Crazy driving to a relaxing beach
Trip Start Jun 25, 2006
127Trip End Aug 01, 2007
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I visited Sri Lanka on my own a little more than two years ago (pre-tsunami) and had a wonderful experience. Great sites, beautiful beaches, and some of the friendliest locals I've ever encountered made me really want to bring Katie and show her around. One of the only difficulties I found in being here last time was the public transportation. It was extremely slow, rickety, and very crowded. So honed from my years of dealing with aggressive New Jersey drivers and cocky from success in driving "British style" in the left lane in South Africa, we decided to take a chance and do something that foreigners hardly ever do in Sri Lanka, we rented a car! Ummm, lets just say that it is the most extreme driving I have ever done, and actually it is a bit like a video game. Lane markings are thought of as mere suggestions, potholes big enough to break an axle pepper the roads, the horn is depressed constantly and at any time all of the following could be unexpectedly popping out of side roads, stationary in the middle of the road, or sharing the narrow tarmac with you: huge trucks, motorcycles, bicycles, tractors, three-wheeled "tuk-tuk" taxis, roving cows, stray dogs, pedestrians, road repair crews, ox-drawn carts, oh and of course cars of every shape and size packed in-between
Our first destination was the chilled-out beach town of Unawatuna. During my last visit, this place was recommended to me by a friend. It turned out to be one of my favorite places in Sri Lanka. The tsunami in December 2004 completely devastated the town so in coming back, I was unsure what to expect. As we drove further south on the coastal road, tsunami damage was very evident, wrecked buildings, bare foundations, and stretches of road conspicuously lacking any structures made it plain that the region had not fully recovered. All that being said, we were both very surprised how much was still intact and had been rebuilt. There has clearly been a lot of donor money poured into the region. Much to my surprise, Unawatuna was even more developed than when I had visited before. Thankfully, the beautiful stretch of beach and relaxed vibe of the place are blissfully intact.
Last visit I found it very difficult to tear myself away from here to visit the historic sites further inland. I imagine we'll have the same "problem" this time as well
Todd's spidey-like reflexes came in handy during the crazy drive from Colombo to Unawatuna (which, coincidently is a really fun name to say - pronounced oooh-nah-wah-tuna...like the fish). The roads were much better that I expected, and certainly nicer than many of the roads in Zambia! However, after driving around a bit, it is clear that this is a third world country, and that we were in a little microcosm of wealth in Colombo. There is lots of trash on the sides of the road and livestock really is roaming around everywhere. And people are driving wooden carts with a universal motor hanging off the front. The main differences from Southern Africa are the palm trees, religion, and people live in concrete structures instead of thatched roof huts.
Since I have only been to two predominantly Buddhist countries before (and that was only for a week), I am still quite excited by all the giant Buddha statues and dagobas (like pagodas) that are on the side of the road. They are so massive and colorful that it is hard to resist the urge to take photos of each and every one
It was humbling seeing the long stretch of road that was obviously demolished by the Tsunami, and encouraging seeing all of the rebuilding that is currently taking place. I was expecting to see refugee camps lining the beaches and sides of the road, yet that was not the case. Our guidebook was published in late 2005, and most of the disturbing scenes it mentioned along the road no longer existed. Some had even been replaced with huge memorial plaques and statues for the people who lost their lives in the Tsunami.
Otherwise, we are just hanging around the beach, reading a bit, and planning our route for the next 10 days or so.