I headed off for Sri Lanka again, towards the end of February, this time determined to see the South Coast of the island, namely Galle, and the beach at Unawatuna. This time, as a backpacker proper. So when I landed, I got some local Rupees (about 170 to the pound at the time) and got the bus to Colombo.
It was actually a two bus journey, with the initial bus, from the airport to the bus station, a freebie, connecting to the Colombo bus. I did ask up front how much the fare should be, and was told SLR32. Because I was fresh faced & running about with only SLR1000 notes, when the fare was to be paid, I duly handed over a grand. The conductor said he’d give me my change later… *alarm bells*… So we got to the final stop, and sure enough all the locals went to exit quickly. I immediately turned to the conductor who was yelling “last stop, last stop”… and then suddenly the driver rolled forward a few feet.
I bought it…
I accepted the first wad of notes I was handed… and bailed off the bus. I was given SLR500 in change!! Approx SLR470 short changed… still, looking at the bright side, this was a grand total of under £3 GBP. Anyways, now that I had some change, I was determined not to be caught again, so some harsh negotiating with the Tuck Tuck driver and I was at the bus stop which would get me to Galle. The second bus was a more professional affair, with tickets & balances noted. The SLR107 fare was of course, peanuts for the 3 hour 30 minute drive, most of it along the Western Sri Lankan coast… and it was beautiful.
So for the princely sum of SLR139, you can travel from Colombo Airport to Galle Bus Station on the South Coast… approx 5 hour journey by bus. Magic.
I was spending one night in Galle, a UNESCO world heritage site, much like Dubrovnik in Croatia, but without the hassle, the bustle and the crowds. In fact, Galle is probably just as beautiful in it’s own unique way, but the complete serenity of the city is amazing. There are streets, like Dubrovnik, where you can reach out your hands & touch both walls. The architecture is a mix of Portuguese, Dutch & British, and practically all of it is 150 years old, plus.
I spent my day wandering around the Dutch Quarter (the term for the walled part of the city), through the streets and around the ramparts, from bastion to bastion. Of course, the glorious 30 plus degree heat helped, as did the clear blue skies, and the peace (so that all you could hear was the sea & the occasional Tuck Tuck), but it really was beautiful. I also had my lunch at an old colonial hotel, on their veranda, overlooking the ramparts. Tranquil was the word really… I also managed to spot some school cricket on the International Cricket Pitch in Galle and a massive coordinated dance tournament.
In the evening time, I bumped into three gentlemen, a French guy, about my age, who worked for Google, and two Canadians, who had both retired from the Canadian Civil Service, by the sounds of things from very senior under minister positions. Having invited myself to tag along with them for the remainder of the evening, the craic, as they say, was ninety. One of the retirees spent 5 months a year in a Condo in Thailand, 5 months a year in the Canadian Summer, and the other 2 months on holiday… it’s a hard knock life indeed.
On my second day, I headed for the beach of Unawatuna, just 15 minutes by Tuck Tuck from the Dutch Quarter of Galle. To be perfectly frank, the beach here made Palolem in Goa look third rate. The sand was clean, no dogs, the hawkers were relatively polite & understood (and acted upon) the word “no”. So I wandered along the sand, found a shady spot & pulled out my book. An entire afternoon whittled away.
In the evening time, I headed for a recommended cafe, which was supposed to be the party spot on the beach for the evening. Anyways, I ended up chatting to a German couple from the North West, and a bunch of Norwegians. I also had the joy of watching one of those people who twirl fire on the end of strings strike himself on the head… only for his hair to catch fire. I immediately started screaming “head on fire!! Head on fire!!”. The guy, aye, the one with his head on fire, seemed to take an age to appreciate what was going on… but eventually started smacking his head to try & dampen the flames. Easily one of the funniest things I’d seen in a while.
The second day on the beach, went much like the first one in truth… I found a shady spot & read. I also met up with the three amigos again and spent the afternoon hashing & joking the day away. I also spent a fair bit of time wondering how I could do what my Hotel Owner was doing… he was also Norwegian, but had built himself a simple, effective, and beautiful hotel about 300 yards from the beach (if even that). I’m guessing he was an architect, based on the design of where I was staying, but also on the presence of what looked like an old architect’s drawing board in one of the rooms. Simply put, he was living the life.
My fourth day in Sri Lanka was spent travelling, back up to Sri Lanka, and to the Galle Face Hotel to meet up with Emma (a lassie who works in the British High Commission in Colombo). We hashed, had dinner and then I headed for the airport (by taxi this time) and back out of Sri Lanka, determined to go again. In May probably. I love it.