Sri Lanka. I’m in Sri Lanka. I can’t actually believe I’m sitting here in Kandy, Sri Lanka, 5,408 miles away from my home. And I’m on my own. This doesn’t feel real at all. Am I dreaming right now? This can’t be real. But it is. I did it. I sat 10 and half hours on a plane all on my own, and made my way out of the Sri Lanka airport. What seemed like a rocky start not being able to find the Green Lion driver and having a bit of a panic I eventually found him and met someone who would be on the same program as me. Another Londoner. Funny, she was even on the same flight as me. So what seemed like hours waiting around at the airport (correction it didn’t seem like hours, it was hours. 4 hours to be exact) for other volunteers to arrive we were soon on our way to commence our 3 hour drive from Colombo Airport to Kandy. I would love to talk about the scenery, the journey, the experience but I was far too focused on fighting sleep and feeling way too close for comfort next to people I had literally just met in a hot, sweaty taxi with no air con. Once we arrived at the volunteer accommodation it was clear we weren’t the first ones to arrive. It was hard to tell how many people were there as it all seemed a bit of a blur due to the tiredness but I made my introductions, had my 3rd curry of the day and went to the top floor (the room I was assigned to which we soon refereed to as the Penthouse suite, shame it wasn’t as luxurious as that makes it sound) and collapsed on my uncomfortable metal bottom bunk bed. The accommodation is basic but what does that matter when you’re in Sri Lanka!
This still doesn’t feel real but my adventure in Sri Lanka has finally begun. Unfortunately it didn’t start off very adventurous but instead with a meeting where we were told about every single volunteer project opportunity in Sri Lanka available. In depth. Very in depth. We were also given the opportunity to change our project should we want to but my heart is set on the turtles. This talk also included a lovely culture lesson, telling us what not to wear, where not to go and what not to do as well as couple of past horror stories involving other volunteers who decided not to listen. Once this came to a conclusion we were finally let out and got to explore the city of Kandy. Now this is where my adventure begun. There is nothing quite in the world like getting on a very busy, hot, stuffy, sweaty public Sri Lankan bus. I was literally dripping with sweat.. I guess when in Sri Lanka do like the locals! The journey felt like it took forever. Sri Lankan drivers are crazy, the roads are busy and there seems to be no rules. Once in the main city of Kandy I was treated to everything I love. Markets. Clothes. Bags. Shopping. Shockingly enough I didn’t actually buy anything but was very shocked at how cheap everything was. Here you could buy a pair of trousers for £2 where in London the same thing would be selling for £30. Our trip into the city also treated us to a traditional Sri Lankan dance show which included a lot of half naked men banging on some drums. Very interesting but again was consumed with trying to fight the sleep. Things got even better when the fire dancing and walking on burning coals started. There seems to be no health and safety rules in Sri Lanka.
Sri Lankan buses seem to be a recurring thing now, I don’t think it’s something I could ever get used to. I don’t think I’ve ever sweated this much in my entire life. Shame I had to spend 2 hours on it to a place called the Spice Garden where we shown by a sweet little Sri Lankan man how local medicines are made with all the natural ingredients. We were then taken to the shop where a cheeky Sri Lankan man tried to suggest me buying some cream for acne. I don’t think so.
Following this we were taken on a very enjoyable boat trip around the lake in Kandy and got to go to the Gem museum. One thing I’ve quickly learnt about Sri Lanka is their museums are not museums. Don’t go. We had a 5 minute presentation about how gems are/were made in the country then taken to the shop where we were followed around by staff trying to get us to buy very expensive jewellery. Not informative at all and a bit of a let down. After a long day, a trip to the pub (literally the pub was called The Pub) was needed so headed down with my new found friends. The Canadian and Aussie girl I met brought an awful drink therefore forced us all into playing a nice drinking game of Heads Up just to get rid of it.
Note to self: Don’t buy Lion Stout and you suck at Heads Up..
Highlight of the day: Got my first tuk-tuk. I wish we had this transport in London.
Today was hot and a perfect day to visit a nice Sri Lankan woman in her home for a traditional cooking lesson where we got to eat the food afterwards. I hollowed out my first coconut which is a lot more difficult then it looks and the device could probably cut your finger right off. The food was great though. Literally it was the best food I’ve eaten here so far. She made a great pumpkin curry, I don’t even like pumpkin. That’s one gifted lady. I even ate a Banana flower, I didn’t even know Banana trees grew flowers. When it came to eating our lunch we were told we had to eat like the locals, i.e. with ours hands. Never before have I ate curry and rice with my hands but surprisingly enough I actually found it to be a great experience. Why can’t we eat with our hands more often? It was funny to see the many Westerners around me struggle with the concept though. As we couldn’t stay in this lady’s home all day we were the taken to my first temple were I met my first Buddhist nun. In a country full of Sri Lankan Buddhists it was quite surprising that the first one I met happened to be a Londoner. She was nice though, and we had a mediation lesson with her. I don’t know how these people can sit for hours on end mediating, after 10 minutes my body just hurt and the concentration was just gone.
Never before has my chest sweated. Never have I ever had chest sweat showing on my t-shirt. There is a first time for everything and today was the day. Early start today to climb the Big Buddah on the hill, otherwise known as Big B (to us volunteers) or Bahiravokanda Vihara (to the locals). I feel like my downfall on this was that I was completely unaware we were going up to see Big B. So after climbing up a few steep incline hills, the sweat was flowing, my legs were hurting, I felt like I was dying that I fianlly got the message where we were going and it was still a hell of a long way up. But after a few encouraging words from our co-ordinator: “If you lost weight this would be easy”, “It’s just around the next corner”. It was not just around the next corner but after what seemed a lifetime of steep inclines with no resting stops or flat ground I had finally made it up to Big B on the hill. 200 m up. Probably the most hardest thing I have ever done. Now I’m not fat like the co-ordintor suggested, quite average for a Londoner but unfit and unprepared (mentally). The view was beautiful though. And I even got to climb up the back of Big B. Looking back I don’t know how I did it, I must’ve found some inner strength. It was all worth it in the end when I met my first Sri Lankan Monk who blessed me, rubbed my head, and tied a white string on my wrist. It was very special. Considering we got up so early by the time we were done it was only 11 am. With the whole day ahead of us we were taken to the Temple of the Tooth. It seemed like a beautiful place from what I could gather from looking over and in-between people. It was… very busy. Apparently it was a religious holiday so it seemed like the whole of Sri Lanka including us were visting. It was hot. I had to shove people. People shoved me. But I took my flower and presented to Buddah as a sign of respect. After this we were then taken to an Indian restaurant (got to eat with my hands again – yay!), went to a Baltic clothing museum (where I was trapped into buying a scarf for my Mother) and a wood carving museum (here I resisted). After a long day, the activites didn’t stop there as we had the opportunity to go to an Elephant Festival in the Hill Country. Now I’m all for animal rights, and I feel like the Elephant Festival is quite against animal rights even though they see elephants as sacred animals. I found it quite upsetting seeing all these elephants with chains around their necks, and their feet chained together. They had no freedom and the sadness in their eyes was more then evident to me. It didn’t get any better when the festival actually started as they dress them all up in gowns which could be compared to the KKK outfit. Only their eyes showed. Some were even “lucky” enough to have their outfits covered in lights. They looked like Christmas trees. It was a spectacle and not a nice one for me at all. It broke my heart seeing them like that. I felt overly happy when one of the elephants shat in the middle of the parade and all the dancers had to dance around it, some not even knowing it was there. It was interesting to see but I don’t think I’ll be attending another Elephant Festival again.
Running on only 5 hours sleep due to last nights late night we were meant to get up and do a self defence lesson however most of us weren’t up and ready in time so we headed straight to the Hindu Temple. Very different compared to a Buddhist one, just as pretty. Afterwards we were treated to an Ayurvedic massage. For a person who hates massages, it wasn’t actually that bad. Rest of the day = Relaxation.
And so that brings us up to date with my orientation week. Have an early wake up call tomorrow for my weekend trip away with some of the other volunteers (finally some free time to ourselves) and then Monday it’s to the turtles!