Aspall Cyder - Cider and Vinegar

Sri Lanka beach diaries


Date
16th April 2014

Category
Henry's Travels


Sri Lanka Schmee Lanka. Why go all that way when you could stop in India? Glorious India, hectic, exhilarating, dusty India. Instead, pedestrian, boring, backwater Sri Lanka?

his was how my mind was working when we were asked a third consecutive year to holiday with friends there. “It’s right by the beach; has its own pool; wonderful staff who bring you teas and cocktails before you even realise that’s precisely what you want,” was the gist of their pitch. “Yeah, yeah”, in my head. “But where’s the adventure?”

Well, ultimately, I’ve finally realised I’ve reached the age where a break without adventure is actually incredibly appealing – you know, the list of books I want to read has got no shorter lately and that poolside looked mighty tempting in the pics, and who doesn’t like being served cocktails before you realise you don’t just want one, you desperately need one; so why not – we signed up and found ourselves suddenly in paradise.

Sometimes it’s nice being wrong; I should do it more often, although I suspect my wife would present a very credible case that I arrived in that space a long time ago!

Our destination was Galle in the south. A Portuguese, come Dutch, come British colonial port – and probably before all these plunderers, a trading post of the Chinese.

We were ‘billeted’ in a beautiful villa 20 minutes to the east of Galle by rickshaw. Pool and beachfront as promised. Why did I ever think this wasn’t the best idea I’d been presented recently? (see above for an answer to that). Our friends were waiting, as was a cocktail, and my shoulders relaxed almost to the floor the moment we walked through the door.

Sometimes it’s nice being wrong; I should do it more often, although I suspect my wife would present a very credible case that I arrived in that space a long time ago!

Far from being the ‘India Light’ I had imagined, Sri Lanka has its own unique identity. It has had its crises in recent years. Whilst the civil war is finally over, a cloud still hangs over the Government’s human rights abuses in the run up to the war’s conclusion; everyone we met was delighted it was over, but then we never met any Tamils in the south, and as a friend who recently worked for the UN noted, the discrimination the Tamils face – and which partly led to the war – is still happening, so one wonders if this has gone away for good.

The Galle area itself was also devastated in the 2003 tsunami – it was here the train carrying 1000’s of passengers was swamped that fateful morning; you would be hard pushed to tell now such has been the return to normality. At least on the surface; get any local on the subject and it is clear this is still very fresh in many people’s minds as one would expect; but it is a true testament to the power of the human spirit that the place felt so alive and welcoming.

Each day passed with a delightful regularity; our host team led by the energetic Janaka were wonderfully engaging. We always do our best to pick up local phrases, but apart from please, thank you and good bye, most of my Sinhalese has gone the way of my O-level French, and in to some dark and dusty library shelf of my brain. 

Samartha, our hugely capable chef, was very generous in sharing the secrets of his cooking. As was he in sharing his space - no tantrums in his kitchen. He even let us go shopping with him for the day’s ingredients – down to the fish market, through and amongst the veg and fruit stalls (their apples come from the US to my surprise). We must have slowed him horribly, but not even a scowl crossed his face. And back to the villa to learn how to make Sri Lankan dhal along with pork curry and Sri Lankan crab. How I didn’t put a stone on I’ll never know.

The southern beaches are very special, and where we were it was remarkably quiet; often only us on the beach of an evening. Further in towards Galle it becomes busier; from Wijaya with its beach front cafés and surf dudes, right through to the relatively ghastly Unawatuna Beach, with its rows of budget hotels and bars. Nothing wrong with it inherently, just felt like I could have been in Thailand – or anywhere else in the world for that matter. Well, perhaps not Lowestoft.

And we were in turtle territory to boot. We often saw them bobbing just off the beaches, and then one glorious night, we were woken by the security guards to come and see an Olive Ridley turtle laying her eggs. Rather than leave them be, we gathered the eggs and took them to the nearby turtle sanctuary. Egg thieving is a common occurrence on these beaches; the financial rewards are high so it’s hard to be too judgemental. This way, there was at least a fighting chance some of them would make it to sea and into adulthood.

Every evening, recently hatched turtles are released to the sea, and if you’re out in the surf it’s not uncommon to see them paddling by on their way out into Open Ocean. As my friend Jim pointed out though, there are plenty of sharp toothed creatures waiting to devour them – including sharks, so after that scientific observation my “Awwww” went out of the window and I got out of their vicinity pronto when I saw them. He was probably winding me up, but I’m a landlubber at heart so wasn’t taking any chances.

It’s a glorious country; the people, the food, the climate, the scenery; all surpassed my expectation, and will go down as one of my favourite recent holiday destinations.

But as ever, I can turn any break into a busman’s holiday, anywhere in the world; so what to drink? Look out for my  next post where I share my top 5...

It’s a glorious country; the people, the food, the climate, the scenery; all surpassed my expectation, and will go down as one of my favourite recent holiday destinations.