JUNGLE BOOK – Welcome to Sri Lanka!
As you grow older, it becomes painfully clear this paradise only exists in childhood fantasies, not in our current everyday world. Or does it?
The first time I paddled out at an unknown surf spot in Sri Lanka, I was greeted by two sea turtles that were frolicking around in the surf, surrounded by an abundance of colourful fish foraging on the reef. Afterwards, walking back along a palm-fringed road, I watched monkeys swinging in trees, a snake slithering through the undergrowth whilst a lizard made a suicidal attempt to cross the road, trying to dodge a huge lorry carrying a live male elephant standing on the back of it. It was then that I realized Kipling’s Jungle Book was not a myth after all: welcome to Sri Lanka.
Named ‘venerable gorgeous island’ in Sanskrit, this island state in the Indian Ocean belonged to several colonial powers before gaining independence in 1948 – through unusually peaceful negotiations. Torn by a 26-year long civil war between the infamous Tamil Tigers and the predominantly Sinhalese government that only officially ended in 2009, former Ceylon was considered a no-go zone for several decades. To add insult to injury, the country was also struck by the 2004 tsunami, destroying a substantial part of the coastline, and displacing one and a half million people from their homes. But after overcoming these hardships, great natural and cultural beauty still remains, making it a travellers’ treasure: golden sand beaches, mountains, mellow waves, Ayurveda, multiple UNESCO heritage sites and LOTS of wildlife.
The predominant religion is Buddhism and hugely intertwined with everyday life: monks dressed in their classic red robes of all ages are seen walking along the road or train tracks going about their daily business, whilst innumerable buddha statues greet you with their serene smiles on nearly every corner.
Unfortunately, as a solo, western woman, you quickly realize the Buddhist belief doesn’t seem to affect the way regular local men treat you. Nowhere on earth have I been harassed as much as on this island: from foul comments, dirty gestures to unwanted groping, with the pinnacle of violation probably being a local tuk-tukdriver who actually licked my arm. It doesn’t matter how covered up you are, you are Western, so you must be promiscuous. The only effective repellent was having male companions and wearing a ‘wedding’ ring.
Should this deter you as a solo female traveler from embarking on a journey to this place? Never. Just keep your wits about you, and except that this is part of common traveling hardships. And also because there are too many good things outweighing the bad: did I mention the unrivaled red curry yet? Potentially finding just-hatched baby turtles on the beach on your surf dawn patrol and releasing them yourself? Washing an elephant together with his mahout? Finding an icecream tuktuk EVERYWHERE? Hanging on the outside of a riding public train just because you can? Driving a tuktuk yourself?
Please explore this jungle and find your own inner Mowgli.