I left my hometown of Buenos Aires at 17 and never looked back. Now 43, I’m still on the road with no end in sight. Sometimes people ask me what my motivations were for choosing the life of a perpetual wanderer and I always tell them the same thing – fear of boredom.
One of my biggest inspirations has been ‘The Tao of Travel’ by Paul Theroux, while this quote from the Irish travel writer Dervla Murphy has always stayed with me: “Choose your country, use guidebooks to identify the areas more frequented by foreigners – and then go in the opposite direction.”
Europe, Latin America, Asia, I’ve travelled through them all, and never been tempted to stay in one place for long or stick to the map. Over the years one comes to realise that the memories from the road that stick to you most are the experiences that you never expected.
Life in Colombo
I fell in love with Colombo through literature, especially the brilliantly dark descriptions rendered by Carl Muller. He spoke of an obscure underlying force dwelling underneath the new malls, the fancy shops and cafes, one that has been there all along. With the right kind of eyes you might be able to see it for yourself, so keep yours open.
Something to remember when exploring Galle Face Green
On the morning of April 4th, 1942, the Japanese launched a massive air raid on Colombo using over 125 aircraft commanded by Mitsuo Fuchida, the naval captain who led the attack on Pearl Harbor. Their target was the British Eastern Fleet, which the Japanese mistakenly thought was still at Colombo, but, in fact, it had been moved just days previously to the Maldives and Trinco. Fuchida had to content himself with sinking the HMS Dorsetshire and HMS Cornwall.
A few British Hurricanes took to the skies in defence. One pilot was hit but managed to land on Galle Face Green to the surprise of passers-by. He was able to walk to the nearby Galle Face hotel where someone called: “You need a drink!” He was handed an amber liquid that turned out to be cold tea. It was only 8.30am and the bar was still closed, but the Japanese had failed in its attack on Ceylon.
Leonard Woolf in Ceylon
Colombo can sometimes feel like a bit of a madhouse with the bustling crowds and the heat combining to form a heady effervescence. The writer Leonard Woolf described it thus: “…there was something extraordinarily real and at the same time unreal in the sights, sounds and smells – the whole impact of Colombo, the Grand Oriental Hotel, and Ceylon in those first hours and days, and this curious mixture of intense reality and unreality applied to all my seven years in Ceylon.”
If you’re planning a trip to Sri Lanka then a copy of ‘Woolf in Ceylon’ by Christopher Ondaatje makes for an insightful introduction to the country. The Grand Oriental Hotel which Woolf saw in the early 20th century is still standing, a wonderful monument to a bygone era.
For adventurous travellers or return visitors to Sri Lanka who want to see a different side to what they’ve previously experienced, Jaffna in the northern province should certainly be on your itinerary.
I wanted to create a programme in Jaffna that would help pave the way for tourism to return to the area and revitalise the economy. In essence, many larger operators tend to use Sinhalese guides to take tourists to Jaffna, guides who often don’t know the area well, know even less about its history, and don’t get along with local Tamils.
We began a tourism program that is run by and for the benefit of local people. We believe this is the first initiative of its kind in Sri Lanka, and it has been met with amazing feedback from clients and locals alike, something that gives us immense pride.
We aim to develop Jaffna tourism in a way that’s true to our values and our vision of sustainability. We also want to highlight unique experiences here and open the door to more remote destinations such as Delft. Originally a Portuguese island known as ‘Isla de Vacas,’ it was taken over by the Dutch and renamed after their city of Delft which, as you may know, was the birthplace of Vermeer. This is a place of haunting beauty, with walls made of coral, no cars and wild horses that run freely around the landscape. In all of Sri Lanka, this is the place about which I am most passionate, and I love introducing it to first-time visitors.