Unatawuna and Galle
Tim and I had been really looking forward to coming to Sri Lanka. We had been led to believe it was a more relaxed, lush version of India, with its own unique attractions too. Just before we left India, we were fairly mortified to read the government website, listing all the bombs that have occurred in Sri Lanka in the last few weeks, with the number of fatalities. All the bombs have been on public buses and a couple on trains, in the Kandy and Colombo areas. The FCO advised independent travellers to avoid public transport at all costs, and avoid the east and north entirely. Given that the west is currently in monsoon, we were limited to the south (still overcast most of the time) and the central hill country.
We only ended up spending 10 days in Sri Lanka, because the cost of exploring the country with a private driver forced us to cut our stay short. The corrupt government has doubled the price of the already overly expensive entrance fees to the main tourist attractions, and fuel prices have hiked up to ridiculous amounts. Taxes have massively increased, so now many Sri Lankans struggle to make ends meet.
Despite the bitterness left is our mouths from having spent more money in 10 days in Sri Lanka than we did in a month in India, we tried not to let that cloud our stay in what is essentially an extremely beautiful country. Just a word of advice to anyone we know planning a holiday to Sri Lanka -save some serious cash before you go, and check limitations imposed by prices, civil war and monsoons (which affect different parts of the island at different times of year).
Tim and I enjoyed a few days relaxing in Unatawuna, a small town on the south coast where we recovered from our adventures in India and planned our stay in Sri Lanka. We stayed in a small wooden hut, literally on the beach, with views over the waves from our room. The manager of our hotel was extremely helpful in assisting us to plan a realistic trip of Sri Lanka's main sights, and he sourced an excellent driver for us.
We enjoyed refreshing dips in the sea, strolls long the golden sand, and reading under the palm trees, as well as playing card games with a friendly member of staff at the hotel. This all sounds very idyllic, but there was a strange and rather unsettling atmosphere to the place. We could not figure out if it was because we were there off season, or because the tsunami has left the place a shell of its former self. We also discovered that for such a sleepy backward town, there was a considerable drug problem, and we witnessed an arrest of 2 drug dealers right in front of us at one point while we were having breakfast. I was surprised to hear that heroin use is common among the addicts in this area.
There was a Buddhist temple perched on the rocks on the headland, and we ventured up to watch the waves crashing onto the rocks below. My attempt to go and watch the sunset there resulted in me getting 4 nasty wasp stings. Savage!
We visited Galle, a Dutch colonial city nestled behind substantial fort walls, which protected the city from the wrath of the tsunami. We spent a happy few hours pottering around the attractive sleepy streets, and stayed at a guesthouse run by a remarkable old lady who was a pillar of the community, having chaired Galle Council, and being heavily involved in an array of charitable projects.Her business card gave her name with the title 'Justice for Peace'.
Unfortunately, the roads along the swathe of coast extending out of Galle were victim to the full force of the tsunami, and we drove past many buildings which had been devastated. Houses in some cases had completely collapsed to rubble, and in other cases, were left with no roof, or with walls missing. We heard many stories from the locals about how they had survived the tsunami, including clinging to trees, and swimming between buildings. It felt very strange being in a place that had experienced such a horrific tragedy.