After a few weeks of traveling solo through city hubs of Singapore and Malaysia, I was ready for a challenge. I was ready for something different, something that would scare me a little bit. A travel buddy recommended Sri Lanka: “It was my favorite part of Asia, it was unlike any country I’ve been to. The people, the culture, the food, it’s just different.” This was my calling. So, I spontaneously booked a flight to Colombo, Sri Lanka from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and didn’t plan one single thing. No hostels were booked, no Couchsurfing hosts were contacted, no idea of where to go or how to get there. All I had was my backpack full of the same wrinkly clothes I’d been wearing the past couple months and an open mind.
After a night spent cuddled up on the Kuala Lumpur airport floor, I was eager to get on the flight. I waited in line and passed the time talking to an older Australia man who resembled a gypsy. He had rings on every finger, purple hair, and several Hindu gods tied around his neck. “Next,” said the attendant, it was finally my turn to check in. I approached the counter and handed over my passport. The woman scanned it, then look up at me with wide eyes, “Did you apply for a Sri Lankan visa?” she asked. Fuck.
Turns out you need a Visa to enter Sri Lanka (I had no idea), so the airport attendant told me I was going to have to apply online for entry into Sri Lanka which takes at least 8 hours…! Fiddle sticks, I couldn’t afford missing my flight and definitely didn’t want to spend another night on the airport floor. My eyes began to swell with tears and I begged her to help. She paused, sighed, and told me I had 10 minutes until she was off duty. She said within those 10 minutes I was to book a return flight out of Sri Lanka and if I had that, then she would excuse my lack of Visa and allow me to board the flight… Shit. I only had 10 minutes and no clue of where I was going next.
I rushed to the nearest Starbucks, borrowed some wifi, and frantically searched for flights. See, I have this style of traveling, maybe I should call it roaming, where I just let the wind take the sails and see where I end up. I stared at my computer screen. Fuck. Where to next? I wanted to stay at least a month in Sri Lanka and hoped of going to Myanmar at some point, but couldn’t find a flight. 5 mintues down. The clock was clicking. “Hmmmm…Where else do I want to go?” I asked myself. I remember my countless friends raving about their travels through Vietnam so I searched for flights, found one, and rushed back into line to show my attendant friend that I had a flight out of Sri Lanka.
I juggled my laptop as I filled out my credit card info and pushed my backpack up in line as I got closer to the desk. I reached the desk and to my luck, the nice lady was gone. I didn’t make it. The attendant I spoke with was replaced with a an older woman who refused me entry even with my return flight. I was fucked.
I stood in this foreign airport, not knowing a soul, hopelessly looking for answers. It was one of those moments you would call your mom (and maybe cry) for help, but I couldn’t do that; I had already missed countless flights in the past and didn’t want to live up to my mother’s already sour reputation of me/my style of travel. One dude probably noticed my nervous expression and asked if I needed help. He directed me to another attendant, who, after much convincing, handed me a boarding pass. Little did I know, the adventure had just begun.
“You have to swear to me that you are going to run as fast as you can to your flight,” she said.
“Ok, ok, ok, I promise,” I told her as I scrapped my ugly Tevas on a little tighter.
I did just that, ran my heart out, getting a golf cart ride along the way, running down escalators, turning heads as my ugly Tevas made a “click-clack” noise with every heavy step. I found my gate, had lost my breath, and just made the flight. I sat down, exhausted, excited, grateful, and disappointed in myself that yet again, I barely made it.
“Screw it, I’m going to Sri Lanka!” I thought as I got comfortable and smiled to the Malaysian couple sitting next me.
I found a row of empty seats across the aisle and lounged out, covering my dingy scarf over my eyes. A few hours later, we landed. I made it, I was in Sri Lanka. As everyone unbuckled and gathered their bags, I reminded myself that my lack-of-plans allowed me complete freedom. What was I going to do now?
Half excited, half kinda freaking out, I looked around the plane for cool, trustworthy looking people to approach at the baggage claim. I had prior experience entering a country with no plans and found that the baggage terminal was a good place to start. I would approach other single travelers and ask if they wanted to share a cab to wherever they were heading and see how that went. Look for cool people and attack.
A few aisles back, I saw a tall, tan bearded dude with long dreads, “Definitely a surfer, definitely an option,” I thought.
I went through customs and rushed down to get my pack and find the surfer dude. Another main reason I was in Sri Lanka was to surf, anyway, so I had high hopes that the dreaded guy was in search of waves, too. I soon found out that he wasn’t alone, he had a cute little lady friend, also tan, also a surfer. The surfboard bag in her hands told me so. I awkwardly got closer and closer to the tattooed girl. Her hair was flowing and long, with blonde natural highlights, I felt her good vibes.
I laughed at myself, “I can’t believe I’m going to do this again, damnit.” (Ya know, arrive in a foreign country, thousands of miles from home, without any plans.) But, it didn’t matter, it was my style, it was fun.
I greeted her with a smile and soft, “Hey! Where are you off to?”
She turned back and looked up at me (she was pretty short) and I realized she came from a faraway land with beautiful people who spoke a beautiful language. My guess was Spain.
She responded in English with a thick language, she seemed shy, “Arugam Bay,” she said.
“Oh yeah? I think I’ve heard of that, a surf beach, right?” I asked but it was obvious they were given their surfboard bags.
“Yes, we’re taking the train,” she responded.
“Cool, would you guys mind if I rolled with?”
She hesitated, was she going to let this strange American girl in on her and her friend’s surf getaway?
“Sure!” she said, as she looked around for her bearded friend for confirmation.
At this point, I was in. We hadn’t even exchanged names and I was going to be their new travel buddy.
She introduced me to her friend as we spent twenty minutes trying to withdraw money from the ATM and understand the crazy exchange rate. It took me a while to memorize and properly pronounce my two new friends’ names, Javi and Claudio. They were from Chile and met a few months prior in Australia. They decided to meet up for some traveling and were planning on spending a few weeks in Arugam Bay for some surfing and chilling… And as of now, so was I.
None of us really knew how to get to Arugam bay; it was on the opposite side of the island. We waited over 6 hours for an overnight train as we got to know eachother. We took turns sitting with our mountain of bags, talked to other backpackers, taught eachother the Spanish/English translation of words, and marveled over the vivid colors of curry that was new to all of us. Javi and I had alot in common: we were both creators, had messy hair, spent time doodling in sketch books, and were beginner surfers. Although, I just met this little Chilean girl, our connection was strong. We both had the same outlook on life, you could say we were free spirits or whatever. Maybe that’s why I was I was drawn to her earlier at the baggage claim.
After one long train ride (it came to a sudden halt late in the night because we hit a group of buffalo RIP), rubbing elbows with locals on a couple crowded bus rides (plus a few inappropriate butt pinches), and a few Tuk-Tuks later, we eventually made it Arugam Bay. We were exhausted and so fucking hungry, but we made it.
I hung out with Javi and Claudio for weeks to come. We surfed, we ate curry, we started dance parties, stalked elephants, ate more curry, made friends, and would eventually rent a Tuk-Tuk to roadtrip around Sri Lanka on our own. It was a glorious, wild adventure from start to end. We laughed over the fact that we met in the airport; that this crazy American girl joined in their journey, but somehow, it worked out.
Haha, I guess I am a little crazy: My crazy lack-of plans, the crazy people I meet and (for one reason or another) trust, the crazy situations I get myself into, and the crazy endeavors I pull to get myself out. But, it’s that craziness, the spontaneity of it all, that keeps life exciting. I think back, what if I had planned out my entire trip? I wouldn’t have met Javi and Claudio or surfed the best waves of my life or have found myself in the many magnificent places I did during my time in Sri Lanka.
There’s this quote by Lao Tzu:
“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes, Don’t resist them. That only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.” Mr. Tzu was right – We should let life play itself out, scene after scene, because some of life’s greatest memories are made in the moment. And what better of a time to try it out than while traveling? Learn to trust your gut, trust others, trust yourself to make your own decisions and say fuck it, I got this, cause “no matter how many plans you make or how much in control you are, life is always winging it.”
Thanks so much to my buddies Javi and Claudio for accepting me on their journey and befriending a rando. To visit Javi’s Art Blog visit: http://inspiratemirando.tumblr.com/ and make sure to follow her on Instagram @inspiratemirando! Curious about Sri Lanka and it’s surf scene? –> A GUIDE TO SURFING IN SRI LANKA