The Beginning of the End

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...

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.

Negombo, Sri Lanka

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.

Negombo, Sri Lanka

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.

Steph, Tony, & King Tuk

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:

Negeombo, Sri Lanka

From one last walk on a beautiful beach with nearly no one around…

Negombo, Sri Lanka

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!)

Negombo, Sri Lanka

And let’s not forget about the one last bedroom gecko, chirping us one last jungle lullaby…

Negombo, Sri Lanka

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.

In an ariplane high above Sri Lanka

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18 comments Leave a comment

  1. Saying goodbye to Asia is really hard. I totally felt the same way as I was leaving Indonesia in March. There is something about Southeast Asia that I just love. And after spending seven months traveling around the region it began to feel a lot like home. But, seriously, roosters are something I will never miss about Asia. I just have to say that I love that you guys rented a tuk tuk. That is awesome and something I’ve never even thought of doing!

    Sep. 1 2014 @ 10:52 pm
    1. Justine author

      Yeah, the roosters aren’t really something I miss about Asia, though having been away for nearly 3.5 months now, I still can’t get over how QUIET everywhere else in the west seems to be. Our first few nights in London, I actually had trouble sleeping because of how eerily silent it was! Just goes to show how much we can adapt!

      Sep. 3 2014 @ 6:58 am
  2. I know that sigh. I’ve sighed it too.
    You don’t know what you got till it’s gone really applied to me when I left Asia. I thought I was done, nope. I thought I’d like Europe better, nope. I thought Asia was just a one time thing, nope nope nope. It’s still hard for me to read blogposts about Asia or to look through our pictures. My heart aches for Asia. To anyone else this might sound ridiculous but I’m sure you guys understand (right?)

    Sep. 2 2014 @ 1:51 am
    1. Angie author

      We have other friends who were SO EXCITED about returning to Europe after nearly a year in Asia; for the first few months they reveled in all the creature comforts back home they had missed, but when we met up with them after they’d been back home for a year, they were both pining for Asia like you. The food alone would be reason enough to visit, but as you know, there are MANY things that will hook you in for good!

      So yes, we definitely understand your heartache. We feel slightly ridiculous sometimes because not a day goes by where we don’t miss it so bad. But we know that for now, this is where we need to be, so we carry our longing with us and look forward to the day when we can return!

      Sep. 3 2014 @ 7:01 am
  3. Aww Steph, I feel for you – it must have been so hard saying goodbye to Asia. I too never thought during our first difficult few weeks in Indonesia that I would grow to really love Asia and become addicted to its energy, it just happened. You really made the most of your time here though which is what counts 🙂

    Sep. 2 2014 @ 5:54 am
    1. Amy author

      I think long-term travelers have the gift of experience of being able to look back and see how much they’ve learned and grown in a relatively short amount of time, and we also get to learn not just how adaptable we are, but how in flux things always are. The first 3 months of our trip were pretty rough and it wasn’t until we had actually been effectively living in Asia for about a year that we realized, “Not only could we probably live here long-term, we already have been!” I think it’s a great reminder that situations that initially appear not to our liking or untenable can transform into the exact opposite.

      Sep. 3 2014 @ 7:03 am
  4. Aww, I stumbled upon your post two days before we are to arrive in Negombo. As much as I am excited about experiencing Sri Lanka for the first time, I am also filled with the same feeling of sadness and missing you had described so well in your post as we are about to say good bye to India, a country I have come to love deeply. Tomorrow for our last day here I will be ‘holding my breath and counting down the hours, the minutes and then the seconds…’ Beautifully expressed!
    I too love that you braved the traffic with a tuk tuk. Saw a few travelers doing that in India. And if the Sri Lanka traffic is as crazy as India’s, you are awesome!

    Sep. 2 2014 @ 12:15 pm
    1. Maria author

      It’s funny you mention your mixture of emotions regarding your arrival in Sri Lanka because I felt exactly the same way! I had been dreaming of visiting for quite some time, but it meant leaving behind Thailand, a country we also LOVE so much, so it was a bittersweet transition (as it seems transitions generally are!).

      The thing about holding your breath is you can only do it so long; eventually have to come up for air! And I’m pretty certain your first breaths of Sri Lankan air will be pretty sweet! 🙂

      Haven’t been to India yet, but save for Colombo, traffic in Sri Lanka wasn’t all that bad. Not really any worse than many other Asian countries we’ve visited, and not nearly so congested as either of us had feared! I’d love to tackle India in a tuk tuk one day, but we’ll have to just wait and see if we’re crazy enough to do it!

      Sep. 3 2014 @ 7:07 am
  5. Oh the PAIN! (especially the bit about the ‘lasts’). I know that feeling soooo well!! But don’t worry, you will return! Exactly 2 months after I left Pakistan, I am starting to turn around and rather than looking at the place I’ve left, starting thinking about my return there.

    Sep. 2 2014 @ 7:39 pm
    1. Tim | UrbanDuniya author

      I know you understand the pain of leaving a place you love so keenly, Tim. I think if we knew for certain we would be able to return to Asia in the next year or two, the parting would not have been nearly so painful. But life has decreed we need to be elsewhere, although I do think our spirits are still somewhere over in the eastern hemisphere.

      Still, there is so much of the world we still have to explore! I know the day will come when we set foot on Asia again and all is right, but until then, I’m determined to continue uncovering other corners of the globe to love!

      Sep. 3 2014 @ 7:13 am
  6. Thank you for sharing this post. The pictures and the narrative were beautiful. I imagine, in a year, I will be feeling like this. But for now, my whole Asia adventure lies ahead of me.

    Sep. 2 2014 @ 8:21 pm
    1. Kendra Granniss author

      Tony & I often say that if we could turn back time and transport ourselves back 2 years to the start of our adventure, no question, we absolutely would. We had SUCH an AMAZING time, and I have no doubt your Asian adventure will be similar. Just give yourself time to adjust to the inevitable bumps and discomforts that the first few months of traveling like this can bring; it’s a huge adjustment to make and there will inevitably be some growing pains! But, trust me, it is all so worth it in the end!

      Sep. 3 2014 @ 7:17 am
  7. Steph! This makes me feel like I just had to leave Asia all over again. 🙁 I don’t think I fully comprehended how much Asia had a hold on my heart until we were in the airport in Saigon, getting ready to leave for Australia, and suddenly my eyes welled up with tears. Even though I knew we’d be back for a few weeks only a month later, it felt like the end. I can’t imagine what it would have been like after 21 months. It was hard enough after 6.

    Sep. 3 2014 @ 11:05 am
    1. Carmel author

      I think it’s always the way that we can’t fully appreciate what we have until it’s gone; even though we knew we LOVED Asia, it still wasn’t quite obvious to us just how much we loved it until we were somewhere else. There were times before Sri Lanka when we had considered making the jump to elsewhere, but then we would always panic and backpedal and find a way to stay. Although part of me is sad we didn’t get to visit certain places in Europe and I would have loved to have made it to northern Africa, ultimately I’m glad we got to spend the amount of time in Asia that we did and wouldn’t really trade it for anything. I have no idea when we’ll be back, but for us it’s definitely a matter of “when” not “if”. What a glorious day that will be!

      Sep. 4 2014 @ 4:31 pm
  8. “you find yourself wondering how you can possibly exist—how life can be anywhere near as rich—anywhere else on the planet.”

    THIS. I feel you so much here! 🙂

    Sep. 4 2014 @ 4:17 am
    1. Karyn @ Not Done Travelling author

      Yup. I try very hard to remember that I can be a traveler anywhere in the world, that I carry happiness with me rather than finding it in far away locations, but I miss Asia every damn day.

      Sep. 4 2014 @ 4:32 pm
  9. Asia feels emptier without you guys here… Wait. Isn’t that an Eminem song?

    Sep. 5 2014 @ 9:19 am
    1. James author

      We feel emptier without Asia… and I’m not just talking about our stomachs (though definitely that too!).

      Sep. 8 2014 @ 3:08 pm

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