I didn't keep a diary of our trip, but if I had it would have gone something like this:
Day 1, to Bangkok: Yeah! We're finally leaving on vacation! Can't wait to spend some quality time together and get away! Our flight to Bangkok was delayed a couple of hours, but we got a free upgrade on our hotel room. Luck is on our side!
Day 2, in Bangkok: I love Bangkok. Great food and good shopping. Our hotel is great and Odin enjoys the amenities, like the playroom and the hair dryer, which he uses for drying hair as well as vacuuming. Went to the zoo. At times, it felt like we were the attraction. Here's a picture of a poster from the chimp section which outlines the similarities between humans and chimpanzees. I found it interesting because you're unlikely to see such a poster in the US.
Day 3, in Bangkok and travel to Colombo: More good food in Bangkok. Eric strained his back at the pool. This has been a great start to the trip, but just wait till we get to the beach! The night flight to Colombo goes well and even in the dark, it's quite clear that Colombo is nicer than Dhaka. We check in to the Holiday Inn and crash hard.
Day 4, from Colombo to Unawatuna: We can see the beautiful Indian Ocean from our hotel room. We wake up, have a delicious breakfast, and pack up for the drive to the beach, Unawatuna. For at least a week we've been prepping Odin, 'Where are we going?' He would yell back with a big grin, 'Unawatuna!!' Lily took her first steps in the hotel room. She's growing up so fast!
When the taxi we had arranged to take us to the beach failed to show at noon, we were able to arrange another and leave at 1:30. We arrived in Unawatuna at about 5 pm on New Year's Eve. The 'apartment' we booked (I use the term loosely, as did the guide book) left a little to be desired. It was basically two cement rooms joined by a cavernous cement room which had a few plastic chairs. No AC, no TV, and lighting was provided by single bulbs dangling from the ceiling. When it got dark Odin said, 'Turn on the lights Mommy.' I replied, 'They are on sweetie.'
Oh, we also got a refrigerator which the staff accessed without knocking as needed. We were unimpressed but faced the situation with resolve. The kids don't care where we stay! We've stayed at a million places like this before and had a wonderful time. This will be the same.
We dropped off our bags and headed directly to the beach. We crossed the busy main highway (which was directly in front of our hotel and had to be crossed to reach the beach, another little fact concealed by the guide book). All the restaurants were busy preparing for New Year's Eve so the kitchens weren't taking orders. We finally found one place that would make us some fried rice and french fries. We ate, drank a local Lion beer, and talked ourselves into the place as we tried to keep the stray beach dogs away from the kids. We reassured ourselves that this was going to be so much fun!
With Eric's back still hurting and our hopes less than high, we went to bed at 8:30, exhausted.
Day 5, Unawatuna: We were awoken at midnight by the New Year's Eve revelry- the fireworks lasted about an hour and the rave next door continued until about 2 pm this afternoon. As the firework show began, so did Odin's screams of fear. He hates fireworks and spent hours last night sobbing. When I saw him this morning the first thing he said was, 'I want to go home. Now.' We reassured him that things were going to get better, but it felt like we were reassuring ourselves more than reassuring him.
We readied ourselves for breakfast and headed to the hotel's rooftop restaurant at 7:15. There weren't many people up except those who hadn't yet been to sleep. We ordered breakfast and received some juice and scrambled eggs approximately one hour later. The kids were screaming and fighting and at 8 am it had already been a long day.
But, the beach awaited! Surely playing in the sand would lift our spirits. The beach was truly beautiful with green palm trees and blue-green, clean water. So we played, and we contemplated the tension that surrounded us. My first objective for the trip was that no one get a sunburn. We sat in the shade and lathered on the lotion.
After some play and lunch we were able to verbalize a bit of our discontentment. We didn't like our place. It was overpriced and uncomfortable. We didn't like crossing the main road with the kids. We didn't like waiting for breakfast. We would move hotels.
We trekked down the beach in search of alternative establishments. One place looked perfect- nice restaurant, a pool, and lots of kids. They were booked. Another place had rooms- all musty and moldy. Lily was wailing and Odin dragging when we entered the garden of The Villa. I sat down to nurse Lily and instructed Eric to see a room. Two gay men seated nearby told us the place was the best on the beach and that they had just spent 11 days here. That was enough recommendation for me. They had two rooms available for the next day. It was done. Eric inquired about the price of the rooms, but honestly, I would have paid anything.
I washed our clothes by hand in the sink and wondered where the young travelers we used to be had gone.
Just one more night, we thought. We were all tired and the kids were missing home. Odin acted out- our sweet boy became an unruly child. And Lily was teething which put her in a bad mood. We went to bed with our dwarfs, Unruly and Cranky, at about 8 pm.
Day 6, Unawatuna: We ate breakfast on the beach and packed our bags. We moved to The Villa and happiness again seemed attainable.
The kids could play in the garden. We could sit under the shady tree on the beach. We could eat at the hotel. The rooms had AC and hot water. We were going to make it.
Eric's back began to feel better.
Day 7, Unawatuna: This place was better, but we have planned to stay at the beach too long. Six days?! What were we thinking? Our fair skin can only take the sun for a couple of hours a day. And then what do we do? No playgrounds. No shops. They don't even have grocery stores around here.
Thank goodness the rooms had bidets. These were the perfect height for Odin to play in. He also enjoyed following the garbage truck (a big wagon pulled by a small tractor) around town and directing traffic on the side street. Lily took naps and practiced walking- great for her, tough on mom and dad's backs.
Day 8, Unawatuna: The surf is very rough today. We all took hard tumbles, even Lily. A wave completely took me off guard while I was holding her and we were pulled under. I kept thinking, 'Just hold on to the baby!' We were all fine, but that was enough beach for us for the day.
We made the decision to go back to Colombo the next day. 5 nights was going to be enough. We were done.
Day 9, Unawatuna to Colombo: We drove back to Colombo with a very nice driver who stopped at all the major Buddhist stupas to pray for our safe arrival. When we checked into the Hilton Residence I knew that our choice to leave early was the right one! We had a palatial suite- complete with a separate living area for our domestic help- and amenities included a playground and baby pool. Now this was more like it. We ordered room service and washed our clothes in a washing machine. Odin cooked in the kitchen and swept in the living room.
As great as these digs were, we felt a little depressed. Was this what it had come to? Were we no longer happy unless we were at the Hilton?
We slept soundly and snug in crisp white sheets. Today was the first day since New Year's that Odin didn't ask to go home.
Day 10, Colombo: Ate great food and went shopping for precious and semi-precious stones.
Day 11, Colombo to Bangkok: We were happy to be returning to Bangkok. We checked out at 12 and headed for the airport. About 45 minutes ahead of us on the airport road a bomb exploded killing the senior Minister it targeted. We were glad we hadn't left early for the flight and worried that we might not make our plane. We arrived in time however, and happily, left Sri Lanka. We checked into our hotel, ate dinner, and slept.
Day 12, Bangkok: Bra shopping and a massage provided much needed physical and spiritual lifts for me. It was almost over.
Day 13, Bangkok to Dhaka: Even the 3 hour flight delay didn't dampen our spirits too much. We were thankfully, going home. How had we gotten this vacation so wrong?
We arrived at our house and were met by our staff. Our housekeeper had dinner waiting and the kids were whisked away by their nannies to play in the back yard. We exhaled, and wondered when we became so soft.
We learned some tough lessons this vacation. The top two are:
1. Just because we long to get out of Dhaka doesn't mean that our kids also want to get away. We didn't count on the homesickness factor. They missed their routine. They missed their toys. They missed their food. Two weeks away is too long.
2. We are no longer young backpackers and the kids do care where we stay! We have to face facts about who we are now- tired parents of two small children- and forget about who we used to be- adventurous souls who didn't even need a hotel reservation before they boarded a plane. We are soft. We need to stay at resorts. We need a playground. We need a pool. We need a breakfast buffet. At least for now. Facing this reality took a toll on us but failing to realize it would just inflict more future pain on us all. I knew that Eric and I would grow old together, but I didn't think it would happen this quickly.
So, will we travel with our kids again? Absolutely. We'll just do it differently. We won't stay as long. We'll stay in nicer places. I've already started planning our first trip without the kids however- I'm thinking Spain in about 3 years...
Happy New Year everyone! Here's to a peaceful 2008 filled with love.
Odin, enjoying large machinery in the Bangkok airport
What do you mean the flight's delayed 3 hours???
Sweeping at the Hilton in Colombo
Cooking at the Hilton Colombo
A note from the hotel staff when we checked out at Unawatuna
Father and son on the beach
Mom and the kids in the surf
The beautiful beach at Unawatuna
Lily in the sun
Thank goodness for the bidet
Her persona we've named Tiger Lily
Watching the world go by in Unawatuna
The garden at The Villa