Hikkaduwa to GalleDecember 4, 2016 in Sri Lanka ⋅ ☀️ -6 °C
We left Colombo by a morning train and whilst we were waiting for our train to arrive we had our first taste of Sri Lankan public transport. It was 8am so lots of people were arriving on commuter trains for their work day - picture a full train car then add another 50 people, then ask a few to hang onto the sides. Thankfully our train was quieter and in 2nd class (of 3) there are comfy-ish leather seats and fans. By the time the journey was under way it was cool enough with the breeze sweeping through the open windows.
Hikkaduwa was our next stop and, much like a lot of beach/sea front towns, it's set around the main road that runs one building back from the beach. Our guesthouse was over the road from there, a mere 50 paces from the beach. We also decided to try a non-AC room which was sticky but ok!
During the 2004 Tsunami Hikkaduwa was very badly hit, including a train carrying 1300 people who all died as the train line is less than 100m from the sea. Given this we visited a memorial and photo museum which was harrowing and sad, including talking to our Tuk Tuk driver who lost his mother and sister. It's important to remember the devastation and Hikkaduwa does this appropriately. We also visited a turtle sanctuary, a local delicacy is turtle eggs so to avoid this they collect them from the beach, incubate them and then when they're healthy they're released to the sea. Even with this intervention only 1 of 100 survive to adulthood. The sanctuary was small but incredible as they let you hold the turtles, so that was the absolute highlight of the day! We had hoped to swim with wild ones off the beach as coral was only 50m from the beach but we weren't lucky enough to do that, but the swim in the sea was still so good to cool off and the sun setting into the sea was beautiful!
The following morning we took another train the short ride to Galle where we planned two days to explore the area and see what warranted UNESCO to consider this a protected area. On Saturday afternoon we took a tour by tuk tuk to Koggala beach where, along with another 10 miles or so, there are the famous stilt fishermen plying their trade. For a small charge (by UK standards) of 1500 rupees they allow you to photograph them and have a go yourself, which Beth did! After gracefully climbing to the perch she seemed very comfortable and was promptly given her fishing line, including a fish! It was a really fun experience for her and something very well photographed!
Our next stop was to a Japanesee built Buddhist temple perched on top of a hill overlooking Unawatuna beach (a backpacker hang-out cresecent shaped bay) and we would have also had a great view of Galle Fort and the surrouding ocean however by this time it had gone completely dark so we couldn't see a thing other than the 100 year old lighthouse - still going strong! It also made for a 'fun' drive to and from the temple as the road was barely wide enough for one tuk tuk, yet one parked and two driving next ot each other was still experienced!
It was while we were enjoying the serenity of the peace pagoda and looking out at the lights of the fort that we chatted more to our driver, to which he revealed that he had lost his father during the tsunami and he personally was the only survivor of a hotel staff team of 10 at the time, only because he climbed a coconut tree. It's becoming more and more emotional as we meet people who've been so affected by the tsunami - it seems everyone has been...
Before arriving in Galle we had ummed and arred about whether to stay there or at Unawatuna, and when we went for dinner that evening we realised we'd made the right choice to stay in the Fort as the block-paved alleyways were all lit up by fairy lights and we found a rooftop restaurant to serve us fresh curries.
Sunday was a day to explore the fort itself. We're struggling more and more with the heat during the middle of the day so were up early and exploring the Dutch and Portuguese built fort before 9am. The whole town is filled with incredibly well restored and preserved colonial era buildings such as the Clock Tower, Lighthouse and Governor's House and Officers Quarters. Whilst almost all the buildings are privately owned (inculding some VERY plush boutique hotels!) just walking around the streets was a brilliant experience. In the evening a thunderstorm arrived which pushed us inside to Indian Hut (Pizza Hut logo rip-off - brilliant!) for a delicious curry and naan. Just as we arrived back at our hotel the thunderstorm knocked out the power to the entire Fort area which was quite an experience and while it didn't really phase us, or the locals for that matter, thankfully the outage didn't last too long.