Sri Lanka's South Coast - Colonial Galle & Beaches

Trip Start Nov 29, 2013
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Trip End Ongoing


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Flag of Sri Lanka  ,
Thursday, March 27, 2014

The south coast of Sri Lanka comes close to the image of a tropical paradise and has most of the main beach resorts in the country. The white sand beaches are lined with palm trees, the harbors filled with small fishing boats, and the villages backed by emerald green rice paddies. We had the relative luxury of three nights in one hotel in Unawatuna – so nice not to have to pack up your bags and move onwards every day.

Unawatuna is a popular beach resort close to Galle without much to do except for beach activities like snorkeling, swimming, and watching sunsets, but it was a good base for short excursions. The old town of Galle is an interesting fortified colonial town with fortification walls and most buildings inside dating from the era of Dutch colonialization before the British took control of Sri Lanka. Galle was pleasant to stroll around but there aren't many notable sights.

Sri Lanka’s south coast was badly hit by the December 2004 tsunami. Although Galle’s old town was spared by the high stone walls surrounding it, some of the video footage that made world news was from the bus station outside the walls that was badly inundated by the waves. There are currently few indications of the tsunami except for memorials in some towns and at places of particular carnage. The official death toll in Sri Lanka was over 30,000 but may have been closer to 50,000 because there were many unaccounted for.

Among the interesting things in the area are the stilt fishermen, men who stand on poles in the water to catch fish. Nowadays, however, the few who are out on the poles are only doing so for tourist baksheesh. We did see other shore fishing, though, that included large numbers of men pulling loaded nets onto shore using lots of muscle power.

I decided to go on the other optional excursion, a half day whale watching boat ride. It was discovered not that many years ago that a significant number of Blue Whales, the largest of all whale species, congregate some distance off the south shore of Sri Lanka. Whale watching trips in most parts of the world you can do them are usually pretty expensive with no chance of success. The $50 trip including breakfast didn’t seem like too bad a deal, though, for the chance to see some Blues.

The boat took us well out to sea, a ride of about two hours until we reached the area where whales were frequently spotted, and very choppy seas they were. I’m fortunate that I have no tendency at all towards motion sickness, but many onboard were lying down ill or vomiting from the rough seas. The ups and downs on the waves became even more pronounced as the boat slowed down to approach our targets. I held on to the rail and tried to use my camera, but most of my pictures turned out to be of empty sky, featureless water, or very crooked horizon lines as I bobbed up and down.

But success we had! First it was huge pods of spinner dolphins. By huge I mean not 10 or 20 but pods of several hundred, some jumping well out of the water to do the spinning twists and backflips that gets the species its name. And then a Blue Whale breached…and about five boats raced towards it. There’s not much time with a whale once it becomes visible. They apparently take several breaths given away by spouts of water over a few minutes and then submerge again for a substantial length of time. Once our whale went down we’d wait and watch….until there was a sign of another and our boat and all the others would rush towards it. I think we spotted 5 or 6 whales in total.
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