Walking the length of Sri Lanka (part 1)
A slow adventure, walking Sri Lanka from its most northern to its most southern point
Once I found myself on the plane to Colombo, I could definitely feel the butterflies in my stomach: was walking the length of a country a good adventure idea?? Have I underestimated the task ahead? Will I cope with the heat? Will I be able to cover the daily distance I have planned? All these questions kept coming up in my mind during the entire duration of the flight to Sri Lanka and also during the train journey that took me from Colombo to Jaffna, the starting point of my walk.
Listening to a few talks about long distance walking journeys definitely planted a seed in my mind...every time I hear someone telling tales of any sort of adventure, I always wonder if I could do the same and a walking trip seemed something I could plan in a short time and that didn’t really require much investment in terms of gear or preparation.
The destination chosen for my slow adventure was Sri Lanka: I didn’t want anything particularly remote and it looked just about the right distance to cover in the time I allocated to my challenge. In addition to this, I heard great things about this country and it offered a great insight into a culture I didn’t really know much about: overall it felt like a good slow travel destination!
Getting off the train in Jaffna was definitely a relief: no more thinking and time to turn that silly adventure idea into action; first though I had to find Point Pedro, the actual most northern point in the country. In my mind I was expecting to find a busy train station, with tuk tuks, buses and lots of people around me but instead, probably because it was still very early in the morning, I found a station almost deserted, not a town in sight and the few people around me had no idea of the place I was trying to reach or why I wanted to go there! How funny that the first challenge of my walking adventure was finding a bus that was going to take me to my starting point! Although a bit later than planned, I was eventually standing next to the sign confirming that this was the northernmost point of the country and, after taking the obligatory pictures, it was time to head south!
The route I designed for Day 1 was about 33 km long and, after about 5 km following the coastline, it was time to head south, leaving the ocean behind me, a sight that I was going to see again in about 2 weeks.
The first day definitely boosted my confidence! The route I planned wasn't too difficult to follow, I wasn’t getting lost and all the people I met were really friendly: curious to see a foreigner walking around with a rucksack in an area where they definitely don’t see many tourists but, at the same time, I wasn’t getting that overwhelming attention that I somehow feared and expected. My legs were also feeling strong despite the general lack of sleep in the 2 previous days: my pace was reasonably fast probably thanks to the new landscapes and to the adrenaline still running high in my body so, before I knew, I completed my first day of walking. Most of my worries started to fade away after just one day of walking and this trip was shaping up like a really enjoyable slow adventure: the human brain works in a really strange way and, after just a few hours of practice, I became really confident in doing something that just a few moments before was scaring the s**t out of me!
The first section of my trip would take me across the northern province of Sri Lanka, an area that only a few years before was totally off limits to tourists because of the civil war that affected this country for more than 20 years. While the army is still very present and minefields are still being cleared, I had the impression that the population definitely moved on from those dark days. To my eyes, at least, it looked a totally pacified country where people of different ethnicity and religions now live side by side and I really struggled to picture why such friendly and helpful people were fighting against each other only a few years before.
One of my main concerns about this form of travel was boredom: for the first section of the trip, I was pretty much following one main road so I was not really expecting much action or excitement! This was true but only to some extent: in reality there was always something going on around me that would have distracted me from the long straight line I was following: sometimes it was a nice view or someone stopping me for a chat or maybe a local market, I never had to wait long until something would catch my attention.
This is what really attracts me these days about going to new places: it’s less about visiting the main touristic sites or monuments and more about mixing with the day to day life of the local people, experiencing the real side of the country and not the polished, “picture perfect” sites.
The first few days went quite quickly as I smoothly proceeded to Anuradhapura, the ancient capital of the Ceylon Kingdom which marked the first half day of rest after over 200 km of solid walking. My morale at this point was running very high as I realized I was able to cover more than the 30 km per day I had initially planned and that food, water and places to sleep where always fairly reasonably accessible.
The highlight of the northern section of my trip was the old rock fortress of Sigiriya, one of the must see sights of Sri Lanka. The day before reaching it turned out to be the longest walking day of the entire trip, covering a distance of about 49 km but, in return, the following day I would have enjoyed a gentle jungle walk and some sightseeing (which included 1200 steps to the top of the rock!).
Leaving Sigiriya behind me and, after enduring a fairly miserable day mainly because of busy traffic on a fairly narrow road, I eventually got to reach Kandy, marking the end of the first section of my slow adventure“Walking Sri Lanka” and rest day after walking about 380 km!