Sri Lanka's colour is white. Though green would immediately come to mind, with the glistening foliage of the ordered tea plantations on impossible slopes, the dripping emerald green of rain forests and the darker forbidding green of tight dense jungles. However it is the white I find intriguing. It is the colour of the many Buddhist stupas and temples here in Sri Lanka, the colour of religious respect, and the colour of learning.
Our first day on the road was "Poya", a Buddhist holy day and a public holiday from work, when just about everyone dresses in white to mark the day and no alcohol is served, even in resorts.
When it is not Poya, Sri Lankan women and children, in the rural areas at least, still dress predominantly in a sharp freshly pressed vivid white when they are out and about. School children are everywhere with not a stain to be seen on their all white uniforms. Sometimes the more junior aged boys have blue shorts but still a crisp white unstained shirt. The older boys look like aspiring cricketers in their all whites. The girls are just beautiful, with sharp knife pleats to their calf length skirts and the women stately when out to a religious site in ankle length skirts and sleeved lacy blouses.
The smartness astounds. What Aussie school kid could wear white? A conversation today with an expat explained they use the old fashioned "bluo" of our parents (and grandparents) generations in the rinse water to make the whiter than white look.
We have just completed an amazing nine days of travelling in central areas of Sri Lanka seeing the well preserved historical cities and sites, elephants, tea, mountains (we've even climbed a few), national parks, leeches (yuk!) and just so many Stupas, Temples and Buddhas. All of this in monsoon season. The soundtrack to our travels has been a radio station with the slogan "keeping the 60's and 70's alive" showcasing The Seekers, Tom Jones, John Denver, and Cliff Richard. Some songs are from even before our teenage years.
Now we are relaxing beachside in the south and reflecting on our travel. We've had highs and lows in our accommodations and sightseeing but our constant has been Kelum our driver who has safely and expertly weaved his way through a myriad of tuk tuks, belching ancient buses, and snail speed trucks to deliver us to each of the locations on our rather ambitious itinerary.
The monsoon rain has mostly held off for us when we have wanted to do and see things and travelling in the off season makes it almost devoid of the bus groups. I don't think we've heard an American accent once.
We've found Sri Lanka a little more expensive that we had imagined although their very spicy style of curry and rice can be found quite cheaply everywhere (if your taste buds can manage the over abundant chili!) Any sort of beverage and entry fees are quite expensive but conversely a 10 kilometre tuk tuk ride we just took today to the city of Galle was equal to the price of just us having a cup of tea each. Travelling the country with a driver and vehicle is more affordable than most other countries.
Before we said our goodbyes, I asked Kelum, our driver, about the wearing of white. He said that Sri Lankans believe white is the colour of learning and being open to learning. It is believed if you put on clean white clothes especially first thing in the morning, you can better absorb your study. For religious days it marks respect for Lord Buddha.
Well, I like the idea of the relationship between white and learning. Travel is all about learning too, but the "Travel with Less" style we have needs some patterns and colour to hide any stains of our oft hand washed travel clothes!
We are off to the Kingdom of Bhutan now.