I'm Ayesh Karunaratne, a freelance PHP/Drupal Web Developer and
a solo traveler.
I develop back-ends of awesome Drupal websites, built with performance, security and best practices in mind. Being a freelancer, I have plenty of time to travel. Currently living in Kandy, Sri Lanka, but the actual location may vary.
Sun, 2018-12-30 11:12
It's the last day of the year 2018, and with 365 days behind me, it's time to share a little bit about how my 2018 was. I skimmed through 188GBs of files, containing almost 6,000 photos and videos, and I can honestly say 2018 was an awesome year! I had the opportunity meet some of the best people that I will be admiring and idolizing for the many coming years, and I could travel and explore places that I would cherish the memories forever.
In previous years I usually spent half the year traveling, but this year, I was fortunate to travel 11 months, and it is the highlight of the year. I'm leaning more and more to be a (cliché) digital nomad, and my work and other projects align well with that. I did the math, and I have visited 15 countries, traveled about 2,500km on a motorbike, drove a Tuktuk for over 1,600km (for which I'm legally licensed to, BTW), hiked nearly 20,000m Δ elevation difference, over 250km on foot, and nearly 2,200km on bicycle. A damn good year to travel and I couldn't be happier!
Northern Vietnam in bikes
I started this year with a flight to Hanoi. That was my third time in Hanoi, and many people know how fond I am about Vietnam and Indonesia. I was with a bunch of friends from Sri Lanka for the first two weeks, and we visited the regular sights in Hanoi, Cat Ba island, and Ninh Binh.
I was right in time to celebrate Tết (Vietnamese New Year), and I lost count how many people I greeted with a "Chúc mừng năm mới" and toasted with 5,000 đồng (if not free) drinks. I wish I could love Vietnamese people more!
After my friends left, I was with a friend and a former roommate of me, and we were a group of four with a couple friends (one from China, the other from USA, now living in Mongolia) we met in a hostel. On three rented bikes (I got a sweet Honda Vario), with my American friend using a bike he bought dirt cheap, we set ourselves to ride from Hanoi to Sa Pa through Hòa Bình, Mai Châu, Mộc Châu and Sơn La. Everything was amazing until Mộc Châu, and the scenery was mind blowing. We were on rented bikes, so we had to think about time, and I can't wait to take the same route the next time I'm in Vietnam.
Unfortunately, the dirt-cheap bike (unsurprisingly) broke 30km north of Sơn La. Our spoken Vietnamese was broken, and wallets didn't allow us to buy a new bike. We were however lucky to meet people of that small village. They were super friendly, accommodating, and were eager to help. They even offered us an amazing dinner and helped us in every way they could.
Andy's bike wasn't lucky enough to survive, and it had an engine trouble that was rather expensive to fix.
With his bike gone, we piled our bags to the other bikes, and finally made to Sa Pa at a midnight with 4 people sharing 3 bikes.
My friends took a bus back to Hanoi, but I decided to ride my bike all the way. 10 hours, 320km, and a face full of dust later, I caught up my friends in Hanoi, and that was one hell of a ride! I even took the toll roads where bikes were not allowed, but Tết holidays and friendly smiles at the police officers cut me some slack.
Phong Nha, Da Nang, Hoi An, and Nha Trang are some of the other great cities I traveled lately too.
Ipoh, Kuching, Miri, and Kota Kinabalu of Malaysia
Ipoh is a food heaven, and Penang-akin streets are present in Ipoh too.
Right after Ipoh, it was Cameron Highlands. The name doesn't disappoint with their breath-taking highland scenery. There are over a dozen hiking tracks, and I of coursed hiked all of them except #13 which was closed due to bad weather. If anyone's going to Malaysia, I highly recommend not to miss Cameron Highlands.
After a couple weeks in Ipoh and Cameron Highlands, I took a flight to Kuching in East Malaysia. I wanted to visit there for quite some time, and I was super happy to finally make it there. I could meet some amazing people and didn't forget to hike there too. Gunung Kinabalu, the highest mountain in the South East Asia (except for Puncak Jaya which sort of belongs to Australian continent) requires some paperwork and I couldn't unfortunately make it. This mountain however is still in Gunung to bag list.
Lake Toba, Bukit Bintang, and Padang, Sumatra, Indonesia
Now, to my favorite country in South East Asia! I spent a few days in Samosir island in Lake Toba. Lake Toba is the world's largest volcanic lake. There used to be a massive volcano eruption in the past that blew away everything and made the lake it is today. I have so many memories from last year there, and it was good catch up.
As for Gunung Bagging, I hiked Mount Sibayak (an easy hike closer to Bukit Bintang) and Marapi (a no-so-easy hike near Padang, not to be confused with Merapi in Java). I'm of course not forgetting the delicious Padang cuisine!
Getting my first Tattoo in Cambodia
While Cambodia doesn't score well in my hiking and cuisine lists, Cambodia has its own nice architecture and history that I wandered several days. Siem Reap is just as amazing as you see on photos, and you'd feel like a kid walking through what once was a massive complex of Buddhist temples. I'm a Buddhist myself, and it was nice to hear the familiar sounds of Buddhist monks even I'm several thousand kilometers away from home.
I was with my amazing friend / tattoo partner Julie, and I took my first tattoo from Siem Reap! I signed up for a simple tattoo, while her tattoo was a masterpiece.
Bali, for more Gunung Bagging
I could hear Indonesia calling my name loud and clear, and I flew to Bali right after Cambodia. I had no idea what to do in Bali because I have been to pretty much everywhere in Bali... or so I thought. There are some rarely visited mountains in Bali that has unbeatable views as if you are at the summit of Gunung Agung, the highest mountain in Bali.
My first one was Gunung Batukaru, the second highest mountain in Bali. You can see Gunung Agung from the top of Batukaru, but the views were not that amazing. The trail to the top on the way, was a different amazing. All the way to the peak, except for the last 500-ish meters stretch, is covered with thick tropical forest.
By the time I was there, Gunung Agung was erupting, and all the routes to the summit were closed. However, as the stubborn hiker I am, and someone who paid a ridiculous amount of money for travel insurance, I, along with a couple friends, decided to hike to Gunung Agung. Due to the previous volcanic activity, the entire trail was covered with volcanic ashes, but I had the GPS track I recorded last time, so we could follow through. After hiding our bikes a few hundred meters before there would be gate keepers, we started our hike around 11PM, and reached the summit just in time to see the sun rise.
Sun rise from the top Gunung Agung is one of the best sights I have ever seen, and the risk we took the edge of the crater that was spewing out smoke constantly was totally worth. Little did we know that there would be the gate keepers back at the gate, and they caught us, and what felt like an eternity of scolding later, and leaving some time for our heartbeat to settle down, we went back to our hostel on the same bikes that the gate keepers had found anyway. They still have photos of our passports and we would have been trouble if they catch someone else and mentioned our names that we could climb the mountain despite the volcanic activity.
Around Sri Lanka in a TukTuk
With a French friend I met while I was in Indonesia, we made a spontaneous decision to rent Tuktuk, and travel around Sri Lanka. We drove over 1,600km for nearly a month. It wasn't quite new for me, but it was great to polish my Tuktuk driving skills.
My driving license in Sri Lanka legally allows me to ride a Tuktuk, and we shared the driving responsibility while there were no policemen on the street. We had to limit the route to the northern part of the country because the bad weather in the South, but it was a pleasant trip, nonetheless.
Cycle from Strasbourg to Montpelier and to Mont Ventoux
I always wanted to make a big bike trip in Europe, and the Euro Velo routes are quite organized. I set myself from Amsterdam on bus with bicycle and started the biking trip from Strasbourg.
It was awesome to meet many people on the way, and stay with Warm Shower hosts, and share stories with like-minded people.
With over 2,000km cycled, I went to Mont Ventoux, popular mountain cyclists try hard to cycle. It took me about 3 hours (there are cyclists who do this for half that time), but hey, it's something :)
Hiked GR-20 in 12 days
Grande Randonnée (GR) Lange-afstand-wandelpaden in Dutch is a network of long-distance footpaths. Most of the GR footpaths are in France, and GR-20 is considered the most difficult of them all. It's a 180km of trail crossing the island of Corsica. With the biking trip completed, I put myself to hike GR-20! It's usually a 15-day trail, where you can buy food on the way and can sleep in designate camping sites. From Nice (France), I took a ferry to Corsica, and after over 150km of hitchhiking later, I was at the trail head.
Most of the hikers complete GR-20 in 15 steps, over a span of 15 days. I wanted to rush through, and I paced myself to complete one and a half stretch every day. There was one day that I missed the trail and wasted a day, but I could complete the full 180 KM trail in 12 days. Every single day was a tough 8-9 hour trek, and I did wild camping even though it wasn't allowed. I basically start around 7AM, and hike until the sun set. I of course followed the Leave-No-Trace rule and wasn't bothered by any guards of animals apart from annoying goats.
Weather wasn't helping a lot, and I once got completely soaked good for a couple hours, and sometimes ran out of food until I go to Vizzavona, where I could fill my stocks.
One of the most difficult parts of the whole GR-20 trail is called Cirque de la Solitude, which is right after the camping site (Refuge) named Tighjettu if you are north-bound. A group of hikers were found dead and authorities had decided to close Cirque de la Solitude and open an alternative route. By the time I was there, they had just started the route through Cirque de la Solitude, but the all the way points, ladders, and chains were gone. Cirque de la Solitude involves climbing up to an elevation of ~2,200m, and a steep 400-500m down, immediately followed by an uphill of a steep 500m.
It was dark when I reach the crater, and I had to stay at the crater that night. There was hardly any space to pitch my tent, and with a lot of compromises and a couple hours of moving boulders to make some flat ground, I could sleep there. It looks super scary even for a 26 old stubborn guy, and that night is definitely the most uncomfortable and scary night throughout the hike.
After safely crossing Cirque de la Solitude, the next 3 days were fairly flat, and I was exhausted by that time. What followed was rough terrain again, but this time with unbelievably beautiful scenery and I had absolutely no complaints.
Bocca Minuta side is where the last accident happened and is considered quite unsafe. It was obvious why they closed this route because it's next to impossible to continue forward because how steep it is, now made more difficult with the lack of ladders and chains. There are news reports such as this one and this one if you want to read more.
180km and 12 days later, there I was at the northern trail head, completely GR-20! Perhaps it was the lack of some good food for a couple weeks, or perhaps the Pizza was truly delicious, but I finished off the hike with the most expensive and grandest pizza they had at this cafe, conveniently named "Cafe GR 20".
Monaco, Slovenia, Bosnia, and Croatia
I wish I could spend more time in Slovenia, but the next few weeks were in Monaco (a quick bus ride away from Nice, France), Slovenia, Bosnia, and finally Croatia. Bosnia and Croatia have some of the finest meaty cuisine, and I miss Punjene Paprike already.
Drupal Europe in Darmstadt
Birthday at Zurich, Switzerland
I was physically and mentally exhausted after all the cycling, hiking, and talking in the past few weeks. I could meet a bunch of awesome Couch Surfing members in Zurich, and they were just were so lovely to throw a little birthday party for me!
I admire veganism and like to meditate. Guess what we did first thing in the morning? Turns out there is a small park that a group of like-minded people meditate. Stella is currently traveling, and Tobias is in Germany. I'm looking forward to meeting them again!
Meeting old friends at Potsdam
Immediately after Zurich, it was time to meet an old friend I made at Yogyakarta, Indonesia. She was an immense influence for me in many things but most importantly in my food habits. It meant a lot to catch up with her, and Potsdam itself is an amazing city to visit, and it's not even very far from Berlin.
I'm losing count how many times I've been to Oktoberfest now. Every year, I always go to Hofbräuhaus for my couple of mass-fulls, and this year wasn't any different!
Turkey is an amazing country with all the familiar food you see everywhere in the world, now with such authenticity! I also me Nurcan and her sister, to whom I was the first Airbnb host. I highly doubt I'd ever find a friendlier host and a friend.
Goreme and Nevshehir, Turkey
If you want to immerse yourself into a landscape that you doubt if this really is our own Earth, Goreme can help. Goreme is famous for its moon-like landscape and for the hot-air balloon rides. I was with Sapanida, a girl from Thailand living in Montpelier, and we camped right in this amazing landscape and didn't regret freezing ourselves in the night. We woke up right next to balloons taking-off with 20-ish people jam packed into each balloon.
Georgia (not to be confused with the U.S state with same name) is quite easily the most laid-back country I've been to, and I spent a couple months in Georgia, starting from Batumi.
Batumi is a coastal city in Black sea, with many Casinos and I was surprised how it was different from Turkey right after the border in Sarpi. Although the Georgian population is hasn't even reached 4 million, they have a history running thousands of years back, and their own cuisine and language. I spent about 3 weeks in Batumi, and I could catch up some work and prepare a talk I was planning to give in Germany.
English is not as prominent as Russian and Georgian there, and it takes a considerable amount of practice to even pronounce their long words that could use a few more vowels. As much as Indonesians are addicted in smoking cheap Cigarettes, Georgians are obsessed with gambling. France is full of vending machines that you can buy a condom quite conveniently; In Georgia, every street has at least a couple machines that you can place bets, pay online bills, etc.
With gambling and cars with broken buffers aside, Georgians are friendly and warm people and I'm already planning to go there next June.
Secure Open Source Day
After Batumi was a short trip to Frankfurt and Munich to take part of Secure Open Source Day. Secure Open Source Day is for people who care about security of open source software such as Drupal, WordPress, Django, etc. Balazs, Joe (brains behind Drop Guard), and a few others worked so hard to make this event a success. Even though we had some last minute changes, it was a massive success in collaboration with CMS Garden UnConference.
I delivered a talk OWASP Top 10 - What are them and how to prevent them there in Essen, for which you can find slides here. What we planned for a one-day event turned out to be 3 amazing days from morning to mid night, without a minute spent without smiles and friendly talks. It was sad to say good bye to them, and I'm course looking forward to meeting them again soon!
It was time for Georgia again! I was only Germany for 4 days and I was already missing how delicious Khinkali is! Khnikali is a sort of dumping specialty in Georgia, and oh boy, they not delicious! You can easily shove a dozen down your belly and they of course are the first country to make Wine ~8,000 years ago, and there's nothing else to wash them down!
Tbilisi is a relatively recent city, no thanks to horrible fire practices; Get it the city was burned a few times by accident!
Being a mountainous country, Tbilisi has everything from underground metros, to cable cars and funiculars. The views are breathtaking and quite honestly reminds me of Kandy, Sri Lanka, where I grew up.
I also spent some time in Mestia and Kazbegi not without lovely people. My plan is to climb Mount Kazbek next June!
That's a wrap!
... and that's wrap! I'm back in Sri Lanka, with plans to go back to The Netherlands next June, and I will probably stay in Sri Lanka for a couple months. I feel forever grateful everyone I met this year on my travels. Perhaps one or two people aside, every single one them brought so much positivity and a sense of courage to keep going.
In 2019, I'm working not only to work online more and more, but also delegate and improve a few projects to make sure I have a passive income stream. I already have more and more adventures in the head for the year to come up, and I can't wait to make more friends, meet the people who change your life, and to discover placed everywhere!
ස්තුතියි, Thank you, Bedankt, Merci, Grazie, Danke, Hvala, Terima kasih, អរគុណ, Cảm ơn, Teşekkürler, მადლობა