There are few places I have rolled into with a heart as full of as much dread as I did the western coastal resort city of Negombo. Throughout our three weeks exploring Sri Lanka, we had been won over by every place we had visited (in most cases quite easily), but I knew things would be different in Negombo. Although some travelers had ranked it as one of the country’s best stretches of beach, a gloomy grey rain cloud hung over our heads and a heavy mantle of sadness clung to us as we drove King Tuk into town.
Our glorious three-week adventure around this wonderful country would come to a close in Negombo, and we were sad that we would soon be leaving this beautiful island, a place we felt we had only witnessed but a fraction of. Sri Lanka was a country that captured our hearts hard and fast, and I fully admit that when we arrived in Negombo, all we could see were all the things we would soon be leaving behind.
For you see, Negombo wasn’t just our last stop in a country we had come to fiercely love—though saying goodbye to one of those is hard enough—but it was also our last destination on a continent that—for all its hustle and bustle—had seeped into our pores and wormed its way into our hearts and our entire way of being. I have said before that during the early stages (by which I mean, the first six months or so) of our travels, Tony & I both would say that as much as there were things that excited and intrigued us about Asia, neither of us thought that we could actually live there long term…
And then, before you know it, you’ve been traveling around that glorious continent for 21 months and you find yourself wondering how you can possibly exist—how life can be anywhere near as rich—anywhere else on the planet.
I want to say something elegant and insightful here about what our time in Asia meant to us, about the unalloyed joy I feel when I am in that part of the world, about how uncomplicated my life and its happiness seems when viewed from the east. Maybe my friend Kim put it best when she said “Everyone has their place in the world and Asia is mine.” Maybe it is as simple as that. Maybe I didn’t realize how true it was until it was time to leave it behind.
Negombo was the place in our travels where time finally caught up to us, and our two days there felt like nothing so much as the beginning of the end. It was a time of anticipation and dread, a time of contentment lined with melancholy.
After nearly a month of rambling through the exquisite Sri Lankan countryside, our epic and insane road trip came to an end there, as we handed the keys to King Tuk back to Rocky at Pick & Go Travels. His wheels took us to some of the most beautiful places we have ever seen and his roof protected us (and our luggage!) from more than a few thundering rainstorms. Of all the crazy adventures we have had on this trip, our time with King Tuk might just rank up there as the very craziest, and also the very best.
For a trip filled with so many new experiences, so many firsts, for me, Negombo was all about lasts:
From one last walk on a beautiful beach with nearly no one around…
To one last sunset in the eastern hemisphere…
To one last decadent-and-ridiculously-cheap seafood feast. (This one a bit harder to find as Negombo is lined with plenty of tourist trap restaurants, many of them pricier than they should be and not nearly so tasty as most other places in the country we had visited. Still, for a last meal in Asia, we knew we had to indulge one last time and, not to spoil it for you, but once we landed in Europe and saw the prices for seafood there, we were glad we did!)
And let’s not forget about the one last bedroom gecko, chirping us one last jungle lullaby…
Only to be roused by one last rooster, the unofficial alarm clock of Asia.
Our two days in Negombo were filled with nothing of import and yet felt infinitely dear, because when time is running out, suddenly everything feels precious. Our time there went too fast and spilled through our fingers like a cupped palm trying to hold the ocean.
Negombo is a lovely place, I’m sure, but I never felt I could draw an easy breath while we were there. In fact, it felt an awful lot like I was holding my breath, counting down the hours, and then the minutes, and then the seconds until this place, this slice of the world, was nothing but a memory.
Eventually the morning of our departure came and, lungs bursting, I stepped onto a plane bound for London. I sat down in my seat and pressed my fingers to the glass. As the plane sped down the runway and then soared up into the air—high above the clouds, leaving the rising sun behind us with each passing second—I finally exhaled… I’m sure I was the only one who heard it, but as that breath left my body, it sounded an awful lot like goodbye.