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Sri Lanka; 8 Days Between Heaven And Hell
Witnessing a #Sinhalesewedding, enjoying the #colonialstreets and having a close encounter with #SriLankan #elephants are just some of the highlights of my trip to #SriLanka. Even with some mishaps in between, I am sure to go back to #SriLanka.
My Sri Lankan Mis-adventures
It was the 8th of July, a day like any other day when I received a very exciting email; “Congratulations! you’ve been selected as a hosted blogger for the first TBC Asia Conference held in Sri- Lanka in November!”
Sri-Lanka? That email shouldn’t have come at a better time! I was in Sardinia at the time and I was already planning to go back to Asia around those dates, and I always wanted to visit this mysterious land. Simply perfect!
But what exactly was I expecting to see in Sri Lanka? The first image that crossed my mind was a beautiful leopard in the wild, but not much more.
As usual, even if I wanted to visit the country, I never consulted any travel guide. In addition to that, there was not much information from other bloggers out there. Not that I knew about anyway.
Chapter Zero; Celia the Dreamer
I virtually put my Indiana Jones hat on, and the 12th of November, after some trouble with packing all my stuff, I was well ready to discover all about that beautiful land. Or at least that was what I thought.
I didn’t consider that other than my Indiana Jones adventurous side, I also hide (not very well in fact) a clumsy, unlucky Bridget Jones side.
I was feeling so confident, that at the moment of buying my travel insurance, I let it start at the time I was arriving in Thailand, immediately after the epic Sri-Lanka trip.
After all, the trip was less than 10 days long, an organized trip with tons of other people, what could possibly go wrong?!
I know you’ve already figured out that my trip wasn’t as smooth as I thought, but this fact is actually the main reason why I am 100% positive that I will be back to Sri-Lanka! I try to see the bright side in everything, including my travel disasters.
But first things first. Let’s talk about my first blissful days and the incredible experiences I still managed to have!
Chapter One; Surprises, Relax, Fairy Tales and... Elephants!
The pleasant surprises started as soon as I boarded the plane, greeted by the lovely hostess wearing the traditional uniform. Even though I’ve flown several times with Asian companies, the Sri Lankan Airlines‘ official uniforms were rather unusual for my westernized eye!
The Osaryia Costume
What surprised me the most was the fact that they were showing their belly. I have to admit that I was puzzled at first, as I thought that showing the belly in Asian countries was considered an outrageous practice.
It turns out that it’s not like that everywhere. See what happens when you don’t read travel guides? you will always be surprised!
As soon as I arrived at the hotel, the receptionist was also wearing the traditional Osaryia, with her belly exposed. Sinhalese women proudly shows their tummies, which don’t have to be flat or super skinny, as our western idea of beauty dictates.
This is one of the reasons why traveling fascinates me so much: each culture is unique, including the concept of beauty and body shape. Sri Lankan women with their tummies, Thailand, and most of the South east Asian countries with their obsession for white skin.
each culture is unique, including the concept of beauty and body shape
Travel can really open your mind, and change your perspective. The world doesn’t revolve around our western standards after all (and I’m actually very grateful for that!).
Read more about the Osaryia costume: Do you want to learn more about the traditional Osaryia, and read about interesting facts on Sinhalese typical dresses? Check out this article, it includes beautiful pictures and fascinating information. I loved it!
The Sinhalese Wedding
On our first day at Cinnamon Lakeside Hotel, the plan was to take a tour around Colombo, but the lazy bum in me decided that I’d rather go for a relaxing afternoon, trying a mud massage in the hotel SPA (one word; AWSOME!).
Hotel Cinnamon Lakeside Colombo
Scenic Flight Over Sri Lanka's Coastline
Colombo to Sigiriya day Tour
What I didn’t know was that being lazy would have given me the fantastic opportunity to witness to a traditional Sinhalese wedding, also known as “Poruwa Ceremony”.
I went to my room and grabbed my camera to document the whole SPA experience. I then headed downstairs to sit outside and enjoy the pool with the lake view.
As soon as I reached the lobby, I instantly knew that something big was going on: Drummers and dancers were parading in traditional costumes, surrounded by a crowd of finely dressed people.
I was trying to find my way to the back exit, when I saw her: a stunningly beautiful bride, all dressed up in a traditional ivory dress, posing for the photographers.
I was in awe, she was sitting just a few meters away from me, and I took some incredible pictures of her and the groom together. What an experience! The surprise, being in the right place at the right time, and being able to sneak into a traditional wedding. That was indeed my lucky day!
I think I have a sixth sense for spotting weddings or wedding proposals on the road; it all started in NY, when I took some lovely pictures of a guy on his knee, proposing to his girlfriend on a sunny afternoon in Central Park. Then it was the turn of the Cambodian wedding, in the suggestive frame of the Angkor Wat temples, and now again, here in a fantastic Hotel in Sri Lanka. I was so excited! Should I take this as a sign to change my mind, and finally overcome my aversion to getting married? who knows..
Curious Facts About Sinhalese Weddings
The “Poruwa” is the traditional decorated wooden platform, where the bride and the groom exchange their vows in the Sinhalese wedding (with Buddhist influences). To know more about this beautiful ceremony, the special rites and other interesting facts on Sinhalese weddings read here! By the way, after the event I took a picture on the Poruwa placed in front of the swimming pool, too bad that my mobile is crap and the picture was too dark!
The Blissful Spa
Perfect timing indeed, as after the wedding pictures I was about to have one of the most relaxing experiences of the year at the AZMAAR SPA . When it came to deciding what kind of treatment to have, my first request was “Do you also have a Jacuzzi?”.
For those who don’t know me, I have a thing for swimming pools and Jacuzzis. No wonder why I loved my stay at Cinnamon!(and no, the fact that they kindly paid for our stay has nothing to do with that, I actually paid for my SPA treatment and was so worth the 25$!).
So, what about the Jacuzzi then? not only did they have one, but I was thrilled to discover that I had a PRIVATE ROOM just for me to use, meaning: I was in Paradise.
I was literally drooling! The massage took place in a room on the left of the Jacuzzi room, where I was covered in mud and wrapped like a spring roll with plastic and then covered with a blanket.
The lady massaged my head for a few minutes to release the tension and then left me alone to enjoy the music and the oriental scents.
The plastic wrap covered my entire body so I couldn’t move, but I felt so relaxed that I fell asleep for a few minutes. After the treatment, they left me alone to enjoy a jacuzzi full of bubbly water, candles and rose petals everywhere. Uhmm excuse me, I’m not the bride, but you can leave the petals and the candles, wow, I was giggling for the excitement
Warning on Using This Spa
For those who love SPA treatment, there is one serious side effect: you’re going to be late for any scheduled activity afterward, as you won’t want to leave. EVER!
Finally...Into the Wild
Finally, after the first official day into my Sri Lankan trip, we were ready for some real adventure: the Elephant Safari in Kaudulla National Park, where these majestic creatures live freely in their natural habitat.
Elephant Back Riding
Cinnamon Grand Colombo
Whale Watching Tour
This was my first safari ever, so you can imagine my excitement! I obviously already saw elephants before, but my feelings towards them were far from being exciting.
I only saw them being miserable, used to entertain the tourists in Thailand and Cambodia, mistreated and beaten up. Traveling long term changed me a lot. I’ll be honest with you: Before the trip, I didn’t give a damn about how animals were treated (that’s what ignorance does to people, and I’m very ashamed of admitting it now).
I grow up thinking that the elephants, lions and tigers performing at the local circus were doing just fine.Now that I know the truth, I appreciate their company only if it’s in their natural habitat. So I considered this safari as the first time I REALLY saw elephants in my life.
I could write a thousand words about my experience at Kaudulla Park, but I will only say that, after taking hundred of pictures of them for a good 15 minutes, I just stopped.I placed my camera on my backpack and felt a bit stupid. For the first time in my life, I could admire these creatures in the wild, and I didn’t want to see them through the camera lens!
So I sat back and simply enjoyed their slow movements through the window of the car. I had already taken many pictures, and I was sure they weren’t any different, let alone better, compared to the others. I wanted to keep this special moment imprinted in my memory, rather than just on a camera.
It was the wisest decision I made on that trip, and I’ll never forget those quiet moments inside the car enjoying their presence and forgetting about the frenzy to capture every instant on a camera.
Closing Note: Respect the Elephants
Elephants are some of the most incredible creatures alive, let’s spread a bit of awareness on how they should be left alone in their natural environment. Don’t be blind like I was. We might not save the world by avoiding riding them for fun, but we can at least show a bit of respect for them. Please take the time to read this article, it’s truly enlightening.
Chapter two; the Nightmare
Or better known as “The Bollywood remake of Rocky Balboa’s movie.”
I’ve been hinting about my Bridget Jones’ side since the beginning of this post, so what in hell happened to me? First of all, I want to reassure you all: the misadventure I’m about to talk about has nothing to do with Sri Lanka. No, I wasn’t bitten by some nasty insect nor was I hit by one of the elephant’s trunk. You can relax!
So here’s the story; the morning after our epic safari, we had to climb the famous Sigiriya Rock. When the alarm woke me up, everything seemed to be normal. At least until the moment I opened my eyes; how can I put it? it was like someone placed a thousand of needles into my eyes. The pain was excruciating. I thought that maybe I could make it go away with some strong painkillers.
I Really Wanted to Climb That Bloody Mountain!
When we reached the mountain by bus, the situation was totally out of control. I started tearing like crazy, and the light further increased the pain. I had to call one of the organizers of the tour and explain the situation. I couldn’t climb the mountain in these conditions. Hell, I couldn’t even think straight because of the pain.
I was in HELL! every time I tried to blink, the pain was unbearable.
The organizers, upon checking on my condition, sent me straight to the local hospital, but the doctor couldn’t tell me what in hell was wrong with me. I had to go 3 hours away, to Kandy, where a specialist could properly check me and hopefully give me the right cure.
On the back of that van, I experienced how right was Einstein with his relativity theory. Three hours stretched into “forever”. I will be eternally grateful to the TBC Asia organizers for taking great care of me. They called the hospital in advance, to make sure I was checked asap and booked a room for me at their local Hotel in Kandy, so that I could spend the night there and rest.
My Lovely “Last View of my Life”
Turned out that they might have saved my vision. Yep, the specialist tried to check my eyes, but it was impossible. My tearing wouldn’t stop (to give you an idea, I used four full rolls of toilet paper in three hours). He had to put anesthetic drops in my eyes. After 1 minute, the pain was gone.
I was re-born! I didn’t care about my Rocky Balboa looks, screw the looks. THE PAIN WAS GONE!
He told me I had Keratitis, and that I severely ruined my cornea. He prescribed some steroid drops and stated that I had been lucky, and if left untreated, this condition could lead to total blindness.
Being a Hypochondriac, I was literally freaking out. I started googling this Keratitis (don’t ever do it) and read some horrible stories on wrong diagnoses, a few of them mentioning the same medicine the doctor gave me.
WELL, THAT’S WHAT I ACTUALLY SAW…
Shit, now what??! I was all by myself, the anesthetic effect was starting to fade and I was in pain again, with the nice prospect of getting blind.
Ironically I didn’t even need to cry as I was already tearing the whole damn day. I decided to trust the doctor and use the drops. It got worst than ever.
From a freaking out phase, I went straight to the panic phase. I was going to be blind forever. I was sure. The drama queen in me decided to have one last look at the world. I opened the curtains and went to the balcony, and I was greeted by this view..
I saw something that resembled a lovely swimming pool, and I thought that at least I had something nice to remember when I would be totally blind. I closed the curtains again, and before going to bed I decided to give the drops one last chance. This time it worked! I was quickly getting better and the pain finally subsided.
The next morning I still had a bit of a Rocky Balboa look, but I could finally see again (with my glasses on, not a chance I’m putting in contacts in the immediate future).
The Nightmare was finally over!
The Takeaway of my Misadventure
Missing out so many beautiful adventures in Sri Lanka because of this problem, made me want to come back even more, and made the rest of the trip even more memorable. You don’t know what you have until you lose it. So true.
1. Chapter Three; Galle and the Huge Monitor Lizard
With my Rocky Balboa look finally behind me, I was ready to visit the lovely city of Galle. The day was fantastic, sunny and warm but to my disappointment, we only had less than one hour to visit this gracious small town.
Ah well, I learned my lesson well in the past few days, so I decided to make the most out of it and off I went for a short walk on the colorful streets and old colonial churches, to finally end up on the beach, where a surprise was waiting for me!
I should re-name this trip as; “Sri Lanka, the land where the best and worst things happen when least expected!”
Below are 3 of the highlights of the Galle area. Even if I managed to stay just for a short time, I highly recommend it. You’ll fall in love with this pretty little town immediately!
2. Unawatuna Beach
Such a pity that I didn’t have enough time to explore the area, as this beach is just a few minutes away from Galle city. Beautiful isn’t it?! Galle is situated on the south coast of Sri Lanka and it’s a very good starting point to relax on some great beaches like this one!
3. The Lighthouse and the Fort
Galle is a lovely colonial colorful town, famous for its fort and the beautiful lighthouse where you can admire the nearby rocky beach. You can easily walk around town where the atmosphere is so relaxed, with a mix of Catholic churches and typically Asian Tuk Tuks.
4. The Colonial Streets
I loved Galle because I wasn’t expecting it to be so different from the other Asian cities. It reminded me of some pictures I of South American towns. I also loved the variety of transportation: from old carriages parked on the side of the streets to modern buses and motorbikes
Did you see That Animal Running on the Beach?!
Our time in Galle was very short, so we decided to take a quick walk on the pier to admire the lovely scenery, and there we found a weird surprise. My friend was looking towards the beach, when he spotted what seemed to be a very long tail.
He called me to have a look and, oh boy! was that a huge lizard?! I couldn’t really say, as the mysterious beast promptly run away and hide behind a rock.
We tried to intercept it on the other side of it and after a minute, there it was: a huge monitor lizard clumsily running away on the beach. Like a four-year-old kid, I started chasing it to take a picture (mission failed, this one is not the one we saw, but it’s very similar).
So if you ever go to Galle, keep your eyes wide open as you could run into one of these beautiful creatures!
Why I Will be Back to Sri Lanka
-The things and activities I missed and want to see next time I will visit the country-
1. Polonnaruwa UNESCO site
My fellow bloggers colleagues who were able to see this Unesco Heritage site said it was an awesome experience, so it’s definitely on my “to do list” for my next Sri Lankan trip!
2. Leopard at Yala National Park
This one wasn’t difficult to guess! I’m so fascinated with the leopards, and Yala National Park is one of the best places to spot them. I’m willing to go there as many times as necessary to see one! That’s my mission.
Jeep Safari in Yala National Park
Scenic Flight Over Sri Lanka's Coastline
Yala Half Day Tour
3. Trek to Sigiriya Rock
Since I already had a glimpse of this majestic rock when my misadventure began, it goes without saying that I have to finish what I started. I’m going to climb it and finally admire the beautiful view from the top!
4. Go Back to Cinnamon Red
Who wouldn’t love an infinity pool like that? Cinnamon Red was one of my highlights and I want to be back there ASAP! The place is really fantastic, modern and elegant.
The place is really fantastic, modern and elegant
Hotel Cinnamon Lodge
Cinnamon Grand Colombo
Elephant Back Riding
5. Whale Watching in Mirissa
Together with swimming with the Whale Sharks, this is on of my biggest dreams ever. I love the sea, and its wildlife and whale watching must be an experience like nothing else!
I checked out the reviews, and they convinced me to try it even more!
Yala Half Day Tour
Colombo to Sigiriya day Tour
Fly to the Maldives
I admit it, when I was confirmed for the TBC Asia conference, I didn’t think about booking a flight to the nearby stunning Maldives, before heading to Thailand. How stupid of me! The flights from Sri Lanka are very convenient, so next time I won’t miss the opportunity!
My Favorite Hotels in Sri Lanka
Special thanks to Cinnamon Hotels who kindly hosted us for the trip, I truly enjoyed my stay. Below is a recap of where we stayed:
1. Cinnamon Red Colombo
Conveniently located in the city center, one hour from the airport
Ok, Ok, you got it! I really enjoyed my stay at Cinnamon Red! The rooms have an incredible full wall window, while upstairs the infinity pool and the rooftop bar sealed the deal.
Hotel Cinnamon Bey Beruwala
2. Cinnamon Bey Beruwala
One hour south from Colombo and one 1 north from Galle
My goodness, what a place! right in front of the beach, a huge swimming pool, a few lounges with live music bars and comfy sofas. And what a dreamy view from the balcony: Palm trees and the beach!
Hotel Cinnamon Bey
Colombo to Sigiriya day Tour
3. Cinnamon Lakeside Colombo
Central location, 10 min from Crescat Boulevard Shopping Mall.
This Hotel has anything you’ll ever think of and even more: Swimming pool with lake view, lounge, conference rooms, night club, gym, Spa and a lovely floating boat with a restaurant and bar.
4. Cinnamon Lodge Harabana
40 minutes away from Kaudulla National Park (Elephant Safari)
We didn’t sleep in here, but at a lovely hotel nearby: the Chaaya Village. We went to the Lodge for dinner and I was swept away by its beautiful swimming pool and relaxed vibe. To die for!
Hotel Cinnamon Lodge Habarana
My Final Ratings of Sri Lanka:
My trip to Sri Lanka was made possible thanks to: Sri Lankan Airlines, who paid for my flights, Cinnamon Hotels who kindly hosted us in their beautiful hotels, Mobitel who provide me with a super useful Sim card, CVisit Sri Lanka for organizing the transportation. Big thanks goes to TBC Asia and the PTBA Association for the great learning opportunity. Special thanks to all the amazing organizers of this incredible event, in particular to Pramukshi Kariyawasam and the other staff members, including the lovely driver who escorted me to Kandy’s Hospital, for taking great care of me during my mis-adventure and for their awesome job!