The chilled out attitude and relaxed atmosphere of Sri Lanka was immediately noticeable before we could even leave the airport. We had just gotten used to being hassled for a good 5 or 6 minutes for a taxi by 7 or 8 different people in India, so it was nice to hear the response of ‘No worries, sir’, when we told the taxi drivers that we don't need a ride.
Driving to our host’s house gave us a chance to start taking in all that Sri Lanka is. First impressions go something like this: the roads are good, it’s very green, the traffic is relatively calm and we actually seem to be following some sort of road rules - except for the local buses which seem to be a tad frightening!
The greenness and openness of the country immediately struck us. We arrived at our host’s place and walked across some green, cut grass for the first time in about a month. A sense of nostalgia came over me as this foreign place had a feeling of home to it.
We quickly took a likening to our hosts (Lynne and Elmo) and discussed some of our plans whilst we were staying in Sri Lanka. They gave us some ideas on what to do and confirmed a few things about getting around. It was so nice to talk with them and share some common ground with someone else besides ourselves.
They told us the story of how they had sold up everything in America and decided to live a less stressful life somewhere else. They shared stories about how they had travelled around from place to place looking for a new home before deciding to settle down in Negombo, Sri Lanka. Even though they were older than us, we felt very connected with their approach to life, and really admired their courage to be able to say, ‘It’s time for a change!’ and leave everything behind!
A bonus of our hosts' house was having the best internet in over a month. It gave us a chance to get updated on everything and feel reconnected again. It can be tedious trying to make a website and blog work when the internet can't handle not-even-that-large bits of data, such as Hanna's images - such a first world problem, I know, but still a problem!
The morning brought some clearness and a chance to catch up on everything so far. We got to use a washing machine - result, as I was on my last pair of jocks! Caught up on Instagram! Enjoyed a morning coffee! And, just used the opportunity to have a good lay in and relax!
However, as nice as it was to get ourselves all up to date, one thing was on both our minds - the beach!
As we neared the sandy stretch, a sense of familiarity came over me again. A strange thing, since I had never been to Sri Lanka before, but it was something about the way the houses were built. The style of front gardens, picket fences with flowers and beach shrubs growing all through them... They were so similar to the ones in Barwon Heads, Australia, built between the 1940s and 60s, where I have spent a lot of time with my family on school holidays. Every second house had an open veranda with an outdoor sitting areas, decorative awning around the roof line and a space to play cricket in the yard. There was lots of green vegetation, and everything was kind of open, as if people weren’t too concerned about others entering their property. There was just an overall beach-town vibe to it.
After passing the touristy part of Negombo, we arrived at a huge beach front, with clean sand and a fairly calm Laccadive Sea lapping the shore line. To our pleasant surprise, there was hardly anyone on the beach. We found a ‘good’ spot and set ourselves up for the afternoon. The ocean was refreshing. The waves big enough to keep your wits about you, but not so big that it becomes unpleasant. It was the first time we had gone for an ocean swim in over 12 months, so it felt amazing to have that salty, sandy water against our skin again - and the beaming sunshine just topped it off! Even the odd jellyfish floating by to say ‘Hello’, whilst we were in the waves, weren't going to diminish the moment.
An hour later whilst searching for something to eat, we walked down the beach when suddenly we noticed a group of about 8 men pulling in a huge rope from the ocean. Unbeknownst to us, the whole time we had been relaxing on the beach, the men had been hard at work laying a fishing net from the shore line, out to the ocean, and then back to the shore about a 100 meters further down the beach. Their net must have been close to a kilometre long in total!
I felt very lucky to see some traditional fishing happening on my very first day in Sri Lanka, so just imagine my surprise when they asked me, if I would like to help - super excited level 10 max plus!
I joined the line of men pulling in the net, and quickly learnt that there is a lot more to the technique than just grabbing the rope and pulling it in - especially, if you want any resemblance of a hand in 10 minutes time. They taught me how to wrap a towel around my waist and then use the remaining material to wrap around the actual fishing net. Although this made it considerably easier on the hands, it was still an extremely physical job to haul the massive nets in. Let's just say, I lasted about 15 mins, whilst the fishermen continued on for the best part of 2 hours!
We decided to let them go about their business as we were very hungry. Unfortunately by the time we finished lunch, we missed the actual net being pulled out of the water…. but we did get a glimpse of their catch - it was impressive.
Back at our hosts' house, we got to know that there is a fish market that happens very early the next morning. This was something I was definitely not missing out on! Elmo organised a 5am Tuk Tuk for us and even though sleepy, we were so excited to see the hustle of selling and buying fish.
Although it wasn't technically the first 24 hours anymore, the fish market was unreal! There were fish everywhere! Yellow fin tuna, red mullet, barracuda, snapper, shark, prawns and crabs were all on offer by the fishermen! The atmosphere was busy, but organised.
Men carried 50kg+ tunas on their shoulders as they power-walked through the busy crowds. Every now and then a splat of fish would hit us as the fish were being chopped up for sale right there on the dock. The mongers were cutting the fish with machetes, whilst yelling to each other across the market.
It seemed that people bought the fish, and then took them to a carvery/butcher place to have their fish cut up into more manageable sized pieces. Everything you could possibly need to have the freshest seafood in Sri Lanka! There was just so much going on and I don’t think I have ever seen so much seafood in one place before.
As there was so much on offer, we decided to shop around and try to avoid being the ripped-off-westerner again. Surprisingly, and very pleasantly I might add, the prices were consistent at every little stall we went up to. We grabbed ½kg of prawns and ½kg of yellowfin tuna for 900 rupees (less than £5.00!!!) and were set for food for the rest of the day.
That finished our first 24 (and a bit) hours, and there’s not much else to say - except so far, Sri Lanka is awesome!