During the recent StayCaytoFarAway challenge, (which I feel the need to remind you, I won), Greg hilariously attempted to describe the images I provided for his Improv Travel Challenge slideshow. I thought he did a great job being funny as he struggled to remember the word “warthog” and attempted to pass off a giant shrine for a “Thai ornament”… but there was so much more to the story Greg couldn’t have possibly known.
If you want to see some of my corrections in real time, check out this Improv Travel – Fixed It! video. And for a story of a bizarrely serendipitous adventure that felt like a real life Improv Challenge, continue reading below.
Out of 68 countries visited, Sri Lanka is one of my favorites…
Drew and I ended up in Sri Lanka back in 2012 not because we knew how beautiful and culturally rich it was, but because we hadn’t realized that land entry into Thailand only permitted a 15 day tourist visa and we suddenly needed to make a “visa-run”.
Sri Lanka was an adventure right away.
Our first morning in Negombo we asked the innkeeper if he knew someone who could take us to Yala National Park that day. When he told us his friend’s-cousin’s-so-and-so could take us tomorrow, but that no one in the whole town would be able to take us today, we thought for sure we were being lied to by someone desperate for their commission.
But the innkeeper was right. The whole town was protesting a rise in oil prices.
When we walked to town for water, we found piles of brush burning in the street, women and children lined up blocking the road, and army trucks eliciting angry cries from a crowd. The people of Negombo were protesting a recent rise in gas prices and it was all unfolding in front of the cathedral a short walk from our inn.
We spent most of the day watching, and listening as locals occasionally pulled us aside to explain the protest. As I remember it, most of the protestors were fisherman, angry that the sudden rise in gas prices made it difficult for them to make a living.
In the evening when we attempted to ask for dinner recommendations form a young local woman, she invited us into her home. Her mother made us packaged noodles over an open stove and after dinner the young girl ushered me to the back of the house where she instructed me to wash up under the pump. I can’t remember who’d first suggested it, but we were heading to the cathedral and the girl wanted to help make her new backpacker friend more presentable for the occasion. We ended the evening in front of an intricate model ship serving as a shrine for the protection of the fisherman.
Sure enough, just as the innkeeper had predicted, the roads were open and ready for use within a day or two. His friend’s-cousins-so-and-so took us to Yala National Park for our first ever safari, and the only safari to date where we’ve spotted a leopard. (Sorry…no photo…or at least none where you can make out the leopard.)
Mahashivaratri Festival in Trincomalee
We’d already stumbled upon a town-wide protest and a meal in a local family’s home. We were not expecting our serendipity to continue, but it did.
In Trincomalee, we could tell the town was preparing for something, hanging streamers and decorations fashioned out of palm leaves. When we visited the local temple and saw people burning incense on coconuts then smashing them to the ground, we assumed this was simply part of a local’s ordinary visit to the temple.
Once we returned to town it became quickly obvious that there was something bigger going on and that the coconuts were relevant. People stacked coconuts into piles to burn them. Others smashed the coconuts on the ground. And as the sun set, a parade of musicians and shrines came dancing down the street. The local spectators brought flowers, gifts, and money to those sitting on the shrines and the coconuts continued to burn and smash before them in a chaotic display of devotion.
Yet again, we found ourselves in the middle of something we didn’t understand and the locals pulled us aside to explain. The smashing of coconuts was part of the local Mahashivaratri celebration and it was believed that the more pieces your coconut broke into, the more blessings you’d receive or the more fertile you’d be.
You may think Greg looks confused in his Improv Travel challenge attempting to explain the scenes in my slide, but as travelers, we felt the same way. Our entire visit in Sri Lanka was a series of colorful scenes we couldn’t begin to understand or explain without the help of friendly locals.
A few months into our Asia backpack trip and with the typical tourist scams already wearing on us, it was incredible to see a culture being authentic to itself.