Impressions of Sri Lanka

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Frustration – despair – malaise – fatigue: All words that describe my emotional state during my first nine days in Sri Lanka. Combining two unsavories (organized religion and traveling by tour group) had a devastatingly synergistic effect. Whether I was lurching around the back of the bus or attending yet another perfunctory ritual, I consistently wished that the sperm fated to join with my mother’s ovum all those years ago had been destroyed by an overzealous uterine leukocyte during its slimy slog.

Finally, with only five precious days left in the country, I broke away and enjoyed some time to myself. Solitary travel – what a familiar, refreshing feeling! My only regret was not taking more bird photos. That said, my priority was to snorkel as much as possible (the way things are going, birds may outlast coral by a few years), so I actually regret nothing; but if I were to visit again, I would dedicate lots of time and energy to wildlife photography.

The owl below is resident in the garden of an astonishing guesthouse in Hikkaduwa. I paid $17 a night for my own room, and the owners’ son took me snorkeling twice for no extra fee. The coral at Hikkaduwa reef is apparently a shadow of its former glory, but it still dazzled me. Green and hawksbill sea turtles calmly graze the reef, unafraid of snorkelers. There’s a shallow beach in front of the biggest waterfront hotel where, beyond my comprehension, green turtles hang out every day, appearing to enjoy interacting with mobs of tourists. Within the guesthouse’s garden, I counted at least ten bird species in a matter of minutes and watched thousands of glittering fireflies at night. After spending only three days there, I understood why regular guests return year after year, staying for months at a time.

Indian scops-owl – Otus bakkamoena

Thanks to those last few days, I departed Sri Lanka with an overwhelmingly positive impression. It is safe – even petty theft is rare – people habitually leave belongings on the beach unattended. Public transport is ubiquitous, cheap, and punctual (trains and buses), tourism infrastructure is abundant, and prices are low even compared to southeast Asia. Sri Lanka is one of two places (the other being rural Myanmar) I’ve visited where smiles from strangers are both unconditional and genuine. I grudgingly admit that in this case, organized religion in the form of Buddhism may have contributed something positive.

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