#1 Sri Lanka (Aal Project)

#1 Sri Lanka (Aal Project)

Introduction: 2016 EPIC Adventure –

So after much deliberation the decision has been made to write a travel blog and I have finally gotten around to documenting this first post. Hopefully through these posts close family, friends and colleagues can stay informed of where we have been travelling on our 2016 EPIC Adventure (the name given in its planning stage, some time ago!), some of the experiences and mishaps that we have had along the way and perhaps learn something new.

Given that we are already 6 weeks into the EPIC Adventure don’t expect a high frequency of posts but more a summary of key experiences, thoughts and feelings.

First stop Sri Lanka –

In the dying hours on February 6th we landed into a very hot and humid Colombo night. The adventure had begun and we were already wrecked. Wrecked from a long day of travel. Wrecked from a frantic pack up in Melbourne. Wrecked from ticking things off a ‘to do list’ for a number of weeks. We were wrecked but as our driver drove us towards Colombo (in the middle of two lanes), with hot air passing through the vehicle, horns sounding and sweat dripping down my face whilst sitting a top our bike bags I felt alive. It finally sunk in. We were back in the developing world, on the road again and free to experience everything that it has on offer.

We had planned for Sri Lanka to be the first stop on our itinerary and then became very fortunate as it coincided with a fundraising trip for Ondru – a Melbourne based Arts not for profit. A friend – it’s CEO – Desh had first mentioned the concept to me a couple of years ago in the initial planning. We were to cycle 1,000kms across Sri Lanka, from north to south, to raise money for an arts project (Aal Project) to help rebuild communities devastated and displaced from 25 years of civil war. It was meant to be and after convincing Charlotte that she could do it too, we were on board. We knew it was going to be hot and we knew it was going to be challenging (both physically and emotionally) but we were on board. We were unsure what we would experience along the way, who would we meet? What we would eat? Will the roads be horrible? We knew it was going to be an adventure and a great way to see this beautiful island in the Indian Ocean just above the equator.

Starting from Thihagoda in the South we spent the next few weeks cycling 1,008.1kms along the coast, through national parks and through many villages both large and small. With a great crew of 7 riders, a local support van with a photographer/ videographer on board there was nothing stopping us… except for stray cows, goats, crazy tuk tuk drivers, tractors, trucks, other cyclists carrying an array of animals, sticks and humans etc., feral dogs, pot holes and head winds. I think you get the drift. Expecting the worse in terms of riding conditions was a good mindset to go in with. It was very hot and humid but surprising the roads were in a lot better condition than one would have assumed. All in all cycling through a country was a truly great experience. So engaging. So real. You can feel the heat/ wind, take in the sights and observe locals in their everyday life working in the fields etc.

We ended up riding 11/16 days in a row with a few community engagement days to build ties with local organisations, tertiary institutions and the community to try to understand or comprehend what those in the East and North (along with the rest of the country) have been through. I say the East and the North as this Tamil region is where we spent a lot of our time. Thankfully for us having 2x Tamil guides on the trip (Desh and his brother Bala) meant that we were able to learn the complexities of Sri Lanka, specifically those during and post the end of the war in 2009. We were able to learn a great deal about the social, political, economical and geographical environments and were very fortunate to do so. I won’t go into too much detail here but the people of Sri Lanka have been through a lot and some in particular have had it from all sides. The Sri Lankan government, the rebel group (Tamil Tigers) and other opportunist groups are all to blame for what remains today.

Starting in the south it was hard to believe a civil war ended here 6-7 years ago. Tourism was booming, people had big smiles on their faces and there was a sense of optimism in the air. As we started to venture into the East and North there was a shift. People still had smiles on their faces, but there wasn’t the same sense of hope and optimism for the future. Tourists were far and few between. The experiences and memories of the 25-year civil leave its toll. Witnessing a cute, innocent young boy (around 6 years old) about to throw a brick down onto a stray kitten (until we called out) is still vivid in my mind today. You have to think what would drive a kid of his age to think that that was acceptable behaviour? What has the poor child seen or experienced in his short life to date? The people of Sri Lanka have seen and witnessed a lot. The war is now over and it is time to heal and move forward. Bringing these communities together through art, to assist the healing process is what Desh had in mind. This is why we were here.

We greatly appreciate those who so generously donated to support this cause. It was an enriching experience and one that we will never forget. Thank you to the people of Sri Lanka who took us into their homes, provided such wonderful hospitality, feed our bellies with delicious curries and for openly sharing stories from the war (some speaking out for the first time). Also a big thank you to my lovely wife Charlotte for coming along on the journey. I know that riding a bike (or sport) doesn’t come as natural to you but you were an absolute trooper across the 1,008.1kms – even if your legs were hurting from day 2. Your friends can now actually call you an “Athlete”.

Post the ride the team went separate ways, some returning to Melbourne and others continuing their travels and seeing more of what Sri Lanka has to offer. I have to say that the team really made this trip amazing and it was great spending time with you and getting to know you all better. A big shout out to El Capitano, Chris and fellow cyclists Desh, Bala, Juzzy and Leonie!

We chose to head to the hill station towns of Ella and Nuwara Eliya for some hiking, cooler weather and tea drinking and then to Kandy (which is a very cool city) as our final stop. This was a bit of a cultural shock from the rest of the trip due to the tourist numbers. However we could see why the tourists came as the scenery was amazing and fast changing. It was nice to eat with cutlery for the first time in many weeks.

Sri Lanka really set the bar. An experience that will be hard to beat across the next 12 months.