I arrived at the Tipsy Gypsy Hostel in Canggu in the early afternoon, once again feeling relieved to have survived a highway moped adventure. After a few hours on the road, rolling through clouds of black exhaust smoke that unceremoniously belched from the buses and trucks I felt like a coal miner, retiring for the evening. I washed the exhaust soot from my face and wearily lowered my pack next to my dorm bed in a dimly lit but delightfully cool room. After using my lungs to filter an ungodly amount of carbon monoxide I felt grateful that trees don’t mind handling that job since I don’t think I’m cut out for it.
Tipsy Gypsy Hostel, Canggu
The next few days were spent reconnecting with a German friend, Jan, I hadn’t seen since 2001 when I was a host student in Nuremberg. For all of its shortcomings, social media provides the ability to reconnect with people you haven’t seen in ages which is going to be key throughout my journey. A couch to crash on and a familiar face to show you the local gems is an oasis to the solo traveler. Although I didn’t stay with Jan, he had spent a considerable amount of time in Canggu and took me to yoga, live music, and the Black Cat Speakeasy which is cleverly disguised as one of the ubiquitous mini marts that line the streets of Southeast Asia. A refrigerator with a paper sign that says “broken” is the portal to the boozy hideaway.
Black Cat Speakeasy
I quickly slipped into a routine that involved my morning oatmeal, the local gym, surf, yoga, and a beer with the hostel crew before an early bedtime. Canggu was a bit too built up for my taste. There was plenty to do but it bordered on a tourist trap. True to my nickname, I became restless after only a few days and booked a flight to Sri Lanka for three weeks with an onward flight to Myanmar thereafter.
My layover in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia was just shy of six hours. It was going to be tight but I had no interest in missing the opportunity to cross Malaysia off the list so I hopped the bus into the city. The trip was about an hour and a half each way, which I spent with a gentlemen sleeping on my shoulder and re-listening to the Audible book “The Alchemist” which felt especially applicable as I set off on a solo journey into the unknown. Reading while on a bumpy bus is nauseating if not altogether impossible, making books on tape a godsend.
I navigated the subway to the Petronas towers for the mandatory selfie in front of the iconic building. Although the majority of Malaysians are Muslim you’d never know it with all of the Christmas decorations and songs blasting from stores. Ahhhh sweet, sweet capitalism. Look at our tinsel and grotesquely large, fake Christmas tree...ok now buy shit.
I hustled to my departure gate and straight onto my flight to Colombo, cutting it a little too close for comfort. Rush hour traffic on the way back to the airport and forgetting my favorite little spring-assisted SOG pocket knife in my carry on didn’t help my cause.
Down one pocket knife and dreary-eyed, I arrived at the Colombo YMCA at around 2am. I gingerly roused the elderly staff member from his cot behind the counter to check into the rundown building whose architecture smacked of former colonial glory. Looking as tired as I felt and as rickety as the building, he showed me to my totally uninhabited 16-bed dorm room which could have been the scene from any B-rated horror flick.
I awoke to thick, humid air and a light sheen of sweat that the weak, rattling fan hadn’t managed to dry from my body. After a trickling but refreshingly cold shower I caught a tuk-tuk to the bustling Colombo train station. I bought a ticket to Mirissa, a surf beach on the southern end of the tear-drop shaped country, and hopped onto the rusty, jangling monstrosity.
The train was brimming with people but I was able to secure one of the coveted standing spots on the footboard looking out the open train door. Catching glimpses of morning life in the small villages and ocean views when the tracks skirted the coastline while hanging out the door of a moving train is simply enchanting. The four hour train-ride flew by and before I knew it I was checking into my hostel in Mirissa.
Far less built up than Canggu, the little surf town of Mirissa has beautiful beaches, clean wave breaks, and a stellar backpacker vibe. The street food is delicious, spicy, and each separate dish is served in bowls which encircle the main plate of rice. The hostel common area provides a welcoming social network to do everything from surf to laze on the beach to imbibe the local favorite, Lion beer. The next stop is north into the heart of the country to explore the flora, fauna, and tea plantations but I’ll definitely be swinging back south for another dose of sun and surf before I hightail it to Myanmar.