A few weeks ago I stumbled upon the journal that I kept during my month-long trip to Sri Lanka in 2018. I struggle with the fact that it’s been two years since the biggest, proudest trip of my life so far. I struggle even more with the fact that I haven’t been able to board an international flight in over a year. Looking back, I imagine the colours even more vivid than they were, the street noise louder, and the food even more mouthwatering. I am itching to travel again. Sadly, the organization I volunteered with in Sri Lanka, SLV.Global, did not survive the pandemic. This is a devastating loss for volunteers and locals alike. I wrote a post about voluntourism and the sustainability of organizations like SLV and it is truly unfortunate that such an impactful agency no longer exists. I had plans to do the SLV Bali and India trips, and I am so disappointed that now I will never be able to. In an effort to process this and cope with the heartache, I’d like to share some excerpts from my journal.
Day 1 – May 21, 2018
Not long ago I arrived at the homestay. It’s not really what I expected, but I didn’t really know what to expect. It’s simple, clean, comfortable, and breezy. Super humid and sticky here in Sri Lanka and pretty cloudy today. No gross bugs so far and a really lovely view from the roof of the house. Traffic is crazy here! No such things as right of way and cars, bikes, and tuk-tuks are going everywhere.
Note: Ayubowan (I-you-bow-wan) = a professional greeting
Note: Lasinai (Lass-in-eye) = beautiful
Day 3 – May 23, 2018
Today was incredible. My heart is so full. We had our first project and it was special education activity support for differently abled folks. Their personality and strengths inspired me. Ah! Incredible!
The public buses on the other hand– not so inspiring. Hot, sweaty, jam-packed, jerky, and long. But dirt cheap (less than $1.50 CAD today) and there was a cute puppy on the first one. We ate lunch at Daddies (AC+wifi+delicious food) and the spicy pineapple was so good. Also dirt cheap (160 rupees).
Day 7 – May 27, 2018
I’m finally settled in bed after a long and fulfilling weekend. Friday evening we arrived late in Udawalawe after a four-hour drive in van. It was a beautiful drive and we saw a really tall Buddha statue at a temple along the way. We just chilled in the room that night and fell asleep pretty early.
We got up early on Saturday before the sunrise for a safari in the national park. It was important to me to see elephants in their natural habitat, not in a tourist park. I have no words for that experience. It was fucking incredible. We saw over 40 elephants; males, females, and babies just living their lives. We also saw monkeys, reptiles, buffalo, cows, and beautiful birds like parrots, peacocks, and toucans. I really cannot describe how fantastic it was. An item checked off the bucket list– a morning I’ll never forget.
Afterwards, we ate an authentic Sri Lankan breakfast at our hostel which included rice noodles, curry, eggs, pancakes (dough with coconut and honey), toast and tea. Then we packed up and headed to Tangalle for a beach day. We were disappointed that the town was so dead. There were no people around, we were literally the only tourists in the area (which warranted unwelcomed attention) as this is their off-season. But it was very cool to dip my feet in the Indian Ocean.
Finally, this morning we got up, sat on the beach for a bit, had an amazing breakfast at our restaurant (we called it ours because we were the only ones who ate there) and then went to a nearby rock temple which was organized by the owner of the villa we rented– he really took care of us! The temple was mindblowing. We climbed 546 steps total, seen 6 massive sleeping Buddha statues, gave a gift and prayed to Buddha, got blessed by a Buddhist man which was so humbling and new for me. We went to a breathtaking viewpoint. I literally gasped at the view– it took my breath away. I learned a lot today about Buddhism and had a unique cultural experience that will stay with me forever.
Day 10 – May 30, 2018
It’s the hottest day yet, or at least it feels like it. Until I showered about an hour ago, I’d been drenched in sweat since 8 am and now it’s 6 pm. It was worth it though because the projects today were great.
Day 12 – June 1, 2018
Holy shit. June? Where does time go?! Today’s project was at a small home for adults with different abilities. It was a really lovely session. First, we warmed up with stretches that were adjusted for people in wheelchairs so we did them all sitting down. We spent the remainder of the morning making paper plate dream catchers which was a really fun activity and a great way to get the service users working on their fine motor skills.
P.S. I also had a quick thought the other day about teaching English as a mental health volunteer. In a globalizing world and developing country, teaching English is promoting positive mental health. People need English now to gain meaningful employment and live a prosperous, healthy life.
Day 14 – June 3, 2018
Well- what an interesting weekend. I’ll dive right in. So, we head up to Sigiriya Friday afternoon. Our driver was great, he even wanted a selfie with us (first of many that weekend, little did we know). The hotel owners were dolls; super friendly and got us settled away. Before we went to bed, he knocked wondering whether we’d be in a Sri Lankan tourist video the following morning. With a “fuck it” attitude, we said “yeah sure”. We were up 4:30 the next morning to hike Pidurangala for sunrise. It was SO incredible. Just breathtaking. Such an amazing experience and start to the day. After taking lots of pictures, we headed back to the hotel for breakfast. It was so delicious with tea, omelette, Sri Lankan things, toast, and plenty of fresh fruit. So lovely. Shortly after, a driver picked us up to do the video. We thought this was going to be a 5-minute thing on the road outside the hotel. Oh no. This was a real production and we were the stars. We were given refreshments, took millions of selfies with the crew (they were gone over us), and over 5 hours, shot3 full scenes. Holy crap. We were so done by the end of it, but it was such a cool experience and everyone was so friendly and fun. The first scene was us riding bikes in front of a gorgeous lake with Pidurangala and Sigiriya in the background; a view we never would have seen if it weren’t for the video. The second was at a coconut stand, and the third and most corny was us riding bikes and asking directions from a local. Afterwards, we were dead tired, mostly from standing and smiling, so we had a little siesta before dinner. For dinner, we had Kottu and beer at the cutest treehouse restaurant. What a memorable day.
After hiking Sigiriya Rock today (Sunday), our PickMe booking failed us, so we ended up paying 14,000 LKR (almost double the ride up) to a driver who didn’t have a clue and could only get us to Colombo. He was kind though and probably felt bad. Sometimes things go wrong when you travel so you just gotta roll with it. As we were nearing Colombo, I saw something that shocked me: a dog was thrown off an overpass by a group of people. My stomach turned and I almost cried. I can only hope the poor guy was already dead. It was an awful thing to see. Like during lunch today, we saw 2 dudes riding an elephant. His feet were chained, and the man was carrying a spear. It was heart-wrenching and infuriating– how could these guys think that was ok? Overall, the incredible sightseeing made the woeful moments worth it. Wouldn’t change it for the world!!!
Day 17 – June 6, 2018
Today was a great day, even though it started with getting soaked to the skin in a downpour while walking to the bus. We went to a primary school to teach English to kiddos with a plan to teach them the English alphabet. Well, turns out they already know it really well so it didn’t challenge them enough, yet teaching the sounds associated with each letter proved to be too challenging. We got through it nonetheless, they decorated letters and then lined up based on their letter. After tea and biscuits, the bus ride back, and a quick lunch at Daddies, I ran into Keel’s for tissues and an Ayurvedic flu remedy that Hansani recommended. The flu (mostly runny nose now) is driving me nuts. I tried some of the tea and it wasn’t the best thing I’ve tasted, but not the worst by any stretch. I don’t know if it made a huge difference, but I think I did feel a little better this evening. I’ll have more tomorrow. We had a group social at Iceburg ice cream parlour and then went to a Q&A with a psychiatrist at the National Youth Service Council. When we got home, Amma had Kottu out which was sooooo so good.
Day 18 – June 7, 2018
I’m so full of Kottu and so happy about it. What I’m not happy about is being here while at this very moment Mack is home getting dressed for his college graduation. I’ve felt like a bag of shit all day. I just talked to him though, and he seemed really happy and in a good mood, so that’s what’s important. We can celebrate when I get back.
Day 21 – June 10, 2018
I’m sitting on the train from Ella to Colombo and I am awestruck. The view is fucking phenomenal and I am so at peace, watching the hills and villages roll by with my headphones in. It’s going to be a long day (approx. 10 hours on the train) but so worth it.
The last weekend in Sri Lanka was very fun. We made good time getting to Ella and checking into the Pasla hotel, which was no Shangri-La, but comfortable. We made our way over to Chill Bar, which was exactly that, so chill. Good drinks (I got a good buzz off their mojitos), good food, fun staff, drinking games with the girls, and bean bag chairs. So fun! We’ve been enjoying much cooler temperatures, I guess because of the elevation– Ella is a mountain town. It’s been like 22-25 degrees. We woke up in the morning, got breakfast, and embarked on our hike of Ella Rock. We walked for 40 minutes along the train tracks (an experience in itself), trekked through a tea plantation, and then up a gruelling incline which was already tough without my sweaty, slippery, sandal feet. The view at the top was so worth the hike. It took my breath away, but it didn’t even look real. It was hard for my eyes and my brain to take it all in. Absolutely unreal.
That night we ate at Chill again, then went for a drink at a bar called 360, where we also grabbed breakfast this morning after a good night’s sleep. After breakfast we hopped on the train (around 9:00) and now here I am, basking in the views, feeling so grateful for the life I lead. I also just ate a chocolate and banana rotti which was deadly.
Just went for a window seat. Got booted out by a monk. Half window it is then…
Update: 7:15 pm and still on the train. It’s completely dark out now and there are a lot more people (and bugs) on the train than there was earlier. A firefly flew in and landed on me. After a quick freakout and flick off, it was cool to see one up close.
Day 22 – June 11, 2018
Well, it’s going to be a week of lasts… Sad times. But not really sad actually. I’m not really feeling that upset about the lasts. I’m feeling a strong sense of satisfaction, accomplishment, and pride. I’ve been here, done my work, learned a lot, left my mark, now it’s time to finish up, celebrate, and go home. I am, however, feeling so sad about having to say goodbye to the beautiful, smart, and interesting girls I’ve made friends with.
Day 26 – June 15, 2018
Last day in Sri Lanka. Where has time gone?! That’s cliche but seriously!
We headed south to Bentota for our saree party. When we arrived at the hotel, we went down to the beach for a dip in the Indian Ocean (so cool!) and then chilled by the pool for a bit. Both the ocean and the pool were like a bathtub! After about an hour we headed to a hotel room to get ready for the dinner. It felt so good to put on some brows, mascara, and lipstick– first time in a month! I rocked beachy waves and the gorgeous black saree I bought. Everyone looked fantastic!
Back home, we got photos with Amma and went to sleep under the net for the last time. We took our time packing up, having a good morning together, and then ordered a PickMe. After a teary goodbye, we crawled in the van, which is where I am now, heading to Negombo for a beach day before catching our flights tonight.
I didn’t include much of my writing because it was too personal, talked about the people I travelled with, talked about confidential information about projects and service users, or were incoherent notes about therapies and facts I learned about mental health in Sri Lanka. I’m glad I re-read my journal, and typed out some of my favourite and least favourite parts. I can’t wait to travel again– I can’t wait to feel the wonder of the first day in a new place, the mishaps and successes, and the gratification and pride of experiencing a new culture. It’s something that’s so important to me and I know I’ll feel 100% myself again when I can get moving to new places.
Bye for now,