February 26, 2021


The Trip Encyclopedia

Interview with Stefan D'Silva

Stefan D’Silva is from the pearl of Indian ocean; Sri Lanka. He is a passionate traveler who has trotted in almost every part of his country. This interview is a reflection of his enthusiastic travel life. His website is storehouse of life styles, cultural patterns and geographical elements.
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1. What do you focus on while travelling to a new place – people, culture, attractions, food, adventure, or nature?
One of the great mistakes people make when they travel to exotic places is to compare those countries with some other part of the world or compare the place of travel to ‘home’. I would think that travelling to an exotic land like Sri Lanka (for example) is to experience what that country has to offer. I prefer to be a ‘traveller’ than be a guided tourist. I prefer to stand in awe of ancient rock carvings than get excited over a modern man made structure. Complex social structures and a ‘weave’ of ethnic groups inevitably means colourful ceremonies, rituals, customs and social practices. Not to mention dress, dance and cuisine. Adventures can be derived from train rides to safari excursions to diving on wrecks. Access to National Parks and Nature Parks, in Sri Lanka are a few hours away. Marine parks and marine ‘wild life’ are also easily accessed making Sri Lanka one of the best places to observe pods of Spinner Dolphin and whales. So; to conclude, I focus on all the aspects of travel. Making the journey interesting is mandatory – not just the destination. A road journey is only dull for the ill-informed and the unobservant. Every mode of travel has its own discoveries. A long train journey will not only involve a change in landscape it involves a change in the demographic of people who come aboard and the various ‘peddlers’ that come aboard too. Great scope for portrait photos with every changing kilometre. Lately I have been travelling to and photographing ancient rock inscriptions and rock paintings, which leads on to a whole new dimension of discovery, legend and history.
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2. What is your advice to travelers who are just beginning their journey?
Today many travelers plan an itinerary based on what they want to see or experience and then arrange transport or plan a means of transport when they are in a country. What is often missed is the time factor ‘on the road’ especially when you are travelling in exotic countries. The country may look very small on a world map but the actual road time taken from one place to another can be many, many hours (up to a whole day). Hills and mountains mean narrow roads with many bends. Traffic can slow to a ‘crawl’ going uphill or even coming down if other heavy vehicles are in front. You will only get upset if you have not planned for this ‘time on the road’. Many make the mistake of thinking they can cross a country and then do some activity at the end of a journey – bad planning can frustrate a traveler as they may reach the destination after dark and literally have lost a day on the road. My advice is; plan any travel within a country, time it, pay attention to detail (such as where tickets are sold and on what days). Check out Public Holidays before you confirm an itinerary as some religious holidays have all sorts of restrictions (on bars and café`s for example). Check out the route/terrain you intend to travel along. Allow for breaks- toilet breaks or meals. Allow ‘down time’ if the schedule is ‘back to back’. Pay attention to your foot wear- should it be open sandals or a closed shoe. A flat closed shoe is excellent general wear. But; if you are visiting temples in the East you may need to remove your shoes and leave them outside. In these instances a cheap pair of rubber thongs may be the option. Travel with an open mind – leave pre conceived notions & perceptions at home and you will find that ‘the smile’ of the human being is readily available. It is an interesting test you may like to try out; be the first to smile and you are sure to get one back!
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3. What advice would you give to anyone who is considering travelling but is scared to take the leap of faith?
Apprehension is driven by perception. Most perception is driven by the main stream media and that can be misleading. The Six O’ Clock news may present a story that has ‘news value’ and which does not necessarily balance the news bulletin in terms of a person wanting to travel to some exciting place. If one is totally dependent on main stream news and cyber ‘trolls’ to get an accurate perception of any country then you can get the wrong impression or a one dimensional impression. One way to alleviate apprehension is to do some research of your own. In this day and age there are extremely informative and credible assessments of places and experiences. Governments are obligated to inform their citizens to be cautious about travel to various countries and those warnings need to be heeded inclusive of your own research. There are many independent people who write, travel and photograph in countries all over the world. I am ‘biased’ – I say take the leap- travel to places that will satisfy your soul – and expand your mind – not to places that merely replicate the country you live in. Most often common sense is the best guide. One demonised issue is food and diet when travelling. If you are travelling in some exotic country and you want to have a snack at a roadside place, choose hot food and a hot cup of tea perhaps. If the food is hot off the stove (or steaming hot- boiled) the chances are you will not have an adverse reaction. If, on the other hand, you ask for a cold salad in a tropical country in the late afternoon; you may end up with a bad tummy! Fruit like bananas are an excellent snack – because you throw away the skin and all its ‘germs’ and eat the inside!!
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4. Any upcoming trips you’re looking forward to?
Yes. In January a few friends and I have planned a cycle trip from the North Central of Sri Lanka to the east coast and then south along the east coast over a period of 4 days. We are starting from the, historic World Heritage listed, ancient capital of Polonnaruwa and ending up in Arugambay in the south east of the country (famous for its surfing beaches). I look forward to photographing old temples and the kaleidoscope of life along the way. In fact I can relate this trip to the last question of people fearing to travel. There are some who are aghast that we have chosen to cycle in Sri Lanka. But; if they were to scope the issues with local cycle clubs and the booming interest in cycling then there are many risks that can be overcome/minimised and some balance brought into the planning. There has been a yearning in me to cycle the tree lined, beautifully forested road from Arugambay to the Lahugala National Park. This is not a long ride and will be done for the pleasure of the surroundings. It is a ride I have wanted to do for some time. An early morning ride to Lahugala NP and back will have risks of meeting elephants on the road and we are very mindful of that. After that I am hoping to do some travel by sea around the island nation and get a different perspective of its ancient nautical history and ancient ports. That’s the plan – hope it comes to fruition.
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5. There are many ways to travel: from staying in luxurious resorts to hitchhiking and living off the grid. How do you travel?
My travel methods and accommodation vary depending on the trip and the time of the year. The hottest months of the year will see me scoping a room with air conditioning as a good night’s sleep is one of the best ways to recover from an active day. We are also very early starters often we start off at dawn, and a good night’s sleep is mandatory for a fresh start the next day. I do not hitchhike. It does not ‘work’ that well in Sri Lanka (where I do all my travelling). Hiking/walking combined with the use of trains is one good option. I am looking forward to taking a train and then cycling in through a particular area or location. I am fortunate when it comes to vehicles as a very close friend has a modern 4×4 vehicle and he travels with me on many occasions. If he is not able to make it I hire a van or smaller vehicle to travel, around. There are decent, dependable and honest owner drivers and hire car drivers who do an excellent job driving/traveling with me for a very reasonable fee per kilometer.
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6. What is the craziest thing you’ve done during your travels?
The craziest thing – if I am judging the question right; is a climb this July through moderate scrub jungle and a dry waterway to photograph some unique rock paintings in Kurullangala, Sri Lanka, at an elevation of about 4000 feet. The climb was long and strenuous, it involved the use of ropes to get up certain ‘slabs’ of rock and even the use of tree roots across another rock face to finally get to the paintings. It took us 8 hours and 45 minutes to get up and back. I would presume it would take younger, fitter people about 5- 6 hrs. Irrespective of the duration and the fitness levels of whoever tries this climb, the risks are many and certainly it is not a recommended wet weather climb. Whist the equipment may have been  ‘first class’ the anchor points for the ropes (for example) were far from safe. Loose rock and shale poses another risk. Ultimately the rock paintings were spectacular and they were only discovered about 20 years ago by some young local lads looking for birds’ nests and medicinal herbs. They have yet to be properly dated.