By Somasiri Munasinghe –
Some well-known Youtube digital nomads are in Sri Lanka, boosting the island’s tourism crippled by the devastating 2019 Easter attack. Recently, four veteran Vloggers who have travelled widely in the Middle East, Asia and Latin America got together in Kandy in a sort of celebration.
Ali (Go with Ali), an Iraqi based in London, says he had given up his $180,000 job to follow his idol, Luke Damant, an Australian traveller, who has a charming way of looking at cultures through the eyes of a restless millennial.
Ali also seems to have fallen in love with the island as he said on a couple of occasions that he does not mind marrying a Sri Lankan girl and settling down here!
Last week, two other big names in the field, American Mac Candee (World Nomac) and Briton Harry Jaggard, got together at a luxurious four-room villa in Kandy, jokingly describing the meeting as the Vloggers’ Bootcamp Head Quarters. Jaggard arrived for the rendezvous from Colombia that morning.
Later another Aussie vlogger, Travis Fein, joined the quartet on the Weligama beach for a night out and pizza on Mirissa beach. Fein, who tasted our national Lion beer, commented that it is even better than one he drank in Spain, but the pizza was not up to the mark. His advice: Try only Sri Lankan native food while in Sri Lanka.
Harold Baldr, a Norwegian who calls himself a Viking, is yet another footloose blogger giving honest feedback on the country’s marvellous accommodation, keen on learning about the islanders and their strange ways.
Davud Akhundzadd, an Azerbaijani national, met Ali, Damant and Mac in Kandy to compare notes and have a good time on a previous occasion. Davud, who has difficulty explaining where he comes from, makes it simple by telling the curious locals, “My country is close to Turkey, Russia and Iran.”
Akhundzadd tried a haircut at a wayside barbershop, chewed betel and areca nut without knowing what he was eating and attended a traditional Sri Lankan wedding in Weligama in a sarong, a tight short-sleeve shirt, and flip flops.
The young barber gave him a haircut and trimmed his beard, finishing the job with a soothing head massage. In addition to his Rs. 1200 fee, Davud’s reward was Rs. 10,000 after coming to know that he has a 10-month-old son.
The bloggers who tour here are excellent tippers and generous givers, perhaps considering it a social responsibility because they earn part of their living from Youtube, depending on how the public responds to their Vlogs.
They don’t disclose their earnings except for Luke Damant. Twenty-two-year-old US-born travel Vlogger who lives in Australia has a net worth of US $ 1 million, according to the internet data.
Recently, Harald Baldr stopped his motorbike at a tea shop on his way to Ella and offered $1000 for a cup of tea made by a young vendor struggling to repay a bank loan he obtained to start his business. Much-travelled Baldar has made some beautiful videos during a Himalayan trek covering a Nepali landscape devastated by the recent earthquake, with considerable documentary value.
Also, Romanian couple Madalina and Vlad, who recently left for India, were generous givers. On their way to Galle, they stopped near a dilapidated home of a low-income family and offered them Rs.10,000. On their rounds in marketplaces, they paid many people’s bills buying vegetables and other things to keep the home fire burning.
Once Madalina was seen waving a placard saying ‘Free Taxi Hires’ in a busy Colombo Street promising rides to homes in Vlad’s rented tuk-tuk by which they crisscrossed the island. People were surprised by the offer of the beautiful woman, and many shunned her unusual offer, running away from Madalina. A few who dared to travel with them were not disappointed. The passengers were given generous tips for trusting their good intentions.
At a Negombo filling station, the couple spent Rs. 30,000 offering free petrol to motorbikes and tuk-tuks. The people were too shocked even to thank them.
One morning they filled their three-wheeler with rice, flour and other items and distributed all the goodies among the needy families in a suburb near Negombo. They also visited Delft Island and left a dinner of apples and carrots for wild horses.
The couple ventured the dangerous depths of the Nil Diya Pokuna, the deepest underground cave on the island and also descended to the soggy bowels of a gem mine in Ratnapura to see how men burrowed into the earth in search of gemstones risking their lives. They also climbed the Sigiriya, Pidurangala and Little Adam’s Peak in Ella.
‘Ken Abroad,’ a German from Bremen, is yet another Youtuber here after spending one year each in Malaysia and Thailand. Ken almost became a scam victim of a man who described himself as a guide, a tuk-tuk driver and a Colombo gem merchant, but the seasoned German traveller managed to wriggle himself out of the mess tactfully.
The Vloggers stay clear of politics and do not seem to be bothered by the current situation in Sri Lanka. When Mac went to meet a Sri Lankan friend at a popular watering hole in Kandy there was a cooking gas explosion. The situation was brought under control, but I did not see this accident reported in the mainstream media next day.
Just as Ali finished his ‘Dolphin Koththu’ in a Weligama restaurant, the electricity went out, but it was not much of a problem as happened in an afternoon.
Luke Damant’s accident in Kerala highlighted the dangers these restless globe trotters are exposed to while travelling in unfamiliar territories.
Damant lost a part of a finger in a firework accident on Deewali day in Thiruvananthapuram, the capital of Kerala. Before leaving India, he went to the hospital for an emotional farewell with the doctor and the ward staff, who looked after him for ten days. His mother flew in from Australia to be by his side.
In another incident, Scottish Vlogger Dale Phillips, twisted his ankle after falling on a Kandy railway track. In a very generous gesture, a young couple invited him to their place to spend time till he recovered fully, exhibiting the magnanimous nature of the Sri Lankans. The video has been viewed more than million times. These kind gestures speak volumes about how the islanders care for the foreigners visiting the island.
Madalina, too had a narrow escape when a wild elephant tried to attack her on a lonely road.
Dale, who had visited the island three times, was perhaps the bravest Vlogger to visit Sri Lanka. Not willing to pay Rs.6000 to tuk-tuk drivers, he decided to walk the 20-mile stretch to Thoppigala mountain from the Batticaloa main road without knowing that wild elephants frequented the dirt road.
Fortunately, he could hitch a pillion ride up to an army camp with a soldier in civvies. He resumed his journey on foot, and once more, a kind traveller offered him his pillion.
Dale gave us a peek into the Thoppigala memorial, climbed the rock, and even picked plastic garbage strewn on the rocky top. He must be the only tourist to walk all the way up to the stony hill, the site of a dreadful battle during the 30-year war. It was getting dark when he started his return journey, and once more, a good Samaritan offered his pillion and dropped him off at the main road.
The language barrier is a considerable handicap in the bloggers’ interaction with the natives, making many good gestures lost in translation. Harald Baldr had a funny incident at a Haputale market. A slightly drunk older man was following him, trying to repeat every word the Norwegian was saying. Though he considered the man a nuisance, what the native following him told the traders in Sinhala was not to overcharge the tourist. Baldr had a similar encounter with another drunk older man in a tavern in Galewela.
Attila and Zae are a Canadian couple who gave up their jobs to travel on a budget. They are presently exploring Sri Lanka’s places of interest. Zae cautioned the visitors to be careful of the spice garden tours. She had bought a hair removal cream made of herbs but found out that the same product was available outside at a much lower price.
An English woman living with her Sri Lankan fiancé while helping a shelter with 2000 stray dogs is behind the Vlog “Where is Lucie?”. They don’t travel like the others.
Lucie is grounded in a scenic seaside village down south, engaged in renovating an old house. Halfway through the project, her parents came from England for a holiday. In a recent post, she said she could not buy cement to complete the house due to the shortage of building materials gripping the local builders. She also promotes ecologically friendly Sri Lankan products in her blog.
Last week, in a Youtube video, she said her boyfriend, Lahiru, applied for a passport from the Matara Immigration Office and pleaded for help in money and kind to maintain the dog shelter.
Steph and Pete are an American couple (Away with Hays) travelling in Sri Lanka with their two-year-old son. They have visited 70-odd countries before coming here. The couple was selected to “live anywhere” on Airbnb for a year, calling a new destination home for a month at a time.
Janet Newenham, another British woman, travels solo in Sri Lanka after a hectic tour of the Middle East.
A Cypriot, JJ, and his Russian wife, Julia, are behind the blog “Love Live Discover” and three days ago, they had dinner in candlelight mainly due to a power cut in Weligama.
Earlier, the couple took us to a house where they petted poisonous snakes and spent an evening on the beach smoking shisha (water pipes). Such an outlet in Sri Lanka’s down south is news to me!
“With the Sparrows” is a blog created by Simon, a Briton, who quit his executive job to be a digital nomad two years ago.
Luke Martin and Sabrina Davidson (Chopstick Travel), who have been travelling since 2012, were invited to Sri Lanka by the Tourist Board. The highlight of their tour was a dinner with the Vedda’s (the aborigines) living in the jungle.
“Growing Up Without Borders” features a mother and three daughters of a Canadian/Swiss family from England. It is a study holiday travel for the daughters as they were seen joining their classes back home online. The family was in Sri Lanka in their quest to cover 197 countries since 2013, and now they are travelling in New Zealand.
Watching these incredible and entertaining videos, Sri Lankans like me living abroad for a long time have the unique opportunity of seeing how the island has developed to be one of the best tourist destinations in the world.
Who would have heard twenty years ago of cheese koththu, Dolphine koththu, Nutella roti, chocolate roti, wood-fired pizza, a shisha outlet on the beach, and an array of healthy smoothies made from fresh Sri Lankan fruits?
The present political logjam has not thwarted the enthusiasm of these wonderful Vloggers but let us hope the situation in the country will improve for the better.
Another cause of concern is how the English language use has deteriorated over the years despite the internet facilities. It was worrying to see how young schoolboys were struggling to form a sentence with correct grammar in their interactions with the Vloggers.
The digital nomads’ top destinations are Ella, Kandy, Nuwaraeliya and beaches down south. Still, I am at a loss to understand why none of them are interested in visiting traditional tourist destinations like Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa despite having comfortable accommodation and preserving the country’s ancient cultural glory.