The Happy Accident

How did I used to plan my next holiday destination? There was little planning. Often none. I’d pick my next adventure on a whim. I’d see a photo I liked. Or hear someone mention the place. Or find an affordable airfare. It needed to be exotic. Sunny. And the trip must be manageable in a fortnight. My knowledge of the land at the other end of the flight is patchy, gleaned from a Lonely Planet guide while in the air. I sought, essentially, serendipity. In Sri Lanka, I found it. Which is apt, as the word serendipity originates from an old name for Sri Lanka.

I landed in Colombo in March of 2003, just a few months before my first Mexican trip. Also three months before my blog came into existence. So it’s not a place I’ve ever blogged about. Which is a shame, as it’s one of the most wonderful countries on the planet. A pearl in the Indian Ocean. Colombo had nothing to make me want to linger. I departed as soon as I arrived.

Sri Lanka is possibly the most beautiful country I ever visited. I have to say that I wouldn’t regard it as livable, long term, as Mexico. But it was truly an unforgettable place with countless memorable experiences. From the elephant sanctuary in Kandy, to the former British hill station with it’s stone cottages and snooker hall, to the ancient fortress atop the red mountain of Sirigya, to the lush wildlife parks in the south east and finally to the perfect beaches along the south coast.

The people were so friendly. The snakes less so. The photo of my foot with a couple of red spots stands testament to my encounter. What sort of snake? I didn’t see it. I was walking, foolishly barefoot, in long grass. Probably a cobra. They are the most populous. Not the most venomous snake in the area though. Had it been a Russell’s Viper, it would less likely have been a dry bite. Dry bites are good. You don’t die, which is always a good thing.

I released turtle hatchlings onto a beach at Mirissa Bay. I taunted a cobra at a witchdoctor’s place – revenge is a dish best served cold, and at a safe distance. I checked out some fantastic Buddhist temples and monuments. I even got to check out the temple housing one of the Buddha’s teeth.

I travelled on a train where, to actually get a set, you have to throw your backpack in through an open window of a carriage and climb in after it. All this before the train has even come to a stop. I still wasn’t quick enough to get a seat. But remember, Sri Lanka has the friendliest people. A lady pulled two kids on to her laps and threw a third on the floor. They occupied just one seat between them, which she gave to me.

I surfed the best waves I’ve ever played in. They were huge. Towering above me. And if I timed it wrong, and let the wave break on me, I got a pounding. It was like being in a washing machine on fast rinse, as I was dumped 50 metres onto the beach. But the sand was so soft and free of rocks that, providing I could hold my breath long enough to make it to the surface again, even that was a blast.

Sri Lanka was a two week whirlwind of curries, sun, smiles, waves, sand, greenery and fun. I’d go back in a heartbeat. Even the books I took with me was perfect – a John Simpson memoir and John Le Carre’s, The Constant Gardener. I now have the full sized images processed and uploaded to Flickr. If you want to see them, just click here. If not, there’s a small sample below. Are you seeking your own moment of serendipity? Go to Sri Lanka. It’s really what a backpackers dreams are made of.