Travel Talks: In conversation with Stephi Wimalasinghe on the pandemic and more
Stephi Wimalasinghe, better known by her Instagram name @stephi_lk, is passionate about travelling and always looking for an adventure. If you take away the Instagram factor, she describes herself as just a girl who loves the outdoors and is very much in love with nature.
She enjoys staying fit because any adventure sport she does requires good physical fitness, so fitness is a big part of her life. Her hobbies are just as interesting as her personality; in her spare time, she rides horses, hikes, and climbs mountains. She is also quite fond of taking part in powerlifting competitions, and her newest hobby is rock-climbing.
What are you most excited to do after the pandemic?
The pandemic gave everything a break. That includes the destruction we as humankind do to nature. Nature has the remarkable ability to bounce back if we give it enough space and time. I would love to go back to the mountains and see wild animals with less pollution.
Also, completing Everest Basecamp was a trip I missed due to the pandemic, as my booking was cancelled due to the Covid lockdown. I’m excited to plan it and complete that dream trip.
How has the pandemic affected your travels so far?
The pandemic has halted everything I wanted to do abroad. That includes the last-minute cancellation of the Everest Basecamp trip. My partner and I had a few planned trips we wanted to do abroad. So, I think it’s time to regroup for us.
Apart from that, locally, still some of the hotels and villas are closed, especially the places that offer activities. We recently wanted to go abseiling, but it was closed due to the pandemic and they are yet to open.
How did you discover your passion for travel?
Since my childhood, I have loved the outdoors. I wanted to be the host or an explorer on TV documentaries and shows on animals offered by Discovery or National Geography. I wanted to see nature and animals in my own eyes. I never knew how I could become an explorer for TV, but I quickly learned that if I could take up travelling as a hobby, I would get to quench my desire of becoming an explorer of the world. So here I am, after 18 counties’ visa stamped on my passport, still looking for more.
Why do you enjoy travelling?
I’m a person who loves to meet new people and explore new cultures. My eyes were wide open after my solo trip to the African continent. Many warned me about how dangerous it would be, while others asked me to opt for another comfortable trip in Europe. But exploring totally new cultures and humans – and of course, nature – taught me the real power of travelling. The experience I gained, the things I learned, and most importantly, the memories I cherish will last a lifetime.
What is your most memorable travel memory?
It has to be my trip to witness mountain gorillas in their natural habitat. During my East Africa trip, I got the chance to visit Bwindi National Park and trek inside the thick forest to visit mountain gorillas. Tracking gorillas in the dense forest can sometimes be wet, muddy, and uncomfortable. The terrain is by no means easy either, so it can be quite strenuous and often humid, but the sheer thrill in coming across a habituated group of gorillas, dominated by a great male silverback, more than outweighs any difficulty.
It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, since mountain gorillas are endangered animals and they are protected by the authorities. It was amazing to witness their behaviour in their natural habitat, since they were not caged or controlled in any way.
What do you think post-Covid travel will look like?
While the pandemic changed many things, starting with wearing a mask, the question that always comes to my mind is, did we learn anything? With the development of vaccines, we can start to see the end of the tunnel. Mandatory mask wearing and sanitising will soon go away, but we should learn from the pandemic.
While travelling gives you so much enjoyment, lasting memories, and unforgettable experiences, travelling unfortunately has a carbon footprint. Not only that, if we pollute and destroy the beauty of the places, and if we overexploit nature for the sake of tourism, will we have a future? These are the questions that come to my mind. While I see a little progress, I cannot accept that post-Covid travel will not be changed from pre-Covid times.
Would you think twice before travelling after the pandemic? If so, how would it differ from your pre-Covid travels?
I never say no to travel. But with a pandemic, I took all precautions from my end. I’m happy to see that every hotel or villa I visited had taken all safety precautions.
My recent first dose of the vaccine gave me the confidence to travel often. My only fear was whether I would be a Covid-19 transporter, as I travel away from Colombo and I can easily take the virus to a small village. But with the vaccine, that possibility is reduced, so it allowed me to consider more remote locations to travel.
Would you prefer a hotel or a villa after Covid due to safety issues?
I prefer both. While a villa gives more freedom and more safety due to the fact that it’s less crowded, every hotel I visited had taken utmost effort to meet safety precautions. It was great to see both hotels and villas thinking about their clients’ safety more than anything. Closing down spa activities and temporarily cancelling village tours for the safety of villagers around were just a few steps they have taken toward safety.
What are your plans for 2021?
Like I mentioned above, travelling abroad is my plan for 2021. But with the pandemic, every journey I make tells me that local businesses are struggling. So I would like to help them promote their business through my social platform. Also, I think it’s crucial we promote the beauty of Sri Lanka to the world. Many tourists abroad are looking for exotic destinations to travel to after the pandemic. I think we should promote Sri Lanka to be an exotic location. Those are my 2021 plans.
PHOTOS STEPHI WIMALASINGHE