The Shoulda Woulda Coulda Day

Today has been one of those days. One where I think, ‘if I had just done…’ or ‘if we had just not…’, it would have been very different. I’m four days in to our epic tour across Sri Lanka – without doubt the most beautiful country I have ever been to. I paid enough money to get here, the itinerary is wonderful and I have a great group of people with me, so everything should be rosy, right? Then why do I not feel that way? I’ll say it again: today has been one of those days. 

It started well enough, eating a delicious breakfast in our super modern and comfortable hotel in Kandy, before being driven to up to a viewpoint high in the hills to overlook the city. It was simply stunning. Then, we drove back down to a Buddhist temple said to house a tooth of Buddha. I absolutely adore places like this. Everything looks incredible, the people are calm and the smell of incense wafts in the air. Plus, there are enough Buddha images to keep me and my camera happy. After our tour of the temple, we headed away from the centre of Kandy up to a tea factory where we saw how the tea goes from leaf to bag, and then got to try some of the good stuff for ourselves. 

Next, some of the group split off to head back to the city while the rest of us went on to the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage. This was my ‘shoulda’ moment of the day. As soon as I arrived, I wanted to leave. We went hoping it was going to be very different from our experience in Thailand, where the elephants were in chains, but sadly it wasn’t. The smaller elephants were allowed to roam free, but the bigger ones were in chains, unable to move but for a shuffle forward or to the side. The mahouts prodded the big guys with sticks and stuck blades into their heads to lead them where they wanted to go. Tourists were encouraged to breach the safety of a rock fence, to take selfies with the elephants in order to make the mahouts a few extra rupees. Now, I can’t speak for the elephants themselves and am a complete novice when it comes to their welfare, but something didn’t seem right to me. It’s great that they’re cared for, but shouldn’t conservation mean they’re protected from the dangers of humans, not subjected to it? 

Tim and I waited for the tourists to get bored of watching the elephants and move on. Sensing they were no longer able to make money, the mahouts moved on too. This allowed us an awesome view of the elephants roaming completely of their own free will, with a dramatic backdrop of mountains behind them. This cheered me a little. 

The group then moved on to a restaurant overlooking the river, where we could watch the herd bathe. On their way down to the river, the elephants walked straight past us when we heard the unmistakably loud trumpet from one of the elephant’s trunks. We couldn’t work out what was going on, but people started shouting and the elephants quickly became agitated. Tourists were ushered behind chain fences and told to move back for their own safety. It was only later that we found out one of the elephants had trampled a local stray dog in the street where it lay lifeless for us all to see later. This was my ‘woulda’ moment. If I wasn’t there, I wouldn’t have seen it and wouldn’t be so deeply affected by it now. If anything, this is yet another demonstration of why wildness and domesticity should not and cannot mix. That poor dog. 

After the fracas, a somber normality returned and the elephants started to wash themselves as the tourists looked happily on. We were promised a view of the elephants bathing “completely unaided” said the brochure, “except for a few of them in chains and scared off by the mahouts wielding their blades” says me. Granted again, there were some smaller elephants without chains and they were a delight to watch – it was some small mercy I suppose. 

The rest of the day had a grey cloud over it, not least because of the tropical storm that reached us as we drove back to the city. We watched a traditional Sri Lankan dance and music show, which was great, and then decided what to do next. Here’s my ‘coulda’. The rest of the group walked into town to do some exploring. I could have gone with them, but I didn’t. I decided to head back to the hotel to wash and mope and try to forget about the sad happenings of the day. Now I’m lying in my hotel room, writing this, and wondering whether I should have gone to cheer myself up. Of course I shouldn’t. Because I didn’t want to. 

That brings me to the real point of this post. As a traveller, there is so much pressure on you to take every opportunity, explore every side street, do simply everything. You’re not always going to be the person everyone in the group wants to talk to, or the girl that looks best in a bikini, or the one that does everything with a smile on their face because they’re so blessed to be where they are. You’re a real person with real feelings, and there are going to be days where you wish you could have reacted to something differently. And that’s okay. Don’t dwell on it, just move on and see how you feel the next time around. Travelling is a personal choice and no one should tell you how to do it. Just go with your own mind. 

Now, I’m off to have that shower and rest up for another day tomorrow. I can already tell it is going to be better than today. But so what if it isn’t? It’s just a day, after all. 


Have you ever had any days where you wish you should, could or would have done something? How did you get through it? 

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