Sri Lanka: Big Smiles, Honking Horns and Curry!

My first impressions of Sri Lanka?
I’d have to say the big, big smiles.

Big smiles with red-stained teeth, covering the faces of the gorgeous people here. The women in bright, bold patterned outfits, and the men in their traditional skirts. Bicycles – lots of bicycles: sharing the road with trishaws and cars, buses and tractors, chickens, cows, dogs, goats, cats, people, motorbikes and more. The roads are filled with the obligatory Asian hectic traffic, which I seem to be able to best describe as “organised chaos.”
It’s busy here. And it’s hot: really hot – humid and sticky and wonderful.

We flew in to Colombo, Sri Lanka in the early morning, and headed to our accommodation in the beach city of Negombo. Holding on to the handles as our trishaw turned and darted and weaved through the traffic, we had to smile. We’re here – we are finally in Sri Lanka!

A quiet street in Negombo

A quiet street in Negombo

We spent our first day in Negombo, where we walked into the town, through the bustling and lively (and fish smelling) fish market to the city centre. It was exciting, but intimidating. We didn’t see one other tourist, and people everywhere around us were openly staring and laughing at these two very white foreigners. People were leaning out of their passing trishaws to get a better look at us, and the eyes following us were something we are not used to.

Negombo Fish Market

Negombo Fish Market

The hectic sprawl of Negombo city was bustling with life – so much colour and noise, people and traffic!
We spent a while wondering around Negombo looking for a bank that would accept our foreign cards – it took us 8 or 9 different banks before we found one that worked. Relief.
One thing is for sure – we now know that Sri Lanka has a large range of banks, should you wish to open an account.

We spent our first night in a little restaurant near our accommodation, enjoying Sri Lanka’s Lion Beer and traditional rice and curry. Sri Lankan curries are great fun – they come with all these little dishes in separate bowls, making for a real experience as you taste each one, trying to work out what it is.

Lion Beer and Vegetarian Curry

Lion Beer and Curry

On our second day, after sharing a traditional Sri Lankan breakfast with another Melbournian couple (Em was adventurous and ordered banana pancakes) we prepared for a day of travel, as we made our way inland from Negombo to Anuradhapura, an ancient city with sprawling ruins that was once Sri Lanka’s capital.

The bus rides there (two two-and-a-half hour rides) were a very new and, well, let’s say ‘different’ experience.
The first leg of the journey, Negombo to Kurunegala, was pretty standard – a dodgy looking bus that sped over the pot holes and unsealed roads at staggering speeds, dodging whatever was in it’s path. We took over the back seat of the bus so our big packs would fit – luggage storage doesn’t exist here on busses, apparently – and bounced our way into Kurunegala.

Kurunegala bus station is something else – something I can’t even put into words, although, I’ll try my best.
It is a station packed full of, surprise surprise, busses. But not just a few busses – lots, and lots, and then some more – all fighting for space and room to reverse and turn and move in. Horns honk constantly, as people mull everywhere. The smell of petrol fumes was overpowering, but the sights before us were just oh so wonderfully hectic! Finding a bathroom, first off, was an experience, as every person stared us up and down as we walked through the halls. Local touters and restaurant owners tried waving us down, “come lady, sir! Come madame, sit, sit, here, you come!”

To find our bus to Anuradhapura, a little man was kind enough to show us where to go. We waved his hand for us to follow, then marched us right on through and into the centre of the station, in front of and behind moving busses, through small gaps between vehicles, through groups of people and petrol fumes…
Then, when we managed to board the bus alive and take our seats on bus 57 to Anuradhapura, another little  man was kind enough to inform us “no A C.” (air conditioning)… Oh yes, the ride was about to get very interesting – and hot.

Before the bus started rolling, the “music of the station” as I decided to name it, began to ‘play’. As the bus engine hummed and shook, passenger after passenger kept boarding our bus. The humming engine and the footsteps of people provided the hum and pulse of the song. Constant honking of horns around us provided a beat. And the melody came from the many vendors who boarded our already jam packed bus, yelling out their sales pitches in the exact same tones over and over. Pop corn vendors, snack vendors, cold drink vendors, hot food vendors, fried food and short eat vendors… and then the picture book vendor and the gold jewelry vendor moved about, squishing through the bodies and touting their goods. What a sight and sound – we had to smile and laugh.

The following two and a half hours was a bum-numbingly, uncomfortably good time (We’re keeping things positive).
As we bumped and bounced and swayed in our tiny seats, every seat and space in the aisle of the bus was jam packed with passengers – I felt so sorry for the ticket fee collector who had to squeeze and shove his way through the crowd. Jam packed does not even begin to describe it: we were packed in so tightly, at times I wondered how any more people could actually fit in! People were leaning over me, on me, and around me. There is no such thing as personal space when it comes to travelling on a public bus, it would seem. If I didn’t have someone’s crotch rubbing on my shoulder, I had a stomach pressing against me, or someone standing on my feet, or staring at me from a few centimeters away, or breathing heavily on me… But still, it was all an experience – an uncomfortable at times but positive one – and we laughed and smiled our way through it; it was really a lot of fun.

And as the monsoon rain arrived and night closed in, and the bus driver continued to honk his horn and dodge and dive and weave, we looked forward to what we’d find in the ancient city we were about to arrive in: we could not be happier to be here in Sri Lanka.

5 Days to Go: Moving house, backpacks, minus-degree temperatures, flight cancellations and last-minute panic-mode!

We have five days left of normality – if you can even call it that.

In less than a week, we’ll be smiling and sweating in the sweltering 30+ degree heat; thousands of kilometres, and a world away from home.
Or, will we be ‘home’?

Either way, it’s surreal, exciting, and – let’s be honest; we’re in a bit of a tizz; panic mode has set in as we juggle moving out of our house, our last few days of work, packing, organising, finalising, seeing as much of our friends and family as possible and trying to appreciate our last few days of an absolutely bitter-freezing Melbourne Winter.

…And a lot of cups of Milo and Vegemite on toast: we’re going to miss our Aussie comforts.

While our alarm clocks keep screaming at 6am, the peak-hour traffic has us stuck amongst blankets fogs, the temperatures keep plummeting closer and closer to zero, and there seems to be more and more to do; we’re trying to appreciate our last few days here before we head off to Asia.

We had a garage sale and offloaded way too many items of clothing and a heap of other crap that was clogging our drawers and lives.

We moved out of our share house over the weekend, and said goodbye to our house mates over “dirty pizza” by the open fire.

We began packing our backpacks; sorting hiking socks and sleeping sacks, mosquito nets and zip-off pants, ugly sandals and insect repellents, and baby wipes and money belts.

We’ve spent hours (or, Em has) on the phone trying to re-shedule cancelled flights….

We’re spending our evenings with our much-loved family and friends; enjoying too many delicious dinners out and eating way too much chocolate.

We’re slowly crossing off our to-do list; but only half as quickly as we seem to be adding to it.

We’ve still got flights to book, things to buy, documents to organise, things to pack, people to see, work to do, studies to complete and…and…
…there just seems like too much to think about for the 5 days we have left!

Oh!… and did I mention panic?

This is it.

The next time you hear from us; our feet will be firmly in place (in our ugly hiking sandals) on our Asian stomping ground.

Asia here we come, right back where we started from…

One month from today will be our “last day in Australia for a while.”

4 and a half weeks. 
31 days.
744 hours.
44,640 minutes.

Who’s counting?

It’s a strange feeling to know that in in just a few short weeks, everything we know – our comfort zones and safety nets – will be stripped from us. We’ve had so long to prepare, yet it still hasn’t sunk in.
What will we miss? What won’t we miss?…

It’s a big bag of mixed emotions when we think about how we feel about departing Australia,  and “going home” [in a sense] to Asia.
There is this extreme excitement that is, some days, simply uncontrollable. We frolic about, skipping rather than walking, with this joy that I can not explain. 
Other days, we feel filled with a worry, or a fear of the unknown; For our health, for our safety… 
We’re nervous too. It’s hard to pin-point exactly what that’s about.
And, we’re a little stressed: We’ve got 4 VERY busy weeks left of work, a house to move out of, our lives to pack up into boxes and backpacks, and a heap of loose ends to tie-up.

I look forward to soon being able to write non-mundane, rather; exciting and interesting blog posts about fascinating places.

Even more so, I simply look forward to experiencing Asia.

I have a feeling this trip is going to open up doors that right now, neither of us can imagine.
We’re off to Asia again, which in a way, feels like where we started from.

 

Bad Drivers, Strangers, Couch Surfing and a Little Bit of Trust

You’ve just got to have a little bit of trust in them.

Trust. It’s a beautiful and daunting concept. Hard to gain, easy to lose – isn’t that how it goes?
But, what about when you travel? Does it become a whole new concept? I think so.
Sometimes, you don’t get a choice… And sometimes, that can work out to be better than you ever imagined.

When it comes to travel, I am constantly reminded to think “You’ve just got to have a little bit of trust in them.”

And it’s true, for the most part. I don’t believe you can travel, if you are not open to trusting others.
Travelling, [especially backpacking], and trusting people work together.

I’m not suggesting you walk blindly into any situation and just hope for the best. Sometimes common sense kicks in, or maybe it’s your gut feeling that guides you, and you can tell wether it’s a situation you’re comfortable in, or if you want to get the fuck out. Sometimes you can just ‘know’ when you don’t need/want to trust, but other times… you just have to.

Like when you get into the back of a taxi, and spend the entire time with your heart beating wildly in your mouth. You don’t have a choice – if you want to cover a distance to get somewhere, then – at some point you’ll have to take transport, and trust someone to get you there safely.

Or when you check yourself into a backpacker dorm, pack your belongings into your locker and your important doccuments into your day pack… You need to be able to trust that as you sleep/shower/eat, your basic belongings  will still all be there when you come back to your room.

What about when you order a meal? Your common sense and gut instinct can help you here to an extent, but other than that – you have to trust what you eat is safe enough to not have you spending the next 4 days with your head in a toilet. As travellers – we all know this is really difficult and not always possible.

And what about people? People can be so hard to trust! How do you trust that overly-smiling tuk tuk driver when he says “yes, yes, very good, very cheap, the cheapest, yes, yes, follow me, come come, I give you so cheap.?
How do you trust that weird guy in your dorm when he asks if he can borrow your lap-top for a little while?
How do you trust a stranger in a foreign country when they say “Of course, I can help, I can guide you…”
How do you trust someone who you’ve never met before, and known only for a few short minutes, with your life?
I’ve been in all of those situations, and sometimes, you just have to trust.

Sad but true, I’ve found that occasionally when people offer me something generously in a foreign country – somewhere in the back of my mind, I wonder why they would be so generous. It’s terrible to admit, but sometimes that little part of my brain telling me to be cautious starts buzzing, alerting me to the idea that “it’s too good to be true”. Is it the same for you? Sometimes, because of this, I am reminded to trust – becuase not every person is trying to take advantage of me in some way.

What about Couchsurfing? Have you ever tried that?…
Jake and I plan to couch surf in every country we visit during our trip – we’d like to do a lot of it. Not for the “saving money” side of it at all – our reason for couch surfing is to meet locals, and see a country as a traveller, rather than a tourist. Couchsurfing can help us to do that…

But, how do you trust someone you’ve never met, and agree to stay in their home, travel with them, eat with them…? There are no lockers there for your pack, no locks on your bedroom door, and you have no idea who these people are…
Yet, you click a few buttons and type a few lines, swap a few e-mails and there you go – you’ve got somewhere to stay and the possibility of a great new friendship. What a foreign concept to me, what a great one at that! You push aside all those “stranger danger” and “online safety” alarm bells ringing in your head, after years of being taught that in school, from your parents, and through the media.

Couch surfing is built on trust. Trusting your instincts, and trusting others… Thinking of strangers as friends you just haven’t met yet… And I like the concept. A lot.
There are some not so nice people in the world, true, but I think there are a lot more, a LOT more good people out there. And I want to meet some of them.
We’ve already got some couch surfing opportunities lined up, and we hope they work out for the best…

I like how travel pushes people to trust, more so than they might usually. It’s a hard concept to get my head around, but I appreciate it.
We can’t wait to travel; we can’t wait for those dingy hostels and bumpy bus rides. We can’t wait for those people we are going to meet – where ever you are. We can’t wait for our new friends, and those couches we are going to sleep on.
We’re excited to experience travel, and life, and trust is simply part of it all.

So we’re going travelling with open hearts and big smiles, and we look forward to meeting you somewhere Asia!

Daggy Sandals, Baggy Pants… and Nepal thrown in for good measure!

Jake and I spent 6 weeks wondering about Cambodia, Laos and Thailand in a pair of black Havianas, that by the end of the trip, were pretty well worn, filthy and on their last legs. Not to mention; our feet were in poor form after hiking, biking, waterfalls, dirty backroads, 12-hour walking sessions and god-knows what else we stepped in, with only little pieces of rubber to protect our feet…

In the last part of our trip, Jake broke one of his thongs (flip-flops/slippers – we call them ‘thongs’ in Australia) and we spent a good few hours wondering about the little market bazaars trying to find him a new pair. Normally, this would’ve been an easy task, but when you have size 16 feet, even more so, when you have size 16 feet in Asia, this task was impossible, and he spent a week or so walking around with his heels hanging off the back of the (tiny in comparison) thongs. Em found it funny, Jake probably just found it uncomfortable.

So yesterday, we made an exectutive decision to buy those daggy heavy-duty travel sandals. Yes, we know, we know… We know we’re not the only farangs to be wandering about in these bad boys around Asia town, but it didn’t stop us from feeling like we’d aged about 30 plus years in a matter of minutes… Em’s refusal to try them on without socks didn’t help to make the fashion statement any more stylish.

The boy at the shop laughed and kindly said “you know, you are welcome to try them without the socks on…”
Em’s face was priceless; a look of horror, as was her response “…I’m sorry, I just can’t…” Em hates feet with a passion, and the suggestion of taking her socks off was akin to that of being asked to get naked infront of everyone in the shop.

Still, after winging, moaning, deliberating over ‘should we, shouldn’t we…’, Em laughing/dry reaching at the sight of Jake in a pair of sandals, and complaining that ‘I never thought I’d do this, I never thought I’d ever wear these…’, yes, we bought them. Em claims she heard her wallet crying as she handed over her VISA.

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Sandas in hand, we walked silently amongst the busy shoppers. No doubt, we were in shock. We know, we know – slight over-exaggeration, but true. With that, it was on to our next stop – to buy some travel pants. Em got a pair that ticked every box.

Quick Drying? Tick.
Light Weight? Tick.
Non Crease? Tick.
Suitable for travel/hiking? Tick.
Daggy? Tick.
Ugly? Tick.
Baggy and Un-flattering? Tick.
Unattractive? Tick.

Jake bought some new underwear; his friend’s wise words echoing in his mind. “You’re going to India, man. Sometimes, underwear means the difference between getting to the toilet in time, or feeling the shit trickle down your leg.” – Charming, yes. True, yes, probably. We better stock up… sigh.

With the shopping done, feeling defeated and happy with our purchases at the same time (read: Hideous shoes to make us look even more like rich farangs, baggy pants for India to hide Em’s legs from unwanted attention, and underwear to help control things just that little bit more when we are shitting ourselves…), we went home.

Whist strutting about in our sandals, Jake in his new underwear and Em in her baggy pants […what!? You don’t do that…?] Em had a sudden thought.

Why aren’t we going to Nepal? What reason do we have not to? We’re there, near the border, why not just skip accross for a week or so?

So with a little more strutting about in our sandals and baggy pants/underwear, a little research and then dinner out at ‘Old Faithful’ with our friends who have been to India and Nepal in the past, it was decided what we should do.

So, cheers guys! Jake and Em are proud to announce the following:

We own daggy sandals that scream ‘rich farang’…
Em owns a pair of quick-dry, non-crease, light-weight, hideous baggy pants…
We’re well stocked-up on underwear for our trip…

And were off to Nepal! Fuck yeah! Country number 8 – Welcome to our list…

Car for Sale: The Preparations Continue

With 62 days to go before we depart, this is my first solo post – an exciting prospect.
As our planning continues to progress, the check list exponentially increases and the myriad of tasks grows, rather than dwindles.

Well, mine does at least. I’m evidently not the best executioner of tasks, although proficient in planning. Some of the tasks I have been presented with are so simple yet when it comes to doing them… when I think of them it is not the best time to do them, but when it is, it doesn’t come to mind. It is an unfortunate paradox, one that you would imagine given my job would not exist… or I’m lazy.

Alas, however, I have finally put my car on the market. This is a sad time for me, it is the first brand new car I have purchased, it was the first car I bought for my preferences; so you could say that I am attached to the car. It is a brilliant little hatchback and to drive it takes me to a happy place. To see it go will invoke a sadness    and sorrow akin to a break-up or loosing a close friend because they are moving away. But if I don’t sell it the ramifications will be far greater. One of which will be a huge portion of savings chewed up by repayments, depreciation and an irate Em; its the last one I am worried about.

So doctors appointments are booked, car is up for sale, size 16 shoes are purchased (fingers crossed they fit) now to suss out clothing and the final visas and odds and sods.

It’s getting exciting now.

Peace, Jake

Reading: An Inspiration for Travel

I love to read; there’s nothing better, in my opinion, than a rainy night, a warm bed, snuggly PJs, a cup of chia and a damn good book.

 
Coming up to our Asia trip, I’ve been spending lots of time concentrating on travel guide books and online reading, but I still love getting absorbed into a good book.
 
At the moment I’m reading ‘Shantaram’ – a book I can not put down.
Our upcoming trip to India was the inspiration to actually read this book that I’ve been “wanting to” for so long.
 
I’m addicted. I take the 900+ page beast of a book with me everywhere: on the train, to work, to bed, for coffee, to the toilet… I can’t stop reading it.
 
And every time I learn a little more about India, the culture, the people, and the way of life, I feel a little bit more enlightened, a little bitter inspired, a little bit more terrified, and a little bit less prepared!
 
I love that this book is teaching me, changing my perspectives, growing my understanding and questioning my morals – I didn’t realise a book could do that, really.
 
Have you ever found a book like this?
 
I’ve got two months before I go away, and I’m on the hunt for more books to inspire and teach me, preferably related to travel…
 
What can you recommend?

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