The wild adventures of Sri Lanka!
Day 3,508 since October 10th 2013: 202 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home, min 24 hrs in each country and 1 pandemic!
(The opinions expressed on this site are my own, and do not reflect the position or policies of the Danish Red Cross which I represent as a Goodwill Ambassador).
The Pearl of the Orient
Some countries have a way of making it straight into your heart with lightning speed. Sri Lanka can do just that.
Last week’s entry: Reaching Sri Lanka onboard MV Maersk Gironde – passenger no. 1
“The Pearl of the Orient” already sounds pretty good! And the country just so happens to be able to carry it. My goodness a lot has happened in a week!! I mean A LOT!! Sri Lanka is a ridiculously happening place where you cannot stand on a street corner for ten minutes without leaving with a story. I love it!! People are very polite, very helpful, and very kind. I feel safe wherever I go and I’m hungry to explore more.
Mike arrived - again. And were both impressed with Colombo.
This week has however been somewhat restricted as Mike and I have a lot of work to do ahead of the much-anticipated arrival to the Maldives next week. Do you remember Mike? Mike Douglas is a Canadian award-winning filmmaker, he’s also a professional athlete and a lot more. We’ve been working on a documentary since 2019, which was initiated by Salomon, a French sports equipment manufacturing company founded in France back in 1947. I’ve been a “Salomon Ambassador” since sometime last year. The film project has grown and is now looking to become a full feature film which may very well end up on a major streaming service. So that’s exciting. Mike has joined me in the Pacific three times and flew in to capture more now while in Sri Lanka. A great country to capture lots of good shots.
This was our serenading tea salesman. And we learned a lot about tea too.
On our first day together in Colombo we sat out to get some lunch and walk the streets a bit. I needed a haircut and Mike needs some footage of trivial stuff so we turned into a small hole in the wall kind of place. The haircut was meticulous and was followed by a head massage. I’ve experienced that in other countries but this massage was almost an event and included my arms, my back, and my chest! It went on for much longer than expected and far longer than the haircut itself. Now Mike wants a haircut too. We then hit the streets again covering various shots and eventually opted to get into a tuktuk for a guided tour of some of Colombo’s landmark sites. Colombo is really an impressive city and it has a great mix of new and old. At one point we stopped at a factory outlet for Tea Gate Ceylon. Sri Lanka is famous for its tea. Inside the outlet I was recognized by the staff from a Nas Daily video about me and the Saga from 2021. It has been seen tens of millions of times. That made the visit a lot more fun and the nice fellow who explained the different tea varieties for us (very interesting) turned out to be a very talented singer and serenaded for us in a private session. Just wow! Lots of kindness again. Ninety minutes later I had a python snake around my neck! Unrelated of course. Mike and I were catching some shots near sunset on the water front. We came across a snake charmer with a cobra and a python. Show me a day in Sri Lanka where nothing happens and I’ll be amazed.
Not the only snake charmer I've come across in Sri Lanka. Children were running about barefooted near the snakes of this one.
As some small boats play important parts of the Sagas hardship, or at times solutions, Mike wanted to capture some footage of me on a small boat. We decided to try our luck at a small laguna called Fishery Harbour and caught a tuktuk to get there. Meals and transport rarely amount to more than USD 2-3. We found a small fisherman’s village and tried to make our way to the water. But we were stopped by someone who could have been a village elder? He invited us to follow him to a younger man’s home where we explained what we wanted. Ten minutes later we were filming while at sea in a small boat. Sri Lankans have been incredibly accommodating to our every request and it has made many things much easier than what we thought.
When Mike is with me, he’s the boss and I follow his plans. Mike is professional and knows what he wants. The films budget covers meals, transportation, and accommodation, and I become a bit of a passenger / actor within my own life. We work well together and I’m enjoying the process. At times it’s strange trying to behave natural while there’s a camera in my face but it’s also amazing what you can get used to. Mike needs city shots, nature shots, transport shots, and Sri Lanka can certainly deliver. Tuktuks, taxis, buses, trains - you’ve got it! After a few days we boarded the famous “blue train” and headed up into the mountains. First stop: Sigiriya.
Sigiriya straight ahead.
Do you remember the Savagars! That’s my second family, a family which offered to host me for four days in Hong Kong but ended up having me for five months when the pandemic broke out. A great family of four and we have obviously stayed in touch. They recently sent me a photo from Sigiriya. In recent years I’ve sailed with many Sri Lankan seafarers and I’ve often been told to visit Sigiriya. As such I was delighted when I heard it was in Mikes plans to go there. It’s sometimes called “the eighth wonder of the world”, and it’s a really good showcase for Sri Lankas beauty, culture, and history.
Mike photographing monks on top of Sigiriya.
Sigiriya is an ancient rock fortress selected by King Kashyapa (AD 477–495) for his new capital. He built his palace on top of the massive rock and decorated its sides with colorful frescoes. The area around it has been inhabited for some 5,000 years and continues to hold significance for Sri Lanka’s Buddhist culture today which was easily observable. Sigiriya is considered to be one of the most important urban planning sites of the first millennium, with its very elaborate and imaginative site plan and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982. It was pretty crowded as you might expect - but well worth the visit.
Great way to quiet people down. There were plenty of monkeys around Sigiriya too.
Rangiri Dambulla Cave Temple. A sacred pilgrimage site for 22 centuries. Buddhism has been practiced in Sri Lanka for 2,269 years and is the largest religion in the country.
We have spent a tremendous amount of time in transport and have overall covered relatively little distance. It has been fun to see Mike's take on what my life has been for many years. Some of these Sri Lankan drivers are CRAZY! :)
I really can’t cover everything we’ve seen and done. We’ve been busy and very productive. But I really should write a little about our 24 hours in Kandy. I found the city to be really nice and interesting. Kandy dates back more than 600 years and is known as the last capital of the ancient kings’ era of Sri Lanka. When the British empire took over in 1815 it ended over 2,500 years of Sinhalese monarchs.
Sacred City of Kandy
It’s a hectic city 500m (1,600ft) up into the mountains, and it's a place where something always seems to be going on. I really liked Kandy and it was apparent that there is much to do and see. However, we had a schedule to follow and Kandy was just a brief stopover on our way to Ella. The following day our train left at 11:00am which gave us a chance to take a very quick look at the Sacred City of Kandy in the morning. It is yet another UNESCO World Heritage site. I was impressed and lots can be said but the story I’ll share was when Mike and I separated for ten minutes. I was exploring the area while Mike was taking in the views near a walkway. When I returned to Mike I saw a chained elephant being lead by and Mike told of a tourist woman who almost as in a trance began to run toward the elephant with her arms wide open as if to give it a hug?!? Sri Lankans on all sides were screaming “NOOOOOO!” and got her to safety. Most of us know elephants as cute or majestic. In the village Mike and I stayed at near Sigiriya a wild elephant trampled a local to death the day before we arrived. Anyway, I left Mike for ten minutes and he had a story like that! Sri Lanka feels like real travel!!
I found it almost embarrassing to observe western tourists hunt for social media posts. Hanging on the side of the train for what? Some people would have been better served observing Sri Lankas beautiful landscape as the train passed through it.
There he is again with his camera. Never a break.
The train to Ella took us up above 1,900m (6,200ft) past lots of mountains, valleys and tea fields. In Ella we stayed at “Poomaz Peace Palace” and Pooma comes highly recommended - by us too. Ella is at about 1,000m (3,300ft) of elevation and was our setting for some hiking and trail running shots. Physical activity has been a huge part of my mental wellbeing but very rarely has it been filmed. Now it certainly has and Mike caught some amazing footage!! I found the "downtown" of Ella to be the kind of place with many tourist shops, bars, restaurants, and young people with tattoos. Plenty of guys in tank tops and women with dreadlocks. Loud music too. It kind of felt like an after ski region without the snow. Ella is however a beautiful spot surrounded by mountains and tea fields. The town gets its electricity from a hydroelectric power station and I got the sense that much of Sri Lanka is powered as such.
Good to be together with Mike again. And definitely good to have the company.
These sweet tea harvesters waved us over to take photos. Then asked for money. Lots of opportunism in Sri Lanka. And lots of kindness too. The women didn't ask for much and were happy to show how they pluck the leaves.
On the morning we left Ella I gained two good stories about Sri Lankan kindness. The first one occurred while Mike and I were waiting at the station for the train to arrive. All of a sudden Pooma came towards us on the platform with a big smile and my Garmin watch in his hand. “I believe this is yours?” Indeed, it was and I would have been sad to have lost it. Pooma went the extra distance to get it back to me. The second story took place on the train. We bought some samosas from a vendor and Mike had a soft drink. I wanted tea but the vendor did not have it so I opted not to drink anything. Then five minutes later the vendor reappeared with a cup of tea and a smile for me?! Where he got it from, I do not know? But he went the extra distance to accommodate me. I like those stories because they say a lot about the Sri Lanka I have come to know in a few days. There is much beauty in the landscapes, the culture, and the people.
My tea on the train and tea growing in the back as we glide through the landscape. "To travel is to live" - Hans Christian Andersen.
Sri Lankan food. Every meal has been good. Each and every one!
I have said this about other countries and I find it true for Sri Lanka too. It is an incredibly rich country in so many ways. But Sri Lanka has some rebuilding to do and is currently undergoing a financial crisis. One which the people feel but which is not apparently visible to short term visitors. It seems to me that all the building blocks have been delivered to Sri Lanka but that they have yet to be put together in an optimal way. I haven’t become this passionately invested in a country for a long time. I truly want to see Sri Lanka’s succeed. They deserve it.
Sri Lanka is at times modern, at times traditional. The train personnel had great uniforms.
By this time next week, I hope to be in the Maldives. It’s looking bright for a smooth crossing and I have received a great deal of support from Maldives State Shipping from the CEO of Male Port, and from Maldives Immigration. Behind the scenes we’ve been working on immigration issues as Maldives Immigration, doing their job, were questioning why a non-seafarer was planning to arrive onboard a container ship. These issues have as a few days ago been solved so that the path forward now appears clear. And we are also all set up for a minor celebration at a resort with a few friends, influencers, the CEO of project partner Ross Energy - and his lovely wife. Ultra-wifey too. All arranged and organized by my friend Jessi from Gambit PR. Jessi and I met in Oman (country no. 150) and stayed friends ever since. She’s amazing with PR. Finally, in early June I’ll join Maldives State Shipping back to Sri Lanka and Maersk from there back to Denmark for a then completed project. Fingers and toes crossed everyone. We’re about to tie a bow on the impossible. All possible due to the cooperation of tens of thousands of strangers turned friends all over the world. Thank you.
Great scene. And safe and friendly as can be.
I would like to thank our esteemed partners for their invaluable contributions to Once Upon A Saga: DB Schenker Denmark, Kameli, Red Sand Solutions, Salomon, the Danish Red Cross and Ross Energy / Geoop
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Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - in love with Sri Lanka.
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga