Try googling Sri Lanka images and you’ll likely see stunning seascapes, sweeping cinnamon and tea plantations, magnificent elephants, grand Buddhist temples, and amazing stilt fishermen, precariously perched above the ocean water. It seems like a really great mix of interesting culture and beautiful landscape. These are a few reasons Sri Lanka is a such a popular tourist destination from Dubai and were enough to lure me and my friend, Heather, into booking a trip there last April.
The northern part of the country features the elephant sanctuary and plantations, but we opted for the southwestern coast in hopes that the beautiful beach would entertain the five children we were bringing along. I imagined us casually sipping tasty beverages while the children passed long afternoons playing in the sand and frolicking in the water.
When we arrived at the airport, people started taking pictures of our children, undoubtedly fascinated by the blond-haired members of the bunch. We made our way to the vans that our hotel had arranged to transport us to Unawatuna. We expected a crazy drive and we got it. Colombo streets are bustling with all sorts of animals, pedestrians, bikes, motorcycles, tuk tuks, colorful buses, delivery trucks, etc. It took three hours to travel 80 miles (130 km). Fortunately for us, a new road has opened which shaved two hours off of the commute. Just a few months prior to our trip, the same route would have taken us FIVE hours! The drive was interesting though and not all that bad, except that the little ones were getting restless since they just came off of a four-hour flight.
When we first arrived, I took one look at my friend Heather and knew something was amiss. Apparently, we rode in the luxurious new van, while she and her family rode in the ant-infested, dodgy van. Not a good start.
We were really impressed with the beach that was just steps away from our hotel rooms. With elegant palm trees swaying in the breeze and a Buddhist temple dotting the curved coastline, it seemed like a picturesque place for relaxing. Things were looking up – bring on the mojitos!
The kids ran to the sea with all of their clothes on, anxious to burn the energy that had been simmering for the last nine hours of travel time. Dreams of relaxing afternoons were dashed, though, when I spotted a red flag warning us of choppy, dangerous waters. And dangerous it was! It was of the eat-your-children caliber. Even our six-foot plus, hocky-playing Canadian friend was no match for the water, as he got sucked under and spit out by the waves.
Obviously, the 3-7 year old crowd didn’t stand a chance, so instead of sitting back drinking cocktails, we were standing up on the water’s edge, keeping a vigilant watch over our fearless kids. If you decided to venture a bit into the water to cool down, a surge of sand invaded your swimsuit, which then necessitated a walk through the scorching hot sand to shower. After one day at the beach, I got the distinct impression that we should have opted for the northern (and cooler) part of the country.
But it wasn’t just the beach that disappointed. Stray, not-so-healthy looking dogs and cats joined us during our meals, along with crows, flies, and stifling humidity. It was so hot and humid that exploring the colonial Dutch fort town of Galle proved nearly impossible, especially with the kids in tow. We didn’t even get to see the stilt fishermen because they were avoiding the rough waters like we were. (I was particularly disappointed by this, as I have long admired Steve McCurry’s famous photograph of them.) The easter egg hunt I had envisioned taking place in a lush tropical paradise had to be moved indoors since it had rained that morning. Instead, I hid Easter baskets near the toilet in our hotel bathroom. Lovely. Reality just didn’t seem willing to match our expectations.
It was the trip that kept on giving, well past our flight home. The family we traveled with, yes, all five members, tested positive for Giardia – an intestinal parasite. This did not bode well for our family since we did everything together on the trip. I was suspicious that one of my sons had it so I took him to the doctor, but he tested negative. After submitting four stool samples, a trip to the ER, three ultrasounds, a genetic test for celiac disease, and three months of complaining about tummy aches, he was finally diagnosed with Giardia and treated. Phew – thank you Sri Lanka!
It wasn’t all doom and gloom though. Nothing terrible happened, and we were fortunate enough to leave immediately before the tsunami watch. The hotel staff and people in general were just as sweet as can be. They really tried hard to please and you couldn’t help but appreciate their generous spirit and friendliness, especially given Sri Lanka’s history of civil war and of course the tsunami of 1994. We were in company of great friends, so we were able to laugh off the inconveniences and just enjoy our time together. The kids had a blast so that definitely made it worthwhile. And it was one of those trips that makes you feel spoiled rotten and immensely grateful for everything we have.
The parting words with our friends pretty much sum it up:
me: Well, the trip was interesting.
Mike: Yep, it was one of a kind.
The following images are from the streets of Colombo, Unawatuna, and Galle, many of which taken from tuk tuk or car so not the best quality but gives you an idea of what it looked like.