I booked a trip to Sri Lanka for April last year. I landed on Easter Sunday. Not long after the seat belt light went off in the plane, the passenger next to me passed his phone to me. It said “Breaking News”, followed by words and images describing a number of attacks in Colombo, only an hour prior, in the city I had just landed in.
I thought it was a joke. I didn’t want to believe it. But I was immediately consumed with fear. I made my way into the airport, and as I looked around, I knew something wasn’t right. This wasn’t a joke. Something really bad happened.
I connected to the airport WIFI and there it was… messages from concerned friends checking on me. The news had already reached the world. I told them, and my family, that I was ok. I think it took me a few minutes and a couple of big, deep breaths to work out my next move. I decided to call G Adventures, because I was doing a 7-day tour with them. They told me the tour was still going ahead, and my driver was waiting for me outside the airport. Security wouldn’t allow people without a boarding pass in the airport, understandably. I was advised the safest thing to do was to meet my tour guide at the hotel for further instructions. So I did just that.
I went through immigration and picked up my luggage easily enough. As I walked out to the arrivals area, I saw a man holding a sign with my name. He wasn’t my driver, but he was part of local tourism and was already in the airport for his own customer. Since my driver was not allowed in the airport, this man took me to my driver outside. They must’ve known each other and were helping each other out.
It was my first time in Sri Lanka, so I didn’t know if the crazy traffic outside was normal, or a result of the events that happened. I stood outside, alone, watching the craziness, waiting for my driver to come back with the car. He had to park a couple of kilometres away because there were so many cars. He took so long that there was a point where I thought he wasn’t going to come back and get me. Taxi and Uber drivers were stopping to offer me a lift, and I’d say no but would get so confused because I could barely remember how my driver looked like. Eventually, I was in the car and off to the hotel.
We drove passed a hospital, where we were confronted by crowds of people trying to get in or have a look. Ambulances driving in and out. I’d never witnessed a scene like that before.
This is already so much detail of my experience. It was only my first 2 hours in the country. I remember it so vividly, even though it’s been almost a year since it happened.
I’m not going to break down every single day that followed. For now, I’ll just sum up how the rest of the trip was.
WIFI was limited and I didn’t have a local SIM or mobile data. This made it difficult to stay in regular contact with people from home. It also meant I couldn’t distract myself on social media. A digital detox is never a bad thing though, even when not planned. I had to use my international roaming to contact home when I needed to, which costed me a few hundred dollars but it was the price to pay for me to feel safe and connected with my loved ones.
There was a 6pm curfew for the entire country. Not a single person was allowed out after 6pm, which meant I spent every night in a hotel, eating my dinner, and going to bed fairly early.
Our G Adventures tour guide was amazing. He kept us safe and informed the entire time. With the curfew, he did his best to keep the group fed and entertained in the evenings. On a couple of nights, he arranged for the hotel staff to create a “street food” theme for dinner, so it didn’t feel like we were eating hotel food every night.
The group was lovely. Two people did leave on the second day. But the rest of us stuck around for the entire tour. Coincidentally, it was all females on the tour, which made for a fun and girly experience.
Many tourist attractions were closed for safety reasons. However, G Adventures did the best they could to find alternate activities. There was also increased security everywhere, such as additional bag checks, padding and roaming police.
I should make the point that despite all this, it did get easier to adjust and get through each day. We still saw beauty around us, whether it was the natural scenery, the community banding together, or the delicious food. I will write a separate blog post about the fun stuff.
What did I learn from this experience?
We are not in control of our lives as much as we think. When I got back to Melbourne, I let go of a lot of little things that were not in my control or just didn’t really matter that much. We only have so much time and energy, don’t waste it on trivial things. But it’s all about perspective, right? What I find “trivial” might be really important to someone else *insert shrug emoji here*
News changes very fast and people move on. On our final night, all the girls were relaxing at the hotel pool. I was speaking to a few of the girls and we all had the same experience of having everyone contact us all at once when the events happened. However, by the end of the tour (7 days), no one was contacting us or checking on us anymore, even though we were all still in the country and feeling the impact.
Personal safety instinctively becomes a priority when you are in danger. It sounds so simple and it feels almost dumb to write this. But my level of vigilance and awareness had increased like never before. That’s how safe and fortunate my life has been. And I will not take it for granted.