Postcards from Sri Lanka Cam O's trip feb 2017

Note: This is a in situ version which will be edited later.

I have been fortunate enough to travel quite a bit, but the trip to Sri Lanka was something else. I was not planning on going there. Truth be told, it wasn't at all on my radar screen. Yet, in February, 2017, my friend Aaron - with whom I have traveled much (leading geography field schools together) - informed me that he was running a reconnaissance mission to the "Teardrop of India". I was able to tag along with only my airfare and food to cover. I heard about the trip around Wednesday, hummed an hawed about whether I could afford it or deserved it; ecided I would go on Saturday, and flew out the following Wednesday (after getting a rush on my passport renewal and scrambling to get all my vaccines etc.) Just a 20 hour flight stood between me and the tropical island paradise.

YYj - YVR - HKG - CMB with Cathay PacIfic

Day 1 - Transfer (well, more than a day with an international date line thrown in).

IAlmost 20 hours of flying. I lost count. was mesmerized by the Icy Alaskan landscape. Then Freakonomics podcasts, music (Hindi Pop, Hip Hop, Leonard Cohen) and a gripping Sri Lankan novel "Island of a Thousand Mirrors" by Nayomi Munaweera held me for part of the way. Needed to channel the Buddhist meditative practice of equanimity I had learned so deeply on my last trip to Asia nearly 20 years ago. Get to Hong Kong late but am efficiently whisked off to my 2nd flight. This one only 5 1/2 hrs. My third dinner of the day. Check to see that it's 7 am at home.

Flying over Alaska
The in-flight vegetarian dinner
Hong Kong
Approaching the Teardrop of India

Arrived! Unfortunately my baggage hasn't. Oh well. Don't really need much. It's 27 out at midnight. The smells - floral + petrol + sweat - and the hot / humid blanket of night brings me back to India. But the airport is much less chaotic than Indira Gandhi. Indeed, my first impressions of the island are of a gentler India. Meet up with Aaron, grab a couple Lion beers at our hotel in Negombo and crash! Well try to. Actually I'm writing this wired and wide awake at 3 am!

Welcome to Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is an island nation about twice the size of Vancouver Island with 20 million people (Vancouver Island has about 750,000). It is 70% Buddhist, although Negombo (where we first landed) is primarily Christian (and there are numerous Hindus, Muslims and others). Sri Lanka was engaged in a brutal civil war between the majority Sinhalese and Tamils. It was also devastated by the 2004 Tsunami, which we will be learning about on this trip. Economically, the country is strongly rebounding after the period of troubles, related to tourism (mainly Chinese) and investment in unsustainable resource extraction (mainly Chinese). Its football team is about as competitive as Canada's, but it has the 5th ranked cricket team in the world, and I will learn soon that the 1996 World Cup victory still resonates here.

... and there's monkeys

Day 2 - Negombo to Dambulla (well, first full day in Sri Lanka... seems like I've been on this trip a week so far).

Wide awake well before dawn. It is a lovely morning at Paradise Beach, Negombo. Nice cool breeze. Just us and the fishermen out. The calm before the (tourist) storm, of which I am, of course, a part.

Paradise Beach Resort, Negombo
Paradise Beach
Tsunami escape tower

Amazing breakfast of mini dosas, coconut sambal, and fresh papaya with a strong cup of Ceylon tea (of course). The whole trip was already worth it!

breakfast of champions
Aaron 😁

6pm trying to keep my eyelids open. What a great day though. Traveling through the Sri Lankan countryside. Everything so fascinating. We voyaged inland up into the hill country to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Sigiriya Rock Fortress.

Traveled from Negombo to Sigiriya and stayed the night in Dambulla.

Felt good getting some exercise climbing the 1200 steps to the top of the remnant volcano which 1600 years ago was fashioned into an amazing palace. Today it is stunning, but look at what it was imagined to look like in its heyday. So magical.

Artists rendition of Sigiriya Village s it may have existed 1600 years ago.
Sigirya Today

Here is how the Lonely Planet website dramatically describes this site:

Rising from the central plains, the iconic rocky outcrop of Sigiriya is perhaps Sri Lanka's single most dramatic sight. Near-vertical walls soar to a flat-topped summit that contains the ruins of an ancient civilisation, thought to be once the epicentre of the short-lived kingdom of Kassapa, and there are spellbinding vistas across mist-wrapped forests in the early morning.

Sigiriya refuses to reveal its secrets easily, and you'll have to climb a series of vertiginous staircases attached to sheer walls to reach the top. On the way you'll pass a series of quite remarkable frescoes and a pair of colossal lion's paws carved into the bedrock. The surrounding landscape – lily-pad-covered moats, water gardens and quiet shrines – and the excellent site museum, only add to Sigiriya's rock-star appeal.

The Lion's feet remain but in the old days there was also a full Lion's head that you would climb up through to get to the fortress.
El fresco frescoes adorn the cliff walls.
On top of Sigiriya with our guide Asiri

Found out why there's no mosquitos around. Evacuated to our room as all of a sudden they broke out the DDT. The whole hotel property became covered in fog as we gasped for breath.

Cloud of DDT blowing towards our room.

Evening wandering the busy streets of Dambulla. Constant sounds of buses, trucks, and tuk tuks - honking. Too many for the roads. Smells of burning stuff and fried food. Incredibly dense strips of small businesses - dollar stores, street food stalls, restaurants, cigarette vendors, air conditioned Cargill supermarkets, real fresh produce markets - behind which are farmer's fields and teak, palm tree farms. At night it is just men out.

Fresh produce stall in Dambulla

With the re-emergence of white supremacy at home, its sometimes uncomfortable but valuable to be experiencing being the Other.

Day 3 - Dambulla to Kandy

This was a really great day. I'm getting a cold (or more precisely acid reflux cough) and am lying here feeling a little miserable, but the sites we saw and the friendly smiles of Sri Lankans buoys me up. Today we ventured to the Dambulla Rock Temple, to a Spice Garden, and finally to Sri Lanka's 2nd City Kandy.

Ubiquitous monkeys 🐒

The Rock Temple was very special if very busy with tourists (including dozens of Thai monks). It is described as follows:

IDambulla’s famed Royal Rock Temple is an iconic Sri Lankan image – you’ll be familiar with its spectacular Buddha-filled interior long before you arrive in town. Despite its slightly commercial air this remains an important holy place and should not be missed.

Stone Temple
Offering at Stone Temple (consent given)

Beside the Stone Temple is the more recent Golden Temple with 30 m Buddha perched on top and neon sign.

Golden Buddha
Statues by Golden Temple
Buddhist Stupa

En route to Kandy we stopped at this very peaceful Spice garden. 11 Heritage Garden. Amazing South Asian Ethnobotany tour. Picked up Ayurvedic medicine for my stuffy nose. Can you guess what the following common spices are?

Black pepper, cocoa, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon

The food has been beyond belief! So good! I love Thai and Indian and Italian and Mexican etc but this is cosustently the best I've ever had. So much variety, spice, complexity. Only thing that didn't resonate with my taste buds are these super sour cherries with chili powder they sell at the little roadside stalls. Not my taste. Nor the olives. The veg curries, sautéed veggies, the Dhals, salads, spicy baked goods, fresh squeezed pineapple or papaya juice etc. - all revelations. Easy being Veg here.

Delicious vegan lunch at Spice Garden.

On to Kandy! Very busy, windy roads through the hill country. Very lush countryside. For the first time since arriving the sky opened up in rain. iew from our room of the bustling city below.


Wandered around the enchanting lake - the centrepiece of the city - and watched the magical sunrise with Buddhist chanting filling the air. Marvelled at the colonial architecture and the kind spirit of rhe people. Ate at "The Pub" with the rest of the German and Scandinavian tourists. Funky place I could imagine field school students enjoying. Got a flyer to a late night dance party. Unfortunately my stuffy nose and soar throat will have me checking in early but I love the vibe here.

Aaron at The Pub!

Day 4 - Kandy

The whirlwind tour continues today sampling the delights of Kandy - the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Sri Lanka's most significant temple which houses a relic of one of the Buddha's wisdom teeth, the World Buddhism Museum (awesome) , to a wood carving factory, to the Royal Botanical Gardens (sorry Victoria even more impressive than. Butchart 's, and then finally to see some Sri Lankan dancing. Very touristy day but hey the sights were spectacular and who is pretending here.

At the Temple
Shots from Kandy
Woodworking Factory
Orchids at the Royal Botanical Garden
Dr Seussesque
Royal Botanical Garden Bathed in God's Light
hillside development Kandy
Traditional Kandyan Dancing at Cultural Centre


Created with images by echoyan - "buddhism sculpture sri lanka" • b1-foto - "boeing 777 cathay pacific airport zurich" • LittleMouse - "city view hong kong architecture" • mckaysavage - "Sri Lanka - 074 - Sigiriya view" • mistermunay - "IMG_0672" • Peyman Zehtab Fard - "IMG_4520" • lakpuratravels - "Kandy" • dronepicr - "Sigiriya Sri Lanka" • absprung - "monkey makake sri lanka" • mckaysavage - "Sri Lanka - 029 - Kandy Temple of the Tooth" • mckaysavage - "Sri Lanka - 055 - Dambulla Buddha caves"

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