The Ski Instructor of Sri Lanka

I’m often asked how it is to travel by myself. If I’m not scared. If I don’t get lonely. If I’m not afraid that the sky may fall on my head tomorrow.

A Ski Instructor by himself in a snowy landscape
No, Sri Lanka looks nothing like this. Definitely not.
(Photo: Sondrekv, Påske, detail, cropped to 2:3, CC0 1.0)

The answer has always been no – and meeting Sri Lanka’s only ski instructor was clearly another proof that travelling solo is a great chance to come across people that open up to you in a blink of an eye.

I’m Your Driver

“Good evening”, says the young man that just parked his car in front of the door of the Lighthouse Guest*, the guesthouse, and my home in Galle Fort, Galle‘s historic district.

House in Galle Fort Sri Lanka
There is a lot of picturesque heritage in Galle Fort.

Unfortunately, I’ve spent just one night here. I loved it. So I hate leaving. Not only Galle, Sri Lanka in general. I had a great time. Like a thousand times better than expected. And I didn’t expect little in the first place, let me tell you this.

I look up at him and smile. I have to look up because I’m kneeling next to my small suitcase on one knee, the other is actually on the suitcase to squeeze it shut while I pull the zipper ferociously with both hands.
Success – finally it’s closed and everything is in there.
I get up, “Hi”, I answer and stretch out my hand, “I’m Renata”

“Are these your bags?” He takes all my stuff and carries it to the Toyota that’s blocking the street since the streets here at the Fort are so very narrow.

Street in Galle Fort Sri Lanka
Streets so narrow that they can be blocked by one regular car.

You Became Family

The adult daughter of the lovely family I’ve spent 24 hours with and whom I miss dearly already now hands me three packs of cookies.
“A little gift”,  she says smiling.
“No, please, I just ate!”
“Oh well, you can just munch them on the way.”
“No, really….” but there is no escape.
The three of them – mom, pop, and adult daughter –  probably think I’m just being polite, but no, I’m not into sweets in general and I was not lying claiming that I just had eaten and even if I was starving I couldn’t possibly munch three packs of cookies. I take it although I know that I’ll leave them behind at the next opportunity.

Then I do it again: I intend to climb in the driver’s seat and everybody gestures and shouts “No, no!” and the young man must think I’m a total moron that after three weeks in Sri Lanka I still haven’t figured out the left-hand traffic.
We leave.

Sunset over Galle Fort
Sunset over the roofs of the Galle Fort.

A Sentimental Journey

We leave Galle and it’s getting dark and I see it illuminated by yellowish street lights and I feel a tight knot in my throat but I do not want to cry in front of the young man.

Sunset over Galle Fort
I missed this sight as soon as I turned my back.

We talk banalities and trivialities, you know, things you talk about with strangers. it’s a one-on-one situation, he picked me up seven hours before my flight will depart – at this point it’s probably needless to emphasize that I’m an extremely cautious person.

So we talk about all these things that you talk about like “Is this your first time in Sri Lanka?”, “Did you like it?”,  “Where have you been and what have you seen?”
I answer all that and it’s actually quite nice since it gives me the chance to reminisce about my trip.

Tuk Tuk in Nuwara Eliya
So true: We just have one life – but somehow the drivers don’t seem to remember this as soon as they get their motor running.

Then we get to talk about the crazy driving and why it is and he claims that Sri Lankans must be excellent drivers since they are going so hazardous and there are still not so many accidents; actually, during three weeks practically constantly on the road I hadn’t seen a single one.

Driving Miss Daisy Renata

We are sitting side by side. When the driver seems pleasant, I hate this Driving Miss Daisy arrangement where I sit in the back.
Especially as we’ll have to spend around three hours together.

So we are sitting next to each other which – since we get along really well – creates a road trip-ish atmosphere. Definitely not driving Miss Daisy – rather Bonnie and Clyde…without being a couple and, obviously, without all the bank-robbing.

On Sri Lanka's southern expressway.
On Sri Lanka’s southern expressway.
 (Photo: Abstractlife0410, CKE at night, cropped to 2:3, , CC BY-SA 3.0)

It’s getting darker. It starts to drizzle. We keep talking.
He studied environmental sciences and management. First in Colombo, then he got a scholarship to Japan. The year the Fukushima accident occurred. Shocked the world.

Nonetheless, he didn’t want to withdraw since he had already made arrangements, didn’t want to disappoint his family – I also assume that it was a once-in-a-lifetime chance for him.

So he went.

Risking getting contaminated. He’s telling me how much people in Japan appreciated that the foreign students didn’t withdraw. That they helped. Worked with a team of scientists from Germany trying to decontaminate the soil using soy. Subsequently, getting checked every day with a Geiger counter.

For Me Just A Soda, Thanks

We stop at a gas station. By now, it’s finally pouring. I hand him my last disposable transparent raincoat that makes him look like wearing a shopping bag.
If I want anything? Well, I just had a huge Indian dinner and in case I get hungry, there are three packs of cookies in my bag, so maybe a soda, thank you.
As he comes back, he refuses to take money for the Pepsi he bought for me; you don’t charge your travel buddies, after all.

We continue on the highway that the Chinese built a couple of years ago and that at this time of the day and in this weather we have almost to ourselves.

What’s Your Story?

“It’s difficult to have such a different life than your peers”, he says.
Sri Lankan men his age are obviously supposed to be married with kids, picket fence and all.
Actually, he doesn’t feel the pressure that much from his family, but rather from his former college mates.  Those who did not make it to Japan.

Peer pressure.
Do I feel peer pressure?
Not anymore.
It would be pathetic if at my age I’d still try to live my life to other people’s expectations.
But I know the feeling. No real career. No symbols of achievement like my own house, a dog, a picket fence. He at least owns a car, I’m riding public transportation on my annual season ticket that my company throws in as a bonus.
It’s a choice. It’s something people never seem to consider when they envy me that I’ve just bought another ticket to another great destination: Remember, you guys, it’s a choice. There is a price I’m paying every day: no house, no picket fence, no car.

The First Cut Is the Deepest

“After some time back in Sri Lanka, I wanted to return to Japan”, he says. A friend of his arranged a stay in Hokkaido. Hokkaido which is a major ski destination – which I didn’t know before.

So he experienced snow and ice and learned skiing.
Not only did he learn how to sashay downhill in elegant bows, he learned it to perfection.

He actually became a ski instructor and taught people from around the world how to sashay downhill in elegant bows.
“You’re a ski instructor? Seriously?”
“Yes!” he cracks up laughing at my consternation.
Wow. One would expect Sri Lankans to be Buddhist monks, stilt fishermen, maybe surf instructors – but skiing?!

So unusual that all of a sudden it dawns on me that he’s probably the only ski instructor in all of Sri Lanka.
I mean – how many Sri Lankans might go to ice-cold regions to learn skiing? Learn it to perfection. “Wow, you must be the only ski instructor in Sri Lanka”, I conclude with awe.
“Probably”, he giggles and adds “Someone once told me if Sri Lanka would participate in the Winter Olympic games, I’d be the skiing team.”

What Keeps Me Going – Literally

You know, it’s encounters like this that remind me again and again what’s so great about solo travel: You get in touch with people in a different way. You get closer.
Of course, even if I’d be travelling as a couple, he would still be a ski instructor and we would be talking. But the whole atmosphere would be totally different. I probably wouldn’t be sitting next to him but in the back seat with my travel companion.
He would be the driver and we’d be the passengers; Miss and Mister Daisy.
We would probably exchange pleasantries. But I doubt that he would have told a couple – even a couple of friends – about peer pressure.

As a solo traveller, you get adopted pretty quickly.

Or you get squeezed in.
You fill gaps. Last empty seat on the bus? I’m by myself, I can take it.
And bada bing, I’m sitting next to a stranger and we start talking – like with the Tamil cook from Singapore, I met on a bus in Cuba or the Latvian doing seasonal jobs in Las Vegas between travels or….there were so many!

I Wish You Well

Pondering how wonderful travelling is and how, at this point, too, I liberated myself from peer pressure – I don’t feel like the quirky cat-lady anymore when I tell people that I’m actually travelling by myself – we get to the airport.

I still have three and a half hours.

We exchange facebook profiles, I hand him all the cash I have left, we hug each other.

Hence, travelling with him and having heard his stories is the grand finale of a wonderful tour across Sri Lanka.
I really, really don’t need a house nor a picket fence, and definitely no car.

Before I go through security, I leave three unopened packs of cookies on a seat at the departure hall hoping that some cleaning lady who has to work at this hour of the night will enjoy them.

Finally, if you want to see for yourself how magical Sri Lanka is, this guide will help planning your trip SRI LANKA – a Guide to the Island’s Most Amazing Places 

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17 Replies to “The Ski Instructor of Sri Lanka”

  1. Loved it! I was recently traveling solo and met a man on the road who had climbed mount Everest. We bonded over many things and travelled for a couple of days. No way, i am in "love" love with him however the idea of meeting another likeminded solo traveler is love and rare in itself!

  2. That is wonderful experience you had with beautiful people out there …totally strange but still left a mark in your heart. It is actually the beauty of traveling…traveling to New places, meeting new people, imbibe the culture. It is truly amazing feeling.?

  3. You sound like such a friendly and caring person. I enjoyed reading about your solo travels. It is a joy to give away your last money from a country as you leave, or give your cookies away. Good for you! Keep traveling and enjoying life!

  4. Not only is this a great account, it's also so beautifully written. It reminds me of so many things I love – conversations in strange settings, learning about other people's lives, remembering to live in the moment. May there be many more conversations and no picket fences.

  5. I love your tale about riding to the airport. ..I love solo traveling. I get to decide what I,want to do and where I want to go and eat. Great story.

  6. What a wonderful tale. It just goes to show you that travelling can bring the unexpected. Like the time my family were at a Buddhist garden in Montana and shared bottles of water with two guys who had run out. In exchange they gave us some lavander and it resonated with us so much (for personal reasons). We exchanged FB profiles and he often pops us a message 2 years later.

    1. Absolutely – but I'm also more open on the road. The cab driver from my neighborhood might have a fascinating story in stock, too….actually, I've never asked ? I wish you many more lavender scented encounters ?

  7. Cute story! I really do love meeting strangers on trips – some have become long time friends!

    1. Yes, I met the most interesting people over the years. But I think it's also a give and take – I actually might be more open to this sort of encounters. Happy travels to you – and many inspiring encounters!

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