The Holiday season is upon us, so naturally it’s time to get the hell of out of the USA. An LAX traffic jam is basically my version of Candy Cane Lane this time of year. Who needs a partridge in a pear tree when you can be a basic bitch is a coach seat flying half way around the world? I know the suspense is killing you, so without further ado, I am pleased to announce that the 2018-2019 Christmas and New Year’s trip is none other than the post-civil war jewel of the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka. A quick overview of the agenda includes two weeks of jungles, elephant safaris, ancient ruins, temples, hiking, and plenty of beach time. Who is my travel companion, you ask? None other than the blog legend, Carly. You avid blog readers (all twelve of you) will remember Carly from taking shots to the face with me while sailing the Thai seas, taking pre-10am shots to the face with me while sailing the Belize seas, taking shots to the face with me before a 10am bike tour in Kyoto, and my favorite Carly travel memory of all – the time she left her passport on an overnight Guatemalan bus.
Since everyone is always curious as to how I pick my destinations, I’ll break this decision down for you. Back around May or June, a newly single Carly informed me that we were officially a go for a two-week trip. My first choice was Patagonia, but due to time and cost restrictions, a lack of lodging availability along the W-trek during this insanely popular time of the year, and my refusal to spend my ever-so-limited vacation freezing my ass off in a tent in the Patagonian wilderness, we decided to push that trip back a year or two and went in search of warmer climates. Once you factor in the 50 or so countries that Carly and I have traveled to between the two of us, the list of options narrows. Now factor our requirement to come home absurdly tan, our affinity for traveling as far from home as possible, and my innate ability pick the next up-and-coming destination just before it starts to pop-off, and the dart lands on Sri Lanka.
Be warned, flights to Sri Lanka from the US are absurdly long and expensive. Back in November the airline actually cancelled our flight and instead put us on a multi-stop trek that would require us to backtrack across all of fucking China. I spent the next two days calling every phone number for China Eastern airlines that I could get my hands on, waiting on hold for hours, and bitching out countless clueless, albeit innocent, Chinese and Indian call center workers. The only options for a decent flight were to extend a day or shorten our trip a day – I’ll give you one guess which option we chose.
All this flight confusion resulted in our first major travel snag – up until about 36 hours before our flight, Carly actually thought we were leaving a day later. We luckily cleared up that major miscommunication (it’s always in the google sheet, people!), and I was confident that our first major snag was already behind us. FALSE. I woke up the morning of our adventure sick as a dog. And luckily for me, the best way to incubate a cold is to take a 13-hour flight to a 7-hour layover to a 7-hour flight. I managed to sleep a majority of the way through our first flight by tranquilizing myself. Travel math for dummies: two codeine pills + two Xanax = nine hours of sleep. We spent our layover at the Shanghai airport in a sad excuse for a “VIP lounge” drinking disgustingly sweet sparkling wine and eating dumplings while I blew my nose for seven hours straight. Luckily, Chinese people tend to stay out of your personal space when they think you have the plague. So, ya know, silver lining.
By the time we landed in Colombo a full thirty hours after leaving home, I was a miserable sick mess. The real loser in this situation is Carly. Sick and tired Rory is not a fun gal to be around. She is a raging, cranky bitch. I was determined to get myself in bed in a hotel room as quickly as possible, so I went full zombie travel ninja on the Colombo airport. Immigration à duty free vodka à Customs à ATM à taxi in a solid ten minutes flat. Hell hath no fury like an impatient Rory. At least until the Friday night traffic of a third world country took a big shit all over my flawless Sri Lankan efficiency roll just as quickly as it had begun.
Our taxi driver couldn’t find out hotel – because that would have been too easy. He actually pulled off on the side of a road and asked “is this it?”. Dude, I’m a white girl you just picked up at the airport. Do I look like a fucking Sri Lanka Thomas Guide savant? We finally found it down the road, and of course our taxi driver “didn’t have enough change”. I muttered “ass hole” under my breath and walked away, because it wasn’t worth fighting over $2 after 30 hours of travel. It was the last crack on the line sheet of patience I had left. We were invited to have a seat in the lobby and a welcome juice while we checked in. I refused both and asked for my room immediately. They took one look at my miserable face and obliged. Don’t worry, I apologized for being rude the next morning. Twice. We went to straight to bed at 8 pm. I even skipped a meal for once in my life.
Saturday, December 22, 2018
The next morning Carly and I enjoyed a lovely breakfast on the rooftop of our hotel. I’m still blowing my nose in public, but at least I have a decent night’s sleep under my belt. Our driver for the next four days that I had arranged online, Pradeep, picked us up right on time at 8 am. Excellent first impression. Pradeep is a very sweet and polite Buddhist father of two from Colombo, Sri Lanka who understands when to speak and when to respect quite time during a four-hour drive, so I think we lucked out as far as driver/guides go.
We headed out to the cultural triangle, which is a treasure trove of temples and monuments in central Sri Lanka and once served as the home of Sinhalese royalty. Our first stop was the Dambulla cave temple, which are a series of caves at the top of a huge rock containing a few hundred Buddha statues. It took all of fifteen seconds of hiking up the rock for me to realize that I’ll be a hot sweaty mess for about 90% of the trip. It’s not so much the heat, it’s the humidity that will kill you. Once we reached the top, sans my face which had melted off, we had to remove our shoes and cover our shoulders and knees before entering the temple complex. So much sweat. So much. The cave temples were mediocre, but the views from the top were beautiful. I felt like we were making day 1 our bitch. Never get cocky on vacation my friends, never. Buddha always has the last laugh.
After lunch we headed to our next hike – Pidurangala Rock, I am literally at a loss for how to even describe this complete cluster fuck of a tourist attraction to you. Basically, you climb a big ass rock (Pidurangala) to get a good view of a different and far more famous big ass rock with a fortress at the top (Sigiriya Rock). We bought our tickets and were informed that we have to remove our shoes for the first part of the hike, which takes all of thirty seconds, because you pass by a temple, after which you can sit in the dirt and put your shoes back on for the rest of hike up. Not a lot of juice for the squeeze with this one, but fine, I’ll play by the rules. It was your typical sweaty Sri Lankan rock march until we had just about reached the top. This is where things take a turn….
We soon found out that there is one tiny opening at the end of the hike to get both up onto the top of the rock and back down. One creepy little hole that fits ONE. PERSON. AT. A. TIME. The “line” that had formed was more accurately a giant swarm off sweaty, stinky and confused tourists trying to shove their way past each other while balancing on rocks and hanging from tree branches. We weren’t even sure what was going on, so I told a group of Sri Lankan guys that I was going to slither my way around them like a snake and check out the situation – basically informing them that I was about to cut the shit out of this line, but in such an adorable way that they could do nothing but laugh. Carly and I tunneled a few feet ahead and emerged to find ourselves trapped in a swarm of tourists in a narrow rock passageway. The boulders began to close in around me and claustrophobia set in. Visions of being trampled by bodies in the two-way traffic jam flashed in my head. It was basically the Spartan 300 situation all over again. Yes, I’m being a bit dramatic, but I stand by my assertion that this was panic inducing. Especially for an anxiety-prone and impatient American who doesn’t enjoy being trapped against her will and with no warning while sweating through her shirt.
There were a few guys at the top entrance/exit hold (they are one in the same), who were attempting to direct traffic. They would let a few people come down, and then haul a few people up. All the while, the crowd is pushing their way up from the back while I’m balancing on a rock as thin as my patience. I was holding back tears. Damn near hyperventilating. Carly was trying to keep me from going full psychic melt down. We were contemplating if and how to cut our losses and turn around when a few people squeezed down and told us “it’s worth it! The views are amazing!”. Those negligent little ass clowns. Oh, did I mention that it started to rain while we were trapped? We waited (Carly, patiently, while me…not so much) and finally reached the top at which point two Sri Lankan men literally brute forced us up the rock face and we realized (1) it was now pouring, (2) the amazing view was covered in clouds, and (3) The line to get down was even longer than the line to get up.
Carly pretty much immediately got in line for us to get the fuck out of there and let me hyperventilate under a tree. The line was so long that eventually the rain subsided and the sun came back out, so we were at least able to enjoy the view. My Sri Lankan friends from earlier made it up to the top where I discovered that my new nickname was “snake girl”. I commiserated with anyone who looked half as frustrated as me, in an attempt to mask my anxiety with California girl sass (one of my specialties). I took a selfie of myself giving the finger to no one, which people seemed to enjoy. I even went over to the side of the rock, looking down on the throngs of tourists waiting to get to the top, and I yelled “turn around while you can! It’s not worth it”. Someone had to be honest with these people. Sure, the view was great, but buy a fucking post card. I wish those pricks had the decency to warn me.
Carly made a friend in line with a guy named Brett from San Francisco. Brett had just spent 10 days in some sort of ashram where no one spoke and he meditated all day, so he was kumbaya’ing the shit out of this situation, trying to turn lemons into lemonade. Thank you, Brett, for making me realize things could be worse – I could be trapped in a mute mediation camp. Perspective, people. After a long wait, we finally made our way through the hole, past the mob, and down the rock. Oh, and there was a lady with an infant in the mob below waiting to get up. A pale white infant. In a excessively hot, sweaty, treacherous mob. Fucking hippies.
We finally reached the bottom where we were once again required to removed our shoes and socks while we walk past the Buddhist temple. No. Just fucking NO. I refused. I marched down that path like a bat out of hell with my feet fully protected. One guy yelled at me that I had to turn around, go back past the temple, take off my shoes, and come back down. I looked that mother fucker square in the eye and silently mouthed “NO”. Hear me out on this one before you judge me. If this tourist attraction can’t respect its visitors enough to restrict or regulate the absurd crowds from whom they collect money, why the fuck on earth am I required to then show them respect by abiding by their customs? I’m done doing shit the Sri Lankan way for the rest of the day. We’re doing this the Rory way. With some common sense.
Back in the car lot, Pradeep could see the irritation on my face and swiftly drove us to our hotel, Sigiriya Jungles. We collapsed into the lobby for check-in, and Pradeep went to check into his room. The hotel provides the drivers with free accommodation (very common in Sri Lanka), however we were informed that since we booked our room online through a booking website, we don’t qualify for the free driver accommodation. Why must these people test me after the day I’ve had? You guys would have been proud of me. I did not flip out. I calmly told them that was unacceptable and that they could either find the homie a room or get me the manager. He folded. If you had seen my face, you probably would have too. It started pouring rain. I blogged. Carly went to the gym and worked out like a serial killer. Although she managed not to punch my whining ass in the face back at the riot rock, so I think she had some pent-up aggression to release. We went to bed at 9 pm. Sri Lanka is turning me into a party animal.