Sri Lanka Trip: Leopard Spotting Thrill

It was a Thursday when we flew to Colombo. Some people may not be able answer where in the world this city is, if asked. It’s in an island, connected to India by land, once a upon a time. The girl power team of three we formed was traveling for the first time. We booked tickets a month ago with a bare plan. Top of the list was Leopard Spotting, ofcourse.
 
It was a red-eye flight from Singapore, flying with the highly-rated airline for the first time. Indeed, it was already an experience, only to sleep dead shut for a few hours until landing. We bore visas we booked online weeks ahead and with some few curious questions from the Immigration officers, we were out and about ready to exchange our dollars and find our pre-booked driver. We found him and soon enough our tired souls snoozed their way on the four hour drive north to Wilpattu.
 
I wasn’t completely shut honestly. There were tons of zigzagging roads, braking and accelerating. The eyes kept peeking on the road ahead even if it cries for rest. Four hours later, we woke up to the sunrise, the first time we have ever seen in Sri Lanka. We’ve been to India a few months before this trip and I’m pretty sure they look nothing alike, in my opinion. We woke up hungry and still tired. The driver stopped by a restaurant and ordered us breakfast, snack and lunch as part of the deal. 
 
After all the formalities of transferring to our safari truck and buying tickets and getting all settled, we were inside the national park. We’ve never done it before so first impressions were great. It was clearly a preserved sanctuary for these animals. We saw a huge bird on top of the tree. There were also deers, buffaloes and peacocks but the grand prize here is to see the leopards. We went round and round and round for around 30 minutes and found a spot, crowded with other groups. Everyone was quiet and staring into the woods. There were 3 leopards! I could not believe it. There were 2 small cubs following their mother leopard just a few meters near us. They were walking inside the woods not even bothering to look at us. I remember the guides telling us to keep quiet so we won’t scare them away. I always wanted to do that, the one I always see on TV (LOL). After all the leopard madness, we searched for more. Round and round we go. It was a huge national park that we could go around for the whole day and see more wildlife up close. But we were tired and had been traveling and on the road since last night. It was time to close a really nice day.
 
That night I text my Sri Lankan friend about the experience! He said we were very lucky to see that many.  The gods have been good that day. We may be tired but it’s all for the love of adventure!

Small Win for a Third World-er

It is just almost two and half years ago since I first moved to Singapore. Opportunity knocked and there was no way I would let it pass. At the back of my mind, I promised to travel a little more. A dream I always keep in my back pocket.

Fast forward to today, I am a couple of months away from my second trip to Europe. And like the first one, trips outside of South East Asia require me a visa requirement check. I don’t feel bad, to be honest.  In fact, this second application for a Schengen visa changed how I look at things. A different perspective. A better one.

The application started with securing an appointment with the right embassy. In this particular trip, I did it through the Embassy of Germany. It is the point of entry and the country where I would be staying the longest.

The second step is to gather all requirements. As I live in Singapore now, even though it is a long list of requirements, it is no doubt easier than the one back home. The requirements are all well defined in the official website of the embassy. Nothing confusing. Nothing too complicated. A couple of papers from the employer, a travel insurance that covers the whole trip, a proof of income and bank statement, copies of an ID photo, the bookings for plane tickets and accommodation and lastly, the application form.

You’ll need to appear at the embassy to personally submit the requirements. Then come back 5 business days later to collect it. The whole process takes a little time and effort. There’s a need to schedule your day. It does cost money too. 100 SGD to be exact.

But more than all this inconvenience I had to experience, it’s that weird smile I carried while exiting the embassy. “Aha! I got you!”. It’s the success of a small win, the satisfaction it brought me. I remember thinking not everyone can experience this. It’s inconvenient but never impossible. It’s not the inconvenience that I would remember, it’s the win. And for that, I am thankful.

 

Uncool KL

Office work started pouring in like heavy monsoon. I know typhoons very well because I am from Asia and not just any part of Asia but right in the region of the “Ring of Fire”. Work is work and you do what you have to do.

It was late in the day and work is moving like a baby with its tiny steps. Coffee has been my serious life saver for the whole week because.. to give you a retrospect, I was in Bali the week prior, flew back for work while he spent more time in Java and then proceeded to fly to Malaysia a few short days later. I received texts from him about where he is in Kuala Lumpur and what he has been doing the whole morning. We keep in touch as much as we can especially when you are gifted with short but special moments to spend time in the same time zone together. It was a pretty normal adventure kind of day for him and he’s pretty much happy spending the last leg of his trip in a more modern city. He “complained” how Indonesia is very outdated and connectivity is not even a word. I’ve been to Malaysia quite a few times myself, with friends and family, and they were good trips to say the least. To me, it was safe and I know now that that last statement was only half truth.

We kept chatting and maybe overly sharing about what we’ve been doing at the time. But, we like it that way. He was buying some stuff and was about to return to his hotel in Ampang. A few busy minutes later, he replied with a surprising message. He was back in his room but all his cash was gone. Together with his credit card! He, then, started telling what happened between the buying of stuff in the mall and his way back to the hotel.

Here it is in my own words.

“Policeman”: Hey, sir. You, Not-Malaysian-and-I’m-sure-you-are-a-foreigner-looking sir.

Him: Who me?

P: Yes, who else. Why are you loitering here outside this mall ah?

H: Well, I’m waiting for my Grab because I will go back to the hotel after a good afternoon of shopping.

P: Aha. Okaaaaay. There is an African drug dealer guy that we are searching for in this area. And since I’m a police, I shall advice you to stay away from this spot.

H: Oh no. Okay, I understand. I’ll just change the pickup point. *click click click*
Alright, great I moved the pickup point.

P: And because I am that good of a police, I shall do my duty to identify you and inspect you and search your bag for anyting illegal. You know, protocol. Unless you want to go to the police station (for no reason) and get you inspected there.

H: Oh, I don’t want to go to the hassle of going to the police station. And also, I have booked a Grab to the hotel.

P: Well, good choice. Let’s start with your passport then…
Ok good. Not Moroccan.
Now, let me dig into your stuff!
Aha, okay… some coconut chips, a coke, an umbrella, a wallet.
Pretty normal. Nothing illegal.
Ok, then you are off to go. Thank you for letting me do my job.

H: Alright, Mr. Policeman. Thank you. I missed my Grab but I’ll just hail another one. No problem.

He reached to his pocket to pay the cab  driver and found everything gone. All his Malaysian ringgits and Euros and even his credit card. He went on to ask the taxi driver to wait for him as he try to withdraw from an ATM but, worse comes to worst, his card didn’t work.

I’m pretty sure we can disagree on how the conversation went between him and the so-called “policeman”. But we can agree on the challenge of identifying a scam right away when a scam is deviously wearing a coat of authority. If I were in that moment, I may have fallen to the same scheme. Trusting police officers or anyone, in general, start as default to me, especially in a world that you believe there’s goodness in everyone (I know, cliché). But, we’ll have to start reminding ourselves again that not everyone have good intentions and we’ll have to be constantly be taking measures to protect ourselves, maybe not directly from them because we won’t ever know who is what, but taking measures by being one step ahead of them. Separate your money and let your wallet not be the most obvious target inside your day bag. Print out copies of your passport and important documents. Bring body bags if you feel the need to. And be prepared for the worst cases like activating overseas access to your other cards. Letting know close to you where you are and what you have been doing. Protect yourself with travel insurance.

No one can tell when it’s going to happen to you. But when it happens, you got to be ready, like a brave firefighter who’s always ready to respond. These things are the reality of traveling. Some are lucky to not have experienced such things. Some are not so lucky and they’ve learned their lessons. But these things shouldn’t stop us from exploring the world, alone or not. “The world wants to be noticed.” And, it sure is worth noticing! Keep traveling.