Confession of a beach-hater

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January 27th 2012
Published: January 30th 2012
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and Sri Lanka review (basic info)

by Jan

Whistle clean and with a delicious, cheap restaurant said the description of the Village Inn hotel in Unawatuna, a beach town on the South Coast of Sri Lanka. Well, the place was everything but that – the sink in our room looked like it is going to fall off any second now, the bathroom was in a mix of white and brown and the menu revealed prices high above the ones in restaurants next to the beach. We arrived late, after another all-dayer of trains, buses and tuk-tuks, we booked in advance so we stayed and started our beach adventure in Sri Lanka.

Unawatuna was completely wiped out by the tsunami in 2004. There was nothing left and the whole city was re-built. The sad part is that it was rebuilt without any thought or planing. There are bars and restaurants scattered around, some less than 5m from the beach. You can still see the pillars in the sea, where they went a bit too far (-1 meters from the sea) and the government made them remove it.

It is supposed to be one of the nicest beaches in
Habaraduwa Turtle HatcheryHabaraduwa Turtle HatcheryHabaraduwa Turtle Hatchery

A few days old turtle
Sri Lanka, but it is far, far away. Polona didn't even want to go in the water as the sewage pipes were in the actual sea – and to top it off it is a Russian holiday destination.

One good thing came out of the days here, we met Maša and Domen, two Slovenians who kept us (or we them) company all the way to the airport in Colombo.

We also took the opportunity for a day trip to Galle, an old colonial town (how many have we now seen across Asia?) on the shores of the Indian ocean where the Dutch spent some time. The old part of the town, called the Fort is a great place to spend a few hours just walking around. All the old buildings, built a hundred or so years ago are still used – the court house, the post and so on. Ohhh, we saw a snake charmer on the streets and Polona freaked – can't forget to mention that. Not much more to say about Galle.

We moved on to Mirrisa, another beach town, just about an hour further down the south coast. The first impressions were a bit weird as we walked on the back streets looking for a place to stay. There are walls all along the beach and the main road. Walls “guarding” beach hotels from people mistaking them for a path to the beach. We found a patch through the restaurant which served us well over the next few days and so did Mirrisa.

The beaches here are complete opposite of Unawatuna. As soon as you pass the walls you can see a beautiful, postcard type beach. The place people dream of when they had enough of cold (friends back home, you at that point yet?). I think this is the first time in my life I am talking nicely about a beach – EVER! You can call me names like cynical preak or idiot, even weirdo but at the end of the day I am just not a beach person. But Mirrisa? Ahhh, paradise! I finished a John Grisham novel (the guy is good) and Polona finished Shantaram, a 933 page novel, she started reading about a week before. Diego named her right: MEGA FREAK! I am planning a competition between Polona and Habibi when he arrives to India – I want to know who reads more and faster. Any recommendations how to measure it are welcome.

We enjoyed another dinner with our Slovenian friends and we went all out. Polona and I treated ourselves to the most expensive dinner of the trip – a lobster. Polona never tried it before and it has been almost ten years now since I had my first one and only while travelling in Cuba. To make it short: it was good! Worth the whole 30 or so dollars (including a fish, beers and so on.).

We met up with Diego again to go whale watching. We departed just after 6 AM and headed out in the open sea with a boat (accompanied by about 20 or so people). The boat rocked up and down and up and down and sometimes a bit left and right and a German girl puked! I didn't feel all that well either and the last part of the trip was getting really bad but I managed to keep the content of my stomach intact (egg on toast and a banana they served for breakfast; if you were wondering).

It took a few hours before we saw anything and it wasn't the whales it was a group of dolphins jumping out of the water (sometimes in pairs) around the boat. Everybody got really excited and loved it, but once it was over we started dishing it: this is whale watching, not dolphins watching...I developed a theory that dolphins are probably the most loved animals in the world. Think about it, who hates dolphins? Nobody! People have tattoos of them, jewellery, photos, art and so on. The only other animal people like this much are butterflies – but come on, you see them all the time. Dolphins have to be much cooler!

Finally, the spotters on the boat saw two sprays of water not far away. All the boats changed their direction and hit full gas – in the case of our boat that was probably the speed of a turtle – on land! We got to see a whale's tale in the distance! The huge whale tale – I loved it. We got to see it. After the two failed attempts to swim with whale-sharks in Donsol, Philippines we just appreciated the fact that we saw them. And it wasn't over. We got to see three more and all three were much closer to the boat so we got to see the huge backs of the animals when they came out for air – once again I was impressed. It's not like you go face to face with it and see the whole animal like in Donsol (if you are lucky) but these are different types (hunch-backs I think..or maybe blue whales 😊) and you can't jump in the water and swim with them.

For the last two days we moved about a half hour away to Midigama, a surfers' spot where Diego was staying. We planned to surf but the lessons' costs were insane so we decided we will spend our last free day on the Island in a turtle hatchery in Habaraduwa. At first sight it didn't look like much. The whole place is only about 20m long and 10 wide, situated just a dozen or so meters from the beach. But when the guide, a student of marine biology, started showing us around it turned the picture around. On the far end there was a sand pit about 3x3 meters large, pierced with little white boards. Every board contained information regarding the eggs resting in the sand beneath. There was the type of the turtle (out of 7 different types, 5 swim the oceans around Sri Lanka), number of eggs and date. The eggs are brought in by “hunters” who get paid more than the average price for them. They could sell them for food (turtle omelets 😞) but the money is better here. It is an illegal practice, but not one that seems like it would disappear any time soon. Eggs are bought for about 20 – 25 rupees but every batch contains more than a hundred eggs – at this point the admission of 400 rupees became money-well-spent. Then we moved on to the tank with tiny, tiny turtles, only a day or so old. They stay in the tank for about a week before they are released in to the sea – safe from the people, but not other natural enemies. The rest of the tanks are meant for turtles who are safer here than back in the sea. There was a poor thing who lost its fin and is now regaining strength to go back home. There was a semi-albino turtle whose inability to blend in the sea environment makes it so much more vulnerable. After talking to the guide for a while and adding some money to the donation box (here they didn't ask for it, not like in an old church in Galle where the donation box was pointed out to us four times).

The next day we said goodbye to yet another friend we gained on this trip – Diego. We were off to Colombo and then to the airport. We picked up our camera at the Canon service. They didn't manage to fix it as they needed a replacement part and ordering it from Singapore would take up to 3 weeks. So for now I only have a lame spare camera with me, but I see that in India the prices are similar to Amazon, so might buy one.

When leaving the service office we saw a shopping mall and went in to find the toilet and buy some food. The way to the toilet lead me to one of the most random experiences on this trip! There was this sponsor event from a Sri Lankan phone company on the theme of Manchester United and the guests were Dwight Yorke, Sir Bobby and another Man

Inside an old Dutch church. Been told 3 times that we HAVE to give a donation???
U legend who I call Mr. X as I have no clue who he is. I am an Arsenal fan so who gives a mickey (mouse!) about that 😊. Still I stood in line to get a photo taken with Dwight Yorke and Mr X.. And this happened to me in a county where in 25 days I haven't seen 3 seconds of football – the return of Henry and 3 Arsenal losses? Maybe best I missed it all.

We caught a train with the intention to get to the city center but learned it goes all the way to the Airport. We met some more super, super (as Polona would say) friendly people and we were at the airport – re-joining Maša and Domen who also spent the last night on the benches of the airport. They had a good reason, departing at 6AM, while the two of us just found it easier (cheaper) and sort of obligatory as we already spent our first night here. So why not the last as well. Maša was kind enough to take our camera to Slovenia (Jaka – go pick it up!!!) releaving me of some pain and extra luggage. Keep dreaming about a new one in India – ohh yeah.

When I woke up Maša and Domen were gone (thanks for the note guys!) and it was time to check in and head to the our next, final but were promising destination: INDIA!

Review of Sri Lanka

Overall: When we started our trip we had a list of countries and no idea what to see or do there. We didn't have a real plan but I thought at least this list won't change. Wrong! We didn't plan Sri Lanka, it was mentioned once or twice as an extra place to see but never as a replacement. We skipped Burma and moved to Sri Lanka. Burma was definitely a place I wanted to see but things changed. My concern was that I will regret this decision but it was not to be. Sri Lanka is not one of the great countries but it still ended up to be a nice part of the trip. It lacks something special but still holds enough appeal for a short trip. Scale wise? It would get 6.5/10.

Our highlights: but it still had some highlights. Like our week in Uppuveli, Polonnaruwa, seeing the dolphins and whales, the turtles, Mirrisa beach and climbing Adam's Peak . And these things I will remember for ever and ever. Add meeting Diego, Maša and Domen and the grade might go up to 7.

Low points: Kandy – stay away and Unawatuna.

Cost: Sri Lanka has its very cheap bits and over priced things. The cheapest is the transport, you never pay more than a few dollars to go anywhere in the county. If eating local (on the South coast - Unawatuna – that can be a problem) the food is cheap and OK. Always served with extra niceness to foreigners as you get napkins instead of news-paper to wipe your hands and even a fork and spoon is always fetched. Eating in tourist restaurants is more expensive and you will surely spend at least 4 times more, if eating sea - food 6 times more. But then again, you have a much wider choice of meals and a bit of a nicer environment. The expensive parts are the rooms and the entrance fees. Entrance fees are just plain robberies. Government controlled sites cost 20 dollars and up, while locals pay maybe 5%!o(MISSING)f the price.
Galle lunch timeGalle lunch timeGalle lunch time

Lunch box: rice & curry. Always eaten with hands
And for a happy welcome they started charging for visas as well.

Accommodation: Rooms cost about 10-15 dollars and these are budget options. Not shit holes but compared to SE Asia they are still holes. The beds are small and add the nets over them and you feel like you are trapped in a spider web – add sort of clean bathrooms and there you have it. As a rule of the thumb the places listed in the guide books are bad. At least from our experience (like Village Inn). It seems that once the guests start coming the owners stop caring and only hike up the prices – money talks.

Getting around: From super slow to just plain slow: Trains: they are comfortable but deadly slow! When they move; a lot of time you just stand there waiting for a train to pass before heading on your way again. But trains do have a certain charm. Buses: slow and really over-crowded. But not to worry, if you start at the departing spot you will get a seat. AC Mini bus: compared to the other fast. The tickets are a bit more expensive and you have to pay
Cricket fieldCricket fieldCricket field

As everywhere else in Sri Lanka
for an extra seat for the backpacks – in our case 3 tickets. And the fastest is getting a private driver: we never did it as it costs about 45 EUR per day but we met a few people who got this kind of tours.

Wi-fi: nowhere to be found! Some places had dongles you could borrow and certain restaurants in tourist areas have it. If you can't live without internet the best option is to buy your own dongle (computer needed 😊).

Scams: We spotted one and fell for another. The first was on the very first day where people on train station help tourist to find the right train. And once you are on it they come around with a card claiming they are deaf or that they work for some organization and demand money. They show you a list which has all these names that supposedly paid 1000 or even 2000 rp. When we saw the numbers we said no, the guy tapped on his ID but went away. No way I am giving 20 dollars to a stranger. They are both scams: the IDs and the numbers – we learned later. The second was when climbing Adam's peak. At 3 AM we got stopped at a stand claiming donations. Again there were numbers of 1000 and upwards and we crunched. We coughed up 500rp each and got dirty looks when asking for change back and felt really cheap! SCAM, SCAM, SCAM. The names just in front of us were two guys from our hostel and they told us they only paid 100rp each. The bastards add the zeros at the end! We told Diego and when he went he only paid 20 – I am sure the list says 2000.

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