LIVING LIFE OUTSIDE IN SRI LANKA
1. LIVING LIFE OUTSIDE IN SRI LANKA
I left home knowing nothing about where I was going except that there would be waves, but I had a feeling it was going to be different from anywhere I’d ever been. And when I stepped off the plane 26 hours later, I knew I was right. During the time I spent in Sri Lanka, I fell in love with its culture, scenery, people, food, and, of course, its surf scene.
I’m exposed to many different cultures and people at home in New York City. But, in Sri Lanka, I was introduced to a whole other world where religion plays a major role in making the country what it is. Shrines and temples to Buddha and other deities are on display everywhere — on crowded city streets, empty highways, tourist landmarks, even the countryside.I was also struck by the way in which traditional Sri Lankan ways seem to coexist peacefully with the modern world. Everywhere I went, I saw the two contrasting and converging. As I walked the streets, I noticed that some people wore saris while others wore jeans and T-shirts, and, in restaurants, some people used utensils while others ate with their hands.
In addition to beautiful, and mostly deserted, beaches, Sri Lanka has jungles, waterfalls, high mountains, and amazing animals. After making such a long trip, I figured I had to try something new while I was there. So I went on my first safari in Yala National Park. During our four-hour ride, I was lucky enough to see water buffalo, spotted deer, elephants, leopards, and an incredible array of birds. Sri Lanka is also home to eight UNESCO World Heritage sites that take you back in time. All of them are equally impressive — from ruins of ancient cities to incredibly preserved sacred temples. But the most memorable moment of our trip happened by chance. While driving up a small road near the Sacred City of Kandy, we came across a massive tea plantation overlooking the countryside. There was no one there but us, and all I could see was mountain after mountain. Then again, everywhere I went — along the coast, in the big cities, in the forest — there always seemed to be something amazing to see.
Another thing I love about traveling is getting to understand the different culture through the food. And being on a tropical island, I made sure to take advantage of all the fresh fruit. I enjoyed smoothies and juices along with local curd for breakfast each day.
At first glance Sri Lankan food reminded me of Indian food, but it has a totally unique flavor. Most of the foods I tried were spicy, and I loved everything that was put in front of me. And while iconic Elephant House Ginger Beer didn’t do much to deflect the heat coming off their curry, I really developed a taste for the refreshing soda. But if you really want to understand Sri Lankan cuisine, I recommend visiting a spice garden where you can learn about all the fresh ingredients that are grown on the island and see how they are made into the dishes I eat.
Surf is what brought me here in the first place. I was part of a small group of travelers who came to Sri Lanka for the grand opening of the new Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport which is meant to boost tourism to the island’s east coast and make world-class surf spots such as Arugam Bay more accessible. Believe it or not, people are even predicting that Sri Lanka will become the next Bali of the surf world. I’ve never been to Bali (though it’s on my list), so I can’t compare, but I did finally find some fins and hit the waves in Weligama and Hikkaduwa. I didn’t run into a single American tourist there, but there were plenty of Australians and Europeans that were already in on the secret. While surfing my favorite break of the trip, in Kabalana, it seemed like everyone was French except for me. In the end, everything was perfect: warm water, empty line-ups, killer waves, and smiles from the shore.
(National Geographic, Booker Mitchell, 16/06/13)