I’ve wanted to go to Sri Lanka since I was a child. Something about it enticed me. I had an opportunity to make the journey, and it ended up being a profound mix of geographic and emotional exploration.
This trip represents the downfall of a relationship that was once precious to me. It tarnishes my recollections of cultural and romantic adventures alike. We fell into our doomed love in Korea. During our honeymoon phase, I chose to go to America to get my first hip replacement and was gone for several months longer than I had planned. She cheated on me while I was gone. We had been together for such a short period of time and I was away for so long. I let it slide.
When we reunited, our spark had dimmed but it was not yet snuffed. When we floated, we floated high. Way up there where you’re afraid to look down for fear of getting Wile E. Coyoted. But we had so many fights. In front of strangers, our friends. There are encounters that neither of us are proud of. Knives were thrown. I ducked.
It was difficult to navigate our spiraling descent. It was such an unhealthy relationship, but we were still desperately in love. We’d been together for a few years when we decided to switch things up. I knew the idea to move to Singapore together wasn’t a good one. So did she. But we wouldn’t dare talk about it. Polite fictions. We simply couldn’t escape our orbit. We didn’t want to. We were terrified that any push would send us hurtling apart. Hoping without promise, we lied to ourselves and each other, secretly knowing and ignoring the truth. We were such stubborn magnets.
I had ten days off and I finally got the chance to go to the Teardrop of India. As often is the case, I didn’t know to expect and I was going to do it alone. Mostly. Before I left Singapore, I had casually mentioned my vacation plans to a coworker. We were friendly but not friends, if you know what I mean. A few weeks later she also decided to go to Sri Lanka. We were on the same plane. As soon as we landed we both went on our separate paths.
This is one of the rare adventures where my plan worked out perfectly. I had a rough idea of what places I wanted to visit, what routes I needed to take, the food I wanted to eat, and what things I wanted to do. Went off without a hitch. This is how I like to travel. Do research, but always leave plans loose and untimed. You never know what you’ll find. You’re here to explore, not to punch in-and-out.
I arrived in Colombo very late at night. Having read that it’s a very boring city, I immediately bailed. I took a four-hour cab up north to Sigiriya. I slept in the car and awoke to hot air balloons drifting in the dawn light. Cows were being herded through the half-paved streets.
Sigiriya is an ancient ruin of a city. It’s a towering butte and is best described as the Machu Picchu of the Sri Lankan jungle. Lion paws carved into the rock flank the main entrance. Monkeys roamed freely.
Through the bustling crowd, I climbed up the steps. Erotic paintings decorated the walls during the ascent. They had my undivided attention.
It was heavenly, but a bitch of a climb with dreams of an elevator. At the summit, you can see the foundations of the ancient capital. My imagination built upwards from those stone rectangles, recreating the lost city.
The Lonely Mountain in the distance fed the idyllic lake napping below. It took a lot of effort to convince myself to head back down. It felt like leaving a lover behind. I suppose I was.
Monkeys were darting along the staircases and cliff sides on the descent. You get used to them.
I moved onwards towards Kandy, a city surrounded by tea fields. It was an interesting town but mostly served as a waypoint in my journey. I randomly met with my coworker for dinner and a drink.
On my tuk tuk ride back to my hostel, I asked if I could drive. He shouldn’t have let me in my drunken state, but he did. I exuberantly sped up the mountainside in that foreign vehicle, somehow safely making it to my domicile. The gate was locked. I had to scale the iron palisade to get in. The more bizarre your adventures are, the deeper the images burn into the silver iodide of your memory.
I needed to catch a train from Kandy to Ella, supposedly one of the most scenic routes in the world. The train departed at 6:00, which was going to be a difficult task. With my lifestyle, 6am can be the end of the night, but never the beginning of a day.
Nevertheless, I (somehow) dutifully awoke and rushed to the station. I even had time to jockey myself in position for a seat. BUT. I didn’t want a seat. I wanted to go with my legs dangling off the train car.
I got want I wanted. This was an experience that reminded me of why I live the way that I do. The geography made the trip longer than it should have been. It was only 82 miles and yet took over six hours to traverse. I knew if I got up then I would be overthrown from my hobo throne, so I held my ground for the duration of the trip sans bathroom break. When the game is on the line my body can pull off some shocking upsets.
At a random train station, I took my favorite photo of the trip. I love how his skin and garb mirror the backdrop. Being intensely amused by minutia is a very good way to keep life interesting.
Well, there was one exception to my exuberance. I wanted to take my shoes off and let the air sweep through my toes. That was the type of Huck Finn fun I wanted. Luckily, I nodded off without removing them. The train had come to a station and my feet smashed against the concrete platform. Thankfully it was only at about 30 miles an hour, and my rubber soles took the brunt. Barefoot I would have broken many bones. The torsion from the impact bashed my rib cage against the carriage wall. The bruises became abstract art that changed color and shape over time.
The station had a sign warped with age and flecked with chipped white paint. The top row of the sign was written in Sinhalese, the second in Tamil, and the third was Romanized.
It read “Ella–52km.”
Thus concludes Part I. In the final installment, we will continue our journey to Ella. Then we will go on safari before finishing the trip at a 16th-century fort.
Stay tuned and I hope you enjoyed.