Oh boy. There we are. I immediately felt the hot and humid air when walking out the plane. Happy to have arrived safely (the plane had made quite some noise, which could only mean we had lost an engine or a part of the landing gear). We all went through customs and got our bags. A bus was arranged to drop us of at certain spots and around 1am (Sri Lankan time) we left for our accommodations in Colombo and around 2.30am we arrived. After communicating home that I had arrived, I went to sleep, only to wake up at 6am and so far my sleep cycle has adapted to that waking time.
Colombo was a complete culture shock for me. The city is full of chaos and noise from traffic. One can write a whole thesis about the honk culture in this country, which really is fascinating and one bus ride provides enough material for an entire season of a Dutch show called “road abusers”. I’m sure the drivers don’t want to crash into each other, but there are so many close calls that I can’t believe so many still have their size-view mirrors. Getting a ride in a tuktuk is also completely risking your life for two kilometres, which happens to be a lot more fun than it sounds.
It’s a very male dominated culture and (even if you dress appropriately) you are stared at a lot. This makes me pretty uncomfortable, but others don’t seem to mind as much. The city is also quite dirty. There’s much smog and in the first few days I almost stepped in a half-rotten rat and a fish head, which literally fell from the sky. But I found out it was a fish head after trying to talk to the crow that tried to eat it, since it looked like a weird piece of plastic at first. Conversation went something like this: “Hey little guy, you don’t want to eat that, that’s not fo- oh ooh.. okay.. never mind.” Did not see that coming. There is lots of garbage laying around and the one pond I saw had this bright chemical greenish colour; the kind of colour that the moment you stick your finger in the water, only bones will be left when you pull it out.
The apartment we stayed in was very nice and the view was fantastic, but I couldn’t wait to travel to Galle and leave the smoggy city. We arranged some beach houses in Unawatuna, which is a very touristic and pleasant area. Luckily all beds come with mosquito nets, otherwise I’d be one itchy mess. We had a nice tour through the old fort where the Dutch heritage is still present and it was very interesting to see and recognize certain things, like the language and the way a fort was built back in that time. The day after a bus tour was arranged, which brought us to Hambantota and on the way back you could be dropped of in one of the coastal towns of your own choosing. I decided to stay in Mirissa by myself. I really was in need of some time for myself. Challenge 1: Pack stuff for two weeks in a normal rug sack, which is actually not even that hard. Challenge 2: Leave without knowing where you’ll sleep that night. Big step for me, since I always prefer to know what’s going on and what I can expect. Challenge 3: Spend money on myself for fun, not out of necessity. Challenge 4: Dealing with all ranges of animals. The worst being the African cave spider. Note to self: DO NOT look up all spiders that inhabit Sri Lanka when still spending two weeks in a rural area and ALWAYS check your shoes before putting them on. I won’t particularly appreciate another close encounter with one of those spiders. Pretty sure I had an actual mini heart attack. But after sweeping him outside of the house, I called him Henk and gave him a job. He can stay if he eats the mosquitos. Then I don’t mind as much, just as long he’ll buy his own shoes and won’t try to take mine again.
So far I’ve been outside of my comfort zone sometimes more than I’d like, but so far succeeded in my challenges, which I’m pretty happy about.
The mosquito count so far is:
Times bitten: 9
Mosquitos smacked: 18
So far I’m on the winning side, due to my improved mosquito-slapping-skills.
Along all the personal challenges, we faced some challenges related to our assignment. We were tasked with interviewing micro and small enterprises and there were plenty; finding them was not the issue. Talking to them was. We went to Ahangama, Midigama, Weligama, Mirissa, Matara, Polhena, Dondra and Talalla to get a good feel of our research area. We lived like locals, but also like tourists, which gave us two equally important perspectives. There were many MSE's around and we talked to many small shop/restaurant owners, however their English skills left a great deal to be desired. It proved quite hard to ask questions about their perspective on the future and governmental intervention by only using our hands and feet. Still we managed to get usefull information and figure out how the future was most likely going to look.
We were travelling around a lot, using the local busses to cut costs, since tuktuk's were often ten times more "expensive" than the bus. The final week of the destination came around and we travelled back to Galle/Unawatuna to have the meetings with the teachers about the progress, but also talk about the thesis topics. Good thing we had started writing the report, since being motivated was difficult in the hot and humid weather, where the sea called constantly with some cooling freshness. This time, it was up to my classmate and me to present our findings in the Amari hotel in Galle and after doing so, we had some drinks on the rooftop bar to celebrate yet another ending of the second destination.
Leaving Sri Lanka was not as hard as Melbourne. It has not been a country in which I'd felt comfortable, so leaving didn't bother me much. I have, however, thoroughly enjoyed the happy hour Mojito's at Mirissa beach during sunset.