Pamela MacNaughtan

I should have done a little more planning before arriving in Colombo.

I knew where I was staying, as I had done a little research online earlier in the week. The area seemed nice, online, and in reality, it was pleasant. Nothing was overly run down, there was a beach, the ocean.

My guesthouse was nice but empty. I was the only person there, aside from the man working there. My room was large. The bathroom was clean. All in all, a good sign, except the fact that I was the only guest, aside from the man working there. See I trend happening?

When I laid on the bed, it creaked and groaned -which made me a little nervous. How on earth will I sleep tonight? I usually toss and turn. The bed made so much noise that I actually looked at it, to make sure nothing broke (it didn’t, thank goodness). I assume the bed would be fine, but hearing it groan whenever I turn over is going to make for a restless sleep.

This is when I started to think about looking elsewhere. It wasn’t a serious thought, just a thought.

But the bed wasn’t the only thing that bothered me. Any time I moved around the guesthouse the man was there, like right beside me, all the time. It didn’t make me feel uncomfortable, it was just weird. I’m not used to such dedicated attention. I know, he was probably just being very nice and hospitable. I’m just not used to have a human shadow when I travel. I’m the solo travel girl, remember?

I decided to go for a walk. I wanted to find a way to decompress, and think. I don’t want to make any rash decisions. As I said, I wasn’t completely uncomfortable, but things could have been better.

I headed for the beach.

The air was hot and moist, and most of the locals I passed along the way were friendly. A good thing when in a tired, and contemplative mood. The street was lined with guesthouses, and as I neared the beach, I was convinced to look at a room inside one of them. I looked.

The room looked a little better than the one I had at the guesthouse I checked in to, but I wasn’t sure. I sat and listened to their pitch. The men (there were 5 that I counted) spoke of a day trip to Kandy, I was interested. When they told me it would cost $100, I knew this was not the place for me. That and the fact that there were 5 men, and myself. (Colombo, where do you put your women?! I just want a guesthouse where there is another female. I don’t want to be surrounded by men 24/7!)

I said “No”, and left, walking through a small black gate, and then over the railroad tracks, and on to the beach. It was beautiful and full.

As I walked on the beach I became acutely aware of the fact that I am a non-skinny white girl, with big boobs. The stares and the talking happen pretty much everywhere I go, but it’s usually a little more concealed. In Sri Lanka, everything seems to have an ‘In your face’ mentality. There are no boundaries -I can’t believe I thought China was bad.

I walked and pretended not to notice. Which was hard. When I found an outside restaurant/bar, I decided to go in, and have a drink. I asked for a table near an outlet, and I was seated right by the gate. As I sat there a local boy, who was about 5 years old, came to hang-out and talk to me. He was flipping adorable, and the highlight of my time on the beach. The downside of the beach (and my day) happened a few minutes later.

A skinny local man, in his 40’s, wearing green cargo shorts, and a blue golf shirt stood near the entrance, staring at me. I tried to not notice, but it was hard. Hard. I’m not talking Chinese staring (I use to think the Chinese had perfected staring at foreigners), nor was it like any other stare. This man stared with purpose. It was unnerving. He stood there and stared for over 10 minutes before a waiter came to talk to him. When the waiter approached me, asking about my hotel, I said I wasn’t interested. The man eventually left. As he walked away, I looked and noticed he was staring at me even more. Usually, they just go away and stay away, but not him, not this guy.

For some reason, I felt uncomfortable. The area looked nice, but between being alone at the guesthouse, and this man, I was feeling off. This is something that usually doesn’t happen to me, so when it does, I pay attention.

I picked up my cell phone and started calling hotels. I wanted somewhere comfortable to shake off today, so I can start fresh tomorrow. After making a few calls, I decided to treat myself and called the Hilton (judge away, I refuse to feel guilty about this choice). I have to admit, the idea of a soft bed, a cold shower, and a great view was too hard to pass up. Plus, the rate wasn’t too bad. So yeah, I decided to spend the night at the Hilton and look for another guest house tomorrow.

With my decision made, I paid my bill and made my way back to my guesthouse -walking in a different direction so I wouldn’t pass the guesthouse near the beach. I thought I was being smart. I totally forgot that the man in the blue golf shirt had walked in the same direction that I was now walking.

I was barely over the railroad tracks when the man in the blue golf shirt appeared.

“You have hotel?”

“Yes, I do.”

“I have a place, I have seafood. You come.”

“I don’t think so. Maybe some other time.” I said politely, although I wasn’t feeling polite inside. I kept walking, eyes forward.

“When you come to my place, give me time.”

“I’m not. I’m going to my hotel.”

“Why you don’t want to talk to me?”, by this time I was frustrated and beyond uncomfortable. It’s one thing for a shop vendor to walk after you, it’s entirely different when someone finds you, waits for you from some hidden spot, and then follows you. I told him to “leave me alone”, but he kept following, and I was feeling more uncomfortable with every step. It wasn’t until a police officer came into view, then he left me alone and went the other way.

Travel is not all sunshine and roses, there are challenges. Bumps in the road. Sometimes we can tough it out, and press forward, and sometimes we need to make a side-step and regroup before we can move forward. Today, I needed a side-step.

Sri Lanka is sensory overload. The people are friendly for the most part, but the ‘In your face’ moments were unnerving today. I’m eager to explore the city. I’ve seen fresh food markets that I want to explore with my camera, and I’d like to explore a different section of the beach as well. I’m not ready to write the entire city off. I said I was going to explore and try to convince you that this city is awesome. As it seems, I need to convince myself as well.

If you feel uncomfortable with a situation when you travel, do you regroup,  or pack it in?





  • Molly

    April 22, 2012

    So feel your experience. I had a similar, but maybe not as creepy experience in Marrakesh, Morocco. It’s frustrating because you don’t want to hate a place but a bad experience as a solo traveller makes it that much harder. Anyway’s fortunately it was my last day there so re-group was catching a plane but I desperately looked for a better memory before I boarded. Heading to SL (solo) in Feb. so thanks for sharing the experience. Hope your stay in SL get’s better. Sure it will!

  • Pingback: Colombo, Round 2 - Spunkygirl Monologues

    April 23, 2012
  • April 25, 2012

    I think your instincts were right on, Pam. I’d have been very creeped out by all of that as well, and I too would have been hightailing it out of there. Women–especially women traveling alone–should never stay in a situation they find uncomfortable, because you just don’t know what could happen. Our first priority is to keep ourselves safe.

  • April 27, 2012

    I definitely go with my instincts, if it is nagging at you then move on.

  • Pingback: [Photo Essay] Looking Back on Colombo - Spunkygirl Monologues

    January 16, 2013

post a comment