Travel Sri Lanka: The Real Deal with Margo Schlossberg
Tell us about yourself! What do you do when you’re not traveling the world? Where do you live? What made you decide to travel Sri Lanka?
I currently work with a startup called JumpIt Pass and live in Reston, Virginia, a somewhat conservative suburb of Washington, DC. I have wanted to be an entrepreneur since I was 10, when I invented the “microwave briefcase” for my dad so he wouldn’t have to eat airline food when he was travelling for business.
At 22 I worked two jobs to save money and left with my backpack for Australia. This was my first overseas trip. From Australia I ended up in Kupang, Indonesia, and the adventure and taste for travelling began.
I decided to go to Sri Lanka because I heard someone talking about it while I was having a cup of coffee in a cafe. Honestly, I knew almost nothing about the country but I am so glad I went. I learned a lot and met the most incredible people in a country dense with palm trees, which is like something straight out of Where the Wild Things Are.
How long did you go for? How did you spend your time?
I was in Sri Lanka for two weeks, which was not nearly enough but I had to get back to work. The two weeks felt like much longer because so many things would happen in one day! I spent half my time visiting temples and half the time at the beach. They were both very different experiences.
I have never been the type to hire a driver, but at the airport I was very confused about how to get around and how to get to Habarana, so I hired a driver named Paul. Paul taught me a lot of things about the country and the culture, some intentional and some unintentional! Paul was also working at a new guesthouse that he was just in the process of helping get off the ground. They grew their own spices and vegetables, and since I was the only one there I got a private cooking lesson with the chef/assistant, Chandane. He was a wonderful chef and a lovely person to talk to. My evenings were spent in nature hanging out with Chandane and Paul, talking and eating and drinking.
The next part of the trip was spent at Nilaveli Beach. This was in the Tamil part of the country, and there was some visible damage still from the war (you could see where palm trees were growing back after being shot down.) The people were nice for sure but they did not seem to smile quite as much. A bunch of young guys from the south worked at the dive shop across the way. I spoke to them about their lives and what they had experienced. It was very intense listening to them.
It was the low season, so I went to inquire about another hotel. When the door opened there was nobody there, it was actually just a cow coming out for some fresh air! It didn’t have an answer for me about hotel prices!
My second driver, Nissanka, took me back to Columbo for my flight home, and we stopped briefly in Kandy on the way back, where he bought me popcorn to feed the fish. We stopped at a beach near Colombo, where we could drive the car onto the beach. Nissanka was Buddhist and he had to do a prayer sign every time we passed a Buddhist temple, but being paranoid I tried to help him by doing them for him so he could keep his hands on the steering wheel!
What were your most memorable experiences? What were the biggest disappointments?
One of the most memorable experiences was trading candies. I had brought some Twizzlers with me and Paul had some traditional Sri Lankan candy. We traded and he took the licorice, looked at me and said “this is the worst thing I have ever tasted!” I was aghast!
Second, playing with the Tamil kids outside at Nilaveli beach. One was a baby who dropped something on the ground and the grandma gave it to her to put it back in her mouth! That was something you would never see in America. Playing games with the kids and having them teach me how to play these crazy games was so fun.
Disappointments: I have been to many Asian countries but the trash and stray dogs in Sri Lanka were really bad. I did have this weird experience where a guy was following me on the beach and one of the stray dogs went up to him and barked really loudly at him and kind of scared him off, and then came and fell asleep at my feet!
What do you wish you knew before you went?
That the transport and infrastructure are not the same as in some other Asian countries. That it is a little bit expensive still, and that there are very definitive high and low seasons, which made a difference at the beach.
Some of the older women at the temple in Habarana probably had not seen a lot of tourists, but I have traveled enough that being stared at does not bother me.
I had a problem pulling up my ticket at the airport in Colombo because I thought I would be able to get on the internet, so that caused me a lot of problems. I ended up sleeping in a hotel that night so I could up my ticket (very long story). But this also gave me a chance to see some real kindness, which I think is what makes Sri Lanka so extraordinary. The driver came back and got me the next day to go to the airport, stopped and brought me a coffee without my asking, and it was that simple thing that meant the world to me. His helping me and knowing that I might need a wake up. That’s the stuff you just can’t really put into a travel book, the kindness and thoughtfulness that is abundant in Sri Lanka.
Any favorite restaurants/hotels/hostels/
sites you’d like to recommend? Tell us what made them great!
Nicoya Safari Resort is open for business now. It is a beautiful property with fresh grown herbs and a great chef. I highly recommend both sleeping and dining here. I also recommend Winston Beach Guesthouse Negombo. For Aryuvedic Massage I recommend Sigiri Dasuna.
Is there anything that women specifically should know before they travel to your destination?
Overall, nothing different than travelling in other countries. Most of the men are lovely and respectful, but there are a few bad apples. Also, as I have experienced in other countries, there are certainly those younger guys (or maybe not so young) who have seen sex movies and think that American women are all like that. They want to get drunk and crazy, so you just have to let them know that what they’ve seen is just fiction, and that the stack of pirated DVDs they have been watching are not really true to life!
Top image: Iris Liu (Creative Commons)