Seductive Sri Lanka:
Hiding in Plain Sight
You eat with your eyes first. How many times have I heard this? Eating is a sensory experience.
Well, it turns out that, much like eating, Sri Lanka is also a sensory experience: the fragrance of cardamom and curry leaves on the breeze, the feeling of the crisp air on your face in the morning mist of the upcountry, the splashes of colour that are tea pluckers dotting the green lushness of Hill Country, the silver-blue and azure waters along the palm-fringed coast, your toes in the sand, the call to prayer ringing out, rhythmic chanting from a nearby temple, and, of course, the fiery flavours of a Sri Lankan meal mixed and eaten with your hands.
What could be more seductive?
A Feast for the Eyes… and the Hands?
Any Sri Lankan meal will be accompanied by a local, telling you with a smile that there is no point in eating your rice and curry with cutlery, that you won’t get the flavours. And it’s true. Eating with your hands changes the flavour. You don’t just smell and taste the food, but feel the texture of it, and can mix it together much more thoroughly than you ever could with a spoon. You end up getting closer to it, to the experience.
My first time in Sri Lanka, pedalling and walking also got me closer to the country and the people. By getting in close, I felt the warmth, kindness and hospitality of the locals. I saw the smiles and got to return them. Sri Lankans are friendly. Almost disconcertingly so. Everywhere I go I hear “Where are you from?” and “Where going?”
Where have you been?
On my first day, this friendliness took me aback. Then, as days passed, I began to feel as if those I had crossed paths with previously had rung up their friends and family all over the island.
Even the children get in on the act, saying “Bye!” when they first see me. (They meant “hello,” but “bye” is the literal translation of tata, which is both a greeting and a farewell. They were adorably confused.)
In each village, I walked through or road I pedalled along, it was as if the locals were right there, waving, smiling, as if to say, “Where have you been? We’ve been waiting for you!”
It’s one of my favourite things about Sri Lanka.
A Remarkable Mélange
Sri Lanka’s history is long. Over 2000-years long. And many travellers have been seduced by it: Sinbad the Sailor, Marco Polo and Vasco de Gama among them, to say nothing of the Portuguese, the Dutch, the Indians, Chinese, Arabs and British. Sri Lanka today is a remarkable mélange of all of their visits.
And what drew them? What didn’t? The spices. The wildlife. The faith. The stunning locales. The people. Always the people.
This is like several countries in one. India? England? Parts of Africa? It’s all and none of those at the same time. And all of this and despite its modest size – about three-quarters the size of Ireland.
What Sri Lanka has to offer is right in front of you, hiding in plain sight, ready and waiting to seduce you, too.
And I highly suggest you let it.