Why overpay for tourist attractions? We found better things to do in Sigiriya!

Sigiriya, 4th of December 2016

We left the house of our hosts in Negombo when it was still dark. A quick tuk tuk ride and we found ourselves at Negombo Train Station. The metal gates were still closed, so we waited patiently with a few other passengers. A man appeared and asked us where were we going.

"Colombo, and then Dambulla," we said.
"No train now. Next train at 7!" was his answer.

It was before 5am, and were expecting our train to arrive in 5 minutes, but seemed like there wasn't going to be one. The man offered us a taxi ride to the bus station, and this is when we became a bit suspicious and thought he was trying to get money out of us, whilst the train hasn’t really been cancelled.

I called our host. Before we left, he had kindly agreed to help us, if we needed it. Elmo spoke English and Sinhalese so I asked if he could translate for us because we weren’t sure what was going on. I gave my phone away to a young girl waiting at the station with us. She returned it shortly after and from the other end Elmo confirmed that indeed we shouldn’t wait for the train and follow the others to the bus station.
And so we did. We went behind other passengers who were now heading towards a dark street. Luckily the sun was still asleep and we were able to carry our backpacks in the bearable temperature - a walk in the full sun would be deadly! We found the bus we needed and jumped on.

 
 

When we got to Colombo, the sun was slowly waking up. As we walked through the bus terminal, we could see more and more people waiting to get to all corners of Sri Lanka. Asking around never let us down – we quickly found the bus to Dambulla and sat ourselves on it. Besides the fact that both of us hardly fit into the two person seat, we were ready to go! The bus ride was a standard one – sometimes more fun than a roller coaster, which seemed to be seconds away from a deadly car crash, sometimes relaxing with the view on the rice fields and beautiful hills.

We booked our AirBnB stay in Sigiriya the night before and asked our hosts for directions, however we  hadn’t heard from them even when we got to Dambulla. We knew Sigiriya was a short bus away (a 3rd one this day!) but besides the name of the village, and the fact that our stay was called Lathika’s House, we didn’t know much about where to head to. I called the number from the listing a few times but someone on the other end did not seem to speak English. Oh well, what could go wrong? We decided to take the bus and worry once we got there.

As it turned out, there weren't many streets to choose from once we got off the bus. Small billboards cluttered on one side of the street and we spotted a writing that said Lathika. The road was lovely – it lead through the tropical bush and we could see little houses on both sides. We looked at the photo on my phone and compared it to the house that we stood in front of. A quick glance at the screen, then at the house in front of us. Looks similar but the columns are different, not this one. We walk up to the next one. Yes, perfect match. The lady and two kids welcomed us and lead us through the porch to our room. We asked about Wifi and once it started to work, we were amazed at how fast the connection was, here, in the middle of nowhere!

We started doing some research about Sigiriya. We came here for only one night. That meant we had the rest of the afternoon and next morning to do what we wanted. There weren't that many suggestions besides visiting the famous sacred rock with the palace built on top of it. The tickets’ prices equaled to two days of our daily budget (30 USD for each person). All the friends, who have been to Sri Lanka, said that visiting the rock was nothing as they expected: climbing in full heat for about two hours, together with masses of tourists that did the same. In addition, they said, we would see all the plastic Chinese toys there are in the world, plus all the other things that we would surely need to buy right there and then, on our way up the rock…
We thought we didn’t want to do something just to tick it off our list. We would rather do something that both of us would enjoy and have nice memories of. So we decided to find other things to do in Sigiriya, ourselves.

Turns out it wasn’t that difficult at all!

As soon as we left our room to go for a walk, we spotted Lathika’s older son sitting on the porch of their house. We weren't sure, but it looked as if he had kind of waited for us. He was holding a cricket bat in his hand.

‘Cricket?!’ he called towards Zach.

We headed down to the back of their house, to the little backyard. His younger brother was already there, together with two other little ones. Zach got into the game, swapping between batting and bowling with the oldest boy, whilst the three younger ones were fielders returning the ball each time.
I sat down on a little stone wall under a tree, but the young cricketer rushed towards me, stopping the game, with a plastic chair, which he placed away from the tree.

‘Sit down. Coconuts! Danger!’

he advised me as he pointed to the tree above. Oh yes! I forgot that once I read that more people die from being hit by a coconut than from being bitten by a shark!
 

 


Eventually we decided to head out to see the rest of the village but Charmin, which was the oldest boy’s name, looked at us kind of sensing that we don’t really know what we want to do and asked:
‘Walk? Lake? Swim?’
We both looked at each other raising our eyebrows and I knew that Zach loved the idea as much as I did.

 
 

We grabbed our swimming stuff and followed Charmin walking towards the bushes. We could see he loved it: he grabbed a stick and vigorously cleaned the path in front of us from the bushes, that weren’t really obstructing our way. Suddenly he stopped, turned around and pointed behind our backs: ‘Sigiriya Rock!’.

That was a nice surprise! We had a beautiful view of the famous rock and the rice fields opening in front of us. We really loved it our there, it was quiet, warm, green and we had a wonderful local guide, who knew what he was doing!

 
 

We got to the lake and before we turned our heads, Charmin was already in his shorts, ready to jump in the water. I walked to the edge and saw myriads of little fishes…I really don’t like them and someone would have to pay me a million pounds to make me go to one of these ‘fish nibbling your feet’ places! But we could not disappoint our little guide, one of us had to have a dip. Luckily, Zach decided to be the brave one and I ducked out of swimming under the cover of taking photos of the two of them jumping.

Not long after Zach told me that little fish are literally nibbling on his whole body, a tuk tuk arrived and stopped at the stairs leading to the lake. We seriously still can’t get over how tuk tuks appear suddenly from nowhere! We counted as the people got out of the small tricycle. One, two, three…six!

They started to strip off and cover themselves with the towels, walked down the stairs and started a big washing up of their clothes and themselves. They didn’t seem to be bothered by our presence, but it did get a little bit crowded, so we started to pack up.
 

It still surprises me when I realise that the things, which I know happen somewhere in the world, suddenly happen in front of me! It’s such a big difference between watching something on tv or reading about it, and seeing it unfold right in front of my eyes.
Obviously I knew that there are people, who wash themselves and do their washing outdoors, but it’s not something that happens in front of me every day. So when I did see it, I was kind of surprised. All these thoughts suddenly appeared in my head:
‘Oh I’m so sorry for them that they have to do washing outside, in the lake. Oh they’re so poor! Oh I wish I could give them something.’
But then I got angry with myself for thinking in this western way! Because these people are not poor, nor bothered by their situation. They seemed to be perfectly fine with what they were doing. More than that - I’ve got a feeling that if I asked, they wouldn’t call themselves poor, nor do they want to change their situation.

On the way back, Charmin showed us another way, so we could better familiarise with some more of the surroundings, and together we whistled on the long green grass. What a cool kid he was!

Later in the afternoon, we headed out towards Sigiriya to buy Charmin some chocolate. We wanted to say thanks for an awesome trip. We didn’t want to give him money, as we both felt it wouldn’t be right to teach him that white people always give money.

He was really happy about the little gift and about the photos that I transferred from my drive to his laptop from our day out.
We definitely wouldn’t swap today for a climb up the Sigiriya rock! We loved every single thing about our day. As it turned out later on, there were even more surprises in store for us! We can't wait to share with you what happened the following day.