Birds fly because they have wings

birds fly because
they have wings
what else could
lure them out of their nests
plumetting, flailing
toward certain death
below?

skeletal and featherless
but with one purpose
fly or die.
nature grants no allowances
or exceptions
no second chances
this is it.
go.

humans have no wings
nor gills, scales
fins, tails
death is bad luck, not
a certainty
if you fall out of
your nest, just
climb back up

what are our wings?
what allows us to soar?
think about it; pause
feel it beating in your chest
remember the first time
it got broken?
you jumped from the nest but
the wind failed you

pause; feel it beating

remember the first time
you flew?
weightless, buoyant,
dipping through clouds
you never imagined
it could feel like this
this is purpose, meaning
fulfilment
this is destiny

then a stutter,
plumetting.

perhaps humans are
luckier than birds
for if our wings fail,
we fall to the ground
dust ourselves off
and launch ourelves into
the sky again

birds fly because they have wings
humans live because they have love

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The sun does not rise by mistake

rooftop, sunrise beyond the hills
I am calm like the unseen sun,
I tell myself
breathing with deliberation and
feeling nothing but the wind.

but my emotions fight back
throwing pebbles into my calm pool
of thoughtlessness
and I am a boat bobbing on the surface
unable to control the movement
of the water under me

I hear the words
he said and I said
bitter anger at a friendship lost
over something so trivial
and the sad realisation that
if fear did not devour him
I could have saved our friendship

the sun’s forehead peeks over
the edge of the earth
immovable but for its’ own path
just like me
moving the only way I can;
forward,

I watch the sky light up
and let my thoughts trickle over me
then disappear
knowing that acceptance is slow
and growth takes time.
the sun does not rise by mistake

Getting a tattoo in Sri Lanka

 

One morning, when staying on the west coast of Sri Lanka in a town called Hikkaduwa, my friend Ty and I were joking about getting tattoos. I’m not sure how the joke started, but eventually it turned into an idea. It was our second last day in Sri Lanka – we were both catching flights out of the country. We both already have a few tattoos; Ty had collected his from around the world, but I had gotten my two from a trusted tattoo place in Melbourne called Heretic. However, we both want more. We have the bug. So when our joking began to turn serious, we started to brainstorm ideas. Neither of us had an image in mind, just vague ideas, but both being very spontaneous people, we started searching the web for inspiration, and tattoo parlours. Hikkaduwa is a medium-sized beach town, with a tourist side and the locals side. It was nowhere near being a city, though, so the options for tattoo parlours were limited. Some ‘saloons’ (salons) which offered hair cuts, facials, and massages, also offered tattoos. But to us, this seemed a bit dodgy. We had some standards.
Eventually we both came up with ideas for small tattoos; a circle on the back of my leg, two inches above my ankle, and a cube for Ty, on the back of his arm above his elbow. Both simple line tattoos. On Google, there seemed to be one tattoo parlour in Hikkaduwa, and one in Galle, the nearest city. However, this didn’t include the saloons or places that advertised tattooing outside their stores with cut-and-pasted Google images of tattoos. We contacted the place in Hikkaduwa, but they wanted to charge us $75 USD for a 5 cm tattoo each. Way too much. I could get a tattoo for this price from a high-end tattoo parlour in Melbourne.

The next option was to go to somewhere that advertised tattooing and try our luck there. As it was our last day in Sri Lanka, I was pretty determined to get one (it was also a belated birthday present to myself), so we tried a place that our tuk tuk driver recommended to us. The ‘parlour’ was a room inside a hairdressing studio, and the tattoo artist took about 40 minutes to reach the salon. Finally, he entered the room: a huge, overweight Sri Lankan with long hair tied back. The tray of equiptment was already laid out on the table, with ink made in Australia, packaged needles and ordinary napkins.

As we are both used to getting tattoos in the West, we were a little disconcerted when the artist began to draw our designs freehand. By freehand, I mean tracing a coin for my circle tattoo, and using a ruler to try to construct a cube for Ty. No perfectly printed out designs here. Although Ty and I knew what we were getting ourselves into when we decided to get a tattoo in a tiny shop in Hikkaduwa, I think we were both a bit disconcerted. Finally, the artist had drawn a perfectly round circle and traced it onto purple typewriter copy paper, which he then pressed onto my skin in the right spot. I examined it in the mirror for a while, making sure it was in the right place. It was. I lay down on the bed, which had ordinary home towels laid on it, and concentrated on my breathing as the tattooing began. It was the most painful one I’ve had yet, but that’s just because of the spot it is in. It was finished within ten minutes, and the artist wiped some cream on it and wrapped it up in cling film. During the tattooing, I had an audience of four people in the room; the hairdresser, her husband, the tattoo artists friend, and Ty. I was relieved when it was over, and I was happy with the result. I was expecting a less than perfect circle, without the security of using out a computer print out of a circle, but it was fine. Round and mostly even.

Next it was Ty’s turn. The artist had had a bit of trouble drawing a perfect cube, and Ty wasn’t going to settle for a dodgy design. All of his other tattoos are perfect. After finally agreeing on a design, the tattooing began. This time, things went wrong. First of all, the artist had only brought one needle as he thought he was doing just one tattoo. He had to use another tattoo gun, with another needle (not sure what type of needle this was). After half a minute of tattooing, he stopped and changed the gun and needle. He said that the second needle was a thick one, but he was going to use it on the side to make it thin. In the reflection of the mirror, I could see the panic in Ty’s face. The unprofessionalism of this man who he had trusted to give him a tattoo had just increased tenfold. A tense ten or fifteen minutes passed, until the tattoo was finished. The artist wrapped Ty’s arm in cling film, but had no tape to hold it together. Eager to get out of the small room, we paid the artist 10,000 LRK for both (about $40 AUD each) and left the place.

Ty wasn’t entirely happy with his tattoo. It wasn’t perfectly straight, with one edge a little wonky. I admitted that to him, but it really didn’t look as bad as he thought it did. I was happy with mine; it turned out exactly how I wanted it, for less than half of what I would have paid in Australia!

Overall, my experience of getting a tattoo in Sri Lanka was positive, but like always, it is so important to get one by someone you trust. Ty and I rushed into the decision, but next time I would choose more carefully, especially if I were getting something more complex than a single line circle. Be prepared to experience a little less professionalism than you would at home, because you have to remember that it is Sri Lanka after all. Things are done differently. If the spontaneous decisions grabs you, like it did with me, I say go with it! I have no regrets at all.

Day 24 to 30 – Hikkaduwa to Colombo airport

My last six days in Sri Lanka melded into a blur of eating cheap food, swimming in the ocean, lying in the sun, afternoon naps, drinking king coconuts, reading my Kindle, having philosophical conversations, and going to my new favourite cafe. Ty and I had spent the first half of our time travelling together on the move; we were both exhausted. After two full days of journeying on buses and tuk tuks, when we reached Hikkaduwa we were ready to ‘settle down’ for a bit. We could enjoy the luxury of unpacking our bags (well, throwing its contents out of it) and getting to know the area more. After spending two nights in the northern side of Hikkaduwa, we realised that the southern side was where it was happening.

One of the main factors influencing this move was the discovery of our now favourite cafe in Sri Lanka: ‘Salty Swamis’. It’s run by a well-travelled Sri Lankan guy who has lived in Melbourne for eight years, among other places around the world. The result of this can be seen in the cafe; it would fit right in to the hipster Fitzroy scene in Melbourne. It had REAL coffee (although still no soy milk, only coconut), which blew Ty and I, both coffee lovers, out of the water. The food, too, was amazing; healthy by western standards with symphonies of salad, hummus, avocado on toast, and smoothie bowls. Although I was still enjoying Sri Lankan food and had something spicy or fried for every meal, Ty was getting a little tired of having such heavy food and longed for salad and hummus. Although Salty Swamis is on the more expensive end of Sri Lankan cuisine, it’s still incredibly cheap for what it is, and the atmosphere and style of the cafe made me feel at home. It’s nice to find a home away from home.

Nothing really eventful happened during those six days. Ty and I got spontaneous tattoos one evening, but I’ll talk about this in another post. It was a lovely way to end my trip in Sri Lanka, and to chill out mentally before the next stage of my journey. I was also going over a few emotional speed bumps; a couple of friends had proven themselves to not be as good friends as I thought they were, and I broke up with my boyfriend in Australia. It was good to have lots of time to relax, swim, think and talk it out with Ty. On the 12th, we caught a bus to Colombo, as Ty happened to be returning to America on the same day that I was flying to India. One night in a gorgeous Air BnB, an Uber to the airport, and a 50 minute flight to Kochi. Let the next chapter of my journey commence!

Day 23 – Negombo to Hikkaduwa

My mosquito bites bothered me throughout the night. My legs and feet are covered in bites, collected from each place I have been to. Itchy souvenirs. We had a long journey to do today; we didn’t want to stay in Negombo, as it’s just another city. Our plan was to catch a bus from Negombo to Colombo, then from Colombo to Hikkaduwa, to beaches and small streets and less people. We set off to the bus station and found the place more chaotic than usual. That day, the railway workers had called a strike, and none of the trains around the Colombo area were running. Instead, everyone was pouring onto busses. The line for the bus going to Colombo snaked all the way out of the station, convincing me that it would be hours before we had a chance to catch a bus. Dejected, we went to a nearby cafe and tried to think of another plan. After an hour, we decided that it would be worth one more look at the bus station before we discarded that option. Lo and behold, the line had shrunk to about fifteen people! Within five minutes, we had boarded the air-conditioned bus and were on our way to Colombo.

After a comfortable bus ride (never thought I would say that about Sri Lankan busses), we hopped off in Colombo, walked around a street market to stretch our legs, then boarded another bus to Hikkaduwa this time. No air-conditioning, sadly, and a lot more passengers. The journey took around four hours, during which we sweated, talked about colonisation throughout history, nibbled on spicy snacks and stared out of the window. It also happened to be my 24th birthday, but to me it’s just another day. I like having my birthdays overseas, where I don’t feel an obligation to do something for it. When you travel, every day is a celebration.

We found a very nice guesthouse, bargained the price down, and had dinner at a restaurant that had salads (so rare in Sri Lanka) and jaffles. Delicious. At night we watched the fireflies flit around the garden and went to sleep with the fan on full blast. I felt relieved that we had finally made it to somewhere where we could relax for a few days, and not have to travel on trains and buses the next day. This thought lulled me into a blissful deep sleep.

Day 22 – Kuddawa to Negombo

Sometimes travelling can be s-l-o-w. Going from one place to the next sounds simple enough, but it rarely is. It depends on so many factors, individuals, outside influences. Our morning got off to a slow start and set the pace for the rest of the day. For a few hours, before the sun rose to the middle of the sky, Ty and I sat outside in the shade and drank coconuts, talked, chased the piglets and played the ukulele. We didn’t know where we were going to – we just knew that we needed to go South in order to get to Mirissa for my birthday. And so began our achingly slow day of travelling.

We waited about half an hour for the tuk tuk our guesthouse host had ordered for us, glancing up every time a car rumbled past the gate. Finally, the tuk tuk came, and we bounced our way to Kalpitiya. From there we boarded a local bus that took us to Puttalam. The journey took half an hour on a scooter, but because the bus stopped every few minutes, it took nearly an hour and a half. Local busses have open windows, which blow cool air into the stifling heat that is a combination of the temperatre, humidity and body heat. We arrived to Puttalam, caught a tuk tuk to the train station, and waited an hour on the platform until a creaking red train arrived. We had no option but to travel third class, but I was interested to see what it would be like as I had only been in second class. Thied class has long plastic seats lining the edges of the carriages, open doors and windows that can be opened.

At first, the train journey was fun. I got some writing done on my laptop, Ty listened to music. After a few hours, the sun set and a flickering light came on above us. Looking at where we were on Google Maps, we hadn’t moved far. The people in the carriage around us all seemed to be coming home after a day of work; women in saris with handbags, men with briefcases. By the time night fell, only a few people were left in our carriage. Some were dozing, others gazing out of the window, and one man, who was sitting directly behind Ty, was staring intently at me.

While Ty and I were playing a card game on the seat between us (we only know two), a man with white hair, who was sitting across from us, began a conversation. He told us that we should move to the first carriage, as we were in the second last, and trains like this can be dangerous for white travellers. Every time I glanced over at the man sitting behind Ty, who was still staring at me. Not bothering to avert his gaze when I looked over at him. I am used to being stared at by Sri Lankan people who are interested in where I am from, but this look was beyond interest. I told Ty about the man, and he agreed that we should move carriages.

By this time we had been on the train for nearly four hours, and we weren’t even close to Negombo. It was about 8 p.m. We were starting to get irritated, by the jolting of the train and the unbearable slowness of it. We decided that it would be faster to get off at the next station and get a tuk tuk for the rest of the journey. It wasn’t. Every tuk tuk that drove past was occupied. When we finally found one, he got pulled over by the police, stuck in an unmoving traffic jam, and lost. Finally we got to Negombo, but had to find a place to sleep. After walking to a few hostels, with all of our bags and increasing hunger and irritation, we finally found a guesthouse to sleep in. Both of us were silent at dinner, exhausted from the day. We fell asleep quickly. Sometimes, you just have to accept that getting from A to B isn’t an option – you have to pass through Q, P and Z to get to B. But that’s okay, because I don’t travel to take the easy road.

Day 21 – Bathalangunduwa to Kuddawa

I awoke on a mat on the sand floor of a hut on a remote tropical fishing village off the coast of Sri Lanka, covered in mosquito bites. I had stupidly forgotten to put on insect repellent the night before, and paid for it the hard way. It was around dawn when I woke up – through the tiny holes in the woven palm leaf roof, I could see signs of a rising sun. I was busting to go to the toilet, but Vassanta, our host, didn’t have a toilet in his house. There was no running water. When I had asked him about it the day before, he gestured around the whole island; people go anywhere. Yet I hadn’t seen a single person going to the toilet, so I postulated that there was a specific place on the island to do your business. I didn’t have time to discover the secret toilet area, so I just found a bush outside the area of houses and relieved myself. When I get back to modern society, I thought, I’m really going to appreciate toilets.

Breakfast was coconut roti, jam, coconut sambal and sugary tea. As Ty and I were eating breakfast, a few members of the community stopped by to observe us. By about 7 a.m., the whole village (it seemed) had heard about our adventure with the cow-drawn cart. Over and over, people motioned to us cow horn then cracked up laughing. It seemed that they found this as absurd as we did. They seemed to find our very existence absurd, but I could see curiosity and shyness behind the stares. After we had slept on the island for a night, it seemed that everyone had grown used to our existence. We were met with more waves as we walked along the beach, through rubbish, discarded knotted fishing nets, fish scales, and curled up dogs. As we made our way towards the middle of the island – where we believed the secret toilet area was, for it was that time again – a beaming woman offered us tea. She spoke more English than most of the other people, so we sat down on some plastic chairs with her and soon found ourselves with biscuits and Nutella, and sweet tea. The woman was intent on staying in touch, so she called her daughter, who spoke good English, and after about half an hour of talking and spelling out email addresses, we got each other’s details. By this time, an hour had passed since we sat down, during which many people came over to sit with us and attempted to talk using sign language, or offered us more tea, rice and curry, more biscuits. In their conversations to each other – which were obviously about us – I heard them mentioning what we had for breakfast (roti and jam) over and over to each other, as if we had eaten moon cheese for breakfast. The concept of vegetarianism wasn’t known on the island. Understandably, as it seemed that everyone was Christian, and the place had little outside influence.

After exploring and swimming some more, it was time to head back to Kuddawa. The ‘passenger’ boat wasn’t running today, as we had thought, but luckily a speed boat was going to our destination, so we hitched a ride for 500 rupees. Conveniently, it took a third of the time it had taken to come out, and it was fun. Halfway along the journey, an official looking boat waved our speedboat over. The men on the boat were wearing blue uniforms, and questioned the guys on our boat for a few tense minutes. Everyone kept on glancing at Ty and I as we sat quietly in our orange life jackets. Eventually, we were allowed to pass, and it was explained to us that the speed boat wasn’t meant to have passengers on it. They had done us a favour (for a fee).

When we got back to dry land, I realised how exhausted I was. It felt like we had been away for a week, not a day. A bumpy tuk tuk ride later, Ty and I got back to our guesthouse. It had a toilet and electricity and cement floors and loud Sri Lankan pop music – all which seemed novelty to me now. Especially the toilet. That night I enjoyed sleeping on a bed, although a part of me missed hearing the whispering palm trees and feeling the ground beneath me. My experience on the island had changed the way I saw, in more ways than one.