This is one of my rants. Forgive me if any of you take offence…I am just saying it how it is. Also note I am with one of these Sri Lankan men who grew up in a tourist resort, so I probably fall into the former category of actually seeing them in a good light. Don’t get me wrong – I could quite happily kill him sometimes but fortunately we know each other well and can generally sort shit out (the day after, sometimes 2 or 3, haha).
I’ll get back to that in another post but firstly in case you have just stumbled on this post and know very little about Sri Lanka – *ONE WORD OF NOTE* – do not let this put you off coming here for a fantastic holiday, even if you are a single female travelling alone. The country will welcome you with open arms but I hope this post may make just that little bit wiser about how you go about your day-to-day holiday adventures.
Unemployment is a big problem in this country, not because it is absurdly high, but because there are no social security measures in place to aid these people. A problem the Government needs to address – but that is for another post as well. So if you have no job, you have NOTHING. Lots of people get small unreliable work in the agricultural sector which is weather dependant and where they get paid not by the hour, or day, or month…NO but by what they actually bring to their SUV-driving boss in his posh house. If the weather is shit, they go home with nothing to feed their kids. Add to that fishermen and masons (brickies) who are usually self-employed and don’t have the correct HR systems in place to safe-guard them should their work dry up or if they are unable to work because of illness or disabilities.
Back to the Tourist sector; all along the coast from Colombo to Matara the young generation has grown up with tourists, even during the war and in the aftermath of the tsunami (different types of tourists, yes, but they still had money to spend). They see tourists as “work” – whether from teaching them how to surf and taking them on proper tours to commission greedy boys that will demand 10% or 20% of whatever the tourist buys in certain shops. I haven’t actually got a problem with these commission “guides”. Why? Because they have no alternative employment, no decent education to speak of BUT yet they speak 4 or 5 languages enough to actually take these holiday-makers to the best markets, the best spice shops, the best gem and jewellery shops AND the best beaches, best local temples, lagoons and waterfalls etc. These guys put in their days work too, usually on foot in the sweltering heat. YES, they will pocket some money on top of the market price of goods but the shop keepers are in on all this and if a lone tourist enters the shop alone and chooses an item which is not priced, the shop will make a 100% mark-up anyway. Most of these “guides” are from poor fishing communities and help their folks, wives or if single, they will buy the arrack for all the others in the evening. They are not evil. If you don’t want their help, tell them to fuck off. They understand and leave you alone. Many have met Europeans who have helped them and their families to build houses and live a better life, some get married and move abroad – surely in my view this is progress for Sri Lanka.
You can of course get ripped off BIG STYLE, but this is usually down to the stupidity of the tourist. Look at Hikkaduwa for example…you go to Mambo’s for a beach party during the season. If you are a young backpacker you may want to get some drugs to enliven your your evening (I am not casting judgements here…been there, done that, luckily I had fun and good friends, including the Mambo boys), BUT sometimes you may get ripped off. Do your research guys, ask around, what is the going price etc. Don’t just get steaming on Arrack and Bacardi at the bar and then decide to score 2 E’s. You’re wasted, you have a pocket full of cash. Any drug dealer in the world will think you are easy prey. BE SMART. Keep your head – I agree it’s not always easy when dancing barefoot on the beach with Techno blasting and you are beyond caring but you wouldn’t lose your head at home so don’t here. The Sri Lankans will respect you more for it.
There are so many bad reviews on the internet about the so-called “beach boys” and “commission guides” in Sri Lanka. Yes it happens, but you can also make them your friends and then these “beach boys” and “commission guides” will look after you and ensure your holiday is safe and memorable. Yes they make some money, but considering they give you the time and advice, surely they deserve it. Add to that the fact that you will see parts of this wonderful country which big tour agencies do not visit and very often you will be invited to their family home for rice and curry – local style. Nothing is better than that plus you will have a friend for life. Respect and be respected.
BE SAVVY, STAY SAFE! And enjoy the paradise that is Sri Lanka! Who knows you might even find true love, whether for the country, a beach dog, a gorgeous smart shy Sri Lankan girl, a clever funny intelligent Colombo guy or a delicious looking cheeky beach boy. Enjoy and love but mainly respect them in their country: Sri Lanka. Your life will never be the same.