Sri Lanka & 1 Year International Travel
Today officially marks my one-year anniversary of traveling outside of the USA. This has always been a lifelong dream and aspiration of mine to complete. I never wanted to leave America because I was upset with political agendas or because I thought it was a bad place. I love America. Growing up I remember learning about world explorers, different ways people lived through reading books, National Geographic magazine and travel TV shows. It always seemed a wasted opportunity at life not to explore what the World has created versus having to learn or experience this information through someone else’s lense or stories.
I understand that my train of thought on this may be vastly different from others. In the end it was a need for me in my life to feel fulfilled and accomplished. It was worth taking a risk to leave a great job with a fantastic boss and great benefits. In one year’s time I can say like the name of my blog I have “No Regrets” from what has occurred since I left the USA. I certainly do miss my dog, family and friends. I’m glad they support me and continue to send me positive reinforcement from afar. I feel loved and hope to continue to inspire myself and others while I travel.
The last 2 weeks of my first year were spent traveling throughout Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka was always a place I expected to visit at some point in my life. I ended up here because of a requirement based on the visa for Indonesia. According to AirAsia I had to book a flight exiting Indonesia before boarding my flight to go there. This was never a rule before and did not occur when I returned to Bali after Sri Lanka. My requirements for a place to travel were somewhere with surf spots and where I had never been before. My options were the Philippines or Sri Lanka at an affordable price. I think the flight to Sri Lanka was slightly less expensive for a last-minute choice and that’s why I chose it.
I started making plans for Sri Lanka after returning to Bali. I chatted to my close college friend, Courteney aka CSals, who had been to Sri Lanka before. She introduced me on Instagram to a close friend of hers who was from Sri Lanka. When I reached out to Adeesha he said his friends were planning a safari trip two days after I arrived in town and welcomed me to join them.
My friend Rick who I met in Vietnam through another friend decided to come to Bali a week before I left to Sri Lanka. On the morning I was leaving Bali he decided to get in the car I was taking to the airport and bought a ticket to join me in Sri Lanka. Then another one of our travel friends (Liz) booked a flight and arrived in Colombo 8 hours after us. Liz, Rick and I got on a train to Kandy, which was the old capital of Sri Lanka, the morning she arrived to go do some sightseeing. The train ride to Kandy cost $1.50 and was by far one of the highlights of my trip. Even though most of the ride there was standing room only in a train car with no air conditioning. We found a spot by the train door and used the opportunity to enjoy views of the beautiful countryside.
We only had 18 hours in Kandy because I had to get back to Colombo to meet Adeesha for the safari. Liz and Rick are very experienced travelers (40+ countries each) so we had no problem cramming in most of the highest rated things to do in Kandy the afternoon we arrived (pictures below). Friday morning we went to see the “Big Buddha” before I jumped on the local bus back to Kandy for $1. Riding a local bus for 4+ hours in Sri Lanka is another experience every traveler should have when visiting this beautiful country. They sell tickets to anyone who can fit on the bus, play loud Sri Lankan music and most of the locals smile at you with what feels like a level of respect for being able to hang with their lifestyle.
I arrived back in Colombo and waited for Adeesha to get off work to pick me up. Adeesha has the type of personality which made me feel welcomed as if I was one of his long-time friends from the moment I got in his car. We went to a local country club he belongs to for a beer and some local appetizers. We went to another local establishment for more food and beer afterwards. We got home around 10:30pm and had to be up at 2:00am to get on the road towards to our safari destination in Wilpattu. Adeesha’s incredible energy was shocking to me as he got us on the road by 2:20am for a three-hour drive to make sure we were able to get into the national park when it opened at 6am. I couldn’t hang and had to take a nap while he drove us through the night.
Three more of Adeesha’s friends met us at the park and immediately welcomed me like I was one their longtime friends too. Adeesha and his friends go on several safaris each year and have been doing this for more than a decade. The last several trips for them were not very fruitful as they struggled to see much wildlife. They were hoping I would be the lucky charm. After 10 minutes riding into the park I proved to be the lucky charm. We saw our first leopard walking down the road. It was a brief sighting and I was told it was one of the largest males in the park. He quickly ran off into the woods to hide from the caravan of jeeps. Throughout two, twelve-hour days of safari exploring we were very lucky and saw 6 leopards, 3 sloth bears, 1 elephant, various amounts of rare birds and a Sri Lankan giant squirrel.
During our two days together, the guys spent the time educating me about the animals, Sri Lankan culture and explaining more about the history of the country in which I was not as familiar with. They were impressed by my ability to jump right in and to embrace the culture as if I had been living there for years. Mostly this was in regard to eating with my fingers and being able to handle the extreme spice of our meals. While eating with them I told them the Sri Lankan food was the first food to take away my craving for American food.
When the safari trip was done, I spent another night in Colombo at the Bunkyard Hostel for the second time. I met the owner of this place in Bali at a restaurant and told him if I ever came to Colombo I would stay at his place. This hostel is one of the best I’ve ever stayed at. I typically don’t stay at hostels, but I will if I’m just crashing somewhere for a few hours and I don’t want to waste extra funds on a private bedroom. Bunkyard watched my extra backpack and surfboard while I went away on the safari. If you don’t mind hostels then I would recommend staying here because it is stylish, comfortable and the staff offers fantastic service.
Photos below thank you to the very talented photographers who welcomed me to join their safari. Each photo has their instagram handle and a link to their contact website. Please check out their work as they take some fantastic photos.
This is when Sri Lanka started to change a little bit for me. I booked an overnight bus from Colombo to Arugam Bay to spend time surfing and relaxing. I was told there would be no baggage fees when I booked the 1000 rupiah ($7) overnight luxury bus with air conditioning. Upon arrival to get on the bus later that night I was told 500 rupiah for my bags. Then the driver yelled at the bus conductor and the price magically changed to 1000. It is only a $7 charge, but it was an obvious attempt to rip me off for more money which did not sit well with me. From the research and reading I had done online the maximum baggage fees others had paid for this bus were 300 rupiah. I didn’t have another option so I had to eat the extra 1000 rupiah and get on the bus. A local man on the bus had attempted to help me talk to the bus driver about this charge and told me he agreed they were ripping me off because I was a tourist.
We sat next to each other on the bus all the way to Arugum Bay. He told me he would help me when I got to town because he felt bad about what happened. He told me all about his family and bought a language book from a salesman on the bus to help show me some things about the Sri Lankan culture. I took him as an honest and true man who was trying to be helpful. When we arrived to the bus stop at 4am I was the “sucker." He found me a local tuktuk driver who he said was his uncle to take me to a hostel where I could crash for a couple of hours.
His "uncle" charged me 1,000 rupiah for a ride that should have been 300 rupiah based off another driver’s quote at the bus stop. I later confirmed 300 should have been the right price by readings blogs and speaking to other locals in Arugam Bay. During the drive he forgot to strap down my surfboard bag and my surfboard flew off the top of his tuktuk. The hostel I went to ended up being closed and he took me to his friend who he said would charge me 1,000 for a room that night. You guessed it, the charge was 2,500 when we showed up. This was when I hit my tolerance level for being treated like an endless money pit to people who kept lying to me. They were starting to get aggressive and tell me it was so cheap compared to where I’m from. I was on zero sleep and ended up telling the driver some choice words on what I thought about his business practices. Immediately, I realized I was not in a safe situation to speak freely and apologized to him. I paid his overcharge rate, grabbed my bags and went to watch the sunrise on the beach waiting until my hotel opened the next morning.
After checking into my hotel, I decided to unpack my surfboard and go for a morning surf to change the way the day started and trying to keep a positive attitude about Arugam Bay. I then found out when my surf board fell off the roof it cracked the edge and it was unusable without getting fixed. I went to a couple of repair shops to find out they couldn’t match my color and the repair price would be 10 times more expensive than to get it done with a color match in Bali. I decided to rent a board and go out for a surf to reset my zen. The waves were nice and I went to the “Main Point” break, which had a beautiful right hander. I caught a beautifu right hander and was using an expert board that allowed me to make Kelly Slater like turns for the first time! The mood was switched around and things were looking back on track.
Liz ended up going back home for work, but Rick decided to meet me in Arugam Bay later that afternoon. I had planned to stay in Arugam Bay for a couple of weeks originally. The waves were flat, the surf spots were as dangerous from overcrowding as Bali and based off my initial vibe it wasn’t a place where I wanted to stay and surf for several weeks. Rick and I decided to chill out on the beach and relax for a few days with other travelers and locals we met in front of our hotel (Etnico Surf Club). I surfed a few more times and booked a flight back to Bali.
Overall, Sri Lanka was a fantastically beautiful country. I feel very fortunate to have had a local experience with my new Sri Lankan friends. I highly promote taking a Wildlife Safari in Wilpattu National Park. I have a new found favorite genre of food and will probably crave spicy roti dishes for the rest of my life. I wouldn’t advise people not to go to Sri Lanka based on my Arugam Bay experience, but when compared to other countries I would say it takes some travel experience.
There is a definite difference between the mannerisms of how people will treat you. The West coast and central areas of Sri Lanka tend to be a lot friendlier, smiley and welcoming. The East coast is an area where you should take caution in your decisions and planning. I recommend recording the negotiation with taxis and tuktuk drivers because many times they will change the price on you midway through the ride. I hope to return one day and explore more of this beautiful country.
Now I’m back to Bali before heading off on a surf trip to Lombok with my surf buddy Corina!