Posts tagged ‘Sri Lanka’

February 24, 2012

Salty beach bums in Sri Lanka

by backpackingbongos

The time had come after being wedged into my seat for six hours.  The slackening of the face, the jerking forward of the head and the drool on the chin.  I finally fell asleep.  Unfortunately almost as soon as this minor miracle happened the airplane cabin lights came on and a steward ceremoniously woke me up and presented me with curry for breakfast.  It was 3.30am.  Sadly the economy class ordeal still had another six hours to run.

I find arriving far from home after a long haul flight satisfyingly bewildering.  We just about managed to keep our wits about us whilst replacing familiar money to that with many digits.  We then stepped outside into a tropical world.  The cold and monochrome of the UK was replaced by heat, humidity and vivid brightness.  My jeans immediately felt like they were made of asbestos.  Thankfully our taxi had aircon to cool our nerves as we set off towards Colombo with a blaring of horns.

I should point out that Sri Lanka features quite prominently in the world’s top ten number of road fatalities.  Our guidebook was pretty keen to point out that if anything bad happened whilst in the country, it was likely to involve being squashed by a bus.  The road was in good condition, most of the cars are pretty flash, but the standard of driving on display was to be frank rather appalling.  The journey to Mount Lavinia was like being in a real life version of wacky races.

Mount Lavinia is a suburb of the capital Colombo, with its beach it was a perfect place to hole up for a couple of days to kick off the jet lag.  Our guesthouse was like something from a really posh architecture magazine.  We had a wonderful colonial style room bigger than a badminton court, dominated by a giant four-poster bed.  Our balcony opened out with views of the garden below.

Throughout our stay I kept expecting the manager to appear telling us there had been a mistake and we would be kicked out.  It was far more lovely than anything I have ever stayed in and all for the price of a Travel lodge in the UK.  Thankfully the rest of our accommodation during the two weeks was of an equally high standard.

As this is a backpacking and hiking blog I won’t go into great detail about the rest of the trip.  Sitting on a beach and then deciding on which restaurant to eat curry and drink beer does not make for particularly interesting reading.  Here are a few photos that give a general flavour of the island instead.

Unawatuna is considered to be the most popular beach for independent travellers.  Usually the sea in Sri Lanka is too rough for swimming with strong currents.  However here there is a crescent-shaped bay meaning the warm waters are safe.  It is still far from being a tropical paradise due to the huge amount of accommodation jammed right up to the beach front.  However it was pretty chilled and with excellent restaurants a good place to while away a few days.

In Sri Lanka you are never very far away from one of the street dogs.  There were many heartbreaking sights, although this one sheltering on the beach looked happy and healthy enough.

The city of Galle is a good place to escape the beaches.  The old fort area being a particularly chilled place to amble about and take in some colonial architecture.

Watch what they put in the soft drinks………….

My favourite place we visited was Marakolliya, an isolated beach in the far south of the country.  Access off the main road was along several kilometres of dirt road until we came to a parking area.  Previously a rudimentary ferry took you across the mangrove swamps but this has just been replaced by a wooden footbridge.  A handful of cabanas hidden among the coconut groves and a small restaurant is all that there is.  Now this is tropical paradise!

As you can see, even the restaurant was pretty low-key.

The completely deserted beach.

Minimal beachfront development.

Unfortunately the sea was too rough to swim in apart from a small rock pool.  Upon arrival we were told that under no circumstances should we go in the sea.  Some of those breakers were massive!

Behind the beach was a network of lagoons lined with mangroves.

The only light for miles at night.

The back of our cabana opened out directly onto the lagoon.  One morning this monitor lizard was right outside our door.

Several kayaks were supplied for guests to use, I spent many happy hours slowly paddling.  Whilst watching the numerous colourful birds I spent a lot of time worrying if there were crocodiles about.  I did see one huge monitor lizard slide into the water which got my heart beating.

As a break from the beaches we spent three nights at a guest house located on a cinnamon plantation.  We were the only guests which made for a strange atmosphere as the place had a large amount of staff.  Everywhere you went they were lurking in the shadows ready to be of assistance.  The made to order curries in the evening were simply divine.  I can highly recommend garlic curry if you ever go to Sri Lanka!

A few minutes walk from our guest house was a villa which is available to rent for $850 a night.  It was empty so we were able to avail ourselves of the facilities for free, which I have to say were rather top-notch.  Somehow it felt wrong sitting in loungers next to a pool we had all to ourselves!

The dirt track through the cinnamon plantations to our guesthouse.

Views across the lush landscape.

One evening as the full moon rose the air was filled with music and chanting from the temples below.

We were then treated to an amazing natural light show.

I noticed that the courtyard walls of our guesthouse was covered in these perfectly camouflaged spiders.

Late one night I have to admit that I had to request assistance from one of the ‘house boys’ to remove a spider from our room.  Seriously it was one big spider!

We spent our last night at Negombo which is a very shabby beach resort to the north of Colombo, a short journey from the airport.  This was the only place we visited that had a real Sri Lankan flavour.  Being Saturday the beach was packed with locals who had come from the city to enjoy the sunset.  A fine end to a very chilled fortnight.

It was fun watching these lads watching two young and pretty tourists in their swimwear!

February 12, 2012

From the furnace to the freezer

by backpackingbongos

The contrast could not be greater.  Yesterday afternoon we were watching the sun set from the scruffy Negombo beach, just north of Colombo.  There was a riot of colour both from the deep red disc reflecting off the sea and the locals enjoying the weekend at the seaside.  The hot and humid air filled with the sound of laughter, waves breaking against the beach and the ever-present honking of horns from the maniac bus drivers.

Forward wind twenty four hours and we were sitting on the Heathrow Express watching a cold monochrome world speed by.  Old dirty snow lay on grey concrete, walls covered in an endless line of graffiti.  The hot humid air almost a distant memory with the freezing air biting into our bones.  The sound of laughter replaced by silence and the avoidance of eye contact on the tube across London.

It’s always good to be home.

A fantastic couple of weeks in Sri Lanka.  I will do a write-up soon.  In the meantime here are a trio of brief video clips giving a taste of the sights and sounds of the country.

For short journeys the easiest way to get around is by auto-rickshaw, often a bit of a white knuckle ride!  Thankfully the traffic in the city of Galle is pretty tame.

One of my favourite spots of the whole trip.  The beach is cut off from the mainland by a mangrove fringed lagoon and only accessible by boat or footbridge.  A real tropical paradise.

Negombo beach is most definitely not a tropical paradise with its rubbish strewn beach and polluted sea.  However its only a few miles from the airport so a great place to spend the last night soaking up a bit of local atmosphere.

December 26, 2009

5 years ago today………..

by backpackingbongos

………I woke up in my room in Sri Lanka with a bad cold which had kept me in bed the day before.  Corrina headed into the guest house to get us some coffee and breakfast whilst I lay in bed, looking at the mountain view out of the window.  She was back half an hour later with breakfast and looking a little bit worried.  She said that the hotel owners were talking about a wave that had taken away the town of Galle which was about 30 minutes away, they were asking her what this could be.  She was a bit confused about what they were talking about but could tell from their faces that something serious had happened.  Later that day the guest house owners put on the television and all I can say is that we were horrified at what we saw, the screen was full of images that would never be allowed to be shown on the news at home.

To this day we still count our blessings for a decision that perhaps saved our lives, that decision centred around the fact that we are both a little bit tight with money.  We had planned to spend the Christmas week at a small backpackers beach near the southern town of Galle where we would meet Corrinas mother on New Years Eve.  We were slowly making our way there through the mountains, when a couple of days before Christmas we decided that it would be nice to meet her in the Mountain town of Ella instead.  This would cut down our costs as we could then share her taxi down to the coast.  We later found out that the beach where we were originally headed was completely devastated with the wave destroying houses half a mile inland.

The guest house owner was starting to panic as he could not get in contact with family down on the coast.  Over the following couple of weeks that we remained in the country most Sri Lankans that we met had lost at least one family member that day.  That for us was the most upsetting thing, seeing how the Tsunami completely tore apart a country.  We stayed for over a week with our gracious hosts in Hapitale as there was nowhere else for us to go, flights in and out of the country were cancelled and there were warnings of disease spreading.  Although they had lost family members that day, they looked after us well.

Our thoughts still turn to people we had met and travelled with prior to the Tsunami in Sri Lanka, especially the couple we shared a taxi and then a guest house for a few days.  They were heading to the coast for Christmas and we never heard from them again.

One day we will return to Sri Lanka as it is a fantastic country, it would be great to think about it with a smile on our faces rather than with a lump in our throats.  My thoughts today are with the 250,000 who lost their lives that boxing day.

Our hosts for that week.