Sri Lanka: culture(shock)

Our arrival in Sri Lanka started off perfectly. One of the Sri Lankans on the plane had recognized me: Leonardo de Caprio. You could tell by my hair. This set the tone… the people here are a lot of fun. And immediately we felt we made a good decision coming to Sri Lanka.

The first day we spent in Colombo. Enjoyed the perks of being in a more developed country again, and mainly the freedom of movement that comes with it. You see, public transport in Africa is slow and uncomfortable. But the step up from public transport (‘taxi’, usually just a guy that happens to own a vehicle) is quite a leap in expenses. Because taxis in especially Malawi, but to lesser extent also in the other countries we visited are pretty expensive. Fuel is almost as expensive as in the Netherlands, maintenance of cars is costly, and in Malawi, the amount of cars is pretty low.

Very colourfull bus

And then suddenly you’re in a place with inexpensive tuk tuks everywhere. Wanna go to some sight? Just hop in. The possibilities this brings… we experienced a sudden feeling of freedom. In Africa, in a lot of places we were sort of restricted to eating in our hotel. There’s a reason almost all accommodation there had a restaurant. There were just not many restaurants around. In big cities there are restaurants of course, but those cities were usually not that safe to walk around at night. So you would have to take an expensive taxi, or eat in your hotel. It was a really nice change of pace to be able to just go to nice restaurants. To eat some great food. To quickly hop around in a city from attraction to attraction.

 

The food in Sri Lanka is very nice. Lot’s of rice and curry, different types of bread (rotti, chapati). And they have some very nice vegetables and fruits as well. Here the travel companions are having a really nice, typically Sri Lankan breakfast: rotti with Dhal (lentil curry), and a Sambol (tomato in this case). Sambols in Sri Lanka are not necesarily very hot. They can be made of different things, like tomato or coconut. They add a lot of flavour, not just chili.

Travel companions enjoying the Sri Lankan breakfast

In Colombo it was nice to see the mix of modern buildings and old and new temples. It gave the city a very unique feel. The temples in Colombo were mostly Buddhist, with a few Hindu temples as well.

We also visited the Russian embassy. We had plans to travel overland back to home from Japan, and would need a Russian visa for that. Well, no luck. The Russian guy told us we could only get one if we had a resident permit from Sri Lanka. And he thought the only place we could get a visa would be in the Netherlands. It appeared he did not really approve of these policies and would have loved to give us a visa, but rules are rules. Ah well, we might have to change our travel plans a bit, let’s see what we come up with.

The train to Jaffna

Then we took the night train up north to Jaffna. We booked third class tickets, since second and first class were already full, but third class here is apparently pretty nice. At least on the night trains. The chairs were pretty comfortable, reclining even. The ride itself was not that smooth though, and every time the train accelerated it felt as if another train just crashed into it,

In Jaffna, Lidewij immediately ate something seriously wrong in the really dirty restaurant we had our breakfast (our train arrived very early and they were one of the few places that was open). Africa is quite hygienic in comparison. So we proceeded slowly.

We explored the city a bit. We saw the biggest Hindu temple of Sri Lanka. The north of Sri Lanka has a Hindu majority, so a lot of Hindu temples were here. While we were there, there was just a puja going on: pelgrims offered coconuts, some people played some weirdly jazzy music on a drum and some sort of horn, people walked around and one by one looked at statues of different deities that before were covered with drapes. I’m not entirely sure about all the symbolical significance of this, but still the entire ritual was pretty impressive. Unfortunately, photography was prohibited in the temple, so no pictures, but it was all quite a spectacle.

Also we went to the post office….

While travelling, sometimes the most mundane things can be an attraction. We wanted to send some souvenirs, clothes and guidebooks from countries we already visited back home to trim our bags. And the Sri Lankans really take their post seriously. There’s post offices everywhere. Really big ones even. Lot of people working there, stamping stuff, scribbling stuff. So first we had to go to the packaging department. We had put all our stuff in a box we got from our hotel which was where bottles of water were packaged in. Apparently, the fact that on the outside of the box the brand of water was printed, was not acceptable. So the guy started cutting up the box and inverted the whole box so the printing was at the inside. He looked like he had done this quite often even. Then we put all our stuff in. It was 4980 grams, which was great, because up till 5 kg’s was much cheaper than 5-10 kg’s. So the guy closed our box, but, apparently not satisfied with the inherent structural integrity of a box (even one that used to carry 12 liters of water), he put on more tape. And more tape. And more tape. Then he put it on the scale again. 5020 grams. Then other people in the office were asked for suggestions. Then he cut open some of the tape again and removed part of the carton of the inside flaps. 5000 grams. Excellent. The whole packaging procedure took about an hour. These guys take post seriously.

Then we had to go to some other desks. One to register the package and address it needs to be shipped to. Another one for the stamps. In the end we spend almost 2 hours in the post office. The most mundane things can be an experience.

Another place we visited near Jaffna was Nainativu, a small island home to a Hindu and a Buddist. The Hindu one is apparently very important and we met people that had come a long way to visit this temple, even someone that came from London just to visit the temple, so it’s pretty important stuff.

The big Nainativu Nagapooshani Amman temple

To get there you had to cross in a very small ferry.

And then you could join the large amounts of pilgrims. It was really busy, cows were walking about, cocunuts were being smashed, strange sweet rice was given to people, people were drinking yellowish water, we were given some powder to put on our head by someone, somebody else gave us some flower and somebody else gave us some food. I have no idea what was going on, but it was all very interesting. Again, photography inside the temple was not allowed… unfortunately.

Then there was the buddhist temple where there was absolutely nobody, and there was a little museum containing amongst others some old radios, a dead turtle, and some other random stuff. Again, no idea what was going on, but it was all a bit weird.

All in all we had a lot of fun in Jaffna. Lot’s of interesting stuff to see. Nice market (had some clothes made there), some interesting temples, even a very nice ice cream parlor.

 

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