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…
Shit just got real.