The mountains are hostile. They are dry and threatening. I am a speck on their trail, they are the vast, foreboding backdrop of the isolated Phuktal Monastery. The barren Himalayas, the cooling winds and the snow resting on mountain tops are constant reminders of the unrelenting winter to come.
Spilling from the mouth of a cave, the Gompa corridors wind up and down the mountain face. The darkness is warm, the shadows repeat mantras in low tones and footsteps echo through the dusty tunnels. The monks lead lives of devoted solitude, there is a calm, contentment in the aloneness, a feeling of inherent peace with the seclusion from the outside world. This stillness is only broken by the young lamas, who playfully interrupt the otherwise disciplined, stoic atmosphere.
My words quickly expire. My mind is quiet. Life becomes simple. The mountain is my clock. The rushing river is my music. The hypnotic gong vibrates through the valley and the black crows circling above call me for meals.
Together, we teach, we learn, we sip tea, we shake hands, we share food, we sway in unison before each meal. We connect, without words.
Riding my bike in a backstreet in Sri Lanka, I was met at doorways and driveways by curious onlookers, some would smile and wave, others would stare. I came to a dead end where the road wrapped around a school playground. There were three young girls playing and when they saw me, they waved excitedly, one started to shout happily and repeatedly ‘Money please! Money please!’.
In a developing country, being asked for money was always expected. What surprised me in Sri Lanka, was the range of ways this was put forward and from a range of positions in society.
I was trying to find the train station when, despite my resistance, an old, toothless man, followed me and ushered me into a souvenir shop. I declined his offer to show me more stores and he described his family and their struggles in the aftermath of the 2006 tsunami. I walked into a store to buy a drink and he asked me to buy milk sustogen for his sick daughter. The shop was out of stock and as I was leaving the security guard warned me about the man’s ploy to return the milk later for cash. When I returned without the milk, the man pleaded for some money.
After staying in a Sri Lankan hotel for over a month I was talking to the hotel manager about a recent visit to his hometown 150km away. He described his visit with his family and the reason for his trip was to assist his son in his purchase of some land. He then asked if he could borrow 2000rp ‘just for a few days’.
While waiting at a bus station, I got talking to a local who had helped me find the right bus. He assured me that he didn’t want any money. As the conversation went on, he told me all he wanted was a beer, but no money. I was about to leave town, there was no bar nearby, but he kept insisting that all he wanted was a beer, no money.
After ordering home delivered curries from a local, we spent some time talking one afternoon on the beach. He explained that his restaurant was shut down last season because he didn’t have the correct permit and it would cost $5000 to get it up and running again. He asked if I would be his business partner, he said I could go back and forth from Australia, spending the season in Sri Lanka to oversee the restaurant each year.
Who would you give money to?
Despite the different classes of society or different ploys in which to get it, they are all essentially asking for the same thing. They view me, as a tourist, as rich. Which, by their standards is very true. I felt naturally more inclined to give money to some of these people rather than others. On reflection, I realised that I, as a traveller, passing through, am not in a position to judge who will use the money well. We must decide for ourselves, whether we are helping by giving money or teaching a generation and society that tourists are an easy way to make money.
Location: Arugam Bay, Sri lanka
What is your name? Joonas
How old are you? 25
Where were you born? Finland, inland and further inland
Where is your home? Finland but maybe more New Zealand now
What is your religion? Kind of , pretty much believe in karma
What have you learned from this trip? Better surfing, I’m glad, satisfied with my surfing. I’ve learned to keep going, keep doing what I’m doing. Surfing and travelling it’s cool. I’ve learned to look at things from a different angle, like looking at the locals and their lifestyle. But most of all having new experiences teach you how to deal with situations better.
What has been the highlight of this trip so far? Full moon surf for sure & the Whiskey Point trip (a 12km bike ride in the pouring rain) and all the good surfs I’ve had and good chats I’ve had with people.
What is your impression so far of this place? Really good, a place with such strong opposites, but there are good waves, mellow, cool people. The biggest thing is meeting new people travellers and locals – really positive.
What do you miss most about home? I don’t know, in Finland there is not many things, friends and family. Friends in NZ and the NZ summer
Would you describe yourself as lost or found? Yeah both, definitely you can always learn something more…50/50…not lost, more found.
Learn more about #meetthelostandfound here
It was the merging of two people, two families. It was a celebration, but behind the opulent decorations were stoic faces and hearts reluctant to let go. As the rhythm of the drum pulsed through the ceremony, the chanting and dancing explained the unspoken. It was a tug of war, a pushing and pulling between the two families. One’s loss, one’s gain, a union but also a separation.
The ceremony was long but guests enjoyed the customary irreverence, chatting, walking in and out, watching or not. At one stage, the Father of the Bride was missing.
After the main meal there was dessert, a sneaky backyard whiskey and an expectation to dance.