Far from ‘Little’ and far from ‘Rome’ on so many levels.

Arriving on the small island in the Indian Ocean marked the next phase of my trip. Geographically I was closer to home than when I was in Indonesia or Japan, but it was still nothing like home. The temperature was humid and hot, which made relaxing difficult and dictated my desire to find accommodation as soon as I exited the airport doors. You know that feeling when air as hot as steam smacks you in the face and your back becomes covered by a film of sweat?

My travels are always spontaneous and improvised, they rarely involve advance bookings or payments, taxi rides etc. Since I had nothing planned, my next move was to find some local transport in to the city. I walked half a kilometre and got a tuk-tuk, having travelled for a while already, I knew that not giving an exact location to the driver would help to keep the price down.

Sri Lankan tuk tuk being repaired in workshop.
Small Christian church/shrine. These are more popular in Asian countries and not common in Europe.

Despite the dominance of Buddhism and Hinduism in Sri Lanka, most locals in Negombo are Christians, and throughout my stay I frequently passed Roman churches and small shrines. My rickshaw driver liked showing off the cross he had on his dashboard.

Buddhist and Hindu temples exist here too. And despite their peaceful atmosphere, this lady managed to throw two cups of water over me while I was hiding behind the fence taking a photo of her. I think it was an accident, but who knows.

Me in soaked t-shirt by a Buddhist temple.
Local lady at the Buddhist shrine carrying cups of water.
Buddhist temple in Negombo.

Arriving here from Penang Island in Malaysia, things seemed a little more chaotic. The traffic on roads is disorderly and the streets are dustier. I was dropped at the beachside, a supposedly cleaner and more tourist-friendly part of town, not because I fear locals, but because it would be easier to find a bike and room for rent.

View over Negombo beach and fishing boats.

I found a hotel rented out by a Tamil man and his family. Tamils arrived to Sri Lanka hundreds of years ago and remained here as a minority, keeping their language, customs and Hindu religion. The owner spoke some English and invited me to his rooftop veranda where we drank beers and shared stories. That was the day that I was introduced to the story of the Sri Lankan Civil War and the Tamils defeat.

Sri Lankan boy in a playground in the town centre.

During the Dutch colonial era, Negombo was an important hub for cinnamon production. Today Negombo is a transit town, with tourists tending to stay for a night or two after arriving to or leaving Sri Lanka. It’s a comfortable enough place to acclimatise to the country before heading off to more interesting cities, cultural sights and beaches.

Fishermen on a boat on the Dutch canal, entering the sea.

Later that evening when I went for a ride around, the town revealed two interesting things: cricket and fishing.

Kid on the pitch. Cricket is the most popular sport in Sri Lanka.

Beyond this the town is not that interesting, it has an average beach with tourist accommodation and western restaurants. A chaotic town centre with eateries, a fish market and bars. Little Rome is the city’s nickname, but it’s closer in description to ‘little’ than to ‘Rome’. Take for example Asmara in Eritrea, that also calls itself Little Rome due its Italian colonial era buildings. Negombo on another hand is only called Little Rome because of it has so many churches. No other reason.

Fishermen and their families laying fish to dry. Negombo is known for its centuries old fishing industry.