[Travel Diary] First day in Sri Lanka

How I enjoyed my freedom in Sri Lanka. Because everything you want is on the other side of fear…

Sunset in Matara
No place I’d rather be

While I knew that those three days in Bangkok would not be very challenging, I had/have a lot of respect when it comes to solo female travelling in Sri Lanka. After all, I have read pretty mixed reviews regarding security on public transport and female traveling by themselves in general.

I arrived late at Colombo airport yesterday and spent the night in a guesthouse next to the airport. Their airport shuttle was the first thing to make me feel uneasy, driving through sandy, badly-lit streets in the middle of nowhere for a ride that took longer than I expected (since according to Google Maps the place was really just next to the airport) – even though I knew nothing would happen, as the taxi was provided by the guesthouse. And while the place itself looked really nice with its gorgeous garden, swimming pool and BBQ and the receptionist was really, really kind, I barely slept – my head being filled with lots of doubts and questions, surrounded by unfamiliar animal noises (roosters, geckos, stray dogs, frogs…) and my body itching from a million mosquito bites.

But me being me, I decided to do things either all the way or not at all. So taking the bus or a private driver (which I briefly considered) were really not an option. After all, I had been looking forward to this train ride for so many weeks. The next morning, after just three hours of sleep, I packed up my backpack again, was picked up by my taxi at 8 am and headed to Fort Station in Colombo. Destination: The train heading south to Matara.

Colombo Fort Train Station
Colombo Fort Train Station

I didn’t have time to have breakfast at the hotel, but was hoping to find some café at the airport where I could grab a coffee and a bite to eat. After all, this is Sri Lanka’s main train station. But nope, my hopes for caffein were shattered just as quick. No café as far as the eye could see. Damn it! And I was hoping for some coffee so badly! So I grabbed some kind of filled pastry and went to the women-only waiting room.

Because while I had been in the country for less than twelve hours and was already asked about my husband a dozen times, I figured out I was better off among the ladies. And right I was: I feel that there is some sort of solidarity and helpfullness among women in this country – and I like it! Because #girlpower and stuff. This was also confirmed once I got on the train: As expected, it was packed, but a woman who shared a bench with her small son kindly offered that I squeeze in with them.

The same goes for fellow backpackers: Everybody smiles at or greets each other, helps each other heeving backpacks up the luggage rack (aka guys heeving up my backpack, as I still have zero to non muscles in my arms…). So my doubts about security were soon forgotten. And well, what can I say: I am so happy that I didn’t listen to those girls on the forums who adviced to take the bus rather than the train, as it was apparently safer: I had the time of my life!

The ticket for this adventurous three five hour train ride costs only 230 rupees (1,50€ – vs. about 150€ for a taxi for the same distance) and the view as you drive along the coast is just priceless. The bluest of oceans alternating with the greenest of vegetations, with some colourful villages in between, combined with the retro sound of the old train as it makes its way across the country, the smell of the fresh fruit and pastries sold by locals at every stop, the scary toilet (a really big hole in the ground)… I am so very glad I made this experience!

The only downside: Both my camera and my GoPro died pretty early on and I couldn’t film as much as I was hoping to (I am still trying to figure out my battery-for-electronic-devices situation on the road…) – so this certainly won’t be the last time I am taking a train here…

After taking a TukTuk to my guesthouse in Matara (I think I did pretty well in negotiating with the guy, as he was a though one), I was greeted by Buddhika, the young owner. He was so friendly, welcoming and proud of his recently opened place that I felt at home right away (that he welcomed me with a fresh and yummy coconut was another big plus…). After a quick rest and some tea (TEA!!!! FTW!!!! Those who know me know that I am a big sucker for tea, so I couldn’t be happier to enjoy my first brew of local Cylon), I headed across the street with Buddhika’s sister and his niece for a walk on the beach.

His niece is 16, seemed to be quite happy to get a chance to practice her English and was probably a bit impressed by me having lived in Paris and now travelling by myself. Her aunt went back home soon after, and the girl, who is very clever and surprisingly open, and me enjoyed a lovely chat while watching the most stunning sunset I have ever seen (not kidding!). My favourite quote of our conversation: “I don’t even know if I want to get married. I want to enjoy my freedom!”.

Enjoying my freedom! There couldn’t have been better words to describe this perfect moment, coming from this lovely 16 year old Sri Lankan schoolgirl!! This was the cherry to the icing of this amazing day. Well ok, the dinner (potato curry and salad), prepared by Buddhika’s mum and other sister was pretty awesome too…

As this long day is coming to an end, I am also getting used to the local fauna and no longer feel perturbated by those two fat geckos who keep observing me as I type this. On the same page, I am also very thankful that I didn’t have to deal with tourista so far (French for: disorder of the digestive tract caused by foreign food…), even though I brought loads of medications and using them would make my backpack less heavy…

Anyways, it’s 10pm on a Saturday night a I couldn’t be happier about going to sleep now. Time to catch up some sleep in order to be fresh for the next adventure, as I will head to the surf/yoga camp tomorrow! Stay tuned for news on how that goes (reminder: I am a total nube to both surfing and yoga)…

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