My mum used to say that travelling is the key that opens the door to finding yourself. It may sound cliché but I really got to say that travelling to different places around the world really did open my eyes, though I found out only as much as you’re willing to see and venture out.
Sri Lanka Bound
Sure enough, Rome, Bahamas, Tokyo and New York are superb destinations but it dawned on me that I was playing it safe (too safe) on my travels! Sticking 100% to the tourist trail wasn’t going to really cut it for me anymore. If I was serious about “seeing the world” I was going to “go for broke” and stay truly off-the-beaten-path (or at least as much as I could). So, one day I pulled out a world map on my kitchen table, sat on a tall chair and went about selecting a place that wasn’t like any other I had been and wasn’t in my comfort zone. It turned out that place would be Sri Lanka.
Out of the gate, I ruled out all English speaking countries and even much of Europe and places with a huge expat community, and started considering places in Eastern Europe, Africa, the Indian subcontinent and the Middle East.
After several cups of coffee and much internal debating, I couldn’t decide where to go. Then, as I was about to fold the map and call it a day, a documentary on Sri Lanka showed on TV right that minute… a very odd but reassuringly pleasant feeling overcame me that made me scream out “that’s where I’m going next”.
So…what is it that I made me set my mind on Sri Lanka?
Yes, the documentary was somewhat about Sri Lanka being a dangerous place. It was 2011 and Sri Lanka was just coming out of its civil unrest. Even my brother, who was also watching the documentary, was saying he didn’t get my I wanted to go there.
Despite of this, I wasn’t going to let that deter me the slightest, especially after seeing a Little Boy. A section of the documentary was about this little boy who apparently lost all of his family and was now staying in an orphanage. I couldn’t begin to fathom what that must’ve felt like to lose all your loved ones and being by yourself.
What was even more amazing is how strikingly courageous the little boy seemed. Every time the little boy smiled, a lovely contagious smile that filled me with happiness and joy…never before have I ever truly felt this way!
The story of the little boy and his contagious smile was now the reason why I wanted to go to Sri Lanka…I had to meet this amazing Little Boy and beautiful country.
So, after some research the best option seemed to join a volunteer program at the orphanage he was based. However, a little voice inside me told me that I should do this trip independently…I wanted to meet this Little Boy, not as a paid volunteer, but as a regular traveller.
Travelling Independently to Sri Lanka
I needed to save up money and plan my trip to Sri Lanka to perfection so I decided to wait it out until spring break time and travel to Sri Lanka in March, which happened to be one of the best times to travel to Sri Lanka (weather-wise). I saved up about $1500 in total and did tons more research on where to stay. I decided on the Hill Country area of Kandy, which wouldn’t be too far from where Little Boy was staying.
I had to also sort out the visa (cost me around $50), which I’m so glad I did online in advance and not on arrival! Come March (my flight ticket was already booked), I was ready to go and ready to leave behind everything I knew for a life-changing experience.
Arriving in Sri Lanka
So after approximately 20+ hours of flying, I arrived at Colombo International Airport (the locals call it Bandaranaike or Katunayake airport) a very, very tired guy! Anyways, after going thru airport security formalities and picking up my bag, I got on the free airport shuttle to Colombo Fort Railway Station where I’d be catching the Expo train to Kandy.
I had to admit that at this point, I was shattered, jet-lagged and adjusting to the heat… I think a bit of a culture-shock was setting in too!
After about 3 hours on the train, I finally arrived to the really bustling city of Kandy where I planned to base much of my trip. Booked myself in a guest house that same night, and hit the sack right away!
Next day, the sun was shinning beautifully and I felt very much in high spirits. I had honey hoppers for breakfast (very popular in Sri Lanka). After that, I had a good chat with a local and a tourist couple I met at the guesthouse.
I obtained the contact of a well recommended local guide/driver and updated my itinerary with the suggestions I got at the guest house. The plan now was to:
• Visit Galkadawala for the nature sights and giant squirrels
• Swim on the beaches at Passikudah
• Tour the tea estates in Nuwara Eliya (a.k.a. Little England)
• Train ride to Ella (which I planned to get to on the slow train from Nuwara Eliya)
• Wildlife safari at Yala National Park
• Climb to the top of Lion Rock (Sigiriya)
But before, I was going to embark on exploring the tourist sights in Sri Lanka. My first order of business was meeting this joyous Little Boy whose smile I was remembering so vividly.
Meeting the Little Boy
The orphanage was located west of Kandy, somewhere between Rambukkana village and Kurunegala town (my local guide/driver knew exactly where the orphanage was).
I arrived at the orphanage early next morning and met up with the local Sri Lankan running the orphanage who seemed relaxed and very hospitable. The kids were all still asleep so I was invited back for lunch, which was very nice of him.
I had a few hours to kill so Timo (the driver’s name) took me around for a bit of sightseeing and to a nearby village to introduce me to local friends. As we were driving thru the village, I caught a glimpse of what appeared to be “Little Boy” walking hand-in-hand with a pretty young lady… surely it couldn’t be Little Boy, or could it? I asked Timo to stop and ask.
As Timo was talking to the young lady, the kid exploded with the same contagious smile that I so vividly remembered. I had no doubts….It’s “Little Boy”, I subtly yelled out!
Both the young lady and the kid looked at me pleasantly but confused. “Timo” already knew so he explained to them that the kid “Little Boy” was the reason I came all the way to Sri Lanka after I saw him on TV.
Seeing “Little Boy” in person felt like meeting up again a lost friend…a brother from another mother so to speak. “Little Boy” didn’t speak much English and I didn’t speak much Sinhalese but that was okay…
“Sadly I lost my camera in Sri Lanka and don't have any photos of my meeting with the little boy. But his smile will forever be etched in my memory.”
I explained with the help of Timo that I was invited for lunch at the orphanage, though “Little Boy” wasn’t living there anymore. The young lady with Little Boy was actually his sister (Natii), who was now looking after him. I couldn’t be happier for “Little Boy” and I was so glad to hear that!
Little Boy, whose real name was Akila, and his sister helped out at the orphanage. In fact, they were going to the orphanage that day…I was really looking forward to learning more about “Little Boy” and life in the orphanage.
Timo suggested waiting around for them in the village so we could all drive back to the orphanage. Once at the orphanage, I had the opportunity to meet Little Boy’s friends and play a game of chess with him. After that, we said our goodbyes and got ready to head back to Kandy. Timo and I arrived in Kandy just before the sun set in. It was a long day but I was really over the moon I got to meet up “Little Boy” who inspired me to travel all the way to Sri Lanka.
I think I probably would’ve never thought to travel to Sri Lanka had it not been for “Little Boy’s” contagious smile I saw on TV.
So…what else can I say about my Sri Lankan travel experience?
• Sri Lankan people are super friendly and their food is awesome
• I need to learn Sinhalese
• Sri Lanka is bigger than I thought (everywhere is so diverse and unique)
• Tuk tuks are a national pride
• Many Sri Lankans do actually speak English (I wasn’t aware that Sri Lanka was a British colony for over 100 years)
• Doing the Cultural Triangle is a must
• Hoppers are surprisingly tasty
Last but not least, I’d like you thank again Dave & Deb for the opportunity to share my story with you. Thank you guys!
By James Jones
Bio: James enjoys writing and sharing his personal travel experiences with everyone he meets on his website http://www.mytravelguideposts.com/to hopefully inspire people to leave the comfort zones and follow the off-tourist-trail. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, G+ and email at: [email protected] James <[email protected]>
Thank you James! Sri Lanka is close to our hearts too Check out more articles on ThePlanetD about Sri Lanka.