After a year of talking about it and two months of planning it, my mother and I finally took the much awaited trip to Sri Lanka last month. 9 days and 5 cities later, we came back feeling thoroughly satisfied but also completely heartbroken.
There was the definite feeling of “I don’t want this holiday to get over” but there was also something else.
To be honest, I didn’t fall in love with Sri Lanka immediately. I didn’t feel the connect that I sometimes do when I reach a destination – that warm feeling like you belong, the unspoken promise that the city has something amazing in store for you, the secret deal you make with yourself, that if you had to, you wouldn’t mind making this city your home.
When we landed in Colombo at 5 am and drove to our Airbnb apartment, I was certainly bubbling with excitement. Once we showered and stepped out to discover the city, I was met with the unwelcoming, sweltering heat that Sri Lanka calls summer. Maybe that’s why it didn’t feel special. But as the days progressed and we moved on to other cities, I began to settle in, I began to get comfortable (and sun burnt). By the end of the trip, I was attached like a kid to his blanky.
In Colombo, we woke up to the sound of crashing ocean waves and relished authentic Sri Lankan food in restaurants unexplored by tourists. I also bought my first lottery ticket here. No, I didn’t win anything.
In Kandy, we spent a night at a home-stay that faced the Hanthana hills. During our dinner, which was a home-cooked meal in the company of other tourists, our host happily interrupted us to show us a porcupine that had showed up in the backyard.
Sitting by the Gregory Lake as the horses grazed around us, hungrily watching and listening to knives making music as they chopped up kothu paratha, trekking through the vast open grasslands of the Horton Plains – oh, Nuwara Eliya was a happy break from the heat.
Walking along the Galle Fort under the blazing afternoon sun was as fun as it sounds. But eating the most amazing home-made passion fruit ice cream after that certainly made up for it.
When we sunk our toes into the sands of the Mirissa beach – that’s when the unwinding part of our holiday really began. If I could, I would insert the simultaneous sigh of elation that my mother and I let out when the waves first washed over our feet here in the post.
That quiet little beach town had its fair share of surprises for us – we spotted the blue whale after being told that there were no sightings for the past three days. The same evening, as we lazed around on the beach, we had the privilege of watching locals release baby turtles that had just hatched, into the sea. For an animal lover like me, these were some serious wow moments.
In Hikkaduwa, I went scuba diving for the first time. To say I was mesmerized is an understatement. I remember when my dive instructor pointed out to a school of barracuda and for a moment, I forgot to breath. I had also forgotten, until then, how much I love being in the water. If you’re in two minds about trying scuba diving – just go for it. I promise you, it’s a magical, magical experience.
Finally, the people. The people of Sri Lanka are kind, wholehearted and full of life. I met so many amazing people apart from our hosts, my diving instructor and his friends, and of course, our very own uncle Upali. My memories of Sri Lanka wouldn’t be the same without them.
On our last day, mum and I woke up at 6 in the morning and walked up to the Hikkaduwa beach. We wanted to say goodbye to the sea and sands. Waking up early to go the beach on your holiday is the equivalent of waking up early as a kid to watch cartoons on a Saturday. I miss having the beach so close to me.
On our drive back to Colombo, I still wasn’t ready to face the fact that it was time to leave. Our last stop, and meal, in Sri Lanka was at the famous Ministry of Crab in Colombo but I’ll reserve the details of this experience for another blog post. To say the least, yum.
After that, it was time to go to the airport.
My whole being felt anchored, and it wasn’t just because of the heavy lunch. I was holding back tears, only slightly more successful than a kid reluctantly leaving toy store. How could it be time to leave already?
I shared my distress with a few people. My friend said it was because of the scuba diving – it changes you, he said. I couldn’t agree more but there was more to it than that. Oh everyone who comes to Sri Lanka says the same thing, uncle Upali said. If they do, I say we all form a support group and nurse our heartbreaks together.
The thing about Sri Lanka, the wonderful, amazing, beautiful thing about Sri Lanka, is that being there felt just like home. At least for me and I know my mother will agree.
The cuisine reminded me of Kerala and Mangalore, the attire reminded me of Goa, the acres and acres of tea plantations reminded me of hill stations like Ooty and Munnar. Even the words in the Sinhalese language bare resemblance to the words in so many Indian languages.
That’s probably why the connect wasn’t apparent. I never expected to feel such a sense of familiarity, homeliness and comfort. But how could I not – after all, we are neighbours.
I know this sounds like Sri Lanka couldn’t have been a very unique experience for us. But it was. Despite all those similarities, there’s something that makes Sri Lanka and its people truly different. Something you have to experience.
Now every time I reminisce, there’s a little ache of nostalgia and a little emptiness, like I’ve left behind a small part of me in a country I grew to love in a matter of just days.
When I returned home, I told some of my friends that I felt like a teenager recovering from her first heartbreak. I still think so. But unlike most breakups, I’m going back. I don’t know when, but I will see you again Sri Lanka.