Peaceful Jaffna, still somewhat off the tourist trail
Deciding to head straight up to Jaffna with an overnight bus (blasting Sri Lankan music, I was so excited I barely slept!) was definitely a great decision to start getting acquainted with Sri Lanka. My couchsurfing host was an endless pit of traveling knowledge, eager to share his experiences and hear about mine! Although I did visit the main sights, my stay in Jaffna was mainly about chilling with Jonathan, exchanging stories, eating jackfruit, and drinking tea! The highlight of the visits was the scooter drive around the Jaffna islands with a fellow couchsurfer, stopping off at any temple and beach that called our attention, and even ferrying the scooter across to one of the unconnected islands on the roof of a small boat!
After 3 days in Jaffna, I was not at all ready to leave! However, a slight planning-panic before leaving India had led me to advance book accommodation in Ella, so it was time to move on!
Reaching Ella, and particularly my amazingly located accommodation, right by the rail line and with an amazing view over Ella Gap, was a great reward for the long overnight bus ride down from Jaffna.
Aside from amazing views, meditation sessions in caves and up on hill tops, Ella gave me some great new friends! Especially my homegirl Brendalyn, whom I started chatting with about the difficulties of solo traveling for women while visiting a sacred temple on my first day, and who I ended up hanging out with at the super apt ‘One Love’ bar, where we became friends with some local guys. With them, TWICE, we tried to meet up at 4am for a hike up Ella Rock to watch the sunrise, and, of course, neither time did we manage. Nonetheless, after taking a mid-morning hike up Ella Rock, and seeing the quality of the “paths”, I was quite glad we hadn’t attempted it at night!
Brendalyn headed on down to Mirisissa for some whale watching and scuba-diving, while I stayed behind in Ella a couple more nights: aside from my Ella Rock hike, I pretty much just chilled at One Love bar, and it was A.M.A.Z.I.N.G. Finally, however, the time came to catch up with Brendalyn down by the coast, so I headed on down, leaving the lush green hill country behind.
Unlike what I had been told, Mirissa ad some pretty beautiful beaches, and its tourist-peak season was completely bearable. Also…got to sight several blue whales while on a whale watching tour!
Over the 24hs I spent there with Brendalyn, we chilled and chatted endlessly, finding a million things in common in our very different lives, played in the waves like hyperactive children, enjoyed some pretty amazing food and ….several Margaritas, and saying goodbye sure was tough!
After she left, I went to stay with a Sicilian 69-year-old couchsurfer, with a treasure chest of experiences living in various countries since his 20s, and, of course, an amazing selection of food (pasta with octopus sauce!). During the day I chilled at the beach with local surfers and other travelers, as well as a couple of friends from Ella who came down for a night, and in the evenings I had delicious dinners with Vittorio, and listened to his life stories and millions of initiatives and projects…a pretty unique experience of Mirissa, I’d say!
With only a few days left in Sri Lanka, I though I should try to be a little beach-lazy, and get some culture in me. So I relocated to Unawatuna (still on the beach, only about 45min away from Mirissa), so that I could alternate some more beach time with cultural visits of Galle Fort.
My stay in Unawatuna was yet another wonderful couchsurfing experience. The Russian couple that hosted me have been on the road for 10 years, moving from country to country, settling down here and there for months of years at a time, while managing their online business. Needless to say, they had plenty of interesting experiences to share, as well as some fun group games!
Galle Fort was indeed beautiful, its strong and thick walls having protected its colonial heritage from the tsunami that hit that area in 2004. The Maritime Archeological Museum more than satisfied my cultural thirst, so the next day I proceeded to hang out at the awesome Jungle Beach with a couchsurfer from Colombo who had come down to the south for some beach time for a few days. Shikwu and I had such a great time (including swinging from a rope tied to a palm on a beach at sunset!), that we went back to Colombo together, and hung out there for a couple of days, until I left for Cambodia.
The highlight of Colombo was watching a Buddhist Poya parade, the biggest one to take place every year, although the chained up elephants dressed up in flashy cloths left me with mixed feelings.
Sri Lanka was a great real start of my solo trip, showing me how even when you travel solo there is no need to ever be actually alone (unless you wish to), and proving once again what a great platform Couchsurfing is for meeting like-minded people. Without a doubt, a home run!