The south coast

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April 21st 2017
Published: April 21st 2017
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Feb 6 - off to the south coast to the small town of Mirissa - this location chosen only because 6 hours of travelling seemed to be enough. The plan was to take the bus as far as Matara and then another local bus to Mirissa. By the time the bus showed up in Ella, it was already full and as we did not desire standing for the 1 hours drive down the switchback road (Ella Gap) to the plains, we sucked it up and paid for a share taxi. Even in a comfortable minivan that we shared with two other couples, the drive was LONG. The first brief stop ( so the driver could eat) was at a very suspect (lack of hygiene) place - it was an unpleasant experience even using the squatter toilets. Second stop was at a high priced tourist restaurant so we wandered up the street a bit and found a local place that had a lunch buffet. We found out when paying that the cost for the buffet included only one piece of chicken - so we paid extra for the 4 extra pieces we had.

Back on the plains, it was a return to coconut palms, banana trees and rice paddies, along with large herds of water buffalo. We hit the coast at Tangalle and the rest was a spectacular drive along the rocky ocean coast. Our hotel in Mirissa was the awesome Hotel Vacanza - huge room with a huge balcony and it was just off the main road, surrounded by coconut palms. We are upping our accommodation budget now to make sure we have AC in this heat and humidity. 32 degrees feels like 41 and a low of 25.

There is not much to this town other than guesthouses and beach restaurants. The surf is wicked and swimming is quite the adventure with HUGE waves wiping out the unwary - definitely needed to check that body parts were still covered after being hit by any wave. We did think about going on a whale watching cruise (for blue whales) but after reading some reviews, gave that up as a bad idea: a 90 minutes boat ride in the open ocean to the whale cruising ground and most passengers puking!!!! We did take a 2 hour cooking lesson with Madhu at the Amarasinghe Guest House. Now we are on the hunt for more spices. We made (helped make) 6 dishes - dal, pumpkin curry, okra curry (which tasted a lot better than the okra we had at the Ayurvedic centre), tomato curry, coconut sambal and pineapple chutney. And we got to eat it all afterwards - absolutely delicious.

Moving on from Mirissa, next stop was the beach town of Unawatuna - this 45 minute journey was made by local bus and further cemented the relief that we had not gone on the long bus ride from Ella. Packed into small seats like sardines, with a driver speeding around corners it was not an enjoyable trip. It was a relief to get off and find our hotel (Rock View Inn) in one of the narrow, winding coconut tree /jungle shaded alleys of Unawatuna where we will hang out for the last four days of our Sri Lankan journey. It reminds me so much of Benaulim in Goa, but a greener, wealthier, cleaner and busier version. The sandy beach is lined with restaurants and so many souvenir (clothing, tea, gems) stores along with a few local shops selling water and snacks. One downside of Unawatuna we discovered was the lack of short eats (we had to Galle for that) but as long as we ate away from the beach, food was tatsty and decently priced.

We are just 6 km from Galle Fort - built by the Portuguese in 1588 and extensively fortified by the Dutch in the 17th century. The British also had their fingers in there at some point. The 36 hectare Fort is surrounded by the ocean on three sides and has well kept ramparts that are interesting to walk along - the cool sea breezes were particularly appreciated. While it is still a working town, with many businesses there are also many colonial buildings converted into boutique hotels, restaurants or art shops. Getting to the fort from Unawatuna was by either tuk tuk or bus, depending on our mood. The local spice market was a short distance from the Fort gates and provided the spices we needed to have if we intended making Sri Lankan food at home.

One of the iconic scenes of Sri Lanka is the stilt fishermen - on the bus trip from Mirissa we had seen heaps of stilts close to shore but no one sitting on them. So that was the mission for our last day - we took a tuk tuk to Koggala in the hopes of seeing some fishermen. Of course rumour has it that no one really fishes from the stilts any more, it is just a tourist activity. But then you can read elsewhere that the main fishing season is October to December and also the 2004 tsunami had a detrimental effect on the industry. Well, it cost me 600 LKR to have two fishermen climb on their stilts!!!!! But shortly after they were in position we noticed a huge school of little fish around the base of the stilts and then each fisherman caught a large fish who were preying on the little guys.

While passing through Koggala we also visited the Sea Turtle Hatchery. Turtle eggs are moved from their original nest on the beach into a protected area where they can hatch in peace. The newly hatched turtles (mostly Olive Ridley) are kept in a tank for 5 days before being released into the ocean. When I queried the short period before they were released, our guide reminded me that in the wild, they go into the water just 2 to 3 minutes after hatching ( if the predators don't get them first).

The beach here is kind of "weird" - the water feels sticky (maybe because of the amount of salt in it) and the sand sticks like cement to the feet. Needless to say we did not spend a lot of time on the beach in Unawatuna - except for checking out the restaurants. It was just too darn hot to be out in the sun for extended periods. But we did hike 30 minutes over to Jungle Beach for a quick swim with the locals. Sri Lankan new year is happening in a few days and it seems like everyone is on holiday - including the family who ran our guest house - they went to Singapore leaving the son and an uncle to look after us but the men continue to serve us delicious breakfasts (included with the room price) - eggs (omelette, fried or hoppers), some kind of rice dish, fresh fruit, toast, jam and tea.

I will never tire of watching monkeys jump from tree to tree - and we see them from our balcony and also on the walk to Jungle beach - along with large monitor lizards. Early morning walks along the quiet alleys produce all sorts of cheerful birds including beautiful peacocks strutting their stuff.

It must be time to be heading back to Ladysmith - running out of clean clothes and toiletries - plus the rain that is accompanying the evening thunderstorms is heavy - and I hate to admit it, but I am looking forward to feeling cool!!!!! It was going to be a long flight home so we decided to head up to Colombo early and get a hotel room (using reward points)for the afternoon where we could relax and shower before heading to the airport. A train left Galle at 11am and was already full by the time we got on - but we lucked out and got to stand/sit in the open doorway for the 2 hour journey. Someone had commented how much better organized the Sri Lanka trains are compared to India. I have to disagree - in India you know EXACTLY where your carriage is going to stop - in Sri Lanka it is one big guessing game: the platform the train is arriving on can be a mystery and there is no standard pattern for the carriages. The adventure continued when we tried to find food in Colombo - everything seemed to be closed. Finally we did find a "local" establishment that cost a wee bit more than we had - so I had to stay as "hostage" while Kelly found an ATM. Supposedly there is an AC bus that goes to the airport but there seemed to be contradicting information regarding exactly where it left from, so we decided to err on the side of caution and take a taxi instead for the 45 minute trip. After picking up our extra pack from "left luggage" and changing into long pants and shoes (yuk), it took another hour to pass though multi security checks, check in and emigration - and we were in the second worst departure lounge ( in my opinion) in the world. Very limited food options and not even any chocolate bars that we could spend our last LKR on!

The holiday is definitely over


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