Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Last Hurrah in Sri Lanka

I've been home in New Jersey for a few days now. Whether I'm meeting up with old friends, reconnecting with family, or alone in my room working through the seemingly endless process of unpacking after five months abroad (and five months of shopping), it seems like my mind stays focused on one thing — my time abroad. Of course, this comes as no surprise. When you've spent so much time away, it takes time to readjust. It takes time to wrap your head around all the things that are no longer part of your routine, all the people you miss, all the "new" aspects of your life at home. And of course, people are interested in hearing the stories you have to share. The people you met, the places you went, all of it holds some novelty. But just like I learned after my return from Spain, I'm sure this won't last (peep numbers 3 and 4).

A few days after I got back from Madrid, I was going through all the things in my room. I'm one of those people who actually really enjoys packing and unpacking, and anytime I return from a big trip, I sort of do a major reorganization of my entire room. I reorganize my closest, bookshelf, and desk and in the process of doing so, I always find old journals and photos that slow down the unpacking even more. I was pretty sad after leaving Madrid, but seeing old photos from different points in my life inspired me to print out photos from my time in Spain, Italy, and Portugal. I'd have something physical to hand to friends and I'd be able to put real photographs in a real album, something I hadn't done in maybe a decade. 

I haven't gone in full-on reminiscing mode yet, and I'm trying to focus on the good things about being back — friends, family, and pizza. As such, I haven't started to sort through the 6,000+ photographs from India, Sri Lanka, Oman, Dubai, and Amsterdam. But as I try to move forward, looking back just a little bit is comforting to me. It makes me feel like the space between me and India isn't so wide, that the time that will pass between now and my next trip won't create an even bigger distance. So I began sorting through the photos from a trip my friends Jesse, Alena and I took to Sri Lanka.

To celebrate the end of our semester and as a sort of last hurrah, Jesse and I went to Kerala for two days before spending ten in the Lank, as Jesse calls it. Our time in Kerala was pretty low-key. We spent the first day exploring Fort Kochi — enjoying great food and tea, walking around, taking photos — and the second doing a backwater village tour around Viakom. By some miracle the heat was worse than what we'd been dealing with in Hyderabad, and the humidity wasn't helping. Luckily, we only spent one night in our homestay, where we had no AC, and spent the next night commuting to Colombo.

We got to Colombo very early, around 3 AM, and after killing some time with the free airport wifi, we headed to the Maradana train station for a 6 AM train to Unawatuna. After a four-hour, incredibly scenic ride along the shoreline, we reached Unawatuna, where we spent three nights at an amazing homestay a short walk from the beach. In all honesty, I've been to better beaches. There were plenty of big rocks along the shore, which made it hard to go anywhere further than waist-deep when combined with the slightly rough tide. But the waters were still beautiful and we caught a stunning sunset our last night there. We ate a huge and incredibly delicious breakfast at our homestay each morning, and ended up eating a late lunch/early dinner on the beach each afternoon. We also spent one of our days there exploring Galle Fort, which was a short tuktuk ride away. There we met a Canadian couple who had been traveling for quite some time. They told us about their travels around India, but once they learned we were Americans they started asking us about the election. I swear, you can't go anywhere in the world without someone bringing up Trump.

After our stay in Unawatuna, we headed to Colombo, where we spent one night and met up with our friend Alena. After a pretty disastrous experience with two different tuktuk drivers  — seriously, the one thing I definitely don't miss about being abroad is having to constantly haggle or having to deal with difficult auto drivers — we finally got to our homestay, where we were greeted by FOUR ADORABLE DOGS and our wonderful friend, who we hadn't seen in weeks. Our host made us all chai, and we gathered around the table catching up and swapping stories of our travels thus far. I was exhausted, sweaty, and frustrated after our experiences that day but puppy cuddles and good conversations with even better friends cure everything.

We woke up very early the next morning and headed to the train station for a 6 AM, five-hour trip to Palugaswewa. From there, we took a tuktuk to Sigiriya, where we stayed at a slightly-gross but very hospitable homestay. The owner's son, who was our age, took the family tuktuk and showed us around the area, and the next morning the three of us hiked up Pidurangala Rock before a safari in Eco Park in the evening. The next day, we headed back to Colombo and spent a couple hours in the city before a late-night flight back to the Bad. I'll be honest — by this point I was pretty done. I missed clean laundry (all of our clothes smelled like wet dog), I missed not being constantly hot and sweaty, and I was very ready to spend a last couple days with my family in Hyderabad. But I got some pizza from Pizza Hut, which was significantly less atrocious that I'd anticipated, and Jesse found a pretty cool tea cafĂ©, where we spent a couple hours before heading to the airport. I'd started Aravind Adiga's The White Tiger earlier that day on the train after Alena passed it along to me — crazy book, but undeniably well-written — and passed it along to Jesse at the airport.

Quick thing about the Colombo airport: this place is weird as hell. The wifi log-in requires you to put in your passport number (although any pseudonym and passport number will do; at one point I wrote that my passport number was 7); they sell washers, dryers, refrigerators, and other large household appliances in the arrivals section, as if anyone in the history of the world has ever gotten off a flight and decided to purchase a microwave; they don't accept credit cards in the arrivals section (which turns out is pretty common throughout Sri Lanka); and everything in the departures section is priced in USD. This isn't necessarily weird per se, but since we were so close to the end of our time abroad, and not 100% ready to be back in the U.S, Jesse and I found seeing American pricing pretty jarring and uncomfortable ($6 for a latte?! That's over 400 rups!!!). Alena pointed out that I was experiencing a bit of culture shock throughout my time in Sri Lanka, which was true, and by the end of our trip I was just so ready to be back "home."

Would I go back to Sri Lanka? I'd like to. There's so much that country has to offer, and we touched upon just a little bit of it. It was so beautiful, and the people were so nice. Next time, I'm just bringing more laundry.

~ V