Epic stories

Published on January 24th, 2018 | by Sarah Phasey

My Sri Lankan adventure with Geckos

Read time: a bit over 3 minutes

It is not yet 7.30am here on a muggy Saturday morning in Yala National Park.

As I sit outside my tent on a canvas camp chair, I get lost in the patterns of the ants circling around my feet. My daze is broken by a group of monkeys grunting in the distance and it reminds me that I am in a world so far from my own. I pinch myself at this realisation and I can’t help but reflect on how perfect the first half of this trip has been and how much I have learnt.

It’s been a big week on the Geckos Sri Lankan Adventure tour, with a few more days to go until we are finished. We’ve already experienced so much of this wonderful country and I keep secretly hoping I can just hit pause for a little while.

passenger train in Sri Lanka

This definitely beats a peak hour train at home

We started in Negombo, where I discovered that fish curry is actually a good idea. In Kandy, we explored the royal town in a tropical rain shower, inhaled a heck of a lot of incense at the Temple of the Tooth and took a day trip to hike the magnificent Sigiriya. Then we jumped on the scenic train through the tea fields to Ella. The ride took seven hours but was so stunning we didn’t get bored.

In Ella, we tried Arrack (a local spirit made from the sap of coconut palms) and dragged ourselves to the top of Ella Rock the next day. While the climb wasn’t easy, the insane views and cup of tea at the top made it all worth it. We’ve eaten curry with our hands, learnt words in Sinhalese and Tamil, and seen some incredible natural and man-made sites.

safari jeep in Yala National Pakr

Cruising around Yala

From here we headed to Yala National Park where we jumped in safari jeeps and were lucky enough to glimpse of a leopard. It seems incredible we have done all of this in seven days and still have the beaches of Unawatuna and Mirissa to look forward to.


But, thinking about our time so far, I realise that it’s the memories of the Sri Lankan people and those I have shared this tour with that will stay close to my heart after I leave. Yep, I know, the cliche “it’s not the destination, but who you travel with that makes a trip” – but it’s true. From the women at the café on the side of the road who smile shyly at us from behind their pots of curry, to the men at the fish market who call out excitedly to show us their catch of the day – Sri Lankans have struck me as incredibly kind, relaxed, hospitable and curious people.

This is oh so true of our leader Indika. He prefers to be called Indi and he has the broadest smile and the most generous heart I have ever encountered. He is a Buddhist from Anuradhapura who owns 2000 books but also loves Lion Beer and listening to Eminem. He talks about history, politics, food, family and religion, and the group jokes every day that we are becoming more “enlightened” from his teachings and that we will surely “find ourselves” by the end of the tour. It’s true, the man certainly loves to talk! But, you can tell he is just so proud to share as much as he can about his life and the country he is from.

Tour leader in Sri Lanka talking to a group

Making friends and mems

I know people that have travelled around Sri Lanka solo and loved it. I am sure I could have done that too. But, I also know that I would not have had the confidence to speak with locals or the chance to ask the questions I asked Indi if I were alone. Sure, I would have enjoyed the food and the sights, but I’d have missed out on a deeper understanding of the culture, as well as the friendships I have formed. I believe there is always a place for solo travel, but Indi has proven that travelling with a local leader is invaluable in so many ways. He is like a currency converter, translator and Trip Advisor app all rolled into one smiling Sri Lankan – who also manages to be a really great mate.

But anyway, that got deep. Time to go get me some coconut crepes!

Want to experience Sri Lanka on an epic small group tour? You should!

All images by Sara Melotti.

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About the Author

I live in Melbourne, for the food not the weather. My teeny apartment houses a shelf of books collected from various airport bookstores, all with crumpled receipts marking my place half way through. Turns out that being surrounded by snow-capped Austrian Alps, lush Balinese rice paddies and the endless orange sand dunes of the Sahara Desert is a little distracting when trying to read. I desperately want a dog, but until I can purchase a seat for him next to me on the plane I guess that will have to wait.

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