Bridging the gap in Batticaloa

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April 2nd 2017
Published: February 1st 2018
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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 was 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.

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.


1st February 2018

Short eats!
Oh I remember short eats! And thank you for saying, I did wonder how things were since the 2004 Tsunami. Oh and now I know that dish I had in Anuradhapura was called, Kottu roti! It was kinda a hash of everything, and wayyy too spicy for me. SO Nice to have a few drinks on a balcony and just look out.
1st February 2018

Re: Short eats!
I miss those short eats! The post-tsunami rebuilding has been more successful in the south than in the north and east - I remember reading at the time that international NGOs were frustrated that they couldn't get their aid into the war torn areas. We love a drink with a view :)
1st February 2018

Food, glorious food
Food seems to be the star of this blog, and I am loving it. I could be very happy enjoying some of what you were eating.
1st February 2018

Re: Food, glorious food
Food is always the star - in our travels and in general life! :) The food in Sri Lanka was one of the biggest draw cards for us. Hope you're well Brendan, and I look forward to your assessment of the food in Australia, especially the gourmet train fare!
1st February 2018

At least no party boats
Your comment about the weddings at the hotel reminded me of our hotel in Cairo, where there were weddings going on each night - and this was the quiet side of the hotel! The loud side faced the Nile and the numerous party boats blaring Arabic music ... ah the memories. :) Enjoying your blog and learning a bit about Sri Lanka.
1st February 2018

Re: At least no party boats
Ah yes I remember your blog about the party boats on the Nile... a good way to keep perspective is to remind ourselves that things can always be worse! :)
2nd February 2018

In Love with Sri-Lanka, I want to come back there again!
The week passed after my arrival from Sri-Lanka. I really fell in love with this place. I lived on the coast of Unawatuna, which is near the port of Galle. A great place, but I was there only a week, for me it was not enough. Especialy after Thailand, where I spent three weeks. While my being there I studied the entire district where I lived. I noticed that tuk-tuk is more expensive than renting a scooter. When I was in Chiang Mai city, I turned to Catmotors company, to take advantage of rent motocycle for a long time. So, it was cheaper than every day I took the tuk-tuk in Sri Lanka. When I decided that, if I live a week on this island I do not need motocycle, I was wrong.
2nd February 2018

Re: In Love with Sri-Lanka, I want to come back there again!
Thanks for your comment Jean. We didn't make it to Unawatuna, but have heard lovely things about it, and can see why enjoyed your week there. I love the Sri Lankan trains for intercity travel, and really hope they extend that concept for travel within cities too - it would make the roads so much safer and reduce pollution from the public buses and tuk-tuks :)
4th February 2018

Love vs arranged
These cultural differences do make you wonder about the quality of these marriages.... Maybe it is all about expectations. As always we appreciate you sharing the food, people and your adventure.
4th February 2018

Re: Love vs arranged
I think you're right MJ, it has a lot to do with expectations... and I probably shouldn't judge until I can fully understand the complex cultural realities of the place. It's so much fun getting to know the people and the food in different parts of the country :)
5th February 2018

Laugh of the week
Thanks for giving me the best laugh in weeks, couldn't agree more about the family arranging a life partner, I wouldn't trust mine to choose my socks. As always guys, great photos and incredible food, I just wish I could taste it.
5th February 2018

Re: Laugh of the week
Haha yes, it’s a very scary thought! Although a small part of me is a tiny bit morbidly curious... Thanks for your nice comments guys :)
7th February 2018

Catch up
Hey there Ren & Andrew. Tks for your detailed & fun to read narratives, have relived each day of the trip so far, hard to believe nearly a year ago already! Grace & I are back in London, 4th grandchild (1st here) due in 3 days, so waiting, waiting, waiting! Had magic 3wks in Vietnam & Siem Reap in January to celebrate my 60th, superb food & cheap beer, what’s not to like? We were in Iceland last Nov, superb food there with expensive beer, but Northern Lights sensational so worth it. Let us know when you’re next in Melbourne, love to catch up. Cheers Paul
8th February 2018

Re: Catch up
Thanks Paul. We can't believe that this was nearly a year ago either... we've been so slack with getting these blogs posted! Happy belated birthday! So envious of your Northern Lights experience - maybe Grace can post some pics on facebook? Hope you and Grace are both well and enjoying your time with family :)
7th February 2018

Arranged Marriages
It's baffling that it's still so common, still, seeing how lazy I am in finding myself a bride I could probably have benefited from it... although honestly my parents are probably just as lazy on that point...
8th February 2018

Re: Arranged Marriages
I knew that arranged marriages happened in the time of my Grandparents, but I was quite surprised that it still happened! Haha maybe you should bring this up at your next family gathering? :)

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