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Published: February 1st 2018
Today we were travelling south from Tricomalee to Batticaloa
We woke early at 6am, organised our packs and headed down to breakfast. I ordered poached eggs on toast, which I enjoyed with mixed fruit juice and tea. I ‘stole’ a few bakery items for the bus trip to Batticaloa, and then headed back to our room to finalise our packs.
We were sad (in a way) to be leaving Trincomalee, because we’d really enjoyed the relaxed and laid back atmosphere of the place, especially our hotel (Anantamaa), and we were also sad to be leaving our friendly peacock – who we had affectionately named ‘Captain Peacock’. We checked out of the hotel, jumped into our minibus and headed south towards Batticaloa.
After about 30 minutes we crossed the Mahaweli Ganga, Sri Lanka’s longest river, which we had also crossed in Kandy about two weeks earlier. The river flows into the ocean at Koddiyar Bay, just south of Trincomalee, and I was amazed at its ubiquitous presence – we’d travelled so far and experienced so much since our time in Kandy, yet still the river was with us…
As we sped down the A15 in our
minibus, our guide spoke about marriage in Sri Lanka, telling us that 65% of marriages are arranged, while 35% are ‘love marriages’. It’s a topic that always fascinates me, because the concept of my nuclear and extended family gathering to select a suitable partner on my behalf sends shivers deep into my soul. Who on earth would they pick, and more to the point… who on earth would they think was suitable for me? This is a rhetorical question I never want answered!
We arrived in Batticaloa around midday and stopped in at a local bakery (Sunshine Bakery) to pick up some egg and fish cutlets (spicy egg and fish croquettes) for lunch. We then made our way to Hotel East Lagoon, where we checked in at 12:30pm. The hotel’s location at the edge of Batticaloa’s lagoon was amazing, as were its views over the lagoon, but the hotel itself was sprawling and a little disappointing. We made our way up to our room and settled in for the afternoon, where I caught up on my travel writing and Ren slept off a slight head cold and headache.
We headed into the township of Batticaloa in the late
afternoon, where we visited the less than inspiring Dutch Fort before driving to St Mary’s Cathedral in the heart of Puliyanthivu, Batticaloa’s old quarter. A Mass was in progress, so we walked around the church’s perimeter while listening to the Tamil priest’s sermon (which was being broadcast everywhere through very loud loudspeakers). We then walked to Central Hotel and Bar, which was just up the road from the Catholic cathedral, and settled at a long wooden table. We ordered a bottle of double distilled arrack and a couple of bottles of soda water, which we enjoyed with plates of devilled (spicy stir-fry) pork and beef in small ‘bite’ portions. It was very relaxing, and a great approach to pre-dinner drinks – the Sri Lankan equivalent to tapas.
We left the Central Hotel and drove to Hajiyar Restaurant, a Muslim kottu roti
eatery. We started with plates of steaming hot egg roti
(a thin roti cooked on a smoking hot griddle with a filling of eggs, vegetables and chilli), and then feasted from large trays of chicken and beef kottu roti
(roti chopped up and stir fried with eggs and vegetables; also known as chop chop). The egg roti
fabulous, but the kottu
was dry and a little devoid of flavour. Two Muslim families came in while we were eating, and left as soon as they saw us. I’m not sure why, but it certainly made us feel uncomfortable.
After finishing our meal, we headed out into the streets of Batticaloa, wandering aimlessly past the few remaining stalls that were still open on a Sunday night. A call to prayer blasted through loudspeakers, and the caller was possibly the most tone deaf we’ve encountered in all our travels. We jumped into our minibus and headed back to the hotel, dropping into Cargills Food City on the way for a small tub of kithul pani cadju
(treacle and cashew) ice cream. We arrived back at 8pm and settled on a travel companion’s balcony – overlooking the lagoon – for a few drinks in the balmy night air. It was a fantastic way to finish the day. We relaxed in the temperate evening atmosphere for an hour or so before heading back to our room to shower and crash. We were travelling to Mahiyangana the following day, and we needed to be fresh for the trip. SHE
We woke up at 6am when Captain Peacock decided to call out from the tree he was perched in. It was a lovely way to wake up. We weren't leaving Trincomalee until 9am, so I assumed we'd have time for another morning walk on the beach… but before we knew it, we’d run out of time.
I was disappointed that there were no Sri Lankan breakfast options on offer that morning, and the western breakfast options didn’t appeal to me. Nonetheless I sat down with a cup of tea and some toast. We also decided that it was probably prudent to ‘take’ a few bakery items with us, as we were bound to get peckish on the bus trip to Batticaloa
As we drove out of Trincomalee we passed the deep water harbour, and eventually a vast stretch of beach where fishermen were pulling their nets in. A bit further up the road was a large area of stilted decks where they were drying fish, and also selling a large variety of the dried fish in roadside stalls. We stopped to have a look, and while I managed to take a couple of photos of the stalls,
I really couldn't get much further as the fishy smell was seriously intense. It was much worse than at the Negombo fish market, but that could be because it was close to 10am and the sun was already intensely high in the sky.
The drive to Batticaloa (pronounced battic-low, but called Batti by the locals) went quickly. The road weaved along a very rural area, and as we approached the town, we were surrounded by lagoons on all sides. We drove under a gateway that referred to Batticaloa as the ‘land of the singing fish’. I’m not sure if its legend or fact that a high pitched musical sound is emitted from the water near a certain bridge. 😊
We stopped at the Sunshine Cafe Bakery for some short eats
(an umbrella term for Sri Lankan fried or baked snacks) of egg and fish cutlets (spicy egg and fish croquettes), to complement our pastries 'acquired' at breakfast.
The Hotel East Lagoon was about 1km out of the centre in Sinna Uppodai, in the serene surrounds of lagoons, and the beach not far off. We arrived at around 1:30pm and I was clearly more tired than I realised.
I showered and fell into bed for a nap, not waking until 4pm.
We gathered at 4:30pm to do some evening explorations. Having been decimated by war and then the tsunami, Batticaloa probably hasn’t bounced back as much as the towns of Jaffna or Trincomalee.
We drove to the Dutch Fort, which though historically significant, was visually and atmospherically very uninspiring. Of all the forts we’d visited in Sri Lanka, this fort was in the worst state of disrepair (of course, not counting the virtually non-existent fort in Negombo). The once beautiful and imposing colonial building inside the fort was now being used by a government department, and was sadly very dilapidated. The most eye catching feature of the fort was a gorgeous massive old fig tree that had happily survived both the war and the wave! 😊
We then drove through town to the large St Mary's Cathedral where 5pm mass was being said in Tamil. The whole cathedral was painted in bright blue and white, which seems to be a popular colour choice for Catholic churches in Sri Lanka.
The day was gloomy and overcast, with high levels of humidity. By now it was
obvious that our energy levels were lacklustre at best, so there was group consensus that drinks were in order. We walked to the nearby Central Hotel and Bar for a drink. Bala (our group leader) had been promising us a visit to a dodgy bar, and while this wasn't dodgy as such, it was a men's only hang out and the few men in there were fascinated by our group. The staring was intense, but good natured and curious. Bala ordered a bottle of arrack which we mixed with soda…I was good and restricted myself to just one glass. Our drink was accompanied by what the locals call ‘bites’ – small bite size servings of devilled (spicy stir-fry) pork and devilled beef, with a fresh tomato and onion salad. It was unexpected delicious.
We left the bar a bit merrier than when we’d arrived, and headed to a kottu kadai
(shop that specialised in kottu) as Batticaloa is the birthplace of kottu roti
(roti chopped up and stir fried with eggs and vegetables). Sadly, Hajiyar Restaurant's signature dish of kottu roti
was dry and bland and we had to ask for some sauce to go with it. We'd had
better in Kandy and Anuradhapura. However their egg roti
(a thin roti cooked on a smoking hot griddle with a filling of eggs, vegetables and chilli) was seriously good.
When we were planning this trip and discussing dishes we wanted to try in Sri Lanka, kottu roti
had been high on the list. But it’s turned out that neither of us think much of the dish (and horror of horrors, we prefer the curry sauce sodden version we get in Melbourne!). Conversely, the Sri Lankan egg roti
has been a revelation – we’d never heard of it until we tasted it in a roadside stall in Negombo, and we’ve loved it every time we’ve tried it since. It’s so more-ish that just one serve is never ever enough.
On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at the supermarket for ice cream…in what had become a lovely post-dinner nightly ritual. We tried a new brand of kithul pani cadju
(treacle and cashew) ice cream, but the Elephant House brand one we'd been having was the clear winner.
Our hotel wasn't one of the better ones we'd stayed in, however it was very popular for local weddings
and events. There were three events going on when we got back to the hotel, all with competing sound systems. It took away the serenity of the peaceful lagoon-side setting, which to me was the hotel’s only saving grace. We retired to Damien's balcony in the quieter part of the complex for a drink before taking ourselves off to bed.
We hadn't spent much time in Batticaloa, but from the little we saw, it had an air of regional quietness that was very different to Jaffna or Trincomalee. It really hadn't appealed to me on the first day, but in the bright sunshine of the second day, I saw a charm in the city that I’d missed in the overcast humidity the day before.
Next we travel south-west to Mahiyangana.
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