Asia, Sri Lanka, Travel

Gallivanting around Galle

My favourite place in Sri Lanka is Galle.

Walking around a small dusty town locked in by crumbling ancient walls, with Havelock city on one side and the waves of the sea lapping against the bricks on the other, you feel the whole area of Galle Fort is soaked in history and culture. The area is lined with expensive chic boutiques, art galleries, unique cafes and tasty restaurants. Walls are a mixture of colours, not out of style but due to wearing ageing layers of plaster, making a colourful fanciful swirl of blue, yellow and pink on the walls- although some streets you may find edgy art hidden on lamp posts or walls, hidden in this enclave of history for true art seekers to find. Local houses line next to ancient mosques and burger joints.

It is a collision of the past, present and future.

There are certain routes recommended and even walking tours in place- look to Serendipity Arts Cafe for a tour, however I advise getting lost in the meandering streets, stroll along the defensive walls of the fort, on your own accord at your own pace, taking in what you want, see and smell. Walking around you notice small details; like the name of streets and letter boxes reminiscent of Portuguese and Dutch colonizers, and an array of gem shops to satisfy the once Arabian tradesmen here who would exchange their treasures for his spices, and the local Lanka people sipping tea and eating roti’s on their front porch. There are a few museums such as: The Maritime Museum and the National Museum, although I enjoyed wandering around the antique shops, eyeing up lint boxes and fingering old Dutch rusty keys- wandering what they open. Local people are friendly here, aware of customer service skills for their restaurants or shops- but also happy to help the lost cause of guiding me to an internet cafe.

Watching sunset from the Flag Rock is a must, as all the local people ride over to Galle Fort to bathe in the sea and lick ice cream whilst watching the sky change colour and plod along the walls stopping for family photos. Although, visiting Flag Rock in the day is also a must as you see local men who crave adrenaline and thrill, free run and jump off the walls to the rocks below. Be careful, don’t try this yourself, as other tourists have and seriously injured themselves. The lighthouse is a popular Kodak and selfie moment, and catching a glimpse of the reformed old Dutch Hospital to a now reformed stylish establishment filled with expensive plush restaurants is mind boggling. Check out the main gate as well- where you can see an traditional and authentic coat of arms carved out in stone.

I fell in love with “Stick No Bills”, a pop art shop specializing in Sri Lanka’s beauty and culture. Although you will have to step out of the fort to get all your basic needs. In Galle city “P and S”, a restaurant opposite the bus stop, is a local diner where you pick food through the glass and its delicious, (I had the chicken Biryani which was in no way like India’s but rather reminded me of A Nigerian guy I once dated who cooked for me).

Serendipity Arts Cafe is a great place to eat with a mix of western and local dishes with original art splattered all over the walls. Spoons is a lovely local style restaurant that serves vegetable curry and rice for 550 rupees, (most likely the cheapest restaurant you’ll find in the fort) and the family members welcome you as if a long lost cousin. Rocket burger– a newly opened burger joint offers deliciously meaty and juicy burgers for a reasonable price- and makes my list of Top Ten Burgers I’ve had in the world.

However, my favourite place to eat, or grab a cup of tea is: The Royal Dutch Cafe. This place has characteristically more charm than any other. Sitting hidden by leafy scaling potted plants next to a mismatch collection of furniture and bits and bobs, you feel like you are in a treasure chest. I was tempted by the sign: “Every Time is Tea Time”, which made me smile and think to myself, to have a deserved break from the searing sun. Sipping a cup of tea and munching on home made butter cake, I spoke to the owner Fazal, about the history of Galle Fort. I was shown pictures of the devastation of the Tsunami, was told of Fazal’s birth in the room of his now renovated clothes shop, and I shared my thoughts and experiences of Sri Lanka. He gave me a stone to remember his cafe (his father was a tradesman), and I hope that all who read this, visit his homely alcove, not only is he smart and kind- he knows customer service well.

The Royal Dutch CafeI stayed at Mrs ND Wihenayakes Guesthouse, recommended by the Lonely Planet. The rooms are okay, bathroom and beds are kept in good condition, however for 2,500 rupees I found it a little steep for a backpacker. There are many guest houses similar to this- and Peddlar’s Inn Hostel is directly opposite, which looked funky, although it was full at the time I visited- which I guess is a good sign!

Everything in Galle becomes pretty quiet after 8pm and I would advise solo woman travellers to return to their guest houses at this time. Wandering along the streets (that are not well lit) at night is not a good idea! And although men are friendly here- be wary of your intentions, I was offered “free accommodation” if I bought an old antique!!

Asia, Extreme Sports, Sri Lanka, Travel

Whale Watching in Mirissa

Mirissa’s main beach is located in a moon shaped arc, cut away from the other beaches surrounding it that are less pleasant and much quieter. The sand is soft to touch and as the waves repeatedly smash the surf, you can see why many people surf here, choosing a secluded crescent of natural beauty with wild surf, rather than the unkempt fisherman village nearby of Weligama. Some rocks dot the beach, one offers a way to see the sunset- to see pink, orange and purple hues merge together in union, brightly shining through gloomy clouds. Mirissa is a popular destination for all due to its close proximity to Colombo (roughly 4 hours) and is a hotspot for whale watching. Babies strapped onto Dad’s clutching surf boards and mothers rubbing sun-cream onto their children, is a familiar sight. Restaurants pop up on the beach, with small gaps in between, which makes the beach not as hectic and tourist as Hikkaduwa.

MirissaI will be honest with you as I always am. Mirissa is a very nice beach to visit, and the surf here is a fantastic spot. But for those who don’t catch waves or worship the sun, there is little to do here. Of course, you could hire a motorbike and escape to the nearby quieter beaches of Tangelle and Weligama, as during peak season, this beach is over flowing with people because of its restraints in size. I like beaches that either offer stunning views and quiet peace, or are large and filled with nearby things to do and places to eat, or even offer some scope to local life. I feel Mirissa does not fulfil any of these. It being to small to be quiet, with little activities and too touristy to be local, I felt although beautiful, it fitted nowhere.

MirissaSri Lanka has many private, untouched beaches- mainly on the east coast. I spoke to other backpackers whom had travelled all over and their experiences were: the beaches around Trimcolee offers fantastic snorkelling, Tangelle quiet, beautiful but unkempt in places, Unu Wathura is over crowded and not as nice as it could have been, Weligama: a local beach filled with fisherman and great for surf, Aragum Bay great for surf not the best for sunbathing and Hikkaduwa: overcrowded and noisy. Please note with all of these beaches, you are able to find a quiet place off the beaten track, or even a beach further away from the main beach, however these are my experiences – and many others experiences of Lanka’s beaches. In this respect, I feel beach life in Sri Lanka did not meet my expectations, and balance my experiences of beaches in the Carribean, Mediterranean and in Thailand, (Wow- I didn’t know I was such a beach snob until now!)

What I would advise, is to travel beaches on the east coast, and by motorbike or private car along the south coast, enabling you to stay in one place, and venture to the beach in another.

The main attraction that pulled me to Mirissa- and many others as well, is whale watching. There are many tours on offer, I went with “Whale Watching Mirissa”. For 2 thousand rupees, I woke up bright and early, at 6:30 am to go on a boat trip, with a breakfast inclusive of a cheese sandwich, a banana, a piece of cake, a cup of tea and a bottle of water. I was told the duration of the trip would vary depending on if we saw anything. Luckily, we were rewarded pretty quickly due to the sharply trained eyes of the staff. We saw dolphins jumping in the air in ecstasy, and a mother Blue Whale close behind her child, hugging one another and swimming together as one, whilst gasping up out of their blow holes in the air. It was magnificent seeing such colossal creatures in their natural habitat, doing what they do best. I felt very privileged, so I recommend doing this trip to all.

Whale Watching in MirissaMy favourite places to eat in Mirissa are Wadiya Seafood Restaurant– where it seems all the staff are massive fans of dreadlocks and Bob Marley. Here you can pick fresh seafood from the days catch and have it grilled with chips and salad for a reasonable price. Looking up at the stars with the sand beneath my toes, listening to the rumble and tumble of the waves whilst munching messily on crab and sipping a luxurious glass of wine, I thought to myself, although this beach is small, unadventurous and busy- it still is beautiful and you should still feel lucky to visit. A great backpacker place to eat is the Rotti Shop, at Green Garden Mirissa– it offers decent local food at a cheap price in a picturesque garden away from the noisy main street, compared to the expensive surrounding restaurants.

 

Asia, Extreme Sports, Sri Lanka, Travel

Getting Sunburnt in Arugam Bay

Aragum BayArugam Bay is on the East Coast of Sri Lanka which means there are a different kind of travellers that visit here, compared to the overdeveloped and manic West Coast. Here, those who are aching to surf come, as Arugam Bay offers a number of good breaks for novices and more experienced surfers, as well as beginners, its global reputation highlights a great surfing destination. If catching waves isn’t your thing, then swing in a hammock and relax your days away, or rid yourself of a pounding hangover. Aragum Bay is a chilled and mellow place where people catch up over a beer, or party til sunrise, with most visitors dragging themselves out of bed to ride a wave in the sunshine. The town and the local ‘beach boys’, although Muslim, fully inhibit the lifestyle and attitude of surfers, making this place to have a comfortable and welcoming atmosphere, especially when you show you like to get your hair wet.

 

Take a trip to nearby Pottuvil Lagoon– with enthusiastic fishermen rowing you through hanging mangrove trees and crocodile infested waters. Day trips to Whiskey Point, Crocodile Rock, Elephant Rock and Peanut Farm offer variation with surf and beach life, as you pass local Muslim communities sharing tea on the beach, children wanting to high five you as you rush past, and munch on deliciously fried savoury snacks in new places.

Pottuvil Lagoon

Visiting in low season, (April) meant Aragum Bay was a different experience. Not everywhere was open, restaurants were empty and we had the beach all to ourself, only sharing it with a few local grinning fisherman mending their white nets and their colourful traditional boats. Although the beach parties are not in full swing, and I hear in season Aragum Bay is absolute madness, this meant that accommodation is a fraction of the price. Seeing a friend from home in this area of Sri Lanka at the same time as me, meant I was able to share a room, splitting the cost, and I felt much more comfortable walking around (as a solo woman traveller you have to be much more on your guard). Whenever I would walk alone and without my friend I would constantly be pestered by men, as the locals are desperate for love or a fling and so are incredibly friendly. With this attention, always be straightforward with your intentions and try not to give the wrong impression. Also avoid the beach at night, when empty and walking alone, there are also bongo parties around a camp fire held by locals, which are used to entice western women for all the wrong reasons.

SurfinWe shared a room at Rupas for a discounted 1,500 rupees. They offer a number of different options in lodging, with all clean and basic rooms at the end of the beach. Places I recommend are: Gecko for their adorable puppies and delicious pizzas, Beach Hut for their homely and backpacker feel accommodation, Tsunami Hotel for a perfect sunbathing spot and Mambos for their party atmosphere and perfect beach away from the main section of Aragum Bay.

Driving a tuk tuk

Hungry KittyBe careful of being scammed on the sun cream that is on sale here in many of the local shops- it is just pure milk and offers no protection. My friend and I got incredibly sun burnt and suffered a great deal of pain!

 

Asia, Extreme Sports, Sri Lanka, Travel

Enterprising Ella

Missing my train from Nuwara Eliya meant I would be travelling a 4 hour journey on two separate, hot and sweaty local buses. I wasn’t looking forward to it. In fact, the more I thought about it, the more I really didn’t want to do it. Kicking myself for missing the train I started walking to the bus station. A friendly old man looked at me hopefully and enquired, “tuk tuk?” I turned around and thought- “Why Not?” Getting a tuk tuk to Ella was a flash packer move, and at 2,500 rupees, I doubted this choice at moments along the way, however I had my own personal driver. As he pointed out sights out to me, and we discussed our mutual love for 50 cent and surfing, I watched local life whiz past. Unlike on the train line, I passed mountainous valleys and tea plantations, as well as waving villagers. Listening to one of my favourite songs, (Skream feat Cassius- I love you so) whilst dancing madly in the back of the tuk tuk, made me smile enthusiastically to all we passed and was a real highlight of my Sri Lanka trip.

Arriving in Ella, I could see why many tourists flock here, it is easy. A small crossroad encompasses the whole of Ella- with restaurants, an internet cafe and an ATM. Everything you need is in walking distance to the various modes of accommodation, such as guest houses and hotels and boutique hideaway cabins in the hills, as well as there are many tea plantations and vast amounts of natural countryside that surround the area making tea plantations, factories, waterfalls and temples, so easily accessible for all the tourists to visit. Ella is a great place to go for a wander or take a hike. Walk just a few minutes away from the town of Ella and stroll through ascending tea plantations to Little Adam’s Peak, a easy tourists trek which offers magnificent views on mountains on one side, tea plantations on the other, whilst standing on a ridge- a balancing act of beauty. It has been given it’s name as it is the little baby sister of Adam’s Peak, a pilgrimage trek up to 2243m high, and is much more exhausting! Nearby are various other routes such as Ella Rock and Rawana Falls.

EllaThere are a number of tea factories that encircle Ella, although each factory varies in levels of information available and in price. A tuk tuk ride can be quite pricey so try share a drive there, or instead, include a tour of some tea plantations with a trip to Rawana Waterfalls. Most tea plantations offer free tea and cake, I’ve heard Mackwoods has great tea and an insightful tour- you can spot the Hollywood Style letters from a mile away.

I stayed at Ella Holiday Inn, reasonably priced although filled to the brim with feisty mosquitoes. What makes the place is the central location and the large restaurant attached that is famous for its Rotti’s: Downtown Rotti Hut, where I had a Kottu Rotti. This is a different style of Rotti, which unlike the usual parcel package as if a wrap, this particular rotti is with vegetables, all finely sliced and jumbled together creating a delicious mixture of rotti, vegetable, egg and sauce. Unusual but tasty, I recommend all to try one.