When I set off to Sri Lanka for two weeks I had pretty much no plans. I had chosen to visit the Colombo and perhaps one more random place but wanted to fly by the seat of my pants and enjoy my time. My only goals were to make new friends and eat lots of delicious food. Little did I know that making friends was going to be the least of my worries. The people are as friendly as the weather is hot and making new friends is very easy in Sri Lanka. One of my new friends ended up being Prageeth Silva a male model and my impromptu tour guide.
Prageeth is pretty easy on the eyes, but his looks don’t come with the egotistical playboy attitude we are used to from most male models. Prageeth is gentle, quiet and quick to say that although he's not married yet, he has a serious girlfriend. His soft-spoken nature represents his country’s traditions well he is very proud of his culture. We got along very well upon meeting and even after being warned that I like to travel and hike very slowly he decided to show me one of his favorite gems in Sri Lanka.
We traveled north by bus in the night on a schedule that was allegedly quicker than the train to a city called Ella. A cute and somewhat touristy little town Ella boasts a few high end resorts but we took a more natural route and stayed at the beautiful Ella Eco-lodge on Waterfall Road. Ella Eco-Lodge consists of gorgeous tree houses surrounded jungle views and all the nature you can handle. There were monkeys in the trees in early morning and sometimes the sweetest baby deer would peek out of the woods. With many workers walking around and children coming home from school you get the feeling of living local as soon as you step out of your room. I prefered to stay inside in the natural little villas and listen to the birds sing and relax on the small porch.
For dinner each night we enjoyed the menu at Downtown Rotti Hut. Yes, every night and morning. If something's broke don't fix it right. Downtown Rotti Hut had the most vast combination of Sri Lankan and Western food so we were both satisfied. It's also spacious with a great breeze and atmosphere. Sanjaya, the manager made us feel more than welcomed and the staff was full of charming smiles and sweet dispositions. This is where I did most of my questioning of Mr Silva to find out an inside scoop on this country and his story.
Prageeth is 33 years old and originally from a humble family in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka. He works as a model for an Indian magazine and as personal trainer. Prageeth told me he worked with Jayanthi Kuruthumpala and trained her partner Johann Peiris, the first Sri Lankans to climb mount Everest, a proud accomplishment for the Sri Lankan people. Although he told me this information before I went on a hike with him I really should have paid more attention because in 90 degree weather, I did think that I might just die. Completely against my better judgement to go hiking with a professional. His daily life is waking up at 4am to meet fitness clients or prepare for photo shoots. I'd suggest not doing any form of exercise with this guy unless you are serious because he is always charged and ready to go. And of course, the weather in Sri Lanka is typical for him. Me, I was sweating the water out faster than I could drink it.
Prageeth’s walk denotes merely a gentle air of confidence but a recent bank commercial with Hatton National Bank had gotten him some attention around town. I’m 6’0’’ tall and he is 5’6’’ so we were quite the pair walking around Sri Lanka. Over a delicious Sri Lankan breakfast the shy model told me more about himself. Sri Lanka is a somewhat isolated country, especially after many decades of war. I was curious how a small town guy ended up becoming a fashion model in the first place.
Silva studied journalism in University but apparently while working in the airport in Colombo his life and ideas changed one day due to some visitors. "I had to welcome a group of international models one day and I thought, I want to do that." Five years later he now works as a personal trainer and professional model for a magazine, has participated in numerous runway shows, works regularly for international photographers, salons and etc. In 2014 Silva was name Mr Male Model Sri Lanka, an accomplishment that has made his friends, family and community very proud.
Although many people come to Sri Lanka to work with Silva, he has not yet traveled for his career and becoming international is his dream. "I love to watch the international fashion shows to study their poses and facial expressions. I want to work internationally and gain respect." Asian men have very little representation in the western world and for dark-skinned Asian men such as Silva there is even less visibility. While the western world still struggles with stereotypes of Silva is determined to make his mark and his physique has no problems boasting his sex appeal or masculinity. He hopes to travel to Istanbul, Dubai, Paris, Milan and New York in the next year to try his luck in the international market. Is there a place for a five foot six inch Silva in the international fashion market I don't know, but I can't think of a guy that deserves a shot more than him.
Prageeth had been nice enough to take me to Ella and Badulla towns I probably wouldn't have discovered without him and I was so grateful. I'd only been told on messageboards to check out Kandy and Galle but living in a tourist area myself (St Thomas Virgin Islands) I was sure that there must be something else to discover. I'm pretty dedicated to a few things when I travel, moving slow, meeting locals and having a totally unique experience. While in Colombo I stayed in a Sri Lankan homestay with a Sri Lankan family. Sri Lanka is quickly becoming a popular backpacker destination and Ella is a sweet little town that you can get lost in with the right accomodation.
We enjoyed the afternoon with an in room lunch of curried vegetable and rice and went back out for egg hoppers for dinner. It was a full moon so we decided to relax in the treehouse and sat listening to my own personal Bollywood dance mix, drinking a couple of Lion beers and watching the sunset. I asked Prageeth how he felt about so many tourists coming to Sri Lanka these days. "I'm so happy about it. Since the end of the war the number of tourists have increased. It's a good thing." he said. "There are so many hotels all over the country and it really has become a safe place to travel."
When I came to Sri Lanka I wasn't so cautious of the dress code. I found myself out on the street in a tank top feeling naked because no one else had even a shoulder exposed. I asked Prageeth what were some mistakes he saw tourists making when they came to the country. "The worst mistake they do is when they come to Sri Lanka for the very first time they sometimes don't know more about the how to travel around so they tend to fall in with the touts and get misled. Sometimes tuk drivers also try to cheat you." Personally while I was in Sri Lanka I only took metered tuk tuks and Uber so I luckily didn't have any issues with this.
I promised him only one more question, as I could tell he was feeling much more bashful about my interview process than he was about our underwear clad photo shoot. "What are the names of some nice places that travellers should explore that are a bit more off of the beaten path?" I said. "Anuradhapura of course is very historical and beautiful. Deniyaya, Monaragala and Mahiyanganaya are all beautiful. Balangoda is also very nice and easy to visit as it is only 89 miles from Colombo. Ambalangoda has a beautiful beach town and Meemure is positively breathtaking." he said. I thanked him for all of his time, energy and kindness and the next morning we took the train back to Colombo. The train ride was an even more gorgeous experience than I imagined. Riding through the tea plantations was an absolute dream. I could live this trip over and over again.
Life if full of interesting people, places and lots of surprises. I couldn't imagine this trip to Sri Lanka if I hadn't met Prageeth. But every person I met while I was in Sri Lanka was genuine and kind, warm and welcoming. This country truly captivated my heart and restored my faith in humanity. I can't wait to go back to explore again. My travel motto is "Never go anywhere just once"