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A Treasure Island Called Home

Written by Sonia Dandona Hirdaramani

Sonia has been a big supporter of the T&T community and we are so proud to see her beautiful writing in the Daily Mirror last week. We felt the whole community could relate to her article and would love to learn of other peoples experiences. Get in touch on [email protected]

Special thank you for the Daily Mirror allowing us to reprint. 

Like most of us, it has now been a year since I left Sri Lankan soil. A New Yorker, turned islander, I have lived in this tropical paradise for over 12 years, but, truth be told, I really never immersed myself in island life so completely before, as I have in this past year.

Prior to the pandemic, I appreciated the quality of life in Sri Lanka, but I always seemed to have one foot here and one foot abroad. Meetings, conferences and trips to see family and friends were made possible by frequent flier miles and generous deals offered by our travel agencies. All of this travel was at the expense of my complete transition into my Lankan life. There were disconnects in friendships, zombie-like weeks spent getting over jet-lag and dependencies on imported food and personal products (which brought continuity and a sense of the familiar to my life here).

With the pandemic, international travel came to a grinding halt and so did my shipments! I ran out of my vitamins, but I have replaced them with trusty Samahan. I ran out of my tylenol, but I have replaced it with soothing Siddhalepa Ayurvedic balm. I ran out of my protein bars and have replaced them with vegan energy balls from new healthy spots popping up around Colombo and instantly available through a press of a delivery app.

When travel within the country opened up, I had a Sri Lankan tourism epiphany; my domestic wanderlust was awakened. Prior to then, I had tunnel-vision for the beaches of the south. I had rarely availed of the wide spectrum of experiences beyond those beaches, all accessible by car. We took several road trips with our friends, taking advantage of special local rates and holiday deals.

During the course of 2020, we visited, arguably, the eighth wonder of the world, Sigiriya Rock, trekked in hills of Ella, ziplined near the historic Ravana Falls, visited the ancient city of Polonnaruwa and riverbathed near Kandy. We witnessed nature’s miracle of the elephant twins in Minneriya and watched majestic Sri Lankan elephants and leopards on the prowl in Yala and Kumana National Parks.

We lay out on the pristine sands of Kalkudah, snorkeled in the crystal-clear waters of Pasikudah and surfed the waves of bohemian Arugam Bay. We devoured the innovative culinary offerings at Hiriketiya’s cafes, practiced yoga in a shala in the jungles of Unawatuna, swung off of palm trees in Talpe, shopped along the quaint peddler streets of Galle; all while making pitstops to snack on local delicacies and saying silent prayers of gratitude as we passed Sri Lanka’s astounding collection of rarified kovils, temples, churches, mosques and Buddha statues, seemingly at every turn.

Gone are my bouts of “islanditis,” when navigating the cultural nuances and language barriers that sometimes exasperated me. Or when how “small of a world” Colombo is sometimes got to me. Ironically, many of my Sri Lankan friends vented similar sentiments and often had more acute cases of the said condition! After the isolation of the curfews, however, I appreciated living in a smaller city, kind of like the old Cheers theme song, “Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name…”

Despite the aggravations of travel in the post-covid world, I know I will have to board a flight at some point this year to see my family. “Old habits die hard” and perhaps the international travel bug will manifest again, but until then, I have a long list of 100% Sri Lankan bucket list items that I want to tick off! The sacred relics of Kandy, waterfalls of Koslanda, dolphins of Kalpitiya, mangoes of Jaffna, white water rafts of Kitugala, caves of Dambulla, pristine waters of Trincomalee…here I come!

Reprinted with permission from the Daily Mirror.