Thursday, June 7, 2012

Sri Lanka: Last Days

Saturday, 2 June

Our tuk-tuk delivered us to Deep Sea resort and even at that early hour with bleary eyes I could tell that Batti was not the same kind of beach town as Trinco. Deep Sea seemed to be in the middle of nowhere, with nothing around it that I could make out in the darkness. In any case, we got a double room and after noticing that what Jutta had told us, that these were the cleanest rooms she’d seen yet in Sri Lanka, we went straight to bed.

DSCN0957Later that morning we got up and went to re-connect with Jutta and Sophie, who were sharing a room. Jutta was off to do a dive, so the rest of us lazed around until she got back. Beny, Sophie and I ended up going to town together, and after we’d eaten lunch Jutta joined us. We wandered the town of Batticaloa, which wasn’t too exciting. We visited the locked gate of the local ancient fort (turned out later we could have gone around back to get inside); chatted with the tourist information booth guys; did a little shopping; and relished what little shade and breeze we could find. It was a hot, hot day.

We motored out to a nearby lighthouse, which turned out to be the highlight of the day. We DSCN0969were allowed to climb to the top, from where we could see fine views of Batticaloa and surrounds, particularly the beautiful blue waters. After we enjoyed the panorama we headed in a full tuk-tuk back to Deep Sea. That night, we dined and drank with many new friends: three touring Sri Lankans from Colombo also staying at Deep Sea; and Push, a local Couchsurfer who Beny had contacted, along with his American friend Bennett. We all ate, drank and became very, very merry.

My original plan was to say good-bye to everyone that night and set off on my own the next day, slowly making my way back to Colombo. Push, however, convinced me otherwise in my woozy-headed state, and so I went to bed that night happy that the good-byes were postponed.

Sunday, 3 June

We woke up after Jutta and Sophie had departed on a boat for another dive. I wrote them a quick note saying good-bye and then we waited for a tuk-tuk driver to come and take Beny, me and our stuff over to Bennett’s house. Bennett is an American who has lived eight months of every year since the 2004 tsunami in Sri Lanka, trying to help out locals with basic projects. He’s created an organization to help get money over, but it’s a small, simple and straightforward kind of thing. Push has a temporary home with no extra bed, while Bennett has a guest bed, and so Push arranged that we stay with Bennett.

It was a fascinating Couchsurfing experience! Not only did we get to meet and learn about DSCN0995Bennett and his work, but he and Push and another friend, Ragu, took us around and showed us different parts of Batti, including a lovely Hindu temple and a quiet swimming area near the lighthouse. This part was particularly fun because we had to wade through some marshy water and across an “Eco Park” consisting of sand and strange animal statues before getting to the beach. Beny was still nursing his leg wound and so had to be carried through the marshy part, causing endless amusement for the rest of us.

That evening, Bennett had other friends over and we all had a home cooked dinner together – compliments of Ragu, a really sweet guy who has a talent for cooking. After an evening of laughter and fun, toddy and arrack, I packed up my things and squeezed into the single bed with Beny, trying hard to allay the empty-chest feeling of setting off on my own the next day.

Monday, 4 June

Morning came, as it inevitably does, and I rechecked my bags, had some tea and after saying good-bye to Bennett and Beny, hopped onto the back of Push’s bike to go to the DSCN1059bus. Over four hours and one bus change later, I arrived in Habarana. At the recommendation of Jutta’s dive guide, I went directly to Acme Guest House (1,500 rps/night, fan), which was a little overpriced and way over-touristy, but convenient and friendly. They helped me arrange a safari in Deniyaya National Park nearby and after a buffet lunch and a bit of a rest, the jeep came to pick me up. Off I went, paying yet another exorbitant price to get into the park (3,800 rps plus 3,000 for the jeep). I was the only one in my jeep (bad planning on my part) besides my driver and my guide, which was nice; no squeezing in with five other people, fighting for space to see and take pictures! I stood for most of the safari, eyes trying to catch movement and scenery.

DSCN1095I saw elephants, lots of them with babies, peacocks, monkeys, water buffalo and many birds. We also saw jackals, which surprised me. It was a fun trip and yet bittersweet, because I was alone, and I missed Beny and Jutta and Sophie. That evening, after the safari jeep dropped me back at Acme, I ventured out to find a cheap dinner of hoppers with egg and coconut milk. Then I did my usual “alone-again” activity: holed up in my room and wrote in my blog! Actually, it was too stuffy in my room so I sat out in the open-air reception area, where a young man did his best to hit on me, awkwardly asking if I’d like him to come to my room. Oy.

Tuesday, 5 June

It was actually a bit nice to wake up and do things at my own speed in the morning, although I still had that lonely ache in my chest. Ignoring it, I bustled about and caught a bus to Dambulla. It was more crowded than I expected so I stood for the forty-five minute ride. As soon as I got off the bus I crossed the street and entered a little hotel (which means restaurant, or cafĂ©, here) for a bite to eat. An older woman working there took a liking to me after some communication problems,checking on me throughout my short meal and smiling each time. A tuk-tuk driver came in and asked the inevitable questions: “Where from?” and “How long Sri Lanka?” and “Where going?” and “Like Sri Lanka?” He pointed out his tuk-tuk to me outside and indicated that I should come find him when I wanted to go somewhere, then smiling, backed away.

DSCN1102I finished my egg bun – literally, a small bun sliced open with some hard-boiled egg slices crammed in, and two cucumber slices – and a sweet bun, then went out and hailed the tuk-tuk driver. He took me to Dambulla Caves and gave me his number so I could let him know when to come get me.

Dambulla Caves is an interesting place. You climb up a whole lot of stairs, past other visitors and pineapple stands and people selling arts or wares; gain a pretty view of the surrounding DSCN1109countryside; and finally, huffing and puffing, arrive at the top of a large hill, where you must leave your shoes before entering a complex of… you guessed it, caves. There were four or five caves, some cavernous and others rather small, and each had a myriad of Buddhas inside, either painted on the walls or ceilings or in the form of statues, both rough and delicate. I had declined to take a guide, as I could barely understand them anyway, and so just enjoyed the quiet majesty of the place, and took lots of pictures.

I spent about an hour wandering around and then descended, called the driver, and headed back to the bus stand. The driver did his best DSCN1113to suggest that I stay the night in Dambulla so that he could take me out and show me around, insinuating with ever less delicacy how much fun he could be, but somehow I resisted. I managed to pay him and escape, but not without him doing this weird thing that guys have done before in foreign countries, which is to shake my hand with his middle finger scratching my palm. I’m not sure what it means but it always leaves me feeling dirty, as generally a suggestive waggle of the eyebrows or leer goes with it. Ugh.

Anyway, I stood patiently watching for buses to Colombo, hoping for an AC minibus but quickly losing hope. I noticed a well-dressed young couple, Sri Lankan, waiting and starting forward each time a Colombo-bound bus whizzed by, and so I started to chat with them. It turns out they were just married last week and the husband was headed back to Qatar, where he worked as a kitchen manager. He’d been there for two years previously and this stint would last five years. They were a deliriously happy and sweet couple, which was nice to see. We decided that an AC minibus was impossible and so we crammed onto one of the regular government buses, standing mashed up against each other for awhile, making chit-chat now and again. They bought my bus ticket for me, against my protest, bought me an impossibly sweet fruit drink at the one rest stop, and insisted I take the first seat the became available, about halfway through the five hour trip.

They got off before Colombo and we traded contact info; then I was on my own for the remainder of the trip, which wasn’t too long. I quickly made it to Subodha’s home and was able to rest and relax, chatting with his in-laws, who were home watching Akita, his two and a half year old son. That night dinner consisted of string hoppers and curries and I expressed an interest in knowing how to make them. Talini promised me that Lakshmi, their servant, would show me the next day. I tumbled into the large guest bed, feeling again the strangeness of being by myself, and feeling a bit sad.

Wednesday, 6 June

After a shower, quick tea and breakfast, and hurriedly packing my day pack, I hopped in the car with Subodha, Talini and Akita. First we dropped Akita at school, then Talini at work. Subodha then dropped me off at Galle Face Green, a stretch of unhealthy grass along a coastal walkway. It was a nice morning, warm but not yet disgustingly hot, with a good stiff DSCN1146breeze off the water, which was crashing away against itself with waves. Somehow, as soon as Subodha zoomed off, I found myself breaking down. I sat with my legs dangling off the beach wall, letting my chest ache and the breath wheeze and tears fall. 

Why was I so sad? It was partly to do with Beny, with whom I’d traveled as a couple for almost five weeks, and the fact that I missed him sorely and felt somewhat unrequited in this; and partly to do with my disappointment of not having traveled more with Jutta; and also partly the whole “lonesome” feeling that separating from travel companions always leaves me with. Lastly, it was my last day in Sri Lanka and the beginning of the end of this trip. I guess it all just came bubbling up and the sea, always full of emotion and beauty for me, triggered my sadness.

So I let myself cry out, listening to the waves and ignoring the occasional passer-by. After a short while I felt better, and a bit light-headed, and so I walked up and down the shore. There were couples prancing in the waves, salespeople manning some of the many little booths that lined the way, and families out for a walk. In the distance over the sea was the solid gray of rain clouds and sure enough, it drizzled a bit on me, though not enough to soak. After sea-gazing and walking and getting myself sorted out for about an hour, I decided to head for Odel, a mall that Talini suggested I might like to visit.

Feeling a bit wrung out, I decided to walk, which ended up meaning I became a sweaty mess after another long hour of walking. When I arrived, though, how luxurious the air-conditioned mall seemed! It wasn’t spacious, like the ones back home, but it was cool and full of all sorts of goods. I didn’t buy a thing, but just wandered from store to store, browsing, and treating myself to a frozen fruit drink at one point. Eventually, I was mall’d out, so I caught a tuk-tuk back to Subodha’s. I pondered going to the National Museum, but didn’t feel I had the attention span for it. Also, I was starting to worry about packing.

DSCN1156So I spent lunch and the remainder of the day at the house, chatting off and on with Talini’s parents and family, playing with Akita, and learning to make string hoppers. It turns out Talini had had her mom go shopping for me, so I am going to be bringing home the apparatus and flour to make string hoppers! I can’t wait to give it a try…

Packing went well and I had a nice last phone call with Jutta, during which we caught up on our various travel plans and thoughts and I got to speak briefly with Sophie too. I told Jutta to hint to Beny to give me a call on my last night in the country. Don’t ask me why, but I felt unable to call him. Since we hadn’t ever been a serious “thing” I wasn’t sure how to vocalize how much I missed him without sounding overly dramatic and attached. So, I settled for sending him a ‘good bye and safe journeys’ text message and went to bed somewhat early, since Subodha had arranged to have a taxi pick me up at 1am. I woke up at 12:30am, turned off the phone and put it in the closet (Beny had loaned me his) and headed downstairs with my packs.


So long, Sri Lanka!


Thursday, 7 June

The trip to the airport was uneventful and after an interminable wait at the check-in counter, things went very smoothly. My big pack weighed in at 15.1 kilos, or about 30 pounds – not too bad! There were desktop computers in the waiting hall with free internet, so I messed around with Facebook and e-mails and scanning the international news sites until we were allowed into our gate area. There, we waited until an hour past our takeoff time before boarding. I snoozed on and off for the four hour flight, sure that I would miss my connecting flight to Istanbul and thus forfeit on the other plans I’d made for the day.

I decided that instead of ‘figuring it out on the go’ as usual, I would sign on to a tour for my one week in Turkey. Yesterday I spent quite a bit of time online, booking a gulet boat cruise and Cappedoccia tour and buying a ticket from Istanbul to Fethiye. Besides the flight, I should have everything taken care of, which will be a nice change of pace. It’s a different type of travel but I‘m not going the expensive route and both the cruise and the hiking are things I want to do, so I’m letting myself be a pampered tourist this time.

We’ll see how it goes! I made my connecting flight in Dubai, just, and am now enroute to Istanbul. We should arrive on time and I’ll have about two and a half hours until my flight to Dalaman, where I’ll have to catch a bus to Fethiye and then find my way to Fethiye Guest House for my dorm bed reservation. Tomorrow I’ll board my gulet for a four day, three night cruise!


  1. A lovely narrative! I was entirely wrapped up in your bittersweet journeys. --sigh--

  2. Zoe, loving your blog, almost in Europe, is it home next or are u doing a little bit of Europe on this trip?
    David xx (from Mara's wedding)