From the moment my airplane hovered over this new island, the twinkling lights of the city were alive and captivating. It looked as though a blanket of stars was woven into the landscape below. I will never forget the exciting feeling of staring out my window that day and waiting to finally land after 36 hours of travel. I had created this plan alone and was landing here alone to finally live it out, feeling liberated and also a bit overwhelmed if I must admit. After touching down and entering the tiny airport of Sri Lanka I took a deep breath in, preparing myself for the new chapter ahead and all the unknowns that it would bring. I knew I would never be the same again; an evolution of my life’s story was in progress and the page had officially turned.
Within a mere 30 minutes I made two new European friends, other travelers of the island who had left their routine lives behind and set off for long-term exploration, seeking freedom and adventure. I immediately felt comforted being around like-minded travelers and we shared a cab to our separate places, swapping stories of all we hoped to do while we were here. The UK, France and USA all bonding over the same desire to experience more of the world and dive into studying new cultures. I truly believe that good energy attracts good energy and this couldn’t be more of the case already in my few short days here. The power of positivity is infectious and since I made it the center of my life it has done nothing but greet me with others of the same mindset in return.
I have been staying in a tiny studio in the capital city of Colombo next to the Consulate of Morocco. Nothing fancy but a comfortable bed, shower and toilet combo, powerful soothing fans and a tiny fridge. The woman who owns the place lived in Maryland for 20 years and even knew the high school I once attended. Small world, I thought once again. Do these coincidences happen to everyone? She has been most helpful and kind to me and I am grateful for my tiny home up a narrow spiral staircase perched in the sky. Leaving for the day, I watched a woman below grinding mustard seed and coconut in preparation of making today’s daily curry, which she tells me is used to thicken the sauce. The vibe in Sri Lanka is friendly with the majority of people being kind, helpful and welcoming to visitors.
Almost immediately I felt the impact of the bustling city: cars buzzing by honking, tuk tuks running wild and street vendors working hard to prepare for another hard long day of labor. On my first morning I bought a tiny banana wrapped in newspaper and met up with my new friend, a traveling enthusiast who was bit by the adventure bug a couple of years back and also a first-timer to Sri Lanka. I was thankful to have another person to explore with since Colombo can be quite overwhelming at first. We started the day at Barefoot Café, a lovely outdoor restaurant that I discovered serves a mean frothy cup of cappuccino. Did I mention getting a good cup of coffee here is rare? Finding one was like locating a diamond in the rough, so naturally I find myself here for the second day in a row. Same smile in tact.
In one afternoon I saw much of this vibrant city and learned quickly the art of hailing a reliable tuk tuk and getting a fair price for it. Each bend of Colombo offers something new; Buddhist temples adorned with intricate decoration and detail; crowded open markets with tropical fruits and bargaining vendors; busy loud streets with drivers who have absolutely no fear and drive barefoot and free; women adorned in colorful drapery and beautiful modest dresses, men in bright tops and children in white dresses boarding pale blue school buses, delicious curry dishes and street food that smells of peanut oil and rich spices. One thing we noticed was that it was impossible on the streets to find a cold beer. I imagine in the larger chained restaurants and hotels this is different, but the religious and conservative economy here was apparent right from the start.
Today I have taken a break from the hustle and bustle and sit outdoors feeling the cool breeze, which takes the edge off the humidity. The weather I find to be quite detoxifying in it’s own way. I remind myself that the greatest gift in life is time and slowing it down for me is learning the art of being present in this moment without a lengthy agenda or anxieties of the future. This is how I like to travel.
I am already becoming more aware of my surroundings than when I was back home, noticing detail and taking time to observe the world around me. Stopping to admire the intricacies of a historical door or the modern architecture and cultural essence of the city, listening to the laughter of children and families, watching lovers hold hands and smile with amusement going over their days, observing the dogs and cats that wander the streets and somehow seem like the most happy and peaceful creatures, taking in beautiful imperfect smiles from locals, watching the way the trees blow in the wind and house exotic birds which seem to be flying overhead at all times chatting the day away.
As I washed my clothes in my laundry bag today and took a quick shower letting my hair and clothes dry in the sun, I recognized immediately how lighter I already feel in this simple way of life. Trusting in my own abilities and instincts, letting all my years of experience come folding together into this one moment. When you have time alone it can be a fusion of many emotions and often things will arise you didn’t plan to feel, but this is where growth and healing lives. I am learning to observe my emotions and then let them go and give myself all the love and encouragement I need to make the absolute most of every single day I am given. Not a moment goes by I don’t feel full of gratitude.
My current regimen is to rise and set with the sun. As a female traveler, this increases my security and also allows me to get back in touch with my circadian rhythms that I believe have been lost for years.
I leave tomorrow morning to head to the southwest beach town of Weligama, on the famous Sri Lankan train, where I will do a weeks surf camp with other travelers and start a more physical challenge. I enjoy pushing myself and I hope to catch my first wave in the tropical waters of this beautiful island. Never being a city girl, I am ready to transition to a relaxed seaside atmosphere and quiet things down a bit, while immersing myself in nature.
“Ayubowan,” wishes from me to you for a long and blissful life. May you make the most of what you are given.