Once again we hired a car and driver to take us to our next destination. It had been wonderful to return to Ella for a week and to visit Unawatuna once again before leaving Sri Lanka, but words cannot describe how great it felt to arrive at the Villa Aralyia in Negombo for our last week on the island. We made the journey on a national holiday, Independence Day, so the traffic was quite light and we whizzed through Colombo without being held up at all.
We had decided in advance to stop at the Amaravati restaurant to have the South Indian dishes that we had enjoyed earlier; curd rice and lemon rice. It wasn’t that we were tired of Sri Lankan food; it’s just that these dishes are so delicious and remind us of our time in Kerala in 2006. We invited our driver to eat with us, ‘everyone has to eat’ being our mantra learned from my brother, David, and he was delighted to have fish biryani. He made a note of the address and told us he would visit again.
When we pulled up at the gates of the Villa Aralyia, we were greeted like long lost family. I told everyone it was great to be ‘home’, that we had toured Sri Lanka and enjoyed our time, but we were ready to relax and just chill with our friends. And that’s exactly how we spent our remaining days there. We had been in three different rooms during our previous week at the hotel, but this time we were shown into yet another room. I am so impressed with the variety of accommodation that Pali, the owner, has provided for his guests.
We are particularly interested in the small apartments that are available, and promise ourselves that we will be back one day and will rent one of them for at least a month. It would be wonderful to have access to a kitchen and living room for an extended stay. We fantasize about having family members come and visit us during our next stay. It’s a long way for family to come from Canada, but it is certainly within striking distance for those in India.
As I said, we took it very easy, swimming, eating, walking on the beach, and relaxing. We were surprised to discover a DVD shop near our hotel that didn’t rent DVDs but sold them at a price that makes us ‘pirates’ for sure. I have to say, I would love to support the movie industry by seeing the Oscar-nominated films in a theatre, but being that we are on the road and that films are not available here, we indulged our passion for movies and selected an armload.
Now we have to dedicate some of our time to watching the movies before the Oscars are broadcast in March. This time last year, we were doing the same thing, but instead of Sri Lanka/India/Lebanon, we were in Chile. We managed to watch a movie almost every night of our month in Santiago, let’s see if we can break that record this time around.
One of the side-benefits of staying in one place for a week is that we get to know the other guests a little better, especially if they are staying for more than a night or two themselves. When we arrived, a friendly guest commented that ‘Black’, one of the resident dogs at Villa Aralyia, seemed to know us well. She didn’t bark viciously at us like she does with most newcomers. Angela, the guest from Britain, warned me with a smile, that I wasn’t to become too attached to Black as she planned to adopt her and take her home when it was time to go.
We got to know Angela and her husband Clif over the course of the next few days. It was surprising to learn that they are ‘homeless’ wanderers like us, though they are decidedly younger. We spent a great deal of time discussing all the decisions that we had to make in order to free ourselves to travel, and also discussed the decisions we have to continue to make in order not to get caught up in the things that will tie us down again. It seems that Angela is beginning to get some ‘nesting’ instincts (though not the mothering instincts this usually implies) while Clif is not. They may solve this by purchasing a flat and then renting it out while they continue to travel. Clif seemed to be in agreement with the comments I made about being absentee landlords.
On our last night in Sri Lanka, we were surprised to find that Pali and Stephanie, the owners/managers of the Villa Aralyia, knocked on our door and invited us to join them in the restaurant for a drink. We had eaten earlier, but were happy to sit with them while they ate; they had to stay near to their home because their 18-month-old son, Suraj was already asleep. We had a great time visiting with them and cementing our friendship.
We had stayed at two of their properties and the guesthouse of Pali’s sister during our swing through Sri Lanka and spoke of returning to visit their guesthouse under construction in Trincomalee. It was clear that they viewed us as more than just guests passing through, and this is what makes travel so special for us. We make friendships easily, but intensely, and it’s these experiences that mean the most to us in the end. It doesn’t begin to replace the feelings that we have for life-long friends and for our family, it’s just icing on the cake.
As we drove to the airport the next afternoon, we reflected on what it was that made us like Sri Lanka so much. The scenery is undoubtedly beautiful, the food fabulous, but it’s the friendliness of the people that was surprising. While I started out thinking that this was because the majority of the islanders are Buddhist, I knew that it was more than this in the end. Visiting Sri Lanka reminded me of my travels during my younger years. Life was simpler then, people were less ‘sophisticated’ and very welcoming.
When I read that only 25% of the population of Sri Lanka lives in the cities, and that most of the people still live in small rural communities, I began to think this was the difference. For some reason, the people of this island nation have not followed the worldwide trend of migrating to the cities. We all know that the nature of cities if isolating and stressful. Perhaps the people here have sensed this and stayed put. It may be a result of the 30-year long civil war, but the fighting was concentrated mainly in the north and east of the island, so that can’t be the reason entirely.
I haven’t figured out why I like this country so much. I remember that my brother David fell in love with Sri Lanka over 35 years ago. Maybe there’s no figuring it out, but I’m only too happy to come back one day soon, in order to try. Tourism is set to explode here and that worries me, because I know things will change. Did I say I’d be back soon? Maybe I should be sure to hold myself to that promise.