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Published: March 14th 2013
Our first anxious moment in Sri Lanka occurred just after we stepped off of the plane. My Indian visa had used up the last blank page in my passport and I spent much of the flight wondering what would happen if I was refused entry into Sri Lanka. Would I be sent back to India? Made to wait until I could get a new passport before I could officially enter? Be deported straight back to the UK? Luckily the Sri Lanka visa turned out to only fill half a page and the customs official I encountered squeezed it onto a half-empty page and we entered the country.
For most people, Sri Lanka is all about sun, sea, sand and surfing. For us, it was unexpectedly all about animal encounters. Naturally, Holly was in her element.
Our first destination was Induruwa which is a small town on the south-west coast and had quite a nice beach with dark orange sand and armies of small white crabs being washed into the water. The beach and town were deserted, and whilst we enjoyed having a whole stretch of sand to ourselves, having nowhere to go in the evenings soon made
us restless so we stayed for only a couple of days.
Whilst lazing in the sun, a few locals crowded around a fence about 20 metres from where we lay. We got up to investigate to see them using sticks to coax a black and grey cobra into a bottle. We thought little of it but later read that more people die of snakebite in Sri Lanka than in any other comparable area, and the Sri Lankan cobra (Naja n. naja
) is one of the main culprits, so it turns out we were fortunate to avoid it.
One of the reasons we stopped on this stretch of coastline was because it is a hotspot for turtle hatching, and thence home to several turtle conservation projects. Turtle eggs are prized in local custom and eaten in soups so these projects sprung up buying the eggs from hunters, incubating them, then releasing the turtles when hatched. To fund their work they charge people like us to come and hold the tiny, day-old creatures. When ready, the turtlets are released into the sea but they were too new when we visited so we unfortunately missed this.
We continued south down
the coast by tuk tuk until we reached the brilliantly named Unawatuna. An arc of burnt sand and turquoise water awaited us and we stayed for nearly a week spending most of our time reading and napping on the sand, and trying to avoid getting caught in the daily downpour.
One of the three main beach towns in south Sri Lanka, Unawatuna was much livelier than Induruwa and we found a number of food and drink joints that were small but full of charm. One shop just sold Rottis - filled savoury pancakes – whilst others specialised in curries. Walking through an unlit path one evening, several fireflies illuminated the way.
Unawatuna is reputedly the finest dive site in Sri Lanka, but when I booked onto a trip and headed underwater the visibility was poor and sealife scarce. I did see several shortfin lionfish, banner fish and dinner-plate sized emperor angel fish though.
Near to Unawatuna is Galle, an old Dutch colonial town which we visited next. The entire old town of Galle is contained within the walls of the original Dutch fort. Narrow paths criss-crossed within the fort filled with shops selling antiques, clothes and jewellery.
Holly loved it. Walking outside the fort, a huge lizard walked across our paths. This wasn't just the type of lizard we'd seen all over Asia, but a massive, zoo-sized creature.
One thing I wanted to do in India but never got the chance was go to a cricket game. Luckily we found out Galle was hosting a test match while we were there. Sri Lanka at home to Bangladesh - the Lions vs Tigers. The game was played on a bowling alley and fizzled out to a draw long before the fifth day, and wasn't nearly as entertaining as I imagine a real lion vs tiger duel would have been. Also it dawned on me that to really enjoy cricket you need phenomenally good eyesight, binoculars or a large amount beers. Not possessing either of these first two, we opted for the third and had a very pleasant afternoon.
We got a train from Galle to Kandy. Thankfully Galle was one of the earlier stops so we both got seats. We felt even luckier as the train got more and more full until people were hanging onto the outside of the train which looked progressively dangerous as
we passed through increasingly narrow tunnels. When we arrived in Kandy I felt something I hadn't felt in weeks: cold. At an altitude of half a kilometre, Kandy is noticeably cooler than the coast, which was just as well as my skin was starting to feel like it was slowly melting off.
Kandy is the only inland place we spent time in in Sri Lanka, and was much greener than the coastline. The town is wrapped around a lake and surrounded by tea plantations in all directions. On the edge of the lake are a series of temples, the grandest of which holds the holiest relic in Sri Lanka – one of Buddha's teeth. We spent an afternoon walking around the town and past these temples, and found a bakery which sold potato fudge so indulged in these in front of the lake.
Since we were in tea country (and in truth since there isn't much else to do in Kandy) we visited the tea museum at a nearby plantation. It is a large building filled with industrial machines used to turn plants into cuppas. We skipped through these quickly and spent an enjoyable hour with a brew
in the well stocked top floor café.
After Kandy we headed west to Negombo to complete our loop of the south-west corner of the island. We spent less than 12 hours in Negombo and took in the beach and high street before making our way to the airport for our final leg in Jordan.
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