Having being cured of breast cancer and launching a website about it, the Brazilian water sports athlete, Roberta Borsari, has just concluded yet another stage of her “SUPTravessias” project, which tells stories and talks about the curiosities of islands using multimedia content. The destination chosen was Sri Lanka – indicated by the Lonely Planet guide as the best place in the world to visit in 2019 – because of its deep connections with Ayurvedic medicine, which was one of the pillars of the treatment that helped Roberta overcome the disease and means “science of life” in Sanskrit. She also chose it because of the richness of the local culture and the possibilities the coast offers for standup paddling and surfing.
The famous stilt fishermen of Sri Lanka. | Photo courtesy: Roberta Bosari
As a native of São Paulo, she left the city with the goal of traveling around the destination on a stand up paddle board as part of her project. She concentrated her visit on the country’s south coast, some three hours from the capital, Colombo, where the beaches of Weligama, Mirissa and Kabalana are located. “It was very interesting there because I was in contact with the coastal culture, with fishing, which is done totally by hand using very pretty and colorful rustic boats. There are also fish and seafood markets and the famous stilt fishermen, who are the iconic images of Sri Lanka. They began fishing from within the water in periods of hunger in order to increase their chances of finding fish, and they still have this same habit today”, she says. She added: “It’s a destination preserved by time and not yet invaded by Western culture, where even the sincerity of the people seems to be intact.”
While Roberta was there, she had the opportunity to meet and socialize with the local population, comprising mostly fishermen. “They’re extremely friendly, kind and open with tourists. They do everything to make you feel good. They show you their boats and they understand that tourism is good for the country. Their Civil War lasted 26 years, from 1983 to 2009 and the people suffered a lot, but the country is rediscovering itself through tourism. It was one of the most gratifying and remarkable experiences I’ve ever had: rowing along beautifully idyllic beaches, and still having all this contact with the local culture”, she says.
Visiting temples. | Photo courtesy: Roberta Bosari
Another striking feature of the people is how religious they are; religion is everywhere. Although about 70% of the population of the country is Buddhist, 13% of the people are Hindus, 9% are Muslims and 8% are Christians. That is why there are various temples, each more beautiful than the other, both outside, with their huge Buddhas, and inside. Roberta visited some of them, including one of the oldest in the country called the Wewurukannala Raja Maha Vihara that dates from the 18th century and is 236 years old. She also had the opportunity to have massages that used pure, nutrient-rich oils that are typical of ayurveda, which is a profound knowledge of medicine and more than 5000 years old.
Tuk tuk as the main mode of transportation. | Photos courtesy: Roberta Bosari
Much of the exploration Roberta undertook was on a tuk tuk. “The drivers are extremely used to carrying tourists, because Sri Lanka is a surf destination. The entire coastline is made up of either coral reefs or sand banks, which we call beach breakers,” she explains.
Sri Lanka is also one of the best places for observing elephants, especially in the 30,000-hectare Udawalawe National Park where you can also see buffaloes and lots of peacocks. “It was incredible to go on safari, which was a great opportunity to see the animals in their natural environment. It’s a trip you just can’t miss”, she says.
The nearly three-hour drive there is a major attraction, an experience in itself. “On the road you see monkeys, birds of all kinds and colors, bats, etc., and you don’t even notice the time passing. You see communities and talk with the driver, who’s also the guide. The roads are lined with stalls selling tea, peppers, and spices, like cinnamon, and rice paddies. It’s like traveling back in time. That was one of the main impressions I had”, she reports.
Exploring via tuk tuk. | Photo: Malka Hihom Photography
The local cuisine is another factor that impresses, with its local spices that seem to come straight from the roadside to the dishes. Everyday food consists of rice, yellow lentils, curried fish and seafood, vegetables, potatoes and mango chutney. It’s very hot and spicy, by the way, one of the hottest in all of Asia. “If you ask if a dish is hot and spicy, they say no, but the condiments they use are very strong. Even the vegetables are very hot, but delicious. So there’s no way you can eat without having a little bottle of water handy. There are options, of course, but if you want to get to know the traditional food, which is characteristic of their day-to-day lives, then you have to face the pepper”, she jokes.
Roberta also visited a tea plantation and the Herman tea plant, one of the most traditional in the country. It is one of the leading exporters of tea, which it sends around the world, especially to England, and that is why it’s a must for fans of the drink. “I tried white tea, which is the purest and most antioxidant in the world, and has a series of certifications. When it’s being prepared there’s no contact with human skin so as not to lose its nutrients. But even the most basic black tea has a special flavor thanks to the quality of the plant.”
About the athlete
Roberta with one of the local fishing boats in Sri Lanka. | Photo courtesy: Roberta Bosari
Roberta Borsari from São Paulo was one of the top 10 competitors in the world kayak surfing circuit for more than 10 years. She was the first woman to kayak surf the pororoca of the Araguari River in the Amazon, and she pioneered various stand up paddle crossings around the world. Among the best experiences she had in the SUPTravessias project, she particularly mentions contact with endemic species on the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador, the archeology of Easter Island in Chile, the natural beauties of the Maldives and the Polynesian customs of Moorea in Tahiti. At the end of each expedition, she always uses the multimedia to tell stories about each destination and describe their curiosities on her sites robertaborsari.com.br and suptravessias.com.br.
Roberta was also the first athlete to receive authorization from the Brazilian Ministry of the Environment to cross the sea to the Alcatrazes Archipelago on the coast of the State of São Paulo, on a stand up paddle board. She has also circumnavigated Fernando de Noronha, Brazil’s most idyllic island on a paddle board.
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