One of my best friends for the past 20-plus years is Sri Lankan. I was
essentially “adopted” by their family during my formative years
(although I have to believe it was mainly due to my affinity for the
spicy Sri Lankan curry flavors).
But in all of these years, I never sincerely thought about their
distant island-nation — until this year. I decided to take a short
sabbatical to the country. A short, surprising sabbatical. Sri Lanka
would reveal its varied landscapes, its varied cultures, its history,
its troubles, and more.
1 — Tea Country
Being an island-nation - roughly the size of West Virginia - with over
a thousand miles of coastline, one does not expect to see much more
than bountiful beaches. But take a short drive inland to the Central
Highland’s mountains and this stunning tea country is found.
2 - Women Carrying Tea Bags
Up until the 1860s the country (then named Ceylon) used their hillsides
to grow coffee. But the industry was severely damaged by a coffee leaf
disease in the year 1869. Scotsman James Taylor and Englishman Sir
Thomas Lipton capitalized on the land, climate, and timing to cultivate
Sri Lanka’s future tea industry. Sri Lanka is now one of the top three
world producers of tea; trailing only the colossal countries of India
3 - Sea of Rice
Not only can one expect to view the Indian Ocean around the country, but pass seas of rice crops within its interior.
4 - Rainforest
Sri Lanka is one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots. While the
country covers only 0.013% of the world’s land surface, the island is
the home to a high number of endemic plants, reptiles, and amphibians.
5 - Unawanatuna Beach
Unawanatuna Beach, on the southern coast, is one of the many breathtaking beaches of Sri Lanka. Although hosting various hotels,
offering convenient services, receiving great waves for surfing, and
having a very comfortable climate, the beach is not overly crowded —
like many beaches of Sri Lanka after the tsunami of 2004.
6 - Girl with Fruit
Sri Lanka needs tourism to return to their economy. After the tsunami
of 2004 the visitor count has dropped severely, only to be creeping
towards the levels of before. The hotels, the beaches, the tours, the
restaurants, the street-side fruit stands and more await travelers and
locals alike to be enjoyed.
7 - Fish Market Negombo
Every early morning well before sunrise, except on Sundays, the fish
market of Negombo comes alive with a fresh fish stench. While this is
no surprise as boat after boat pulls into the small harbor to unload
their smelly cargo, what is a further feast for the eyes occurs once
the fish are laid down on the nearby cold concrete. A verifiable Wall
Street stock-like commotion begins with yelling of prices and
attendants walking around with their small pads of paper, making quick
marks for bids and sellers.
8 - Colombo’s Busy Capital City Style
Mornings in the capital city, Colombo, are hectic. Along a major
streets in Colombo are flavorful food markets starting early in the AM.
It feels like a mix of Bangkok’s overload of stimuli and energy,
Bolivia’s pressured public transportation routes, and a heavy
9 - Fruit
One of the many items in these food markets is the jackfruit
(pictured). This deliciously gigantic delight is native to Sri Lanka,
India, Bangladesh and Nepal. But Sri Lanka does not stop there in its
offerings — make sure to try the wood apple and king’s coconuts among
other more common tasty fruits.
10 - Colombo Suburbs
Only a few miles away from the hustle bustle of Colombo’s city center,
one can step back hundreds (if not thousands) of years by wandering
through the capital’s suburbs. It is truly amazing how geographically
close together people can live, but in entirely different ages. For a
great Colombo City tour (and hiking tours through parts of Sri Lanka),
check out: Let's Trek Lanka.
11 - Man in Sarong
Sri Lanka has been under the rule of many over the centuries — various
kingdoms fought for its control for thousands of years, followed by
Portuguese and then the Dutch in the 1500-1800. But the most recent
rule by the British until 1948 has left its most evident marks on the
island. New agriculture was introduced at the cost of destroying
forestland. The English language was promoted and is now widely spoken.
And among other things, the country’s fashion style was influenced.
This is the usual outfit (pictured above) for men in mostly all
communities or towns outside of Colombo. Men wear the traditional
sarong and sandals dating back thousands of years into ancient
times…along with a collared business shirt (British influence) dating
back to — well, not really dating back.
12 - Buddha
This is a figure that is seen ubiquitously throughout the island.
Buddhism is the religion for approximately 70% of the population in Sri
Lanka. But a healthy number of people follow Hinduism (15%), along with
Islam (7.5%) and Christianity (7.5%) as well.
13 - Elephant Visit
At the temple site of Sithulpawwa, a wild elephant known as “Ganumu”
visits the monastery every evening around 6:45 to eat a few Kings
Coconuts. The monk hands “Ganumu” the goods, the elephant cracks them
open to drink the juice, and the on looking 50 or so monkeys fight for
the remains after the beast has his fill.
14 - Soldiers
Since 1983, Sri Lanka has had to endure a civil war between the
present-day government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
Also known as the Tamil Tigers, they are seeking independence from Sri
Lanka through using terroristic tactics such as explosions in busses or
in other public locations. Sri Lanka’s government has placed its army
in various checkpoints across the island. At these checkpoints are
heavily armed enlisted men. But being Sri Lanka, they are usually very
friendly and are not shy to give a smile. Even with an AK-47 on the
15 - Local Games
This is a local board game played much like one would play pool — using
the fingers to flick the “cue” chip instead of using a pool cue and
16 - Alcoholism
It is well known within Sri Lanka that there is an alcohol problem.
Moonshine is cheaply sold, and there are a plethora of other alcoholic
options. Drugs are not an issue with the population, but alcohol has
made a clear impact on family life and society.
17 - Man Sitting Down
The nation was waiting to show off its well kept beauties and intricacies. Waiting, albeit for a photo, like this local man was.
18 - Schools and Kids
The toll of the 2004 tsunami is still very felt throughout the nation.
But in this suffering, there are various organizations helping the
people of Sri Lanka. Whether it be with building homes or schools
(Bridge To Peace, picture taken at their school), there is a definite
contingent of citizens and foreigners helping this island-nation get
back on its feet.
19 - Smiles
Within a week’s time outside of Colombo, I had seen more smiles than I
had in the past six months. The people are not shy in flashing their
pearly whites for whatever reason. Such as simply catching eyes with a
family (shown above) while driving behind their ride, the beauty began
and continued for miles.
20 - More Smiles
Sri Lanka has their internal conflicts — with a civil war, the
relations between their two main ethnicities (Tamil and Sinhalese),
recovering from the last tsunami’s damage — but they have kept an
innocent beautiful glow. This glow can especially be seen in the kids.
Full of energy, happiness, and curiosity they will hopefully be able to
lead their country’s future into a brighter time.