I had a blip yesterday where I had realised the constant attention from the local boys/men/beggars/tuktuk drivers/tour touts, plus my lack of making any traveller friends, was starting to get to me. I’d decided to leave Unwatuna and head to Welligama, a little surfing place. But when I got there my £5 room was dark and dank, had a weird smell, a family of ants, a grim bed, a tiny window and a toilet that flushed via an old car aerial. I last one hour. This was my unhappy face. I’m in my getaway tuk tuk with Welligama becoming a dusty dot in the distance behind me:
Actually, that blip started the day before when I found myself crying on Unawatuna beach after a deaf and blind man came over and started asking me for money. He even had the cheek to write 5,000 in the sand (meaning rupees – around £25).
I literally thought ‘for fucks sake’.
By this point it had been a bit relentless between the bracelet ladies, overpriced coconut man, ikea bag ladies wanting to push their trousers and dresses onto you and whatnot. And I was in a moment of stress in general anyway because the coconut man wouldn’t leave me alone and was getting a bit pushy about me taking his last one.
So I was getting a bit annoyed that this deaf and blind man wanted 5,000 rupees off me, when he handed me a laminated piece of paper that showed me a photo of his destroyed Tsunami home, and a letter that said he was trying to feed his family and save to be able to give them all a roof over their heads again. I immediately hated my middle class self. Big fat tears rolled down my suncreamed face mixing with the salt from the dried sea water on my skin, stinging a bit as they left skid marks down my cheeks. Or so I imagined. I thanked the universe that he couldn’t see me pitying him in this way.
It came after an awesome day sightseeing with a driver I hired for the day. In Sri Lanka its quite the common thing to hire a car and driver/guide even though that’s the most expensive way to get around. It does mean you can cram a lot in and easily get from A to B. My driver was a young lad, the younger brother of the tour operator who booked my tour for me (so it turned out, although I didn’t appreciate this at first). I think he gave me his brother because his English was not so good and I’d wanted a more budget friendly option. He was a nice enough lad though and we tried to make conversation – the usual ‘are you married’ was fired at me from the off, to which (this time) I replied ‘yes’ (whilst I slid my left hand under my lap) and when he asked for my facebook details I told him i’d add him and took his email, knowing I never would.
It was early and we drove down to Koggola, paid a fake fisherman 200rupees (about £1) to pose for the iconic Sri Lankan tourist photo which was fun because they let me climb onto the fishing raft thing, but also a teensy bit disappointing. I hate things being done ‘just for the tourists’. Where were the real fisherman? Still, its a beaut of a photo:
My driver and I had a laugh about it when I called the fisherman a ‘Sri Lankan model’ and soon despite the language barrier we were joking around and having fun.
I now realise this is translated in Sri Lanka as flirting and will no longer do it. Later his older brother (the tour owner) told me not to sleep with his baby brother! As if!
But that aside, the day started out well. I went to this over-rated little Turtle farm, and saw these cute baby turtles which excited me, a super old tea plantation where they make this expensive white tea that’s super special because no one ever TOUCHES the leaves throughout the whole process. Although my gut feeling is that maybe its all a bit bollocks – for example, when my tour was over I was led into the gift shop to sample some teas and the owner of the plantation introduced himself, then suddenly his phone rang and he was saying things like ‘sure, you’d like 50 orders of the white, 10 of the cinnamon and what was that, 30 packets of the yogi?’. I thought of Max Branning in Eastenders who picks up the phone and pretends to be making a sale when a customer walks into his used car lot. Still, I bought some overpriced Yogi Tea. So as not to be rude plus it was really nice. Then my driver asked me if I liked Elephants. I said ‘yes’. Who doesn’t like Elephants?
4000 rupees later (£20), my driver’s made himself an additional 1000 rupees for his time to take me to his village, which wasn’t far away at all and i’ve paid £15 (which isn’t too bad I suppose) to bathe in a lake with a 7 year old fella called Samsara. Or maybe it was a girl elephant. More than I was willing to pay but I kinda had a ‘fuck it’ attitude and I was having fun.
But then after that, wherever me and my driver went on the original tour I’d bought, he kept asking me if I liked certain things, and at first it seemed like a fun game, where I thought he was going to spontaneously take me somewhere new and exciting that wasn’t on the tour schedule but I then cottoned on to realising the game, and ended up saying rather abruptly to his question of whether I like snorkelling (after being asked if I like boats, whales, diving, beaches, parties and leopards – and then finding myself nearly parting with all my remaining cash getting caught up in the moment) with a sharp fat NO.
After agreeing to a 2 day motorbike tour with my new friend for a mere $150, and then having to sheepishly cancel it later due to lack of funds, I not only felt like a wally but also a bit bleugh in general about all these new friends I keep making. They all seem to want something.
Either way – I’ve just realised my blip didn’t start on this day. It started a few days before, when I was in Hukkaduwa.
I’d had a weird evening.
Where were the tourists I could hang out with? The backpackers?
Hukkduwa is a typical tourist street you get anywhere in the world. Pretty characterless, restaurants and shops on either side of the road with a beach running parallel to it. I passed a shed load of relatively unfriendly couples, some older groups and lots of Russians.
I hated it.
But I wanted to embrace my first proper night in Sri Lanka and refused to admit I hated it, so found myself having dinner and some beers with a British couple and it was Andy’s 52nd birthday the next day. Nice people. It was nice.
But then the mood changed.
I jumped in a tuk tuk and had my first experience of the tuk tuk driver party boy scene and lost my bearings for a bit. He caught me at a particularly embracing moment shall we say, so when he offered to take me to a party I thought ‘fuck it why not’ but made it clear if it was shit then I wanted him to take me home. It was shit.
But he’s not willing to take me home just yet and insists my first night in Sri Lanka isn’t going to end like this. He loves British people and thinks they’re great fun and kind people and he wants to repay some of the hospitality he’s received over the year’s from British tourists. One of them even bought him his tuk tuk he says.
Before I know it, he’s taken me somewhere into the jungle down all these little lanes and my gut is saying this is not good, and then he pulls up at this house and says ‘don’t worry we can chill here for a while’ as if he’d mind-read my concern. Now my gut is doing somersaults but that feeling doesn’t extend to my legs which intrepidly walks into the house thinking that it’s FINE, he’s not gonna try anything (and just let him – i’m bigger than him), besides he’s just being friendly. And I’m imagining there are other people in there, I might meet some cool people I tell myself, knowing that I’m bullshitting myself now.
Anyway you can guess what happens. There’s no one there. He thinks we’re gonna have a holiday romance. I politely decline his offer of a ‘tour of the house’, I tell him to put his shirt back on and drive me home.
Luckily he eventually does and his attempt to kiss me fails due to his Sri Lankan height (he can’t reach me). Plus he seems to understand the word No, which is a relief, and is quite responsive to a loud bossy English lady. I have to put in a bit of work first though as he’s a persistent little thing but within half an hour i’m back on the road, and he drops me near my guest house, but far enough away so that he can’t stalk me the next day.
‘You need to be less friendly’ my new Sri Lankan friend in Unawatuna told me when I shared my experiences with him the following day following a 1 hour bus ride (35 rupees – approx 2p) to the next beach resort along the south coast of Sri Lanka. My new friend is not your typical local guy, having lived in Australia 7 years; and he gives good advice. Stay away from the young beach guys with the curly hair, highlights or offers to take you to a party. Even if they’re super nice and friendly.
Of course this is all pretty standard stuff, but my reminder of how easy it is to release the security breaks a bit when you’re seeking a bit of adventure, was a quick and essential one.
So now I’m learning the art of being a cold bitch. Well, a bit less friendly than I would usually be. And it works.
At first it seemed less fun, as travelling with no interaction or not engaging in conversation with the warm local people is almost like not really embracing the culture and art of travelling at all.
But I guess it’s a fine line, and you just have to learn how to balance it.
I think i’m getting there…
And within 12 hours I’ve made some new traveller friends and formed a band. First gig was last night. The place was packed when we started, empty by the time we finished.