Sri Lanka Airlines was indoctrinated into the ONE WORLD alliance of airlines a few weeks ago. It was a big deal for this tiny country- an island off the tip of India. They are now rubbing shoulders with the big guns like American Airlines, British Airways. It is the first time an airline from this part of Asia was welcomed in. To celebrate, they brought in hundreds of travel writers from around the world to bear witness and write about it, including me. There were hundreds of dancers and drummers dressed in gorgeous costumes at the airport- all pomp and circumstance and it was a privilege to be there. We were all put up at a Five Star Hotel.
The next day, the writers were flown across the country to a wildlife national park where the greatest concentration of leopards are. I however, began to have extreme abdominal pains on the bus to the airport. Doubled over in pain, breathing consciously to maintain control, sweating profusely, I got out of the bus and begged for a toilet. I could not get into the airport because we had not yet secured our boarding passes so I was directed across the street to the public bathroom. I looked in every stall and they were all squat toilets. Whatever. There I squatted for half an hour, exploding and writing in pain. It was a good thing I have strong calves. There was no toilet paper. I missed the flight. I went back to the hotel and stayed in bed for 6 hours.
By the time the other writers returned, I had recovered and everyone was going home. I did not want to fly around the world for a mere two days so the airline secured a travel company to host a 5 day tour of the country for me. I was excited.
It would be just me and the driver/guide, who spoke English. If any of you recalls my blog about my experience in Mauritius, you will remember that the same thing occurred there but it turned out to be very positive experience. cindyrosstraveler.com/…/why-would-an-american-want-to-come-to-mau…
I visited some very nice places in Sri Lanka- an elephant orphanage, climbed a fortress that held an ancient palace on the summit, saw some cool archaeological sites and Buddhist cave temples. That was all good. But I ate every meal alone. I only had breakfast in my package so I had to eat the bananas from my welcome fruit basket and steal croissants from the breakfast buffet to get me through lunch and dinner. These 5 star hotels were not usually anywhere near a food store to buy food. And the food at their restaurants was beyond my budget. Also, 5 star hotels do not have any other clients who want to make friends. They are there with their own peeps- couples, people celebrating, vacationing, not looking to meet single American women who happens to be an extrovert and in need of a friend.
My driver was not interested in being friends. The more days that went by, the more he would drop me off places and tell me he would see me later, even when he was supposed to be guiding me or teaching me things. I could deal with that. Except when we went to a Buddhist temple. (He was a Buddhist). But he swept me through so quickly, I was looking around at such a speed in order to grasp it all, while he is rattling off information. And he says to me, rather condescendingly, “I don’t believe you are listening to me.” And I assured him that I could listen without looking straight at him and it was more important for me to look around WHILE I was listening, but he was clearly offended and held it against me for the rest of the trip.
What I also couldn’t deal with was his driving. I had to drug myself daily to fight back the nausea as he drove. And I thought I would die every day on the road- he passed every vehicle – every vehicle- no matter the size- long buses, big trucks- on blind curves, topping hills- never mind that he could never see around them. It didn’t matter how many times I gasped or asked him not to. They did not all drive like that. It was as if he had a death wish.
I resigned myself that I may never get home to see my family. That I would die in Sri Lanka. Seriously. My daughter would have to work to get my book published about using the world to teach and raise them.
Then the monsoon season started. I became a prisoner in my 5 star hotel eating bananas and stale croissants. I read 5 books, wrote three magazine articles, edited my book manuscript and longed for someone to share my hours with. One time, one time, I went down to the beach in front of the hotel when the rains broke to watch the sunset. There I found a 21-year-old local boy who was graduating from the university any day. He told me that every day he came out to the beach to witness the sunset and I thought that was marvelous. We chatted awhile and it was one of the best parts of my whole Sri Lankan experience, because I had connected with a human being, on such a very small level but nonetheless.
On our way to the airport after my trip concluded, my driver raced 130 kilometers per mile, was passing another driver and suddenly there were 3 stray dogs standing broadside in the middle of the highway. I thought it was over. So close to getting home. He almost hit two other vehicles on the same drive and admitted, “I did not see them.” No kidding.
My driver could not look at me when I said good-bye. I regret giving him such a nice tip.
I have decided. I do not want to travel alone. Being with other writers on a press trip is fine. I can usually easily make friends. They become my family while I am away. But it is a good thing to know yourself. I am an extrovert. I thrive on exchanging with people, especially in a foreign country where I long to get to know them and their culture. Traveling in an insulated bubble is not good, esp for the story, esp for me. I did however, manage to distance myself for a particularly painful experience in my life and made great progress towards healing with that. Granted, traveling around the world will do that.
So my trip to Sri Lanka was just “OK.” I am not sorry that I went. I know this part of the world a little better. I will make $75 for the magazine story that I will write. (Gone for 12 days… worth it?)