Sayonara Sri Lanka

Often in travels, a few extra days someplace are a joy. You get to relax in more familiar digs, discover that cool new neighborhood, ride a bus to a local village, find the local restaurant you missed, or maybe meet more locals or travelers.

Happiness is a bike and a breeze. It was about 7km to the heart of modern Anuradhapura from our hotel along the banks of Nuwara Wewa
Macaques “guard” a lot of the popular sites in Sri Lanka….did they menace the bathing monks here in the 3rd century BC?
Beautiful lotus flowers and other offerings for Buddha were for sale all over the living temple complex that is part of the ancient City complex of Anuradhapura.

But sometimes you stay a bit too long or are just eager to move on. Sometimes it’s real discomfort, sometimes a bit of boredom, and sometimes just the way your travel brain is programmed…knowing exciting new places are on the horizon. We’ve got some pretty rewired travel brains after 19 months of vagabonding.

A much needed break from cycling around the vast temple and archeological sites of Anuradhapura
Cheryl has mastered cycling with a sun umbrella
We were never tired of the friendly smiles
Carved moonstones adorn the entrances to various sacred buildings.

We underestimated how homogenous Sri Lanka would be from a tourist perspective. Challenging governance, intermittent civil unrest, an ongoing economic crisis, limited imports, and an influx of Russian tourists(?!), all add up to an odd dynamic as visitor. There is huge demand for tourism money here, but still relatively few foreign tourists. It’s tough to see and you want to help everyone.

Very tan (dirty!?) sandal feet and a temporary sarong to pass temple dress code…it was too hot to cycle in trousers!

We loved Sri Lanka, had some amazing experiences, and are very glad we choose to visit now. But we did run out of steam the last week for many of these reasons. Heat, humidity, limited transport, and an excessive amount of interactions as tourists going about our business. It wears you down.

Cheryl happily sweating out the late day sun in Anuradhapura
Our bike parking at the Cargill Food City, the largest grocery chain in Sri Lanka

So please come to Sri Lanka. You will love it, but make sure to focus on what you love. The ancient civilizations are fascinating, but you need to dive in deep and do some background reading as the info at the sites leaves a little to be desired. If you really appreciate the natural world, then book safaris and bird watching tours to more remote areas. (There are many we missed) Maybe a long distance trek in the hills such as the nascent Pekoe Trail is your thing. (That may bring us back).

The main Dagoba (Stupa) is the heart of Abhayagiri Vihari; the ancient complex of monastic buildings and a fraternity of Buddhist monks. It’s still an important pilgrimage site.
The more benign Grey Langurs rule at the Abhayagiri Dagoba

Or maybe a few weeks surfing and chilling. Super nice along the lesser developed southeast and east coasts. If you are comfortable on a scooter, then that would give you more freedom….and even a car could get you off the tourist track easier. Just be ready for limited supplies and options if you self cater.

A “cool” sunset ride…it was magical with the Stupas in the distance

So we made the best of our last week. We soaked up a bit more sun, sweat out more toxins, and discovered more about the ancient cultures of Sri Lanka. But we did start to say no to seeing ALL the sights, as it was not bringing us joy.

Parts of Colombo still look a bit abandoned or incomplete, giving it a somewhat forlorn vibe.
Trains are slow and infrequent across Sri Lanka, so the tracks are mostly uncontrolled and easy to cross, even in Colombo.
Long queues for gas and diesel in Colombo is an ongoing sign of the economic struggles.
10 weeks of tropical heat and sunblock and destroyed this Taipei night market purchase…in the bin!!!
We set out our last morning to explore the Pettah district, which is a lively market and commercial area in the gritty heart of Colombo
Mostly men in the trading districts, but women do run a lot of small businesses
Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque in Pettah

So we take away a bit more understanding of the culture and plight of 22 million Sri Lankans. We sincerely hope for a brighter future, and are glad to see there was a recent agreement with the IMF for $3B in bridge loans. We also hope we left some American good will in our wake. Travel is still good, and important even in the Instagram world of 2023.

The Fruit and Vegetable Market Hall in Pettah

We did a bit of everything in our 3 1/2 weeks and it was fantastic but we were very ready to be back in on in a more developed economy…so nowhere better on the planet than Japan.

Looking out at the impressive Eth Pokuna or “Elephant Pond” near Lankaramaya. This huge man made water reservoir is part of tbe ancient and amazing water supply network.
We loved exploring Anuradhapura, but I was tired of the touts and “tour guides” badgering us…this guy wouldn’t stop talking to me at the Elephant Pond. We always stayed polite.
Amazing to be immersed in a living museum, not just an ancient civilization
A final rice and curry at our guest house in Anuradhapura…this WAS very tasty, but our taste buds are ready for something new!

After some long flights via Singapore, Japan has delivered us immense joy in the early peak of Cherry Blossom season. We feel like we have just come out of the wilderness after a long backpacking trip. Hungry, dirty, and ready to eat anything. Contrast and appreciation for the new is a wonderful gift of travel.

A few days to recoup and prep for Japan at a full service corporate hotel was just what we needed in Colombo. Gym workouts and a place to relax for a late night airport departure.
Joy of the Sakura season in Tokyo

More on truly amazing Japan soon. Happy travels!

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Embarking on the next phase of my life after working as a full-time Civil and Transportation Engineer in the San Francisco for 30 years. My wife and I will be following our shared passions for world travel, culture, and sustainable transport.

2 thoughts on “Sayonara Sri Lanka”

  1. When I see a new post from you, I read it immediately & eagerly. For me, what always stands out is your polite mix of openness, good cheer, honesty and humor. You bring us along so well that I feel I’m with you crossing the complex arc that bridges your deep appreciation for your time in Sri Lanka to your readiness for Japan. I don’t think anyone I’ve ever read makes travel feel as soul-filling as you two do. I see you’re reading is Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking, Fast and Slow.” How is it?

  2. Sounds similar to my experience in India – after nearly 10 weeks, I totally ran out of steam and basically stayed in my hotel room in Delhi as much as possible the last 3 days. Enjoy the next chapter of your travels!

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