Kandy, Sri Lanka’s second-largest city, presents itself with a large lake surrounded by hills. AKB and I walked the periphery of the lake every day, leaving our guest-house’s perch and strolling down the hill into town. With just enough bustle to make it seem busy, Kandy held just enough attractions for us to stay a few days, enjoy good food and beer, and see some sights. Actually, there was one fairly awful meal at a near-empty restaurant recommended by Lonely Planet. Ugh. Those guide books suck the more I use them. I won’t go into details here — we will post a video once State-side.
The main attraction in town is Temple of the Tooth, an active temple that purportedly houses one of Buddha’s teeth. I call bullshit — one cannot actually see the relic, nor are there any pictures. May as well be Schrödinger’s dentures. Still, the grand temple was worth a visit. And, I suppose, so were the various Hindu and Buddhist temples in the area. Still, AKB and I were, well… underwhelmed. There. I’ve said it. Maybe it was just that point in a traveler’s journey when he gets homesick, or fed up, or just plain saturated. I think some combination of those was at play. As was the torrential rain. But when it comes down to it, Sri Lanka has little to offer in terms of nightlife and hors-museum activity. Rather, AKB and I entertained ourselves with crummy HBO movies and lakeside wildlife (seriously — we saw hundreds of giant bats and a six foot long lizard on that lake.) Maybe we were missing something, but all of a sudden Mr. and Mrs. independent traveler here were craving some semblance of nighttime activity beyond a half-empty shopping center.
We moved on to visit the towns of Sigiriya, Polonnaruwa and Anuradhapura. Each had spectacular ruins — Sigiriya’s attraction is an ancient fort atop a huge rock, and pretty incredible. But again, beyond the archaeological stuff there was little for us to do but complain. We’re in a bit of a rut, see, and both are never satisfied.
Let me be clear that I was not entirely disappointed in our Sri Lankan adventure: the food is incredible, the dagobas and Buddha statues are stellar, and the vibe is pleasantly laid-back. But let me acknowledge some unmet expectations. Perhaps more entertainment of some kind, maybe easier travel, buses with ventilation, less humidity, cheaper accommodations… More importantly, I think I expected better adaptability on our part. See, rewarding travel always has its costs, and AKB and I paid a lot forward with patience — an intolerable bus journey becomes worth it when the destination shines, no? But by the end of our stay here we felt let down. We had no reserves left to adapt to the situation, and were quickly over it.
It’s a romantic notion to think of oneself as an explorer of distant lands, etc. But we’re not treading new ground here — we’re following a guide book, after all, and fall prey to the expectations set therein. As much as I like to think of myself as an minor-league adventurer, I am coming to grips with the fact that I have an established set of Western standards, that I like something to write home about, clean bathrooms and a good cup of coffee. I guess I’m realizing that I’m in my thirties now.
We left Sri Lanka yesterday and landed in Varkala, on the India’s southwestern coast. It is tourist-central here, and I am fighting off my prejudices (having seen very few white people over the last few weeks, we are suddenly surrounded by blonde-dreaded twenty-somethings and yoga tourists.) I am fighting my natural urges to be different. I am embracing the open-air restaurants. I’m secretly sneaking glances at the “ethnic” wares on offer along the strip. I am sunbathing and swimming. I am enjoying my sea-side cappuccino. It ain’t so bad after all.