Our next stop was Galle. I imagined a real city, but the main (only?) attraction here is the old Dutch fort. It was built by the Portuguese, but later run by the Dutch. Now, the ancient stone walls still stand and inside the old colonial buildings now house lots of cute boutique-y shops and cafes, including a gluten free creperie! I liked the vintage colors, tiles and plants that decorated the shops. On the other side of the walls, the sea laps in and out. Along one wall, there’s a swimming beach full of locals drenched in their clothes. We enjoyed walking around, along the tops of the walls and up and down the quaint streets and alleyways. It was cool to see the variety of inhabitants reflected in the mosques, churches and temples. Because we were there at New Year’s, some sort of event was happening in the park. It seemed to be some sort of community games. An announcer called out and people came out of the crowds to participate. Others sat in the shade or on the nearby hill to watch. It was a noisy, colorful affair. In a grassy park we could see from the top of the wall, there were also lots of people playing cricket in small groups here and there beneath a rainbow.
If I were to go to Galle again, I would stay inside the fort. It’s definitely the most tourist-friendly part of the city- restaurants stay open later and cater to our needs more. However, it is also more expensive.
We made a breakfast stop at Unawatuna on the way out of town. Unawatuna is my favorite name to say. It seemed to be rather touristy though. You could say ew or you could say hooray for great foreign food and awareness of Western preferences. The gluten free bakery was closed for the New Year, but the breakfast we had on the beach there is one I’m still thinking about- coffee, eggs, bacon and a fruit plate. When we visited, the tide was in high enough that there wasn’t much beach. And what sand there was seemed to be dominated by lounge chairs.
Our next stop was our favorite: Mirissa beach. We traded in water-front accommodation for air conditioning. Our low budget meant we had to choose one or the other. We were still a short walk from the beach. It was a nice big glistening turquoise bay with coconut trees covering the hills on either side. Little beach-hut restaurants lined the edge of the sand. There’s a big rock just off shore along the left end of the bay that you can climb up for a great view. Noa got to surf in the small bay beside the main Mirissa waters- just past the rock. I climbed the rock to take some photos of him in action, but he was pretty far out to sea so I had trouble zooming in once I found him and keeping him in the frame once I got him because the waves were bobbing him up and down, as they do. Also, from above, you can’t see how immense the swell was.
I woke up early on our second morning in Mirissa to go to a hotel on the other end of the beach for their kundalini yoga class, a style that was new to me. I was so happy as I strolled down the beach, just thinking about a yoga. The new light of morning brightened my mood. When I arrived at the hotel, they seemed disappointed to break the news to me that the teacher had left, but said that there was also daily yoga at the temple on top of the mountain nearby. He said it may have started already, but I could try. I thanked the hotel guy and hurried up the small path between the lush tropical trees to the mountain top (let’s be serious, we’d probably have to call it a big hill). I reached the top, feeling excited about my new yoga spot. Yoga at a temple on top of a mountain over looking the ocean is maybe even better than yoga at a hotel on the ocean, right? A guy sweeping the temple told me unceremoniously that there was no yoga there either. I could hardly believe it. I walked around the crudely formed pagoda and gazed out at the ocean on one side and forest on the other. I spotted some big black monkeys. I watched them hooting in the trees and swinging gracefully from branch to branch. They were sort of big though and they weren’t even particularly friendly to each other. I have a slight fear of monkeys since one deliberately showed me its teeth at quite close range back in Hong Kong. So I made my way back down the hill to the beach. I had to wait in a lounge chair until the restaurants opened to serve me seaside breakfast.
One night as we were eating dinner, a big sea turtle came to shore to lay her eggs. It was cool to see such a massive adult and interesting to see how she moved on land. It was very reptilian and made me think maybe turtles haven’t evolved sooo much over the centuries, though I’m sure they’re much more natural when they’re in their usual home in the water. A group of tourists gathered to watch, and some shouted at others not to take photos because the light of the flash would confuse the turtle momma. Still there was too much commotion though so she went back to sea without laying her eggs. Noa said it takes hours and hours for a female sea turtle to dig a hole with her back flippers and lay the eggs. No wonder she didn’t like her audience.
From Mirissa, we got a tuktuk to drive us to Dikwella. We’d taken the bus between all of the other stops, which cost pennies. We visited the massive seated Buddha in town before going to our hotel. The temple had a hall depicting the different forms of torture in hell. It also had a hall with big colorfully painted statues of various gods and worshippers with intricately curling details. The main attraction though, is the seated Buddha, the largest in Sri Lanka. You can climb several flights of stairs behind him to visit a small altar at the top in Buddha’s head. The walls throughout the hall are painted with murals depicting the life of Buddha and good deeds he’s done. At the top, I inspected the swirling tiles that make up Buddha’s hair. That was my favorite. The tuktuk driver wanted an extreme tip for visiting the temple. Noted: organize everything from the start and always have lots of change for adjusting payments slightly. At our hotel, we were upgraded to an ocean view room for free and really enjoyed looking at the expansive aqua waters from bed. I saw a really beautiful sunset there. It lit up the sky in gold and pinks and reflected across the water. We also had a great time swimming. Noa had to teach me how to dive under the massive waves so as not to be tumbled by their force.
After our beach time, we went back to the city of Matara by bus to get into our reserved air conditioned saloon train car back to Colombo. It was nice to feel cool, but the car didn’t have much light coming in the smudged windows and it had some noisy passengers. When our train pulled into Colombo, we hurried for a train to Negombo, the town the airport is actually in. We stayed in Negombo for a night, but we really didn’t like it. It was a sort of party-oriented town that didn’t quite seem to meet its mark. We’d heard Colombo wasn’t a great place to hang around either though. We got a day pass for a big hotel’s pool beside the beach and waited for our flight poolside.
It was fun to look at so many different beaches and feel each one’s different vibe. Sri Lanka had a lot of beautiful relaxing beaches to offer.