Sunday, January 17, 2016

Sources of inspiration: Sri Lanka // Elephant island // Sunshine, palm trees, elephants and smiles // Top 5 travel tips

Sri Lanka. You have stolen my heart. I just got back from a three week trip through this amazing green island. While uploading photo's to my personal Facebook page I cannot seem to get over the fact that once again I have come home with lot's of memories and stories to share. Usually after traveling I will make a top 5 of places to see. But first I will start with some of the stories about the warm and welcoming people I have met.

Sri Lanka has been on my bucket list ever since I traveled to India for the first time. The country always intrigued me. It is a small island south east from India. It adopted some of it's quirkiness and cultural customs but is very different from any other Asian country I experienced so far. The economy is growing rapidly and it is noticeable, the northern part of the country still is recovering from the war and you can still see some damaged homes but the area has been built up again.

I fell in love with it's inhabitants while I was visiting Chilaw. It was a hot and sunny day and me and my travel buddy decided to go and walk through the village and the rice fields. Tourists are not very common in most places except for the area's around the National Parks and beaches that attract surfers from all over the world. We walked for an hour or so and were continuously invited to come have a coconut and look around people's homes. We were taking a break in a families sitting room and chatted with the locals. It strikes me time and time again how welcoming people can be. People can be so open and curious to meet you. It is the best feeling in the world when you come from a place where everyone is in a rush not paying attention to the bigger things in life. A simple smile from a toddler, kids playing in the mud. With so little money they are living such a rich life and don't even know it. All right, before I get all preachy let's talk about all the high lights of the trip. I have seen wild life, gorgeous Buddhist temples, tea plantations and met some amazing individuals. Here is a top 5 of things you should really experience, can't miss! I fell in love with life all over again.

1 // The wild life
Sri Lanka is the island of elephants. You can see them in one of many National Parks or you can visit an elephant orphanage. I am so intrigued by these amazing animals, I remember seeing a wild animal for the first time while traveling through India and I fell in love with those creatures right away. Don't expect to be close to the elephants though, you may be able to find elephant rides but these are not very common, locals hate to see you jump on an elephant for a ride. As do I. Just enjoy them from a distance, take your time to watch the baby elephants at an orphanage and watch how they are getting to know the world, step on their trunks and try to keep balance with crossed legs. They are magestic and funny at the same time.

Sri Lanka has a very divers wild life and you can visit one of the numerous parks to spot not only elephants but also leopards, crocodiles, buffalos, birds and those pretty quirky peacocks... You can go either on or in the water, enjoy sea life, spot whales. There is so much to see! But be conscious, try to share your Jeep with other tourists and think about the environment, go for a sailing boat instead of one that runs on kerosene. Ask before you go. The parks can be very crowded and traffic jams in parks are actually a thing nowadays. Sri Lanka is not very much used to big crowds of tourists yet and has some maturing to do.

2 // The people
This is probably the main reason why I travel. Meeting up with people from different countries, they have different costumes and habits and make you rethink your way of life. They often rely on their families and communities, they think in 'we' instead of 'I'. Nothing is more healing and triggers personal growth more than a different perspective and an open attitude toward the unknown. I fell in love with the people in Sri Lanka right away. They are joyful, welcoming and very curious and eager to know what it is that attracts you to come and visit their country. Feel free to have a tea or a coconut with the locals. They will welcome you in their homes and will be happy to talk about their way of living, their family. From the big city of Colombo to the smallest little villages, people welcome you with a smile and a touch. When a smile approaches you, say yes. Let them take you along on a little peek inside their lives. Personal encounters will touch your heart. It is lovely to experience a country this way. I came home with a little stack of papers containing addresses of the people I have met. I made photo's and captured their way of life. Made selfless with the kids in Colombo, made portraits of a lady and her new born. Such precious moments. Now all I have to do is print them and send them. I cherish those little moments.

3 // The sun
Of course! Nothing is more healing than the sun. Sri Lanka is a tropical island and I had visit the country after the rainy season, everything was so green and lush. The island has some great beaches where you can wander around all by yourself. In the south/west there are lot's of tourist hotels if you need some easy comfort this is the place to be, you can also travel alone and stay away from the crowds easily if you visit the north/eastern parts. Enjoy a coconut, watch the locals play in the water under the hot tropical sun. It is a great getaway during our European winter. Relax, leave all stress behind and recharge in the sun.

4 // The Ayuvedic treatments
Most doctors in Sri Lanka have a degree in both western and ayuvedic medicine. I was talking to a doctor in Sri Lanka while visiting a spice garden and asked him if he knew anyone that suffered from rheumatism. He laughed and after a good minute he said "of course not." The entire Sri Lankan lifestyle and climate is a great place to have a break from my pain. The sun, but also the spices that are part of their every day meals, make me feel so much better. Go to a spice garden and have a chat with a doctor. Not in need of medical treatment? You can take an relaxing ayuvedic massage or detox body treatment depending on what you need. For me it does make a difference.

5 // The temples
There are lot's of places that are worth a visit. Dutch remains our VOC history, Portuguese architecture, but of course Sri Lanka has a lot of genuine heritage of it's own. Amazing temples with crazy high buddha statues located on the most breathtaking places on earth. The Dambulla cave temple, the Temple of Tooth, the detailed and colorful local Hindu Temples, the remains of Anuradhapura, Each and every temple has it's own story. Each and every temple is magical. Do take your time to enjoy as many as possible. Lot's of locals visit temples each day so be respectful and try to blend in. Locals visit temples in white colored clothes. If you want to fit in, dress in white while you visit a temple and cover your knees and shoulders.

I completely fell in love with Sri Lanka and it's people. There are so many things to do and see and taste. I could write a book. I personally felt Sri Lanka was a relaxing and safe place to travel by myself. If you have questions feel free to ask! If you'd like to see more photo's of my trip check out @littlesmilemakers on Instagram too. But this place on your bucket list!