Monday, April 2, 2012

Everyone needs a Sri Lanka trip


Everyone needs a Sri Lanka trip once in a while. This is what I was thinking yesterday, as I took the red eye from Colombo to Kuala Lumpur, to catch the first flight out of KL to Manila after breakfast. I had some time to think because I couldn't sleep for a while and I don't really like talking on flights.

Fortunately, my companion felt exactly the same way. He had on his cool Bosch earphones and he was watching some action-type movie, while I had my video channel switched on to a Winston Churchill movie which was pretty interesting but yet slow enough to allow me to reflect on the last couple of days every so often. I really like thinking about my life when I'm on trips as my schedule is usually packed to the last minute in Manila and there's usually no time for such deep musings.

UNESCO HERITAGE SITES TO YOURSELF

Of course Sri Lanka is just amazing, especially the UNESCO World Heritage sites which culture vultures must make time to see at least once in their lives. And now is the best time to go because the country is just opening up to tourists; so you'll have many of the heritage sites to yourselves, without the inconvenience or distractions of tourist buses, thousands of tourists, or guides with flags who are shouting into their microphones.

The first time I was in Sri Lanka, exactly a year ago, I remember sitting on a brick ledge in front of the largest stupa in the Anaradhapura complex, also a UNESCO World Heritage site, and there was no one else but us and a couple of monkeys for a good few hours.

We sat there gazing at that wondrous stupa until dark, as it slowly turned a fiery red because of the effect of the sunset, and frankly it was surreal. My heart still skips a beat when I remember this very moment.

We had the place basically to ourselves as well at the second UNESCO site of Pollonaruwa, and at Sigiriya. If you've been reading this blog, you'll know that I balked at climbing Sigiriya last year and I've regretted it ever since. And on this second trip, I climbed Sigiriya and got the most amazing view. Read more about it in the June-July issue of Travelife.

SRI LANKA REDUX

This second visit, we went to see the 2nd century AD Dambulla Caves late in the afternoon, and here too there was no one else but us. In fact, we were so by ourselves that we had to get down the mountain in pitch darkness at the end of our visit. Fortunately we were saved by the light from a single flashlight. That certainly made our visit surreal and special -- something we'll remember and talk about for a long time.


But what I really mean when I say that everyone needs a Sri Lanka trip, is that everyone needs the kind of trip wherein they immerse themselves fully into the experience and "live in the moment" -- forgetting everything else and just savoring the colors, sounds, and sensations of a new place with focus and concentration so that you don't miss a single detail. This makes all the difference to the experience of traveling. This is what a Travelife is all about.

LEAVING EVERYTHING BEHIND

For this trip, I decided to forget almost completely every concern and responsibility I had in Manila or in my life, for that matter, so that I could really concentrate on exactly what Sri Lanka was all about. I'm traveling somewhere practically every week so it's unrealistic to try and do this often, as it would mean forgetting about my life every week; but for some reason, I decided to "live in the moment" for this Sri Lanka trip.

What an enjoyable experience it was. I tasted everything with more awareness, I recorded what I saw in vibrant color, and I understood an ancient culture and a pretty complicated country so much better.


GREAT COMPANY

It also helped that I had such congenial companions. Two guys came along to help me out with my Sri Lanka project, and they both proved to be real troopers in every sense, and pretty compatible companions. We had many similar interests and habits, and even the times we talked or didn't want to talk were very much in sync.

I don't like talking much on airplanes, and on long drives I'll divide the time between talking and listening to music on my iPod or working on my computer -- and they were pretty much the same. The funny thing, however, was that when we started talking together, we would talk for hours nonstop.

In fact, our lunches everyday lasted so long because we were always talking and laughing out loud -- perhaps too much for our own good. My laughter broke the general silence and zen atmosphere in many of the luxury restaurants we ate in during our trip.

But truly, there are very few times I forget about the problems of the world -- or should I say the problems of my world -- and this wonderful and enjoyable trip to Sri Lanka was one of those rare times. I can't remember laughing so much in a long time, and I came back tired from a pretty packed itinerary and a red eye flight, but refreshed and lighter -- which is a big statement coming from someone who travels as much as I do.

So, again, everyone should have a Sri Lanka trip every so often. Happy Travelifing, wherever in the world you're going to be this Holy Week. We're on our way to Japan by the time you read this...

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