Welcome to Colombo: Our final Sri Lankan ‘Hurrah!’

Welcome to Colombo, Sri Lanka’s hustling and bustling, busy capital city – our final hurrah, and last new destination to explore in Sri Lanka.

Colombo city appears to be a mix of old and new, of poverty and riches; it’s filled with Dutch architecture, temples, shops selling anything and everything, traffic that never stops flowing, and people – everywhere. The bustling market places brim with bananas and colourful produce, the rhythmic honking of horns blast all day and late into the night, hindu temples are set peacefully amongst 5 star hotels and manic bus stations, traffic is hectic – at the best of times – and of course, the smiling sarong-wearing men and sari-clad women move like clockwork in organised chaos.

By now, we are well adjusted, and have grown accustomed to the lifestyle and unique ways of operating and existing here. We’re used to the hectic, unpredictable and often dangerous traffic, and jumping on to still-moving buses – holding on for precious life and smiling at the many pairs of eyes that stare back at us every time we board. We’re used to the food vendors screaming, the tuk tuk drivers touting, the scammers who attempt to trick us, and the spontaneous tambourine performances that happen on the most interesting of bus rides. We eat with our hands (after sanitizing and sterilizing them, of course), we know what foods are good, we know what prices should roughly be (not that they always are that) and I have become the batering queen.
We now know how to lose those persistent, clingy “guides” who try to “help us”, ensuring us that they “don’t want money” (and then later ask for money and pens…).
We comfortably cross the roads, walking out into traffic we wouldn’t dare confront back home, and we’ve accepted that people stare at us. A lot. Like, all the time.
We’re used to the pollution and dirt that sticks to our sun-screen smeared skin, the heat that bears down on us relentlessly, and the constant outstretched hands of those who ask for money…

Throughout our travels in Sri Lanka, we were frequently told “Colombo is not worth visiting; there’s nothing to see…” However, we disregarded the advice; we wanted to see for ourselves what this bustling metropolis was like – we couldn’t go to Sri Lanka and not go to it’s capital city!

We stayed out of the city in Mt. Lavinina, which meant we had a 30 – 40 minute bus ride into Colombo each day. Rather than being a burden, the trip was really enjoyable each time – passing through the different areas of the city, past markets and shops and people and the always hectic, hectic traffic. Night time was the best time for people watching: it’s fascinating to see how alive this city is at night; the sights and sounds and smells and colours are beautiful and messy, and the people seem to intertwine and enjoy their city together. Every sense is heightened as you try to take in the surroundings.

We spent most of our time in Colombo simply walking around, looking, taking it in and enjoying it.
We shared Kotthu Roti (Sri Lanka’s national dish) at a little hole-in-the wall eatery with a couch surfing host, explored the produce markets and bazaars, ate rice and curry with our hands, drank tea, and at last found a place to appease my shopping urges (although I was very suitably restrained!). We had planned to visit a few temples, but after one distressing visit to the highly regarded Gangaramaya Buddhist temple tourist trap, which was keeping an elephant in a most cruel manner, we left feeling despondent and didn’t bother again.
Our highlight was the small Sunday morning Arts Market, in which several local painters were selling their incredibly beautiful paintings at unbelievably low prices. Had we been travelling back to Australia sooner, we would’ve no doubt bought a piece of unique art work – if you get the opportunity to visit Colombo on a Sunday, a visit to the Arts Market is a fantastic experience.

Two nights might have been enough in Colombo, but there is so much to see there if you really look. As we boarded a bus headed for Negombo, and said goodbye to Colombo – we realized that tomorrow, we’ll be in India…

India.

Shit just got real.

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A taste of Sri Lankan Kandy

The bus ride from Polonnaruwa to Kandy was spent packed in with a hundred-odd people who loved to stare at us, one chicken, no air conditioning and an overly horn-happy driver with a serious need for speed. Hurtling around narrow bends and built up areas, dodging people, animals and a ton of other road vehicles, we laughed nervously until we rolled into Kandy. We’d arrived in the cultural capital.

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The skies are a little more mysterious here – as if they couldn’t decide whether or not to rain – and the weather is cooler here; it’s a lovely change.

The scenery over the central lake and up above the hills is spectacular and green: tiny houses and buildings jut out and mist covers the distant mountains. This place is stunning.

A good looking view

A good looking view

The busy city centre is a sight worth seeing: women dress in brightly coloured flowing saris, people stream everywhere, and the central area is jam packed full of people and buses and other road users – one enormous chaotic traffic flow.

The buses get so close to you – and other vehicles – that you fear they’re about to collide, and people are packed in like sardines where ever they seem to go – on or off the bus.
There seems to be a few official bus stations, but instead the buses just seem to move about everywhere with no order – it’s as if sometimes they’re stopping here, sometimes they’re stopping there, and at other times, they’re not running at all. Regardless, where ever you go, it’s more than likely you’ll be surrounded by a cloud of petrol fumes and listen to the constant honking of several loud horns.

Traffic police stream the traffic, bringing pedestrians to a halt so that drivers can move, and again, so that people can walk safely – although sneaky tuk tuks try to pass through.

The Green Light

The Green Light

Street vendors are selling their goods where ever seems to suit – a woman selling cleaning products and sponges stands in a park, a shoe fixer sets up station on the busy walk way, and the bubble seller blows bubbles at you as you walk along the side walk.

They'll give you good price, very cheap, local price.

They’ll give you good price, very cheap, local price.

In the fresh produce markets, it’s hard to focus – too many things to see are happening at once and there is such a wide array of colourful fresh products; it’s hard to resist buying them even though we’ve got no where to cook them! The vendors give a quick wink at us as we walk through, then continue weighing on antique-looking scales and shoving egg plants and snake beans into tiny bags.

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We did happen to stumble on a cheeky fish monger who kept posing for us, insisting we photograph him. Of course, how could we resist when he whipped out the bloodied tuna head?

Here's Mr. Fishmonger's 5 minutes of fame

Here’s Mr. Fishmonger’s 5 minutes of fame

Of course, Kandy is a real tourist area – it’s famous dot on the Sri Lankan map lures the tourists in – therefore, there are always going to be those praying upon those who are a little more naïve, and it became a bit of a hassle to keep the pestering at bay, unlike the other areas we’d seen in Sri Lanka.

The tourists seem to move in droves here – we’re like pack animals – all hiding behind each other with our Lonely Planet guide books and mosquito repellant. 5pm comes and we’re all rolling down our pant-legs and rubbing citronella and Deet into our skin. And if you’re looking for the tourists areas – look no further than the 5:30pm nightly cultural dance show, where Kandyan dancing and drumming displays are commercialized yet rather enjoyable!

There are cafes here! Places to just sit, drink and enjoy! There is also a reasonable choice of restaurants! – something we’ve been missing a little in the other places we visited.

Dahl and Roti

Dahl and Roti

As for culture, we pretty much managed to avoid it here – not particularly by choice – but, well, it was more difficult to find than I thought it would be in the “cultural capital.” Perhaps it’s got something to do with the fact that we decided not to visit the two “top recommendation for tourists” – the sacred Temple of the Tooth and the Botanic Gardens.

Instead, we spent our time simply wandering about – we explored the markets for hours, ate some good food, visited a tea factory, learned about various spices, cooked Sri Lankan food with our home-stay hosts, took a tuk tuk up a mountain to the famous tea museum which ended up being closed, and walked around the large, beautiful lake.

Little markets

Little markets

...Get in your cot!

…Get in your cot!

Yay! Tea!

Yay! Tea!

Home-cooked curry

Home-cooked curry

Kandy Lake

Kandy Lake

Kandy was a lovely place to visit; it was good to just simply stroll and explore, but for now, we’re ready to move on and see something new and different. Tomorrow its off to Ella on the train – observation carriage all the way – to soak up the incredible scenery and tea plantations. I’m ready for another cuppa and some hill-country hikes, so let’s see what our next destination has to offer!