My Subversive Grandmum, and a Sri Lankan Adventure

Lindsay here! As you may have read earlier, I travelled to Sri Lanka this past June as part of World Nomads' Passport and Plate program with Intrepid Travel. Here’s my first of a series of posts I’ve been writing for them, which I’ll be sharing here once a week. In the Fall, there will be three videos from kickass videographer Seth Coleman, who filmed my trip. I'm kind of terrified to see them, since I was sweaty and inarticulate the entire time, but I promise to share them nonetheless.

A huge, enormous, gigantic thanks to World Nomads for sending me to this extraordinary country. Here's post Numero Uno....

When I grew up, my Grandmum sometimes talked about her time in Ceylon. She’d worked there as a nurse with the World Health Organization in the 1950’s, and also spent years in India, Indonesia, and Iran. As a child, I listened to her stories, not yet realizing the country she called Ceylon was now Sri Lanka, or that she’d done an extraordinary thing. At the time, living and working abroad as a single woman was almost unheard of; the ‘ideal’ path was to settle down and keep a happy home for one’s husband and smartly-dressed children.

As a teenager, I finally drew the Ceylon/Sri Lanka connection, and as an undergrad, I interviewed my Grandmum and one of her old nursing pals about their work overseas. It was for a paper I wrote in one of my history classes, and their stories were endlessly remarkable – I couldn’t believe I hadn’t asked for them sooner. Hearing little old ladies speak of encounters with rebel fighters while driving Red Cross trucks through the jungle is surreal. Trust me.

My Grandmum passed away in 2010, having lived a fulfilling 94 years. After my recent trip to Sri Lanka, I desperately wish she were still around to talk about it.

I was one of three fortunate souls chosen to participate in World Nomads’ Passport and Plate Program for 2015. The first edition took place in Italy, and this year myself, Suresh Doss, and Mahsa Fratantoni were selected to board planes headed for Asia. I travelled in Sri Lanka’s central Hill Country, Suresh took to the south, and Mahsa headed up north. We were there to travel, explore, and (most importantly), eat.

I left Vancouver with my backpack, camera, enough sunscreen to protect my blindingly pale winter skin, and arrived 30 hours later in Colombo’s Bandaranaike International Airport. As soon as I walked off the plane, I felt an all-encompassing humidity, saw a Muslim man kneeling in prayer, and had that delicious, somewhat adrenalin-filled realization I was somewhere new.

I met up with Asanga (my guide for the trip), Seth, and Deepal (our driver), and together we set out on a seven-day adventure. We headed straight towards Kandy, our first of two bases for the trip. Located in the very heart of the country, the city is Sri Lanka’s cultural capital, as well as one of the last places to fall to colonization. This is a legacy they are proud of.

Our first hours were spent driving. I watched as the roadside, framed by our van’s windows, changed from scenes of a coastal city to the more lush, rural interior. We passed trucks filled high with jackfruit, tuk tuks loaded up with fresh bread, and endless coconut groves.

As we climbed higher, the tropical forests turned a darker shade of green, accented by colourful banners leftover from a recent full moon festival. We drove by bright white Buddhist stupas, colourful Hindu temples, modestly-adorned Christian churches, and mosques, all the while listening to Asanga as he described the country’s diversity and tolerance when it comes to religion.

Eventually, we stopped for a snack of sweet, starchy red bananas (my first ever!) from a roadside vendor. There were all kinds of fruits I’d never seen before, including musty wood apples, which looked like stones extracted from the earth's core.

Later, we pulled over by a bridge, got out of the van, and looked up. At first, I thought we were watching an enormous flock of birds circling over the river and congregating (very noisily) in the trees.

But no, Asanga pointed out that those ‘birds’ were actually hanging upside down from the branches, and we were looking at hundreds and hundreds of giant fruit bats. Eventually I looked down to the water, and watched as a water monitor (similar to a small crocodile) swam slowly to the shore, and crawled up into the grass. Yes, I was somewhere very, very new.

Check back next week for stories from my first few days exploring Hill Country……