Sri Lankan adventure. 1: Travel fears and Murakami
Updated: Jan 9
I woke up this morning to a mixture of giddy excitement and a dull feeling of anxiety. I still haven’t changed the alarm tone on my new phone and the default Moto one absolutely hammers whichever surface it’s on. That didn’t help. But the anxiety mainly stemmed from those feelings of worry you get alongside the buzz of going away. The trip is a dream, a nice idea in your head; then suddenly it’s very real and immediate, and everything becomes symbolic and meaningful in those moments before departure. This could be my last bowl of cereal for a month, my last glass of cordial before only purified water or sugary tea or beer for a while, my last time browsing the sea of yellow reduced stickers for that unrivalled thrill of finding a punnet of festive sausage and cranberry rolls for 13p and a pack of six still-soft breadcakes for 8p (actual purchased bargains). Time to swap those aisles for different thrills – surfing in warm water, spotting wild elephants, and sampling the cuisine I’ve heard is just outstanding.
But food abroad, these days, also gives me a little concern – mainly because six years back while in India I contracted E. coli from trying a lukewarm goat’s head curry cooked up by a group of local builders in the rural village we were staying in. Thus ensued the most excruciating night of my life followed by a week in bed and symptoms at home which I still have to apologise to my family for, as well as this slight anxiety about the same happening in a similar region of the world. Overall, the food in South India was phenomenal and I’m hoping for similar things in Sri Lanka, but if I find a nice safe Pot Noodle and a packet of Chipsticks anywhere, they’ll be the first things flung into my shopping basket. The threat of becoming ill abroad is a little more disconcerting because I’m going alone. But I am hoping to find a good bunch of people in the first hostel I’m in for five nights, I have packed enough rehydration sachets to restore the Rebel Alliance (seriously, for all their hard graft when do you see anyone in Star Wars have a drink, other than that weird blue milk?), and I have a tray of anti-diarrhea tablets. I’d give my Netflix subscription away to not have to use them.
Also, Sri Lanka will be warm – meaning beautiful scenery, unrivalled sunsets, and tons of mosquitoes. Just looking at some of the images of guesthouses and hostels makes me itch. Most beds (at least, in the pictures) have mozzie nets hanging around them, but that doesn’t diminish a constant low-level fear of dengue, and I don’t fancy spending every evening and night for four weeks in a veiled box just to lower the chance. I have three different types of insect repellent and some kind of DEET-infused wristband which, judging by the garish bold font and brash colours on the packet, I do not trust to keep insects at bay (but will try anyway at least for the fashion statement). My chief strategy is to find someone with lovely skin that the mosquitoes can't resist, and sit next to them so they take all my potential assailants.
Something that could be missing while away – something fundamental to my life and to a lot of people’s lives, which helps to keep on the level physically and emotionally – also plays on my mind: exercise. I’m planning on surfing most days for the first fortnight at least. Surfing is awesome for the body and mind, but I fear this may not be enough. After the best part of 16 months out with injury, I was just getting back into football and, thanks to a book by Haruki Murakami, I was enjoying running more than ever. That rhythmic pat of thick, bouncy soles on tarmac, listening to your own breathing and passing cars, zoning out into a little dreamy world whilst improving your fitness; I was just getting back into this. Murakami’s running/life memoir What I Talk About When I Talk About Running completely inspired me to take to the pavements again. I highly recommend it as an enjoyable meditation on some of the benefits of running and the focus in your life that exercise can promote. I recently read the book over Christmas, which can be a tricky time of year to get motivated to lace up some running trainers. But actually, if you think about it, it’s a really good time to do exactly that. Most people get at least a bit of time off around then, and all the food – particularly the protein in white meat – can be a really good way to recover from a long run. Alcohol consumption doesn’t help; there’s no hiding that. It certainly wrote off a few days of running for me. But then, if you go for a long run in the day, you don’t need more than a four pack to feel good and merry anyway. Winner.
I think one of the most important messages I took from Murakami’s book is to run at your own pace. For years before my injury I would go for a run and constantly be thinking: If I’m not running the hardest I can every moment then I’m not going to improve. How wrong I was. I now plod along at whatever speed I feel comfortable with, speeding up and slowing if the mood takes me, but mainly finding a nice rhythm and sticking to it. I do this either for a set amount of time or for a set distance. Sometimes I take detours and extend the run, sometimes I chuck in the odd sprint. But I don’t kill myself with every step anymore. And now, because of this, I look forward to putting my trainers on instead of treating it like a necessary chore. And the funny thing is, I’m only a few seconds behind my old times with this relaxed new attitude. Enjoyment of the subject is often pivotal to success in it.
Another travelling stress I submitted to today was that ever-present concern when you finally close the front door: Have I forgotten something? The question inevitably pops into my head, despite trying not to think about this too much. Ultimately, as long as you have a passport and a boarding pass the rest will work out (preferably with your name on both). I try to tell myself that forgetting something important will only lead to a funny situation. This is mainly only true when heading to a country where the cost of living is very low compared to the UK, such as in nations of the Indian subcontinent. But a couple of niches about Sri Lanka aren’t helping me settle down. First, the Sri Lankan rupee is apparently a closed currency, meaning it can only be traded in the country itself. Not having the usable cash in hand to get a taxi, or at least a beer in the airport if it’s needed (I land at 4am local time but needs must), is a tiny bit scary. Also, it seems almost impossible to get hold of the necessary travel adaptor in the shops – since Sri Lanka uses a weird rounded three pin socket – meaning I’ll have to hunt around in Colombo or, far worse, pay excessively for one in the airport (or is that just the Yorkshireman in me speaking?).
Maybe you’re reading this (to begin with, thank you so, so much if you are) and thinking: ‘Gosh, Josh, it’s only a month!’ Yep, I’m a worrier. I also think travelling alone influences these feelings. It can lead to a whole host of insecurities: less support if you run into trouble, less emotional support in general, nobody to laugh through those moments when you get ripped off or have your head in a bucket whilst sat on the toilet for 48 hours. Thankfully, Sri Lanka has a good rep in terms of the friendliness of its people. And I’ll go through some of the reasons for taking on this adventure alone in future posts. For now I’m going to try not to think about all the things I may have forgotten, look forward to getting tucked up in bed in my cheap hotel near Heathrow tonight with Romesh Ranganathan on my laptop (side note: how fucking funny is Romesh Ranganathan? And how have I only just discovered him?), and focus on getting a good kip before tomorrow’s early flight.