Sri Lanka one week in

Sri Lanka! Yep, another new country! I’ve been here less than 10 days now so I’ll try to give some of my first impressions. These photos are from the first week.

I had been considering this trip to Sri Lanka for a few months, but with covid I only bought my ticket less than a week before I left. Also because of covid, I still haven’t bought my return ticket. It seems very difficult to plan anything with constantly changing travel restrictions.

I thought I had all my ducks in order for traveling. I flew Antalya to İstanbul with Turkish Airlines but had to check-in again in İstanbul because I had two separate itineraries. The check-in with flydubai took about an hour because of my bicycle. It was rather confusing. As for covid, well, that was skimmed over. Yes, I have a vaccination certificate, I mentioned at some point.

The health authorities at the Colombo airport were quite surprised when I arrived without a PCR test result. flydubai apparently paid a fine for letting me on the flight without it. These constantly changing restrictions, different for every country, must be a huge nightmare for the airport staff.

A nurse came to the airport, and I got my first ever PCR test (for 8590 lkr). I couldn’t leave until the results arrived about three hours later. I managed to find it more amusing than annoying, and I ate a good dinner at the airport. So it was about 26 hours from home in Antalya to my hotel in Negombo. Off to a good start.

the garden of my hotel in Negombo by bryandkeith on flickr
BIVORA Villa garden, Negombo

Ideally my route would head north from the airport, then loop around and visit Colombo (or not) at the end of the trip. However, Colombo is the only place in the country to extend the 30 day visa I had (I applied online a couple days before buying my plane ticket). So the next day I headed by bicycle south all day to get to Colombo.

IMG_20211126_104757 by bryandkeith on flickr
Ashokarama Temple
IMG_20211126_105021 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20211126_135755 by bryandkeith on flickr
Hekitta, getting close to Colombo proper
IMG_20211126_140237 by bryandkeith on flickr

I found small roads with no traffic and messy big roads with lots of traffic, and I even found some rural areas here in the most densely populated part of the country.

IMG_20211126_111438 by bryandkeith on flickr

Of course I saw Buddhist temples, but I was surprised to see so many churches. I learned later that the most Christian part of Sri Lanka is the area around Negombo where I started my riding.

IMG_20211126_144531 by bryandkeith on flickr

Now ought to be high tourist season. The hotel where I stayed in Colombo had about 60 guests/night in December 2019. I was the only guest for the four nights I stayed.

view from my hotel room in Colombo by bryandkeith on flickr
view from my hotel in Colombo, Haven Fort Hostel

Four nights in Colombo? Why? Few tourists like it. Well, I arrived Friday afternoon, and the visa extension folks are only open mornings, Monday through Friday. This is great news for you, the reader, as I’ll show you enough photos that you never have to visit this urban mess of over 5 million people.

The building I was most excited to see in Colombo was the Jami Ul Alfar, aka the Red Mosque.

IMG_20211127_075355 by bryandkeith on flickr

The inside is supposed to be quite interesting, but because of covid this is as close as I could get.

IMG_20211127_075709 by bryandkeith on flickr

Here’s another mosque that I also found unusual.

Dawatagaha Mosque by bryandkeith on flickr
Dawatagaha Mosque

Architecturally what was most interesting to me were the colonial buildings, mostly left over from the British (the Portuguese and Dutch were here as well).

IMG_20211127_090905 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20211128_095152 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20211128_101011 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20211128_100325 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20211128_100838 by bryandkeith on flickr

If you liked those buildings, then you need to check out this blog which has much better photos and better explanation than you’ll find here.

This building:

IMG_20211127_103409 by bryandkeith on flickr

houses the National Museum of Colombo which among other things had some fancy toilets.

IMG_20211127_115129 by bryandkeith on flickr

I learned about Sri Lanka’s important historical periods.

  • Anuradhapura (5th century BCE to 1055 CE)
  • Polonnaruva (1055 – 1235)
  • transitional period with at least six different kingdoms (1232 – 1340)
  • Kandy (1469 – 1815)

That was interesting since I plan on visiting Kandy, Anuradhapura, and Polonnaruva (in that order). The British came next, followed by independence in 1948.

Next door was the National Museum of Natural History with this elephant skeleton. It’s so big I mistook it for a mammoth or something before I read the caption.

These tusks were so big I thought it was a mammoth or something, but, no, it's an elephant.  It's one that lived a long life in captivity (rather than a shorter life in the wild).  Tusks never stop growing so older elephants end up with larger tusks.  The by bryandkeith on flickr

Elephants are very important for Sri Lankans. I’ve seen many statues on buildings and temples.

IMG_20211127_094755 by bryandkeith on flickr
Isipathanarama Temple
IMG_20211128_093032 by bryandkeith on flickr

Independence Square is a super pleasant part of the city.

IMG_20211128_115505 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20211128_120946 by bryandkeith on flickr
Independence Memorial Hall

I think what most tourists do in Colombo is visit temples. Isipathanarama had a very pleasant garden.

IMG_20211127_093653 by bryandkeith on flickr

Sima Malaka Meditation Centre is more centrally located with a great setting on a lake.

IMG_20211128_071816 by bryandkeith on flickr

Around the corner is Gangaramaya Temple with colorful statues.

IMG_20211128_073825 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20211128_075422 by bryandkeith on flickr

In addition to Buddhist temples, churches, and mosques, there are also Hindu temples.

IMG_20211128_090146 by bryandkeith on flickr
Captain’s Garden Hindu Temple
IMG_20211128_110725 by bryandkeith on flickr
Maha Kali Amman Kovil Modara
IMG_20211128_111316 by bryandkeith on flickr
Sri Venkateshwara Hindu Temple

Nice enough, I guess, but let’s the get the hell out of Colombo.

IMG_20211128_133055 by bryandkeith on flickr

The visa extension was easy taking only about two hours Monday morning. For US$100 I can now stay an additional 60 days, extendable once more for an additional 90 days for free, I believe. Note that this varies by nationality. I’m talking about a US passport.

I had ridden over 150km in the sprawling Colombo metropolitan area (that’s in, out, and around over four days) by the time I finally left the city. I must admit the noise, exhaust, and heavy traffic wasn’t giving me a lot of optimism for good riding.

How wrong I was! From the edge of the city to stuff like this:

IMG_20211130_092344 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20211130_100036 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20211201_065448 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20211130_092555 by bryandkeith on flickr

And then I stumbled upon things like the Mahanevwana Buddhist Monastery where I chatted with Amila from London. He’s studying there, contemplating becoming a monk.

IMG_20211201_085442 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20211201_084945 by bryandkeith on flickr

Both in the city and in the rural areas I have been surprised how reserved the Sri Lankans are. In that sense it’s much more similar to Japan or Thailand than Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Sulawesi, or even Turkey. Few people approach me. Few people say anything at all.

Another thing that bicycle tourers think about a lot (or is it just me?) is food. So far, so good. I’m still trying to figure out what to order. A popular breakfast is string hoppers, a type of noodles:

string hoppers by bryandkeith on flickr

The orange-red stuff is a coconut thing, the most common condiment.

Rice and curry is common. Here’s an example (note the coconut thing again at the back):

IMG_20211126_180649 by bryandkeith on flickr

The curries most closely resemble Kerala curries, but Sri Lankan cooks seem to use a wider variety of spices and balance them really well.

The national dish is kottu which has bread (roti, I believe) instead of rice or noodles. The roti is chopped thinly (think of how the tortillas are chopped for chilaquiles) and put in a wok with veggies, sauce, and, if you want, egg or chicken or fish. Beef and pork are occasionally available, but I haven’t tried them yet. I’ve been warned about the quality. Also I’ve been trying to take it easy a bit while my stomach gets used to Sri Lanka. That said, I’ve been drinking tap water with no problem (for about 10 days now).

kottu by bryandkeith on flickr
Kottu in Mirigama

Coconuts are, well, everywhere. One day resting under a coconut tree, I got scared when I heard lots of noise in the trees above me. I remember some crazy high number of people killed every year by falling coconuts. Turned out to be monkeys swinging from tree to tree.

my first coconut of the trip by bryandkeith on flickr
a refreshing way to spend 70 lkr; Bulugolla Junction

Fruit juices/shakes are a bit trickier to find. Here’s avocado with ice cream. Very tasty.

avocado shake with ice cream, of course by bryandkeith on flickr
near the railway station in Veyangoda

I’ve tried one beer — Lion, a standard pilsner.

IMG_20211201_180728 by bryandkeith on flickr
the bar below Mountain View Guest Rooms in Galagedara

And I’ve tried one coconut toddy, a low alcohol (6-7%), non-distilled coconut drink. It was slightly sweet. I liked it.

IMG_20211201_185746 by bryandkeith on flickr

Language difficulties have been more than I expected. A Sinhala phrasebook (for this region; Tamil is spoken farther north) would be helpful. For example, this woman served me a fine breakfast and then wrote a note inviting me back to her place. She could write a little English but spoken communication was difficult.

IMG_20211130_074528 by bryandkeith on flickr
The woman from the previous photo wrote this sweet note after I had breakfast at her place.  She couldn't speak much English, but she wrote this note inviting me back. by bryandkeith on flickr
please come back to our place in Kadawatha

So, well, rural roads with little traffic through beautiful scenery, excellent easy-to-find food, and unassuming people. It’s going well so far. Let’s see what the tourist sites are like. First one, Kandy (next post).

IMG_20211201_080633 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20211201_115141 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20211202_082118 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20211202_081207 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20211201_115802 by bryandkeith on flickr

Shortly before Kandy a man recommended I make the 2.5km (one way) detour to mountaintop Nelligala International Buddhist Center, a 200m climb. It got me up to 800m, the highest I’ve been so far in Sri Lanka.

IMG_20211202_093431 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20211202_092211 by bryandkeith on flickr
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One Response to Sri Lanka one week in

  1. Jennie & Derek Werner says:

    Nice update Bryan! We are just back from a nice trip to Sudan, South Sudan and Yemen. We had to get seven Covid tests, but all went well. Derek and Jennie

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