Istuh-tee Sri Lanka

Mar 10-12, 2017

From ancient cities to the temperate hill country to the beautiful and tranquil southern beaches, Sri Lanka really has it all and, unfortunately, our time there was drawing to a close. 

Our final stop was Galle, a UNESCO World Heritage city and remnant of Sri Lanka’s colonial past. 

The Portuguese first set up a small fort here in 1589 until they were defeated by the Dutch who  then took over Galle and built their own fort in the 17th century. 

Galle was the most important port in Sri Lanka for almost 200 years until the British came in 1796 and moved the commercial capital to Colombo. 

Today, Galle Fort still acts as a livable part of the city and many of its historic buildings act as residences or boutique hotels. Historically and presently, the Fort is home to a predominantly Muslim population and this cultural element can be felt throughout this quaint district. 

Since we really only had one full afternoon here, we decided to do a walking tour suggested by our Lonely Planet guidebook. 

Our first stop was Lighthouse Beach, which seemed to be quite popular with Galle locals.

We then passed Galle’s signature lighthouse and the Meeran Mosque. 

It seemed like every schoolgirl in the whole country also had a field trip to Galle Fort that day because the place was just swarming with them. 

We then continued along the walls to several bastions. 

The Star Bastion was where the Dutch kept their prisoners and/or slaves at various points during their tenure here. 

What was kind of cool was that from this bastion we had a nice view over Galle’s famed International Cricket Stadium. As luck would have it, the national team of Sri Lanka was playing Bangladesh and while we don’t understand the rules of cricket whatsoever, it looked like everyone in the stadium was having a blast, especially the Bangladeshis. 

From there we saw the British-built clock tower as well as the main gate. 

We passed some colonial-era fancy hotel and then came across two beautiful churches: the Dutch Reformed Church and the All Saints Anglican Church, both dating from their respective colonial periods. 

We then passed Galle’s beautiful old gate before taking a brief break in the Court Square. 

Walking the circumference of Galle Fort can be done easily in an afternoon and we even had a chance to stroll through some of the smaller streets, alleyways, as well as nooks and crannies that makes these colonial structures so picturesque and fascinating. 

We were fortunate enough to be staying in the Fort itself (although we had to pass through a jewelry store and an oddly placed fish spa to get to our room), and we cooled off in our only air-coned room during our entire stay in Sri Lanka (despite temperatures in the high 30s), before hiring a tuk tuk driver to take us to the local market. 

This market is rather typical, except that it takes place under a 300-year-old Dutch columned roof. 

We returned to the Fort and were treated to a random parade and then perused some of Galle’s impressive artisanal shops. Galle is apparently home to many artists and the artwork and the handicrafts there are second to none. 

Since it was ridiculously hot and we had been sweating for the entirety of the day, we hit the showers before heading out for one of our final meals in Sri Lanka. It was at a rotti shop with decent prices that Tracy says was her favourite meal during our entire foray on this glorious island. 

After dinner, we grabbed a drink at a hammock bar before we heard some live music coming from the Dutch Hospital and made our way to the top of the Fort wall to watch for free. 

The singer was a heavyset Sri Lankan guy with possibly a Canadian or American accent. Either way he belted pop hits like Adele, Britney Spears and even Toni Braxton with a vocal range that was rather impressive coming from someone on this side of the world. We sat on the Fort’s walls and just took it all in. It was definitely a highlight for Tracy, as she loves her pop divas (don’t tell anyone).

The next morning, we had breakfast and made our way to the train station, hoping to nab seats for our final ride in Sri Lanka. Of course, there were no seats initially, but Tracy managed to get one around 30 minutes in and I opted to stay standing and chatted with a British guy whose sunburns made ours look like child’s play. 

This ride was rather beautiful, because at many points it was straddling the ocean.

This proximity to the ocean also meant that it was the site of the world’s worst train disaster that took place during the tsunami of 2004, resulting in a train being swept off its rails by a massive wave, killing over 1700 people. 

Soon enough, we arrived in Mount Lavinia, a sea-side suburb of Colombo, for our final night in Sri Lanka. 

As soon as we left the train station, a tuk tuk driver told us our guest house was dangerous. When we arrived, we found out we were staying with a kindly husband and wife and were assured that he was spreading rumours to get commission at guest houses he would have brought us to. 

We thought that being in a suburb and near the sea would curb some of the heat and humidity of Colombo, but it didn’t really provide any relief. 

We walked down the main street and tried to find a way to the beach, but a crazed and rabid dog made that passage impossible. 

We eventually found another way and actually had to walk over the railroad tracks to get onto the beach and were greeted by a 3-legged dog, albeit somewhat indifferent towards us. 

Once we crossed the garbage-laden tracks we soon realized that this beach was where beaches came to die: dirty, garbage-ridden sand, touts on the beach trying to get you to buy drugs and dilapidated restaurants lined its perimeter.

We did a slow walk up and down and admired Colombo and Galle Face Green in the distance. It seemed so long ago that we had first arrived in this country and toured its sweltering capital. 

We finished off our evening at the much hyped beach-side restaurant Babu. It was located on the wrong side of the tracks right next to a shady shantytown but was still beautiful with its wild beach reminiscent of the south.  However, the food, the in-your-face crows, and incompetent staff left something to be desired: they took over 45-minutes to calculate our bill despite the fact that we were the only ones there. 

In conclusion we think that three-and-a-half weeks was not nearly enough time to explore this island nation in its entirety but we had a tight timeline since we wanted to attend an important festival in India and still had to visit the Maldives.

We missed out on the far north of the country (Jaffna) and its scars from the drawn-out civil war fought on its shores. We got a little taste of Tamil culture, but still longed for more.

Visiting Sri Lanka is a treat and Tracy and I would highly recommend it. Public transportation and local restaurants are very cheap and guesthouses can be found for around 20 dollars Canadian (if you are okay with a fan room). Most tourist attractions are priced at 10-30USD per person, the only exceptions being Adam’s Peak and Galle, which are both UNESCO World Heritage sites but are free due to them being active pilgrimage and population centres, respectively.

The tourist industry is booming and the Wonder of Asia, as it is dubbed, will not be off of North Americans’ radars forever. It is best to act sooner rather than later.

If off the beaten path is solely what you desire, then stick to the north and the east, but everything we saw in the centre, hill country, south and west were well worth the occasional crowds. 

If you are afraid of getting into motor vehicle accidents, crazed stray dogs or despise the French (they are everywhere), Sri Lanka isn’t for you. If you love good curries, kind people, lovely beaches and ancient structures, then you have come to the right island. 

So, Tracy and I would like to say thank you to Sri Lanka and its people for an incredible stay. Istuh-tee Sri Lanka. We will be back! 

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