In Sri Lanka you swerve rather than drive. Stop signs lamely referee intersections, some are so faded it is only their circular shape which reminds of their disciplinary role, yet most are ignored. The unwritten rule here being; the bigger you are, the higher priority on the road. I sit back and try to look out the window. Passing towns are as rare as clouds, as is the screech of horns that fill a suffocating humid air.
I had met my driver some twenty minutes earlier and despite brief acquaintance we will now spend the next three days together, the places we’ll go are at the hand of the wheel.
Milan collects me from the small town of Sigiriya, with the aim to drive one hundred and seventy kilometres south to Nallathanniya. The base town before the impressive Adams Peak, the short distance is a heartbreaking six hour drive, seemingly superfluous given the distance. With tourism contributing to one in ten jobs in Sri Lanka, Milan looks back over his shoulder in the rear view mirror at me to see if there was any future in the behind.
The problem in this situation was affording the driver and sometimes privilege can be perilous.
Milan asks every so often “My dear friend, would you like to visit the temple?” and “My dear friend, would you like to see the waterfall?” I had rather hoped he preferred the formal epithet out of attachment reasons rather than recollection.
While finding the similarities in our seemingly separate cultures we discuss our views on rental prices, social media and our favourite beer. But there is an elephant in the room and it wasn’t the one walking beside us, a common sight in rural Sri Lanka. We found our differences in the most unlikely of places, over lunch. You see, Milan wanted to dazzle me the sights and Hallmarks of his country and my declines had jolted his spirit. My chosen lunch venue was the last straw:
An open air, street kitchen and it was not up to standard.
The confusion over our agreement had come to head; he thought he was to guide, I had expected he was to drive. The disagreement was hard to ignore given my active attempt to avoid a tour guide, opting to see the real Sri Lanka for what it is. And no amount of temples and lookouts were going to make me feel connected with the people and it’s land.
It was here, in the open air kitchen with; stove tops that fog up your glasses, of spatulas that scrape hot pots by ladies. The same ladies who shriek when monkeys snatch fresh batches of Kottu Roti. Of banana leaves served as crockery. And of the communal wash basin with the bar of soap in its own soup of questionable water.
The sights, the sounds and the smells of the mundane suburban life of a Lankan on their lunch break were the coconut in the coconut sambal. Milan found that troublesome because what most travellers wanted was less. Less heat, less noise and more calm to all the calamity.
The next three days with Milan were trying as we tugged at our own interests and agendas. What sticks to mind is that open air kitchen; the decadent string hopper, the coconut kalu dodol that’s cooked for hours and the vibrantly coloured dahl. This to me this was the real Sri Lanka and I loved every second.
Thanks for stopping by!
Hope you enjoyed this little something. This piece was submitted for the 2019 World Nomads Travel Writers Scholarship. It’s such an incredible opportunity for (amateur) writers to be mentored by a pro, and the winners are sent to Portugal – double win!
Before I go, I’d really like to share an article with you I wrote for Word of Travel about sustainable packing. You can read all about it here. I wanted to write for Word of Travel because not only are they a great platform for bloggers, they’re also seriously geared for travellers looking for inspiration and first hand advice. I highly recommend you check out their webpage; filter out what destinations you’re interested in, then select your style of travel and away you go!
Lastly, this week stamps out my third and final month of Project 333. Stay tuned next week for my final recap, where I’ll share all my lasting impressions on the minimalist wardrobe project.
Until then xo
Images sourced: Unsplash