Beaches and Leeches

Trip Start Sep 01, 2005
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Trip End Jul 21, 2006


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the bird house

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Friday, December 9, 2005

Ranjit drove us down the coast to Ambalangoda which is a centre of traditional mask and puppet making. We had a look round and couldn't resist buying a good luck mask. As we drove further south Ranjit pointed out the chilling reminders of the Tsunami. Twisted railway tracks, smashed boats and ruined buildings showed the force of the disaster even on this, the west coast of the island. There also many positive signs in the form of building sites and development projects funded by the many nations who had donated.
Ranjit took us through the Dutch fort town of Galle to the delightfully named village of Unawatuna. We found a good hotel called 'The Bird House' near the beach and settled in. We were going to be on a longer tour of the island but we had a bit of a mix up with our driver over how much we were to pay him. Unawatuna seemed lovely and relaxing so we decided to stay and paid Ranjit off for the journey so far.
We spent the next couple of days relaxing on the beach, swimming and enjoying the local food. The seafood was all really fresh and tasted great, especially when accompanied with a chilled Lion beer. For breakfasts we have been having some tropical fruits; bananas, papaya and pineapple all juicy and ripe. As you would expect, Sri Lankan tea is very good but I didn't expect the fine teacups which it is always served in. Even in a grubby truck stop type cafe the tea was served in delicate floral cups; the sort you'd bring out if the vicar came round.
We visited the town of Galle to see the fort but it was rather uninspiring. At tourist information a very helpful chap gave us lots of advice on what we could see and he set up a tour by rickshaw for the next day. He then put on a sombre face and warned us about how some rickshaw drivers take tourists to high price shops for a commission. I had to conceal a grin; we had been avoiding much worse scams in India for two months. For good views he recommended the restaurant of the Lady Hill hotel which turned out to be the highest point in Galle. We ate whilst taking in views of the sea and palm tree covered hills.
The next day our rickshaw picked us up at seven o'clock and took us to our first stop - a turtle hatchery. The man there showed us cute baby turtles swimming around a pool and explained that after a few weeks they are released into the sea. Five fully grown turtles in small concrete tanks looked much less happy. I asked why they had not been released and he told me "We keep to show to visitors". Hmm, I think this particular turtle hatchery was intended for tourism more than conservation. After that we went to see traditional stick fishermen before visiting a spice garden. Seeing and smelling spices growing was great and we even took a boat trip on Koggala lake to cinnamon island where we saw the sticks being made. Being ushered into the shop was expected but the one here was pretty good. I was tempted by the cheap bags of saffron and souvenir Sri Lanka spices but i'm probably not going to be cooking for a while.
Next on our itinerary was a visit to the folk museum which was quite interesting. Then our driver took us to the Rock temple to see the huge Buddha carved into the rock. The day was great up to this point but our next stop was the rainforest. When we got on the road by the forest some passing guy shouted to our driver. We stopped and he was introduced as our guide. He led us into the forest and seemed knowledgeable as he talked about the plants and animals. Then the path became disappeared and we were following him through marshy ground. He casually pointed out the leeches which were attaching themselves to his bare feet. "Not dangerous. These are used in medicine". We were wearing sandals and kept checking out feet as we walked. Soon the route he was taking us was too difficult and we asked to go back to the road. He looked disappointed but took us back the way we came. He stopped us near the road and asked us to remove our sandals to check for leeches. "Not dangerous - unless they crawl up your leg" he said picking leeches from Jo's feet. She only had four but I won with five including one that had been there long enough to draw blood. Back in the rickshaw I found another.
After that experience we felt a little drained so had some lunch and went straight back to the hotel. Actually, I have had a great time in Sri Lanka and intend to visit again with more time and a pair of wellies.
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