After leaving London with heavy hearts, we headed for Colombo, where we had planned to go earlier in the year, but cancelled after the devastating Easter Sunday terror attacks. Sondra had arranged for us to stay with her sister, Sonia while in Colombo, so we caught a car to her house in Dehiwala. On arrival we were greeted by two elderly people who were the gardener and the cook. There was another lady as well, and between them they insisted on carrying our heavy bags to our room.
Sonia then greeted us from her room, and was helped out into the sitting area by her carer. Sonia had polio as a child, and as a result has limited mobility, and now as she is getting older, she needs a device similar to a CPAP machine to help with her breathing 24/7.
The house she lives in with her sister in law and niece, along with the 3 servants and carer, is a lovely rambling tropics open style house with a beautiful garden full of flowers, butterflies and birds. It’s an oasis. You can sit on the verandah and look out into the garden, while Puppy, the dog flops on your feet.
It was a little strange staying in a house with servants, always looking after you and responding to your every need. They would appear with tea and cake, or water etc without you even asking. On our second day there we had lunch in the lovely dining room, decorated with many of Sondra’s paintings. Wow, such amazing food. The curries and all the accompaniments were wonderful, so fresh and beautifully prepared, it was the best food we have had all the time we have been away. Each day we were treated to a lovely breakfast, different things each day; stringhoppers, roti, sambols, curry, as well as fruit and toast. We are so grateful to have been able to spend a few days at Sonia’s house, it was lovely.
One of the evenings we went down to Galle Face Green and watched the families out flying kites, it’s always such an amazing sight, and a simple way to have fun with your family. We then headed into the famous Galle Face Hotel for a drink on the terrace, however it was Poya day (full moon holiday) and no alcohol allowed, so we had mocktails; almost as good as a G&T, but not quite .
While in Colombo, we also caught up with Neil’s auntie Dorothy, over lunch at the historic Mount Lavinia hotel. We enjoyed a Sri Lankan buffet with everything you could want and sitting out on the terrace overlooking the sea, it was lovely, and so good to catch up with Dorothy, always full of laughs, she is an amazing woman.
After Colombo, we decided to head south for some beach time. First we went to Bentota and stayed in a large resort on the beach, however, it was school holidays, and the place was full of families with kids, so the pool was always full, the restaurant was busy, the buffet breakfast was crazy, so it didn’t really suit us. The sea was really angry and rough and the beach was closed for swimming, but anyway, on day 2 the weather improved and we had a cooling dip in the ocean, somewhat battered by the waves, but it was fun, and not crowded.
We went for a boat trip along the lagoon to the mangroves, which was enjoyable.
Next we decided to go to Yala, and found a small ‘glamping’ resort just out of Tissa, by the lake.
On the way we stopped for lunch at a great little spot with lots of ladies cooking up all sorts of yummy food, roti, vadai, thosa, pittu, curry puffs etc. All freshly prepared and cooked before your eyes, and so cheap. LOVE these kind of places.
Then to our glamping resort. Wow! It couldn’t be more different from the previous hotel. The Yala Adventure, is set in lovely gardens with tented rooms spread out around the grounds, with an infinity pool overlooking the picturesque Tissa lake, and not a kid in sight. (I do like kids, just not hundreds of them in the pool with me)
The artificial lake is thought to have been constructed in the 3rd century bc for irrigation and water supply.
This place is a real gem, they cooked us lovely Sri Lankan food, most of the vegetables grown in their own garden, which is also a haven for birds and butterflies.
Day 2 here we set out on our full day safari, 6am start, ugh. Our jeep arrived and took us to the national park, where we drove around and around, seeing many amazing birds, buffalo, crocodiles, deer and monkeys. If you have ever been on a safari , you will know about the crazy circus that ensues when one jeep makes a sighting of something of interest – your driver gets a call, then suddenly turns into some kind of jeep racing lunatic, speeding down bumpy dirt tracks to arrive at the spot, where 20 other jeeps are already jostling for a good spot; it’s chaos. Rumours run through the group, then suddenly you’re off again. So it was with us when somebody thought they saw a bear, we all race to the spot, then drive between the other cars, already blocking the road, So you end up with a colossal jeep jam, and quite a bit of drivers yelling at each other – not really conducive to seeing wild animals. Needless to say, we didn’t see a bear.
We all stopped for lunch near the beach, the site of significant destruction from the Boxing Day tsunami. There is a 2hour break between the morning and afternoon session, so all the jeeps have to wait until 2pm before we can head out again, a good time for an afternoon nap in the back of the jeep.
In the afternoon we managed to see a few elephants, then along one stretch of track, when we were alone, we spotted the leopard sitting on the side of the road up ahead. We stopped and quietly took some photos before it walked into the jungle. So beautiful, and we felt so privileged to see it.
Then our driver took off in a big hurry and drove around to a nearby waterhole where he believed the leopard was headed. He then called other drivers and the mad race was on again. Now our driver was the hero, because he had seen the leopard, so he made sure he bragged to all the others. It was pretty funny to watch his transformation. There were two places about 500 metres apart where the leopard might go, so all the jeeps were jostling back and forward between the two. At one stage our driver was weaving at speed, in reverse gear between other jeeps, across a narrow causeway while talking on the phone and looking for the leopard; talk about multitasking! The leopard, of course, did not reappear with all that commotion going on.
It was a long and tiring day, but well worth it, and we returned to our resort with stories to tell.
We had a refreshing swim before enjoying a cold beer and another wonderful dinner and an early night.
The next day we relaxed at the resort, took a tuk tuk into town in the evening in search of somewhere different to eat, found a place but the food was disappointing, should have stayed and eaten at the resort.
The following day our driver arrived and drove us to Galle. Galle was settled by the Portuguese in the 16th century, then the Dutch came in the 17th century and built the fort, which was eventually taken over by the British, so it’s a kind of microcosm of Sri Lankan colonial history, and is now a UNESCO World heritage site. Our hotel is a heritage building initially built by the Dutch, then expanded by the British, and was once a printer’s shop, hence the name Fort Printers. It is a lovely building with a central courtyard, which now houses the pool.
We went for a wander around the fort in the evening, you can walk along the top of the wall for most of the way around this rocky peninsula, and with a storm approaching the sea was very rough, making a spectacular sight, with waves crashing on the rocks and the walls of the fort.
We sat in an upstairs bar with a beer and watched the storm roll in from the sea, then made a dash home between heavy showers.
Later we wandered around looking for somewhere to have dinner; there are many restaurants here but the place is a bit of a tourist trap, with high prices and strange menus that try to cater to all tastes. Many places served pizza, burgers and rice and curry. I can’t help feeling that restaurants here could be so much better, given the amazing availability of beautiful fresh ingredients and Sri Lankan flavours, but they seem to just try and copy the West.
We found a place in the old Dutch hospital which was quite good.
Next day we went for a walk outside the fort area into the main town of Galle, which is a bit less touristy. The humidity was extreme after the rain overnight, so we were quickly exhausted and caught a tuk tuk back to our hotel.
We had a lovely lunch of hoppers with chicken and prawn curry at Hoppa, just near our hotel. We also had prawn wadai which were excellent. In the evening we headed out for dinner to the Dutch hospital again, and sat upstairs overlooking the ocean, and enjoyed a meal of stringhopper pilau (Neil) and Penne pasta (me), both were good, surprisingly.
Off to bed amid another downpour of rain, which threatened to flood the courtyard outside our room, with torrents of water pouring from the spouting into overflowing drains. This happened twice throughout the night and we also had some dripping from our ceiling onto our heads on bed, so turned tail and put the pillows at the other end to sleep. Ah, the tropics, perfect one minute, torrential rain the next.
Today now is our last day in Sri Lanka, and feeling a little sad to be leaving, although also keen to get home. We went for a tuk tuk ride into town and wandered around the market, then noticed there was a big commotion going on near the cricket ground, and up in the sky there were hundreds of kites flying. We walked over to where it all seemed to be happening, and saw many hundreds of people gathered along the fort wall as well as down on a large lawn area, where people were out flying their amazing kites. There were huge elaborate kites and tiny little kids with basic kites and everything in between. It was great to see so many people of different ages and complexities of kites all playing together. Many of those flying kites were teenagers, which seemed like a lovely pass time for kids of that age group. There were also jumpy castles, fairy floss sellers, music and food and drink vendors as well. such a lovely carnival atmosphere around such a simple activity as kite flying. Lovely.
Sri Lanka has been kind to us once again and we have had a lovely time, if only a short trip this time. The country is really suffering after the terror attacks because tourist numbers have plummeted and many small operators of restaurants, hotels, tours, drivers etc, are doing it tough. Not only did those terrorists kill hundreds of innocent people and cause such incalculable harm to the people directly impacted, but they have crippled the economy for most Sri Lankans, because tourism is a major money earner here, and if those involved in tourism are doing it hard, so are the other industries they rely on, so the flow on effect is enormous. We found that whilst there is a noticeable police presence, and security in hotels is quite high, in general everything is operating as normal here. So I would encourage anyone reading this who is thinking of coming to Sri Lanka, just do it. Right now you can get good deals on hotels and tours and places are not as crowded as normal, and you will be helping restore normality to this beautiful island. If you want to book tours or accommodation, our friend Lisa (Sonia’s neice) would be pleased to help you. She works for Pan Lanka and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out their website http://www.panlanka.com If you book through a local company you are providing jobs for local people, rather than using aggregator sites like booking.com
Stuthi, Sri Lanka.