White-sand beaches, exotic markets, happy travellers, 4.5 months off work – sounds idyllic, right? How about pollution, 80% humidity, jet lag, feeling totally overwhelmed in a strange place far from home eating only curry 3 times a day, knowing you’re not going back for months? A little less so.
I arrived in Colombo on Saturday and actually felt pretty good, as per my previous post. Until I went to bed when suddenly this tightness gripped my chest and my breathing sped up and I couldn’t calm myself down. A feeling of dread filled me, every possible worst-case scenario running through my mind and I felt very, very alone and very, very far from home (and everyone I love). Fortunately, technology has evolved since my last big trip so I picked up my phone to Whatsapp-call a friend and burst into tears as soon as she picked up (sorry, Ari). The familiarity and love and kind words were just what I needed and I’m pleased to say I’m feeling better and braver every day.
But it’s fucking hard at first, if you’ll excuse my language, especially in the downtime. There is such a change of pace, everything you know and are used to is thrown out of whack. You have to have your wits about you at all times and can easily feel like you have to be 100% self-reliant. You are alone and you can feel lonely too, but if you open up to people and are honest about your emotions, you will be surprised at how concerned and kind people can be. Every person I’ve told who’s travelled alone has in fact said that I’ve described exactly what they first felt, which really is quite comforting.
Having said all that, I’ve actually enjoyed my time in Colombo. A few people told me to leave as soon as possible but I like to give places a chance. It is by no means my favourite place in the world but it has a few hidden gems that are well worth a visit.
On Sunday morning, I headed out with Morgan (http://mileswithmorgan.wordpress.com/) to Gangaramaya Temple where we stumbled across a Buddhist ceremony, which was rather magical. A hundred or more children dressed in white stood in a circle in the shaded temple courtyard surrounding a giant Buddha statue, singing along to the monk’s prayer. We watched and wandered around discreetly, admiring the thousands of Buddhas – jade, gold, Chinese, Thai – you name it, they had it. Invigorated by this experience, we walked past the art stalls south of Viharamahadevi Park into Cinnamon Gardens where we escaped the heat and humidity in a lovely AC’ed cafe. My afternoon was spent visiting the amazing Barefoot store and garden cafe – a treasure trove of local craft (including some wonderful Ayurvedic soap) and live jazz in the shaded courtyard. I then walked all the way up Marine Drive to Galle Face (turned out to be quite a bit further than I thought!) and stumbled across hundreds of families flying kites, strolling, picnicking. I took part by enjoying some tasty street food and admiring the skies as they lit up bright orange and purple.
Yesterday saw me attempt the walk to Colombo Fort station via the South Beira Lake meditation centre – again, further than I thought – but I refused to give in to the tuk tuk offers and finally made it! I sorted my onward travel, visited the markets in Pettah, enjoyed a great lunch at smart T Lounge and hopped on my first train down to Mount Lavinia. Once there, I asked for directions to the beach and was promptly shown the train tracks – I followed a young guy who showed me but made sure I was clear enough from the tracks! Being by the ocean was soothing, a soft breeze blowing through the palms and some gentle music in the background of La Voile Blanche was just what I needed after a hectic morning! And prepared me for the ride back, which was quite something. I paid 10Rps (£0.05) for a 3rd class ticket, miraculously got a seat and, as we got closer to Colombo, witnessed more and more people get on until I eventually had to physically battle men, women, children and elderly people to get off the train that was still moving when yet more people were trying to climb on. Think rush hour in London is bad? Think again!
I am currently enjoying my 1st class AC seat on the train to Kandy, trying not to think too much about the person who got hit by a train right in front of me – I will deal with that later (I fortunately was looking the other way as it happened but heard the commotion and saw the crowds rush over saying the person was still moving). The no-audio, no-subtitles Bollywood film is pretty hilarious but the palm groves we are winding through are somewhat more interesting.
More soon on Kandy, the Hill Country and my encounter with Manika the elephant on Saturday!