The adage if you can’t say something nice, say nothing rings in my ears, especially as it pertains to travel and experiencing the unfamiliar, foreign or out-right weird. Conscientious travelers have a responsibility to be tolerant and non-judgmental, right? With that in mind, and coupled with the self-imposed obligation share the best of countries not my own, I reluctantly reveal 5 ways Sri Lanka nearly crushed my travel bug.
1. Oh the Driving
You need to hire a car and driver to expeditiously see the country, however road conditions and lack of direct routes (one main highway connecting not much) meant 31 hours of car travel, my least favourite form of conveyance, to cover just 700 miles up, down, and around the country. Beyond the sheer volume of road time, there’s also the take your life in your hands adrenaline rush involved. With narrow lanes, road-hogging lorries, and high-speed overtakers, nothing prepares you for driving (or riding as a terrified passenger) in a country where head-on collisions seem inevitable, avoided only by a system of flashing lights, hand signals, and an unwritten code of driver decorum. My road weary travel partner asked on day five, “have we been in Sri Lanka this whole time?” You do know it’s an island, I replied, but I know what you mean!
2. Geckos, everywhere! Yes, I understand it’s a jungle out there. I understand geckos are harmless and necessary. Nonetheless tiny lizards in my shower, zipping around near my bed, and scurrying towards my luggage, in every hotel room, every day. Give me strength.
3. Entrance Fees like Disneyland
While I appreciate and accept there will be “foreigner” prices, I don’t expect them to equate to home-country prices. For example the towns and ancient ruins of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa both cost $25 per person and you’ll pay $30 per person for the joy of climbing Sigiriya rock. In comparison the entrance fee for the Grand Canyon is $25 for a 7-day pass (USA); $12 to visit Stonehenge (UK); $16 to see the Mona Lisa and the rest of the artwork in the Louvre (France). Dear Tourist Board, A little perspective and if you would like to see more visitors, re-evaluate prices and consider some regulation.
The convergence of beggars and touts in every spot likely to be crossed by a tourist. According to my Bradt guidebook, “unlike hawkers in other countries, at least they are trying to sell something.” I could have funded my trip with the number of times I heard “it’s nothing to you.” The facts are you go on holiday for two weeks a year, take an expensive flight non-direct to somewhere like Colombo, and money is not nothing to you. I don’t live every day sparing no expense, so on holiday I want to enjoy myself. The steady stream of so-called vendors who invasively intruded into my adventure left me harassed and exhausted. Special mention goes to the “guides” and “helpers” at Sigiriya; despite my 2012 guidebook suggesting a small tip of Rs100 to Rs500 (a few dollars) depending on your rate of satisfaction, both asked or rather insisted on $20 compensation for their services at which point I really started to dislike Roytson Ellis author of Bradt Sri Lanka.
5. 5-Star Prices
People travel to parts of the world where they get the best value for their currency. I didn’t expect absolute luxury, however with hotels rates of $250-$300+ per night I did expect more. For an out-of-the-way country determined to attract foreign visitors, it does not provide value for money asked. Honestly, if you are a back-packer, with tour-group, or a beach-going holiday-maker, you’ll be fine, avoid intrigue, and probably enjoy the country. Independent travelers like myself, who are desperately needed in a still-depressed tourism industry, may constantly feel abused beyond expected. My theories confirmed just prior to boarding my flight from Colombo where I needed $1.97 to buy a 500ml bottle of water; I subsequently purchased the same bottle 2 hours later in Mumbai International for a mere .39 cents. It’s the principle.
Alright, time to make amends by saying several nice about traveling in Sri Lanka.
I am glad to be among the first throngs of tourists to rediscover the country. It is beautiful and I’d go as far to say, Lord Buddha painted Ceylon in a palette of yellow and green with the vast country-side specked with plantation style properties of the gentrified land-owning farmers.
I am glad plans are underway to build a new super-highway.
I am glad there will be another airport connecting the deep south coast with the rest of the country but glad I saw the unspoiled, pre-developed southern coastline.
When I eventually return once the country has a handle on the “tourism thing” I have two must do’s that I missed this trip:
1. Start an ascent of Adam’s Peak at 1:00am to reach the summit at dawn. The country’s holiest pilgrimage, you’ll find an indentation at the summit that Buddhists believe is the footprint of Gautama Buddha, Hindus believe is the sacred footprint of Lord Shiva, and Muslims insist, and Christians agree, is Adam’s footprint left when he was cast out of the Garden of Eden. A convergence of religions in amicable disagreement ~ and a spectacular view.
~ 31st August 2013: Happy 2nd birthday to my blog-baby.