Our trip to Sri Lanka lasted five nights, the longest of any of our challenges so far, and it was considered a “Par 6.”
The scoring for the Global Scavenger Hunt is not straightforward and isn’t worth explaining, but basically, over the course of 23 days, there are two Par 6’s, and they’re worth a whole lot of weight in the competition. The Par 1’s (like San Fran and Thailand) are worth the least, so we needed to crush this one to stay in the game.
I wasn’t looking forward to receiving the scavenge booklet because I knew it was going to take us away from where we were staying, and OH MY WORD, I sure did love our hotel.
It was a little odd at first, like stepping back in time to an old British colonial mansion set in the heart of Sri Lanka. Giant wooden staircases with red velvet carpeting, elevators that barely fit two people, long corridors and side staircases that would lead you mistakenly to the hotel’s museum (not that I did that or anything)—even the long, button-down uniforms of the staff screamed, “I’m from the early 19th century!”
But on our first morning in Sri Lanka, as I was headed down to breakfast with laptop in hand, I ran into another person from our group who told me about the breakfast buffet. “It’s amazing,” he said. “I just spent two hours there. You’ll see.”
I have a more extensive write-up here because it was my Joyful moment of the day—maybe of the week (maybe of 2017?)—but I’ll suffice it to say: I didn’t get any writing accomplished. The view was like a Hawaiian postcard, oceans and palm trees, with open air seating on the patios, and every breakfast food you could ever want, plus 50 more you never knew you wanted, were there, unlimited before you. English breakfast, American breakfast, Sri Lanken / Indian breakfast, omelets and pastries and yogurts and muesli and nutella and jams and peanut butter…
I had four courses that first day.
Nevertheless, upon reviewing our scavenge booklet, Mark and I knew we’d need to leave Colombo for a couple of nights. We had the option of 15 Bonus Challenges (maximum allowed to complete = five), ranging in points from 175-500, with the highest values taking us farthest away. Here’s an example of a bonus challenge, the 500-pointer, the one that Mark and I ended up doing first:
Train to Anuradhapura* and do the following:
- You MUST take the train one way, either to or from Anuradhapura, to obtain any points
- Visit the sacred tree of enlightenment, explain
- Pilgrimage from the Sri Maha Bodhiya, past the Brazen Palace, to the Ruwanwelisaya, be respectful
- Once the third tallest structure of the ancient world after the Great Giza Pyramids—visit and explain
- Find the moonstones and explain
- Get a Team photo atop Mihintale (Note: 200+ stairs)
* say that five times fast
The way you feel reading this today is exactly how we felt reading it on Saturday. Um. Where even IS that?
It turned out to be five hours north of Colombo by train, which we caught at 3:55pm. We left our map inside our hotel room in our haste to pack an overnight bag, so that made strategizing harder. Two of the scavenges involved visiting National Parks, which I would have loved to do, but we eventually found out they were far away and did not make logistical sense given the direction we started with and our limitations.
In the end, we decided to spend two nights “on the road,” completing three bonus scavenges, while also working toward the other 47 scavenges listed in the booklet.
It was exhausting.
I’ll break this entry into two parts because we covered a lot in five days. This blog will be the basics.
First of all, if you’re like me and had to look at a globe (or Google Maps) to pinpoint where Sri Lanka is, I’ll save you a bit of trouble: it’s just south of India. I was hoping to visit New Delhi because my good friend from grad school lives there, but I’m glad we ended up in Sri Lanka because it was so unique from any other place I’ve visited.
Some adjustments we had to make: no drinking water from hotel sinks. I learned this after I filled up my 32-ounce water bottle in the sink and drank the whole thing. Surprisingly, I was completely fine. I think growing up in New Mexico where we drink radioactive water must have paid off.
Secondly, this is a country that ranges between flushing toilets and squat toilets, which is a real delight when you’re carrying a backpack and purse, wearing a scarf as a skirt because your exercise capris are “too tight,” and the floor is soaking wet, it’s 140 degrees** with humidity, and there’s no toilet paper or soap in the bathroom. Let’s just say: thank goodness for antibacterial hand wipes.
**based on my degree of perspiration
People indicate “yes,” or perhaps more accurately, “okay,” by a head bobble that resembles a headshake “no,” and is sometimes accompanied by a “No, it’s okay.” I could never tell what the answer to my question was. It happened a lot when I was asking if it was okay for me to do something, like wear shoes or take a photo, so I would lift my camera and then put it a way, and do a back and forth until I finally realized they were saying I could take a photo.
The population is very devout. Buddhism is the majority; then Hinduism and Islam; and Christianity makes up only a small percentage of the population, although we did visit two Catholic churches, one of which was full of wall to wall people at 11 a.m. on a Tuesday. Much like the Orthodox churches I’ve seen, where they lay hands on and kiss the icons of Jesus, Mary, and/or the saints, the Sri Lankans do the same. But the Buddhist temples are where you find people of every age praying and making pilgrimages to sacred sites and waiting in epically long lines to lay their hands on Buddha and offer money, rice, and sweets. I couldn’t imagine what church in America would look like if that many people took their faith so seriously.
Tuk Tuks are everywhere. They even have a tuk tuk version of Uber. It took us a while to realize just how much they were overcharging us—a lift that would cost a Sri Lankan 300 Rs would cost us 1500 Rs., or maybe 1000 if we bargained. I don’t blame them, but sometimes it’s preferable to not know.
Markets are nuts. So much fruit. So many people. And these people are carrying huge bags of melons on their bare backs. It’s hard to not be in awe of them. Also, fun fact: Sri Lanka has the highest literacy rate in all of SE Asia.
Sri Lanka, in Sandskrit, means “Resplendent Island.” There is SO MUCH GREEN HERE. Bill asked us to take a picture of the greenest thing you can find and I think a collage of green things is better.
In part two I’ll share my favorite moments 🙂
P.S. The title comes from a bumper sticker I saw on a tuk tuk
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