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Tuk-Tuking around Sri Lanka

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“Why didn’t we think of that?!” “Our lives would be so much easier.” “It would be so much fun.” “Man, I’m so jealous!” These are among the sentences which found their way into our conversations, after we had met Marc and Carina at our guesthouse in Polonnaruwa. The Belgian couple earned our everlasting respect after revealing that they had rented a tuk-tuk for their three month journey around Sri Lanka.

Tuk-Tuk-Travels

Over dinner, Marc and Carina shared their experiences in the tuk-tuk. With the freedom of their own transport, they were able to see a lot more than us and have interacted with locals in a more authentic way — puttering around in their tuk-tuk won them instant respect. And they’ve even taken passengers, packing schoolkids into the back for a free ride home. It would have been perfect for Jürgen and I, who were schlepping around a lot of luggage, and constantly on the road.

Who are you?
Marc de Kyusscher (52 years) and Carina (50 years), both Belgian, with one happily married son. Our favorite hobby has always been traveling, but because of work, we’ve always had to stick to short trips. Now that we’re semi-retired, we’re finally able to see the world without any time pressure…

When and why did you start travelling?
Our journey began on June 5th, 2011 — also our 30th anniversary. We’ve always dreamed of doing a trip around the world. Our son is 27 years old and we always said that when he marries, we’ll begin our dream. Last year, it happened! We sold our house, got our son’s blessing, and took off. We have worked our whole lives for the chance to do this, and finally are able to enjoy the fruits of our labor. We’re renting an apartment back home, so that we have a place to go when our journeys are over.

From Belgium, we took bicycles to Cappadocia, in Turkey. After a quick interlude back home, we explored India for three months on an “Enfield Bullet” motorcycle. And now, Sri Lanka…

Why Sri Lanka?
We arrived in Sri Lanka on February 27th, and planned to stay until May 27th [Due to a death in the family, Marc and Carina had to return home at the end of April]. Why so long? Well, because we read everywhere that the country has it all: mountains, nature, national parks, the sea, beaches, hospitality and various religions that live together. We were also extremely interested in seeing how the North of Sri Lanka is recovering after the war, which just ended in 2009.

And why with tuk-tuk?
We always want to travel independently, and not rely on bus or train. So we always search for our own transportation method. A scooter wouldn’t work here, since we have too much luggage, and we weren’t able to find a car. We tried to think of a vehicle that would keep us connected with the environment and the people… and that’s when we had the idea to rent a tuk-tuk! Turns out, there aren’t many places where it’s possible to do so, but we found one in Negombo called “Alma Tours”, at Lewis Place 217.

How much did it cost? And were there any formalities?
The price is unbelievable: 1200 Rupees (about €7) a day. You need an international driver’s license and a permit from the “Automobile Association” in Colombo, which costs just 1500 Rupees a year. We also took out a fully comprehensive insurance for €30.

Tuk-Tuk-Map

Is it dangerous driving?
Outside of the cities, it’s wonderful to drive — quiet and very little traffic. But the buses and trucks clearly feel that they’re “masters of the street” and blast right past you. We always give them a ton of room… they never have patience, and drive like crazy!

There are plenty of gas stations, and in every small town you can find shops where you can get “bottles” of petrol. But only do so in an emergency! It’s common to find cheap and dirty gas, and you pay more. We always took an extra five-liter canister with us. You never know! Five liters can take you about 140km. And in the tuk-tuk, parking is never a problem.

Have you had any problems?
Once, the tuk-tuk began to putter, and then wouldn’t go back on. The problem? Dirty benzine and/or air in the petrol line. A policeman helped us right away to air out the line, which took care of the problem.

Another time, a screw popped free and fell into the motor, between the valves — probably during our bumpy tour through Wipattu Park. The path was so bad and full with mud after the rain, that the screw must have been “shaken” free. In a workshop, they took the entire motor apart, which took around five hours. We also did an oil change at the same time — the cost for everything was 2700 Rs (€16).

Worst moments in the tuk-tuk?
Flat tires and awful streets.

Best moments?
With the tuk-tuk, it was always wonderful! It’s incredible, and the best way of traveling!

This is especially true since you kind of belong to the locals, many of whom also drive tuk-tuks. When they see a tourist driving one, they always laugh and try to help out. When we stop, they immediately ask if there’s some way they can assist. It’s the BEST! We’d love to take the tuk-tuk with us back to Belgium! As long as you’re a little adventurous, it’s a wonderful way to travel.

Check out photos from their journey: Cycle2gether

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April 25, 2012 at 2:03 pm Comments (8)

After One Month in Sri Lanka

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Cheap Flights To Sri Lanka

Our first month in Sri Lanka is already done?! It seems just yesterday that we were taking our first tuk tuk ride through Colombo’s busy streets. But when I think about all the things we’ve seen and done, it’s amazing that we’ve only been here a month. Sri Lanka is the kind of place where amazing experiences come fast and furious. Here are our impressions of life in Sri Lanka, after one month.

Most Memorable

Mike: The baby elephant approached and then held its trunk towards me. He squeezed my hand, then pulled me close to his body, apparently wanting a hug. I was happy to comply, and it’s a moment I’ll never forget.

Jürgen: Waking up the first morning in Kandy and our house being surrounded by over 30 monkeys. I was in heaven.
Favorite Food

Mike: Sri Lanka so far hasn’t offered a lot of culinary variety, but I don’t ever see myself getting sick of kottu: a piece of roti bread, chopped up and mixed together with spices, vegetables, egg and meat. Best eaten with the hand, of course!

Jürgen: I also would say kottu but you can’t beat the fresh juice of a king coconut. Delicious, and better than any energy drink. And you can eat the coconut flesh, afterwards.
Most Surprising

Mike: I had read that only 10% of the population here speaks English, so imagine my surprise (and relief) to discover that the number is much, much higher. It may not always be fluent, but the great majority of people we’ve met speak enough to carry on a conversation.

Jürgen: How friendly people are here, and how much attention I draw. At times I feel like a superstar. People are genuinely curious and they always want to know where you’re from, and where you’re going.
Most Disappointing

Mike: The unending touts. You can’t go two minutes without some other schemer trying to trick you out of your money. It’s all very easy to see through, so it’s not like we’re in constant danger of being fooled, but their tenacity and frequency are unbearable. And it makes you sometimes react with frustration towards normal Sri Lankans who perhaps really do just want to chat.

Jürgen: Sri Lanka’s touristic offerings are really not geared toward the solo traveler. The whole infrastructure is set up to wring money out of giant tour groups on buses. We’d love for our site to help change that!
Funniest / Weirdest

Mike: Everyone we walk past has a comment. Usually, it’s just “Bye!” (which they often use in place of “Hello”), or “Buddy!”, but sometimes the comments are stranger. “Money!” is a favorite among kids (who’ve learned from their government what foreigners are good for). “Can have you phone number?” I was asked the other day, completely randomly, by two girls. And of course, the constant “What is your country?” I’ve been getting progressively more surreal. “Denmark”, “Brazil” and “Japan” are just some of the places I’ve claimed to hail from. (The worrying thing is that these answers are always accepted without question).

Jürgen: This tout in Kandy, he calls himself The Professor. He’s got about three teeth. We walked past him every day, but he always forgot our faces and tried the same scheme over and over. “Today, there’s a special Kandyan Dance! Come with me, I get you seats!” Still, I kind of miss him and wonder how he’s doing.
How Expensive? From 1 (cheap) to 10 (expensive)

Mike: Impossible to judge with one number. 3 for normal life — eating like locals do, taking the bus, all very cheap. But 8 for anything tourism-related — shockingly expensive parks and inflated fees for foreigners; expensive restaurants marketed towards westerners, etc. Advice: live like a local! I guess it averages to a “5”.

Jürgen: I’m shocked how expensive the attractions are for foreigners. These are making a huge dent in our budget for Sri Lanka. Accommodation is over the top as well. But everything else is very cheap. So I give it a 6.
People from Sri Lanka are…

Mike: … always up for a chat. Very open, and willing to have their photos taken. And everyone always seems to have a smile on their face.

Jürgen: … friendly, happy, helpful and curious.
Sri Lanka in Three Words

Mike: Monkeys, Elephants, Cobras

Jürgen: Adventurous, Surprising, Buddhist

Our opinions of Sri Lanka would evolve over the next couple months. We became more comfortable with the heat and local way of life, but also more frustrated with the pushy behavior of touts, and wearied by the food. But one thing remained certain throughout: these three months were among the most exciting of our lives!

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March 3, 2012 at 10:59 am Comments (5)
Tuk-Tuking around Sri Lanka
For 91 Days