Picture it: Sri Lanka, 1998. It was a time before Instagram. A time when only one of my sixteen cousins had a computer, and it did not connect to the Internet. It was a time when I didn’t know what the Internet was, and frankly, didn’t care. It was a wonderful and memorable time, even though there aren’t any Facebook posts to prove it.
Here is a panorama shot of my mom’s hometown from a recent trip.
December 1998 was one of the first trips to Sri Lanka (my parents both grew up there, so we frequently visited) that I actually remember. I felt an instant connection to the country and the people. I was a kid, so experiences that now seem inconvenient or undesirable just seemed like an adventure then. I didn’t care that we bathed in water tanks in the backyard or that no one wore a seat belt (or that there weren’t seat belts even if you wanted to wear one). I enjoyed the cold water on my skin and jostling around the back of my uncle’s jeep. As far as I was concerned, Sri Lanka was a wilder and more picturesque version of America.
Matara, Sri Lanka
I was too young to be self-conscious and I didn’t have a phone to hide behind, so I embraced every aspect of the culture. I spoke broken Sinhalese whenever I could. I ate all the exotic fruits I could get my hands on. I walked around the house and yard barefoot, like my cousins. Well, I did, until one day I felt something rubbery on the bottom of my foot…
I lifted my leg to find a gecko flailing around, still mostly attached to my foot. Though I’m sure I wanted to, I did not scream in horror. Before I could really react, the gecko fell to the floor and scurried away. As disgusted as I was by the gecko, it gets worse. The gecko left something for me to remember it by. It left its tail.
While I’ll never walk barefoot again in Sri Lanka (there are so many geckos…), that’s not really the point of this story. The point is that as travelers, we need to immerse ourselves in the cultures and religions of countries we visit. Traveling is about saying yes to every experience. It can be uncomfortable, and it might not work out the way you had planned, but what’s the point in traveling if you never try anything new?