I have returned to England to find it bitterly cold. Not quite what I had hoped for after an amazing 2 weeks in (admittedly not-so-sunny-) Sri Lanka. I went there to volunteer with LEO Project. I stayed at a “safari” where I was helping to look after the elephants and tend the eco garden as well as well as doing community project off-site. More about the project I did here.
This being the first time I had traveled abroad alone, I was pretty scared. Because I was working on a project with other volunteers however, it was a fantastic way to meet new people. Everyone at the project, volunteers and locals, were incredibly friendly and welcoming and I miss many of them dearly. As part of the price of my travels I was lucky enough to be taken on several excursions. I will post individually about each of the places in following posts. For now, here are some general thought on travel in Sri Lanka.
Almost the fist thing we did on arrival was to stop for lunch at a cafe. Lunch anywhere small seemed to offer 2 options: “short eats” – deep fried or baked pastries in various shapes and forms – or rice and curry. I opted for rice and curry, thinking that because this was lunch at a road side cafe I would get a small portion.
Looking back now, it was a small portion by Sri Lankan standards. In Sri Lanka, the main meal of the day is lunch so portion sizes tend to be very generous. There is generally an option of chicken or fish curry, though don’t be fooled: along side this you will have at least 3 or 4 vegetable curries. Chicken is always served on the bone and was the only meat offered anywhere during my stay. Most places seemed to offer vegetarian options too if you ask.
There were lots of local delicacies on offer too and the bakeries offered an amazing range of unrecognizable but completely delicious cakes and sweet treats.
Hoppers: Like thin, bowl-shaped pancakes made of coconut milk. These are served either with an egg in the centre or plain. I usually ate them plain with jam and banana. They are absolutely delicious.
String hoppers: Thin noodles. I was served them in little circles the size of place mats. I found them a little dry and tasteless but since I only had them once I’m not exactly in a position to pass judgement on the whole country’s cooking of them.
Roti: I only had the oppourtunity to try egg roti. It was like a stodgy, undercooked pancake wrapped around an egg. It’s greasy and very morish. They are the Sri Lankan version of fastfood. I imagine the vegetable stuffed ones would be absolutely delicious
Milk tea: Sri Lanka as a country appears to have a very sweet tooth. As milk goes off, most tea and coffee is served with powdered milk. Whether it is this or the copious amounts of sugar which make the tea very very sweet, I’m not sure, but it is absolutely delicious. If you don’t have a sweet tooth, make sure to ask for black tea.
Western food: Many restaurants seemed to offer western food. However the country doesn’t seem to have had a great deal of exposure to western culture and unless you are staying someone almost exclusively tourist filled, what you expect when you ordered may not be quite what you get.
Eating: In Sri Lanka, people tend to eat with their right hand. When we asked for cutlery, when always got some but if you want to give it a go, dive straight in!
I did not have a reason to use the trains at any point during my stay in Sri Lanka and if I’m honest, I’m very grateful. From what I have heard, they are notoriously busy and it is very difficult to get a seat. If the buses are anything to go by, this is an understatement. A 2 hour journey into Colombo in a non-air conditioned bus was probably the low point of my whole trip. It was something akin to rush hour on a London tube, only very hot and sweaty, 2 hours long, and instead of avoiding eye-contact at all costs, people will probably stare openly at a tourist.
A note on the toilets – I would advise carrying hand gel and tissues at all time as public toilets are unlikely to have toilet paper or soap. You are highly likely on arriving at said “toilet” to be faced with a squatter.
As I was staying at a safari which operates for tourists, all of the locals there were used to us. However, unless you are visiting a tourist attraction specifically, it is fairly likely you will be stared at. The least I would advise would for women to dress modestly i.e. cover your shoulders and your legs down to your knees. Having said that, the stares tend not to be hostile in the slightest. I have in fact, never been to friendlier place. If you catch someone’s eye and smile, they will invariably beam back. Everyone I met was incredibly kind and friendly. In shops and at tourist attractions, many people will do things for you in hope of getting a tip, granted, but overall I cannot say enough about how kind and welcoming I found all of the people.