I think one travels more usefully when they travel alone, because they reflect more.” — Thomas Jefferson
I’ve spent the last few days working my way from Tangalle on the south coast, to Unawatuna, to the fort city of Galle and to my last stop Negombo on the west coast. The only reason (and the best reason) anyone goes to Tangalle is for the beaches - and it did not disappoint. My hotel was at the end of dirt road and out my window was nothing but white sand and palm trees. I got up early in the morning, before it got too hot, to watch local fisherman bring in their catch, and then…well, that was pretty much the activity for the day. I sat under an umbrella, watching the waves crash, swimming, walking the beach and pretending to read.
My mantra is usually “what’s next,” but I have started to realize that sometimes, (just maybe), it’s as important to stop, to look, to listen and really be some place - not planning on how to get to the next one. These few days on the beach were my chance, before my trip came to end (and real life came rushing back), to really enjoy the ride, to relish what I had seen and to just be here, in one spot, with no plans for a few days. Call it intervention by vacation. I soaked up every minute of the sunshine, then packed up and headed north.
I stopped for two days in Unawatuna - another amazing beach, and just a 20 minute bus ride from Galle. Galle is a fortified city, established by the Portuguese in the 16th century, taken over by the Dutch and eventually by the British. But long before the western incursion, it was the main port on the island and a trading point for spices and goods. It is a confluence of architectural styles, a World Heritage site and the largest standing fortress in Asia built by European occupiers. It is surrounded on all sides by huge walls facing the sea and the land. To this day, you can walk almost the entire perimeter of the city on top of these walls. After doing just that, it was time to head back to the beach for one last day in the sun.
Traveling for nearly three weeks is an amazing opportunity. It can also be challenging. But it is always memorable - haggling with tuktuk drivers to try to get somewhere, trying to decipher a train schedule in a foreign language, or standing for two hours on a moving bus. It is an opportunity to learn about other cultures, and a chance to learn about myself - what I love, what I hate, and what inspires me.
It is also a stark reminder that the world keeps turning while I’m away. That is not a bad thing. In fact it means that the mundane stuff that consumes so much emotional and mental energy, is just that. mundane. The world is a magical and wonderful place. Watching couples walk hand in hand through a garden, teenage boys swimming in the ocean, old men sharing a breakfast on the beach after hauling in the days catch, families working together, and swapping stories with fellow travelers. That’s the good stuff.
We have but one life. The days are long but the years are short. Make the most of it. Find joy.