Break ups are always hard. Sometimes you lose interest in the relationship, but sometimes it is circumstances completely out of your control that demand you end it with the perfect tuk tuk - or human, I guess.
I knew about terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka before I flew out from New Zealand, and I came anyway. I arrived in Colombo, the capital city where the majority of the attacks took place, little more than 48 hours after the first bomb went off.
Maybe I had been desensitised to mass terror, and maybe I was naive. I believed it was a one-off tragedy, that as sad and horrific as it is, was not something to change my plans over. After all, that’s what the terrorists wanted. A friend asked if I was still going to travel to Sri Lanka, and I sassily responded “You didn’t cancel your trip to Christchurch last month, did you?”. I was feeling bold and excited about my journey ahead of me, curious as to what, or who, I might encounter.
Then, on my second day in Sri Lanka, I met Abby.
Abby was - no, is - beautiful. Her curvy body shimmered a calming green in the tropical sun, and up top, she had a fantastic rack. One that would hold many surfboards. She purred at my first touch, and after some instruction, I had my first ride.
“Oh yeah,” I thought, “you’ll do nicely.”
I loaded up my belongings to head south, first having to tackle the obstacle that is Colombo traffic during rush hour. After my time with Humphrey, aggressive and messy riding conditions were nothing new. Abby and I cruised happily through the mayhem until we were following a palm tree-lined coastline to our first stop - Hikkaduwa.
We arrived to our accomodation, and I was already falling in love. I lay on the bed for a second, just to take it all in, when I overheard my neighbours discussing something I couldn’t ignore. The Dutch government has directly requested that all of its citizens in Sri Lanka leave immediately. As did the Spanish and UK governments. The US State Department did the same, issuing a warning of imminent attacks that weekend. It was a little disconcerting.
High on love, I soon forgot about these pesky developments. I filled the rest of my day walking around chatting to locals, eating food, and discussing proper bum-washing etiquette in Asian countries with other travellers. I was on cloud 9.
The next morning was much of the same typical holiday behaviour, until I returned to my accomodation. The staff were discussing an incident the night before, where 15 people had died in a shootout and suicide-bomb blasts, 400km away on the east coast. Sure, it was relatively far away, but intelligence had been recovered that there were up to 100 radicalised terrorists throughout Sri Lanka at that moment.
My friend that I was going to met up with in a week changed their plans to leave the country early, as were most tourists I encountered. I received an email from the New Zealand Department of Internal Affairs, upgrading their travel advisory warning from “exercise high caution” to “avoid all non-essential travel in Sri Lanka”. At this point, leaving the country wasn’t sounding like such a silly idea.
I talked to a local guy about the civil war that had ended only 10 years ago, and how these were the first bomb attacks since then. These were Muslim attacks on Christians, and the war was between the Sinhala and Tamil people, but the similarities worried him. Sri Lanka has a recent history of sectarian violence, and the memories of random deadly bomb-blasts are all too familiar here. I booked flights to Europe that afternoon, leaving Colombo in 3 days time.
But what to do with Abby?
It broke my heart. We had something so special already, and now I had to take her back where I found her. I shudder to think of the next traveller to put their grubby hands on her. They might be some disrespectful and irresponsible heathen, or worse, an Australian.
Sometimes people, or tuk tuks, give you one reason after another to break things off, and so it’s easy. They’re so clearly wrong for you that they’re almost daring you to end it. This is not one of those times.
Alas, I must do what is in my best interests. In 4 hours I will board a flight to Madrid, to then drive to the coast of Portugal and find some waves. Not because I want to, but because I have to. There may be a time when our fates cross paths once more, though that is in the hands of destiny now.
I’m sorry, Abby. It’s not you, it’s ISIS.