Stunning coastline and end of line!
Trip Start Mar 21, 2009
39Trip End Mar 20, 2010
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Suffice to say I had a pretty bad night with a high temperature and fever. Obviously I ran thro' the possibility that it could be swine flu, but I needed to have contracted the symptoms within a week of travelling and I’d been in Sri Lanka for 2 weeks. I took things very very steady that day, but filled it with getting my diary up to date, sorting out all my States dates and booking requirements, did a load of washing and edited all my camera shots. The day quickly came to an end and I’d never left the room! The fever persisted.
The following day I decided that I would keep Galle as my base, not only because I wasn’t well, but also because it was a lovely place and I liked my cheap guesthouse and the cheap internet! I had an expensive late breakfast at the guesthouse and then took some Ibuprofen – I didn’t want to waste any more time!
Eventually I walked into town thro’ the fort and went to try and find a sleeping bag I could buy. That, along with a USB camera cable and a jumper were not to be found, so I shopped for some salad (which I really craved) and got the bus to Unawatuna. This is an utterly delightful tiny village and gorgeous beach. It’s a lovely quiet idyllic place, with little traffic, no crass commercialism (only a few little tourist shops) and no big, gaudy hotels – just perfect!
I walked down straight onto the beach, which is in a great setting. The beautiful, blue clear waters and clean, bright white sand are all se in a crescent-shaped Unawatuna Bay, with palm trees and tiny beachside cafes, unobtrusively hidden among the shrubbery. It’s clearly recovering, but this area, along with many other south-west and western beaches, suffered horrendously from the tsunami. It caused major damage and hundred lost their lives (many more hundreds in all other beach locations here, too). Guesthouses, trees and vegetation were all gone in an instant. It’s clear many have worked hard here to recover their lost jewel and it certainly doesn’t show too many scars.
I walked the bay around and back, thoroughly enjoying the beautiful weather and the sea waves, guzzling around my legs, as I paddled into the surf. The west coast isn’t as calm as the east, at this time of year, but it’s still stunning, very warm waters and immensely swimmable!
Eventually, after buying local crafts from a beach seller, I had a papaya fruit juice and toasted sandwich at a beach café, where tens of crabs were all walking on and around a small pile of natural rocks, below the café. I also found a piece of coral – the only real reminder I found of the disaster. Afterwards, I walked the narrow lanes behind the beach, where novel little shops engaged me for a while. It was magical and so peaceful. Everyone was really friendly and the café owner and I spent a good 20 minutes chatting.
I returned to lovely Galle and bought some water and snacks from a friendly shop 'at the junction’. Then it was time for another serious 4 hours internet before crashing out at 12.30. Thankfully, the long-lasting ibuprofen had really worked today!
I set my alarm for an early start the next day, but I fell asleep again for another 2 hours. Clearly I must have needed it! I started off at the railway and bus stations, getting times for my last journey up the coast to Colombo, ready to fly out. Then I got duped into going to a handicraft shop that robbed me of 30 mins time. Eventually I got my bus to Ambalangoda.
The coastline from Galle was noticeably different, with many long stretches of beach with no buildings or palm trees. It was then that I realized why. The main road is very close to the beach, along with the main western train line, so the tsunami caused terrible damage her for many kilometers and killing hundreds more. About halfway into the journey, more and more shells of old buildings and basic old foundations , with the odd wall here or pillar there, appeared with lots of graves interspersed among them. In other areas there were larger groups of graves, some with pictures. Monuments had been erected, with one I saw donated by a monk. Other shrines and monuments appeared intermittently on the other side of the road. A huge gap in the palm tree line uttered its own silence and the small waves lapped innocently onto the shore, And silence.
I arrived in the bustling town of Ambalangoda and made my way to the Ariyapala Mask Museum. The art of Sinhalese masks has been passed on for generations. They’re not simply costumes for a dance or a craftsman’s product but rather a symbol of Sinhalese culture. Every mask has its own folklore based on their religion, rituals and social values.
I visited the small museum below the shop. It had dioramas and explanations of the various ways in which the masks are used. It detailed the art of traditional Kolam dances of the west and south-west costal regions; the use of demon specialists wearing appropriate masks to perform healing rituals to drive away demons (still used today!); those used in theatre plays, telling favourite old stories and masks used in homes to keep away evil spirits.
I went upstairs to a beautiful shop, full of colourful, highly carved masks of every possible kind. They were beautiful and the diversity in style and arrangement was terrific, but they were a tad expensive, so I sought out other local sellers.
Eventually I returned to Hikkadawa – a very popular beach resort half-way between Ambalangoda and Galle. I just didn’t like it – it was crammed with (albeit) low key hotels and a couple of larger blighters, but it all looked so much busier than Unawatuna. I didn’t stay long. The beach was quite lovely, but the backdrop wasn’t. I returned to Galle and found a mask shop, buying two little cuties. Then I continued with the camera cable search, to no avail.
Now it was time for my walk around this lovely fort area, to investigate the place where I was staying. Built in 1663, this 36ha fort was built by the Dutch and still houses many of the old Dutch buildings, some over 400 years old. What I loved about Galle was its convenient, pleasant shopping areas, nearby train and bus services and the contrasting peaceful, mellow fort area. It’s such a charming place it’s now a WHS.
It’s also a very thriving area, with a host of (low key) companies, shops, a court, admin offices and churches, all being supported by a large community living within the fort walls. It’s so unique and non-touristy, that it won’t be long before this place will have become a tourist’s haven!
I walked the entire perimeter walls, taking in the stunning ocean views all around (the fort occupies all the promontory land of old Galle) its edges. I passed along the main gate (more recently built by the British in 1873) and its heavily fortified walls. Originally built by the Portuguese and enlarged by the Dutch, who divided the wall into Sun, Moon and Star bastions!
Walking around, I passed the old bell tower (19011) and the old gate, with its 1669 inscription and VOC (Dutch East India Company) sign. It’s located within along, old Dutch Government House that has recently been renovated to house the National Maritime Museum. Continuing around, you pass a Black Bastion (Zwart Bastion), altho’ there is no longer access and then I continued right down to the bottom of the wall, having a good look at the stunning ocean views over the wall. At the bottom is Point Utrecht Bastion, with an 18m lighthouse (1938) on top. The lovely warm sea views and temperature was so nice, with lovely landscaped walls and grassy lawns following up to Flag Rock, where a Portuguese bastion once stood. Ships would be signaled from here, to avoid nearby dangerous rocks. Further round, Triton Bastion also sat around fine views, where a windmill was used to help keep the streets free of dust~
Within the fort, I found a lovely Dutch United Reformed Church (1755, rebuilt after 1640 original, using original gravestones as its floor!), with a 1760 organ inside. A nearby hotel built in 1684 used to house the Dutch governor and his officers and another hotel looked quite traditionally grand, was where P & O European passengers would stay. I also loved walking round the Clan House building, which used to be the Old Lloyds Agency office, with its Ships Arrival Board and inscription of the Clan Line of Steamers Ltd, Asiatic Steam Navigation and Royal Dutch Mail Lines! Apparently there used to be a ship in the building, but as it’s now been closed for 2 or 3 years, it’s been removed.
There were lots of interesting buildings and architectural delights as I wandered around, but there’s no doubt that this is a lovely place to stay and base yourself in the south-west (Unawatuna excepting!). I returned to my digs, having had two lots of snacks at my favourite local tiny café at the top of Lighthouse Street) and got on the internet almost straight away. Six hours later, I crashed!
The following day was reluctantly an admin one, sorting out the backpack and sending a parcel home with my little goodies and another Lonely Planet. I had one more day in Colombo and it was going to be part enjoyment and part shopping (ugh!) as I needed to find a sleeping bag for camping in the States! Another jumper might be good too, along with a USB cable for my new camera!!
This had been the most delightful of trips and I loved Sri Lanka everywhere I visited. It’s the most stunning, beautiful place with so much to offer: history, stunning scenery, opportunities for hiking and walking, gorgeous beaches and fabulous people.
The tourist hype would say ‘Sri Lanka – a small miracle’. And I think they’re absolutely right!
My flight is at 01.45 on the 24th July. The States here we come!