Negombo - The Rome of Sri Lanka
Trip Start Nov 29, 2013
100Trip End Jun 11, 2014
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Although conditions in Sri Lanka were never bad enough to prevent tourists from visiting the country, an armed conflict made parts of the country off limits until about five years ago. The majority of Sri Lankans are Sinhalese Buddhists, but a Tamil Hindus minority dominates the northern part of the country. A group among them, the Tamil Tigers, fought against the government for several decades with much death and destruction. The ceasefire that was signed in 2009 has held, and conflict-free ri Lanka has been one of the world's fastest developing economies since with tourism growth contributing to the boom.
I thought I’d try to take Sri Lanka and the Maldives in during the time I had between my two overland tours with Dragoman since I was already in the South Asia neighborhood more or less. I chose a combined tour of the two countries with Explore, a British budget-oriented travel company quite similar to Imaginative Traveller, the company I worked with as a tour leader in the Middle East in 2004. My two week Sri Lanka tour would take in most of the sights in a broad circle in the country that makes up a quite standard tourist loop.
My overnight flight from Kathmandu to Sri Lanka was via Doha on Qatar Airways. Although considered one of the world’s best airlines, my five hour flight to Doha was absolute hell with a family with a baby shrieking its head off for most of the flight. Yes, some babies cry in the unfamiliar conditions of a flight and stress of the light and sound during hours they’d normally be sleeping, but this baby didn’t just cry – it screamed the whole time like it was demonically possessed
Colombo is Sri Lanka’s capital, but the main international airport is about 25 miles north near a coastal town named Negombo. The airport was clean, modern, and thoroughly first world, quite a contrast to the one in Kathmandu which reminds me more of a bus station. I paid for my visa, cleared customs quickly, and grabbed a taxi to the hostel (actually more of a B&B or homestay in someone’s home) I had booked for two nights and crashed for about four hours
Negombo is a significant beach resort and a fishing port as well as the gateway to the airport. The town is sometimes called sri Lankan Rome because of its mostly Christian population and the fact that many of its people have lived and worked in Italy and can speak Italian. Christians overall make up less than 10% of the country’s population and are concentrated in coastal areas most influenced by Dutch, Portuguese, and British colonization.
I spent two days on my own exploring the area, relaxing on the beach, taking in Sri Lankan cuisine, and finding a barber to rid me of long hair and 7 weeks of beard growth so I’d be able to survive the sweatbox that is Sri Lanka. I then met my tour group at Hotel J. Our first morning we visited the town’s busy seaside fish market and then went for a toddy tapping demonstration on our way northwards. Toddy is the sap from palm trees (think of how maple syrup works) that’s harvested up high and then fermented into an adult beverage. I honestly wasn’t too impressed with this palm wine.