Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is a land of beauty. Unlike India, Sri Lanka has all the wonder and culture but without the crazy busy and bustle. I visited Sri Lanka in 2014 after six months living and working in China. It had a perfect balance of relaxation and with enough things to do and see. Plus, it was incredibly cheap and luxurious!

Our amazing view from the hotel room, what’s not to love with this?!

Colombo

Colombo was the typical hustle and bustle capital you’d expect. I stayed in a cool hostel where the staff were lovely and helped me out a lot (can’t remember the name of it so not much good to ya) but Colombo itself was just okay. I went to the zoo one day, and that wasn’t a great experience, and I didn’t see much else to be honest! Maybe I missed out on stuff, but Colombo wasn’t one of my highlights. Also, as a young female traveler, I did feel unsafe at certain times and wouldn’t have felt safe wondering around at night. There was one incident in day light where a man followed me for a while after stopping me and trying to talk to me, I had to get in a tuk-tuk back to the hostel. People were otherwise pretty friendly!

 

Tangalle

Luckily, Tangalle and all the other places we visited changed it all. We stayed in an absolutely stunning hotel with the most amazing staff, but the area was secluded, there wasn’t much to do locally and the sea at that time of year was too dangerous to even put a toe in! However, if a perfect hideout is what you’re looking for, Lagoon Paradise Beach Resort is the place for you! We were warned by the staff to stay out of the sea and rightly so because one man almost drowned with his son and needed rescuing after going in, and I erm, also got caught by surprise while I was walking along feet depth, attacked by an under-current, swept away with a wave, fully clothed and wearing my backpack which had my passport, purse, phone and Ipod in it… not ideal but I can laugh now! RIP Ipod.

I was quite lucky making friends with our tuk-tuk driver, who arranged for me to visit a local school one day. The ride there was lovely, we passed through rice fields and beautiful scenery. It was a lovely little experience; the children and teachers were so welcoming and allowed me to sit in on some of their classes and played games with me. They were all so excited to see me, but so keen to learn still. It definitely puts things into perspective.

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Sitting in on a class at the village school I visited for the day.
Pinnawala Elephant Sanctuary

The day at the elephant sanctuary was incredible. We got to see loads of elephants being washed, fed and walking through the towns and rivers. The scenes were just like from jungle book! It was lovely just to watch them and be around them, highly recommend this sanctuary.

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The elephants at Pinnawala!
Udawalawe National Park

This was another day trip, and it was spectacular, but a slight let down at the same time. We did see a black bear, mother and baby elephant and snakes in their wild habitats, which was amazing, but for a day in the scorching sun and in the back of a jeep, it was a pretty longgg day!

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Our beautiful hotel and them views….
Kandy

We just spent one day in the city, with a hired driver who knew all the sights, how to get there, where to eat and how much to pay. He drove us to the top of the mountain to the huge Bahiravokanda Vihara Buddha Statue which overlooked the city and Kandy Lake. We also spent time at the temple of tooth and temples around it, and watched a local show. The country is full of culture and religion, it’s beautiful.

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Buddha overlooking Kandy, Sri Lanka
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Kandy, Sri Lanka
All in all, Sri Lanka was lovely. For a chilled trip surrounded by beauty and culture, it’s perfect. I’d love to go back one day and explore more, I feel like it has so much more to offer still…

Me finally enjoying the sea! 

Indonesia: Living with the dead. Could you do it?

Don’t believe in magic? Never had a deceased person in your living room? Never watched an animal sacrifice? Visit Tana Toraja. It’s a land like no other. I’ve never had an experience like it. Tana Toraja is in South Sulawesi, Indonesia, and although it’s far off the typical tourist track, it’s worth a visit for sure.

 

The villages of Tana Toraja sit between rice fields and jungle mountains, and is an icky few hours drive through spectacular landscapes from Belopa. Although many villagers now identify themselves as Christian, many still uphold animistic traditions, and are completely at one with the dead. Believing in reincarnation and connecting with their dead, Torajans still practice the ancient ways of dealing with the dead.

 

When we visited, we were extremely lucky to be invited to a traditional funeral ceremony. We had no idea what to expect, and it still seems hard to believe. I’ve been to many funerals, but none compare to this one… this is not for the faint hearted (and put me off meat for two months) … you have been warned.

 

Firstly, the funeral was for a lady who died aged 116. Amazing right?! She had 109 grandchildren and had died two years before (imagine all the names and birthdays?!). Unlike our funerals, Torajans believe that the spirit stays alive, so they embalm the body and keep it in the house to care, feed, clothe and look after it. Funerals can take years, and the body stays with the family until then. The whole village save money together, and the family move into traditional housing which is protected by white magic. Torajans believe that no funeral can take place while there’s negativity felt. If people in the family are not getting on so well, then the funeral will wait until all relationships are fully fixed again. If a daughter is studying away at university, they wait for her return. It’s an amazing commitment.

 

Funerals can last days, and this one was four days long. Living more simpler lives, Torajans save all their money for lavish funerals. They feed their guests buffalos and pigs which are considered to be holy. The buffalo and pig are killed at the ceremony, and given as a sacrifice to the gods. The more that are killed, the more wealth is represented of the deceased family. On our visit, we watched the slaughter of around 11 buffalo. Slit from the neck, bleeding out, then skinned in the main arena, family and friends watch and celebrate the sacrifices. I’ve never smelt, or seen anything like it. Words cannot describe.

 

And for someone from the West, who’s meat is purchased from a packet, and who’s dead are buried within days, it was completely shocking. But, thinking about it now, it’s remarkable and beautiful. Adults and children were at one with the dead, at complete peace, with no taboo or awkwardness. The children were not wrapped up in cotton wall, their eyes were not covered, and there was something so beautifully natural about their connection to the dead. After all, it is the most natural thing in the world, right?! We could definitely learn something from them.

 

Once the ceremony is over, the dead are buried in caves, trees and homes made for them. They’re never forgotten about, and are regularly given gifts of food, money and cigarettes by their friends and family. And every few years, they’re taken out of their caskets, cleaned, greeted, and celebrated all over again. Torajans believe that the magic of the land helps protect the community, and keeps the dead more alive.

 

Tana Toraja is literally a land full of magic, and celebration of life and death. The people were friendly, kind and so hospitable. I encourage every single one of you to visit this enchanting community at some point in your lives!

 

And here’s the latest BBC documentary which explores Tana Toraja for those who want to see more: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b08p0z6x/our-world-living-with-the-dead

 

Thanks for reading!

Have a good day,

V

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