Two backpacks, two flights and no plan… Before we knew it me and my best mate, Megan, were in Sri Lanka. After 14 hours of travelling we made it to Colombo airport, acquired a stamp in the passport and headed out to get our hands on some Sri Lankan Rupees. Within minutes we had handed over a whole 12 pounds worth of rupees in order to get a taxi to our hostel 35km away in Colombo City. What I predict to be the most expensive journey of our trip so far was justified by the fact we were tired, very lost and slightly anxious about what to expect on the streets of Colombo. Straightaway we were thrown into an awkward situation as the man who put our bags into the boot…taking all of 5 seconds…. asked for a tip. “Any coins, any euros for me please” he said as me and Megs looked at each other slightly bewildered. I reached for my purse unable to work out the conversion rate for our newly acquired rupees thinking surely 100 rupees, my smallest note (about 50p), is far too much for what he just did. He went away empty handed and we left confused, trying to remember if we had read anything about the tipping culture here.
We arrived at the hostel about 6pm and it was already dark as we headed out on our search for food. After unsuccessfully walking around the block and finding nothing we asked the guy working in the hostel who marked a restaurant on the map and off we went once again. And it was so worth it. Unsure of what to do we asked the man standing by the counter for a curry that was “not spicy” and we were given a plate of rice each with four little curries on which he assured us we could handle. Served luke warm, as apparently all rice should be according to Sri Lankans, they brought tears to my eyes and my mouth was on fire but wow they were good!! Our introduction to Sri Lankan food couldn’t have been better and despite our worries about it repeating on us a few hours later, our stomachs clearly agreed it was good stuff too!
In the hostel we were sharing a room with Aka and an Australian, Mark, who sadly had missed his flight due to a tuk-tuk driver scamming him and stealing his bag as he got on the express bus to the airport. Having had three fantastic weeks in Sri Lanka we bombarded him with questions and despite his experience on his last day, he filled us with confidence that we were in for a fantastic time although we were aware that we could not let our guard down and should trust no-one!
After a night’s sleep with the luxury of air-con, we woke up in the morning, after a missed alarm, and headed out with our bags for our first ride in a tuk-tuk (known as a trishaw in Sri Lanka) to the bus station. When we arrived we were in for the most manic 5 minutes I think I have ever experienced. Looking for the express bus to Negombo, our driver pointed us in the general direction and we entered a busy, loud station with everyone staring at us shouting inaudible things! Two white girls with massive backpacks- we couldn’t have been more out of place. As we asked for directions to the bus, everyone kept simply pointing us to the next row of buses and 5 rows later we found ourselves at the end of the station, not entirely sure what we were looking for. It was at this point a man in a red shirt approached us and asked us where we were going, for about the tenth time now we said Negombo and he told us to follow him. Unsure where he was taking us we followed tentatively until he started leading us out of the station altogether. At this point we thought he was taking us to a taxi, so left him to continue the search on our own. He wasn’t impressed when he came back to find us and take us the right way. Out of the bus station, across two main roads and the bus was just pulling up. We could not have been more grateful to the man, who in his very broken English I am not sure was very impressed by us.
Off we went on the bus to Negombo, costing us 110 rupees each for the 45 minute journey, it was a bargain! Although we did have to put up with the entire bus continually looking back and staring at us. Because we were two girls on our own, white or wearing shorts I’m not sure. Probably a combination of them all- either way it was slightly unnerving and definitely something we were going to have to get used to!