So we arrived in Negombo for the first part of our week in beachy Sri Lanka on the 11th of January. An organisational hiccup on our part meant that we had arrived a day earlier than necessary as Katy’s parents weren’t due until the following day. Oops.
We checked into the hotel and were pleased to find a pool on the roof, so we spent the rest of the day lounging around and making some arrangements for the looming giant of the trip which was to follow – India.
The next day (the day Katy’s parents were actually due) we Tuk Tuk’d to the airport to meet them with flower garlands to welcome them. For the rest of that day and the next we spent our time eating curry, drinking beer, drinking ginger beer, lounging around and exploring our surroundings. Ginger beer became a common theme for us, with EGB (Elephant Ginger Beer) being the top brand – though its gingery kick did vary from bottle to bottle.
We explored Negombo fort (from the outside as it is now a prison) and a huge vegetable and produce market that attached to the morning fish market which we didn’t get up early for. The market was full of colourful vegetables all spread out on the floor, vendors sitting nearby and canvas shelters strung out, flapping in the breeze and at just the right height to whip off our hats! Katy had to hold her nose as we passed the dried fish section. Katy was also keen to avoid the snake charmer with his dancing cobra.
Another day, another stunning Sri Lankan train journey. This time from Negombo through Colombo and down to Unawatuna on the South Coast. The first leg to Colombo was 3rd class only so was hot, standing room only and full of beggars who often had grotesque looking ailments on display. The onward ride from Colombo would have been similar had we not utilised the services of a man raising money for charity by helping tourists get on the right part of the train for 2nd class seating and helping them scramble through the scrum to secure seats. He was raising money for a deaf school (or so he claimed) but without him we would have been standing for 3 hours.
The train track to the South follows the picturesque coastline nearly all the way and there was some lovely scenery along the way. The line had only recently reopened following the 2004 Tsunami (opened April 2012 we think). Sri Lanka lost around 50,000 people to the tsunami and the word tsunami still reverberates around Sri Lanka like last night’s nightmares. Even this doesn’t seem to dampen the average Sri Lankan’s mood and the perma-smiles attached to people’s faces.
Once in Unawatuna we made our way to the hotel that Katy’s Dad had booked for us. It was amazing. Situated yards from the deserted and postcard perfect beach, with luxurious rooms too. Each evening we could sit in the hotel bar and watch giant sea turtles poke their heads above the linen white surf to snap up tasty treats (bugs) – bringing a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘turtle heading’.
The following morning we walked along the sand to a sea lagoon which was perfect for swimming and slightly sheltered from the breaking waves by a reef. We enjoyed snorkeling around in the warm, clear water spotting all sorts of fish.
It turned out that our hotel had survived the tsunami thanks to the reef and rocks sheltering it, but everything for miles either way had been devastated. The staff told us how there were 400 people squeezed into the grounds of the 8 room hotel and how they had cooked rice on a fire to feed everyone.
That evening we Tuk Tuk’d into Unawatuna town for dinner. It was narrow streets lined with rustic looking bars and restaurants which somehow gave the area a music festival feel. We chose our spot for a drink by the sea with views of the bay and then moved next door for rice and curry. The front part of the restaurant had been reclaimed by the sea and the section we were sat in looked as though it would soon follow. There was a 6 inch wide crack in the wall where the sea had undermined the structure by washing the sand out from underneath each high tide. Luckily for us, it stayed firm while we were there and we had another great rice, curry and ginger beer.
After a day on the beach, we decided to visit Galle town, not far along the coast. We spent most of the time there looking around the old fort which was impressive, especially walking on top of the walls and looking out to sea past the rocky pools that sat beneath the towering walls.
Next up we found our way into a posh old colonial hotel for drinks. It felt so colonial in fact, that we felt every bit like the sweaty English people portrayed in Hollywood movies about the colonial era. Katy’s patents thought it was the same place they had been for drinks 30 years ago when they first came to Sri Lanka.
We decided to head back to the beach that afternoon while Katy’s parents had a trip down memory lane to visit the town of Matara an hours train ride away. I think we made the right call because they didn’t seem to have fallen in love with Matara, but we had a lovely swim and a sunbathe. We went back to Unawatuna for dinner later on.
The next day we managed to get a bit sunburned while snorkeling but it didn’t stop our enjoyment of the fantastic beach and swimming opportunities. All too soon it was time to get back on the train to head back to Colombo, the stay at the beach had been a luxurious treat.
Once back in Colombo we got a Tuk Tuk into the centre to find it surprisingly quiet (it was just after dark) and a large security presence near where we thought there were things to go and see – it turned out to be the president’s residency. We did manage to find a highly rated local eatery, though we think it was more of a lunchtime place. We had dinner and then headed to the Galle Face hotel which is an old Colonial hotel which was quite posh. We sat and drank cocktails containing Arrack (local liquor) and ginger beer (of course) while we took in the surroundings by the sea while some locals were celebrating a wedding in a room nearby – many wearing brightly coloured Sarees.
In the morning we boarded the train from Colombo to Negombo and arrived in Negombo in time for a swim and a laze around by the pool before a lovely walk along the beach at sunset.
Mike (Katy’s Dad) had booked dinner at a really fancy seafood restaurant which had a cricket theme. It was run by a very camp Brit who enthusiastically told us that we were eating in the newly opened part of the restaurant – the Umpires Lounge. Once we had worked out the complicated menu we ordered some fantastic food. The fish we would be eating were stored (live) in tanks at the side of the restaurant and we were there to watch the chef scoop them out with a net. The guilt of condemning them soon subsided once they arrived on our plates because they tasted so good. We also had a huge plate of shellfish, including Oysters. The meal was a great way to end our time in Sri Lanka and was yet another example of how generous Katy’s parents had been for the whole week. Thank you very much, it was an excellent week of luxury!
We were expecting something very different from India which was up next…