Where are you going?” Notice that this is not a Yes/No question. It is assumed that everyone will travel somewhere. The oddity is when someone is staying in Al Ain. Even then, it is assumed that if someone is staying in town it must be because they have guests coming from other countries visiting them. A person who isn’t traveling and doesn’t have visitors coming is the oddity. This person is looked at with a confused expression and just asked one question, “Why?”
So, being that I am a true believer in peer-pressure, or perhaps because I feel like I have a limited time in my life to travel to as many places as possible, I booked a trip to Sri Lanka for spring break 2014.
Why Sri Lanka? No reason really. It is just one of those countries that almost all expats will visit while living here. For those that are geographically challenged (as most Americans are – let’s not take offense to that and just accept our shortcomings), I have included a map so you know where Sri Lanka is located in the grand scheme of things.
The flight to Sri Lanka from Abu Dhabi is a quick and easy 4-4.5 hours, and it is fairly cheap (about $280US). Let me just take this opportunity to give another shout out to the Abu Dhabi airport. Hands down, if possible, I would use this airport every time instead of Dubai. It is faster, the staff is friendlier, and it is better organized. I don’t care that there are less souvenir shops.
If you have been following along with my adventures through Europe and Thailand, you will understand that I have been slowly learning how to become a wiser traveler – to spend less time lost and more time relaxing. With Sri Lanka, I decided to go all out and just have a tour agency plan my whole trip for me. Blue Lanka Tours planned everything from providing a personal driver to chauffeur us around each day, to booking every hotel in which we would stay, to arranging all excursions and attractions. This meant that from the second we got off the plan in Sri Lanka, our driver was waiting for us to take us to our first hotel.
The hotel in Colombo (Pearl Grand Hotel) was nice. We were only there long enough to sleep, so it didn’t really matter much. However, if I had known that after the first day it was going to be quite some time before I had another decent shower, I may have taken extra advantage of showering while I still could.
The next day we were whisked off to Kandy. The night before, when we were driven the ~25 miles south from the airport to our hotel in Colombo, I remember having the first inkling that traveling in Sri Lanka would be a slow process. If I hadn’t not fully understood it the first night, I clearly understood it as we made our way to Kandy. Not that this was a huge issue for me since I wasn’t the one driving, but it did mean that we spent a lot of time in the car – more time than one would expect for such a small country. Sri Lanka is a quarter of the size of the state of Oregon, and yet it took hours to drive from one city to the next. It also meant that Kassandra slept a lot as a result of her taking her UAE version of Dramamine to combat car sickness.
On the way to Kandy, we stopped at the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage. This wildlife reserve has about 80 elephants. We got to see the elephants going from the field area through the street to the river for bath time. That was a lot of fun, but it also made me realize how accustomed I have become to the extraordinary. Even when a herd of 15 elephants came charging our way, Kassandra and I merely stepped out of the way. It made me wonder if we have become desensitized to the marvels that we experience during our travels.
We had a nice refreshing drink while we watched the elephants play in the water.
After the elephant orphanage, we went to the Ayurvedic Herbal Spice Garden. Now to be honest, I was not really looking forward to this. I had told the man who created my itinerary that I would prefer to avoid things like the tea plantations or other various garden type things, but I was pleasantly surprised about the herbal garden. It isn’t huge. Our tour guide took us around to various plants and told us what they can be used for to treat ailments and such. He had us feel them, smell them, and some we even tasted.
At the end of the tour, we were given a neck/shoulder massage by men studying to be professional masseurs. They were great. Really really great. I kind of wish they could have just joined us for the rest of our vacation and just followed us around giving us massages all day long. That would be awesome. I should book that on my next vacation. But I digress.
Once we finally made it to Kandy, we checked into the Senani Hotel. Our room was in what felt like the basement dungeon. I had to wear my flip flops in the shower because of the mold lining the walls and floor.
Now I recognize that Kassandra and I tend to eat dinner earlier than your average person. But it never ceases to amaze (annoy?) me at how late people eat dinner in other countries. The hotel restaurant didn’t even open until 7:30 and that was pretty typical throughout the country. So, while waiting to eat, we watched the Amazing Race on TV. It just happened to be an episode taking place in Sri Lanka.
The food in Sri Lanka wasn’t exactly anything to write home about. Is that rude to say? Obviously everyone has different tastes in food, and the food is Sri Lanka just isn’t my thing.
The next morning we went to the Temple of the Tooth. Now the thing about visiting temples and other religious places is that it makes me feel uncomfortable. People are observing their religion, and here I am tromping around as a tourist. It just feels wrong. But seeing as how our tour guide keep assuring me that the Sri Lankans don’t mind, we went for it.
That didn’t stop me from feeling awkward as we literally had to step around people that were praying. You might be wondering why it is called the Temple of the Tooth. Well, if I am to understand my tour guide correctly, the temple houses a canine tooth of the Lord Buddha.
We donated flowers for the Lord Buddha, and we even restrained from smelling them.
We seemed to have come at an especially busy time (or perhaps it is always busy). The monks performed a ritual while we were there.
After the Temple of the Tooth, we stopped at a gem factory. Again, I was kind of reluctant in going. Tourist traps. But, just as I was surprised about the Herbal Garden, I was happy that I went to the Gem place. Okay well maybe it is a bit of a tourist trap. I ended up leaving there with a new bracelet and earrings to match and I am not one to ever buy jewelry.
Well, I think that is enough for today. I will enlighten you all with the rest of my Sri Lankan travels next time.