19 Nov SRI LANKA: SPICY SCENTS OF SACRED CEYLON
What smells so good ?!
In addition to famous Ceylon tea – Sri Lanka is the world’s largest exporter of cinnamon. You probably don’t think about it when you sprinkle it over your porridge, but cinnamon is the bark of a tree, scraped off and dried out into the curved sticks you know it as (and yes, even the leaves have the same, delicious taste)!
Sri Lanka is a place which I have wanted to explore for a while now, but getting there and the complex situation seemed to throw a spanner in the works. So, while Gabriel was busy cooking away in Culinary School in Sisak, Croatia through the European winter, I decided it would be a great opportunity to give solo travel to Sri Lanka a chance. I had heard that it was similar to India, which I love, but more accessible, a little safer for solo female travellers and had all of the beaches, wildlife and hiking I could dream of. So I took the leap, and after spending a month in India studying yoga teaching, I flew down to Colombo to discover the ‘Pearl of the Indian Ocean’.
Sri Lanka was all that I dreamed of, and some. I felt so welcomed and safe throughout my entire trip. More excitedly, there were so many untouched, secluded beaches where I could watch wild sea turtles splash in the waves. I ended up coming into contact with so much exotic wildlife, that I couldn’t believe my eyes.
This beautiful island nation is small, which really made it easy to discover so many sides to it, but in saying that – the landscapes in this tiny paradise are also incredibly diverse. From the scorching hot sun on the sandy beaches, to the humid green rainforests, to the temperate colonial cities and the inland mountains, where a jumper is seriously needed after nightfall. The nation is also pretty well connected – there are trains, buses, taxis and tuk tuks waiting to take you to wherever you need to be. I also learnt pretty quickly that although the island is small, and there may be trains linking you across, these trains are slow. You could probably jog next to them and still make it to your destination, but the views which they invite you to soak in from the open windows of your clunky, metal carriage while you sip on your cup of local Chai, is honestly jaw-dropping. I guess the moral of the story is to take it slow and easy, and Sri Lanka will reward your patience with the most inspiring landscapes you’ve laid eyes on.
On this trip, I was so fortunate to spend part of my time with a lovely, dear friend Jill, who I had met in India. We spent time together in Galle, where she was doing some community volunteering, as well as through Kandy, Adam’s Peak, Horton Plains and Ella. We stayed in homestay guesthouses along the way, and were fed like queens by our host families. In between discovering ancient ruins, and hiking, we also learnt how to drive a tuk tuk and had a very close meeting with a wild elephant grazing on the side of the road.
In Sri Lanka, I was humbled by the people who had overcome so much adversity. The complicated civil war only officially ended in 2009 (and arguably continues to manifest in other ways to this day). It is something which has touched the lives of almost every single, beautiful soul we had met. To add to the disaster, the tsunami of 2004, from which we saw the wreckage remaining to this day (including ripping out train tracks in its path), affected almost the entire nation and killed tens of thousands. The poverty which remains as a result of the British Colonial rule and the inequality as a result of other neo-colonial factors, were all incredibly difficult to come to terms with. Yet, on the other hand, we met and stayed with the most humble, generous and inspiring people who helped others in their community with pride and dignity. Many of our hosts were shy to speak about the incredible local community organisations, which they had set up to give their neighbours access to clean water, food, education and physical rehabilitation therapy (something very needed after these large-scale catastrophes experienced by many). We met people of distinctly strong, spiritual faiths – Buddhist, Hindi, Christian and others, whose prayers and belief translated into their own selfless efforts to better the world around them.
As usual, in addition to nature, food become the one of the main motivators for travelling to a new country – Sri Lanka certainly has both. From Dahl, to Jackfruit Curry, to Stringhoppers, to Hoppers, to Vegetable Kottu, Coconut Sambal and more: it was such a culinary odyssey, whether from a host’s kitchen, a local eatery or hawkers on the train.
All in all, a day filled with incredible feasts, awe-inspiring landscapes and sincerely welcoming Sri Lankans, is pretty high up on my list of happy places.
My highlights of this gem were:
- Climbing thousands and thousands of steep stairs to reach the summit of Adam’s Peak, above the clouds, to watch the sunrise
- Clambering to the top of Pidurangala Rock (little Sigiriya Lion’s Rock) to be rewarded with the perfect views of its bigger brother
- Listening to the monkeys in the jackfruit tree in front of our balcony each morning at our treehouse stay in Ella
- Relaxing on the secluded beaches of the south coast, including Unawatuna and Tangalle
- The train rides through the mountains, winding up through the canopies of the rainforest cliffs
- Discovering Galle Fort, the hip and classy gentrified quarter in the remenants of the Dutch Colonial rule, with its wonderful local handicrafts boutiques and reinvented Sri Lankan identity
- Hiking through Hortons Plains to World’s End, where you sit on the edge of a sheer drop, further down than the naked eye can see
- Learning about and sampling the famous Ceylon teas directly at the plantations themselves
Here are some of my happy snaps from my trip, enjoy!